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Teaching Tips



Getting Back to Face-to-Face Learning for Fall: Challenges to Address with Students 

As many colleges return to offering primarily face-to face courses in the fall, what will this transition mean for the instructors and students taking them? Will we just wave a wand, and all will be normal again? No, we all recognize that it is impossible to simply “return to normal” after so many changes with the pandemic. What we can do is devise some strategies to deal with issues that have arisen during the pandemic to make the transition easier.

First, recognize that for many students remote learning did not work as effectively as in person contact. They may not have mastered important content and skills, thus being less prepared to move on to courses requiring that foundation.  Anxiety and mental health challenges have affected many college students during the pandemic, and those entering college as first year students are not exempt from those same challenges. We must be sure to provide students with information in the syllabus and in class regarding academic support and counseling services that are available to them, and that they have information early on regarding developmental courses and other academic resources to help them review or build skills. The number of students lacking essential skills in many subject areas has grown (Salzman, 2021).  Emails and meetings to check in with students to determine how they are doing will be needed, and such meetings and emails might need to be more frequent than they were prior to Covid-19 (Miller, 2021). 

Second, group work face-to-face might be a bit of a challenge as social skills and comfort levels may have been affected by the pandemic.  Students (and instructors) may need time to re-acclimate to group settings, particularly interactive ones. Proceeding slowly and keeping groups small may assist in this transition.  Students may need to “step away” periodically to re-orient to a communal setting. Beginning with icebreakers and having prompts available on LMS (Learning Management System) discussion boards can assist students in getting started with discussion in the classroom. Provide clear instructions and a focus for students.  Make sure each group has a leader to moderate group sessions.  Informal groups can be very helpful as well, enhancing social skills outside of class.  Encourage every student to find a study partner that they can review material with or get notes if they do have to miss class.

Third, recognize that engagement will be more difficult than it was prior to the pandemic and remote learning.  Many students may have become used to sitting in the back of the room, either physically or virtually, and not participating.  Prompts that focus on having students prepare ahead of time will help in this process.  For example, assign each student content in the text or a relevant article to cover, having them lead discussion.  Require tickets to class each week (with participation points given) where students write what they learned from the previous class and what questions they still have as well as what they hope to learn in class.  This can serve as a formative assessment tool and as an engagement tool.

Fourth, recognize that students have become very accustomed to using digital tools like chats and discussion boards.  There is no need to eliminate or stop using these tools in the face-to-face classroom.  We can continue to use them to augment and facilitate in class learning.  The chats and discussion boards are good strategies to keep discussions going and reinforce learning outside of scheduled meeting times (Miller, 2021; Salzman, 2021).

Fifth, continue using your LMS.  It will help with organizing and disseminating content and assignments to your students.  If your school provides templates available for the LMS, utilize them and their modular/weekly format.  Provide brief introductions and rationales for assignments so that students can connect them with content and their learning. 

Finally, be flexible and recognize that there are still many issues that might come up for students, including the anxiety that often accompanies transitions. Don’t eliminate the electronic and digital tools you have been using; rather use them to supplement the class.  Students want to use discussion boards and have content available online for review (Miller, 2021). This can enhance the face-to-face experience as well as set the stage for interaction. 


Miller, M. (2021).  5 teaching practices to keep from remote learning – Ditch That Textbook.  Retrieved from

Salzman, A.  (April 29, 2021).  UNL students will need to readjust to in-person education for fall 2021.  Retrieved from UNL students will need to readjust to in-person education for fall 2021 | News |


Adapted from:

Anne Bucalos, Ed.D.

Vice Provost, Professor of Education, and Director of the Faculty Development Center


Janice Poston, Ed.D.

Instructional Developer in the Faculty Development Center

Bellarmine University

Louisville, Ky



A Moment in the Looking Glass: Reflecting and Learning from the Pandemic Teaching Experience

In Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass, Alice wondered what the world was like on the other side of the mirror. When she stepped through the looking glass to an alternative world, she noticed a different version of her environment and realized she could only make sense of this new world by holding it up to a mirror. 

At the end of a remarkable year, we propose a pause in front of the looking glass of our teaching. Teaching during a pandemic certainly qualifies as an alternative world, and we may only make sense of it if we hold up a mirror, reflect closely, and use this as an opportunity to notice which practices served us well, and which we are content to leave behind.

This year, circumstances shoved us through a mirror: we overhauled courses, learned technologies, shifted our teaching to unfamiliar settings, rewrote assessments, changed feedback processes, and shifted learning expectations. There are things we did because we had to and which we would not have considered otherwise. Some processes were stop-gap measures that will not follow us into the future, but other protocols emerged that may better serve our students and ourselves.

Here is a list of 10 reflection questions to ponder in the final weeks of the semester. You might want to think through these items on your own, with colleagues, or with your department or college. 

  1. What practices, processes, or protocols emerged in your teaching because you had no other choice in the teaching situation?
  2. Which of those practices invited students to engage with content in a new way? 
  3. Which of those practices encouraged collaboration between students?
  4. In what ways did those practices provide support for reluctant or struggling learners?
  5. What technologies did you use because you had no other choice?
  6. Which of those technologies, when blended with pre-COVID strategies, will improve student learning? 
  7. Which one teaching practice you adopted during the pandemic do you think will best serve and support  your students in the future?
  8. What will you be happy to leave behind, and why?
  9. What did you learn about what students most need—and about meeting those needs?
  10. How has the experience of teaching during a pandemic permanently transformed your teaching, or your thinking about teaching and learning, in positive ways?

