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Apr 03, 2012

Value Lines Help Students Examine Both Sides of an Issue

A Value Line ascertains students' opinions in a quick and visual way by asking them to line up according to how strongly they agree or disagree with a statement or proposition. For example, instructors may ask students to respond to the following statements:

  • Standardized tests are the best way to screen large numbers of students for college admissions. (Behavioral Sciences; Social Sciences; Education)
  • Fracking poses no health risks whatsoever. (Engineering; Healthcare)
  • The International Monetary Fund made the correct decision when in bailing out Greece. (Economics; Finance)
  • It is not necessary to label genetically-modified foods. (Ethics; Life Sciences; Healthcare) 
  • It’s essential to answer every question a patient has, even if they are taking an excessive amount of your time. (Ethics; Healthcare)

Clear instructions reinforced by visual aids are particularly important for implementation of a Value Line because many students are unaccustomed to active learning that involves active movement.

To initiate the structure, teachers should show the students the statement plus a five point Likert scale with the endpoints labeled “strongly agree” and “strongly disagree.” They then ask students, after a moment of "think time," to choose the number that best describes their position on the issue.

Another approach might be to have students select numbers based on their proficiency or comfort level with specific topics or skills, such as preparing and giving oral presentations.

To avoid indecisiveness, it is a good idea to have the students jot down theirnumber before the next step. Instructors next ask students who have chosen "one" to stand at a designated point along the wall of the room. The students who have chosen "two" follow them, and so forth until all students are lined up. It is important to stretch the line sufficiently so that students are not bunched together in large clumps.

After the students have formed a continuous line based on their responses to the prompt, form heterogeneous groups. Here’s an easy way to do that. First, divide the number of students in the class by the number of students you want in each group. Then, have the students count off by that number, and sort themselves into groups accordingly. For example, if I have 40 students in my class andwant them to work in groups of 4, I ask them to count to 10, starting at oneend of the line, and ask the 11th student to begin again at 1. Any students coming late to class join a team as an additional member.

Pairing students of opposing viewpoints allows them to stretch their perspectives and to learn to examine at least two sides of an issue.

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

Mar 28, 2012

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


A faculty member recently commented to me that his students are often quite willing to take a position on an issue and argue it, but they are not as adept at researching both sides of the issue. This semester he has told them to prepare information on both sides of their chosen issue, and he will then tell them which side to argue in their papers.
Here is an idea that you can use if you want students to explore both sides of an issue when they are working in groups. One characteristic of well-designed cooperative groups is that the tasks hold students accountable for their own, independent, work while simultaneously demanding that they complete a task that is complex enough to require cooperation. This particular assignment, therefore, has two parts: the first completed individually, prior to class, and the second completed in class, as a group.
  • To encourage students to reflect on issues prior to coming to class
  • To ensure preparation prior to class
  • To promote higher order thinking when the students in small groups make judgments about the most cogent pro and con arguments and the caveats that should be considered
Students receive via email, the course management system, or a webpage a blank electronic version of a pro-con-caveat grid. Their instructions are to list the arguments in favor of a certain decision and against the decision with caveats (other considerations) placed in a third column.
Sample issues might include:
  • After reading a case study of a two-career couple, list the pros (benefits) of their filing a joint income tax return and the cons (costs), plus any caveats (other considerations) they should take into consideration. (Accounting)
  •  Explore the pros, cons, and caveats of building a hospital near a Superfund clean up site (for areas that are heavily polluted). (Architecture, Engineering, Health Professions)
  • Debate the merits of using social media in a nutrition awareness campaign targeted at senior citizens. (Communication Arts, Health Professions, Marketing)
Assignments such as these are often motivating for students because they involve a real-life problem relevant to themselves. It is helpful to give students guidelines about how many entries you expect and how the entries should be expressed (e.g, complete sentences, bullets, etc.).
In the example given below, students, as homework, complete their grids, listing the arguments, pro and con, for changing the current flat rate campus parking system to one that is pro-rated based on the salary level of the person purchasing the permit. In a third column, the students list any caveats that might impact the decision.
Pro-Con-Caveat Grid
By Barbara J. Millis
Should Parking on Campus be Pro-Rated Based on Salary Levels?
This system would be much fairer because an administrative assistant and a faculty member parking in the same designated area, such as the parking garages, would not pay the same amount.
Often the people who are carrying the heaviest burdens end up parking the furthest away. This would give people in lower pay grades a better opportunity to afford closer parking.
Some faculty and administrators would resist any changes that might increase their parking fees.
It would be very complex to administer because each designated parking area would have to have various levels of fees.
Parking fees constitute a major source of revenue for the university, so efforts to reduce overall costs could negatively impact the budget.
A feasibility study would be needed
The university would need to be able to prevent people from giving their parking passes to others.
Students bring two copies of their complete pro-con-caveat grid to class. They turn in one copy for pass-fail credit (three points for notations in all three columns), thus making them easy to mark. Students then work in small groups (three to five students: four students in my cooperative learning classes) to create an in-depth grid with the best ideas of each student. Groups can be called on randomly to share their joint creation on a document camera.
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

