Kool Kats Photo of school bus reflection
Pedagogy, TLT, Training Opportunities

Reflecting on the Fall Semester

Your course is over and grades are submitted! Whew, you have time to take a deep breath and kick those feet up on your desk…well maybe. The spring semester is not so far away, and this is a great time to reflect on your teaching and courses. Here are 10 questions to think about:

  1. Review your course goals, objectives, outcomes, etc. Did the course meet your expectations?

  1. When were students most engaged? When were they distracted? Can you determine why?

  1. Did you cover all of the material you had hoped to discuss? Was anything extraneous?

  1. Should you consider re-sequencing any topics?

  1. When were students most confused?

  1. Which topics, discussions, and assignments were most relevant to your course learning goals and objectives? Are there any assessments that should be re-tailored?

  1. Did students come to class prepared? What could be adjusted to improve student preparation?

  1. What were the best and worst moments in the course? Was anything different, unique, or surprising about this semester?

  1. What would you change in future iterations of this course? What could you improve?

  1. Did your student course evaluations surprise you?

Other than reflecting and taking notes on areas to adjust for the upcoming semester, there are a handful of other tasks you can get started on. First, it’s always helpful to have examples of student work. If there’s a project or piece of work from this fall semester that you would like to share with future students, make sure you seek written permission from that student. It’s better to do it now while you still have the contact information for all of your students.

Have you reviewed your teaching evaluations? It’s OK to wait – ProfHacker actually recommends reading teaching evaluations at a later time. Regardless of when you read them, they can sometimes be difficult to interpret. Vanderbilt’s Center for Teaching has an excellent page with resources and thoughts about student evaluations. If you don’t feel like you can use the information from the standard evaluations for reworking your course, you might consider creating your own course evaluation with specific questions about your course. This reflection period is the perfect time to prepare a questionnaire or survey for your future students. You could even create a survey to hand out around midterms.

Lastly, if there is a particular topic or area of teaching that you are struggling with, come up with a strategy for how to address it. Consider attending a TLT Training Session to hear about best practices, setting up an appointment with your instructional technologist, or reaching out to your peers for a discussion about teaching. There are also some great resources available online to help with your teaching – contact your instructional technologist if you need help navigating them. In the long term, you may consider attending an FTI or checking out TLT’s brand new Spring Training initiative. Remember that there are a lot of instructors on campus with a passion for teaching – they are great for ideas and feedback. You could even invite a colleague to sit in on one of your classes to get some honest and constructive evaluations. If that doesn’t sound appealing, as an alternative you could plan to record a class period or lecture to watch on your own. This can be a very enlightening process, and it may give you ideas to keep in mind for future lectures. If this is something you would like to pursue,TLT has equipment you can borrow.

There’s so much that can be done in preparation for your 2015 courses! But, don’t forget to take a break so you come back energized and refreshed for a new group of students.

classroom discussion image
Pedagogy, TLT

Tips for improving classroom discussions

It’s a common scenario: an instructor asks a question in front of a classroom packed with students and…crickets.

I think we’ve all had one of those classes, either as a student or an instructor. I literally heard crickets during a discussion I was leading last fall, and I am not using literally by its new figurative definition. Crickets had actually escaped from a nearby lab, and they found a convenient hiding space under the teacher station in my room! It made for a more dramatic silence.

There are other issues that may come up while trying to facilitate a discussion in class. The response to a question from the instructor may not be silence, but comments from the same few students dominating the discussion. Perhaps the discussion only progresses to the point of covering a topic superficially.

How can these problems be avoided during your next class discussion? While there are no simple cure-all solutions, there are strategies that can help you. Hopefully there is a tip here that you will find useful as you plan your next discussion with students:

  1. Be prepared

It seems obvious that instructors should prepare discussion questions in advance, right? It’s not just about having a few questions jotted down before class. It’s important to think about what you’re asking and what responses you’re expecting from students. Make sure you include multiple types of questions. Some questions should be basic and just ask for factual responses, but you should also be prepared with questions asking for interpretation, evaluation, or reasoning. Be careful to limit the number of yes/no-type questions, as that can disrupt the flow of the conversation.

  1. Encourage student preparation

Ask students to prepare a handful of their own questions before arriving in class. If you are discussing a reading assignment, ask students to write a short summary. Regardless of the type of discussion, give students adequate time to recall the material and collect their thoughts before starting the dialogue. This is something that is easy to overlook, and we should remember that many students may be rushing to class straight from work or an intense exam. Furthermore, students will be more likely to prepare if you emphasize the importance of participation by including expectations in your syllabus.

  1. Create a supportive environment in the classroom

One way to get things rolling at the start of the the semester is to start with an icebreaker. You may even provide students with the question prior to class so that they don’t feel put on the spot. During the first few discussions, putting the students into pairs or groups to answer questions and report back may ease the transition for student not accustomed to talking in class. If students are still hesitant to participate and the conversation stalls, be prepared to try out some anonymous response platforms, like Poll Everywhere, to get students comfortable. During the class conversation, provide positive reinforcement by affirming student input (verbally and nonverbally), and carefully correcting erroneous contributions. You can also help set the tone by using student names and rearranging the seating in the room (if possible). Students will feel heard if you repeat or summarize what they have said, which has the bonus of clarifying the comment and helping other students hear what was said.

