Professor smiling, students hands raised January 3

Harness the Power of Emotions to Help Your Students Learn


I’ve been thinking a lot about emotional presence in our online and face-to-face classes. There seems to be an enduring sense that emotions have no place in the lofty halls of academia. Our pursuit of knowledge should be rational, detached, unaffected by such trivialities as our emotions.

But I don’t think that’s right. Our emotions are a central part of our humanity. To deny them is to deny the essence of who we are.

students working on a problem in class October 2, 2017

Incorporating Principles in Cognitive Psychology to Improve Student Learning


At the 2017 STEM FIT Symposium at Washington University in St. Louis, Mark McDaniel, PhD, Professor, Psychological & Brain Sciences, co-director of CIRCLE, and co-author of Make it Stick: The Science of Successful Learning (2014), presented a plenary address on how research in cognitive psychology can support effective teaching practices and improve learning. Supported by laboratory and field experiments, many of the techniques McDaniel presented from the book can be applied to most academic subjects in order to promote student learning.

Henry L. Roediger, McDaniel’s co-author, previously grouped many of these same techniques into three general principles to enhance educational practice (Roediger & Pyc, 2012). Each principle offers an opportunity to consider how to incorporate research-supported practices for sustained learning. Brief summaries of the three general principles are listed below. I have also included a few examples found within the literature of how you may incorporate these principles into your teaching:

student multitasking when studying July 26, 2017

Four Student Misconceptions about Learning


“Efficient and effective learning starts with a proper mindset,” Stephen Chew writes in his short, readable, and very useful chapter, “Helping Students to Get the Most Out of Studying.” Chew continues, pointing out what most of us know firsthand, students harbor some fairly serious misconceptions that undermine their efforts to learn. He identifies four of them.

student struggling with test June 2, 2017

Too Much Jargon: A Barrier to Learning?


The language of our disciplines is complex—it has to be. What we study is specific and detailed, and it needs to be described with language that precisely captures essence and nuance. However, for students being introduced to our disciplines for the first time, it’s all new language, and it’s mostly new language for students now learning about our fields more in depth at the postsecondary level. Moreover, many students now come to college with limited vocabularies. They might be learning in a second language, or simply not had educational backgrounds that promoted vocabulary development.

Most introductory courses contain literally hundreds of terms that are unfamiliar to students. When learning a foreign language, students are helped by knowing what the new word refers to. When they learn that the French word chat means cat, they know what a cat is. But when it’s a term like sidereal time or pyrimidine, not only is it a new phrase or word, it refers to something also unknown to students.

student at white board April 26, 2017

Helping Students Discover What They Can Do


“What has held me, and what I think hold many who teach basic writing, are the hidden veins of possibility running through students who don’t know—and who strongly doubt—that this is what they were born for, but who may find it out to their own amazement, students who, grim with self-deprecation and prophecies of their own failure . . .can be lured into sticking it out to some moment of breakthrough, when they discover that they have ideas that are valuable, even original, and express those ideas on paper. What fascinates me and gives hope in time of slashed budgets and enlarging class size, and national depression is the possibility that many of these [students] may be gaining the kind of critical perspective on their lives and skill to bear witness that they have never before had.”

reflective learners October 31, 2016

Transforming Midterm Evaluations into a Metacognitive Pause


Midterm evaluations often tip toward students’ (unexamined) likes and dislikes. By leveraging the weight of the midterm pause and inviting students to reflect on their development, midterm evaluations can become more learning-centered. Cued by our language, students can become aware of a distinction—that we’re not asking what they like, but what is helping them learn. This opportunity for students to learn about their learning yields valuable insights that not only inform instructors about the effects of our methods, but also ground students in their own learning processes, deepening their confidence in and commitment to their development in the second half of the course.

faculty book club June 1, 2016

Six Ways to Improve Your Department’s Teaching Climate


In the same way a classroom’s climate is created jointly by teacher and student actions, a department’s teaching climate results from collective contributions. Of course, department chairs and other administrators play key leadership roles, but they alone are not responsible for creating the teaching climate. We all contribute by what we say and do regarding teaching. Sometimes we say and do nothing, and this too becomes part of the culture.