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Sep 12, 2012

Using the Course Syllabus as an Opportunity to Promote Student Learning

Many professors may ask themselves if their students read the course syllabus, and what do they get out of such reading. In light of this, in spring of 2011 I started to implement the creation of learning contracts in my courses with two purposes in mind: (1) to promote the reading of the syllabus at the start of the course, and (2) to foster self-regulation in students´ learning.  

For the first course assignment students present a draft of a learning contract where they establish a learning goal to accomplish in the course for the term, and identify what they consider helpful from me as a professor and their peers in order to attain such goal. The criteria for the learning goal includes:  relation to course content, achievable in the term, and measureable. The learning contract format contains the following elements: 
  • Statement of learning goal
and their response to the following questions:
  • What do they commit to as students in the course in order to accomplish such goal?
  • What do they need from me as their professor in order to accomplish their learning goal?
  • What do they need from their peers in the course in order to accomplish their learning goal? 
Throughout the term, students engage in three self-assessment exercises where they evaluate their progress towards their learning goals. The same self-assessment instrument is used in each occasion. The instrument includes a series of closed and open ended questions where students respond to aspects such as:
  • Perception of their progress towards the attainment of their learning goals
  • What aspects of the class have helped in this attainment
  • What aspects of the class have made this attainment difficult
  • What they would do differently as students for the rest of the term in order to attain their learning goal
  • What they would like for me as their professor to do differently for the rest of the term in order to attain their learning goal
  • What they would like for their peers to do differently for the rest of the term in order to attain their learning goal
I present consolidated results of each self-assessment exercise in a class session which serves as input for group discussion on how the class is progressing and how they feel about such progress. In sum, the learning contract activity has proven to be useful to engage students in the course content and for me as the professor to identify during the semester the aspects of the class that student perceive to help and hinder their learning. 

  • Anderson, L. W. and David R. Krathwohl, D. R., et al (Eds.) (2001) A Taxonomy for Learning, Teaching, and Assessing: A Revision of Bloom's Taxonomy of Educational Objectives. Allyn & Bacon. Boston, MA (Pearson Education Group). 
  • Bloom, B.S. (ed.) (1956) Taxonomy of educational objectives, The classification of educational goals – Handbook I: Cognitive domain. New York: McKay.
  • Fink, L.D. (2003). Creating significant learning experiences. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

To follow up on any of these ideas, please contact me at This Weekly Teaching Note was adapted from a contribution to the Teaching and Learning Writing Consortium sponsored by Western Kentucky University.

Anabella Martinez, Professor of the Education Department
Director of the Centro for Teaching Excellence (CEDU)
Universidad del Norte (Barranquilla, Colombia)

Author: francine_glazer

Sep 05, 2012

Putting Students in the Driver’s Seat

I teach students at many levels at many institutions. I've incorporated a number of strategies to get my students thinking critically. 

We often have so many things to teach our students we lose sight of how this knowledge was assembled. Thus science—like many other subjects—becomes a bunch of facts to be memorized, versus an ongoing process of understanding the Universe. I often will focus a little less on detail — after all, that's what the textbook is for — and really go into depth to explain what people believed before, why they believed it, what people observed, and the nature of  the consensus that developed out of these observations.
I will sometimes put the students in the driver's seat by showing them the evidence that scientists observed and asking them to come up with explanations for what was observed, or to evaluate current scientific theories using this method. I find that when students evaluate evidence for themselves it helps provide that "a-ha! moment" that perhaps what they were taught at home doesn't explain the evidence quite as well as current scientific theories, even if they are a bit controversial in certain sections of society.

As much as I can, I try to keep my assignments relevant. Rather than using an abstract assignment with no personal stake for the student, I try and ask them what they should do in a real world situation. For example, in a recent microbiology class I asked my (mostly nursing) students to come up with protocols to stop the spread of a hospital-based infection throughout their ward. Additionally, I take advantage of technology by using computer-graded homework. I allow the students up to three attempts on each homework, which gives them the opportunity to learn from their mistakes. 

