As our Tips for Teaching Month comes to an end, we’re happy to share the 31 days worth of tips we’ve collected from Carleton’s teaching and learning community. Take a look and see if there are any ideas you can incorporate into your own teaching.

Thank you all for your submissions. The winners of the three $25 Campus Card gift certificates are: Carter Elwood, Erik Anonby and Michael Dolan. Congratulations!

While the deadline for the draw has passed, your teaching tips are always welcome. Email at any point throughout the year with your tips and we’ll share them with your colleagues.

March 31

Instructors know that, if we’re doing our job, then our students should be improving from assignment to assignment. With respect to essays in particular, that means we’re hoping to see tangible improvement from one paper to the next. But how carefully do we really track that progress? One easy way to do so is, instead of writing all your comments on the student’s paper (which you rarely ever see again), to put that feedback on a comments sheet (a template you create for yourself). On that template, you enter your comments for each student; then, before you staple it to the student’s assignment and return it, you make a copy and stuff it in a folder. When the next essay comes in, you now have more than just a previous grade and a vague recollection to assess your student’s progress — instead, taking one minute to glance at your previous comments sheet, you know exactly the areas of strength and areas for growth you identified last time, and now have a way to measure whether or not the student has addressed the latter. All told, I’ve found that 1) a comments sheet template has reduced the time needed to mark papers by about one third, and 2) the entire process takes very little time to coordinate once you have developed a comments sheet template for yourself.

Morgan Rooney
Educational Developer, EDC

March 30

You can never provide too many instructions to your students. Start your class by introducing the topic and wrap up by summarizing. Or, as some would put it: Tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, tell them what you’ve told them.

Maristela Petrovic-Dzerdz
Instructional Designer, EDC

March 29

The new “touch-screen monitors” and Microsoft Paint make an excellent “white board.” With just a little tutorial, anyone using their finger can draw (and save) impromptu drawings in these classrooms. Not to mention that PowerPoint has an annotation function so annotating with your finger is easy.

Armand Doucet
Supervisor, Maintenance, IMS

March 28

I’m still a believer in the potential of the well-paced, diversified, problem-solving, innovatively-informed lecture. Students still rally, as far as I can tell, to exciting new information that is presented with passion and enthusiasm. It is not my only delivery format, but I love the challenge of getting the lecture formula just right, almost as an art form that generates feeling and excitement as it goes, as a source of enlightenment and pleasure for the listeners. I rarely get it exactly as I want it, but on those special occasions when students say “great lecture sir” on the way out of the class, it’s not a simple sop to my ego, but my feedback clue that tells me “more of whatever I did today, and less of what I did last time.” It’s cumulative learning for me and I still love the challenge, old-fashioned as that may seem. I try to keep the learning environment as rich as I can possibly make it, while always thinking of capacity and transparency. And I love big ideas, as big as Shakespeare, Chaucer and Milton et al could make them, to which I try to attach the widest and most useful perspectives I can possibly find. I confess that the discussion leader and technician in me get a bit drowned out at times, but I console myself with the mission of the ideas themselves to travel as viruses of the mind—in that I’m still just a mediator and facilitator.

Don Beecher

March 27

Make student email the priority in your inbox. Answer student email as quickly as possible. It is part of timely, effective feedback. It facilitates learning. It helps students keep their momentum with their work.

Tim Pychyl

March 26

Fourth year seminars pose a couple of special challenges. First, they rely on students having done the preparatory reading prior to class. And second, some students are reticent to actively participate, while others don’t mind dominating the discussion. Having worked with educating adults outside of the university environment, I adapted some practices that had a positive impact on my seminar classes.

I assigned two sets of readings to the students. Everyone was assigned to read the first set, but for the second set, I would break the class into four groups of six or seven (with a class of 25) and assign each group a different reading. In class, the groups would be recombined so that each contained members who had read different articles. The assignment for each was to prepare a single sheet that summed up the piece (this would form their participation grade for the course). The composition of the small groups would change each week (accomplished by assigning numbers 1 to 6 prior to forming the groups).

The seminar would be organized in three parts: my 20-minute presentation on the subject matter of the week, a discussion within each of the six groups with each person having about 12 minutes to expound upon their article and answer questions concerning their review, and a class discussion of the general readings and how they related to the specific articles.

I would used this system for most weeks of the term but sometimes the subject matter was inappropriate. Each year my students would tell me how much they got out of the course.

Michael Dolan
Political Science

March 25

If you have an out of town conference that you wish to attend but you don’t want to cancel your class that week, contact CUOL to pre-record your lecture for class playback to your students. You get to go to your conference and the students don’t miss a lecture.

Paul Smith
Technical Operations, CUOL

March 24

Always respond to student emails. Many students will not communicate face to face in class or come to office hours, and prefer the relative anonymity of email.  But make sure that you set acceptable parameters for response times in both your course outline and your first class.  I usually use the formula “You can expect a response within one working day”.  Explain that you will not be responding immediately if they email at four in the morning, and not at weekends, because you also have an outside life off campus. Most students will respect this.

Andrew Robinson

March 23

Have a back-up plan for lectures. Do not only rely on the network for your teaching documents. Bring your presentation to class on a usb stick as a back up.

