Feed on

With Super Bowl XLIX in recently memory, it is easy to see how being a student is like being part of a sports team.  You work hard for years and finally, you make the team (get into college).  You’re excited, because this will develop you into the player you always knew you could be.  But let’s say that once you get there, you’re benched and you don’t even get the chance to practice your skills.  Then, one day, your coach throws you in the game and you struggle.  Now, any good coach knows that players need to practice their skills in order to improve and to perform better during the big game.  Why would learning in the classroom be any different?  If our goal is for students to learn concepts and skills for use outside of the classroom and on our exams, why would we not give them ample opportunities to practice these skills in the classroom first?  The best teachers carefully design their assignments and activities to help students practice their skills throughout the semester and incorporate active learning.  A classroom without active learning is like being an athlete without practice.

Active learning gives students the chance to apply what they’re learning and to achieve deeper understanding.  Therefore, as instructors, we need to give our students time to practice in the classroom to be better prepared for “the big game.”  Here are some active learning strategies to get your students practicing:

  • Debate.  Have students debate two sides of an issue.  If they work in teams to form their cases (and to anticipate the other side’s arguments), they will learn a great deal about the topic. [Also, check out the Kaneb Center’s upcoming workshop about using debate in the classroom]
  • Practice Teaching a Topic.  Have students select a topic on which they will have to teach the rest of the class.  After researching their topics, have students figure out creative ways to teach the material to their classmates.  This will give them experience explaining tough topics to others, as well as increase their own understanding of the topic.
  • One-Minute Paper.  After teaching a particularly difficult topic, give students one minute to write down their understanding of the topic and formulate any questions they may have.  By giving students time to think about the subject in class, they may be able to see the gaps in their understanding.  Students can even discuss what they wrote with other students to see if they can explain their understanding of the topic and work through those gaps together.  The gaps or questions that remain, then, can be addressed by the instructor.

For more active learning strategies, check out these blog posts:

And for books with more active learning activities, check out these selections from the Kaneb Center Library:

Do you have a great active learning activity to share?

The following entry from the 2014-2015 Teaching Issues Writing Consortium: Teaching Tips was contributed by Rachel A Rogers, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Psychology Department, Community College of Rhode Island

“But I studied for hours! I don’t understand why I got such a low test grade!”

I am sure that most faculty have heard these words spoken at least once during their teaching careers. What some students do not yet realize is that the quality of study strategies matters almost as much as the amount of time they spend using them. What advice can be given to these motivated students who struggle to study effectively?

In a recent monograph, Dunlosky and colleagues¹ reviewed research from educational and cognitive psychology surrounding ten popular learning strategies. Their findings suggest that some very popular study strategies are actually detrimental to learning and understanding (and were rated ‘low utility’), some are somewhat helpful or are only helpful under certain circumstances (and were rated ‘moderate utility’), and some are helpful in virtually any learning setting (and were rated ‘high utility’).

High utility strategies include Practice Testing and Distributed Practice. Practice Testing, also known as retrieval practice, supports both recall and comprehension of course material for students of all ages, all abilities, and in many subject areas. Practice testing can be aided with practice questions from faculty, or could be as simple as using flashcards to check memory of key terms. The key component to practice testing is that students must retrieve the answer from their long term memories. There are no benefits to looking up the answer in the book, or flipping the flashcard over immediately. Distributed Practice is about spacing out study sessions over time instead of “cramming” the night before a test. Encourage your students to use these two strategies. If possible, make them required parts of your courses so that everyone can benefit from them.

Moderate utility strategies include Elaborative Interrogation, Self-Explanation, and Interleaved Practice. Elaborative Interrogation involves the student generating an explanation for why a fact or concept is true. Self-Explanation is similar. Students explain how new information is related to known information, or explain steps taken during problem solving. Both of these strategies help students connect new and already-known information, which aids in memory encoding. Both work best if the student, not the instructor, generates the explanation. Interleaved Practice is a schedule of practice that mixes different kinds of problems within a single study session. This strategy shows the best results in math classes. Switching between different kinds of computations may result in lower performance during class, but in the long run, learning to identify which types of problems need which type of computations is quite helpful. Help students understand how and when to use these strategies when they come to you for help.

