Month: April 2015

Preparing for Final Exams, Apr 2015

Instruction in ActionWhat does an effective final exam look like?  Have you asked yourself what—of all the material, processes, and procedures you have 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 are 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 exam.  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.

What are the policies regarding students with disabilities?  If you have students who are registered with the Center for Students with Disabilities (CSD) and are approved for exam accommodations, please speak with them as soon as possible.  If you cannot provide the testing accommodations for which a student is approved by the CSD, you’ll need to collaborate with your student to complete and submit a “CSD Exam Administration Form to the CSD office before the exam. Contact the CSD Exam Team (860-486-2020) to discuss questions or concerns.

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 Contacts for proctors at the regional campuses for information.


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

Assigning Academic Posters, Apr 2015

Spring is in the air, the semester is winding down, and we are all looking ahead to the summer break; this is the point in the semester when creating and grading assignments can become particularly repetitive and mundane.  It is therefore the perfect time to try an interesting, new style of assignment—one that can also be used as an assessment tool—that highlights your students’ learning and encourages them to interact with one another and perhaps their campus or greater community as well.

Academic Posters can do all that.  They afford students, or groups of students, who have been working on research projects the opportunity to display and share their findings in a clear, concise and accessible fashion.  Posters offer a combination of text and images (graphs, figures, photographs) that often contain the following:

  • Title
  • Author
  • Introduction (purpose or hypothesis)
  • Summary (evidence)
  • Conclusions
  • Works Cited

Because the amount of information that can fit on a poster is limited, students are challenged to condense material down to its most basic parts to create an attractive yet rigorous academic product.

By organizing poster sessions within your classroom, as a whole-school or department event, or in the broader community, you can help your students to share their learning with others.  When students display their posters at sessions, discussing their work in detail with all who stop by, they become an active part of their academic community.  And, let’s face it, assessing work as students present their posters with pride can be much more fulfilling than grading a pile of exams only for them to be thrown away immediately afterward.

See these links for details on assigning posters and poster presentations:

If you do not have time for a poster session or funds for the materials, consider moving the assignment and resulting session online.

Feel free to contact the Institute for Teaching and Learning at for more details about creating posters.

Avoiding Plagiarism, Apr 2015

As we near the end of the semester, many students are preparing to write culminating essays and reports.  We know that all undergraduates have taken a First-Year Writing course and that they should be well versed in the procedures for properly incorporating researched information into their papers, yet experience warns us that—whether they are freshmen or seniors—several students need refreshers on this topic.  For example, students typically know that they must cite direct quotations, but many are not so sure about citing material they’ve paraphrased or summarized from outside sources.

In order to mitigate any confusion, consider using class time to review the citation style you would like students to use, familiarize students with UConn’s plagiarism policies (see Plagiarism Resources | University Libraries), and emphasize the consequences of committing plagiarism in your course.  Consider sending students to the First-Year Writing Program’s Statement on Plagiarism, which clearly identifies what plagiarism is and offers “guidelines to avoid misusing sources and committing plagiarism.”  Perhaps better yet, ask your students to complete this interactive Plagiarism module.

This is also a good time to remind students of the option to work with tutors in the Writing Center if they have any questions about information literacy or academic integrity in writing.

Don’t forget, too, about the option to have students submit their papers via SafeAssign on HuskyCT.  This tool both deters students from committing plagiarism and helps you to identify plagiarism in papers.  See this SafeAssign Help link for more information, or contact the Institute for Teaching and Learning at


Asking Essential Questions, Mar 2015

Essential Questions:  Springboards to Higher Order Thinking

Thinking within disciplines is driven, not by answers, but by essential questions.    -Dr. Richard Paul

If development and utilization of higher order thinking skills is an important learning outcome for your courses, essential questions are a natural vehicle for helping students achieve that outcome.

What are essential questions?  Essential questions are the types of questions that led to the foundation of every intellectual field.   Without these types of probing questions, fields of knowledge would not have developed in the first place.  And, as Dr. Richard Paul points out, “When a field of study is no longer pursuing significant answers to essential questions, it dies as a field.”

Jay McTighe and Grant Wiggins describe the learning outcome of essential questions as follows: “By tackling such questions, learners are engaged in uncovering the depth and richness of a topic that might otherwise be obscured by simply covering it.”  The intent of using essential questions to guide discussions, for example, is for learners to engage with the big ideas of a discipline, to “chew” on those matters within a discipline or across disciplines which are most worthy of deep consideration.

Consider the following examples discipline related essential questions provided by McTighe and Wiggins (links to these samples and others are provided below):

  • Arts: What can works of art tell us about a culture or society?  To what extent do artists have a responsibility to their audiences?
  • Biology: What are the characteristics of living systems?  What structures exist in these living systems?
  • History: How can we know what really happened?  How should governments balance the rights of individuals with the common good?
  • Literature: What is the relationship between fiction and truth?  How do effective writers hook and hold their readers?
  • Mathematics: How does what we measure influence how we measure? How does how we measure influence what we measure?  What are the limits of mathematical modeling?
  • Modern Languages: How do native speakers differ, if at all, from fluent foreigners?  How much cultural understanding is required to become competent in using a language?

In identifying essential questions for your courses, consider the characteristics of essential questions:

  • They demand higher order thinking, such as analysis, synthesis, and prediction, as they cannot be answered by using recall alone.
  • They are open-ended and do not have a single correct answer.
  • They point toward important ideas within and across disciplines.
  • They are intellectually engaging. They should spark more questions.

To find more information about stimulating learners’ higher order thinking and about essential questions specifically, see the links below:


Streaming Lectures through Mediasite, Mar 2015

After this winter’s challenging storm season, many of us have finally decided to establish at least a minimal online presence, such as on HuskyCT.  A logical next step is to practice “flipping” the classroom by moving some of our teaching materials online and even recording lectures ahead of time for presentation via HuskyCT.

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, 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.

Please visit Mediasite Help, which walks users through the process step by step and responds to frequently asked questions; the iTV group would also welcome any feedback you can provide on the page.

See these videos on how to get started:

For more information, contact the iTV group (860-486-6540) or visit


Establishing Classroom Environment, Mar 2015

Class EnvironmentIn a world in which we are bombarded with elaborate teaching techniques, it’s easy to forget the simple things that can make a course successful.  Chris Palmer, a professor in the School of Communication at American University, offers the following tips for fostering an effective learning environment in the classroom.

Setting a Classroom Atmosphere

  • Show up early for class
  • Take roll, learn students’ names, and encourage students to learn and use one another’s names
  • Convey your passion and enthusiasm for the subject
  • Create a welcoming environment
  • Foster a sense of belonging and respect
  • Encourage high performance
  • Promote active engagement
  • Make the class interactive
  • For small classes, sit in a circle
  • Carefully manage lecture-based classes

Managing Classroom Interactions

  • Start with a (student) summary of last class
  • Write the plan for the class on board
  • Call on students frequently to answer questions
  • Encourage quiet students to speak
  • Listen actively to students during discussions
  • Incorporate peer review
  • Consider permitting homework counter-offers
  • Wrap up the class
  • End class on time

Continuing Beyond the Classroom

  • Use formative assessments
  • Manage your office hours
  • Reach out to students who miss a class
  • Be responsive to e-mails and calls from students
  • Give plenty of student feedback

Visit the following sites for details on each of these tips:

Chris Palmer can be reached at

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




Designing Formative Mid-Semester Evaluations, Feb 2015

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 end-of-semester student evaluations of teaching, mid-semester surveys are optional and completely confidential.  You can use these formative assessments privately, or you may 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.