Feed on

As we reach the midpoint of the semester, where tests are as numerous to the students as the falling leaves, it is fitting to look back to October 1924 and the eloquent words of Grantland Rice…Outlined against a blue-gray October sky, the Four Horsemen rode again. In dramatic lore they are known as Famine, Pestilence, Destruction and Death. These are only aliases. Their real names are… Quizzes, Exams, Midterms, and Finals. Ok, maybe these Four Horsemen of Assessment are not as daunting as Stuhldreher, Miller, Crowley and Layden were on the football field that Saturday, but your students may feel equally overmatched, unnerved and bowled over during tests if your question design is not following the game plan for quality assessment. Students should be tested in a fair but challenging manner, which means instructors must take great care in composing multiple choice questions. Engaging student brains with well-designed questions will validly determine whether they have learned and retained the targeted skills and information to meet your course objectives. 

Let’s review some general, but important, considerations when developing quality multiple choice items.

Stem and Options

After first drafting the stem (positively-worded) and correct answer (which together makes a complete and correct sentence), 3-5 distractor options should be created that are: 

  • Plausible enough to be chosen and possibly be argued as correct
  • True statements that don’t answer the question
  • Reflective of common student errors, assumptions or misconceptions
  • Familiar, yet incorrect, words or phrases
  • Reasonably likely to be chosen by those who don’t fully know the material

Visual, Verbal, Grammatical and Logical Cues

Review your answer, considering cues students may use to identify the answer, as these defeat the goal of the instructor to engage the type of thinking, learning, and feedback needed to by students to understand and connect the material to learning objectives. Cues may include: 

  • Grammar structure that is not consistent with the stem sentence.
  • One distractor that is much longer than others (“too long to be wrong”)
  • A single option that contains all the other options
  • An option with a vague word or phrase like “usually,” “typically” or “may be”
  • Two options with the same meaning
  • One option in textbook/lecture language (correct), others in everyday language

Other Common Mistakes or Answer Identifiers

Finally, it is equally advisable to be aware of some common mistakes/issues when creating your multiple choice items. These elements can add confusion or vagueness to your item so avoid using:

  • Negative wording of the stem (Which of the following is NOT…)
  • Microscopically-fine distinctions between options (unless absolutely necessary)
  • An option that is humorous, funny or cute
  • Options that include All or None of the above, All, Always, or Never
  • Stems that seek to find the exception in a list of correct options  (All of the following are signs of XYZ except)
  • One option combines to other options (Both A & B)



Rice, Grantland “The Four Horsemen”. New York Herald Tribune, 18 October 1924. Retrieved from http://archives.nd.edu/research/texts/rice.htm October 11, 2019.

Hubert, Dan (2019). Creating Effective Multiple Choice Questions. University of Notre Dame. Kaneb Center for Teaching and Learning Workshop, September 25, 2019.


As we near fall break, you may find that your grading is piling up quickly, and if you’re like me, you’re probably wondering how to keep it from taking over your life. What follows are some concrete strategies to make grading more efficient, without sacrificing the quality of feedback you give on student work.

Add grading to your calendar. For major assignments, set aside blocks of time for grading in your daily schedule. Try to work for an hour or two at a time to avoid burnout and to keep your grading consistent. 

Set a timer. Time can really get away from you while you’re grading. Setting a timer for each paper, lab report, or project (and sticking to the time you’ve set!) can help ensure you give concise feedback on the most important points and finish grading in a timely manner.

Use a rubric. Rubrics with clearly defined expectations not only help students craft better assignments but also help instructors focus their evaluation. Consider designing rubrics that you can mark up and return to students with their grades. In addition to minimizing the amount of time you spend writing out comments, this method can also promote more consistent grading, saving time in the long run. 

Use a comment bank. If you find students are consistently making the same kind or error or struggling in similar ways, craft a general comment that addresses your concerns and can be slightly modified for different students and situations. Save this comment, and others, in a document that you can draw on when grading future assignments. 

Focus feedback by considering assignment goals. Remember that addressing every concern in every student assignment is impossible. Limit the kind of feedback you give to the concerns the assignment is designed to address and the topics you’ve covered in previous classes. 

