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To be honest, I wasn’t planning on writing an “end of the semester reflection.” But as we wrap up this semester, I find myself more reflective than usual. This year has been challenging for me as an instructor, both logistically (to teach in dual-mode in non-traditional classrooms) and emotionally (to foster community amongst students in an unprecedented time). And while I, like everyone else, am looking forward to a return to “normalcy,” I’d first like to look back. 

In particular, I’d like us all to reflect on what went well. What piece of technology are you now proficient in using? What new pedagogical practice did you incorporate effectively? What changes did you make that you want to keep in your course design? What will you bring forward?

I have lots of answers to these questions. Here are just a few.

Supplemental resources

Every day, I uploaded class recordings and lecture notes. My intended audience was students who had missed class, but many other students took advantage of these resources. Since I was already uploading my material, I would often upload Open Educational Resources (videos, interactive graphing tools, etc) as well. Providing supplemental resources can both support and motivate students. For example, I had a student ask me “Where does the Harmonic Series get its name?” and so I uploaded this chapter from music theory about the wavelengths of the overtones of a vibrating string. This content is not covered in Calculus II, but reveals one of the many connections between mathematics, physics, and music.

Flexibility of online interaction

I love teaching in person. But the flexibility of having Office Hours online in Zoom is a game-changer. Students can pop in for a quick question without having to walk across campus. I can meet with students after dinner from my living room. I primarily used synchronous online office hours, but there are asynchronous options for online interaction (e.g. discussion boards) as well.


This year gave many instructors the freedom to experiment with assessments and grading. For exams, my department implemented frequent, low-stakes assessments (which can decrease student anxiety) and mastery-based grading (which can improve student learning through a growth-mindset approach). For assignments, I incorporated specifications grading for projects to give students the opportunity to revise their work based on feedback. Overall, we designed assignments and assessments to better match our learning goals and the student response was positive.

  • “I liked having weekly quizzes versus the exam, it allowed me to absorb the information better.”
  • “The standards-based grading system was so great. It definitely helped alleviate some stress and I also feel like I learned better because of it.”
  • “The pass/fail projects were extremely helpful in furthering my understanding of the material… Having to explain the process of solving something made sure I knew what I was talking about and knew what I was doing. ” 

The comments above come from last semester’s CIF reports. If you’re interested in the student perspective on your course, read through the comments on “What activities or features of the course would you recommend the instructor continue using in the future?” in your Course Instructor Feedback. 

From this feedback and my conversations with students and faculty, there are many strategies to continue using and advocating for (inclusive teaching, Universal Design for Learning, encouraging student well-being, effectively using the LMS, etc.) So as we look forward to a more “normal” fall semester, I encourage you to bring your success stories with you and to continue to try new things!

Spring semester always seems to pass quickly, and this year’s late start has added further stress to an already hectic and nerve-wracking time. This can be especially stressful as instructors attempt to keep students engaged and motivated and plan meaningful end of course experiences. However, the end of the semester is also the perfect time to engage metacognition and bring learning full circle. As we sprint toward the end of courses, there are a few small interventions that can make the final weeks more productive and positive. 

Provide structured opportunities for organization and scheduling

When feeling overwhelmed, anxious, frustrated with the amount of work we have to do, we often procrastinate or feel hopeless. Routines have been shown to manage stress and anxiety, but they are often thrown off by end of semester cramming and large projects. Creating schedules and to-do lists can help instructors and students establish routines and prioritize their commitments, but they also combat procrastination, break large projects into smaller goals, and establish a healthy routine with wellbeing practices like exercise, rest, and restoration. 

  • Sample Activity for students: Scheduling, Prioritizing, and Goal-setting (15 minutes)
    List activities, responsibilities, and deadlines that are draining your energy right now. Review your list and consider what things you can let go of, minimize or set boundaries around. Break the larger task for this course into smaller components and set deadlines for yourself. Incorporate these into your schedule along with breaks for meals, rest, and sleep. Consider doing this for other courses and incorporate them into your new schedule. 