Low utility strategies include Summarization, Highlighting/Underlining, Keyword Mnemonic, Rereading, and Imagery for Text. Rereading and Highlighting/Underlining are two of the most frequently reported student study strategies, but unfortunately, are two of the least effective. Some research on highlighting/underlining shows that it may even harm the student’s ability to make inferences about that topic. The Keyword Mnemonic not only requires excessive instructor support, it also is not helpful in many subject areas, and may lead to accelerated forgetting. Imagery for Text and Summarization do not actually harm learning like other strategies in this category, but they are not as helpful as the high or moderate utility strategies in improving learning. When discussing learning strategies with students, encourage them to use those that have proven to be more efficient and effective.

¹Dunlowsky, J., Rawson, K. A., Marsh, E. J., Nathan, M. J., & Willingham, D. T., (2013). Improving students’ learning with effective learning techniques: Promising directions from cognitive and educational psychology. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 14(1), 4-58. doi:10.1177/1529100612453266

As a new TA or a young professor, the task of establishing your credibility as an instructor can be an intimidating one.  In Teaching What You Don’t Know, Therese Huston provides some advice on how to establish this credibility early in the semester.  Research suggests that the following common pitfalls can actually cause an instructor to lose credibility: showing up late to class, being unable to explain difficult concepts, failing to ask students if they understand the instructor’s explanations, displaying a lack of familiarity with the text, not making attempts to answer students’ questions, failing to follow course policies outlined in the syllabus (particularly with regard to grading), and not reminding students of upcoming deadlines and due dates.

The good news is there are many things instructors can do to establish their credibility!

  • When designing your course, begin with material within your wheelhouse.  If you can start the semester with material you’re more comfortable teaching (because it is your area of expertise), you’ll be more likely to speak with authority and you’ll gain confidence early.
  • Show up to class early to set up and spend time connecting with students and finding out if they have any questions.
  •  Stopping periodically throughout each class period to gauge student understanding and to answer questions.
  • Provide clear reminders before assignments are due to help keep students on-track.

Keep all these elements in mind as you begin teaching and you’ll be sure to establish your credibility as an instructor and create the best possible classroom environment for yourself and your students.

Additional Resources:

If you’re looking for some great books to read over the break, please check out our library for a wealth of teaching resources to help you make next semester your best yet.  From all of us at the Kaneb Center for Teaching and Learning, we wish you a happy and safe holiday season!

Happy Holidays



At the beginning of the semester, we invited you to Rock the First Day.  As the end of the semester draws near, it is now time to ROCK THE LAST DAY!  The last day of class is your opportunity to reinforce what students have learned over the course of the semester, provide students with an opportunity to reflect upon those experiences, and to say goodbye.  Therefore, rather than spending your last day of class simply reviewing for the final exam, here are some suggestions to help you Rock the Last Day:

  • As a class, take a look at the learning goals presented in your syllabus and have a discussion about whether those goals were met.  This not only helps to wrap up the course, but also serves as a review (as students can weigh in on what they learned related to each goal).
  • Relatedly, give students a chance to extend what they learned beyond the classroom.  As a class, brainstorm ways to apply or extend course material and concepts to the “real world” and encourage students to follow through.
  • As suggested by Noelle Christiane Boucquey of Stanford’s Teaching Commons, “have students write a letter to next year’s class with advice on how to succeed in the course.”  This information will be beneficial to your future students, but can also help your current students by having them reflect upon how to study best for the final.
  • Check out this blog post on preparing for the last day of class.


How are you going to rock the last day?


