Learn About Data-Driven Instruction

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Photo of Diane Ebert-MayNIU Faculty, Deans, and Department Chairs are invited to learn about developing and implementing learner-centered instructional materials, teaching strategies, and assessments by attending Driving Instruction with Data: Assessment on Thursday, November 7, 2013, from 10 a.m. to noon in the University Suites of the Holmes Student Center. In this seminar, Diane Ebert-May, a professor of plant biology at Michigan State University, will use the approach of scientific teaching to actively engage participants in using instructional methods shown to be effective in helping students learn better than they do in traditional lecture contexts. The program is applicable to both small- and large-enrollment courses.

Dr. Ebert-May is co-editor of Pathways to Scientific Teaching, a book that focuses on the pedagogical principles and methods of teaching that can engage students in the active learning and improve their higher-level thinking abilities. She also leads FIRST IV, an NSF-funded program that helps post-doctoral scholars design and teach their first introductory biology courses.

To attend, please RSVP to engage@niu.edu by 4:30 p.m. on Friday, November 1, 2013. For more information about the event, contact Michaela Holtz at (815) 753-8155 or mholtz@niu.edu.

The seminar is hosted by the Department of Biological Sciences, the Office of Student Engagement and Experiential Learning, the Center for Secondary Science Education, and the Office of the Vice Provost.

Preparing to Teach Online – Self-Paced Online Modules

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Preparing to Teach Online
Self-Paced Online Modules

Online Kick-Off: Monday, June 3, 2-3pm
Online Wrap-up: Thursday, June 27, 2-3pm



Preparing to teach online logo

Are you planning to teach an online course, or just curious about online teaching and learning? Then you can be among the first to explore the new Preparing to Teach Online self-paced learning modules by participating in this pilot offering! As you complete the modules, you will learn about the practices and principles of online teaching and plan for applying them to a course you may want to teach online. The modules cover these foundational online teaching topics:

  • Best practices for online teaching
  • Methods and models for online teaching
  • Technology to communicate, collaborate, and assess
  • Communication strategies
  • Assessment techniques

Preparing to Teaching Online consists of 6 modules and may take 8-10 hours to complete. Because the modules are self-paced, you can complete the modules at any time before the wrap-up date and at your own speed. You have the flexibility to decide if you want to spread the material out over the entire 3.5 week period or complete them all in a week or even a single day! Each module includes a short narrated tutorial, suggested readings, and a quiz. Periodically, you will reflect on what you have learned thus far and how it will influence your course design. Throughout the modules, there are opportunities for you to work on the design for a course you plan to teach online. The modules are based on best practices in online teaching, were developed according to industry-standard quality rubrics, and have been reviewed fully by internal as well as external reviewers.

Module Topics

Module Topics
Overview of Online Teaching
Definition and components of an online course, benefits and misconceptions
Models of Online Course Delivery
Models of online instruction, tools to support each model
Deisgning an Online Course
Incorporating meaningful learning in an online course, best practices for online teaching
Encouraging Communication in Online Courses
Strategies for communication, effectiveness and appropriateness of communication tools
Technology Tools for Online Teaching and Learning
Formative and summative assessment in online learning, technology tools for assessment, effective and efficient grading strategies

While the Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center has offered extensive training on online teaching, this is the first time the training is available for self-paced learning online. The modules and this pilot offering for a faculty cohort group are made possible by the partial funding received through NIU Foundation’s Venture Grants. Participants will be requested to provide feedback on the module design, content, and overall experience so that the modules can be enhanced further. Please note that the modules cover issues related to preparing to teaching online and do not include hands-on training that may be necessary to teach online.

Technology Requirements

Participants must have a computer running a browser compatible with Blackboard (more information is available at http://kb.blackboard.com/pages/viewpage.action?pageId=72810639). In addition, participants should have Java and Flash installed. For the kick-off and wrap-up sessions, speakers or a pair of headphones is necessary.

Alternatively, participants may also complete the modules from their iPhone, iPad, or Android phone or tablet. Mobile participants will need to download the free Blackboard Mobile Learn and Blackboard Collaborate Mobile apps.

Participants should have basic computer skills (internet browsing and file management) and prior experience with Blackboard.

