If you teach using presentation software such as Google Slides or PowerPoint, do you ever wonder whether your slides are more of a distraction than an aid to learning? At CRLT, we regularly consult with instructors who want to maximize the instructional value of their slides but aren't sure how to do so. 

In this CRLT video, Assistant Director Rachel Niemer identifies some common problems with instructors' use of presentation slides and provides concrete strategies for effective slide design, drawing insights from research on how attention, memory, and recall work in a learning environment. One of the most popular videos on our website, her presentation on "PowerPoint Supported by the Science of Learning" offers guidance on:

  • How to create slides so that students can focus on what is most important
  • When it's most effective to use slides vs. when it's best not to
  • How to create slide presentations efficiently by using a simple template that minimizes distractions and focuses attention on key concepts 

For more on teaching strategies informed by the science of learning, click on the tag below.  Read more »


As memories of Spring Break fade and we head into the final stretch of winter term, it's a great time to think about student motivation. How effectively are your courses engaging your students and motivating them to learn? 

While it can sometimes feel that students simply choose to be engaged or apathetic for their own reasons, the research on motivation clearly indicates that instructor choices significantly affect students' investment in learning. And motivation plays a key role in how effectively students master course material. As Susan Ambrose and her co-authors argue in How Learning Works (Jossey-Bass, 2010), research shows that people are motivated to learn when they:

  1. See the value, either intrinsic or extrinsic, of learning the particular material or skills, and
  2. Believe they can succeed.

What teaching strategies do these motivational factors suggest? To help students appreciate the value of the learning goals in your course, you can: Read more »


At U-M and around the country, research in Engineering Education has been developing in exciting directions. In this growing field, scholars apply the methods of educational research to address a range of issues pertaining to teaching and learning in engineering. The findings can help instructors in any field think about effective approaches to teaching, both in and beyond the classroom--including strategies for engaging diverse students and supporting their academic success. 

Interested in learning more? You're invited to attend CRLT-Engin's Engineering Education Research Day on March 17. Events take place 9:30am-2:30pm on North Campus. They include:

The eighth annual Research and Scholarship in Engineering Education poster fair. Held over lunch, the session will feature research projects by U-M faculty, staff, and students from fields including engineering, education, physics, and math.  These works in progress, pilot studies, and finished research focus on student success in engineering.

In addition, Purdue engineering professor Matt Ohland will present two seminars, on "Tools for Managing Student Teams" (9:30-11:00) and "Student Persistence, Performance, and Disciplinary Pathways" (1:20-2:30). As the descriptions below make clear, these sessions focus on matters of student engagement, learning, and retention that are relevant to teachers in a broad range of fields.   Read more »


At his recent presentation in the Michigan League ballroom, Harvard physics professor Eric Mazur engaged the 250-person audience in an active learning exercise. An expert on the use of peer instruction in college courses, Mazur wanted the many teachers present to experience the power of this pedagogical strategy from a student perspective. So, using an example of question-based instruction from his own field, he provided a very brief explanation of thermal expansion, posed a multiple choice question that required application of the concept, and then guided those present through a 4-step exercise:

  1. Think silently about the question
  2. Commit to an answer (in this case, by using clickers)
  3. Find another 'student' who had a different answer and discuss the thinking behind each answer 
  4. Answer the question again.

The second set of answers was significantly more accurate than the first. Such a result generally follows such a peer instruction protocol, as much research has shown. Why? Through discussion, students shift their focus away from the answer itself and toward the thinking behind the answer, and those with the more accurate logic are generally able to make a more persuasive case. The demonstration also powerfully illustrated how such a technique can engage students emotionally as they become personally invested in learning and understanding the correct answer. The discussion created remarkable buzz in the room about thermal expansion--a topic that Mazur noted would unlikely generate such excitement if simply explained in lecture format. (You can get a sense of that buzz by watching a video of the event.)

In discussing the peer instruction technique, Mazur highlighted several strategies that can help engage all students in active learning, even in a very large course. These included: Read more »


How can we promote academic success for all students who enter the University, particularly those students from disadvantaged backgrounds? How can we help students overcome their own anxiety about achievement and get past “stereotype threat?” How can we increase retention rates--both for particular majors and at U-M generally--by encouraging students’ to see their abilities as malleable, rather than fixed? In early February, U-M Department of Psychology faculty member Bill Gehring addressed these topics at an LSA faculty seminar on Diversity and Climate. His research-based strategies can provide direction for instructors in all fields to enhance diversity and academic success at U-M.

In his presentation, Professor Gehring described four evidence-based interventions that work to create “identity-safe” classrooms:

(1)  Seeing Students Holistically: It is important for faculty to recognize that students’ performance in class can be affected by many factors beyond intelligence. For example, Professor Gehring’s research on students in his Psychology 111 course found that students’ motivation to do well was positively related to their performance on exams, while their anxiety about testing was negatively associated. To increase motivation, faculty can help students set goals for their learning, and to decrease anxiety, more frequent, lower-stakes assessments may help.  Other “non-cognitive” factors related to performance include discipline (i.e., the ability to resist distractions and procrastination). To reduce distractors, Gehring recommends that students not bring laptops to class, as his research finds a statistically significant decrease in exam grades among students who almost always bring their laptops, compared to less frequent users.

(2)  Framing Disappointment: The first undergraduate year can be a struggle, given that many students come into U-M at the top of their classes yet underperform relative to their expectations. (Incoming student survey data from the Cooperative Institutional Research Program indicate that 75% anticipate having at least a “B” average.”) Similarly, many students experience doubts about making friends and fitting in socially.  Read more »