Month: November 2014

Preparing for Final Exams, Nov 2014

What does an effective final exam look like?  Have you asked yourself what—of all the material, processes, and procedures you’ve taught this semester—should actually show up on the final exam?  What should be assessed? Knowledge and comprehension?  Analytical skills?  The ability to evaluate and synthesize information?  Take a look at your course goals and student-learning outcomes to ensure that you’re testing students on what you really want them to know or do.

What will you do if students request a make-up final exam?  Perhaps you didn’t realize that students may be officially excused from their finals, requiring you to administer a make up.  When students are forced to miss a final examination due to illness, accident, death in the family, or other unavoidable reasons, they can receive approval from the Dean of Students Office to arrange another exam time with their instructor.  Students are also excused from exams that are “bunched.”  Talk with your department head to find out the policy on administering make ups.  It helps to know the policy and have a plan, just in case.

How do iTV instructors administer final exams?  UConn recognizes that you can’t be in two places at once.  If you teach an iTV course and need a final-exam proctor for a remote location, visit Campus Proctors for contact information.


For more information, contact the Institute for Teaching and Learning at

Conducting Student Evaluations of Teaching, Nov 2014

Student Evaluations of Teaching (SETs) are now open for most fall courses.  Thus, we are tasked with encouraging students to complete the surveys—to evaluate, as objectively as possible, both their courses and their instructors—at a time when they are in the midst of perhaps the greatest stress and heaviest workload of the semester.

Now that the SETs are administered online, it’s easier than ever for students to choose not to do them at all.  But because SETs can provide us with valuable information on our teaching strategies and effectiveness, and many departments seriously consider the results of SETs in their evaluations of our teaching, we need to find ways to inspire students to earnestly reflect on their courses and complete the evaluations.

Here are a few ideas for preparing students for the SETs:

  •  Choose a day to complete the SETs in class, and announce that you’d like everyone to bring a laptop, tablet or, if necessary, smartphone to class, if they can.  It might make sense to choose a day when you know you’ll see good attendance, perhaps when a paper is due in class, there’s a scheduled quiz, or you will conduct a final-exam review.
  •  Some time prior to the in-class SET date, provide a brief overview of the course, including course goals and student learning objectives or outcomes.  The SETs will ask students to comment on the course’s and instructor’s ability to meet goals, but unless you take the time to review them here or have reiterated and emphasized them often throughout the semester, students are unlikely to even recall what those goals are.
  •  On the chosen day, introduce the SET and emphasize its value in course development.  Depending on your rapport with the group, maybe even convey how important the SETs are to you—that you value students’ insights and will take their responses seriously as you revise the course for next year.
  • Step outside the room, giving students time in class to complete the SETs online.
  • Reconvene the class and continue on with your planned activities.

These steps may help students gain the perspective they need to reflect fairly on your course, and they will increase the response rate tremendously.

For more information on SETs, contact OIRE.

If you would like help interpreting your SET results, contact the Institute for Teaching and Learning at

Using Rubrics, Nov 2014

Rubrics are all the rage these days.  They are versatile enough to use in a variety of ways:

  • to articulate the essential parts of major assignments
  • as a checklist in evaluation
  • as a grading tool
  • to provide a formative assessment of a draft

Tom Deans of the University Writing Center suggests that the best rubrics are often those that focus on just a few learning outcomes and that are customized to a particular assignment.  He notes that rubrics come with costs as well as benefits, especially when teachers apply them mechanically. Try rubrics, but also try responding holistically as one reader speaking to one writer, as you might during office hours or an individual conference. Compare those approaches, attending to what is gained and lost in each approach.

See Faculty Focus: Rubrics for guidance on when and how to best use rubrics in teaching.

The links below offer sample rubrics: 

Note that they were intended for specific assignments (with a few for very large, semester-long projects); for most assignments, this type of rubric would be too elaborate.