Registration Information

This online course is open to all faculty, instructors, and teaching staff (SPS and Civil Service), but the registration will be limited to 25 participants for this piloe offering. Registered participants will receive access to the Preparing to Teach Online Blackboard course. Participants who complete all of the assessments by the wrap-up date will receive a certificate of participation. Advance registration is required.

Attendance at the online Kick-off and wrap-up sessions is strongly encouraged but not required for participation or completion. These sessions will be recorded and available for viewing after the event.

Registration Deadline: May 28, 2013. Due to the advance notice needed for ensuring access to the course and managing the cohort group, please register for this course online at http://facdevprograms.niu.edu/ERAP/Login.aspx?eID=254. Please register only if you plan to complete all of the self-paced modules by June 27, 2013.

After you register, if you are unable to attend, please cancel your registration by May 30, 2013 at http://j.mp/facdevprograms so that those on the waiting list may be given the opportunity to participate in this effort.


If you have any questions or need clarifications about this self-paced learning course, please contact the Center at 815-753-0595 or facdev@niu.edu.


Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center and NIU Foundation Venture Grants

Preparing to Teach Online

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Preparing to Teach Online: Online Teaching Certificate Program

The Challenges

NIU’s President John Peters, in his 2011 State of the University Address, mentioned that “We must pursue the working group recommendations to add up to 42 additional online degree programs and certificates – prioritized according to student demand.” Meeting President Peters and Vision 2020 goals to offer more online courses and online degree programs to give NIU a competitive edge will require training more faculty members quickly on online teaching and learning so that academic departments are able to schedule more course sections online.

Introducing “PTO” – Preparing to Teaching Online

Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center, with the help of funding provided by a Venture Grant from the Northern Illinois University Foundation, will soon introduce self-paced training on online teaching at NIU. This project, known as “Preparing to Teach Online” (PTO), will result in a set of interactive learning modules focused on online teaching that participants can use to learn at their own pace and schedule. These modules are being designed and developed by Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center staff and will be based on the current online teaching training offered by the Center, and will be similar to training programs on online teaching offered by other providers such as Sloan-C and the Illinois Online Network (ION). The modules will eventually be the first of a 3-phase approach to preparing faculty to teach online. The other phases will include attending a number of hands-on workshops to become proficient with the technology tools available and receive follow-up consultations.

Benefits of the Self-Paced Model

PTO will be offered in a self-paced mode, allowing more flexibility for participants. Those who cannot attend face-to-face workshops for a variety of reasons including schedule conflicts or teaching off-campus will be able to benefit from introductory information provided by these modules and can get started quickly to accelerate their learning. PTO will also accommodate those with differing teaching and technology expertise so that they can pace their learning. This first phase will help faculty to get a glimpse of what is involved in teaching online and plan their online teaching preparation accordingly. The modules will require participants to complete a design document similar to a lesson planning template that will assist them in developing a quality online course. They can then use this design document to receive follow-up assistance on course-specific needs from the staff at Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center.

Core Topics

“Preparing to Teach Online” will consist of the following 6 core topics, all of which must be completed in sequence:

  1. Overview of Online Teaching and Learning
  2. Models of Online Course Delivery
  3. Designing an Online Course
  4. Encouraging Communication in Online Courses
  5. Technology Tools for Online Teaching
  6. Assessing Student Learning Online

Additionally, participants will have a choice of electives from which to choose including topics like social networking, mobile learning, advanced content and media, and web conferencing.

Features of “Preparing to Teach Online”

These interactive modules will be structured as a self-paced online course in Blackboard with module presentations specifically optimized for desktop and mobile devices for those on the go. Other components like supplementary readings, self-check quizzes, and discussion boards will accompany each module topic and the completion of these activities will automatically unlock new topics in the course. As mentioned earlier, the main culminating assessment for this self-paced course will be a design document which will be completed in segments throughout the modules or at the very end. Participants can then use this completed document to move forward in developing an online course or meet with the staff at the Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center to seek additional help as necessary.

Long-term Benefits

The self-paced “Preparing to Teach Online” course is planned for a Spring 2013 launch, in which the first cohort of participants can begin. This cohort will hopefully be the first of many successful cohorts, as this entire project will certainly result in significant benefits to NIU, a few of which are listed below:

  • More faculty members will be quickly introduced to online teaching rather.
  • The self-paced learning modules will help faculty understand the time, effort and planning necessary to develop and deliver courses online compared to face-to-face delivery, and be better prepared.
  • Academic departments will be able to recommend the self-paced learning modules to faculty members who are scheduled to teach online.
  • Academic support units such as Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center with limited resources will be able to use their resources more efficiently by focusing on course-specific online teaching needs of faculty and help them meet their needs better.
  • The modules can be made available for a fee for those at other institutions and promote NIU, and also possibly generate funds to promote program and training sustainability as it is one of the goals of the Venture Grant.

