Author: Laurie Wolfley

Make Effective Instructional Videos, Jan. 2017

Many instructors are moving toward a blended or hybrid style of teaching in which students learn the course material at home and spend much of their in-class time interacting with that material.  In these courses students may do readings, participate in online discussions, and even hear lectures from home.  If you record lectures or have been thinking about trying the technique, take a little time to familiarize yourself with Video Best Practices, which offers advice on video length, recording, captioning, and other considerations.

You may also be interested in a Faculty Focus article published last week that recommends how to extend the shelf-life of your instructional videos.  The article suggests that we avoid six common pitfalls:

  • Avoid references to earlier and later lectures
  • Don’t refer to lectures by number – at least in the videos themselves
  • Don’t incorporate web links
  • Avoid office-specific references
  • Beware of current events
  • Avoid discussion of particular assessments

See the Faculty Focus article for more details.  Visit the CETL’s Educational Technologies website for information on the Lightboard, MediaSite, and other resources for recording lectures; and contact for help.

Prepare for the First day of Class, Jan. 2017

Prepare for the First Day of Class

The first day of class is important on many levels:  It affords you the opportunity to introduce yourself and the course, get a sense of your students, and set the tone for the semester.  It also gives students a chance to try the course out—to get a sense of who you are and what your course will be like.  Carefully plan the first class session so you are sure to cover everything intended.

Before you step into the classroom…

  • Know the rules
  • View your class roster
  • Visit your classroom

On the first day…

  • Plan this first class session carefully (maybe even script it to ensure that you accomplish everything you intended)
  • Introduce yourself and your course; don’t forget to convey your own passion!
  • Show an interest in getting to know your students
  • Save time for students’ questions

Perhaps the most important way to establish a positive and productive classroom environment, beginning on day one, is through effective communication.  Take a look at these Mentor Commons videos for tips on communicating in the classroom:  What Is the Role of Communication In Teaching Excellence?, How Can I Communicate to Engage Students and Encourage Learning?, and How Can I Avoid Communication “Misfires” with Students?  If you haven’t yet activated your Mentor Commons account (which is free and available to all UConn instructors), here are the instructions:

Please also visit CETL’s web pages on Preparing for Your First Class and Interacting with Students During Your First Class for UConn-specific suggestions on how to achieve these goals and other helpful details.

Reflecting on Our Teaching, Dec. 2016

Believe it or not, right now—as classes finally come to a close and we immerse ourselves in assessing our students’ learning—is the perfect time to pause, reflect, and assess our teaching as well.  At no other time will we likely be as tuned in to what worked, what didn’t, and why.

Ideally, we would revise the course now, when it’s fresh in our minds, but we may not have time to do that.  What we can do, though, is take some notes and write short reflective pieces that we can refer to later, when we do have time to revise the course.  Consider these guidelines for reflection:

  • Take notes on your student-learning outcomes:  Did students achieve the goals you set?  If so, did anything specific account for the success?  If not, what were the barriers?  What can you do next time to avoid those barriers?  In retrospect, were the outcomes you expressed really the ones you were seeking?  If not, take notes on how you might revise them.  If you didn’t articulate student-learning outcomes at all, draft ideas for a few now; students are more focused and receptive when they have a clear understanding of your expectations for their learning.
  • Comment on your course materials:  Note which texts worked and were well received by students.  Was a text outdated, poorly written, or otherwise insufficient?  If so, note the problems and make a list of the attributes you’d like to see in a replacement text.  Would other texts or additional technology (YouTube videos; TED Talks; news feeds; links to documentaries, music, articles, etc.) enhance the course?  Make a wish list.
  • Consider the flow of the course:  Were there instances in which the transition from one topic to the next was stilted and in need of a smoother transition? Did students need information from a later unit earlier in the semester?  Should you spend more time on one topic and less on another?  Mark up your master syllabus to remind yourself of these issues.
  • Reflect on how you used class time:  Did you take the time to introduce your course’s student-learning outcomes and discuss their value to your students at the start of the semester?  Which classroom activities were particularly successful?  Did you spend too much time lecturing on material students could have learned from the reading, at the expense of interacting with that material in class?  Would you like to record some of your lectures for presentation to students online, leaving more class time for activities?  Do you wish you had incorporated more opportunities for active learning?  Did you refer back to your student-learning outcomes as you wrapped up the course?  What energized or deflated student enthusiasm?  What energized or deflated you?

This need not be a formal, drawn-out endeavor; even an hour or two of reflection can make a world of difference later on.  Now may not feel like the perfect time for deep introspection, but you may not teach this course again for several months—maybe even years—so take advantage of the moment to make the next experience easier.