If you would like help designing and using rubrics, contact the Institute for Teaching and Learning at

Facilitating Group and Team Projects, Oct 2014

Sometimes it seems as though group work just isn’t worth the time and effort.  We see the same problems time and again:

  • Students who miss vital planning meetings or cannot remain focused during group meetings
  • Students who claim that they’re on track, only to fall far short on presentation day
  • Students who appear to drop off the face of the Earth mid-project
  • Students who veer away from the group’s agreed-upon focus and show up at the last minute with “new” material, much to the chagrin of other members
  • Groups that do not hold regular planning meetings
  • Groups that present without having done a dry run or with students who may never even have shared their parts with one another
  • Groups sharing a common credit or grade, even though some students either do little or nothing to benefit the group and some do most of the work on their own

The list goes on and on…

One way to avoid these problems is to create a “typical” group scenario—that is, one in which many of these types of problems occur—and spend class time reading and responding to questions about the situation.  Ideal questions would point out problems and ask students to brainstorm ways that the group could have avoided or confronted the difficulty before it negatively impacted them.

Don’t give up on team work!  It’s such a common part of the working world that students need all the practice they can get.  Instead, recognize the problems that can occur within groups and diffuse them before they ever arise.

See the links below for more information on designing successful group work.  For help, contact the Institute for Teaching and Learning at


Managing Whole-Class Feedback, Oct 2014

It happens at some point almost every semester:  We are immersed in the time-consuming and often tedious task of grading a towering pile of student papers, projects or exams; in the wee hours of the night, we find ourselves making the same types of comments over and over and wondering if there’s an easier way.

…Perhaps there is.

Whole-class feedback can be an effective, time-saving technique for responding to student work—particularly in large lecture sections and when many in the class are struggling with the same issues.

A recent Teaching Professor Blog describes whole-class feedback as instances “when the teacher returns a set of papers or exams and talks to the entire class about its performance, or the debriefing part of an activity where the teacher comments on how students completed the task.”

This feedback offers efficiency, but we need to be careful when and how to present it:  A whole-class lecture on how students could improve their work might leave many tuned out unless they know that the remarks refer specifically to them.  And, if students are not given the opportunity to revise their work afterwards—or incorporate lessons learned into similar upcoming assignments—they may not be concerned enough to attend in the first place.

Instead of lecture, a better technique might be to conduct a whole-class discussion in which we pose questions, discuss and brainstorm revisions to student work together, and encourage all members of the class to identify areas that need improvement in addition to things done well.  We could also offer what the Blog calls “future-focused discussions,” which are aimed specifically at how to avoid similar errors on the next upcoming assignment.

Visit the Teaching Professor Blog for more options and ideas on this topic.

Collecting One-Minute Feedback, Oct 2014

Do you sometimes walk out of the classroom wondering if your students had any idea what you were talking about for the past 50 minutes?

Minute Papers provide a quick and easy formative assessment technique for checking student progress, as they help you to gage students’ understanding of and reaction to specific course material.

After a lecture or lesson, pose a single question (either specific or open-ended), and give students one or two minutes to write a response. Some sample questions include, “How does John Hospers define ‘free will’?” “What is ‘scientific realism’?” “What is the activation energy for a chemical reaction?” “What is the difference between replication and transcription?” and so on. Another good use of the minute paper is to ask questions like, “What was the main point of today’s class material?” This tells you whether or not students are viewing the material in the way you envisioned.

“Muddiest or Clearest Point” papers, a variation on Minute Papers, ask (often at the end of a class period), “What was the ‘muddiest point’ in today’s lecture?” or, perhaps, you might be more specific, asking, for example, “What (if anything) do you find unclear about the concept of ‘personal identity’?”

This very brief assessment technique can tell you if students are grasping ideas or are way off the mark.  The results are immediate, making it possible for you to identify the problem, revise your material, and then reteach it the very next class.


Conducting Classroom Discussions, Oct 2014

In case you haven’t heard, discussions aren’t just for literature class anymore!

Discussions about practical applications of study can be accomplished in all disciplines—even math and statistics.  Studies show that when students manipulate and interact with the facts they are learning, those facts become grounded and sink in more deeply.