Additional Resources to Help You Rock the Last Day:

The Kaneb Center’s recent workshops on Effective Lecture Strategies highlighted some of the important considerations when delivering a lecture in the classroom.  Here are a few of the takeaways from these workshops:


  • Have between 3-5 main points.  Think “less is more.”  The best lectures only cover a limited number of topics, as then they can be covered in sufficient detail without being exhaustive.  If you have 9 points that you want to make, find out a way to chunk them into 3-5 to help students process it all.
  • Avoid writing lecture like a script.  When composing a lecture, your impulse may be to script your lecture word-for-word.  However, with a scripted lecture, the inclination becomes reading it, as opposed to producing it from memory or presenting it in a conversational way.  One way to combat this is to not write the lecture like a script, but instead to write out bullet points for those main points.
  • If you’re particularly nervous and are driven to script your lecture for fear that you will get in front of students and freeze, then we recommend scripting the first 4-5 minutes of your talk (to help you ease into your lecture) and to only use that script as a safety net if you need it.  A few minutes into your lecture, you’re likely to feel more comfortable and won’t need your notes as much.  You can also keep your bulleted notes in presenter view in PowerPoint, so you can still make sure that you’re covering what you intended.
  • Practice, practice, practice!  Before your lecture, practice your lecture in real time at least a few times out loud.  Your words are likely to sound different in your head rather than when you’re practicing out loud.  This form of practice will also give you an idea of timing, as you can test how long your lecture is and whether you have too much or too little content for your designated lecture period.



Before the Lecture

  • Post incomplete slides online (if using PowerPoint).  There are some clear benefits to posting slides online before the start of class.  First, rather than focusing on writing down what’s on the slides, students can focus on what you’re saying and write down what’s truly important.  Second, if slides are incomplete, coming to class will be integral to students’ success in the course, as the online slides are a poor substitute for all that will be covered during the actual lecture.  In general, slides should have enough information to help students organize the content, but not so much information as to be exhaustive.
  • Engage students in conversation.  Arrive early to set up and then spend the last few minutes before class talking with students as they’re walking into the classroom.  Davis (2009) suggests that using your voice informally before the lecture will help you continue to use your voice conversationally during your lecture.  Therefore, use this time to get to know your students and to “warm up” for your lecture.

Starting the Lecture

  • Start with outline and learning goals.  Rather than just diving in head first, give students (and yourself) a minute to warm up to the lecture and to help them mentally organize the material by starting with an outline.  Once you’ve presented your outline of topics, it’s a good idea to present your learning goals for students.  This gives them an idea of which concepts are the most important and to help them figure out what they should be taking away from today’s lecture.  This also helps them make sure to focus on those points.
  • Don’t be afraid to wander.  The best lecturers know how to work the room and one of the best ways to do so is to create some distance between yourself and the podium.  Using a clicker, you can lecture from nearly anywhere in the classroom, so feel free to wander about, disperse eye contact around the entire classroom, and lecture like a seasoned professional.
  • Body positioning and voice.  If using the white board, make sure to open your body up to the classroom equitably.  Specifically, be conscientious about not speaking to the board, but opening your shoulders to the classroom and speaking to students.  Moreover, when opening up, make sure that you’re not consistently putting your back to the same side of the classroom, as these students are not getting the same lecture experience then as those students to whom you’re facing.



The average student’s attention span is between 15-20 minutes (Bligh, 2000).  Considering such, in a 50- to 75-minute lecture, incorporating active learning 3-5 times throughout the class is a good way to maintain students’ attention and increase learning.  In fact, increased student engagement and interactions leads to greater gains in learning and retention (Knight and Wood, 2005).  Below are some active learning techniques to consider in your classroom when lecturing.

  • Jigsaw.  In this method, break students into groups with each team being responsible for a different article, question, or part of a problem.  After each team figures out their piece and they become “experts” in their part, mix the groups so that one person from each team is in each new group (see diagram below).  Then have each team member teach their piece to their new group and together they can complete the puzzle by combining their knowledge.

