Improving Your Teaching

What does ‘transparency’ mean in a teaching-learning context, and why is it a key principle featured in many CRLT workshops and resources about inclusive teaching? Many different students walking across the University of Michigan campus At its simplest, transparency means clearly communicating with students about course expectations and norms. As outlined below, such transparency can lead to more equitable learning experiences. That’s why transparency is the focus for this year’s Inclusive Teaching @ Michigan May workshop series. (Registration available here; for more details about both transparency and the May series, read on.)

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As we approach the end of the term, students will be asked to provide feedback to instructors using U-M's course evaluation system. At CRLT, we often hear from faculty and GSIs who are discouraged about a number of issues related to student ratings, including the tone of some written comments, relatively low response rates, and uncertainty about how best to use the results productively. This post provides some resources for each of these concerns.

Student Ratings Questionnaire Example

1) Minimizing Unhelpful Comments: Student ratings comments can be unhelpful when vague or irrelevant, whether positive ("Great course!") or negative (e.g., criticism of instructor attributes not linked to the learning environment). To encourage students to avoid rude or personally hurtful comments, CRLT worked with ADVANCE at U-M on a handout that instructors can give to students before they fill out their evaluations. The handout, Course Evaluations: Providing Helpful Feedback to Your Instructors, asks students to keep three key issues in mind when completing their ratings: Read more »

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In order for students to develop mastery in a particular field, there are many component skills they will need to gain in order to be successful. Therefore it can be particularly useful to spend time identifying those component skills and developing assignments or activities that aid students in developing those skills. This process can broadly be referred to as providing scaffolding for your course content.


Scaffolding Student Learning: Tips for Getting Started

This provides a basic overview of what scaffolding is and highlights the importance of making component skills explicit for students. Also, see the links to sample assignments at the bottom of the article.

Tomorrow's Professor Msg.#849 Supporting Student Success Through Scaffolding

This posting below at five scaffolding strategies to help novice learners: Procedural Guidelines, Partial Solutions, Think-Alouds, Anticipating Student Errors, and Comprehension Checks.

IDEA paper: Promoting Deep Learning Read more »

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Gathering Midterm Student Feedback is valuable for identifying areas for instructional improvement. Many instructors have found that simple changes early on can help motivate students and enhance student learning. Students tend to like the process because it gives them a chance to voice opinions on issues that are most critical to them, and they appreciate the fact that the instructor has solicited their opinions.

There are several options for gathering midterm student feedback.  The CRLT consultant will work with instructors to design a process that best meets their needs.  In all cases, the process is confidential; the CRLT consultant will share student feedback only with the instructor.

MSF Options

Small Group Method: This is the most common approach CRLT takes to gathering midterm feedback. It involves the use of small group discussions among students to identify the strengths of the course and any changes that would assist their learning. The instructor arranges to have a CRLT consultant visit the class sometime early in the semester. The consultant arrives at the beginning of the class period and observes until there are approximately 25 minutes left. At that time, the instructor turns the class over to the consultant and leaves the room. The consultant explains the procedure and its purpose and then divides the class into groups of 4 or 5 students. Each group receives a sheet with the following questions:

  1. What are the major strengths in this course?

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In collaboration with faculty steering committees, CRLT designs customized workshops and retreats to address an academic unit's specific teaching and learning needs. Departments can also apply for CRLT grants to fund the retreats and to implement plans to improve teaching and learning that develop from such events.

Possible Topics for Retreats or Programs

Innovative Teaching Techniques

Faculty may want to consider new approaches to teaching in their discipline (e.g., problem-based learning, innovative uses of technology, incorporating multicultural content into the curriculum). In collaboration with faculty in the unit, CRLT's consultants can help define the topic, develop resources to support the innovation, describe current best practices, or search for an outside speaker who would provide the necessary expertise in the area in question. CRLTs programs always feature faculty from the unit. In the past, such programs have ranged from half-day workshops to a series of presentations over the course of a month.

Facilitating Exchanges About Current Practice

Faculty in a unit may wish to spend time exchanging strategies and learning more about how their colleagues approach teaching and learning. CRLT can work with faculty to define the issues and then facilitate the discussion itself. Such discussions might also be informed by the results of information collected from undergraduates, graduate students, or alumni about their experiences in the program. Read more »

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