We hope that ruminating over these questions helps you build a teaching practice that honors the learning and growth you and your students have experienced during the pandemic. 


Importance of Reflection as a Teacher

The Reflective Teacher

Reflective Teaching Statement

Teaching Tip submitted by: Dr. Serena Morales (Clinical Asst. Professor, College of Education) and Dr. Devshikha Bose (Instructional Design Consultant, CTL)


Streamlining Feedback During the Pandemic

Regardless of our teaching platform, the purpose for giving feedback on student work remains constant: to move the learner toward a learning outcome. 

Prior to the pandemic, many faculty had the time and space to meet with students, talk in small groups over coffee, walk together through campus, lean over student work during class to make small adjustments, provide suggestions, or pair and group students to help each other. 

While teaching in a pandemic, these informal feedback cycles have disappeared; feedback has become more linear, cumbersome, and time consuming. While we can’t yet wholly recapture settings that allow for in-the-moment feedback, here are a few strategies that may help streamline feedback, make connections with students and their content, and wisely use time. 

  1. Give feedback on learning outcomes only. There are a lot of things that matter when we look at student work, and plenty of places to make comments, but if we focus on the intended learning outcomes, our feedback will be aligned and clear. 
  2. Determine gaps and misconceptions prior to instruction. You are an expert on your content, and likely know where you will be giving the same feedback on student work. Create a “comments bank” in advance so that you can copy and paste the same feedback, or even examples, to share with students.
  3. Delay the grade. In a formative feedback cycle, students revise to demonstrate proficiency, and they frequently focus only on the grade, ignoring qualitative feedback. Consider offering feedback without a grade, ask students to reflect on it and revise their work accordingly, and only then have them submit the revised version for a grade.
  4. Change the format. Consider using a recorded audio or video file to give feedback. This omits the need to type, creates a personal feel, and helps establish a tone of support. Be sure to provide auto-generated captions on the video and auto-generated transcripts for any audio-only versions.
    1. For quick verbal feedback: Vocaroo
    2. For video feedback Panopto
    3. For feedback to a group or between peers Voxer

We save both our own and students’ time and energy when we streamline feedback to be specific, purposeful, meaningful, and targeted to the essentials of learning. Kind, supportive, timely, and strategic feedback helps students identify gaps in their learning and apply your feedback to their future work. an effective 


“Feedback: Ideas to Increase Efficiency While Maintaining Effectiveness” 

“How to Give Your Students Better Feedback With Technology” 

Peer Review Sentence Starters

Delaying the Grade: How to Get Students to Read Feedback”

Ongoing and updated support for Boise State resources

Teaching Tip submitted by Dr. Serena Morales (Clinical Asst. Professor, College of Education).


If you’re anything like me, this past year has been a challenge – to say the least! The pandemic has rearranged major portions of our lives, both personally and professionally. In-person gatherings with friends, families, or students are almost a memory a year into masks, social distancing, and Zoom meetings. As a result, some (many) of us are experiencing burnout, which is described by El Helou, Nabhani & Bahous (2016) as 

“a lasting physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion due to the inability to control work stress over long periods of time, culminating in [faculty] detaching themselves from [their work].”

The “inability to control work” is fundamental to feeling burned out. As work stress accumulates, we can experience a loss of agency. We perceive our world filled with things being done to us instead of feeling we then control our individual lives. When we feel in control and as if our work has purpose, we can devote incredible amounts of effort and intellect into our work. As we lose that sense of control, our energy levels begin to sag. After a year in a pandemic, many of us are running on fumes.

Luckily, there are ways to combat workplace burnout. While we cannot change the pandemic and our altered workplace environment, we can change how we respond and try to regain some of our sense of control.

Be yourself – We each experience our environments in unique ways. No one recommendation here or anywhere else will be a panacea.  Think about what rejuvenates you personally, then seek more of it.

Sleep – Even though we understand the importance of sleep, most of us don’t get enough of it. When battling burnout, we need more sleep than necessary. Setting aside electronic devices at least 30 minutes before bedtime improves sleep quality.

Rest – Faculty work often expands to fill the time available.  Consider setting some hard limits for yourself.   Start small, for example with email-free Tuesday nights. It doesn’t matter what your model looks like—just set aside some time where you are totally off the clock.

Diet – When I’m in a slump from grading exams or papers, I can demolish a whole bag of Peanut M&Ms, or barbecue potato chips.  Anticipate those moments when your energy will flag, and keep lighter, healthier food nearby. (Lately, I’ve taken to snacking on cherry tomatoes and hummus.)  

Exercise – Exercise does not mean going to the Rec every morning at 6. We have a beautiful campus and valley – use it.  When your energy starts to sag, take a break and go for a walk outside. I personally love to walk across Friendship Bridge, down to Broadway, and back to campus along the Greenbelt.

Focus – In the midst of burnout, it can be difficult to remember that we choose our focus and mindset.   If we look to those areas of our jobs we actually control and that rejuvenate us, we can lessen our negative feelings and strengthen our positive emotions. Minimize the attention and energy devoted to the less enjoyable aspects of your job and focus on the parts you love.