Offer verbal rather than written feedback. Sometimes speaking to students about their work can be quicker and easier than writing out your comments. Consider meeting individually with students to offer feedback or even recording verbal comments to distribute digitally.

And remember: past a certain point, the amount of time you spend crafting feedback for students has diminishing returns. Students can feel overwhelmed or discouraged by too many comments, so devoting an inordinate amount of time to grading is not only exhausting but also, in many cases, counterproductive. Developing a toolbox for targeted and efficient grading can improve the experience of the course both for you and your students.  


Additional Resources
Natascha Chtena, “Grading Faster and Smarter,” Inside Higher Ed
Kevin Gannon, “How to Escape Grading Jail,” The Chronicle of Higher Education
Victoria Smith and Stephanie Maher Palenque, “Ten Tips for More Efficient and Effective Grading,” Faculty Focus
Tips on Grading Efficiently,” Graduate Student Instructor Teaching & Resource Center, Berkeley Graduate Division

“If your goal is to engage students in critical thinking… you need to present interesting challenges to solve, rather than simply explaining how other smart people have already solved those challenges.” – Therese Huston

Problem-Based Learning (PBL) and Inquiry-Based Learning (IBL) are both student-centered teaching pedagogies that encourage active learning and critical thinking through investigation. Both methods offer students interesting problems to consider. And research shows that both PBL and IBL are effective models of learning. 

So, what’s the difference between the two?


According to Banchi and Bell [4], there are four different levels of inquiry.

  1. Confirmation Inquiry: Students confirm a principle through an activity when the results are known in advance.
  2. Structured Inquiry: Students investigate a teacher-presented question through a prescribed procedure. 
  3. Guided Inquiry: Students investigate a teacher-presented question using student designed or selected procedures.
  4. Open Inquiry: Students investigate questions that are student formulated through student designed or selected procedures.

Most academics define Inquiry-Based-Learning as a pedagogy that is based on one of these levels. So IBL can be as methodical as guiding students through a procedure to discover a known result or as free-form as encouraging students to formulate original questions. For example, in a Physics laboratory, suppose the topic is Newton’s Second Law of Motion. The lab instructions could define a procedure to record the mass and impact force of various objects. Multiplying the mass by the acceleration due to gravity, the students should recover the force they recorded, thus confirming Newton’s Second Law.


Problem-Based-Learning can be classified as guided inquiry where the teacher-presented question is an unsolved, real-world problem. For example, in a Middle Eastern Studies course, the main problem posed by the instructor could be “Propose a solution to the Israeli–Palestinian conflict.” This question will motivate the study of the history of the region, the theological differences between Judaism and Islam, and current events. At the end of the semester, students would be expected to present and justify their solution. 

Therefore, using the definition above, PBL is a type of IBL.


PBL is great because it motivates course content and maximizes learning via investigation, explanation, and resolution of real and meaningful problems. At any level, inquiry can be an effective method of learning because it is student-centered and encourages the development of practical skills and higher-level thinking. 

As you plan for your next class, I invite you to reflect on your method of content delivery. Is it motivated? How? Would your students benefit from a day based on inquiry?



  1. Inquiry Based Learning. University of Notre Dame Notes on Teaching and Learning. https://sites.nd.edu/kaneb/2014/11/10/inquiry-based-learning/.
  2. Problem-Based Learning. Cornell University Center for Teaching Innovation. https://teaching.cornell.edu/teaching-resources/engaging-students/problem-based-learning.
  3. Hmelo-Silver, Cindy E.; Duncan, Ravit Golan; Chinn, Clark A. (2007). “Scaffolding and Achievement in Problem-Based and Inquiry Learning: A Response to Kirschner, Sweller, and Clark (2006)”. Educational Psychologist. 42 (2): 99–107. doi:10.1080/00461520701263368.
  4. Banchi, H., & Bell R. (2008). The many levels of inquiry. Science and Children.


Now that we’re four weeks into the semester, you may be wondering: how can you effectively help students who are struggling to keep up in your course? This issue can be broadly categorized into two major components: (1) identifying at-risk students (ideally early in the semester), and (2) intervening with those students to increase their academic performance. The former is a fairly established area of research [1,2,3,4], while the latter is an emerging topic. There is not much research, however, that attempts to combine the two and close the learning analytics loop [5].

