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Oct 17, 2012

Effective Feedback

It's not teaching that causes learning. Attempts by the learner to perform cause learning, dependent upon the quality of the feedback and opportunities to use it.

 – Grant Wiggins, AAHE Bulletin, 50 (3), p. 7, 1997

Timely and explicit feedback is an essential component of the learning process. Effective feedback identifies specific aspects of student performance that need improvement, and indicates ways in which the student can improve. By contrast, grades provide only a generic evaluation of performance. Although grades and scores provide some information on the degree to which student performance has met the criteria, they do not explain which aspects did or did not meet the criteria and how.

The full benefits of feedback can only be realized when the feedback adequately directs students’ subsequent practice and when students have the opportunity to incorporate that feedback into their work. Mid-semester feedback, combined with another assignment in which to apply it, is much more effective than is feedback at the end of the semester.

It is also important to consider appropriate response times. This involves both how soon feedback is given (typically, earlier is better) as well as how often (typically, more frequently is better). The ideal timing of feedback, however, cannot be determined by any general rule. Rather, it is best decided in terms of what would best support the goals you have set for students’ learning. Generally, more frequent feedback leads to more efficient learning because it helps students stay on track and address their errors before they become entrenched.

That said, simply giving students lots of feedback about their performance is not necessarily effective. Too much feedback tends to overwhelm students. Students are likely to focus on a subset of the comments that involve detailed, easy-to-fix elements rather than on comments that require conceptual or structural changes to their work.


Set expectations about quality. It’s always easier to excel when you know what the standards are. Share details about what your criteria are with your students when you give them the assignment.

Show students examples of good work.  It can be helpful to share examples of what “good” work looks like, such as an effective paper or a robust solution to a problem. Sharing samples of past student work can help students see how your performance criteria relate to the actual assignment.

Build in multiple opportunities for practice. Because learning accumulates gradually with practice, multiple assignments of shorter length or smaller scope tend to result in more learning than a single assignment of greater length or larger scope.

Require students to specify how they used feedback in subsequent work. Feedback is most valuable when students have the opportunity to reflect on it so they can effectively incorporate it into future practice, performance, or both. Because students often do not see the connection between or among assignments, projects, exams, and so on, asking students to note explicitly how a piece of feedback impacted their practice or performance helps them see and experience the ‘complete’ learning cycle. For example, some instructors who assign multiple drafts of papers require students to submit with each subsequent draft their commented-on prior draft with a paragraph describing how they incorporated the feedback. An analogous approach could be applied to a project assignment that included multiple milestones.

“Feedback,” writes Wiggins (1997), “is not evaluation, the act of placing value.  Feedback is value-neutral help on worthy tasks.  It describes what the learner did and did not do in relation to her goals. It is actionable information, and it empowers the student to make intelligent adjustments when she applies it to her next attempt to perform.”



  • Ambrose, S. A., et al. (2010). How Learning Works: Seven Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.  
  • Chickering, A.W. and Z. F. Gamson. (1987). Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education. The American Association for Higher Education Bulletin 39(7): 3-7.
  • Wiggins, G. (1997). Feedback: How Learning Occurs. The American Association for Higher Education Bulletin 50(3): 7-8.


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.



Kathy Watson

Associate Dean, Faculty Development

Eckerd College

Author: francine_glazer

Oct 10, 2012

Consider the Learning Space

Often when planning instruction we are asked to state our goal, intention or outcome. This focuses our instructional and assessment efforts, and when properly conveyed to learners, it enables them to understand where things are heading and what might count in terms of a mark or grade. The growing popularity of authentic, real-world assessment tasks reflects our attempts to focus student effort on learning how to do the sorts of things they will need to do in their chosen careers. But as time goes on and we gain more experience teaching, we come to understand that the skills required to produce those real-world products are often hidden. Those skills may include critical or creative thinking, sense-making, cross-cultural competency, social intelligence, cognitive load management and virtual collaboration - to name just a few. So we begin to realize that not all learning can be captured by our often narrowly stated intentions.