  • Online polling.  Websites like polleverywhere.com and tophat.com allow you to engage students by having them respond to online polls using their cellphones or computers.  Responses can be multiple choice or write in, anonymous (with Poll Everywhere) or tracked over the course of the semester (with Top Hat Monocle).  For more technological teaching tools, check out this blog post from Kaneb on “Technology in the Classroom.”
  • Think-Pair-Share.  After posing a sufficiently difficult question, instead of asking for volunteers to answer the question, have students think about the question silently for a minute.  Then have them pair up and discuss the question with their partners.  Then ask for students to share their perspectives with the whole class.  For more on this and other activities to keep students engaged, check out this blog post from Kaneb on “Keeping Students Engaged in the Classroom.”


To learn more about lecturing–including more active learning strategies, incorporating multimedia, and ending your lecture on a strong note–keep an eye out for our Effective Lecture Strategies workshop in the future.


Additional Resources:

Technology in the Classroom

There are many great ways to incorporate technology into the classroom to enhance students’ learning experiences. We’ve listed a few options below. What is your favorite way to incorporate technology in the classroom?

  1. In Class Polling – There are many great resources that allow in class polling. You create a poll online and students use their cells phones or computers to answer the poll in class. Real time data is available to show the class. Check out Poll Everywhere or Top Hat Monocle to get started.
  2. Blogs – Check out this post on using blogs in the classroom. Notre Dame faculty, staff, and students and can create free blogs here.
  3. YouTube – Showing relevant Youtube videos in class can be a great way to keep students engaged in the classroom while demonstrating an application or example of a topic that was covered in class.
  4. Creative Presentations – Tired of using the same old powerpoint presentations? Use Prezi to create a zoomable campus to add some variety to in class presentations.
  5. Comics – “Developing an idea within the confines of a comic is more challenging than it might seem. Explaining or illustrating a concept concisely in three or six panels is one way to have students demonstrate their understanding.” Use Pixton to make online comics and check out this post for more information.
  6. Classroom Chat Rooms- Today’s Meet is a resource that allows online discussions. Here are some ideas on how incorporate Today’s Meet in the classroom.
  7. Customized Videos – Check out this post on how to use Animoto to create videos for your class.
  8. Digital Bulletin Boards – Use lino to create a digital bulletin board for your class.
  9. Word Clouds – A word cloud is a visualization of text. Words that are used more frequently in the text are larger in the word cloud. Check out this post on word cloud sites and ideas for using word clouds in the classroom.
  10. Google Docs – Use Google Docs to create a document that all students have access to, so that they can work together to write a document. This is a great way to have the student work together to make a class study guide.
  11. Google FormsGoogle forms creates an online form and collects responses. Check out 12 Ways to Use Google Forms in the Classroom.
  12. Computational Software – Mathematica software is available for download on the OIT website. This computational software can be used to visualize mathematical functions and scientific data.

Are you interested in learning more about using technology in the classroom? Check out NspireD2 and the Kaneb Center’s Teaching Well Using Technology Certificate program.

Six Thinking Hats

The following entry from the 2014-2015 Teaching Issues Writing Consortium: Teaching Tips was contributed by Debi Griffin, Assistant Director of the Faculty Development Center, Bellarmine University

Creative thinking and critical thinking are both important aspects of problem solving. The “Six Hats” exercise described below provides a framework for students to practice both.

Six Thinking Hats is a technique developed by Edward De Bono. This parallel thinking technique provides a structure for students to explore six distinct perspectives of a complex issue or scenario. The group exercise can easily be adapted to many disciplines.

