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With Spring Break rapidly approaching, what better time than now to check out the Kaneb Center’s library?  Housed at the Kaneb Center are hundreds of books, periodicals, and other materials on a variety of topics related to teaching and learning in higher education.  Whether you’ll be traveling or staying in town, borrowing and reading one of our exceptional books on teaching and learning can be a great way to unwind while also getting great ideas for your classroom when classes resume.  Have a book or topic in mind?  You can search our collection through ND’s library website.  Having trouble deciding what to borrow?  Here are a few of our favorites:

Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School
John Medina; Pear Press; 2008. 301 pages.

The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher’s Life
Parker Palmer; Jossey-Bass; 2007. 272 pages.

Discussion as a Way of Teaching: Tools and Techniques for Democratic Classrooms, 2nd Ed.
Stephen Brookfield and Stephen Preskill; Jossey-Bass; 2005. 336 pages.

How Learning Works: Seven Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching
Susan Ambrose, et al.; Wiley; 2010. 336 Pages

The Last Lecture
Randy Pausch; Hyperion; 2008. 206 pages.

Peer Review of Teaching: A Sourcebook, 2nd. Ed.
Nancy Van Note Chism; Jossey-Bass; 2007. 228 pages.

Presentation Zen: Simple Ideas on Presentation Design and Delivery, 2nd Ed.
Garr Reynolds; New Riders; 2011. 312 pages.

Teaching in Eden: Lessons from Cedar Point
John Janovy; Routledge; 2003. 208 pages.

Teaching for Critical Thinking: Tools & Techniques to Help Students Question Their Assumptions
Stephen Brookfield; Jossey-Bass; 2011. 304 pages.

Teaching What You Don’t Know
Therese Huston; Harvard University Press; 2009. 320 pages.

Teaching with Your Mouth Shut
Donald Finkel; Heineman; 2000. 208 pages.

What the Best College Teachers Do
Ken Bain; Harvard University Press; 2004. 224 pages.

What Video Games Have to Teach Us about Learning and Literacy, 2nd Ed.
James Paul Gee; Palgrave Macmillan; 2008. 256 pages.

To borrow an item, visit us, call, or send an email request.  Happy reading!

With midterm season quickly approaching, many instructors are concerned with how to curb cheating in the classroom.  In his talk  at Notre Dame in November 2013, Dr. James Lang (Associate Professor of English at Assumption College) noted that when students engage in academically dishonest behaviors, often times they are reacting inappropriately to a learning environment that has not sufficiently captured their attention or motivated them to learn.  Using his intriguing research as a guide, he presented “Five Features of a Learning Environment that Induce Cheating” from his book “Cheating Lessons: Learning from Academic Dishonesty.”  Those five features include:

  1. Motivation is extrinsic: If students are driven by factors outside themselves (e.g., grades, parental-approval), then they may be more likely to cheat.  As an instructor then, we should try to foster intrinsic motivation in students.
  2. Orientation toward performance: If emphasis is on performance–such as tests, exams, papers–rather than mastery-oriented goals, students may be more likely to cheat; however, if instructors design mastery-oriented courses, students may be less inclined to cheat.
  3. Infrequent, high-stakes assessments: If students’ grades are based on only a few assessments, cheating may be more likely to occur.  Considering such, creating multiple low-stakes assessments (smaller grades spread throughout the semester) in lieu of placing emphasis on only a few larger grades gives students several chances to succeed and reduces the pressure to perform well on any single assignment.
  4. Low self-efficacy: When students believe they cannot do the work–whether they fear they will not be graded fairly or that they may not be able to do the work at all–they may be more likely to cheat.  Therefore, it is important that we, as instructors, promote self-efficacy in students by practicing fair and well-defined grading procedures, having reasonable expectations, and scaffolding learning experiences to help students rise to the occasion.
  5. Cheating perceived as common and approved by peers: When students believe cheating is a common classroom occurrence and that their peers also engage in or condone cheating, cheating is more likely to occur.  In order to discourage these behaviors, by improving the classroom environment and getting to know your students.