As we get experienced in the teaching business we realize that stated goals actually capture very little of what students actually learn. So here's my tip:
The next time you write some kind of outcome or goal or intention or objective, and an accompanying assessment task, write it and then answer this question:
What type of learning space will provide the best place for learners to practice developing the skills they will need to achieve success in this task?
This will focus your attention on process - how actually will students be able to go about their learning? What conditions are necessary for them to be able to flourish under your instruction? The answers will guide you at to what kind of learning space you will create that will accomplish your objective but will allow importantly some much more richer and more personal learning to occur.
In this sense a learning space extends far beyond the physical and into the whole learning environment that we as teachers are capable of creating for our students
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.
Tony Fetherston
Centre for Learning and Development
Edith Cowan University
Perth, Australia

Author: francine_glazer

Oct 03, 2012

Developing Student Reading Capacity

One question that often comes up in discussion during our various communities of practices concerns reading, both getting the students to do the readings and helping students develop a more critical eye. Below are some suggestions shared by faculty at Laurier and elsewhere.

Talk about what it means to be a practitioner in your discipline (e.g., a geographer). How does a geographer think, problem solve, read, write, and so on? What questions do they implicitly ask themselves when approaching a particular text? What is the discourse of the discipline? How can we make more transparent and accessible to our students, what comes naturally to us as academics? 

Develop an activity associated with the reading(s) that feeds into classroom discussion (or an assignment). For example, in one of our first year Religion and Culture courses - Evil and Its Symbols - the professor asks her students to identify a short passage or quote from the reading that is salient to them, and to write a short paragraph identifying why this passage or quote spoke to them and how it connects to the topic under study. Students hand their work in 24 hours before class. Their work becomes the foundation for discussion in the next class meeting. A portion of the students' total grade is assigned to these submissions. 

Model critical reading in the classroom. I like the approach created by Professor Shelagh Crooks of St. Mary's University (Canada). In her class, she provides students with a short reading (it could be one from the assigned reading list) and, in groups, asks them to work through the following questions. These questions are taken up collectively. This exercise is repeated several times over a number of classes, thereby building student capacity and confidence to read with a more critical eye. Discipline-specific questions could be added to the listed below to reflect one's discipline or subject area. You could also turn this exercise into an assignment.

Questions: (1) What is the topic under discussion? (2) What is the issue at hand? (3) What position does the author take? (4) What evidence does the author provide? (5) How credible is the evidence? 

Other considerations:

  • invite authors into the classroom via Skype or other technology to bring a reading to life 
  • provide a worksheet for students to document their thinking/discussion



  • Engaging Ideas: The Professor's Guide to Integrating Writing, Critical Thinking, and Active Learning in the Classroom (John Bean, 2011)
  • An Exemplar of Pedagogical Scholarship Takes on Student Reading (MaryEllen Weimer, 2012; accessed at )

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.


Jeanette McDonald and Anna Barichello

Wilfrid Laurier University (Canada)

Author: francine_glazer

Sep 26, 2012

Learning from Conflict in the Classroom

“The study of conflict should be viewed as a basic human requirement and the practice of constructive conflict as an essential set of interpersonal skills” (Wilmot and Hocker, 2011, p. 2)

There are several approaches that instructors can adopt for addressing conflict in the classroom as a learning opportunity for students.  One way to begin preparing students to engage in conflict moments is to have them identify their approach to conflict and their conflict style (Wilmot and Hocker 2011).  By having students read through the following statements and identify which statementaligns with their views on conflict, students gain valuable insights into their preferred communication mode— competing, avoiding, compromising, collaborating, and/or accommodating (Thomas and Kilmann, 1974):  

  • I love peace and harmony and will go to great lengths to avoid conflict.
  • I sometimes will willingly engage in conflict, but only if I can see no other good choice.
  • I like the give-and-take of a good verbal conflict and am not particularly wary of getting involved.
  • I enjoy constructive conflict.  My adrenaline gets going and I like to see what can come of it.  I even seek out conflict at times.
  • I count on conflict to help clear the air, solve problems, and get us to a “different place.”

Additionally, instructors can implement activities where students brainstorm constructive and deconstructive approaches for addressing conflict.  One activity, adapted from “The Complete Guide to Conflict Resolution in the Workplace” by Marick F. Masters and Robert R. Albright,  asks students to think of a recent conflict they have had with a peer, superior, or subordinate; write down what the conflict was about; and list the various ways they could have handled it.  Finally, they identify how they handled it and why it worked or did not work.