Joby Jacob, Ph.D.
Adjunct Faculty, Life Sciences
New York Institute of Technology

Author: francine_glazer

Aug 29, 2012

A Primer on Critical Thinking


Critical thinking is self-directed, self-disciplined, self-monitored, and self-corrective thinking. It entails effective communication and problem-solving abilities (Paul & Elder, 2002, p. 15).

A well-cultivated critical thinker:
a.     raises vital questions and problems, formulating them clearly and precisely;
b.     gathers and assesses relevant information, and effectively interprets it;
c.     comes to well-reasoned conclusions and solutions, testing them against relevant criteria and standards;
d.     thinks open-mindedly within alternative systems of thought, recognizing and assessing, as need be, their assumptions, implications, and practical consequences; and
e.     communicates effectively with others in figuring out solutions to complex problems.
Critical Thinking and the Learning Environment:
a.     Formulate discussions and questions to improve adult learners’ critical thinking skills:
Clarity                      Could you elaborate further?
                                  Could you give me an example?
Accuracy                 How could we find out if that is true?
                                  How could we verify or test that?             
Precision                 Could you give me more details?
                                  Could you be more exact?
Relevance              How does that relate to the problem?
                                  How does that help us with the issue? 
Depth                       What factors make this a difficult problem?
                                  What are some of the complexities of this question?
Breadth                    Do we need to look at this from another perspective?
                                  Do we need to consider another point of view?                 
Logic                        Does all this make sense together?
                                  Does what you say follow from the evidence?  
Significance            Is this the central idea to focus on?
                                  Which of these facts are most important?
Fairness                  Do I have any vested interest in this issue?
    Am I sympathetically representing the viewpoints of others?
  (Paul & Elder, 2006).
b.     Plan authentic tasks which address important issues or problems.
c.     Replicate real life situations within the discipline.
d.     Restructure learning to promote higher-level thinking (See “Bloom’s taxonomy”).
e.     Promote active learning by incorporating inductive teaching and learning methods such as:
-      Guided Inquiry;
-      Problem-based;
-      Project-based; and
-      Case-base learning.
  • Huba, M. E. & Freed, J. E. (2000). Learner-centered assessment on college campuses: Shifting the focus from teaching to learning. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.
  • Paul, R.W. & Elder, L. (2002). Critical thinking: Tools for taking charge of your professional and personal life. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Education/FT Press.
  • Paul, R., & Elder, L. (2006). Critical thinking: The nature of critical and creative thought. Journal
  • of developmental education, 23, 34-35.
  • Prince, M., and R.M. Felder. 2006. Inductive teaching and learning methods: Definitions, comparisons, and research bases. Journal of Engineering Education 95 (2): 123–38.
  • Svinicki, M. & McKeachie, W. J. (2011). McKeachie’s Teaching Tips: Strategies, Research, and Theory for College and University Teachers, 13th ed. Belmont, Calif.: Wadsworth.
To follow up on any of these ideas, please contact me at This Weekly Teaching Note was adapted from a contribution to the Teaching and Learning Writing Consortium sponsored by Western Kentucky University.
Valerie Lopes, PhD

Author: francine_glazer

May 02, 2012

Weekly Teaching Notes: 2011-2012 index

As the academic year winds down and we look toward the summer, I present to you a list of all the Weekly Teaching Notes from this academic year, with links to their locations on the web. Weekly Teaching Notes will break for the summer and resume again in the fall.

I've enjoyed the email conversations I've had with many of you this year, as you responded to me about a particular idea. At the Center for Teaching and Learning, we are here all summer and are eager to assist you with your teaching, course design or redesign, scholarly writing, and preparing your reappointment/tenure/promotion portfolios. (All consultations are voluntary and confidential.) To make an appointment with us, please email Olena Zhadko (instructional designer) at or me at We will be delighted to work with you!

Student Motivation

Your Responses - Motivating Students to Improve Study Habits

Motivating Students to Improve Study Habits

Guide Your Students Toward More Effective Study Habits

Technology and Student Learning

Enhance Student Collaboration with Online Tools: Google Apps

More on Student Collaboration and Google Apps

What's the Right Tool for the Job?

Glogster and Audio Essays

Which Tool? ...  Blackboard? Google Apps? Something else?