    This can be a low-stakes 1-point component to a research paper or group project, but it can also serve as an exercise to complete during a meeting in office hours or student consultations. Make sure to incorporate transparent design by clearly explaining the activity to students and showing why this activity is important. 

Facilitate review and reflection 

To help students recall what they’ve already learned (and make it easier to draw on this knowledge in future classes), encourage them to think critically about the course, question concepts, draw conclusions, and synthesize by providing them with guided opportunities to review course material, reflect on their progress, and self-evaluate. Research shows that active review sessions can advance student learning and they help instructors to plan the final days of the course in effective and meaningful ways. These reviews can take the form of study guides, concept maps, journals, and more. Consider the way that these metacognitive strategies can facilitate planning, monitoring, and evaluation. 

  • Sample Activity for students: Journal-based self-assessment – monitoring (10 minutes)
    Reflect on your learning during this unit and respond to the following prompt: In what ways is the teaching in this course supportive of my learning? How could I maximize this? In what ways is the teaching in this course not supportive of my learning? How could I compensate for this? How interested am I in this course? How confident am I in my learning? What could I do to increase my interest and confidence? What can the instructor do to support my learning?

    As with scheduling, writing can serve as a kind of rehearsal for the things we need to do. Guided and free journaling can reduce stress and help students to process learning more efficiently by activating their prior knowledge; practicing and applying new strategies; reflecting on their strengths and challenges; and articulating goals.

Plan for an effective bookend for your course 

We can think about the first and last day of the course as bookends. They perform the important function of containing all the vital course content, and what we do with them matters. You probably spent some time on the first day of class setting the tone and facilitating students’ connection to the course content. By revisiting the big questions that you may have highlighted on the first day of class, you can create a narrative arc for students to follow. The final class can reinforce long-term learning and make large-scale connections, which will reinforce all of the excellent lessons instructors and students shared. 

  • Sample Activity for students: Maps and stories – How did we get here? (20 minutes)
    In a large group identify major concepts, important ideas, and a few supporting details from the course. Divide students into smaller groups to collaboratively construct mind maps or narratives (this can be a short activity or longer and broken up over a couple of classes). Students should present and discuss their maps with the rest of the class (making adjustments as necessary).  Alternatively, begin by reviewing the course objectives and ask students to map these with reference to course content and discussions.

Make space for authentic connection 

Encourage students to Make room for moments, people and activities (cultural, spiritual, creative, community-based) that bring them energy. Remember to celebrate and reinforce the connections they made in the course. The course has become a community with a shared history. It’s important to acknowledge all the time spent together in pursuit of a shared goal. This is a great opportunity to practice gratitude to increase wellbeing. Instructors also benefit from implementing gratitude practices.

  • Sample Activity for students: Gratitude (10-15 minutes)
    Provide students with sample prompts for writing: What are students glad to have learned? What did they appreciate about someone else in the class? What authors of course materials would they like to thank for their work? Share in small or large groups or you can allow students to submit them to you for posting anonymously. If time is a concern, it’s not necessary to read students’ ideas aloud for the gratitude effect to take place; it’s the moment of being grateful that seems to have the impact.

Concluding the semester in a meaningful way is important for student learning and teaching success. These strategies will help students to make clear and meaningful connections between course content and learning, but they also ease the stress on students preparing for the end of your course by promoting wellbeing. Planning purposeful activities can make the last class meaningful and memorable for our students and ourselves. 

6 Teaching strategies for the Last Week of Class – Graduate School, UNL
The Beginning and End of Class – Poorvu Center for Teaching and Learning, Yale
It’s a Wrap! Making the Last Class Memorable – Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning, Kennesaw State University
Better Endings – Center for Teaching and Learning, Trinity College
Subverting End of Semester Exhaustion – Inside Higher Ed 
Christopher Uhl (2005) “The Last Class,” College Teaching, 53:4, 165-166, DOI: 10.3200/CTCH.53.4.165-166

Think back to a time when things didn’t go as planned during a discussion section, a lab experiment, or an exam. Why didn’t the students perform as well as you hoped? Oftentimes, the answer to this question is because we didn’t clearly communicate our expectations to the students. We weren’t being transparent with our teaching.