Eliminating or minimizing these features in your classes and assessment strategies will help to minimize cheating among your student.  Beyond curbing cheating, there are numerous advantages to promoting a positive learning environment and we should always remember to consider the learning environment we provide for students.

Resources: Lang, J. M. (2013). Cheating lessons: Learning from Academic Dishonesty. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

[This resource is available through the Kaneb Center Library]

The following entry from the 2013-2014 Teaching Issues Writing Consortium: Teaching Tips was contributed by Ken Sagendorf, Ph.D., Director, Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETL), Regis University


In the last couple of weeks, I have had multiple faculty approach me asking about their multiple-choice tests that they have given in their classes and specifically, asking when to get rid of a question based upon student responses. This week’s teaching tip focuses on some resources to help us create and use better multiple-choice exams but the information included applies to all types of assessment.

Multiple-choice exams are often part of the assessment repertoire of many faculty because they are easy to grade. But writing good multiple-choice tests is hard to do. I think there are a couple reasons that make this so:

1. Most of us have had no training whatsoever in creating these kinds of assessments.

When I was in grad school, we had a joint doctoral program between Exercise Science and Science Education. My Exercise Science department head gathered all of the doctoral students together to ask us what we thought the value of the education side was. Among the only people to speak up, I asked my department head how he knew if he was asking good multiple-choice questions. He responded that he kept asking the same ones for three years and threw out those where students couldn’t answer correctly. He said it wasn’t hard. He was right. Asking questions and getting answers is not hard. Asking good questions that get students to think the way you intend, now that is hard. Needless to say, I finished my Ph.D. in Science Education.

There are many, many resources about MC tests out there from some very quick and applied papers (i.e., http://www.theideacenter.org/sites/default/files/Idea_Paper_16.pdf) to full books and research articles (i.e., http://web.ebscohost.com/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?sid=81790701-e732-4a68-9e0c-993437437ef1%40sessionmgr111&vid=4&hid=122).

2. Students have developed really good test-taking skills.

As a native New Yorker, I grew up taking Regents exams – tests at the end of the year in science, math, foreign language, English, social studies, etc. In four years of high school, we took 11 or 12 of these tests and we bought these books teaching us how to take and pass the tests. Our students today have likely taken many more tests than I or you would have and may have even been privy to the prep courses that prepare people for the SAT, ACT, GRE, LSAT, MCAT or any of the plethora of multiple-choice laden tests. They know the drill. Read the choices. Eliminate the choices that make no sense with the others. You can probably narrow down the choices to two. This is not what we envision when we give a test! We want students to think! So, we need to eliminate the ability for students to do well on test taking skills alone. The BYU guide for writing MC questions has been around a long time but I think it is still one of the best guides out there for how to construct good questions: http://testing.byu.edu/info/handbooks/betteritems.pdf

3. It is easy to forget what we are measuring when we use multiple-choice tests.

I have been approached in the last couple weeks by faculty telling me that they heard that they should throw out MC test questions if 50% of the students get the question wrong (I will explain in the next paragraph where this comes from). Another faculty told me that the value was 65% (I believe this is slightly confused with accepted value for how reliable a question is – a way of analyzing your tests). Now, these numbers are not incorrect but they need the proper context around them.

For instance, if you are using a MC test to identify the top performers in your class (this is also known as norm-referenced testing), then it may be proper to write a test where 5% of the items are answered correctly by 90% of the students (to boost confidence), 5% of the test items are answered correctly by 10% of the students, and the remainder of the items are answered correctly by an average of 50% of the students (Davis, 2009). This is where I believe the 50% number comes from.

Certainly, there are many ways to quantitatively evaluate your tests but it is important to recognize that it is not the only way.