Recent work conducted at the University of Notre Dame has been shown to boost student success, by using an integrated closed-loop learning analytics scheme that consists of multiple steps broken into three main phases, as follows: (1) capture gradebook data in real time, (2) analyze that data to identify a trigger for potentially non-thriving students, (3) intervene with those students to boost their performance [5]. The general idea of this technique is to close the loop by allowing later steps to inform earlier ones in real-time during a semester and iteratively year to year, thereby improving the course from data-driven insights.

This new technique effectively takes the burden of identifying and helping non-thriving students off individual instructors in larger, multi-section courses. Instead, the real-time data-driven analytics do much of the detail-oriented work at identifying non-thriving behavior, and templated bottom-up interventions are provided to students to boost their academic performance. 

Even if you do not have the appropriate resources or class size to implement the above techniques, the general structure can be followed: (1) As a domain expert, do your best to decide on a gradebook trigger which you believe will identify the majority of non-thriving students (e.g., if a student has missed one or more of the first four assignments). (2) Intervene with those students early on in the semester, either directly (say, an email expressing concern and an invitation to meet with you or come to office hours) or via their academic advisor. The goal with this step is not to scare the student into doing better, but rather to get at the root of the issue (e.g., they just forgot, there was a grading mistake, they are struggling academically, they have home- or campus-related stress, etc.) This bottom-up method of intervening helps get at the root of the problem, allowing you to provide the student with the appropriate resources to boost their performance (e.g., strategies for managing their workload, scheduled meetings with the instructor or advisor, referrals to the rector, a care consultant, a peer advisor, a counselor, etc.) (3) Track those students throughout the semester and assess the effectiveness of your trigger and/or intervention, and update it as needed for future semesters.

Hopefully this strategy can help you minimize the damage for students who fall behind early in the semester this year and years to come.   


[1] Arnold, K. E., and Pistilli M. D. (2012). “Course Signals at Purdue: Using Learning Analytics to Increase Student Success.2nd International Conference on Learning Analytics and Knowledge

[2] Moon, S. et al. (2013). “High-Impact Educational Practices as Promoting Student Retention and Success.” 9th Annual National Symposium C-IDEA

[3] Murtaugh, P. A., Burns, L. D., Schuster, J. (1999). “Predicting the Retention of the University Students.Research in Higher Education, 40, 3

[4] Wolff, A. et al. (2013). “Improving Retention: Predicting At-Risk Students by Analyzing Clicking Behavior in a Virtual Learning Environment. 3rd International Conference on Learning Analytics and Knowledge

[5] Syed, M. et al. (2019). “Integrated Closed-Loop Learning Analytics Scheme in a First Year Experience Course.International Conference on Learning Analytics and Knowledge

Submitted by:

Carson Running

Ph.D. Candidate, Aerospace Engineering

University of Notre Dame

This week’s blogpost is twofold. It reminds you that this is a great time to solicit early-semester feedback from your students, and serves as the first in a four-part series on teaching controversial topics. 


Gathering Early-Semester Feedback

You are likely approaching the point in the semester at which you begin to develop a rhythm. Before that rhythm becomes too much of a routine and time slips away, take advantage of the chance to solicit early-semester feedback from your students. 


The Kaneb Center has several resources to help you do so. Our blog archive has many short posts on collecting early-semester feedback, including why and how to do so, what type of questions to ask, how to evaluate the results, and how to use them.


This handout summarizes the rationale for soliciting early-semester feedback, strategies for doing so, and resources for further reference. 


The Kaneb Center is also happy to review your questions and administer Qualtrics surveys for you. 


Finally, you are invited to attend our workshop on soliciting early-semester feedback this week on Wednesday, September 18. 


Teaching Controversial Topics

Instructors often steer clear of controversial topics because they are not confident of their ability to handle them well. This is understandable, given the many ways that engaging with such topics can go awry. But there are also two reasons it is worth engaging these topics anyway: 


  • First, controversial topics are likely to interest students. One of the most effective ways to engage students in course material is to bridge to it from something they are already care about. Controversial issues pique student interest almost by definition, since they are sensitive, emotionally charged, or the subject of strong disagreement. 