Transparent teaching refers to making the learning process obvious or explicit to our students, and has many benefits in the modern college classroom: 

  • Provides greater opportunity for students to successfully meet expectations
  • Promotes inclusive learning by demystifying the learning process for students who may be less familiar with college success strategies
  • Provides faculty with opportunities for reflection on their assignments and how they align with the intended student outcomes
  • Strengthens curriculum and assessment 

Students learn better when they understand why they are learning something, and how they are learning it. Transparent teaching may manifest in your classroom in the form of detailed rubrics, discussions on how the science of learning informs your course design choices, or inviting students to take part in class planning. But perhaps one of the easiest ways to implement transparent teaching to promote student learning in the classroom is to share clear learning objectives with your students.  

Course level learning objectives 

Course objectives point to the higher level thinking skills and overarching student understanding that students will take away after completing the course. These course level goals are usually outlined in the syllabus and discussed during the first day of class, but are often forgotten throughout the semester. Reiterating these broader goals and linking them to the daily and assignment level goals can inspire students to find motivation and purpose in their work, especially in later parts of the semester.  

Daily learning objectives

Discussing the day’s learning objectives at the beginning of each lecture structures the session and helps students focus on the learning because they know what to expect.  A daily learning objective can start with the phrase, “After successfully completing today’s class, you will be able to…” 

Assignment learning objectives

Having specific learning goals for individual assignments – worksheets, essays, lab reports, etc. – will make clear to the students what the purpose of the work is, as well as what you are looking for when you go to grade the assignment. This can make the student more invested and confident in their work, and makes giving feedback and assigning grades an easier process for the instructor. 

In the spirit of transparent teaching, writing effective learning objectives requires clear, explicit language. Avoid using vague verbs like “know” or “understand,” by consulting the verb wheel based on Bloom’s Taxonomy.  The SMART tool is a well established method for creating learning objectives that are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-based. Centering around learning objectives helps make our teaching more transparent, giving each student a greater opportunity to thrive. I encourage you to evaluate your current learning objectives – are they SMART? Are they clearly communicated to the students on a regular basis? 

Think about how you communicate the goals of your teaching – on an assignment level, a daily level, and a course level – to your students. How could you articulate and communicate these goals more clearly to help your students learn?


1 Quick Guide to Transparent Assignment Design

2 A Teaching Intervention that Increases Underserved College Students’ Success

3 Transparency In Learning And Teaching Project

4 Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives 

5 How to Write Clear Learning Objectives

6 Verb Wheel based on the revised Bloom’s Taxonomy7 Are Your Lesson-level Learning Objectives S.M.A.R.T.?

In lieu of a spring break for this unusual academic year, Notre Dame has opted for a series of mini-breaks. These rest days are designed to protect the health and safety of the campus community not only by discouraging travel, but also by providing a brief mental respite for students and instructors. But what if your students are reluctant to put down their work and relax for 24 hours? Below are a few ways you can encourage students to take advantage of the downtime provided by mini-breaks.

Discuss the importance of rest and relaxation. We can’t remain well without taking time for physical, mental, and emotional restoration. Emphasizing this point to your students is one way to promote a culture of wellness in your classroom. Though personal wellbeing is more important than productivity, you can tell students, if it helps, that taking time to recharge can result in better productivity long-term. 

Carefully schedule assignment due dates. Notre Dame has requested that instructors refrain from holding exams or making projects due the day following the break. If you haven’t adjusted your schedule to accommodate the April 21 mini-break, do so as soon you can. If possible, consider working with students to collaboratively set assignment due dates, and try to remain flexible with individual students who are struggling. 

Build rest time into the course. Being thoughtful about your due dates is a great first step, but it might not be enough to encourage overwhelmed students to put down their work. Try incentivizing rest by making it a course requirement. Consider, for example, creating a low-stakes homework assignment that asks students to sit in a peaceful place on campus for 15 minutes without speaking or using technology; making ungraded journaling part of students’ weekly course ritual; or devoting three minutes of class time to a mindfulness exercise or to silent reflection. Bonus points if you can tie these activities in with your course learning goals. 

