Category Archives: …Matters

Communication from Academic Development

Click it -> Learn it -> Share it: Social Media’s Role in Education

Can YouTube video clips improve the lessons you teach? Will encouraging students to use Twitter reap academic benefits? Does blogging provide an effective means for instructors to connect with their class?

SocialClassroomIn short, yes, all of the above are possible.

Before continuing, let’s define “social media”, that often-used term. Whereas media refers to a means of communication (newspaper, television, or radio), social media takes those channels one step further, allowing people to interact with the presented content and with each other. The ability to have a two-way conversation is what sets it apart from traditional media.

Though the expression is beginning to feel stale, the opportunities social media provides for communication and learning are still fresh for educators across the globe. Continue reading

No, no, don’t go over your notes … you need to get into notes.

During the semester we frequently provide students with opportunities to interact with (1) their peers, (2) the professor, and (3) the course content. Interacting with peers usually means group work and discussion; interacting with you often takes the form of questions and dialogue. Interacting with the content can mean reading the textbook and other sources, identifying and mapping key concepts, articulating and questioning disciplinary assumptions, and taking notes. This month we’ll focus on simple strategies for helping students improve their note-taking skills.

Notebook Open Page

In her June/July 2013 Teaching Professor article, How to Help Students Improve Their Note-Taking Skills, Maryellen Weimer writes:

“A lot of students need the teacher’s notes because they aren’t very good note-takers themselves. They practice stenography rather than note-taking, trying to get down the teacher’s words exactly. That way, even if they don’t understand, they can memorize what the teacher said and find it on the test. But that’s not learning. … (As) they are preparing for an exam (students) will tell you they plan to ‘go over’ their notes. To that I have always responded with horror ‘No, no, not go over … you need to get into your notes.’”

Continue reading

Eight Tips for Writing Good Multiple-Choice Questions

multiplechoiceDo a quick Google search on “worst multiple choice questions” and you’ll come up with something like this:

Macbeth was probably written to honor:

(a) Macbeth; (b) Shakespeare; (c) James I; (d) God whose ancestors came from Scotland

With the half-way point of the semester behind us, and final exams around the corner, we thought we’d provide some tips for writing good multiple-choice questions. The eight tips below, drawn from the Teaching Professor’s Faculty Focus Blog, are based on Maryellen Weimer’s years of experience as a faculty member and from Kansas State University’s IDEA Paper No. 16: Improving Multiple-Choice Tests.

Continue reading

What Matters: Prompts That Get Students to Analyze, Reflect, Relate and Question

You probably use these four techniques quite intuitively when you read a journal article. You analyze the main points, reflect on the findings and conclusions, relate the findings and conclusions to something you’re interested in or working on, and ask questions about the conclusions. microscopeWouldn’t it be great to help students develop these habits of thinking? Faculty Focus author Maryellen Weimer explains a technique that involves a four-prompt set that can be used with a reading assignment, case study, observation assignment, or any activity in which you want to promote critical thinking habits in your students. Continue reading

What Matters: Five Tips for Fostering Learning in the Classroom – Student Voices

treeKaren Spencer, Professor of Speech Communication and Education at Arizona Western College, recently asked her students to write a few summary comments at the end of one of her classes. She found several themes running through their comments, themes she distilled for the Teaching Professor Newsletter into five pieces of advice to foster student learning. None of these “Tips” are new; what makes them interesting is that they are student-generated. Continue reading

What Matters: Teaching the Skills that Make Students Employable


What are the skills that make students employable? Most would agree that a student who wants a career in journalism must be able to write, or a student who wants to pursue a degree in finance should know their way around a spread sheet. But is this all our students need to know in order to be employable? Certainly not. Employers are looking for employees with “hard knowledge skills (and) soft employability skills” (Massoud, 2012, pg. 4). Employers are looking for graduates who can communicate effectively both verbally and in writing and can think critically and analytically. Continue reading

How the Best Teachers Evaluate Their Students and Themselves, Matters

student balancing books
“Assessment and evaluation,” a phrase that too often connotes long hours spent grading exams and quick perusals of student evaluation of teaching reports. Ken Bain and his research colleagues found that outstanding teachers use assessment and evaluation data to understand how to help students develop the knowledge and skills identified in course outcomes. Such an approach requires that we ask important questions about assessment and evaluation. Continue reading

What the Best Teachers Expect Of Their Students Matters

Bain and his colleagues (2004, pg. 71) asked a series of interesting questions about expectations:

Why do some teachers expect more and get students to produce it with great satisfaction while others fail miserably with what they regard as “higher” standards? Is there something distinctive in the nature of the “more” that our subjects expect? Do the highly successful teachers handle the assignments differently, or possess some other quality that accounts for the results they achieve?