If you are using a MC test to measure if students are using information, skills, and competencies (like critical thinking) that you want all students to have acquired, you are testing for something different – how well the test questions represent the things you want them do. In this case, when students perform poorly on test questions, there are multiple possibilities: was the test item unclear or poorly written? Was the content of the question too challenging? Were the students insufficiently prepared? Looking at the choices that students made in a bar graph format will give you some insight as to how students were thinking when they answered. Here, if a good number of your students chose the same answer, whether it was the right answer or a wrong one, it would be indicative that the thinking students used was similar and that the question posed was a good question at measuring that way of thinking. It is your call as to whether that was the kind of thinking you desired to have them do.

There are many resources on campus and online to assist you in these questions and the quest to write better multiple choice tests.


Clegg, V.L. and Cashin, W.E. (1986)“Improving Multiple Choice Tests.” Idea Paper. No. 16. Found online at: http://www.theideacenter.org/sites/default/files/Idea_Paper_16.pdf

Davis, B.G. (2009). Teaching Tools. 2nd Edition. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Available in the CETL.

Jacobs, L.C. and Chase, C.I. (1992). Developing and Using Tests Effectively: A Guide For Faculty. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. AVAILABLE IN THE LIBRARY AT: http://lumen.regis.edu/search~S3/? searchtype=t&searcharg=Developing+and+Using+Tests+Effectively%3A+A+Guide+For+Faculty&searchscope=3&SORT=D&extended=0&searchlimits=&searchorigarg=ttips+for+improving

Kehoe, J. (1995). “Writing Multiple-Choice Test Items.” Practical Assessment, Research and Evaluation. 4 (9). Full text available through the library: http://pareonline.net/getvn.asp?v=4&n=9

Lowman, J. (1995). Mastering the Techniques of Teaching. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Available in the CETL.

Sehcrest, L., Kihlstrom, J.F., and Bootzon, R. (1999). How to Develop Multiple-Choice Tests. IN B. Perlamn, L.I. McCann, S.H. McFadden (Eds.), Lessons Learned: Practical Advice for the Teaching of Psychology. Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Society.

Wergin, J.F. (1988). “Basic Issues and Principles in Classroom Assessment.” In J.H. McMillan (Ed.), Assessing Students’ Learning. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, No. 34. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Available through Prospector.

Early Semester Evaluations

Were you unable to attend last week’s workshop on early semester evaluations? It’s not too late to start thinking about early semester evaluations. This is a great way to get feedback from your students to help you improve your teaching, and it shows that you are invested in their learning.

One of the most popular forms of early semester evaluation is the Teacher Designed Feedback Form. This form contains questions that you design about specific strategies, methods, and activities in your class — these questions can be either open-ended or Likert style. These can be administered in class or electronically outside of class.

Here is an example of an early semester evaluation I gave in the Applied Math Methods course that I taught last fall. I had made a few changes to the course, and this gave me the opportunity to get student feedback on how these aspects of the course were going. It also gave me an idea on how the course was going overall.

Things to consider when reading the early semester evaluation results:

  1. Look for general trends in the responses. Disregard extreme outliers (both positive and negative)
  2. Discuss the results with your students. Address the general trends that you observed, and let your students know of any changes that will be made as a result of the feedback. If you choose not to make changes that were suggested, use this time to explain why. 

Check out the workshop page for more information related to early semester evaluations. 


The following entry from the 2013-2014 Teaching Issues Writing Consortium: Teaching Tips was contributed by Karen M. Kortz, Ph.D. Professor, Department of Physics, Community College of Rhode Island


An essential lifelong skill for students is to think about their learning, or be metacognitive about it. Although metacognition ties directly to student success, it is often not taught, and it is a skill that many college students lack. One of my goals is to purposefully structure my courses to help students focus on and be more aware of their own learning.