If, upon reflection, you decide that you would like help revising your course, feel free to seek the services of faculty development specialists through the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning.  Please also consider attending the upcoming Teaching Talks on developing a syllabus (12/12 and 12/16) and looking ahead to next semester’s course (12/19).  Contact CETL for register for these sessions.

Prepare to Administer Student Evaluations of Teaching, Nov. 2016

Student Evaluations of Teaching (SETs) are open now 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 review 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.   For help interpreting SET results or using past SET results to help guide your revision of a course, please contact Suzanne LaFleur.

Reduce End-of-Semester Stress, Nov. 2016

We all suffer from stress at the end of the semester, and in the fall that stress is often compounded by the colder weather, reduced exposure to daylight, and ever-looming holidays.  Following these steps may help you to control that stress before it gets out of hand:

  • Make a List—The first step to getting a handle on completing tasks during this busy time of year is to determine just what those tasks are.  Make a list.  Include everything that matters—preparing exams, grading papers, submitting next semester’s textbook order to the bookstore, requesting next semester’s HuskyCT site, etc.
  • Create and Stick to a Schedule—Create a daily calendar that includes ample time for all the tasks on your list, but also add things like shopping, working out, cleaning the house, and spending time with family—whatever you want to accomplish in the next few weeks.  Get started early; do whatever you can do today to relieve stress during the final days of the semester.
  • Limit the Time You Spend on Grading—Determine a reasonable amount of time to spend on grading student work, and stick to that schedule.  If you haven’t already done so, consider using grading rubrics and offering only minimal comments.  In most instances, the grading you do now is summative in nature; thus, adding specific suggestions designed to enhance learning may not be the best use of your time.  For more information on rubrics, see the MAGNA 20-Minute Mentor Video “How can rubrics make grading easier and faster?” and perhaps try creating a rubric using the Rubistar Rubric-Making Software.  You can even imbed rubrics right into your HuslyCT site assignments; see HuskyCT Rubrics for details.
  • Take Care of Yourself—As you work through piles of papers, take short breaks often: get a cup of coffee, take a brisk walk around the block, check in on the soccer game, or try a few yoga moves.  We tend to take less care of ourselves during times of stress, but now is when eating and sleeping well and taking time out for ourselves can really make a difference.  Consider listening to these Stress Management Audio Downloads or taking a look at these Coping Strategies.

If you are concerned that stress is negatively impacting your relationships or work, please feel free to contact the Employee Assistance Program or find additional resources through Human Resources.


For more information, contact the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning at

Teaching Tools at your Fingertips, Nov. 2016

Are you interested in learning more about leading class discussions, flipping the classroom, conducting large classes, assessing student learning, or other useful teaching tips?  Mentor Commons is free to use and available any time online.

This series offers video-based programs designed to answer a specific question related to teaching and learning, delivering actionable insights in highly focused 20-minute presentations designed to fit busy schedules.

Subscribe to Magna’s 20-Minute Mentor Commons Today

As a member of the UConn campus community, you have free access to all of the 20-Minute Mentor videos, which cover a broad range of faculty development topics, at all times. Sign up today and help energize your higher education career:

STEP 1: Activate your 20-Minute Mentor Commons subscription

  1. Go to
  2. Enter information in each of the required fields.  To obtain the authorization code, please contact Stacey Valliere (

STEP 2: Access the 20-Minute Mentor Commons library

  1. Go to
  2. Enter your email address & password & click Submit. If you do not know or remember your account password, use “Forget your password?” to reset it.
  3. On the left side of the screen, under My Account, My Online Access, select Subscriptions. The online content you have access to will be listed to the right. Click the appropriate link to view the content.

Need help?  Email or call 800-433-0499 ext. 2 (office hours are 9:00 am to 6:00 pm, Monday through Friday).

Please contact UConn’s Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning for more information.

Encourage Critical Thinking, Nov. 2016

Getting students to think critically about material requires instructors to develop habits of repeatedly demonstrating our own processes in class, and perhaps giving students time to practice similar processes.  Class discussions often offer such an opportunity.

In a recent Faculty Focus article, Linda Nilson suggests that “questions are central to students acquiring critical thinking skills. We must ask students challenging, open-ended questions that demand genuine inquiry, analysis, or assessment.”  She recommends questions like

  • What is your interpretation/analysis of this passage/data/argument?
  • What are your reasons for favoring that interpretation/analysis? What is your evidence?
  • How well does your interpretation/analysis handle the complexities of the passage/data/argument?
  • What is another interpretation/analysis of the passage/data/argument? Any others?
  • What are the implications of each interpretation/analysis?
  • Let’s look at all the interpretations/analyses and evaluate them. How strong is the evidence for each one?
  • How honestly and impartially are you representing the other interpretations/analyses? Do you have a vested interest in one interpretation/analysis over another?
  • What additional information would help us to narrow down our interpretations/analyses?