Be generous and forgiving – We all experience “dark nights” in our lives. During this pandemic, my transition to online in the spring was downright ugly.  As faculty accepted that at least part of the next several semesters were going to be virtual, many of us enrolled in several CTL workshops about teaching online.  We need to acknowledge that few of us were ready for this Zoom-centric reality, forgive our own missteps, and notice instead how well we and our students have adapted over the past year.

Include soft breaks  To benefit both you and your students, create moments in the semester when you reduce the academic intensity of your course. Incorporate more breaks in the class session and encourage students to to go off-screen. Purposefully reduce the workload in some class sessions or weeks, especially during the middle of the semester, when we expect—but won’t get to take—spring break at the usual time. For example, spend less time on Zoom, and build in something else to do during class time, as a natural turning point during the semester. 


3 Ways Colleges Can Help Faculty Members Avoid Burnout

Preventing Burnout

Making Teaching Manageable Spring 2021

How to reduce stress and burnout on college campuses

Recovering from Burnout

Teaching Tip submitted by: Dr. Philip P. Kelly (Professor, College of Education)


Structure vs. Flexibility: What Card Games Tell Us About Student Need

Many card games require the players to draw the top card from a pile to begin a turn. The player can use the card, absorbing it into their hand to use strategically, or discard it. Players must play the cards they are given, and often make decisions about the game based on what they pick from the pile. 

Responding to the needs of our students in a changing learning environment is much like drawing cards from the deck during a card game. We have carefully created learning spaces online and face-to-face, and we work to maintain stability and consistency of protocols, platforms, and routines, but our students are not learning in a static context. Every day, our students draw a random card from the top of their learning deck based on changing living situations, health needs, caretaking, job changes, and the stress of learning online. 

When we respond to these shifts in students’ life circumstances with flexibility and compassion, we help our students find success. Here are a few tips to support student learning by responding to changing needs: 

  1. Send a survey via Google Forms in the first few weeks of the semester. Ask students about their learning environment and any changes that will be helpful for you to know when planning instruction. Transparency is important; share any changes that have happened for you, too (see #2!)
  2. Record a short FlipGrid video sharing with students how you have changed your plans for instruction (either before the class started or at any time in the semester)  based on changing circumstances. Invite them to share a minute response on how things have changed for them, too. 
  3. Send students an email early in the semester reminding them to reach out to you if changes in their living or learning community require modifications to help them succeed. Weekly check-in emails/short videos may also be helpful in creating instructor presence.
  4. Consider developing a Dynamic Calendar in Google Drive on Canvas that is easy to change to reflect modifications to the schedule due to re-testing, re-teaching, or continued practice.
  5. Use principles of Transparent Design to clearly communicate the purpose, task, and criteria of course assignments, so that students know how and why they are learning course content in particular ways. 


Transparency In Learning And Teaching Project

How Important Is Instructor Presence in an Online Course?

Learn how to use Google Forms to build surveys, measure student success, administer quizzes, and more.

Getting Started with Flipgrid – Students (How to video)

This month’s Emergent Teaching and Technologies Workshop will feature Dynamic Calendars. 

Submitted by: Serena Hicks & Devshikha Bose


Connecting with students virtually the first week

Many schools, even when offering hybrid structures, will begin Spring 2021 in an online format. Here is a guide to make the most of your first week, and potentially model processes (both synchronous and asynchronous) that you’ll use throughout the course. 

#1: Help students make connections

Purpose: Make connections with students and encourage students to make connections with each other. According to the model of social-constructivist theory, students learn best when they  make meaning together; students need to build relationships with each other for academic purposes to get the most from our courses. 


  • FlipGrid: Record a short welcome video to your students and ask them to reply to you and to each other. Set and limit the length (up to 5 minutes) and keep the content relational. For example: What is your favorite word? What song always gets stuck in your head? What is the best piece of advice given to you? 
  • Student Directory: Using your class list, create a blank Google slides presentation, and add each student’s name to a slide. Ask students to populate their slide with 2-3 images/pieces of information that tell something about them, and then to respond to each other, looking for what they may have in common, or other engaging personal connections. 

#2: Orient students to the course

Purpose: Communicate the culture and environment where students will gather to learn, whether it’s remote, online, face-to-face, or hybrid.


  • Situation Survey: Use Google Forms to gather information about your students’ learning environment, changes, challenges. Make adjustments to your syllabus based on your students’ needs (i.e., extending deadlines for assignments, offering more office hours, providing multiple means of engagement with and expression of learning). 
  • Communicate Learning Tools: If you plan to substitute face-to-face strategies with online learning platforms, consider linking a screencast to help students learn the platforms during the first week of class. 
  • Model: First impressions last. Is your course highly structured? Dependent on collaboration? Involve weekly notebook entries? Show and practice during the first online week rather than tell the patterns for your course. 

#3: Set students up for success

Purpose: Help students get a good start in the course by making your expectations clear and providing opportunities for them to succeed. 


  • Launch a Syllabus Scavenger Hunt in breakout rooms on Zoom. Lead students to the most important information to remember on the first day through active, engaged learning (see #1!)
  • Backchannel Bingo. Create a bingo card with significant disciplinary or fun hidden words or phrases in your first-day presentation of details. During a remote mini-lecture, link the Bingo Board in the chat and invite students to play as their first assessment–which, of course, everyone aces.

