User Blogs
Full Blog Posts
Feb 06, 2013

The Past is Always With Us

Our brains are not built to remember unconnected facts; if material doesn’t relate to something else that is important to us, we forget.  Not only do we need prior experiences as an anchor, but the quality of our prior assumptions, conceptual knowledge and biases can all influence what we learn, for better or worse. If you’d like to experience the importance of prior knowledge firsthand, take a challenging class in a new area.  Notice how much you try to use your prior knowledge to anchor new material and see how many misconceptions you have! 

Despite these well-known findings, most of us do little to discover what our students already know (or think they know) about our disciplines. And yet, that prior knowledge may make or break their chances for success in our classes.

In introductory courses we typically don’t expect students to show a sophisticated grasp of disciplinary concepts.  Unfortunately, we often find something more difficult to change: a mental framework that’s a bit dented or is missing critical pieces. Misconceptions and incorrect information can distort and limit student learning, especially at the introductory level.  Unfortunately, since this incorrect information is also anchored in prior knowledge, it can be resistant to change.  Discovering common student misconceptions and designing experiences that challenge them is a critical part of building new levels of expertise.  Experiments, demonstrations, videos and other active methods that directly challenge student misconceptions are often the most powerful since they use multiple channels and can have more emotional impact than lecture or readings.  It takes a powerful stimulus to dislodge embedded rust. 

As students advance in the discipline, they begin to develop more sophisticated knowledge structures. In these upper level classes it’s important to find out what students already know so that you don’t try to build on knowledge that isn’t there.  Having a good understanding of prior knowledge can also help you advise students – someone with gaps that are just too large may need to take a pre-requisite course, while others may need to be referred for tutoring in specific areas.  Other students may be able to skip some topics, or take a more in-depth approach. 

There are many ways to assess prior learning.  Some faculty members use pre-tests or writing assignments that identify strengths and weaknesses, but it does take time to read and analyze them, even when they are ungraded.  Asking students to draw a concept map showing what they know on a given topic is a quick way to show you what information students think is important, and also gives you a picture of how they organize that information.  Another approach is the Knowledge Survey.  This type of survey is often quite lengthy, but students are not actually asked to answer the questions as they would on an exam.  Instead, they rate their level of knowledge of each concept or process on a three point scale from absolute certainty to complete ignorance.  These surveys can be analyzed electronically and they provide a quick snapshot of the class that can help you focus your class time more productively.  Administering the same survey or asking for the same concept map at the end of the course provides a check up on how effectively you were able to reach your goals; ideally you will see positive improvements for the class as a whole and for individual students as well.


  • Ambrose, S. A., et al. (2010). How Learning Works: Seven Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.  
  • Nuhfer, E. and D. Knipp. (2003). The Knowledge Survey: A Tool for All Reasons. To Improve the Academy 21: 59-78.

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.

Carolyn Oxenford
Director of the Center for Teaching Excellence
Marymount University


Author: francine_glazer

Jan 30, 2013

Strategies for Learning Students’ Names

Purpose: To help build rapport and show students that you care about them as individuals even in large class settings.  Learning names makes people feel valued. Small interventions can make big differences.

Strategy One (Dee Fink) 
I used small groups extensively in my large Geography course.  After forming the groups on the first day of class, I took a Polaroid picture of each group, and they wrote their names by their individual picture.  I then posted these pictures by my desk in my office and worked on learning the names within each group.  After learning the names in the first group, I would learn a new group and review the names in the previous groups, and so on.  I took a week or two to get them all done, but I eventually did.  It was a lot easier to memorize 12 groups of 6 students, than it was to memorize 72 students.
Strategy Two (Dee Fink) 
A math professor used assigned seating, made a chart, and then each day of class, worked on memorizing a block of 6 students (3 in front and 3 behind).   Each day when he came to class, he made a point of visiting with students in each new block and in the ones he had already learned—in addition to the class in general.
Strategy Three (Gerry Wojnar)
I memorize my rosters about a week before classes start, reciting names forwards and backwards.  Then on the first day of class, I go around the room identifying students, and half the work is already done —with their names already in memory, the task is simply to match names and faces.  It helps to give students some short task at that point (e.g., filling out basic background info cards), during which time I cycle through my roll sheet trying to identify all students.  For a few I’ll call out their names while they work.  Lastly, I’ll try to revisit names and faces by going around the room to recite all the students’ names, preferably without reference to the roster. 
Strategy Four (Gerry Wojnar)
A mandatory office visit from students in the first 10 days of the semester, even if just to say hello, also helps.  Such break-the-ice visits also seem to promote more content-focused office visits as the semester progresses.
Strategy Five (Kejing Liu)
I manage to remember my students’ names first by asking them to make a name card and place it at the table—this will help me relate the name with the seat, and then by encouraging them to sit at the same seat for next two or three class meetings.  
Strategy Six (Kejing Liu)
I always ask my classes to fill out a student information card with the following information:
Course Number  ______________________
Name: __________________ Name you like to be called: _____________________
1 word for your learning style: ____________________________________________
2 words for your interests: ______________________,_________________________
3 words for your personality: ____________,_______________,_________________
4 words for your beliefs in children: ________,___________,__________.__________
I am an Early Childhood faculty member, which explains why I ask for their beliefs in children.  Try it, and you will learn a lot of interesting things about your students – it will also help you to remember your students very quickly.
Strategy Seven (Susan Robison)
Have students make name "tents" out of cardboard or card stock that you provide. They raise their tent every time they wish to be called on.  They can also put the tent on their desk so as they do projects, labs, or group work you can associate the names and faces. With both of these approaches, you have to decide if will you collect the tents and bring them to class or trust the students to bring them.
Strategy Eight (Susan Robison)
If you have access to student photos [as we do at UTSA], you can make a seating chart and study the pictures and names before the course even starts.
Strategy Nine (Susan Robison)
When the students come for office hours, ask, "Please remind me of your name." Take notes on the meeting especially on any follow up you promise to do.
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.
Barbara Millis
Teaching and Learning Center
University of Texas at San Antonio