Stay tuned for more updates in Spring 2013 regarding the status of “Preparing to Teach Online.” We envision this project to be a welcome addition to online teaching preparation at NIU and elsewhere, and we thank the NIU Foundation for its support of this effort.

Graduate Teaching Certificate

The Graduate Teaching Certificate recognizes the participation of graduate teaching assistants (GA/RA/TAs) in the development programs offered by the Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center. The certificate acknowledges these individuals’ commitment to effective teaching and can enhance their academic credentials. To qualify for this recognition, a graduate teaching assistant must have attended the full-day TA Orientation or one other daylong teaching effectiveness program made available to TAs and at least five (5) programs of shorter duration offered by Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center.

NIU graduate teaching assistants are encouraged to apply for the certificate by printing and completing the application found on the Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center website at http://www.niu.edu/facdev/ta/applications/gradteachcert.pdf and mailing it to the Center. Once completed applications are received and processed, certificates are sent to the teaching assistants’ department to acknowledge their commitment to effective teaching and present the certificates to them. If TAs need a few more workshops to qualify for the certificate, they are encouraged to check the current schedule of TA programs on the Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center website.

Using Concept Inventories to Improve Instruction

In many fields, “common sense” can lead students astray. Before stepping into a classroom, students have formed hypotheses and theories based on observations and experience, but what seems to make sense based on casual observation may be, in fact, false. These misconceptions can be worse than complete ignorance, as the misconceptions have to be corrected in order for new information to be learned. In fact, most of the time, students simply modify their existing understanding to accommodate the new concepts rather than internalizing the correct knowledge, leading to a mash-up of correct vocabulary mixed with partially correct theories (Hestenes, 2006).

There are several important questions related to student misconceptions. First, what misconceptions do students have when they begin a course? Also, is the course effective at replacing misconceptions with a deep understanding of the concepts which are essential to the course, or are students learning the material by rote? Finally, are some teaching methods more effective for imparting this deep learning? Obviously, these misconceptions can be challenging to assess using conventional methods.

One way to address these misconceptions is by administering a Concept Inventory assessment. A concept inventory is a multiple choice test that forces students to choose between the correct concepts and common sense alternatives (Hestenes, Halloun & Wells, 1992). The inventory is administered at the beginning of a course to get a baseline level of student understanding, and again at the end of a course. The difference between the scores represents the students’ change from misconception to accurate and deep understanding of the concepts.

Because concept inventories are designed to assess understanding of concepts, the questions focus on reasoning, logic, and general problem solving, rather than facts, definitions, or computations. Initial questions may be followed by a second multiple choice question that asks for the reason why an answer was given. For example, the following two questions are part of the Chemistry Concept Inventory (Mulford, 1996.) Answers follow at the end of the article.

  1. Two ice cubes are floating in water. After the ice melts, will the water level be:
    1. Higher?
    2. Lower?
    3. The same?
  2. What is the reason for your answer?
    1. The weight of water displaced is equal to the weight of the ice.
    2. Water is denser in its solid form (ice).
    3. Water molecules displace more volume than ice molecules.
    4. The water from the ice melting changes the water level.
    5. When ice melts, its molecules expand.

Unlike traditional multiple-choice exams, concept inventory questions are criterion-referenced, meaning the questions should be directly linked to the concepts and misconceptions the inventory is designed to assess. The distracters (incorrect responses) for each question should be matched to common misconceptions.

To create a concept inventory, begin by selecting the theories or concepts that are most critical to success in the subject area. Then, identify common misconceptions that students have about those concepts. For experienced faculty members, this could be based on observation and experience, at least initially. For greater accuracy, misconceptions can also be identified through open-ended exams that require students to explain their reasoning. Interviews with students are very informative about the common sense theories they have constructed. It also may be possible to review literature on common student misconceptions about the concepts.