Teaching Tip submitted by Serena Hicks, Ph.D.


Student-Led Learning Communities

Remote teaching and learning often lead to a sense of isolation between students, and between students and their instructors. Regardless of the adept level of interaction designed by faculty, students are removed from hallway conversations, spontaneous study sessions, and musing over a problem before or after class to sort out solutions.

Promoting Student-Led Learning Communities extends classroom learning beyond the online, remote, or hybrid classroom to create opportunities for students to learn together based on the outcomes of the course, share and collaborate around projects, and ask questions that extend ideas.

Tips for Setting up Student-Led Learning Communities

Informal study groups and outside-of-class collaborations are usually set up during face-to-face instruction, but here are some tips for helping students organize in online, remote, and hybrid classes.

Tips for Instructors: 

  • Encourage a variety of groupings–both self-select and instructor-selected options through the semester.
  • Explain that the purpose of the group is to help their learning and to create a space to collaborate, problem-solve, and make errors that lead to discoveries. 
  • Remain transparent and vulnerable, willing to wrestle with ideas or potential solutions that may be different from those presented in course content.
  • Model the platforms and formats available to students beyond the LMS. If students are going to engage in learning outside of class, they need formats that integrate with their life outside of class (see list below for options). 
  • Facilitate “norm” setting processes.
  • Model academic conversations in your discipline in the first classes. 

Traditional and Popular Student Tools 

Here are some ways you can create asynchronous and synchronous Student-Led Learning Communities: 

Traditional and Familiar Tools  Innovative and “Real-World” Tools
Canvas Groups* (Asynchronous): Instructors can create small groups within courses with their own collaboration areas. The instructor can choose communication and collaboration tools that are available to students in the group. Voxer (Asynchronous): Voxer is a free walkie-talkie type app that operates like a group text chat, but without using students’ personal information. Students can speak or type into the app or send links and images. Participants can share and respond based on their own timeline, and listen and reply on-the-go.
Canvas Discussions (Asynchronous): Instructors can create discussion boards for collaboration and social interaction, pose questions about homework assignments, readings, and course content. Students can also share ongoing work for feedback and assistance.  Group-Me (Asynchronous): Group-Me is a free group chat app for all platforms and devices (mobile phone, laptop, tablet). The app will work directly with SMS; the app is not necessary.


Zoom* (Synchronous): Zoom is a great tool for conducting remote/virtual group meetings that allows users to see and hear one another, chat, share computer screens, share files, and more. A fully-licensed Zoom account is available to all Boise State students. Google Slides* (Synchronous) Slides has traditionally been used for presentations, but when shared as part of a remote course, students can comment, question, share in real time, allowing immediate engagement between students. 
Google Meet* (Synchronous): Google Meet is a free video chatting tool from the Google Suite available to all Boise State students through their institutional email accounts. Meet allows for synchronous discussion, text chats, and file and screen sharing.  Google Jamboard* (Asynchronous or Synchronous) Students can post a question, a draft of their work, or brainstorm ideas in a collaborative space that allows others to add and comment. Jamboard allows for stylus use, which allows for visual learning and problem solving. 

*The Boise State Help Desk and OIT can support faculty using this tool.


The hyperlinks in the text provide additional details. Please also listen to 

 Anthony Saba and Building a Community of Online Learners for commentary on the power of building and sustaining academic communities within your courses. 

Need additional help? Talk to an instructional design consultant at the CTL to identify university supported/free tools and platforms you can recommend your students.

Teaching Tip submitted by Serena Hicks, Ph.D.


Effective Discussion Types for Flexible Teaching Settings

Well planned guiding questions and discussion strategies can help improve the probability of good discussions in any teaching setting and with a variety of discussion-based platforms. Providing these questions to students prior to class discussions or prior to readings, presentations, or lectures helps focus student attention on your intended learning targets. 

Here are some of the different types of questions that can be used to support discussion:

  • Real-Word Inquiry:  
    • Assess – What is the issue or problem at hand? 
    • Diagnose – What is the root cause of this issue or problem? 
    • Act – What can we do as individuals or as a society to solve the issue? Ask your students to make connections and identify differences between ideas that can be found in class texts and materials. 
  • Author’s Claim:  
    • Interpret – What is the author’s central claim or argument? 
    • Evaluate – Are you convinced by this argument / evidence? Why or why not?
  • Building Arguments:  
    • Claim – Ask students to make a claim to support their argument. 
    • Evidence – Ask students for credible evidence to support their claim.
    • Reasoning – Ask students to provide rationale that ties the evidence to the claim
  • Compare and Contrast: Ask your students to make connections and identify differences between ideas that can be found in class texts and materials.
  • Ethical Dilemmas: Provide students with a problem or situation, and ask them to explore one or more of the moral and ethical concerns.
  • Personal Exploration: Let students explore a new idea on their own terms. This creative freedom helps them find their authentic voice. “What does _______ mean to you?” or “Find an example of _______ in your own life”.
  • Reflection: Ask students to reflect on an experience such as a lab, film, or reading. “What struck you at the time?” “What stuck with you after?”