If you are interested in learning more about infusing critical thinking into class discussions, please attend one of the upcoming CETL Teaching Talks on Conducting Class Discussions:

  • Storrs, November 7, 12:30-1:45 in ROWE 319. email to register
  • Avery Point, Tuesday, November 8, 1:00-2:00 in ACD 319—Register
  • Avery Point, Wednesday, November 9, 12:15-1:15 in ACD 109—Register

Refer to the following links for help integrating critical thinking in your classroom:

Active Learning Strategies, Oct. 2016

We’ve been hearing a lot about active learning these days, but what, exactly, does active learning mean? Neal (2010) defines active learning as “educational methods in which students are involved in higher-order thinking (analysis, synthesis, evaluation). The term therefore primarily reflects what is going on in a student’s mind, whether or not the body (or the mouth) is physically active.” Studies show that active learning can increase students’ attention in class, as well as their retention of ideas, leading to more effective, gratifying, and memorable learning outcomes. In fact, most people learn better from actively engaging with material than they do from passively listening to a speaker or reading from a textbook.  Active learning strategies have students “doing” things—analyzing, creating, role playing, experiencing, reflecting, etc.

According to the Center for Teaching & Learning at the University of Minnesota, the four Basic Active Learning Activities are the same elements you are probably already using in your class:

  1. Talking and listening – Students actively process information when they ask or answer questions, comment, present, and explain. When students go beyond passive listening to relate, analyze, and use what they are hearing, they are engaged in active learning.  Discussions and Interactive Lectures are useful strategies.
  2. Writing – Students can actively process information by putting it in their own words; this can help students organize their thoughts and reflections and prepare them for discussion. Check out these suggestions for Informal Writing Activities from the University of Minnesota.
  3. Reading – Instructors often expect students to learn through reading. It’s easy for students to read passively in order “to get it done.”  Providing questions, summary exercises, opportunities for posts or reflection, etc., can transform it into an active process.  Students can often benefit from instruction on Active Reading.
  4. Reflecting – Class periods are often packed with information. Students sometimes need time to process the material and connect it to what they’ve already learned.  Reflecting on the applications and implications of new knowledge can help develop higher-order thinking skills and Metacognition.

Visit Active Learning Strategies for an explanation of several individual, paired, and small- and large-group active learning activities, and if you are interested in discussing how you might incorporate active learning in your classroom, please register for CETL’s November 4th “Active Learning” teaching talk; contact Stacey Valliere to register.

Promote Learning in the Classroom, Oct. 2016

In its online blog last week, The Chronicle of Higher Education featured a post listing these ten things instructors can do to promote good learning (from a student survey):

  1. Know that it’s OK to humanize yourself (e.g., it’s OK if you’re having a rough day — we get it).
  2. Know students’ names. We get that this is hard if it is a big class, but it matters.
  3. Know who students are (e.g., Are some of us shy in class? Do we work or play sports or play in bands or lead extracurricular groups or sing or dance or juggle parenting and school or a hundred other things? Why did we decide to take this course? What do we hope to learn?).
  4. Assume students want to be there and are prepared.
  5. Create and foster mutual respect in the classroom. And really, doing No. 4 is a big part of No. 5. Well, actually most of this list supports this one.
  6. Recognize that sometimes life can get in the way of learning for students, so take the time to diagnose the problem (e.g., if a student is having trouble staying awake in class, it could be because they had to work overtime last night, not because they were out partying).
  7. Hold all students to the same rigorous expectations.
  8. Refrain from interrupting students to get a point across. We know that sometimes one of us can get long-winded and you may need to redirect; but we try not to interrupt you and it’s really nice when you don’t interrupt us.
  9. Please don’t feel you need to comment all the time in a full-class discussion. Sometimes we need you to guide the discussion, and sometimes we really don’t need you every turn.
  10. Listen to what students have to say.

How many of these attributes describe you?  The online blog also lists ten things students can do to promote good learning.  Are there steps you can take to encourage your students toward these behaviors?

If you would like to discuss this topic with CETL faculty development specialists, please attend the October 24th “Classroom Management” teaching talk (12:30-1:45); email Stacey Valliere at  (860-486-2686) to register.  Contact Suzanne LaFleur for more information or, if you prefer, to schedule a private consultation with a CETL specialist.

Formative Mid-Semester Evaluations, Oct. 2016

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. 

Time is running out for these evaluations this semester:  Please request yours no later than October 28th.  Visit Formative Mid-Semester Evaluations or contact the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning if you would like to learn more about formative assessment or arrange for consultations or classroom observations.