students studying at library June 10

The Phases of Inquiry-Based Teaching


A central goal of education is teaching critical-thinking skills. Inquiry-based teaching is an excellent path to this goal. Based partly on the philosophy that “humans are born inquirers,” the method focuses on student discovery over pushing information from the instructor. Along the way, the students explore multiple sources and contexts, ask questions and pursue hypotheses, and work to apply their theories to new and diverse situations. In doing this, they actively discover the interrelatedness among concepts, topics, and theories.

students in lecture hall April 11

Six Things You Can Do to Deepen Student Learning


For baseball fans and players, springtime can only mean one thing: spring training. Every year professional baseball players head to Arizona or Florida to hone their craft. These are professionals mind you, but they continue to spend hours each year working on many of the same things Little Leaguers work on during the start of their seasons—throwing, catching, hitting, base running, and so forth.

As they make minor adjustments in these fundamentals of the game, the overall outcome is a major improvement. The same is true for faculty who remain mindful of their fundamentals, and make small, incremental improvements to their teaching.

group work July 17, 2015

Cooperative Learning Structures and Deep Learning


Cooperative learning structures such as jigsaw and think-pair-share are widely used in college classrooms. The two most basic tenets of cooperative learning involve positive interdependence and individual accountability. “Positive interdependence means that group members perceive that the collective effort of the group is essential in order for the individual learners to achieve their goals.” (p. 176) And individual accountability establishes that students are assessed individually on their achievement of the learning goals.

March 18, 2015

Using Cumulative Exams to Help Students Revisit, Review, and Retain Course Content


The evidence that students retain content longer and can apply it better when exams and finals are cumulative is compelling. When I pointed to the evidence in a recent workshop, a faculty member responded, “But I can’t use cumulative exams. My students would revolt.” Students don’t like cumulative exams for the very reason we should be using them: they force regular, repeated encounters with the content. And it’s those multiple interactions with the material that move learning from memorization to understanding.

thinkstock-small-classroom-group-zoomed March 16, 2015

Using Context to Deepen and Lengthen Learning


Nearly every teacher has experienced students forgetting something important. This forgetfulness comes in various forms. It might involve not following instructions for an assignment, missing a due date, forgetting important details on a test, or even forgetting to take the test itself. Whatever the memory infraction, there are usually good reasons why students forget. Gratefully, there are a few simple ways teachers can build context to help students achieve deeper and longer lasting learning.

class discussion January 12, 2015

Using Fundamental Concepts and Essential Questions to Promote Critical Thinking


Could your students identify the most important concepts in your discipline? Do they leave your class understanding these most fundamental concepts, including the ability to reason using these concepts to answer essential questions? Do your students become critical thinkers who connect concepts and practices in your course with other courses? With their future professional lives?

thinkstock-small-student-group-with prof July 28, 2014

Learning on the Edge: Classroom Activities to Promote Deep Learning


The explosion of educational technologies in the past decade or so has led everyone to wonder whether the landscape of higher education teaching and learning will be razed and reconstructed in some new formation. But whatever changes might occur to the learning environments we construct for our students, the fundamental principles according to which human beings learn complex new skills and information will not likely undergo a massive transformation anytime soon. Fortunately, we seem to be in the midst of a flowering of new research and ideas from the learning sciences that can help ensure that whatever type of approach we take to the classroom—from traditional lecture to flipped classes—can help maximize student learning in our courses.

March 19, 2014

Four Lessons about Learning Discovered on a Chairlift


Chemistry professor Steven M. Wright has written a one-page essay about his niece, Julia, learning how to downhill ski. She was ready for her first ride on the chairlift and Wright was helping her. He’s a professor so he covered the topic in a well-organized, easy-to-understand way. It was a short, five minute lecture that ended with a repeat of the main point, “keep your ski tips up when you get on the lift.”

April 17, 2013

Helping Students Discuss Technical Content


“What did you think about the reading?” can serve as an acceptable discussion prompt if your class is reading a novel, but a question like that doesn’t generate much response when the assigned chapter is in an engineering mechanics book or a principles of accounting text. For those who teach “technical content” — and by that I mean material with “right” answers and preferred ways of doing things, like problems with specific solutions or checklists of procedures — it can be doubly difficult to get students talking.

March 5, 2013

Test Review Sessions: A Better Design


Terence Favero begins where many teachers are with respect to review sessions. Students request them. Teachers don’t like to give up class time to essentially go over material they’ve already covered. It’s difficult to find a time that works for everyone—students don’t want to come in early, and professors don’t want to review at bedtime. Then there’s the issue of who shows up for the review session. Usually, it’s not the students who most need to be there. And finally, there’s how review sessions are generally structured. Students ask questions, which the professor answers, while the students take notes. Favero notes, “Rarely does this approach lead to deep learning or prepare students for an exam.” (p. 247)