Frank Heney
Technical Operations, CUOL

March 22

Whenever possible, it helps to relate something you’re teaching to an aspect of pop culture the students might recognize.  In my own courses, I often allude to or even show clips from The Simpsons and South Park, among others.

Arby Siraki
Teaching and Learning Support Analyst, EDC

March 21

As a ‘theatre’ there is access to ‘props’ at the KM Theatre. Some instructors have come to my office and requested some for pedagogical purposes. If we have them, we’ll provide them! Theatre is a wonderful pedagogical tool in itself. I have had a professor ask me to view and comment on a ‘play’ he wrote to use to explain vectors to his students. The students became both actors and props and got new insight into the subject matter.

Nina Karhu
Production Coordinator, KM Theatre

March 20

I am teaching a class of 193 students. In the past, returning assignments in class has been pandemonium. I recently setup 10 folders, number 0 thru 9, and with maybe only ten minutes of effort I can quickly sort all assignments by a student’s last digit in their student number and place them into the separate folders. Students now only have to look through 1/10 of the assignments to quickly find theirs. The pandemonium has been reduced significantly for those days I bring graded assignments to class.

Richard Dansereau

March 19

I work hard to learn and remember the names of all my students in each class, as I find that the personal connection is great for the classroom atmosphere and sense of community; it also gives me a better understanding of where students are coming from. Now that CU has photo class lists available to teachers, this is a lot easier for me, and with classes that have less than 60 students, I have managed to attain my goal each time. I’m actually not very good with names, so I could use this as an excuse, but if a teacher really cares then all it takes is some time and effort – the time invested in learning students’ names is well spent.

Erik Anonby

March 18

When designing your course, think about what you want your students to remember and be able to do one year after the course is over. Write this down and keep your focus as you develop your content and activities. To solidify knowledge and skills, engage students and approach main concepts a few times during the course – “Repetitio mater studiorum est.”

Maristela Petrovic-Dzerdz
Instructional Designer, EDC

March 17

When showing students paper materials, consider using a document camera to present them. Fine details in diagrams can be highlighted in a much more effective way than with a static scan or PowerPoint slide. The camera’s movements will draw the eye of the student as it follows your description, in the hands of a skilled operator or yourself. The beauty of an older or unique edition can be shared with the class. Rooms 103 SC, C264 LA, 404 SA, 624 SA and Theatre B SA have document cameras permanently mounted in the ceiling. Portable document cameras can also be borrowed from CTS.

Jill Salley
Technical Operations, CUOL

March 16

Treat undergraduates as adults, not as high school students.  Avoid condescending, moralistic comments or those that indicate you are disappointed in them or their work.

Carter Elwood
European, Russian and Eurasian Studies

March 15

An obvious but sometimes overlooked teaching tool: In lecturing math for engineering or physics students I make a point of illustrating various mathematical concepts by solving a good number of problems with applications to engineering or physics. This seems like an obvious tip  but I hear many students saying they get very little (or nothing) of that in their courses. The comments in my teaching evaluations indicate how motivating, engaging and illuminating the application of the above obvious tip could be. For instance, courses in linear algebra are a most propitious setting to talk about quantum mechanics and the topic of complex numbers lends itself naturally to speak, amongst other options, about solitons. This tip can be easily generalized and applied in a variety of courses.

RJ Cova

March 14

Lecturing to very large classes can be hard. Students feel anonymous and so can be inattentive or absent or disruptive because they feel that you don’t know who they are anyway. I have a few techniques for dealing with this.

The first technique is interaction. I ask the class a lot of questions, often of the variety “…and then the next step would be?” to see if they are following along. I may ask the question to the class generally, but if there is no response or it’s always the same people responding, then I pick out individual people and ask the question to them. If three in a row get it wrong then I re-explain the concept since it obviously didn’t come across the first time. I also explain my policy that students that I call upon can just pass on answering the question if they aren’t prepared. The goal is not to center people out, but to get a read on how well the class is following the lesson.

The second technique is to learn the names of as many of the students as I can. My limit seems to be about thirty or so in a large class. Then I call on these students by name when I ask questions or answer them. This has the surprising effect of making ALL of the students feel like I know who they are, so it cures many of the problems caused by that feeling of anonymity. And it increases attentiveness since I could call on anyone at any time, and even though they could pass on answering, most people like to be able to come up with a good answer, so they pay attention.

John Chinneck
Systems and Computer Engineering

March 13

Have students “peer edit” each other’s written work. At the undergraduate level, students are required to bring a complete draft of their final essay to class and work in pairs editing each other’s papers. I provide specific questions and marking rubrics, based on how their work will be evaluated by me or the TA. We devote the class period to this exercise (the TA and I are available to help field any editing questions that come up). Often students are very good at helping each other—they know how to evaluate and edit someone else’s work, if not their own! Big Bonus: this makes sure students are working on their essays ahead of time, and builds in time for editing and revision (this is a mandatory session—failure to show up results in a 5 per cent deduction off their final paper mark).