The researchers found that the best college teachers – those who consistently elicit high-quality work from students – possess a series of attitudes and tendencies that inform their approach to teaching. These highly effective instructors are convinced that every student has a perspective or valuable insight to contribute to the class, and they create opportunities for students to develop and express those perspectives and insights. The best college teachers have faith in each student’s abilities and they express that faith to each student individually. They are committed to the idea that every student can and will learn not only intellectual skills as a result of their course, but will also develop and strengthen positive personal and social skills. Because of this belief, these college instructors create learning environments where students are challenged and encouraged to stretch and grow their intellectual, personal, and social skills. The best teachers never lose site of outcomes – course outcomes, assignment outcomes, outcomes for a class session – and they design every learning experience around the outcomes.

Finally, the best college teachers understand that external factors make a planting a treedifference in student learning. Some external factors are obvious; if a student is hungry or weary or feels threatened, their capacity to perform up to the instructor’s expectations (and their own abilities) is weakened. Other external factors are less obvious but no less effective. A student who feels he or she is viewed as a negative stereotype may be distracted or, worse, face a level of anxiety that can harm his or her performance. The best college teachers understand these important external factors and communicate “positive expectations to students that are genuine, challenging yet realistic, and that take their work seriously” (Bain, 2004, pg. 72)


Bain, K. (2004). What the best college teachers do. (1st ed.). Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

What the Best Teachers Know About Preparation ….Matters

Bain and his colleagues discovered through years of observation and interviews Boy Scout Be Prepared emblemthat the best college teachers prepare for a new semester by asking important questions about how their students learn and what the best approaches are to teaching those students. These fundamental questions cluster around four general areas if inquiry.

What should students be able to do intellectually, physically, or emotionally as a result of their learning?

What big questions will my course help students answer?

What reasoning abilities must students develop in order to answer those questions?

How can I best help and encourage them to develop those abilities and habits of heart and mind to use them?

How can I motivate students to reveal and challenge the mental models they bring to my class?

What information will students need in order to challenge their assumptions?

How will I encourage students to grapple with the issues inherent in my discipline?

How will I create an environment in which students can explore, try, fail, receive feedback, and try again?

How can my students and I best understand the nature, quality, and progress of their learning?

How will I help students who have difficulty understanding the questions of the discipline?

How can I uncover and reconcile any differences between my expectations for the course and theirs?

How will I help students learn to learn, to examine and assess their

How can I communicate with students in ways that challenge them to keep exploring and thinking?

How can we (my students and I) understand the nature, progress, and quality of their learning?

How can I evaluate my efforts to foster that learning?

How will I provide feedback to students before the formal assessments?

How can I clearly communicate my standards for assessing their work

Scout Merit BadgesThat’s a lot of information! Here’s our challenge to you: Ask yourself just one of these questions as you begin the new semester. You might start with the first question in the list: “What big questions will my course help students answer?” Generate a list of two or three “big questions” and weave those questions through the course this semester. Encourage discussion around the questions and watch as your students explore your discipline!


Bain, K. (2004). What the best college teachers do. (1st ed.). Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

What the Best Teachers Know and Understand, Matters

The best teachers possess an expansive (and expanding) knowledge of their subject. They keep up with theoretical and practical developments in their field; they study what others in the field are doing and thinking. “In short, they can do intellectually, physically, or emotionally what they expect from their students” (Bain 2004, pg. 16).

But a great scholar does not necessarily make a great teacher. Bain and his colleagues discovered that the best teachers have an intuitive understanding of how their students learn and are able to communicate their rich disciplinary knowledge in ways that students can understand. By simplifying and clarifying concepts, and drawing close relationships between those concepts and how they are applied, these instructors help students build a firm foundation of knowledge and skills.

The best teachers not only understand how to present disciplinary concepts in ways that support learning, they also know that people are curious by nature, and they use that basic observation of human nature to help students ask important questions about their discipline. These wonderful teachers understand that we learn by problem-solving, so they design instructional events that require students to grapple with problems, and they create classroom environments where the struggle to solve problems is valued.

“The best college and university teachers create what we might call a natural critical learning environment in which they embed the skills and information they wish to teach in assignments (questions and tasks) students will find fascinating – authentic tasks that will arouse curiosity, challenge students to rethink their assumptions and examine their mental models of reality” (Bain, 2004, p. 47).

Great! So how can you create a learning environment that students will find fascinating? Give your students a real-world problem to wrestle with, something that has several good solutions and fewer best solutions.  First, consider the kinds of real-world problems content experts like yourself face; be sure to also consider the knowledge and skills they bring to those problems. Next reflect back on the content you’ve already presented in class: have you clearly and succinctly presented the concepts students need to understand the fundamentals of that real-world problem? Write the problem down, simplifying if necessary, in the form of a case study or word problem. Be sure to also write two or three of your own solutions. Finally, give students an opportunity to grapple with the problem and propose solutions. They can do this individually, but the learning may be richer if they work in small groups.


We’re taking a writing break in December, but will return in the new year with thoughts on how the best teachers approach lectures, discussions, and other elements of teaching as serious intellectual work.


Bain, K. (2004). What the best college teachers do. (1st ed.). Cambridge: Harvard University Press.