Month: February 2015

Replacing Canceled Classes with Last-Minute Assignments, Feb 2015

You’ve read recommendations about planning ahead to use Mediasite and HuskyCT to offer virtual classes during cancellations, but what can you do if you haven’t planned ahead?

Even if there’s no time to practice, try one of these options at the last minute.  Although you may not be real familiar with using these tools, your students have likely practiced with them in other courses.

  • Select a space—a discussion thread, blog space, or other HuskyCT area—in which students can assemble.
  • Post a discussion thread for working through a current issue or ask a student (or a few) to post a piece of a current project for discussion.
  • Have students think through their first drafts in a “Course Blog” (everyone in class can see that); assign responses to the blogs that engage with the students’ project.
  • Create and share visual/textual supports for the conversations you’ve been having in class.
  • Use Google Docs to set up a document (or passage from something you’ve read) all students can annotate (or let them assemble a “slab” of quotations and visuals).

These recommendations come from Scott Campbell in the English Department, but they are easily adaptable to other disciplines.  He suggests that, whatever you choose to do, you communicate with your class about your expectations for the work they should be doing. Although some schedule adjustments are inevitable, it’s getting a bit late to change due dates for major projects. The semester must proceed, and it isn’t helpful to make March and April even busier, nor to leave students without any grades so far into the semester.

Planning Ahead for Cancelled Classes, Feb 2015

Cancelled classes are no longer a rare exception here on the East Coast, so it makes sense to establish an online presence, plan ahead for cancellations, and even record lectures ahead of time, so we are ready when the bad weather hits.

The first step is to set up a HuskyCT site at the beginning of the semester and use it regularly to share materials with students.  If students are used to interacting with the system, they won’t have difficulty switching to it when class is cancelled.

Plan ahead:  Consider “Flipping” a class ahead of time, so you already have a session prepared for online presentation in case of a weather cancellation.

  • Use HuskyCT: Information about using HuskyCT to address unforeseen disruptions can be found at IRC’s Preparing for Emergency Disruptions.
  • Use Lecture Capture: 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. (Be sure to test video capture software in your home office to ensure that everything works from there.)

Whether proactively or reactively responding to inclement weather, think of the results of your efforts as potential first steps in expanding your pedagogy and technology toolbox.

Visit Weather Interruptions/Emergency Cancellations for more information.

Conducting Classroom Discussions, Jan 2015

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

Discussions about practical applications of study can be useful 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, the Harkness philosophy, and Accountable Talk) 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 sign up for the lunchtime seminars on January 30th, “Talk Moves to Enhance Discussion and Student Thinking,” or April 10th, “Developing and Facilitating Engaging Online Discussions.”


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

Choosing Classroom Ice Breakers, Jan 2015

The first day of classes can be daunting for both students and faculty:  Students may be anxious about their professors, as well as about the work load of the course and other expectations; their instructors are likely to be anxious about establishing a positive first impression, conveying the syllabus and other information about the course, and generally setting the right tone for the next 14 weeks.

One way to ease that anxiety is to try an ice breaker, perhaps playing a name game or encouraging students to mingle as they complete a scavenger hunt aimed at learning about one another.  Marilyn Weimer offers the following advice in the “Teaching Professor Blog”:

  • Best and Worst Classes—On one section of the board, write “The best class I ever had,” and on another write, “The worst class I ever had.” Under each, write the subheadings, “What the students did” and “What the teacher did.”  Then ask students to add attributes to lists, being careful not to identify names of teachers or courses.  Afterward, discuss among the class how to capture the best attributes and avoid the worst this semester.
  • First Day Graffiti—On sections of the board or separate flip charts, write the beginning of a sentence; for example, “I learn best in classes where the teacher ___,” “Students in courses help me learn when they ___,” and “I am most likely to participate in classes when ___.” Have students walk around the room and finish the sentences, then discuss them and their significance to your course as a class.
  • Syllabus Speed dating—We hand out syllabi, but do students actually read them? This technique teams students up to search the syllabus and find answers to a series questions, such as “How will participation be graded?”  or “What citation style is required in this class? Why?”  This encourages interaction and collaboration while ensuring that your syllabus gets read.

See more about these techniques at this Faculty Focus article on First Day Class Activities.

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