Course Design

Use an Annotated Syllabus to Track Your Thinking about Course Design

Communicate High Expectations

Storytelling, Creativity, and Classroom Management

Engage Students in Your Course by Providing a Larger Context

Classroom Activities

Using Games in the Classroom

Value Lines Help Students Examine Both Sides of an Issue

Focused Listing

Critical Thinking 

Building Critical Thinking Skills with a Pro-Con-Caveat Grid

Developing Critical Thinking with Journal Writing

Lectures and Presentations

Make Your PowerPoint Memorable With Images

On the Use and Abuse of Lecture

To Post or Not to Post: What Are the Consequences of Posting PowerPoint Slides for Student Learning?

Academic Integrity and Plagiarism

Personalize Plagiarism to Prevent its Practice

Five Tips to Reduce Cheating

Turnitin is now available within Blackboard

Using SafeAssign as a Teaching Tool

Help Students Develop Paraphrasing Skills to Deter Plagiarism

Grading and Student Feedback

Grade Mechanics Quickly, While Helping Students Learn

Tips for Gathering and Responding to Student Feedback

Grading, Like It or Not!

Weekly Teaching Notes: 2010-2011 index

Author: francine_glazer

Apr 25, 2012

Personalize Plagiarism to Prevent its Practice

Experience is a hard teacher because she gives the test first, the lesson afterwards. 

– Vernon Sanders Law, former major league baseball player (Pittsburgh Pirates)


Strong emotions help cement an experience into long-term memory. Not convinced? Think back – where were you when …

  • The first man landed on the moon?
  • A prominent political figure in your country was shot?
  • You first learned of the events of 9/11/2001?
  • You celebrated an important milestone?


We can use this phenomenon to help our students learn certain key concepts more deeply. For example, let’s look at how Deborah Zarker Miller, an assistant professor of English at Anderson University, makes plagiarism very personal to her students.


First, ask your students to create an original work that is in some way related to your course, and tell them they will each have 60 seconds to present their creation to the class. A student in Foundations of Inquiry might create a brief video or write a short essay elaborating on one of the disciplines introduced in that course; a student in Interior Design might create a montage of sustainable materials; a student in Life Sciences might build a 3-dimensional model to represent a structure in the cell; a student in Engineering might create a schematic for a new, energy-efficient vehicle.


At the next class, after each student presents his or her work, let the students wander around and examine them more closely. Most likely, you will see a range of creativity – and of effort – in the projects. Tell the students to identify the work they find the most creative by standing next to it. Some students will choose their own work, but other students will likely choose someone else’s.


Once everyone has made a choice, tell the students to cross out the name of the person who created the project they are standing by, and to write in their own names instead. Inform them that you will give credit to the student(s) who have identified that work as most creative, not to the student who produced it. Wait for your announcement to sink in, and then ask if there are any questions. As the discussion evolves, the students will begin to realize the connection between what has just happened and plagiarism. Perhaps experiencing plagiarism from “the other side” will make a deeper, longer-lasting impact. 



  • Ambrose, S. A., Bridges, M. W., DiPietro, M., Lovett, M. C., and Norman, M. K. (2010). How Learning Works: Seven Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching (The Jossey-Bass Higher and Adult Education Series). Jossey-Bass, 1 edition.
  • Bransford, J. D., Brown, A. L., and Cocking, R. R. (2000). How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School: Expanded Edition. National Academies Press, 2 edition.
  • Miller, Deborah Zarker. (2012). A Lesson in Academic Integrity as Students Feel the Injustice of Plagiarism. Faculty Focus. Retrieved 4/24/2012 from
  • Zull, J. E. (2002). The Art of Changing the Brain: Enriching the Practice of Teaching by Exploring the Biology of Learning. Stylus Publishing, 1 edition.

To follow up on any of these ideas, please contact me at The activity created by Deborah Zarker Miller was used with permission.


Author: francine_glazer

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Tony Cao Li Tony Cao Li
Campus: Manhattan
Major: Hospitality Management, B.P.S.
Class Of: 2014
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Events & Special Projects Coordinator
Office: Admissions
Campus: Old Westbury
James Chemp (M.S. ’94) James Chemp
Class of 1994
Profession: Director of engineering and energy management for 7-Eleven Corp