The three strategies I use most often to foster metacognition are:

  1. ConcepTests (or clicker questions)—These multiple-choice questions are asked during a break in lecture, students individually answer them (anonymously), they debate the answer with their peers, and they vote again. These questions allow students to find out how well they understand concepts as they are taught in class.
  2.  Online Quizzes—These multiple-choice quizzes test the students on concepts they learned in class, but are completed by students on their own time outside of class. Students can retake them up to three times, with a different selection of questions each time. Students can use them as a way to self-test if they understand the concepts, which is useful both immediately after class as well as a way to study for the exam.
  3. Exam Wrappers— I ask students after each exam to reflect on how they studied as well as how they could have studied smarter. This technique allows students to think about how their studying was effective and how they might want to study differently to be more successful on the next exam. I also give students time to give feedback to each other, so they can learn from others in the class as well.

I explain to the students that these techniques give them immediate feedback on how well they understand concepts, help them to realize that they are in charge of their learning, and determine what topics they need to spend more time on. Another strength of these methods is that they are easy for the instructor to implement. After the initial set up, none of these methods takes much time, and there is no manual grading.

A challenge to these techniques is the initial time commitment, which varies. Good ConcepTest questions are difficult to write, but there are some websites where instructors share questions, and you can reuse them in following semesters. Setting up and writing good online quizzes also takes time initially, but they can be reused (and some quiz questions can be used again on exams).

I have several indications that these techniques are effective with my students. When I ask students to reflect on how they studied, students report using many of the strategies I provided, such as reviewing quizzes and focusing their studying on where their weaknesses were. When I’ve had students who have taken a class in which I used the online quizzes then take a class where I have not yet developed them, they unanimously asked for the quizzes, even though they require more work from the student. Although some students complained about the time involved, they also saw how valuable the quizzes were to their learning. Finally, as measured by the Motivated Strategies for Learning Questionnaire survey instrument, students in my classes do not experience a decline in motivation and attitudes during the semester, as is commonly seen in other introductory classes, which is significant because research is increasingly showing the importance of student affective domain (motivation and attitudes) on their learning.


Pintrich, R. R., & DeGroot, E. V. (1990). Motivational and self-regulated learning components of classroom academic performance, Journal of Educational Psychology, 82, 33-40.

Instructional Strategies

(Based on Carnegie Mellon’s Instructional Strategies webpage.)

How can we use class time effectively to promote student learning? In addition to lectures, there are many other instructional strategies that can help facilitate class room learning as well.
(Click the links below for more information on each instructional strategy)
  • Lectures: Traditional lectures are one of the most common instructional strategies that are utilized in the classroom. It is important to plan the structure of your lecture ahead of time to maximize effectiveness and increase student learning.  The following tips can help planning a lecture:
  1. Start with an introduction, outline, agenda or visual representation of the lecture.
  2. Include signposts and transitions.
  3. Employ a variety of examples.
  4. Include periodic summaries.
  5. Bring the lecture to a close.
  • Discussions: Discussions can be a great tool to allow students to formulate and defend arguments, consider and evaluate other points of view, and encourage interactions between peers.  To have a successful discussion, start by communicating the goals of your discussion with the students, and make a strategy to accomplish these goals. Choosing good questions is also very important. Some important types of questions to consider are :
  1.  Exploratory questions: probe facts and basic knowledge
  2. Challenge questions: interrogate assumptions, conclusions or interpretations
  3. Relational questions: ask for comparisons of themes, ideas, or issues
  4. Diagnostic questions: probe motives or causes
  5. Action questions: call for a conclusion or action
  6. Cause-and-effect questions: ask for causal relationships between ideas, actions, or events
  7. Extension questions: expand the discussion
  8. Hypothetical questions: pose a change in the facts or issues
  9. Priority questions: seek to identify the most important issue(s)
  10. Summary questions: elicit synthesis
  • Labs/Studios: Whether you are teaching a class in the arts or sciences, using class time for hands on activities can provide a powerful learning experience for students. When planning a lab, consider the following tips:
  1. Determine and share learning objectives
  2. Provide safety instruction
  3. Do a dry run
  4. Situate particular exercises
  5. Distribute attention and provide feedback
  6. Use questions to encourage critical thinking
  7. Stress the importance of clear communication
  8. Bring closure