  1. Be sure the material is suitable to discussion

Typically, textbooks are not good sources for in class discussion. Make sure the topic or reading involves ample viewpoints so that students have plenty of ideas to bring up during the dialogue.

  1. Consider cold calling

Cold calling, or calling on students in class when they have not volunteered, works well for some instructors. If you have fostered a supportive environment or are teaching advanced students, cold calling may work for your class. Warn your students that this may happen during discussions so that they come to class prepared. While this practice is somewhat controversial (just type “cold calling classroom” into Google and you will see a variety of articles and opinions), some research supports this practice.

1-1-1, instructional technology

Faculty Guest Post: Learning Catalytics

Our guest blogger is Wendy Sheppard from the Department of Mathematics. Wendy was a participant in the 2013 Spring FTI. This post is a report on her experience using Learning Catalytics in her course.

In Spring 2014, I used Learning Catalytics (try this link to find out more: Learning Catalytics), which is a web based platform similar to Poll Everywhere.  We learned about Poll Everywhere in the Faculty Technology Institute at the College of Charleston in 2013. Learning Catalytics is provided through Pearson for the text and online homework.

I first pilot tested the Learning Catalytics in a face-to-face classroom environment. On the first day of class, I asked students to sign in and asked if they had a smartphone.  Everyone in the class had a smartphone except for one student, who had a tablet.  Next, I had students login to Learning Catalytics to set up their account outside of class, and then bring their own mobile devices (laptops, smartphones, tablets, etc.) to class for a quiz.  The first quiz consisted of two questions. One question was a graphing question where students were asked to shade on a graph. Using Learning Catalytics, students could use their fingers on their smartphones or tablets to shade on the graph.  Students with laptops could use the mouse to shade.

I could set a time limit if I wanted, but chose not to in this case. The best part was that I could instantly review the students’ responses in class, to see how many people were correct.  Since the first question was a graph and thus a visual question, this was easy to assess.  About half of the class gave correct responses. I immediately knew we needed a little more work on this topic.

The second question was a feedback question. I asked the students “Did you like this? Why or why not?”.  The students knew their responses would not be anonymous for me, the instructor, but they appear anonymously below:

Yes because It is hands on and I feel more engaged in the class

Don’t like it at all if it’s for quizzes.

Yes, because it was easy to use and fun.

Yes, more hands on & helps me understand the material better.

It’s a little weird, but I think once I got used to using it, quizzes like this would be fine.

No I dont like using my phone to do this. I would rather do it on paper.

Yes. I think it is an effective way to apply what we have learned in class to a real problem on our own. It gives us a chance to try out what we have learned.

It is a good concept because most (if not all students) have smart phones or tablets.

It’s just hard to shade, the concept is cool though

No it was hard to use and confusing. The concept is a good one, but in reality it’s easier to use paper and a pencil

I would but it takes college students way to long to figure this technology out for some reason. I think it’s very simplified and it would be good- maybe once we get used to it, everything would be smoother.

No. I prefer to do math problems and shading by hand. I understand it better when I write it out for myself.

Yes, I like this. I don’t think the entire class period should be centered around it, but it is very helpful.

Not really, it’s kind of difficult to use my phone and I’m not that technologically inclined, I prefer pencil and paper so I can write my steps out and see how I got the answer.

Incorporating technology in the classroom is important; however, with any new classroom additions there are bugs to work out.

I was able to copy and paste these responses quite easily from Learning Catalytics.  Overall, once students got used to it, I think everyone liked it, except for probably 2 or 3 students who had technical difficulties.  The backup was for them to complete the quiz on a sheet of paper.

The grading was easy as well!  I could go through and assign the point values and then mark each graph correct or incorrect, as well as type in verbal feedback for each individual student.

There are many options that I have not yet experimented with as far as presenting the information back to the students, but these options are chosen at the beginning when writing the questions.

Since I was preparing to teach an online course, I also made some video lectures of review questions for the class.  I then used Learning Catalytics to get immediate feedback about the videos, so that I could use it that semester.  It was not anonymous. I asked them, “What did you think of the video lectures that you watched online?  If you did not view them, please state that you have not viewed them yet.”  This also gave me a chance to find out if anyone had any technical difficulties.  If any students are afraid to speak out in class, this gives them a chance to communicate without that fear.

The third time I used Learning Catalytics in class, I asked the students for feedback on one of their tests.  “Were you pleased with your test grade?  If not, why do you think that you did not do well?”  This helped me to assess any classroom wide issues with the test, or if they were just not prepared for the test.  This was extremely valuable feedback for me because I knew that overall, they just did not study enough, versus thinking that the test was too difficult or too long.