At the graduate level, students post sections of their final research paper-in-progress, or post an extended abstract. Each student is required to respond in writing to two or three of their peers’ postings (I also provide written feedback to each student). We then spend a seminar class discussing their works in progress. Often students offer each other excellent bibliographic suggestions and other great ideas. This class allows students to share their research ideas and provides closure to the course.

Jodie Medd

March 12

Working online doesn’t have to be an isolating experience. Try to create chances to interact with others, whether it is their peers, the TA or you. This can be done in cuLearn with Discussion Forums, Databases, email, BigBlueButton or chats and can be an enriching experience if set up properly.

Kirk Davies
Educational Technology Consultant, EDC

March 11

Particularly around due dates for assignments, professors can get overwhelmed with emails from students. Even when we provide anonymous forums for them to ask their questions, too, students can be reticent to use such mediums and revert back to the move private form of the email to the professor. One way to help cut down on such email traffic and to extend the teaching experience outside of the classroom is to compile all student questions and your replies every few days, and then send those out in the form of “The Professor’s Digest.” I’ve found that it can help cut down the need to answer similar questions repeatedly while increasing transparency for all.

Morgan Rooney
Educational Developer, EDC

March 10

Whether you are teaching a face-to-face, blended, or online course, take some time to develop guidelines for discussion etiquette and behavior at the very beginning of the term. When students take part in developing the guidelines, they connect with them on a deeper level. This also give you a shared set of expectations that you can return to if any difficulties arise.

Samah Sabra
Teaching Development Coordinator, EDC

March 9

For classic CUOL courses, there will be a mixture of on-campus and off-campus/distance students in the course. For the off-campus/distance students who are interested, offer to facilitate them getting in touch with each other.  They can form a support/study group of students who share a common “distance” experience.

Maria Brocklehurst
Supervisor, CUOL Student Centre

March 8

When recording a lecture, the less you touch your lapel mic the better…also please no heavy necklaces or jingly bracelets.  Your audio people will thank you!

Lisa Runge-Faubert
Video Editor/Multimedia Specialist, CUOL

March 7

A lot of instructors spend a lot of time providing detailed feedback on a paper and then, after returning, are left wondering if students actually read it or do anything with it. Well, I say, wonder no more. The next time you assign an essay, make it mandatory that, within 1 week of receiving the paper paper, students must complete a reflective response piece to your feedback in which they identify the areas for improvement for next time and demonstrate an understanding of the feedback given. It takes less than a minute to review such a document, but it provides you with a clear sense of what your students are taking away from your feedback.

Morgan Rooney
Educational Developer, EDC

March 6

A clear, organized structure takes the guesswork away from students when they are trying to complete their work. If it isn’t readily apparent where they should be heading after completing one section, then there is a chance they will lose focus and move away from your course. Make sure that there is a connect between different sections and that one activity/resource starts off where the other finishes.

Kirk Davies
Educational Technology Consultant, EDC

March 5

A grading rubric is a document that indicates the specific criteria according to which students’ work will be graded and descriptions of various levels of performance for each criteria. Creating a grading rubric (either by hand or in cuLearn) may take some time up front, but it helps to make grading less tedious and more consistent later on. It also provides students with structured formative feedback. For more information about grading rubrics, you can click here.

Samah Sabra
Teaching Development Coordinator, EDC

March 4

Demonstrate your knowledge and passion for the subject you will be teaching. During my second year, one of the courses I had to take was called “British Literatures 1.” The reading material from the course was originally written in Anglo-Saxon, Old-English and so forth, but we had access to modern English translations. To captivate our attention and show us how interesting this class was going to be, our professor walked in, set up his notes, and started speaking to the class in Anglo-Saxon, which was a shock to us, but definitely intrigued everyone listening. Although this method is not available to all instructors, it really was captivating and knowing my professor was well versed in such an old language and highly knowledgeable on the topics, I was always eager to go to this class and learn more about it.

Katherine Gardner
Administrative Assistant, EDC

March 3

For instructors with multiple-choice exams, here are a few tips to make your Scantron drop off as efficient as possible:

  • Arrange exams in neat piles (paper flat and bar code aligned to same side) to ensure that the scanner can properly read the answer sheets
  • When numbering your keys, bubble in version 1, not version 01
  • Fill out the Scantron request form in advance and ensure that all required fields are filled out properly
  • Only use a Carleton University email address and ensure that a valid phone number or extension is provided in case the instructor needs to be contacted

Kate Hayes
Program Administrator, EDC

March 2

PowerPoint can be a great tool in the classroom – if it’s used properly. Don’t put too much text on your slides. Students get distracted trying to read it instead of listening to your verbal presentation. It’s also important not to read directly off the slides without adding any supplemental information. Gain students’ full attention by posting your slides online before class but make sure they don’t contain your whole presentation in full detail – otherwise students will not see the point in attending.

Christina Atallah
Communications Coordinator, TLS

March 1

Teaching online provides the opportunity to present information in a number of different ways. Take advantage of this and allow students to access information in a way that suits their needs. You can implement multimedia aspects, as well as more traditional text-based materials. By doing this, you will reach a broader range of students.

Kirk Davies
Educational Technology Consultant, EDC