Author: francine_glazer

Jan 23, 2013

Course Countdown

6 weeks before class:

4 weeks before class:
2 weeks before class:
Day 1/Week 1:

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.

Judy C. K. Chan, PhD
Educational Developer
Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology
The University of British Columbia

Author: francine_glazer

Dec 12, 2012

Holistic Conversations about a course: Activity for the last week of the semester

In some classes, you may want to obtain information about what assignments and experiences were valuable – especially if you are preparing to teach the same course the next semester. Here’s a way to get feedback from your students at the same time that you review the major course goals and objectives with them.

1. Prepare a sheet of paper that simply has a label for the assignment or experience on the top – one for each area you are interested in obtaining information.  For example: 

2. Create groups of students – the same number of groups as there are assignments that they will explore.
3. Give each group one of the sheets of paper, and ask one person to be the scribe.  They are to write what was effective about the assignment/experience and what was ineffective about the assignment.  Give the group about three minutes to do this.
4. Rotate sheets clockwise.  The next group reads what is on the sheet and adds effective and ineffective aspects.  Give the group about three minutes to do this.
5. Rotate sheets clockwise again…same task as above.  Give the group about three minutes to do this.
6. Rotate sheets clockwise – this is the last time – the group is to read all the comments and then rank order the three most important comments on the sheet.  The groups may need more than three minutes but are usually done within five minutes.
7. Bring everyone back together and open the floor for discussion.  Start with the area you are most interested in and ask the group that has that sheet to talk about their ranking and explain why they rated things this way. Ask the rest of the class to comment, if they’d like. The ensuing discussions allows you to hear, respond to, and acknowledge the strengths and weaknesses of the various activities.  Because the group that speaks first is the group that ranked the responses, they are more comfortable engaging in the conversation since they are not responsible for generating the items on the sheet.  What I have found is that this acts as a catalyst for a healthy whole class discussion of what was learned during the course.
In addition to providing you with guidance for the next time you teach the course, you will be able to reemphasize course outcomes, rearticulate interconnections of concepts and experiences, and communicate intent while having a chance to review material.  Collect the sheets so that you can read everything and use them to shape aspects of the course the next time you teach it.

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.
Rebecca Clemente, Director for the Center of Teaching and Learning
North Central College
Naperville, Illinois

Author: francine_glazer

Dec 05, 2012

The Graphic Syllabus

I remember taking Physics in high school, where for the first time, a science class was not only easy to understand, but fun. I recall it was all because the new textbook explained Physics with simple drawings of how objects moved in space, instead of using merely text.  Now, 25 years later, I am applying this principle to the course syllabus.

In “ARTC401-Senior Project I”, students acquire various skills of 3D modeling and animation to produce short animations from start to finish.  Image 1 shows an excerpt of the text syllabus, with detailed description of weekly topics and assignments.  Every semester I start with a syllabus overview, leading the students through an 8-page text syllabus.    

text syllabus

This year, I supplemented it with a graphic syllabus and discussion (Image 2). This simple diagram illustrates the interconnectedness of all the modules in the course. There is a clear direction; each module feeding into the next, culminating in the central module, M8 Final Project. I utilized color and size to visually communicate the type and magnitude of each module.

graphic syllabus

I also thought it would be valuable for students to visualize the implications of their coursework, and how much each of their efforts counts towards their final grade. 

pie chart

Many fine arts students have complained to me about the interface design of Blackboard, so I faced a challenge. How can I make art students excited about using Blackboard?  How can I make the interface more accessible?

Blackboard permits uploading of graphics, and I realized this feature could allow me to influence the graphical interface, enhancing the student experience while simultaneously communicating the schedule of each module period.  I wanted it to be as easy as finding a New York subway train, so the graphics were inspired by NYC subway symbols, with colors and numbers for the different days of the module.  This graphic was the first item that loaded in the course sections on Blackboard. (Image 5).

Bb view

Overall, my students seem to appreciate these visual enhancements to the course.  They can always refer to the text syllabus for details, and visualize how the pieces fit together into the big picture.

Yuko Oda
Associate Professor, Fine Arts
College of Arts and Sciences

Author: francine_glazer

Page 13 of 27 « First  <  11 12 13 14 15 >  Last »
Leigh Mascianica Leigh Mascianica
Assistant Director
Office: Career Services
Campus: Manhattan
Umapathy Ananthanarayanan Umapathy Ananthanarayanan
Assistant Professor
Department: Accounting
Campus: Manhattan
Wolfgang Gilliar Wolfgang Gilliar, D.O.
Professor and Dean, College of Osteopathic Medicine
Department: Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine
Campus: Old Westbury