Use the common misconceptions to develop multiple-choice questions that are problem-oriented and concept-based rather than computational or factual. To many faculty, the questions on a concept inventory seem to be too easy or trivial, but that is natural (Hestenes, Halloun & Wells, 1992). Because the questions are based on essential concepts as opposed to complexities, errors are indicative of lack of understanding, while correct responses may not indicate mastery as traditionally understood.

After administering the concept inventory as both a pre- and post-test, compare the scores. Ideally, the scores should improve substantially. If there is little change overall, or little change for a particular concept, reconsider the questions, and examine the teaching strategies used. If possible, it is particularly helpful for multiple faculty members to administer the inventory to multiple sections. Over time, continue to revise teaching strategies to improve students’ mastery of the concepts they struggle with.

Naturally, there are many factors that affect the results of a concept inventory. The ultimate goal is to identify student misconceptions and to determine whether those misconceptions are corrected. Hestenes and Halloun (1995) argue that a well-written concept inventory, like their Force Concept Inventory (FCI), is best analyzed as a whole rather than as individual questions. The result is an indication of how well students understand the concepts overall, as opposed to how they respond to specific questions.

Developing an accurate and valid concept inventory is a matter of research, time, and revision. Fortunately, many individuals who have already developed concept inventories welcome other faculty to use their exams and to add their data to the ongoing study of the instrument. Several of those examples follow.

Examples of Concept Inventories:

Concept inventories are most common in mathematics, the sciences, and engineering, but can be applied to any field. The first widely-disseminated concept inventory was the Force Concept Inventory (Hestenes, Halloun, & Wells, 1992), which assesses basic understanding of Newtonian physics. There are also concept inventories to assess introductory knowledge in chemistry, digital logic (a branch of computer science), and statistics, among many others. Use the links below to view several examples (some require a password that can easily be acquired by emailing the contact listed on the website.) Many of the teams welcome other faculty to use the inventories and contribute additional data to ongoing evaluation projects.

  1. Force Concept Inventory (FCI) – http://modeling.asu.edu/R&E/Research.html
    • First widely-disseminated concept inventory
    • Developed by David Hestenes,  Ibrahim Halloun, and Malcolm Wells.
    • Assesses basic understanding of Newtonian physics
  2. Chemistry Concepts Inventory – http://jchemed.chem.wisc.edu/JCEDLib/QBank/collection/CQandChP/CQs/ConceptsInventory/CCIIntro.html
    • Developed by Doug Mulford
    • Assesses topics generally covered in the first semester of a college chemistry course
  3. Dynamics – http://www.esm.psu.edu/dci/
    • Developed by Gary Gray, Don Evans, Phillip Cornwell, Brian Self, and Franceso Costanzo
    • Assesses understanding in rigid body dynamics and particle dynamics
  4. Statistics – https://engineering.purdue.edu/SCI/index.htm
    • Developed by Teri Reed-Rhoads and Teri Jo Murphy
    • Assesses statistics understanding through 4 sub-tests: Descriptive, Probability, Inferential, and Graphical

Additional examples are available at https://engineering.purdue.edu/SCI/workshop/tools.html (Allen, 2007).

Learn More

The Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center will be offering a workshop on this topic titled “Concept Inventories: Measuring Learning and Quantifying Misconceptions” on March 8, 2011 from 11:30 – 1:00. Registration details will be available soon.


Allen, K. (2007). Concept Inventory Central: Tools. Retrieved September 28, 2010, from https://engineering.purdue.edu/SCI/workshop/tools.html.

Hestenes, D. (2006). Notes for a Modeling Theory of Science, Cognition and Instruction. Retrieved October 1, 2010, from http://modeling.asu.edu/R&E/Notes_on_Modeling_Theory.pdf.

Hestenes, D., & Halloun, I. (1995). Interpreting the FCI. The Physics Teacher, 33, 502-506. Retrieved October 1, 2010, from http://modeling.asu.edu/R&E/InterFCI.pdf.

Hestenes, D., Wells, M., & Swackhamer, G. (1992). Force concept inventory. The Physics Teacher, 30 (3), 141-151. Retrieved October 1, 2010, from http://modeling.asu.edu/R&E/FCI.PDF.

Mulford, D. (1996). Chemistry Concepts Inventory. Retrieved October 1, 2010 from http://jchemed.chem.wisc.edu/JCEDLib/QBank/collection/CQandChP/CQs/ConceptsInventory/CCIIntro.html.

Answers to sample questions

  1. C
  2. A
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