  • Second, the college classroom can be an excellent venue for students to learn how to engage more productively with controversial topics. Students who hold unreflective views about these topics will benefit from the opportunity to reflect critically on their positions in conversation–whether face to face or mediated by course texts–with those who disagree with them. This critical reflection may also help students develop ethical reasoning skills which will serve them well as they navigate controversial issues for the rest of their lives. 


However, the specific way that the college classroom fosters more productive engagement with controversial issues will depend at least in part on the framework you adopt as the instructor. Three pedagogical frameworks for engaging with controversial issues are prominent in higher education today: 


  • Liberation Pedagogy: Because the classroom is enmeshed in the world’s problems, students should relate their experiences to those problems so they can gain a new understanding of their relationship to the world. (cf. Paulo Freire, The Pedagogy of the Oppressed)


  • Civic Humanism: Teachers should aim to develop moral and civic virtues in their students, to prepare them to be responsible citizens. (cf. Derek Bok, Our Underachieving Colleges



  • Academic Detachment: Teachers should analyze controversial topics in a detached fashion because the purpose of academia is to evaluate competing arguments rather than to determine what course of action to take. (cf. Stanley Fish, “Tip to Professors: Just Do Your Job”)


Before you teach a controversial topic, reflect on which of these frameworks you will adopt. You may also prefer to glean aspects from multiple frameworks and develop your own personal framework. In next month’s post we’ll consider how instructors can develop a classroom environment conducive to productive engagement with controversial issues. 



“Teaching Controversial Topics.” Poorvu Center for Teaching and Learning. Yale University. Accessed September 13, 2019. https://poorvucenter.yale.edu/teaching/ideas-teaching/teaching-controversial-topics.

“Why Teach Controversial Issues?” Teaching Quality at Flinders. Flinders University. Accessed September 13, 2019. https://www.flinders.edu.au/teaching/quality/teaching-methods/teaching-controversial-issues/why-teach-controversial-issues.cfm.

Just like a good essay hooks the reader, an effective class engages students right from the start. I challenge you to rethink the way you use the first 5 minutes of your class. Instead of diving straight into lecture or administrative announcements, try to spark student curiosity and contextualize new material with the tips below.


  • Open with a question or challenge

Get students excited about new material. For example, in a Linear Algebra course, the first question of the day could be: “Do you think it’s possible to encode a secret message using matrices?” This question is a perfect segue to talking about invertible matrices, and the students will get lively talking about spies or German secret codes from WWII.

Choose a question that requires the student to make a decision or create a plan. Research shows that when students generate a hypothesis, they are more invested in the learning process. [2]

Posing a question is a great way to get students thinking, especially if you don’t answer the question–at least, not right away. Focus on creating a dialogue, challenging students, and encouraging critical thinking skills. 


  • Recall previous material 

Recall is one of the best ways to transition lectures and connect the big ideas in your course. This can be as simple as listing the topics covered in the last class. In just a few minutes, you can give students concrete take-aways from the old material and transition to the new.

Another option is to have the students recall the old material. This can be done in the form of a low-stakes quiz, a word cloud, or a Think-Pair-Share with a prompt to think of the three main take-home points from the previous class session or unit. The goal here is to get students to think about the most important ideas from the last class and practice memory retrieval


  • Outline the class and establish learning goals

Give students a roadmap of what to expect. Create an outline for the structure of the class and be clear about what you want your students to take away from it. Learning goals are the best way to make these intentions explicit. Good learning goals will:

    1. identify content and skills to be mastered and
    2. connect to broader goals and outcomes.

Consider Bloom’s Taxonomy when phrasing your learning goals!


  • Create context

Place your lesson in the context of your course, history, or student experience. Context helps students to develop connections and deepen understanding. You can make connections to previous lessons and to the learning goals for your course. You can illustrate the “big picture” by giving historical context or addressing current events. For example, in a Political Science course, before covering the framework of the US Constitution, you may discuss the current controversy of the electoral college. Or you can have the students draw upon their past experiences or previous courses to create context. This is a great way to understand your students’ backgrounds in and preconceptions of a new topic.