Utilizing role-play is also a helpful strategy for generating helpful proactive and reactive strategies for conflict communication.  This active learning strategy gives students the opportunity to solve a problem, apply skills, explore/change values, develop empathy, and to become aware of their assumptions (Nickerson 2007).  Role-plays are well-suited for exploring conflict communication because they help students experience “stressful, unfamiliar, complex, or controversial situations” (Bonwell 1991).  Students can reflect on the words and actions of each character to determine the effectiveness of communication in addressing the conflict and the particular conflict modes present in their scenario.

Facilitating difficult conversations on controversial topics is a common practice among instructors from almost all disciplinary backgrounds.  By incorporating proactive and reactive strategies for conflict communication into the course content and modeling constructive ways of handling conflict, instructors can better prepare students to learn from all aspects of difference in the classroom.


  • Bonwell, Charles C., and James Eison.  “Active Learning:  Creating Excitement in the Classroom.”  ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Report No. 1, 1991.
  • “Managing Classroom Conflict.”  Center for Faculty Excellence, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  November 2004.
  • Masters, Marick F., and Robert R. Albright.  The Complete Guide to Conflict Resolution in the Workplace.  New York:  American Management Association, 2002.
  • Nash, Robert J., Bradley LaSha, DeMethra, and Arthur W. Chickering.  How to Talk About Hot Topics on Campus.  Jossey-Bass, 2008. 
  • Nickerson, Stephanie.  “Role-Play:  An Often Misused Active Learning Strategy.”  Essays on Teaching Excellence 19.5 (2007-2008). 
  • “Role-Play Exercises.”  Schreyer Institute for Teaching Excellence:  Penn State University, 2007.
  • Thomas, Kenneth W., and Ralph H. Kilmann (1974). Thomas-Kilmann conflict mode instrument.  Tuxedo, NY: Xicom, Inc, 1974.
  • Wilmot, William, and Joyce Hocker.  Interpersonal Conflict.  8th ed.  McGraw-Hill, 2011.


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.



Dr. Amanda G. McKendree, Assistant Director

Kaneb Center for Teaching and Learning

University of Notre Dame


Author: francine_glazer

Sep 18, 2012

Use PowerPoint to Prompt Engaging Learning Activities During Class

Dilbert depicts PowerPoint presentations as a direct route to slumber and employee revolt.  PowerPoint presentations need not be deadly.  Instructors can create slides that prompt class activities that engage students, motivate meaningful class discussion, and promote deep learning (Berk, 2011).

Instructors commonly organize and plan the presentation of content while they create a set of PowerPoint slides.  Consider creating slides to plan and prompt engaging learning activities at key points during a class presentation.

Instructors who use personal response systems (clickers) can add a slide that poses a question to evaluate student understanding of a critical concept or to ask students to apply a model or principle to a specific application.  Allow students a moment to think individually or discuss the question in small groups before they record their response to the question with their clickers.  

An instructor who does not use clickers can present a slide that poses a question as a prompt for small group discussion (e.g., as a pair-share activity) or a brief in-class written response to the question (e.g., a minute paper).

Share responses to the prompt with the entire class.  If using clicker questions, display a chart summarizing the pattern of responses from the group.  Otherwise, ask for a show of hands for typical responses or initiate a class discussion in which several groups report the consensus response from their discussion.

Wrap up the discussion and refocus attention on the content that triggered the activity.  
  • If common misconceptions about the critical concept emerge in the pattern of responses, spend some time defusing these misconceptions.  
  • If the prompt asked for application to a real world problem, discuss and evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the applications proposed. 
  • If the prompt asked for opinions on a controversial topic, ask the class to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the different positions that emerge.    
Include no more than one or two of these engagement slides during a class session to engage student interest and focus attention on critical points for the day’s lesson.

  • Berk, R. A. (2011).  “Powerpoint® engagement” techniques to foster deep learning.  Journal of Faculty Development, 25, 45-48.
  • Bruff, D.  (2009).  Teaching with classroom response systems:  Creating active learning environments.  San Francisco, CA:  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.

Claudia J. Stanny, Ph.D., Director
Center for University Teaching, Learning, and Assessment
University of West Florida

Author: francine_glazer

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