The following entry from the 2013-2014 Teaching Issues Writing Consortium: Teaching Tips was contributed by Judith Longfield, Ph.D, Georgia Southern University


One of the best ways to promote deep learning is through the use of collaborative learning. To plan for collaborative learning, ask yourself: How can I structure the learning tasks? What kinds of groups should I form? How will I grade collaboration? Ensure that students are actively engaged by creating a relevant task—one that helps you achieve course learning outcomes, is authentic to your discipline, and is matched to students’ skills and abilities. It’s also important to promote interdependency, with each student responsible to and dependent on others to succeed. And of course, you need to think through and plan each phase of the task in advance, including a plan for forming groups. The type of groups you use will vary according to your goal, the activity and how long students will remain together. Informal groups are formed quickly, randomly and work together for brief periods. Formal groups are formed to achieve a multifaceted goal such as writing a report or giving a presentation, and stay together until the task is completed.

When planning for evaluation, you need to consider individual accountability and positive group interdependence. Ask yourself: What should be evaluated? How? Who should be involved in evaluating learning and assigning grades? Before you become overwhelmed at the thought of grading everything, remember that not every activity needs to be graded. However, every assignment should be collected. Instead of the more traditional ABC used for formal assignments, consider giving a grade of “R” for informal assignments. “R” stands for Received, Reviewed and Recorded. In some cases, “R” grades might have a set point value, while in others “Rs” could be used to determine whether or not to raise a student’s grade if s/he is on the borderline.

No matter how well thought-out, your collaborative learning task may not go as smoothing as you planned. Students may misinterpret instructions and unanticipated challenges can create roadblocks. Don’t give up. Keep careful notes so you can make changes next time. Like many aspects of effective teaching, planning for collaborative learning is on-going and reiterative. To learn more, check out Barkley, Cross and Major’s book, Collaborative Learning Techniques: A Handbook for College Faculty. To see how collaborative learning works in one professor’s classroom, go to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-0Vcf-p3–w (6:53).

Prior Knowledge Check

The following entry from the 2013-2014 Teaching Issues Writing Consortium: Teaching Tips was contributed by Dr. Michelle Jackson Manager, English Language Institute, Professional & Public Programs at The University of Texas.


Favorite Teaching Quote: “A teacher is one who makes himself progressively unnecessary.” – Thomas Carruthers

Contributed Activity: On the first day of class, I like to ask students to write a 1-page response to the following question: “What do you know about (Insert your field here)?” I do this for multiple reasons:

  • It activates prior knowledge, requiring students to pull from their experiences and see how they might apply those experiences to class material (Pressley et al., 1992).
  • It demonstrates that I value what they may already know about the field.
  • It puts the responsibility on the students and illustrates that this class will require active participation.

Near the end of the semester, I return these papers to the students, and have them respond to what they wrote previously. Students are usually surprised by their initial writings and by their ability to respond with what they have learned. This activity shows how much a student’s conceptualization of a field can change in just 15 weeks. It also reminds me of the quotation above—and how quickly I become unnecessary, if I do my job well.

Good luck & happy teaching!


Pressley, M., Wood, E., Woloshyn, V., Martin, V., King, A., and Menke, D. (1992). Encouraging mindful use of prior knowledge: Attempting to construct explanatory answers facilitates learning. Educational Psychologist 27(1), 91-109.

The following entry from the 2013-2014 Teaching Issues Writing Consortium: Teaching Tips was contributed by Valerie Lopes, PhD Professor, Centre for Academic Excellence Seneca College and  adapted from the Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning, Harvard University Online Document Course Design Tip Sheet – available at: http://isites.harvard.edu/fs/html/icb.topic58474/CourseDesign.html


In preparing to teach a course, it is helpful to first consider:

1. What is the purpose of this course – What is it that the students will be able to know/think/do as a result of taking this course?