Investing in the first 5 minutes will dramatically increase the odds that your students will be invested in the remaining 45 (or 70) minutes. Don’t be afraid to try something new! Get students thinking, talking, and contextualizing right away.




  1. Chandler, C. (2017, January). The First 5 Minutes: Ignite Student Learning. Retrieved from https://www.middleweb.com/33852/the-first-5-minutes-ignite-student-learning/
  2. Lang, J. M. (2016). Small teaching: everyday lessons from the science of learning.
  3. Lang, J. M. (2016, January 12). Small Changes in Teaching: The First 5 Minutes of Class. Retrieved from https://www.chronicle.com/article/Small-Changes-in-Teaching-The/234869?cid=wcontentgrid_hp_13
  4. Marzano, R. J. (2013). Classroom instruction that works: research-based strategies for increasing student achievement.


Almost nothing is more frightening for a new TA than the possibility of asking a roomful of students a carefully-crafted discussion question and getting back only a roomful of blank stares. But the Kaneb Center is here to help. We recently hosted our annual TA orientation, which closed, for TAs in the humanities and social sciences, with a panel on facilitating class discussion. Our panelists, Pamela Butler (Gender Studies), John Duffy (University Writing Program), Agustín Fuentes (Anthropology), and Dominique Vargas (English), shared some helpful advice for new TAs. Here are some of the main take-aways from the panel, along with additional research-based tips to help you get the most out of classroom discussion.

Have a Discussion About Discussion

Early in the semester, ask your students to think about why discussion-based learning is important for their course and its learning goals. When students understand the rationale behind class discussion and how it helps them learn, they are more likely to be invested in those discussions. You can also encourage student investment in class conversation by asking them to help develop guidelines for discussion. Students are more likely to abide by standards that they themselves had a hand in setting.

Ask Good Questions

This can be harder than it sounds. But the key is to create questions that are open-ended, on which students can take multiple positions. A yes-or-no question is unlikely to elicit much conversation. You might ask students to analyze a text or image, agree or disagree with a statement, offer examples of a phenomenon, explain a complex process, or synthesize difficult material. Use follow-up questions to help them nuance, extend, or modify their answers.

Provide Thinking Time

Many students find discussion intimidating because they have so little time to think about their comments before they make them. Giving students opportunities to gather their thoughts can help improve participation. If you ask a question which is met with silence from the room, try to count to ten before you follow up. Consider providing students with discussion questions in advance or having them free-write in class before launching the conversation. Try a think-pair-share activity, in which students think individually about a discussion prompt and share their thoughts with a partner before speaking up in front of the entire class. These strategies can not only help students feel more confident about their contributions but also lead to a richer and more productive discussion.

Build an Inclusive Classroom Community

Perhaps the most important thing an instructor can do to encourage quality discussion is to create a classroom environment in which every student feels welcome. One way to do this is to make sure that a variety of perspectives are represented in discussion: if you’re noticing an imbalance in the kind or frequency of student participation, take the steps to make sure that all students feel comfortable sharing their comments. Model active listening for students—that is, listen not to reply but to understand—and encourage your students to do the same. Remind them that point of class discussion is not to win a debate but to learn from one another. Keeping this goal at the forefront of the class can help to create an environment where students are free to change their minds or admit when they were wrong. Finally, build in opportunities for students to get to know one another. When students, and instructors, see each other as individuals, they more likely to engage with others’ ideas or perspectives in good faith. If you’re interested in thinking more about inclusive teaching practices, register to attend the Kaneb Center’s fall workshop on Inclusive Excellence in the Classroom.

Allow for Ambiguity

Class discussion is for elucidating complex issues and questions that don’t lend themselves to easy answers. It’s possible that your students will want to impose an easy answer on the discussion, and it is sometimes tempting to do so yourself. Resist this temptation. Good conversation about difficult topics, rather than leading to resolution, often leads instead to new and better kinds of irresolution. Don’t be afraid of open-endedness. Stress to your students that even if they haven’t completely solved the problem at hand, they can now ask more productive questions and think about the problem in more nuanced ways. Encourage their continued curiosity, and think about how you can return to the conversation in future classes.