Share your own plans for the mini-break. Students aren’t the only ones who need rest and relaxation. Instructors do too! If you haven’t developed a plan to support your own wellbeing over the mini-break, make one, share it with your students, and follow through. Students will appreciate your example. 

Share resources for wellbeing. If students are not sure how to use their mini-break days, direct them to this McWell page, which not only lists wellness events for students but also information on the benefits of relaxation and a guide to creating a restorative routine. You can also direct students to the HERE page on emotional support and wellbeing, where they can find instructions for downloading the Calm app, which Notre Dame is providing to students free of charge. 

The next mini-break is on April 21. Encourage your students to take advantage of this rest time—and don’t forget to rest yourself!

Teaching metacognition and self-regulation through structured reflection can help students become better learners as they navigate the crucial weeks leading up to the end of the semester. 

Much has been said about cultivating a growth mindset, particularly in times of stress or anxiety, but this paradigm really goes hand in hand with metacognition and self-regulation as pedagogical practices that can help students change the way they learn. In educational development, metacognition refers to the practice of intentionally focusing attention on the act of learning and self-regulation is defined as the ability to control one’s body and self, to manage one’s emotions, and to maintain focus and attention on the activities at hand. Together, they are modes of leveraging student motivation. A student who can effectively self-monitor, evaluate their progress, and change behaviors to achieve a desired outcome is more likely to be resilient and successful in your course. 

However, it is important to remember that a growth mindset must be cultivated and student motivation may ebb and flow throughout the semester. We can help students stay motivated and become better learners by emphasizing metacognition.

Developing metacognition can increase student motivation and create a sense of belonging in the classroom community. If we explicitly teach metacognition through structured reflection, we can increase the effectiveness of learning activities and encourage students to incorporate feedback and grades from midterms in order to harness intrinsic motivation. This may also help disrupt harmful study behaviors (like cramming) and replace them with more effective and distributed practices. 

Self-evaluation after exams and large projects promotes students’ critical thinking about how they approached a task, what worked and what didn’t and why, how they might approach the task differently in the future, and how this particular task fits into the larger course goals. Research on student self-assessment suggests that self-assessment is most beneficial, in terms of both achievement and self-regulated learning, when it is used formatively. 

Exam reflections and narrative self-evaluations are two strategies that may help students develop the skills of metacognition and self regulation. These are also a great way to provide low-stakes grades and promote effective learning strategies. Remember that it is important to design these activities with transparency. Students should know why they are being asked to do reflection activities, they should be taught how to use the activities, and they should be prompted to set goals and make concrete plans to reach those goals. 

Exam Reflections 

All too often when students receive the graded exam, they focus only on the score. Guided reflections can help them to make sense of the grade, plan, monitor and evaluate their progress, and adjust learning strategies–make sure to share these benefits with students. 

When implementing exam reflections, consider providing a guided reflection sheet that asks students to: 

  • Identify areas of individual strengths and areas for improvement
  • Reflect on the adequacy of their preparation time their study strategies
  • Characterize the nature of their errors and look for patterns 
  • Set goals for implementation of feedback
  • Name at least one way the instructor can provide support to reach these goals

Narrative self-evaluation

This kind of reflection allows students to make personal connections between learning, course goals, and the wider context of their field of study. The purpose of these reflections is to improve learning through goal setting, self-regulation, making organic connections between experiences, identifying interests, and planning. 

When implementing narrative evaluations/reflections remember to share the purpose of the assignment and give specific instructions. For example: 

  • Contextualize your reflection: What are your learning goals? What are the objectives of the course? How do these goals fit in with the concepts taught in the course so far? 
  • Provide important information: What do you think you have done well so far? Can you identify a particular area/concept of understanding that you would like to improve? 
  • Analytical reflection: What did you learn in this assignment/unit? How do you contextualize this within the course and/or your field of study? 
  • Lessons from reflection: How did this assignment/unit fit with the goals and concepts of the course? What are your lessons for the future? How will you achieve your goals for the course? Name at least one way the instructor can provide support to reach these goals.