Question types to avoid:

  • Yes/No Questions: Any question that can be answered with a simple yes or no tends to limit the depth and complexity of the discussion that ensues.
  • Elliptical Questions- This is the opposite of the yes/no error. If you start with “What do you think about…” it often means the question is vague and won’t provide enough structure for your students.
  • Leading Questions: These questions have a bias built right in, and discourage students from taking risks with their ideas. An example might be: “Don’t you think that…” or “Wouldn’t you agree with that.”

Student discussion strategies:  These recommendations are inspired by Stephen Brookfield’s conversational moves from Discussion as a Way of Teaching: Tools and Techniques for Democratic Classrooms, 2nd edition (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2005).

  • Ask a question or make a comment that shows you are interested in another’s comments.
  • Ask a question or make a comment that encourages others to elaborate.
  • Make a comment that underscores the link between contributions. Make this link explicit in your comment.
  • Contribute something that builds on or springs from what others have said. Be explicit about the way you are building on the other person’s thoughts.
  • Make a summary observation that takes into account several people’s contributions and that touches on a recurring theme in the discussion.
  • Express appreciation for how others comments have helped your understanding.
  • Point to a specific passage in the assigned text that is particularly helpful either to illuminate or to problematize the current direction of the discussion.

Adapted from:

Ashley Montgomery

Assistant Dean of Teaching, Learning & Assessment 

University of Maine at Farmington


Being Human Online During COVID-19

Even before COVID-19, there has long been an emphasis on “humanizing online learning,” or pushing back on the criticism of online learning as a solitary, disconnected learning environment. The #HumanizeOL movement emphasizes practices familiar to the Community of Inquiry framework, which consists of social presence, teaching presence, and cognitive presence in online learning (Garrison, Anderson, & Archer, 2000). The bottom line is that online environments can be engaging, humanizing places if they are designed intentionally.

In the context of COVID-19, it is important to also remember that we are humans in front of and apart from screens. While much of our work has always been connected to screens, this pandemic has made almost all of our work facilitated through screens, and we should recognize the toll that can take on ourselves and our students. We lose our sense of time because we have been stripped of our normal routines. The new term “Zoombie” refers to how one feels after being in too many Zoom meetings (see one definition of Zoombie, plus #zoombie in use). These pandemic-related struggles remind us that we have bodies that need to stretch, move, and rest; minds that need to reflect, slow down, prioritize, and orient. Some of this can happen with a screen, but we also need to step away.

In the spirit of attending to human needs, this teaching tip offers questions upon which to reflect. 

Your Work and Wellness

  • What habits and routines ground you during remote work? 
  • Do you move in meaningful, restorative ways through exercise or other active means?
  • What boundaries can you set for work realms and rest? What signs have you set for when new or revised boundaries are needed (i.e. when your computer should be turned off for the day?)
  • When do you feel your best, and how can these points be extended, more frequent, or best used?
  • What you might need to put on hold or let go of in light of how life has changed?
  • What most motivates and energizes you? 

Students and Teaching

  • Do you encourage student wellness with words and course design? We can remind students in the syllabus that all of the normal supports and resources usually listed in the syllabus are still available to them (counseling, tutoring), and additionally add what is available specific to current struggles, such as additional financial support. 
  • Can students take some course learning on the go? Does some of the course material involve podcasts or mobile-friendly reading? Can some student activities take place on the go, such as handwritten notes, place-based photos, or their own video or audio?
  • Do you express empathy in words and course design? The syllabus is a great place to start (see an Adjusted Syllabus Statement written soon after the sudden shift to online, which can be further adjusted for current semesters).
  • How are names used in courses? We love the sound of our own name, and using student names in class feedback text or videos is a powerful way to pull students in and together. The Sharing Your Name Pronunciation Teaching Tip provides direction on how the class can better know one another’s names. If you use discussion forums, I like having students sign off posts with the name they go by, and when replying to others address them by name.
  • How do you and your students get to express and share who you are? When I first started teaching online, I was intrigued by the lives, interests, struggles, and talents of my students. I often found the composition of my online classes more diverse and face-to-face classes, because online students were out in the world, and their learning was informed by experiences. This realization made me want to invite my students to share their stories as often as possible.
  • When and how do you ask students how they are doing, and enable students to do this for one another? Students can be reminded of how to communicate with one another and can perhaps discuss ways beyond the LMS they’d like to communicate. Students can use Google Chat or walkie talkie apps such as Voxer to connect outside of class.

Additional Insight and Resources

Adapted from:

Christina Moore

Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning

Oakland University


Engaging Students in Zoom

Will your first day of class be in Zoom this semester? Are you wondering how to build community and excitement for your course in this platform? Find out more in this article on the first day of class in Zoom.



The Last Day of Class: It’s More Important Now Than Ever

I was chatting, well zooming actually, with a colleague who felt inclined to not have a final class session given students seemed so exhausted. I absolutely understand this inclination but suggested otherwise. I was not promoting intentional course closure due to policy or typical good practice, but because this semester is like no other we’ve experienced and students will likely be grateful for it.

A webinar on trauma-informed pedagogyconfirmed my belief in the importance of closure this semester. Let’s consider why. Your class, while inconsistently “delivered,” might have been the only consistent and stable community for students this semester. Many students had to leave their college residences and support networks. For some, the only thing in their lives that stayed the same was your presence, and that of other students in your course. As a result, the termination of this semester, as well as a very uncertain future, may cause some students a discernable sense of grief and sadness (especially for those graduating).