And finally, don’t forget about online resources for class discussion. If you’re interested in thinking about how to leverage these tools in your own course, register to attend the Kaneb Center’s fall workshop Continuing the Conversation: Using Class-based Discussion Boards.

Additional Resources

Stephen D. Brookfield and Stephen Preskill, Discussion as a Way of Teaching: Tools and Techniques for Democratic Classrooms

Jay R. Howard, “How to Hold a Better Class Discussion

Jay R. Howard, Discussion in the College Classroom: Getting Your Students Engaged and Participating in Person and Online 

Kelly A. Roca, “Student Participation in the College Classroom: An Extended Multidisciplinary Literature Review

The title of this blog serves as a reminder of the goal I have for each new class I teach – making an attempt to know first names of my students by the first day of class. Why? Because students learn better when they recognize and understand that I am not just another authority figure in their life, but instead, someone who cares about their success both inside and outside of the classroom. By attempting to use students’ names, I recognize the dignity and existence of each student. This helps foster a relationship of respect, trust, approachability, and relatability between myself and each student. This sort of relationship creates a mutual respect which encourages students to attend lecture and participate, even if just out of respect of me. It also softens the barrier of student outreach regarding issues inside and outside of the classroom. Beyond the student-professor relationship, “When the professor engages the student in personal conversation, recognizes her by name, and seems to include her in the domain of attention, the subject matter seems more accessible. The nonverbal message goes out that the student is a part of the community of people who can do mathematics, statistics, chemistry, or whatever the subject is [1].” My attempts, then, serve to increase peer respect, and eventually, learning.

Okay, so it seems like learning/using the names of students is important [2,3], but how can you do it? There are a number of practical tips that are often suggested for learning student names, such as: making flash cards with names and roster pictures, name tents, seating charts, etc. [4,5] The important thing is to show that you have attempted to learn the names before the first day, even if you haven’t mastered them [2]. Don’t be afraid to ask for a student’s name. Be explicit that you are trying to learn everyone’s name and give it your best shot. Using names often, such as greeting students as they walk into class, or when you pass out the first documents, helps a good deal.

Now back to the question of why attempt this on the first day:  research clearly shows that students’ perception of you as an instructor is heavily influenced by the first class period [6]. Why would we not put in the time up front to learn (or at least indicate that we are trying to learn) students’ names? Doing so sets the tone right away for the semester and communicates your intentions as the instructor (i.e., success for each and every student inside and outside of your classroom). I was shocked that one of the reoccurring themes on my mid- and end-of-semester feedback forms was how I attempted to use everyone’s name on the first day of class. Time and time again, students have indicated to me that this action established a unique relationship, from which an enjoyable and fruitful semester of learning was organically created. Give it a try – dedicate some of your pre-class time to learning student names – the payoff, I expect, will be rich.


[1] Willemsen, E.W. (1995). “So What is the Problem?: Difficulties at the Gate.” Student Success in Quantitative Gateway Courses, 61.

[2] Cooper, K.M. et al. (2017). “What’s in a Name? The Importance of Students Perceiving That an Instructor Knows Their Names in a High-Enrollment Biology Classroom.” CBE – Life Sciences Education, 16.

[3] Murdoch, Y.D. et al. (2018). “Learning Students’ Given Names Benefits EMI Classes.” English in Education, 52.

[4] Glenz, T. (2014). “The Importance of Learning Students’ Names.” Journal on Best Teaching Practices, 1.

[5] University Center for the Advancement of Teaching. The Ohio State University. “20 Tips for Learning Student Names.”

[6] Cavanagh, S. R. (2016) “The Spark of Learning : Energizing the College Classroom with the Science of Emotion.” Teaching and Learning in Higher Education.

Submitted by:

Carson Running

Ph.D. Candidate, Aerospace Engineering

University of Notre Dame

Congratulations! You have made it to the end of another semester in one piece. You deserve to catch your breath and enjoy some time-off. In addition to getting some rest, we encourage you to set yourself up for future success by taking advantage of the Kaneb Center resources.  To help you hone your pedagogical prowess over the next few months, consider:

Reading Groups. The Kaneb Center purchases books on teaching and learning for small informal reading groups. Faculty, graduate students, and postdoctoral scholars are all welcome and invited to sign up for a prearranged group or to propose their own group. These groups are a great place to gather new ideas on teaching and to meet colleagues from across the university who are interested in teaching and learning. Learn more and sign up by Monday, May 20 at 10:00 am.