Self-reflection is not reporting what a student has done; rather, we are helping them to make meaning of their learning. Even if a student is a reflective, conscientious learner, everyone needs to learn how to effectively use that reflection. These exercises can help students to make sense of the course in the larger context of their educational journey. 

Other sample self-reflection activities: 

  • Exam Wrappers 
  • Create a quiz based on Bloom’s taxonomy
  • Illustrate learning with mind maps, concept maps, or other visuals and explain it in writing or orally to the instructor

What to Do After the Test – Notre Dame Learning | The Kaneb Center
Exam Review Self-Reflection – The Learning Center University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Student Self-Evaluations – Center for Teaching and Learning Hampshire College
Teaching Tips – 2018-2019 Teaching Issues Writing Consortium
How to Write a Reflection Paper – Trent University 
Kaplan, Silver, LaVague-Manty, & Meizlish – Using reflection and metacognition to improve student learning: Across the disciplines, across the academy (2013)
McGuire & McGuire – Teach Students How to Learn: Strategies You Can Incorporate Into Any Course to Improve Student Metacognition, Study Skills, and Motivation (2015)

Switching to hybrid, online, or asynchronous modalities can present a number of challenges for instructors. When students and teachers have fewer face-to-face interactions in a shared physical space, it can be difficult to facilitate engagement with course material and foster student interaction and collaboration.

One partial solution to this problem is to make collaborative digital annotation or note-taking projects part of the course requirements. At the most basic level, these activities ask students to work together to create or comment on a shared course text. This can be done in pairs, with small groups, or with the entire class. And the collaborations might take a number of forms:

  • Students could collectively annotate a course reading with questions, clarifications, or comments. The shared reading might be a primary or secondary work, the course textbook, or any challenging text that students need to understand for the class.
  • Students could engage in a peer review of others’ work, providing suggestions or asking questions about the shared document. 
  • Students could work together on lecture notes, taking notes live in class or compiling a shared study document at the end of a course unit. 

These kinds of collaborative activities are incredibly flexible. You can use them to help students close read an intricate poem or solve a complicated equation. They can be done in or outside of class, synchronously or asynchronously. And they can be loose and informal or highly structured, with templates and individual student responsibilities. Individual students might, for example, be responsible for making connections to previous readings, for keeping track of the common themes emerging in the notes, or simply for organizing the material in the shared document.

And these collaborative activities have several advantages:

  • They deepen engagement with course material, making students active rather than passive listeners, readers, and note-takers. This can also help students take greater ownership over the course materials and over their own learning.
  • They encourage students to interact with one another at times when student interaction can be difficult to facilitate (like during a pandemic!).
  • They help students learn from one another, exposing them to the wide range of perspectives, approaches, and strategies that their classmates bring to the table.
  • If students enter the course with differing levels of preparation, they can help level the playing field, leading to more equitable and inclusive learning environments (see Brielle Harbin’s work below).
  • They allow instructors to easily track student comprehension, often in real-time. 

If you’re eager to get started on collaborative annotation or note-taking, check out the resources below to read more about these activities and the digital tools that can help facilitate them. And be sure to check out last week’s Kaneb Center workshop on using Perusall for Collaborative Reading.


If you are interested in alternatives to the traditional point-based grading system, I’m here to say that you don’t have to dive in all at once. Last semester, I dipped my toes into this whole new world by incorporating specifications grading just for assignments. 

Here’s how I did it:

  1. I gave my students very clear, detailed specifications for what constitutes a passing (acceptable/satisfactory) homework assignment.
  1. Then I graded student submissions as Pass/Fail, provided written feedback, and gave students an opportunity to revise and resubmit (if necessary).

