Fall 2014 Teaching Effectiveness Institute Focused on Effective Teaching and Cooperative Activities in the Classroom

posted in: News, Newsletter, workshops | 0

Jeanette Rossetti presenting at TEIThe Two-Day Teaching Effectiveness Institute began on Thursday, August 14 with Fundamentals of Effective Teaching, an all-day event with sessions designed to introduce faculty to the basic principles of teaching, share information about teaching-related support resources available at NIU, and inform faculty on the ways they can address students’ learning needs. We greatly appreciate the time and commitment of the NIU faculty and staff members from a range of academic departments and support units offered who shared their expertise during the Institute.

Ten informative sessions focused on energizing the classroom experience, constructing a syllabus, assessing student learning, preparing successful writing assignments, and teaching and research support from the university libraries. Participants also learned about how to assist students with emotional and behavioral concerns and those with disabilities, as well as ways to manage academic integrity and difficult students. Participants left the Institute with a wealth of information on the fundamentals of teaching to help prepare them for the new semester ahead.

The second day of the Fall 2014 Teaching Effectiveness Institute on Friday, August 15, engaged participants in the workshop, Using Cooperative Activities to Foster Deep Learning and Critical Thinking, presented by Barbara J. Millis, Ph.D., former director of teaching centers at the University of Texas at San Antonio, The University of Nevada, Reno, and the U.S. Air Force Academy.

Dr. Millis presented a highly interactive day-long workshop in which she demonstrated ways to sequence structured assignments and activities to foster students’ deep learning and critical thinking. The workshop was designed around three key learning principles by John D. Bransford and colleagues (2000) that support students’ motivation to learn: Prior Knowledge centers on how students construct new knowledge based on what they already know (or don’t know); Deep Foundational Knowledge states that students need a deep knowledge base and conceptual frameworks in which to learn new content; and Metacognition where students need to identify their own learning goals and monitor their progress toward achieving them.

Each of these learning principles can be addressed in the classroom through simple yet meaningful cooperative activities. Throughout the workshop, participants worked with partners and groups in orchestrated activities that can be immediately applied in many classroom situations. For example, students can use a deck of playing cards with hearts, diamonds, spades, and clubs to facilitate team roles and activities that rotate once a week. Another range of activities called Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATs), can help students reflect on their own learning while informing the instructor of their progress and how well they understand the content. For example, students can write a type of Minute Paper in which they answer questions or complete sentences before handing in a paper or project:

  • “I’m most satisfied with…, I’m least satisfied with…, I’m having problems with…”
  • “In this paper, what did you learn that surprised you? When editing your paper, what were you unsure about?”
  • “This assignment is important to my role as a professional in this discipline because…”

In another activity, Think, Pair, Share, students are asked to personally reflect on a question or prompt, after which they turn to a partner and discuss their individual thoughts, preparing for a whole class response. The instructor then asks for feedback from just a few of the pairs as time allows.

As a final example, students can be assigned to complete a Jigsaw Graphic Organizer. Graphic Organizers are “visual depictions that suggests relationships and can help [students] structure homework assignments” (Millis, 2010). In a Jigsaw Graphic Organizer, each student in a heterogeneous team is responsible for completing a part of a complex assignment by using a partially completed graphic organizer in which they fill-in blank sections. Each student then becomes an “expert” in their assigned area of the assignment. When back in the classroom, students form “expert teams” made up of other students who had the same part of the assignment/graphic organizer. In their expert teams, students discuss, share notes, and prepare how they will present their information to their original groups. Back in their original groups, student experts will explain their new knowledge to others who did not complete that part of the assignment.

By the end of the second day of the Institute, workshop participants experienced the type of active and interactive learning experiences that can help students to become more motivated, energized, and accountable to both themselves and others in the classroom. Participants also received several resources that can be used when planning interactive learning experiences for deep learning and critical thinking throughout the semester.

Bransford, J. D., Brown, A. L., & Cocking, R. R. (Eds.). (2000). How people learn: Brain, mind, experience, and school. Commission on Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education National Research Council. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

Millis, B. J. (2010). Idea Paper #47. Promoting deep learning. The Idea Center. www.ideaedu/org/sites/default/files/IDEA_Paper_47.pdf

For further information on these topics and other teaching-related issues, contact Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center at facdev@niu.edu or 815.753.0595.


Blackboard Open Labs August 25 – 29

posted in: News, workshops | 0

Blackboard Open LabEvery day this week, August 25 – 29, the Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center will be hosting a Blackboard Open Lab. This is an excellent opportunity for NIU faculty, staff, and TAs to ask specific questions about how to set up their courses in Blackboard. Whether you want to know how to communicative effectively with students to increase retention, add videos that stream flawlessly, set up your weighted grading formula in the Grade Center, or establish Groups to simplify collaboration, the staff from Faculty Development will be on hand to answer your questions individually.