We hope that our students will carry with them what they have learned about the course content but also about humanity during this traumatic time, and apply, integrate, and develop this knowledge well beyond the final assessment. The last day of class can offer you a chance to foresee the lasting impact of your teaching. And, more importantly this semester, it can offer the gift of gratitude to each other and create closure for the learning community.

So what does class closure look like in a remote environment? Here are some ideas that can be done synchronously or asynchronously:

  • Co-construct a quilt of contributed images from students that capture a significant learning for them.
    • These can be put together in a photo collage (e.g., Adobe Spark Post, PicCollage), video montage (e.g., Animoto), etc.
  • Have a virtual party and have students co-create the playlist for light background music.
    • It’s best to not have the party be food focused given Ramadan.
  • Have students give “gifts” of an image, quote, or poem to the class community and be sure you give one too.
  • Have students co-construct a letter to next semester’s/year’s class.
  • Have a class discussion based on a few questions you pose prior to a final zoom meeting or a final online discussion. Examples follow:
    • What did you expect to learn in this course?  Did you learn it? Why or why not?
    • What is the most important thing you will take away from this course?
    • Did your view of [topic/discipline] change as a result of this course?  Why or why not?
    • What was one thing you were surprised to learn this semester (about the content, yourself, or others)?
    • If someone asked you, “what did you learn in [name of class],” how would you respond?  How do you think you would respond in five years from now?

Additionally, you could ask the class if they would like to stay connected through some sort of social media, etc. Whatever you decide, such activities at the end of a course might suspend, even for a moment, students’ focus on the stress of their final grades and/or the pandemic. It may help them to see that there was some gain (e.g., in learning, in community) during a time of great loss. Such closure can help us honor that education is more than an end in itself, but rather a path to greater understanding of ourselves, others, and the world around us.

By Tasha Souza

Center for Teaching and Learning


Upholding Academic Integrity While Teaching Online

The International Center for Academic Integrity and Dr. Tricia Bertram-Gallant of UC San Diego hosted a webinar on Friday, March 20 titled “Going Remote with Integrity.” This month’s teaching tip combines insights from that webinar with practices promoted by Boise State’s Academic Integrity Program. 

Transparency and clarity about academic integrity expectations matter in any context but may be even more crucial now as students adjust to the online landscape for their courses. This is not because we are concerned that students will engage in more academic misconduct, but because it matters to provide the same level of learning, support, fairness, and honesty that students are accustomed to in the face-to-face environment as they make the transition online. Academic integrity best practices call for proactively and positively upholding a strong ethical culture of fairness and integrity. Here are some recommendations for doing so online:

    • Create an academic integrity landing page in your Canvas course. This can include links to the Student Code of Conduct and the academic integrity statement from your syllabus, but even more importantly, it should include information about why academic integrity matters in your course and in your field. 
    • Assign a brief mid-semester assessment related to academic integrity. This could be anything from a self-reflection about academic integrity online, a quiz about your syllabus statement, or the Academic Integrity Program’s online academic integrity workshop
  • Clarify academic integrity expectations, particularly on higher-stakes assessments. Consider what students need to know about honest collaboration, citing sources, engaging with online resources, and taking exams online fairly and honestly in your course. Include further guidelines for these items in your assignment instructions, and be available to discuss them in greater detail with students. 
  • Reach out for support. The Academic Integrity Program is here to consult with you on any question or concern you have related to academic integrity. Reach out to Madison Hansen at (208) 426-1527 or for support. 


Wise Feedback: Using Constructive Feedback to Motivate Learners

How many of us have thought about giving useful feedback to our students and fallen short? Moreover, how many times have we given what we thought was extensive feedback, and seen no improvements in student performance? Or that some students were utilizing our feedback while others did not? How can we provide constructive feedback which will be useful to all learners in that it serves to both instruct as well as motivate students? One way might be to provide “wise feedback.” 

What is wise feedback?

Wise feedback is targeted feedback which conveys high expectations, the instructor’s genuine belief that those expectations can be achieved by the student, and provides concrete information to help the student meet the expectations. Here, “wise” does not necessarily mean smarter or better. Instead, wise feedback refers to psychological interventions which are attuned to how people make sense of themselves, others, and social situations which may affect their learning.  

How do I provide wise feedback?

I am giving you these comments because I have very high expectations and I know that you can reach them.” or “The expectations in this course are high and I know you can do great work.  The feedback here is designed to help you get there.”  Using this framing when providing feedback to your students helps to build trust, signal belonging, and combine high standards with the assurance that people can reach them. Obviously, simple assurances and trust in the abilities of others are in themselves not sufficient to guarantee success. It is therefore essential to also include constructive criticism, clear pathways/specific directions, and guidance on how students can achieve success. 

Who can benefit from wise feedback?

While all students can benefit from wise feedback, studies have shown that students from cultures which have traditionally suffered from race-based stigma, seem to get additional benefits from wise feedback (Cohen, Steele, & Ross, 1999; Yeager et al, 2014).

Communicating high expectations and providing students with the support to meet them is crucial. Students can thrive when they are challenged. But they need to understand the expectations, know how to meet them, and feel that the instructor believes in their capabilities. 