Mar 13, 2012

Your Responses - Motivating Students to Improve Study Habits

Last week’s Teaching Note described one way to motivate students to renew their efforts after a poor result on the first exam. I heard from many of you in response, and you described the strategies you use. Here are several more ideas, from your colleagues:

  • One person teaches a course that includes four hourly exams plus a comprehensive final exam. Students can opt to have one of their four exam grades replaced by the score earned on the final exam – if their score on the final is higher than their score on all four hourly exams. (In other words, if a student’s scores on the four hourly exams were 85, 70, 90, and 80, and the student earned a 95 on the final exam, he or she could opt to replace the 70 with another score of 95. The student’s grade would then be calculated based on 85, 95, 90, 80, and 95.)
  • Another individual gives 10-minute weekly quizzes – the average of the quizzes is given as much weight as the score from one of the exams. Quizzes are given at the start of class, cover the reading for that day, and cannot be made up. This is a great way to get your students to class on time, having done the reading in advance.
  • A third person uses a similar idea, but takes it online, as follows: students are assigned reading and can use animated tutorials (from the publisher) to test their knowledge. They have to complete a short online quiz on the material prior to coming to class. To deter cheating, each student’s quiz consists of 10 questions drawn randomly from a bank of 30 questions. Quiz questions also come from the publisher and align with the tutorials. The instructor can look at the aggregate quiz results prior to class, and can spend class time on the topics that confused the students, rather than on the topics they know well.
Don’t give exams? Here are three more ideas:
  • Preview the reading for the next class by spending a couple of minutes at the end of class discussing how the new material connects to what you’ve just done in class.  You can also create a list of guiding questions to accompany the reading, or give the students a description of “themes to find.”  
  • Use the last five minutes of class time for student summaries. Have them review their notes and write a short paragraph summarizing the main ideas from the day’s discussion. Collect the summaries as students leave, glance through them before the next class, and display the best two or three as a vehicle to review the material. 
  • Break a large project down into steps, and collect the component parts throughout the semester. Give students feedback and encourage them to use the ideas to improve their project. Depending on the nature of the project, you might also have students review each other’s work and make suggestions. 

Your feedback, suggestions, and original ideas are always welcome! To follow up on any of these ideas, please contact me at

Author: francine_glazer

Mar 07, 2012

Motivating Students to Improve Study Habits

I teach a 100-level course that many students do not look forward to taking. It is an introduction to both chemistry and physics and is a requirement for some non-science majors. Most of my students are freshmen or sophomores, many of whom are weak in science and math and therefore are anxious about this class. Compounding their weaknesses in math and science, some students do not have effective study habits, frequently do not do the homework and practice problems, and do not seek free tutoring assistance or extra help from me. As a result, a number of students do not do as well on the first test as they would like.

To encourage students to study more diligently during the remainder of the semester, I now make the following offer after returning the first test. I tell students that I will drop their first test score if their scores on all three of the remaining tests are higher than the first test. I carefully point out that I will not drop the lowest of the four tests grades – only the first grade if the remaining three test scores are higher than the first. Most students appreciate this offer and usually put more effort into studying during the rest of the semester.
Having offered a lifeline to those students who did poorly on the first test, I also want to recognize/reward those students who had studied diligently from the start of the semester and did well on the first test. If a student gets a 92 on the first test, it might be difficult to do better on all of the remaining three tests. Therefore, I also tell the class that for any student who had an 85 or higher on the first test, I will drop the lowest of the four test scores when calculating their final course grade. So far, I have not had any of these diligent and motivated students purposefully “bomb” one of the three remaining tests knowing that it will be dropped.
If a poor score on the first test is a wake-up call for some students, this offer to delete the first score provides them a path forward to a better course grade and motivation to study more diligently and seek help if needed. In addition, students who are doing well are recognized and not left out. This offer is not successful in waking up all the students who scored poorly on the first test, but it does have a positive impact on most of them.