The fourth time I used Learning Catalytics in this course, I asked the students to vote in a ranking order question.  Then I used that data to compile project questions for them to work on in groups later.  This time, students did not have to complete the question in class, they could do this outside of class, but then I had it on the screen at the beginning of class for students to go ahead and complete either before class started or right at the beginning of class if they had not already done so.  I gave class participation grades for these assignments where there was no right or wrong answer.

The final time I used Learning Catalytics in this class was to have students complete a matching quiz with application problems and formulas.  Students were allowed to use their mobile devices.  I did set a time limit on this one, which meant that there were about 3 people who had difficulty submitting their answers on time.  The good thing is that you can see immediately who has submitted responses and who has not.  Then you can address the problem.

Overall, I think Learning Catalytics is a useful technology platform for promoting student engagement and instructor assessment.  I plan to continue to use this technology in both my online and face-to-face courses to help assess individual student progress as well.

Assessment, Classrooms, Innovative Instruction, instructional technology, Pedagogy, TLT

A Plan of Attack for Implementing Technology into Your Instruction

Image Credit: Veer

Here at Teaching, Learning, and Technology part of our mission is to support, develop, and educate faculty in the integration of educational technology into pedagogy and assessment.  Our goal for doing this is that it will enhance student learning and promote effective or innovative practices.  Lately, I have met with several members of the College of Charleston faculty who are interested in getting started with incorporating more technology into the classroom or starting to look at it for the first time.  It can be daunting when faced with the choices of technology tools that are on the market.  Which one is the best?  Can my students use it?  Do I really HAVE to use technology to get my point across?

Here are our top 5 tips to consider when you are looking at implementing educational technology into your courses:

  • Above all, technology should be chosen to ENHANCE instruction.  Too often faculty members find a new tool and try to come up with a way to use it in class, which is not necessarily a bad thing and can lead to some innovative instruction.  However, trying to force a tool to fit into your course simply because it’s new and shiny may not be the best way to introduce technology into your courses.  Remember, the instruction should be used to structure tool choice rather than using the tool to structure your instruction.


  • Define what you want the tool to accomplish and the relevant features. There are tons of tools out there to achieve your goal for any action.  Just do a quick Google search for apps for managing a to-do list (http://bit.ly/1oquZP2)! The first step to a purposeful integration is to reflect on your current teaching practices to see where your lessons could be enriched with a technological tool.  Next, define what you want the tool to be able to do and what are your “deal breaker” features, or features that the tool absolutely must or must not do.  This will help to narrow your search.  Of course, when it comes to this, you can always have a conversation with your neighborhood, friendly Instructional Technologist to help with the narrowing and research process!


  • Plan ahead and test it out.  Whenever you are trying a new instructional technology tool, it may take a while for you to feel comfortable with using the tool or to get it set up the way that you want.  Like anything, this comes with practice and exposure to the product.  Make sure that if you want to use a new tool in your courses that you give yourself at least 2 weeks to really get to know the app or tool before implementing it with your students.  Also, try the tool in multiple locations and using multiple platforms.  For example, try using a web based tool both on and off campus, in the classroom where you want to work with it, and on Chrome/Firefox/Internet Explorer/Safari to make sure everything displays and functions the same way.  Nothing is more frustrating than getting in front of your students to facilitate a wonderful lesson planned with technology and have it not work the way that you intended.  Which leads me to our next point…


  • Have a backup plan just in case.  In a perfect world, we would all be able to walk into any classroom and have every lesson go smoothly…the students are actively learning, all of the technology functions perfectly, and you leave class with the high of knowing that you have helped to mold young minds into the way of the future.  Snap back to reality!  There are too many variables to have that utopian classroom be a constant, so as effective instructors we need to be prepared with various instructional strategies to help our students meet the end objectives for the lesson.


  • Don’t be afraid to try something new!  Yes, things can go wrong and it’s scary to change from the way that you may have done things for years.  It can also be amazing and you can see growth, access, and engagement with material that you never thought possible.  Be honest with your students about your new endeavors and ask them for their feedback.  When the students know that you are learning and that you value their opinions about what is going on in the classroom, it creates a sense of ownership within the cohort of learners in your course.

One faculty member on campus told me that he tests his material for his online courses in his face to face course and has his students rate them.  It helps to shape the instruction and trouble shoot for the next running of the course.  Another faculty member in the Department of Communication told his students that they were going to try a new tool in the class and that it was the first time he had ever tried to use this tool, so they were going to experience it together.  The students responded to his openness and they ended up learning from each other and allowing this particular faculty member to branch out and try more technology tools to engage his students.


When you start to look at integrating new tools into your lessons it may seem like there are so many options and only one of you, but keep in mind that there is always safety in numbers.  Talk to your colleagues to see what they are doing and what they have found to be successful and what has not.  You can learn just as much from a failed attempt as you can from a successful one.  Attend workshops and training sessions to help with your comfort level.  In addition, you can always contact your Instructional Technologist to help with an individualized plan of attack!