Evidence-Based Strategies and Practices

How to Instruct and Motivate Through Feedback: A Top 1 List

Pinkcast 2.16: This is how to give better feedback in just 19 words

The Science of “Wise Interventions”: Applying a Social Psychological Perspective to Address Problems and Help People Flourish

Cohen, G.L., Steele, C.M., & Ross, L.D. (1999). The mentor’s dilemma: Providing critical feedback across the racial divide. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 25(10), 1302-1318.

Yeager, D. S., Purdie-Vaughns, V., Garcia, J., Apfel, N., Brzustoski, P., Master, A., . . . Cohen, G. L. (2014). Breaking the cycle of mistrust: Wise interventions to provide critical feedback across the racial divide. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 143(2), 804-824.

Submitted by:
Devshikha Bose
Instructional Design Consultant
IDEA Shop/Center for Teaching and Learning
Boise State University


Supporting Student Learning with Transparent Assignments

Have you ever graded an assignment and found that some students completely missed the mark? While it may be tempting to blame the students, it is also possible that you haven’t provided them with enough information to complete the assignment successfully. This may be especially true for first generation students and other underrepresented students who are less likely to have the institutional knowledge of how college works, including hidden assumptions and expectations of faculty. This can be especially problematic when course assignments are designed with assumptions about prior knowledge or hidden expectations built into them. 

A study by Winkelmes et al. (2016) found that making assignments more transparent helped students navigate assignments more successfully and had the additional effect of increasing students’ sense of belonging and improving retention rates. This was true for all students, but there was a disproportionate positive effect on underrepresented minorities and first generation college students. Transparent assignments simply make the purpose, task, and criteria for an assignment explicit. 

To create more transparent assignments, consider the following questions, which are adapted from resources developed by Mary-Ann Winkelmes:

  1. PURPOSE: Communicate to students what knowledge or skills they will gain from completing the assignment and how they will be valuable to students.
    1. Knowledge
      1. What knowledge will students gain from completing the assignment?
      2. How does that knowledge relate to other topics in your course or other courses?
      3. How will the knowledge be relevant for students in their lives beyond your course or beyond college?
    2. Skills
      1. What skills will students practice while doing the assignment?
      2. How do those skills relate to other contexts or examples where these skills were important, within your course or beyond?
      3. How will these skills be valuable to students in their lives beyond your course or beyond college?
  1. TASK: Communicate the steps that students should take to complete the assignment. 
    1. Are all of the steps needed to complete the assignment laid out clearly? If any steps are implied, consider making them more explicit.
    2. What are the common pitfalls that students fall into on this assignment, and how can you help them avoid those?
    3. Are there opportunities for students to get feedback on parts of the assignment before the larger assignment is due?
  1. CRITERIA: Share the rubrics or checklists that you will use to evaluate student work with students before the assignment is due.
    1. Would a rubric or a checklist be most appropriate for evaluating your assignment?
    2. If you use a rubric on this assignment, is it written at a level that would be clear to a student?
    3. Are there opportunities for students to evaluate their own work or other student work using the rubric or checklist that you have provided?

Additional resources and examples of transparent assignments can be found at


Winkelmes, M., M. Bernacki, J. Butler, M. Zochowski, J. Golanics, and K. H. Weavil. 2016. A teaching intervention that increases underserved college students’ success. Peer Review, Vol. 8, No. 1/2.

Submitted by:
Sarah Dalrymple
Center for Teaching and Learning
Boise State University


Reflection Exercise on a Course’s “Big Question”

In What the Best College Teachers Do, Ken Bain describes how many of the teachers that he studied prepared to teach by devising a “big question,” one that their course would help students address. I use a big question to encourage students to reflect on what they have learned in a course. In the first class meeting of a semester, I present a big question that the course will address and ask the students to write a page or less in which they reflect on the question, and write a response to the question as they would answer it now and indicating what knowledge they used to formulate the answer. This provides me with an understanding of the knowledge base and potential misconceptions that the students bring to the course. At the end of the semester, I ask the students to address the original big question again. I encourage them to revisit their response paper from the first class.

At the time students write the first paper, I indicate that there will be a second part to this assignment, one that will require them to respond to the same question at the end of the semester. I give points for completing this “reflection” assignment, only if both papers have been submitted.

Students use varied approaches when they respond to the question a second time. Some students incorporate comments from the first paper into the second paper, often refuting points made in the first paper with new insights gained through the semester. Other students write the second response and do not look at their earlier response until they have completed the second paper. Still other students start with their first response, and then expand on that first response to create a second response. Regardless of the approach taken, students are much more expansive in the second response than they were on their earlier attempt to answer the question. I have found that having students answer the same big question for the course at the beginning and again at the end of the course serves multiple purposes including encouraging students to reflect on their learning and address misconceptions, while providing a very practical way for me to assess the impact of the course on student learning.

Resource:  Ken Bain, What the Best College Teachers Do, 1994, Harvard University Press Learning through Reflection:

Contributed by:
Mary Stephen, Director
Reinert Center for Teaching Excellence
Associate Professor, Educational Studies
Saint Louis University
St. Louis, MO


Using Text Expansion Tools to Enrich Feedback

Feedback is essential to student learning and one place faculty consistently spend a great deal of time is in typing up comments on written work. Brian Wilson, an instructional design technology specialist at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln who also teaches English online, makes use of text-expansion software to enrich the feedback he gives to students in a time-efficient way. 