Using “high school drop-out rates” as a sample topic, the “Six Hats” and perspectives are represented as:

  • White Hat: focuses on data, facts, information known or needed. (e.g., What is the current high school drop-out rate in our state? How does the rate in our community compare to the national data? What specific programs are currently in place?)
  • Black Hat: focuses on difficulties, potential problems, why something may not work. (e.g., What issues contribute to the drop-out rate? What are obstacles to improvement? What mistakes do we need to avoid?)
  • Red Hat: focuses on feelings, hunches, gut instinct, and intuition. (e.g., Do you have any emotions around this issue? Put yourself in the shoes of a high school student considering dropping out and imagine your fears and concerns.)
  • Yellow Hat: focuses on values and benefits: why something may work. (e.g., What are we doing right?)
  • Green Hat: focuses on creativity: possibilities, alternatives, solutions, new ideas. (e.g., What’s a new approach? If we reduced the drop-out rate by 25%, how could that impact our community?)
  • Blue Hat: focuses on process control, timing, next steps, action plans. (e.g., What’s the next logical step? Who needs to be included?)

A quick Google and YouTube search for “Six Thinking Hats” will supply dozens of charts, images, videos, and exercises using this technique. You can also find an excellent slide show by Edward de Bono on the Six Thinking Hats technique.


DeBono, Edward (1999) Six Thinking Hats: An Essential Approach to Business Management, Boston, MA: Little, Brown and Company.

Submitted by:
Debi Griffin, Assistant Director
Faculty Development Center
Bellarmine University

Inquiry Based Learning

Are you interested in incorporating active learning activities in the classroom? Do you want to promote critical thinking and problem solving skills? You may want to consider Inquiry Based Learning!

What is Inquiry Based Learning?

In this experiential teaching method, the instructor facilitates learning though student problem solving. A lecture could be used to pose a problem or question. The instructor then guides the students through the process of discovering ways to solve the problem rather giving a traditional lecture where the instructor tells the students how to solve the problem.

Inquiry-based learning (IBL) is a method of instruction that places the student, the subject, and their interaction at the center of the learning experience. At the same time, it transforms the role of the teacher from that of dispensing knowledge to one of facilitating learning. It repositions him or her, physically, from the front and center of the classroom to someplace in the middle or back of it, as it subtly yet significantly increases his or her involvement in the thought-processes of the students.

– E. Lee May of Salisbury State University

Why use Inquiry Based Learning?

There are many benefits to Inquiry-Based Learning. Some of the benefits listed by the Centre for Excellence in Enquiry-Based Learning (EBL) include:

  • Fundamentally, students are more engaged with the subject. Learning is perceived as being more relevant to their own needs, thus they are enthusiastic and ready to learn.
  • Students can expand on what they have learned by following their own research interests.
  • EBL allows students to develop a more flexible approach to their studies, giving them the freedom and the responsibility to organize their own pattern of work within the time constraints of the task.
  • Working within and communicating to a group are vital for a student’s employability. Self-directed learning not only develops key skills for postgraduate study, but also leads to original thought that contributes to larger research projects, papers and publications.
  • For teaching staff, developing an EBL module helps to understand the learning process and the changing needs of students.

How can I use Inquiry Based Learning in my classroom?

Consider the following when planning an Inquiry Based Learning activity:

  1. Think of a question or problem you would like to pose to the class. This should be a challenging problem where the students do not know the solution right away.
  2. Decide if you want the student to work on this individually, as small groups, or as an entire class.
  3. Come up with a few ways that you might help to facilitate the problem solving process if the students get stuck. It may help to establish guidelines for problem solving.
  4. Discuss your plan with a colleague or schedule a consultation with the Kaneb Center to get feedback on your plan before implementing in the class room.

For more information on Inquiry Based Learning, check out these resources:

Centre for Excellence in Enquiry-Based Learning

Benefits of Experiential Learning

The Academy of Inquiry Based Learning

University of Florida – Inquiry Based Instruction


Psychologists have identified two distinct forms of motivation: intrinsic and extrinsic.  Intrinsic motivation refers to an inherent interest in pursing a topic (“learning for learning’s sake”).  These individuals find a subject enjoyable and they naturally desire to learn mastery of it.   Extrinsic motivation, on the other hand, refers to a desire to pursue a subject for reasons outside of the individual, such as rewards, grades, parental or instructor approval, etc.  These individuals are motivated to learn a subject not because they want to learn it, but because learning the material will get them good grades, parental praise, or because jobs in that field pay well; all of which are external rewards.