Classroom discussions can take different forms, but seminar-style discussion (including Socratic questioning and the Harkness philosophy) aims at a substantive and probing analysis of a specific topic and includes issues and perspectives that will challenge students’ thinking.  This style can take some time to learn to orchestrate, but it is a valuable tool for encouraging student engagement (with one another and with texts) and higher-order, critical thinking.

Contact the Institute for Teaching and Learning for help integrating discussions in your classroom, or visit the ITL Lunchtime Seminar Schedule to sign up for the October 15th session on discussions.


Other resources:

  • Elder, Paul R. and Linda Elder, The Art of Socratic Questioning.  Foundation for Critical Thinking Press: 2007.

For more information, contact the Institute for Teaching and Learning at

Streaming Lectures through Mediasite, Sept 2014

Are you feeling anxious about how the upcoming hurricane and winter storm seasons might wreak havoc with the delivery and smooth flow of your teaching?  Cancelled classes are no longer a rare exception here on the East Coast, so it makes sense to plan accordingly, establish an online presence (such as on HuskyCT), and even record lectures ahead of time.

Mediasite is the University’s solution for lecture capture and streaming. Whether you are teaching online or face-to-face, reinforcing a difficult topic, or making up a missed class, Mediasite can provide an appropriate and effective solution.

Mediasite offers five basic options for creating and capturing lecture content:

  1. Screencast: Record the screen as a full motion video and use the microphone to record audio
  2. Slideshow plus video: Record a web camera of yourself as full motion video and the screen as slide snapshots, while using the microphone to record audio
  3. Slideshow plus audio: Capture the screen as slide snapshots and use the microphone to record audio
  4. Screencast plus video: Record the screen as a full motion video and a web camera of yourself, while using the microphone to record audio
  5. Video upload: Upload videos from the my Mediasite portal

Much of this you can record on your own using just a laptop or tablet, but the iTV group also offers everything from recording studios with state-of-the-art teaching tools (like smart boards) to headsets and high-quality microphones.

For more information, visit iTV, contact the iTV group (860-486-6540), or sign up for the October 29th Mediasite lunchtime seminar at


Incorporating Service Learning, Sept 2014

Have you thought about including service learning in your teaching?

Service learning actively engages students in the community.  As a form of experiential learning, it provides direct experience and hands-on learning to develop skills useful in future careers, family life, and community involvement.  It can help develop critical thinking through involvement in situations conducive to creative, effective problem-solving, and it can enhance students’ social responsibility by expanding their compassion, civic awareness, and desire to be engaged in the community.

Service learning projects are developed by connecting student learning objectives and community need. As such, the resulting partnership is mutually beneficial for all parties. The project activities and deliverables can vary widely as service learning can take on many forms.


  • Contact the Office of Service-Learning for more information or for help getting started on developing your service learning course or project
  • To learn more about the faculty benefits of service learning, visit Faculty Overview
  • Visit National Campus Compact for models of service learning across disciplines and institutions
  • Spring 2015 SL Course Designation Applications are due by Wednesday, Oct. 1 at noon.  To submit a course, please click HERE


Designing Formative Mid-Semester Evaluations, Sept 2014

Do you wonder how your students are responding to your course this semester?

Consider administering a formative assessment to gather mid-semester feedback that you can use to improve your teaching while your course is underway.  Formative assessment can help you recognize when your students are struggling and enable you to address problems in the middle of the semester.

Unlike semester-end student evaluations of teaching, mid-semester surveys are optional and completely confidential.  You can use these formative assessments confidentially; you may also decide to share them with your department head, along with the resulting course modifications, and include the same in your teaching portfolio.

Results of these surveys can provide you with valuable opportunities for reflection and course improvement, and studies show that when students know that you intend to use the results to improve your course immediately, their response rates are typically high and carefully thought-out.

Peruse ITL’s Sample Formative Evaluations or contact the Institute for Teaching and Learning if you would like to learn more about formative assessment or arrange for consultations or classroom observations.