The Open Lab is available Monday, August 25 through Friday, August 29, from 11 am to 1 pm every day in Adams Hall, Room 323. Feel free to drop in – no registration required! Unfortunately, we cannot provide a general overview of Blackboard at this session, but will be happy to answer specific questions about using Blackboard.

How to Go Beyond the Textbook Using Open Educational Resources

Almost 30 participants braved the extremely cold weather on January 10, 2014 for the afternoon session of the second day of the Spring Teaching Effectiveness Institute on Beyond the Textbook: Using Open Educational Resources.

Tracy Miller, presenting
Tracy Miller, Online Teaching Coordinator, introduces Open Educational Resources at Teaching Effectiveness Institute

Creating educational resources for students can be time-consuming and potentially expensive. Open Educational Resources (OER) are free resources that can supplement teaching and learning needs. OER can include lesson plans, learning modules, videos, and interactives, just to name a few. However, Institute participants wanted to know: How do we find reliable resources, do we have permission to use them, and how do we add it to our courses?

The workshop began with a quick lesson on how to search, find, and evaluate open educational resources. Facilitator Tracy Miller suggested some search strategies, which can increase the likelihood of quick success. Every search should begin with your learning objectives in mind. Next, consider the type of resource you are looking for: an image, a lesson plan, a video. She offered some techniques to search for and find valuable OER to enhance courses. The first technique was to start at common places people search for resources such as Google or YouTube; however consider adding “scholar” or “education” to the search field or URL. Including such words can help refine and locate more reliable resources. But, always make sure you completely review the resource before sharing it with students.

Next, participants explored OER repositories such as OERCommons or Merlot. These repositories are designed to target searches and organize resources. Repositories are also a great place for faculty to share the learning objects and course materials they have created. Faculty who share their materials with the open community offer great recognition for themselves and their university.

Another option is to begin searching for OER by using Creative Commons (CC). Materials with a Creative Commons license are available for faculty to use, share, and adapt (depending on the specific CC license). Creative Commons allows individuals to use the work of others free of charge and provides clear guidelines on how the author prefers others to expand and share their original work. If you decide to share your materials with the open education community, Creative Commons can provide you with a license to copyright your work the way you choose.

Once you have found a potential open educational resource for your course, evaluate it carefully before sharing it with students. First, be sure that it aligns with learning objectives. Determine if the copyright or Creative Commons license allows the resource to be modified or shared. Check that the resource is accessible to all learners. When in doubt, ask colleagues for their opinion of the resource.

Participants also learned how to embed OERs into Blackboard Courses. Dan Cabrera provided best-practice methods for embedding videos and other popular resources. Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center staff can help you learn how to best incorporate OERs into your course. Doing so can be as easy as linking to the resource or embedding the resource within your Blackboard course.

The afternoon wrapped up with a discussion on incorporating OERs in active learning strategies. Here are some tips from Jason Rhode for introducing active learning activities to your students by using OER in your courses.

  • Keep your course objectives in mind
  • Identify activities and resources you currently use to create key learning moments
  • Look for activities or resources that will enhance the learning experience
  • Be explicit – Provide clear guidelines and expectations for students on assigned resources and activities
  • Help students realize why resources and assigned activities are not just “busy work”
  • Whenever possible select resources and activities that all of your students can access
  • If multiple resources or activities are available, let students choose the option that fits them best
  • Consider incorporating student-generated content for future classes


Spring 2014 Teaching Effectiveness Institute Focused on Creating Excitement in the Classroom

posted in: News, Newsletter, workshops | 1

Todd ZakrajsekThe first day of the Spring 2014 Teaching Effectiveness Institute brought together over 60 NIU faculty, instructors, and teaching staff in two workshops presented by Todd Zakrajsek, Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill.

Zakrajsek led two engaging half-day sessions: Critical Challenges in Teaching and Learning and How to Best Address those Challenges and Creating Excitement in the Classroom: Teaching for More Engaged Learning. In the morning, Zakrajsek discussed how to set a positive tone in the classroom and how to respond when problems arise. In the afternoon, he focused on how students learn and strategies faculty can use to increase student motivation and engagement to further student learning.

Participants practiced with Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATs) that are proven to facilitate meaningful teaching and learning. For example, faculty can ask students to write a one-minute paper at the end of the class period to further engage with content and check their understanding of material covered. Zakrajsek also stressed that expecting students to memorize content is not a particularly effective technique for moving content into long-term memory. Instead, he recommends helping students become more engaged with content through authentic and engaged learning activities. Examples of what he calls “significant learning” activities include students caring about and connecting with their feelings, interests, and values (as well as those of others); becoming self-directed learners (students taking responsibility of their own learning); and becoming life-long learners (where students develop an extrinsic sense of learning).