As an instructor, there are multiple ways for you to foster intrinsic motivation in your students.  Some of these include:

  1. Create a student-centered classroom.  When students are involved in their own learning, they are more intrinsically motivated.  Allow students to have a say in the course where possible and try to incorporate an active learning activity every 15-20 minutes.
  2. Promote a mastery goal, rather than a performance goal.  If students are motivated to gain mastery, rather than simply aiming for a performance goal, they are more likely to invest more effort into their own learning.  Therefore, try to foster in students a goal of becoming fluent in Spanish, rather than having them focus on getting an A in the class.  In addition, de-emphasize grades and emphasize the intrinsic rewards of learning.
  3. Encourage students’ actions, not their character or person.  By using statements of encouragement like, “your answers showed thought” as opposed to “you are a good thinker,” students are more likely to remain intrinsically motivated (Ginott, 1972).  Focus on their effort, not their innate ability.  With that, avoid using statements that suggest that innate ability is all that is required to complete a project.  Direct students’ attention to the process of completing the project and the effort involved, rather than on the end product.
  4. Provide learning goals.  Research has shown that when teachers give learners a goal, students experience a boost in self-efficacy (Bandura, 1988; Elliot & Dweck, 1988; Schunk, 1991).  By providing clear learning goals at the beginning of class or before an activity, students may be more intrinsically motivated to work toward those goals.
  5. Have high, but realistic expectations for students.  Davis (2009) noted that instructors’ expectations can have a powerful effect on students’ performance.  She notes that standards should be set high enough to challenge students and motivate them to do their best without being so high that students feel they are unattainable.  If students believe achievement is within their grasp, they will work toward that goal.

Additional Resources:


Be sure to check out the Kaneb Center’s upcoming workshops (and keep an eye out for the Spring schedule).  Intrinsically motivated?  Come to our workshops to learn about teaching for the sake of learning.  Extrinsically motivated?  If you attend 5 workshops and write a 2-page reflective essay, you can earn a teaching certificate.

In addition, please consider applying for the Kaneb Center’s Graduate Associate position (information below).

Call for Applications: 2015 Kaneb Center Graduate Associates 

The Kaneb Center for Teaching and Learning seeks graduate students with Notre Dame teaching experience to serve as Kaneb Center Graduate Associates for the spring of 2015 and the 2015-2016 academic year. Kaneb graduate associates facilitate workshops on effective teaching, develop teaching resources, and contribute to other activities to help graduate students develop as teachers.


Graduate associates will receive training (required) to prepare them to serve as workshop leaders and mentors. In addition, they attend weekly meetings with Dr. Kristi Rudenga, assistant director of the Kaneb Center, during which they contribute content and ideas for Kaneb Center program planning. Throughout the semester, Kaneb graduate associates contribute 6-10 hours per week, depending upon availability, and receive a stipend commensurate with hours worked ($3600-$6000 per academic year). 


Applicants should be at least in their 4th year of graduate study while holding this position. 


To apply, please submit the information below to kaneb@nd.edu by November 7, 2014. 

  • Name 
  • Address 
  • Phone 
  • Email 
  • Department 
  • Current year in Graduate School 
  • Description of professional development activities (teaching workshops, panel discussions, reading groups, etc…). 
  • A 1-2 page summary of your teaching experiences, strengths, and strategies. 
  • Description of a workshop or seminar you would like to implement. These may be current programs that you will revise or programs that are brand new to the Kaneb Center.

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »

Copyright © 2010 | Kaneb Center for Teaching & Learning | kaneb@nd.edu | 574-631-9146
Get Adobe Flash player