And here’s what I saw:

  • With the opportunity to resubmit, students were willing to take on harder assignments and felt comfortable admitting “I don’t understand how to do this part. Please help!” 
  • Grading was much faster
  • Students actually read my written feedback 
  • There was no fixation on points

Two of my learning goals for this course were for students to clearly communicate mathematical ideas and solutions and to exercise persistence by working through perceived failure. Simply put, meeting these learning goals would not have been possible without specifications grading. The first was explicitly stated as a specification for the homework (“The solution is neatly hand-written or typed, using complete sentences, and each step has a sufficient explanation.”) and the second was a natural product of allowing resubmissions. 

The rest of my course structure (quizzes, exams, group work, etc.) remained the same. I only used specifications grading for homework assignments. And what a success it was. I’m thinking about going in the deep end (by structuring a whole course with specifications grading using “bundles” of assignments and tests)… or at least into deeper water.

For more information on specs grading, here are some great resources:

And there are other alternatives out there (e.g. contract grading, mastery-based grading, and ungrading)! If you want to hear some experiences from Notre Dame faculty that have used these alternatives to traditional grading, I recommend attending the Kaneb Center panel discussion on Alternatives to Traditional Grading on April 27, 2021.

Learning Student Names

Students are more receptive to your teaching strategies when they know you care about their learning. What’s one concrete way to show that you care? Learn their names! Knowing your students’ names builds community in your classroom, creates a sense of mutual respect, and helps you seem more approachable. 

Here are a few tips to help you quickly learn your students’ names this semester:

Printed photo sheets – Go to onlinephoto.nd.edu, or ask the primary instructor for the class to do so, and print out a roster with names and photos. Take a few minutes each day to review and quiz yourself by covering up the names to see if you can recall them just by looking at the photo. 

Name tents – On the first day of class, bring cardstock and sharpies for the students to create name tents to display on their desks, and ask them to bring their tents with them for the first couple of weeks. Having an in-class visual of the student and their written name can make learning names easier. Bonus – having students write their names on both sides of the tent helps everyone in the class learn each other’s’ names, not just you!  

Seating charts – Having names associated with where students are physically located in your classroom can help boost your name recall abilities (and matches well with a seat reporting mandate!). Create a sketch of the classroom and fill in the names yourself, or print off a seating chart of your class here.  

Ask students something about themselves – associating a fact about a student with their name can help with name recall. If your class size allows for student introductions on the first day of class, ask them to also state an interesting fact about themselves. 

Practice calling students by their names often – Practice, practice, practice. Interacting with your students regularly and getting to know them as individuals will make name learning come naturally. 

Pronunciation – If you are worried about pronouncing a name correctly, ask the students to introduce themselves first. Another option is to collect google form surveys from students on the first day of class, that include a question on how to pronounce their names. 

Don’t expect to have all your students’ names memorized right away. Give yourself time to learn and make mistakes. If you’ve forgotten early in the semester, just ask. Students will appreciate your efforts. They’re meeting new people too and can likely relate to the struggles of getting everyone’s name right.  This student quote from a study in a large enrollment biology class summarizes the effect of knowing your students’ names: 

“I know there are close to 200 kids in this class and I’m not in any way a top student or someone special, but I sure felt like I was when the instructor knew my name.”


The Importance of Learning Students’ Names” – Glenz

Getting Names Right: It’s Personal” – Igwe

Learning Student Names” – Middendorf & Osborn

20 Tips for Learning Student Names” – University Center for the Advancement of Teaching. The Ohio State University
What’s in a Name? The Importance of Students Perceiving That an Instructor Knows Their Names in a High-Enrollment Biology Classroom” – Cooper, Haney, Krieg, Brownel

Congratulations! You have made it to the end of an unprecedented, non-stop semester. During this interlude between holidays, I encourage you to (1) reflect on your classes this fall and (2) start planning for the spring.


Before diving into your CIFs, take a moment to evaluate your own teaching. What went well this semester? What would you do differently next semester? Did you make any mid-semester changes? If so, what was the impact? Did your students meet the learning goals for the course? Overall, what did you learn (about effective dual-mode practices, about your students, etc)? 

Now, consider the student perspective. Read your CIFs with care and consider only the feedback that is constructive. Treat your course evaluations as a self-assessment exercise. If you’d like guidance in interpreting your CIFs or reflecting on your teaching practice, feel free to schedule an individual consultation.