Zakrajsek further recommends building students’ self-esteem through real (substantive) feedback beyond using simple comments such as “good work” or “nice job.” In real life, he says, “everyone doesn’t get a trophy.” Real feedback should get students’ attention by offering them ways to improve and move forward. This type of feedback can help students realize that they shouldn’t focus on having lost but that they just haven’t won yet!

Many institute participants commented that the first-hand anecdotes and stories will help them implement more engaging and exciting classroom experiences, and they would have liked to have even more time at the institute in order to learn more strategies for creating an exciting classroom.

Dr. Todd Zakrajsek is an Associate Professor in the School of Medicine and the Department of Family Medicine at UNC-Chapel Hill. He has published and presented widely on the topic of student learning, including workshops and conference keynote addresses in 42 states and 6 countries.

For further information on these topics and other teaching-related issues, contact Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center at facdev@niu.edu or 815.753.0595.


Text Messaging with Students While Maintaining Privacy

Short Message Service (SMS), commonly referred to as text messaging, is among one of the most widely available forms of electronic communication today, available for use by any mobile phone user. The ubiquity of mobile phones is certainly a catalyst for the adoption of SMS, with 99.8% of college students reportedly owning a mobile phone (Truong, 2010). Students are taking advantage of the built-in SMS features on feature phones and smart phones alike, as 54% of teens text daily (Lenhart, Ling, Campbell, & Purcell, 2010), with 97% of students reporting that they use SMS as their main form of communication (Truong, 2010).

Faculty and those who work with students likely will want to take advantage of this common communication platform, but valid concerns exist concerning how to do so in a manner that protects the privacy of both the students and the faculty or staff member. Generally, when texting someone else, you must have that individual’s mobile phone number. Yet, there are available free solutions that can be used to send and receive text messages without giving out one’s personal mobile number.

During a recent online faculty development program titled “Text Messaging in Teaching” we discussed in greater detail the dynamics of incorporating SMS into teaching. Technical specifics and free apps for sending/receiving SMS messages with students without giving out one’s personal cell phone number were shared.

Here are a few tips shared during this program for getting started text messaging safely with students:

  • Setup a free Google Voice account. Doing so, you will receive a phone number that you can choose to set to automatically ring your mobile, office, and/or home phone numbers as well as receive text messages from students at. In this way, you can provide an added means for students to contact you if needed. Simply sign-up for a free Google Voice account at voice.google.com using a Google Account. If you don’t have a free Google Account, you can create one here. Your new Google Voice phone number is the phone number that you then can give out to students.
  • If you own a smart phone, you also can install the free Google Voice app so that when you receive a text message at your Google Voice phone number, it shows up in the Google Voice app. On the app you can choose to send a reply back if you wish, again for free directly from the Google Voice app. The image provided is the home screen of an iPhone with the push notification that a new text message has been received in Google Voice. Similar notifications are available on other mobile platforms.
  • Google Voice App notification on iPhone

  • Decide your purpose for texting your students. Before selecting the specific tool or approach for texting your students, clearly outline for yourself the reasons for texting your students. Perhaps you seek to provide reminders to students of upcoming due dates or quick reminders of things to do prior to class. Or, maybe you want to notify students in the event that a class period will be delayed due to weather, etc. Whatever the reason may happen to be, clearly articulating it will guide selecting of a tool as well as focus the messages you send.
  • Select a messaging tool and setup a class group. While it is possible to manually send text messages via email or to send, the process is cumbersome and involves the students giving the instructor their mobile phone number and in some cases also their carrier. The recommended alternative approach is to select a group texting tool and to setup a group for the class in which students can choose to opt-in if they wish to receive messages from the faculty member via sms. An increasing number of such free tools geared for educators are available, including: Remind101, ClassParrot, and Follow My Teacher that offer the faculty member to easily send text messages to all students in a class that opt-in to receive such messages without students needing to give the faculty member their mobile number. Try the available services and see which one you prefer, as each does provide slightly different features.
  • Provide students details for how to opt-in to receive text messages. After selecting a service and setting up a class group, the final step is to provide to students the instructions for how to opt-in to receive texts that you send as the faculty member to the class group. For example, Remind101 provides you with a phone number that students must send a text message to including a group code that is designated for the class group in order to opt-in.

If you have used any of the texting services or approaches mentioned or have other suggestions to share, please leave a comment.


Lenhart, A., Ling, R., Campbell, S., & Purcell, K. (2010, April 20). Teens and mobile phones. Pew Internet and American Life Project. Retrieved from http://pewinternet.org/Reports/2010/Teens-and-Mobile-Phones.aspx

Truong, K. (2010, June 17). Student smartphone use doubles; instant messaging loses favor. Wired Campus. Retrieved from http://chronicle.com/blogs/wiredcampus/student-smartphone-use-doubles-instant-messaging-loses-favor/24876

1 2 3 4 5 6 7