Teaching Tools at your Fingertips

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 magnapubs.com/sitelicense/registration.html?v=uconn0622
  2. Enter information in each of the required fields.  In the Authorization Code box, enter our group Authorization Code UCONN752and click Submit

Please note: entering the Authorization Code is done only once.

STEP 2: Access the 20-Minute Mentor Commons library

  1. Go to magnapubs.com/profile
  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.

Please do not share the Authorization Code with anyone outside our campus community.

Need help?  Email support@magnapubs.com 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 (CETL@uconn.edu) for more information.

Activate your NCFDD Support Program

Have you activated your NCFDD (National Center for Faculty Development & Diversity) account yet?  If you do, you’ll find great resources, including webinars and videos on topics like

  • How to balance parenting and productivity: A realistic approach for faculty with young children
  • How to develop a daily writing process
  • Writing science: How to write papers that get cited and proposals that get funded

UConn has an institutional membership, so sign up today!  Membership Includes:

  • The Monday Motivator (weekly productivity email)
  • Access to monthly core curriculum and guest expert webinars and multi-week courses
  • Access to the Career Center
  • Recordings of all previous webinars
  • Access to moderated monthly writing challenges and monthly mentor matches
  • Discounted Faculty Success Program registration
  • Free access to online accountability and tracking software to alumni of the Faculty Success Program

How to activate your membership:

  1. Click this link: University of Connecticut.
  2. Create a username and password and enter your institutional e-mail address (i.e., @uconn.edu) to expedite your registration.
  3. Complete the registration process.

You will receive a welcome e-mail within 2 business days confirming that your account is active and that you can access the NCFDD resources.  If you have questions about this program, please contact CETL.

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 CETL@uconn.edu  (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.

Assigning Group or Team Work, Feb. 2016

We all know that teamwork in the classroom can be extremely challenging.  The good news is that proper planning can help you avoid problems and lead your students to an enjoyable, authentic and effective experience.  Whether you are interested in incorporating brief group assignments or more formal, semester-long team projects, use these strategies to get started:

Understand the dynamics involved in group and team work:  Scan the links below to get a sense of how to design group and team projects.  These resources offer guidance on every step of the process, from planning through assessment.  Also note that this week’s 20-Minute Mentor video “How do I assign students to groups?” suggests ways to design groups and establish goals and grading policies.  To access this video, visit Monday Morning Mentor and enter the password groups5.  This video is only available through Sunday, February 7, 2016.

Help your students understand what is expected of them:  One way to avoid the problems described above is to create a case study of a dysfunctional group scenario—one in which many of these types of problems occur—and spend class time 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.  Then, work together to create a contract specifying appropriate problem-solving strategies for your own class.  Taking the time to recognize the problems that can occur within groups and diffuse them immediately will give your students the tools they need to deal with issues as soon as they arise.

Arrange for teams to meet virtually:  Instructors sometimes avoid team or group work because they sense that their students are simply too busy to meet, but with the various meeting and discussion tools available through HuskyCT and GoogleDocs, virtual discussions can occur any time, any place!  Contact the Instructional Resource Center for details on forming groups and creating group discussions in HuskyCT, and consider registering for CETL’s February 12th lunchtime seminar Developing & Facilitating Engaging Online Discussions.

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.  See the links below for more information on designing successful team or group work.


Reflecting on Our Teaching this Semester, Dec 2015

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 now.  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 or instructional design specialists through the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning.

Reducing End-of-the-Semester Stress, Nov 2015

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.  Listen to these Stress Management Audio Downloads or take a look at these Coping Strategies.

If you are concerned that stress is negatively impacting your relationships or work, please consider contacting the Employee Assistance Program or additional resources through Human Resources.

For more information, contact: the Institute for Teaching and Learning at itl@uconn.edu.

Planning Ahead for Canceled Classes, Oct 2015

The sighting of snowflakes on Sunday reminded many of us that winter weather—and its incessant interruptions—is right around the corner.  This time of year, we may be faced with the need to improvise teaching plans in the moment.  One way to avoid the upheaval caused by weather-related cancelations is to plan ahead and incorporate a variety of online activities, assignments and assessments into the curriculum.  It’s never too late to get started!

Add an online component to your course via HuskyCT:

  • Design a HuskyCT assignment focusing on analyzing and reflecting on a case study.
  • Use Course Blogs:  Assign a reading and ask students to each start a HuskyCT discussion thread and respond to their classmate’s threads. Give clear direction as to the content and how many threads to respond to.
  • Create quizzes or other forms of assessment to be administered and graded via HuskyCT—for students to self-check major concepts illustrated in class.
  • Create a discussion board forum in place of the discussion topic you would have facilitated for the day. Be sure to give clear directions regarding your expectations for student participation and the quality of the posts. Prepare a grading rubric with explicit and descriptive criteria aligned with your learning objectives so students fully understand what they need to produce in the discussion board to be successful.

Take advantage of UConn’s lecture capture technology, which makes hybridizing a class a breeze:

  • Mediasite is one of the University’s solutions 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.  This tool can be accessed through two recording studios in the Rowe Center for Undergraduate Education or conveniently used from home, making it an excellent choice for offering a virtual lecture in case of a last-minute cancelled class due to weather.
  • UConn’s lightboard offers another, more sophisticated form of lecture capture.  This new technology allows faculty to integrate PowerPoint while discussing key concepts, illustrate lessons with a diagram, or explain a formula without blocking the written content with their bodies and without turning their backs to their students.  UConn’s Lightboard is located at the Center for Excellence in Teaching & Learning (CETL) in the Rowe Building.

Make this experience a professional development opportunity:   All of the techniques and technology discussed here can be used for online, hybrid/blended, flipped, and in-person courses at UConn. Many of your colleagues are already using these methods to increase effectiveness in and out of the classroom. Once you have used these techniques initially, we encourage you to continue exploring them as possible first steps in further bolstering the effectiveness of your courses through the use of educational technology.  Follow these links to connect with appropriate staff and resources as you further explore these opportunities:


Innovation in Teaching Showcase

itl showcaseThe Center for Excellence in Teaching & Learning invites you to attend:
Innovation in Teaching Showcase
Friday October 30th 2015
Oak Hall 117
1:30 – 4:30 pm


Jamie Kleinman – Psychology
Steve McDermott – Instructional Resource Center
Amit Savkar – Mathematics
Mark Boyer – Political Science
Join us for an afternoon to discuss and explore new educational technology and pedagogy.
Light refreshments will be served.
Please RSVP to Stacey Valliere at stacey.valliere@uconn.edu

Preparing for your First Class, Aug 2015

Fight First-Day Anxiety with a Plan

Are first-day jitters leaving you feeling anxious and under-prepared?  Have you been waking with a jolt at night after dreaming of being locked out of your classroom, unable to turn on the overhead projector, or incapable of getting your students’ attention?

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.

Use these guidelines to avoid the kinds of last-minute surprises that can ruin even the best teacher’s confidence.

Before you step into the classroom…

  • Know the rules
  • View your class roster
  • Request a HuskyCT site
  • Order your text books and other course materials
  • Order library reserves
  • Visit your classroom

On the first day…

  • Set a goal
  • Introduce yourself
  • Show an interest in getting to know your students
  • Introduce your course
  • Ask questions
  • Save time for student questions

Visit http://cetl.uconn.edu/preparing-for-your-first-day-of-class/ and http://cetl.uconn.edu/interacting-with-students-during-your-first-class/ for UConn-specific suggestions on how to achieve these goals, as well as for contact information and other helpful details.

For more information, contact ITL at itl@uconn.edu.