When he finds himself explaining the same thing to more than one student or frequently referring students to specific resources, he adds this content to his “comment library” in PhraseExpress, a text-expanding software package for Windows. The next time he wants to give this feedback to a student or refer them to a resource, he can do it with a single keystroke instead of retyping the whole thing.  

This saves him a great deal of time and provides his students with richer and more useful feedback.  For more information, please view the short video he made about this topic: or feel free to contact him at

Submitted by:
Sydney E. Brown, Ph.D.
Assistant Director, Innovative Instructional Design
Center for Transformative Teaching
University of Nebraska-Lincoln


Are Your Students Getting It?

As teachers, I think that might be the most important question we can ask ourselves. You can “cover” as much content as you want, but if your students aren’t understanding it, it doesn’t matter. In addition to providing you the feedback you need in order to reteach or move forward, formative assessment also provides students the opportunity to learn. Retrieval practice is gaining traction in education and is showing some promising results. One problem – time. Constant quizzing (and therefore feedback) takes time. So how can you get the data you need and help students learn?

Technology! Isn’t teaching in the 21st century great? Technology can provide you with opportunities for formative assessment and retrieval practice without adding too much to your already full plate. Here are some of my favorite tech tools for these low stakes, informative assessments: 

  • Plickers: You probably know about clicker technology. This is a lower tech option. You print cards for your students and download the app, so only the instructor needs technology. Scan the classroom and quickly see what students know or don’t know. Pro Tip: Just embed the questions into your PowerPoint so you don’t have to switch back and forth to the website. 
  • Quizizz: This is a fun, student-paced review game of multiple choice questions. Students are awarded with a meme based on if they are correct or incorrect. Students are able to review their answers after the quiz. Students need devices but no projector is needed. Pro Tip: You can add your own memes for game. This could be a great get to know you for students at the beginning of the semester – have them send you a meme they create! 
  • Quizlet Live: Turn flashcards into a highly collaborative review game! Once you make (or find) a flashcard set on Quizlet, you can use the Live feature which groups students and has them compete together to match the cards to their definitions. Students need devices but no projector is needed. Pro Tip: Assign students chapters to make the flashcard set for you. 
    • Quizlet website: 

Additional Resources:

Submitted by:
Rebecca Taylor
Instructional Technologist
Center for Teaching Excellence
Heidelberg University


Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS)

Want to encourage thoughtful analysis from your students? Want a new way to start your class session? Visual thinking strategies (VTS) are simple activities designed to build students’ observation and communication skills while developing analytical skills that use detail to cultivate thoughtful understanding. Employing VTS in class discussions provides students with opportunities to form conclusions based on evidence rather than assumptions – a foundational principle of critical thinking and a skill employers say they want in our graduates.

VTS begins by giving students 20-30 seconds to look silently at a visual image of some kind. The image is often a work of art, but VTS works with any type of visual: a graph, mathematical equation, medical image, database coding, blueprint, etc. After silent looking, the professor/discussion leader asks the first of three questions: What’s going on in this image?  Phrasing the question in this way (as opposed to the simpler question What do you see in this image?) is essential to helping students develop their thinking. The former question elicits analysis-type responses; the later question elicits simple observation-type responses. After each response the professor/discussion leader asks the next important question: What do you see that makes you say that?  This question requires students to identify and articulate the evidence used in their observations. The third VTS question, What more can we find? encourages dialogue based on further careful observation. 

I use VTS at the beginning of a class session to help students focus on prior content or prepare them for the content to come. VTS is also a terrific way to refocus students’ energy and attention during longer class periods.

Additional information about VTS is available at these sites:

Other VTS resources:

Adapted from:
Deborah Armstrong
Associate Director, Academic Development
Center for Teaching and Learning
Macomb Community College


Tips for a More Inclusive Syllabus

The syllabus can be more than a contract, it can be an important tool to communicate the value of inclusion, diversity and student success and add a positive start to your semester. The following tips provide three simple ways to create a more inclusive syllabus and start your course off more positively from day one.  

  • Start with a welcoming message.

Why is this course interesting? What skills can students hope to gain? How does this course relate to their everyday lives? The answer to these questions can spark students’ interest and prepares them to explore the content of your course. Before jumping into the technicalities of grades and policies, create a welcome message or expand your course description to include reasons that students should look forward to engaging with course content, and you as the instructor. For students who may be new to college or nervous about your course, this can help to alleviate some concerns before the course even begins 

  • Use student-centered language.  

Instead of writing learning outcomes as if they were simply for the course catalog, write them for the students. Statements such as “at the end of this course you will be able to” can communicate the importance of the student in the learning process. It also implies an expectation of engagement, and speaks to each person in the class directly as opposed to referring to everyone in the course under the general category of “student”.  

  • Create an inclusive teaching statement.

Also known as a diversity and inclusion statement or a respect for diversity statement, an inclusive teaching statement signals explicitly that your course is inclusive of all students. An inclusive teaching statement should express the course climate you strive to create and invite students to be active participants. Many statements also encourage students to reach out to the faculty member if they have any concerns about the class and invite suggestions students may have to make the class better. See a few examples here.  

Adapted from:  Simuelle Myers, Assistant Director,  Center for the Advancement of Teaching at Temple University

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