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.

Ernest C. Linsay
Director, Faculty Development & Support
Wilmington University, Delaware

Author: francine_glazer

Feb 29, 2012

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

Yesterday, the Center for Teaching and Learning hosted a workshop on digital tools that can be used to enhance learning. Four faculty members with expertise in Blackboard (Bb) and Google Apps shared some strategies they use to increase student engagement and learning and answered questions from the other participants about how to achieve certain pedagogical goals using these tools. Here, I share some of the ideas generated at the workshop. Thanks to Dan Quigley, College of Arts and Sciences, and to Kate O’Hara, Stan Silverman, and Mike Uttendorfer, all in the School of Education, for sharing their experiences.

Our panelists prefer Google Apps as a tool for facilitating group work. Do you want your students to write a paper or create a presentation collaboratively? Edit one another’s writing? Collect and analyze data? Google Sites or Google Documents can be used to organize contributions from multiple students, much as you might use the wiki tool in Blackboard. Google Docs includes a word processor, a presentation tool, a spreadsheet, and a form generator that deposits information into a spreadsheet.

Google Forms are especially versatile – the four faculty on the panel use the tool for attendance, for gathering information in one place (e.g., students' choice of topics for papers), for quizzes and anonymous surveys, and as a way for students to get to know one another. This last technique is employed by Stan Silverman, who asks students to answer a series of questions about themselves. All the students can view each others' responses on the spreadsheet, and Stan uses their responses to selected questions in the survey as a way to sort his students into groups.

Blackboard does have tools for groups, and many of those tools can link directly to the grade center. However, as Mike Uttendorfer pointed out, if students are sharing documents back and forth the groups tool in Bb will result in multiple copies of a document at different stages of completion, while Google Apps will maintain a single document, with a history of changes and the ability to revert to an earlier version. 

One innovative idea for integrating the two suites of tools is to embed the Google documents, drawings, forms, etc. on a content page in Bb.  Kate O’Hara, who shared this idea, said it makes the Bb pages more visually appealing to students, and the students can use Google Apps from within the Bb environment. This strategy has the added advantage of giving the student a wider variety of tools to use, and familiarity with Google Apps gives them a skill they can use in a professional setting.

One of the recurring themes during the workshop was how to organize course materials. Mike Uttendorfer does this within Bb by creating a content page for each week/unit of the course, and giving that page a consistent structure each week. The page starts with a weekly 'roadmap' that includes the learning objectives, activities, resources, and approximate time required to complete each task. Folders on the page keep resource materials and activities grouped together, and each unit ends with a self-assessment for the students, so they can gauge their mastery of the material. Frequent use of anonymous surveys helps Mike gather feedback about the course design and any difficulties the students might be having with the material.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a video is worth an essay. Several of the faculty use short screencasts to give students a tour of the virtual environment, directions on how to do things, feedback on student work, and to convey content. Dan Quigley asks his students to use a free screencasting tool (two popular tools are Jing – – and Screencast-O-Matic – to provide narration for a slide presentation, as a way to move student presentations online. It is a good idea to provide students with several options when using this approach, because the computers they have at home are going to have a range of ability with respect to the technologies they can support.

A third thread to the conversation was synchronous activities. Students learn best with a blend of asynchronous and synchronous activities – regardless of whether the synchronous activities occur online or in person – especially when the learning that happens in one venue is reinforced in the other. We had a wide-ranging discussion of different tools that are available, each of which has different strengths and limitations. Dan Quigley made an excellent point: when starting out, keep your (and your students') expectations realistic. If you want to experiment with a synchronous online format like a webinar, it might be best to do so as an enhancement to a course that meets in person – that way if the technology doesn't work as advertised, you have the regular class meeting as a backup.

As you can see, there are lots of choices out there. Ultimately, the best choice is the one that allows you to answer “yes” to these questions:

  • Does this tool measurably improve teaching and learning?
  • Will this tool help my students become more engaged with the course material?
  • Does this tool make my work or that of my students easier and more efficient?
  • Is this tool "better enough" than what I am currently using to justify the time and effort required to learn it?

Author: francine_glazer

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Babak Beheshti Babak Beheshti
Associate Professor
Department: Electrical and Computer Engineering Technology
Campus: Old Westbury
Pranav Krishnamurthy Pranav Krishnamurthy
Campus: Old Westbury
Major: Computer Science, M.S.
Class Of: 2015
Ian Omar Ian Omar
Manager, Desktop Support
Office: Information Technology and Infrastructure
Campus: Old Westbury