Incorporate your reflections and feedback from this semester into the next, and start planning early. Our programming this winter focuses on specific things you can do in December and January to be ready for the Spring semester.  

If you’re planning to teach a new (or new to you) course, consider attending the Course Design Week in January for an in-depth look at course design. Each morning, you will learn about a key step in course development and begin drafting your materials.  

If you’re updating an existing course for the spring semester, consider attending the 2021 Course Tune-up. In this workshop, you’ll answer some of the following questions: What tweaks do you need to make to your existing course to get it ready for a potentially bumpy Spring 2021 semester?  How do you rethink your assignments and exams to be more meaningful for you and your students while also being less likely to cause stress or be vulnerable to cheating? How will you approach class time to best promote learning in a masked, distanced, dual-mode environment? 

These are just two of many workshop offerings–for more information and to register, click here. We also continue to offer drop-in office hours Monday through Friday from 9am to 11am or consultation appointments throughout the week. 

We’ll be back with more blog posts in the new year. Until then, we wish you a restful holiday break (and happy planning)!

If you haven’t yet, read part one of this post here, which outlines the way I draw parallels from the video game Celeste to positive attitudes, active learning, and metacognitive techniques in the classroom. This post focuses on parallels between the game and teaching strategies in introductory courses specifically. 

I am not an experienced video-gamer myself, so I started playing the game with a huge disadvantage compared to my friends who have been playing platformer games like this since childhood. Before ever picking up the game myself, I’d watch them play and I never imagined that I could make it past the first level. When I did decide to play, I found myself dying hundreds of times on screens that they were able to get through with fewer than 10 deaths. We often see this in our large introductory courses, where a small population of students begin their college coursework at a disadvantage compared to their classmates due to lack of resources or opportunities in their high schools. What can we do as instructors to help close this opportunity gap? How can we support these students and boost them up to a level playing field with the rest of their classmates? 

One feature Celeste offers is an assist mode that players can activate to get extra practice while equipped with infinite jumping power or immunity to falling. Assist mode in the classroom may mean providing opportunities for students to get extra help, which could take the form of extra problem sets with easier problems occupying the lower levels of Bloom’s taxonomy. This sort of resource allows students to practice and hone skills in a low stakes environment, so that they can catch up with their peers.   

The main challenge of the video game is in the levels called “A sides,” which players need to complete to beat the game – just get to the top of the mountain. However, there are also collectable items scattered throughout the levels that players can go out of their way to grab. They’re not required to complete the game, but they serve as an extra challenge and help players build skills. Players whose only aim is to “survive” try to make it to the summit without putting in the extra work, while players who take the time to hone their skills and collect all the items “thrive” in the game. We can encourage our students to “thrive” in courses, and not just “survive,” by creating smart learning objectives for the course and effectively communicating them with our students. For example, instead of setting the following goal for students in an introductory chemistry course: 

By the end of the course, students will understand the basics of chemical equilibrium,” 

we can be more specific about our high expectations for students with the following goal:

By the end of the course, students will be able to use qualitative and quantitative routes to determine which chemical reactions will occur and to what extent.” 

Let’s challenge students to gain a deep understanding and intuition of the subject they’re studying, starting by defining quality learning objectives that push students to thrive. 

Players can also search through the A side levels for hidden cassette tapes that unlock B sides and C sides levels in the game, which require fine-tuned skills and finesse to complete. These next, more challenging, chapters require players to apply what they’ve learned in the A-sides to new situations, much like introductory gateway courses are meant to provide a foundation of skills for students to be successful in more challenging upper level courses. Including “challenge problems” on homework assignments or problem sets gives students opportunities to push themselves without having any extraneous stress of completing assignments for credit. This type of work allows students to build solid foundations for future courses. 

Finally reaching the summit leaves you with the feelings of relief, achievement, and pride – A similar feeling to passing a difficult course, graduating from a program, or in the case of 2020, finishing this wild semester.   

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