Graduate Courses on University Teaching and Learning. Enrollment is open for short, credit-bearing summer graduate courses on university teaching and learning in various fields. They are taught by experienced Notre Dame faculty. Courses must meet minimum enrollments at least a month prior to the start date in order to run.  Contact the individual course instructor or krudenga@nd.edu with further questions. Visit University of Notre Dame Summer Session for more info. Tuition support is available for graduate students. Submit a summer tuition scholarship application online.

Individual Consultations. Schedule a one-on-one consultation with a member of the Kaneb Center staff to discuss any teaching needs. We are happy to help you review CIFs, discuss your course plans for the fall, develop new types of assessments or other learning activities, consider the integration of technology into your course, or discuss any other pedagogical questions or concerns.

Kaneb Center Library. The Kaneb Center library holds hundreds of books, videos, and other materials on a variety of teaching and learning topics. Visit our library and check out some great selections for your summer reading!

From all of us at the Kaneb Center, we wish you a happy, restorative, and productive summer!

*Today’s post comes from “Tomorrow’s Professor”. This post is written by Linda C. Hodges,University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and is from the National Teaching and Learning Forum, Volume 28, Number 1, December 2018*

As we design active learning experiences or flipped classes, it’s easy to focus primarily on choosing appropriate preparatory assignments and creating worthwhile in-class learning activities. These aspects are, in a sense, the first and second acts of a three-part performance of instruction. What we sometimes emphasizes is how to make sure that students come away from each session having achieved our goals for their learning—and realizing that they have. This finale is known as the denouement in performance, and just as it is critical for our understanding of a complex play, it is also essential for helping our students make meaning out of the chaos of an active learning experience.

Strategies to Help Students Recognize What and How They Learned

One obvious way to emphasize what students should take away from class is for the instructor to review and summarize at the end. Letting the students take charge of this last act in the session can provide a potent reminder of their own power as learners. When doing so, instructors may choose whether the form of abstraction is individual or group-based. When using groups in large classes, debriefs can often be aided by various technologies.

The strategies below can each be adapted to focus more on individual or on group engagement.

  • Pre-/post-quizzes. In this approach, faculty ask students several questions on that day’s topics at the beginning of class, and students answer using personal response systems, polling software, or low-tech color-coded cards. Students are then asked the same questions at the end. Inevitably, students perform better on the post-quiz, thus explicitly demonstrating learning. Technology options allow for students to answer these quizzes either by choosing letters or entering words. If students enter words, some systems can generate a word cloud. Comparing beginning and ending clouds creates a strong visual image of how students’ thoughts have changed as a result of the session. Pre-/post-quiz strategies engage students individually, yet allow them to see group results.
  • Summarizing/debriefs. Just as in a traditional lecture, summarizing the day’s takeaways is important in consolidating learning at the end of an active learning session.In small classes, we can simply ask students to volunteer ideas that we then capture on the board or via the presentation software. We can engage more students, however, by requiring them to do this in groups. Students can record their thoughts on portable or individual whiteboards or flip chart paper, or via various engagement technologies that gather and project student group responses.
  • Reflection exercises. Depending on the topic of the day’s session, what may be as important as content for students to come away with is a sense of self-knowledge. This observation is especially true if one of our course goals is to promote students’ abilities to self-regulate. The classic one- minute or muddiest point paper can be made communal through group response using any of the methods noted earlier. These exercises ask students to assess their learning progress in the moment. We can also adapt the Critical Incident Questionnaire to be a session-ending reflection, asking students when during class they were most or least engaged (Brookfield, 1995), raising students’ awareness of their own waxing or waning attention during class activities.


Class time is a precious commodity, and as instructors we are often hesitant to take time to teach learning processes. We know, however, that many of our learners today are not familiar with the mental gymnastics required for deep learning. Framing our class sessions to explicitly model the key stages of learning (i.e., planning, practicing, monitoring, and reflecting) can cultivate students’ abilities to internalize these processes as they head off to work on their own.

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