What do you hope to teach the students? What is the single most important thing you hope they will leave the course knowing or being able to do? Why are you teaching it? (This is not about what facts you want them to know at the end, but about what your larger or deeper objectives are for the course.) What are the SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Timely) Learning outcomes of this course?

2. What are your students’ capacities and expectations and needs?

Who are your students? What do they know already, as they enter the course? How will you know what they know? What levels of sophistication can you expect? How much can you expect them to do? What courses have they taken? How much do they need to know at this level? What prior knowledge is essential in order for students to be successful in this course?

3. What assessments will you use to determine whether or not the students have achieved the learning outcomes?

What will you use as evidence that the students have learned what you intend for them to learn? How will theses assessments guide the teaching and learning activities and resources? How will you use assessments to help students to learn? Do you have formative as well as summative assignments?

Once the answers to the questions above are clearly established, then there are a host of other questions to consider:

  • How will you design the weekly sessions and lessons? How are you going to tie the course together? What is the story line for this course? What are the logical links between sessions? And what are the main topics and sub-topics? How will you enable the students to follow the course’s progression from week to week? Can you create a concept map for the course?
  • How are you going to get to the broader, underlying conceptual issues, as opposed to simply covering the material? Given the underlying purpose or concept or level of the course, what material should be emphasized and what can be cut?
  • What “active” teaching methods are you going to use – e.g., lectures, discussions, role plays, demonstrations – and in what proportions? What activities other than the readings and class discussions might be appropriate? How will you stimulate students to think about the material before class? How will you encourage/require students to prepare? How will you get students to actively engage in reading, listening to lectures or viewing videos that are used to deliver course content? What learning strategies will you use?
  • How will you evaluate your students? How will you know what they do and do not understand? How will you know if they have learned anything, and if so, what they have learned? How will you know which students are A students, which are B, C, and D students? What about students who fail?
  • How will you give feedback to the students? How will you grade and comment on their written and oral work? What opportunities will students have to use feedback to improve their work?
  • How flexible are you going to be in meeting students’ different backgrounds, interests and needs? Are you willing/able to change any aspects of the course in the middle of the semester if that seems appropriate? Are you willing to entertain different approaches to the material?
  • How will you get feedback from the students? How will you know if the course is working for them?

Having answered the questions above – how are you going to let the students know the overall plan for the course, including the class guidelines, suggested readings, assignment requirements and deadlines, tests and final exams dates, weekly schedules and all other pertinent information?

Lots of questions – but once they are all answered – you will be able to tell the story of your course and show how all the pieces are connected.

Review Sessions

As we begin the last full week of classes, it is important to think about how we want our classes to end. Review sessions can help students study for the final exam, and also reduce their exam anxiety.

The following tips for planning a review session come from the “The Last Day of Class” section of Barbara Gross Davis’ Tools for Teaching.

  • Explain how the review session will be conducted – Go over the logistics of the review session, whether or not it is mandatory, and the goals of the session.
  • Conduct the Review yourself – To avoid miscommunications about how to properly prepare for the final, the instructor of the course is encouraged to lead the review session rather than the TA or grader.
  • Ask your students about scheduling the review – Research has shown that reviews session are most effective after the last lecture when students have had a chance to study the material on their own. However, it is important to consider other student conflicts (work, family, other coursework, etc.) when scheduling a review session outside of the normal meeting time.
  • Create a relaxed, informal atmosphere for the review – Give students positive feedback, and remind them that they are capable of mastering the material.

Check out Tools for Teaching for more information on conducting a review session and providing closure at the end of a class.


Davis, Barbara Gross. “The Last Day of Class.” Tools for Teaching. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1993.

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