We’ve summarized some resources on important topics to consider when teaching at the college level.
A selection of teaching topics include:
- Diversity in the classroom
- Course design
- Teaching methods
- Teaching and learning with technology
- Grading and assessment
- Evaluating teaching
You can also search within the Searle Center Library for publications available for check out.
Teaching in a diverse environment brings benefits and challenges. The benefits – including improved learning outcomes, increased empathy, and greater creativity – have been demonstrated in the research. But the challenges can raise daunting questions: What if I alienate some of my students? What if I inadvertently say the wrong thing? Why are my efforts to help some students not working?
The best approach to teaching within or about diversity is to create an inclusive classroom – using principles of universal design – in which all students feel welcome and engaged in learning. Read how in the resources below.
- Creating inclusive college classrooms
- Universal Design for Learning guidelines
- Teaching for diversity and inclusiveness in STEM disciplines
- Teaching about diversity
- Information on stereotype threat
- Teaching in an international/multicultural classroom
- Multiculturalism and Science: Teaching Diversity Values in ‘Value-Neutral’ Science
While designing a course from scratch can be a daunting task, simply revising a course can also present its challenges. Identifying the content and skills you would like students to attain as a result of your class is an excellent place to start.
- Designing better learning experiences, tips and handouts
- Course design – Vanderbilt University
- Course design – Carnegie Mellon
- Course design – University of Michigan
- Course design - Constructive Alingment handout
When deciding on which teaching methods to use in their teaching, instructors should first reflect on the learning objectives they would like their students to achieve.
Learning objectives should inform the selection of teaching methods. In one class, interactive lecture might be appropriate, while in another class, small group learning activities, discussion, or active learning strategies methods might be more effective.
Regardless of the teaching activity or strategy selected, instructors should think through their purpose and goals of using that particular approach.
- What is interactive lecture?
- Working in small groups
- Facilitating class discussions
- Information on active learning
While it may be tempting to assume that a flashy new technology will transform teaching and learning, it’s important to first reflect on your overall course goals and learning objectives. How will this technology support those goals and objectives? How does that technology support learning?
Whether you’re using a tool like “clickers” (personal response systems) or “flipping the classroom,” technology must be integrated effectively in order to enhance learning.
- Getting Started with Technology
- Information on classroom response systems (clickers)
- Flipping the classroom
How you assess student learning has important repercussions for student motivation and take-aways. For a broad discussion of the underlying rationale for assessing learning, strategies and tools for assessing learning in a variety of contexts, and practical examples of student learning assessment, go to the Assessment of Student Learning website.
Gathering feedback about the course and instruction--whether through a survey, focus group, or a more informal means--can be vital for identifying the aspects of a course that are going well, and what could be improved. By not waiting until the very end of the term, instructors may be able to make timely adjustments to the course or instruction. This also offers students an opportunity to voice concerns and questions that they might not otherwise have posed, particularly if the feedback is gathered anonymously.
Mid Course Checks:
Instructors might find it helpful to ask their students a set of questions (either in-class or using an online survey tool) related to their experience of learning in the class. The instructor might ask students about what is working well, what could be improved, and what the students themselves could do to take responsibility for their own learning in the course. It is often useful to share the results of a mid course check with the students and to discuss what can be changed and what can’t or shouldn’t be, depending on the instructor’s rationale.
Critical Incident Questionnaire:
The Critical Incident Questionnaire (CIQ) was designed by Brookfield (2012) as a means to let students critically reflect on a given learning experience, rather than focusing solely on the instructor or instruction. The questions include:
- At what moment were you most engaged as a learner?
- At what moment were you most distanced as a learner?
- What action that anyone took in this session did you find most helpful?
- What action that anyone took in the session did you find most confusing?
- What surprised you most about the session?
The CIQ can be a useful alternative to a standard survey, because it can be adapted to a single session, course, or program.
Small Group Analyses (SGA)
The SGA is a confidential service for Northwestern faculty, post-docs, and graduate students provided by the Searle Center for Advancing Learning and Teaching. The SGA provides instructors with detailed and constructive mid-term feedback accrued directly from their students about the instruction and their learning in the class. This process often yields information and insights that do not emerge from end-of-term course evaluations (CTECS).
Learning from learning analytics
Canvas, Northwestern’s Learning Management System, allows instructors to view course and student learning analytics. Course analytics show the activity associated with the course, assignment submissions, grades, and students. With course analytics, instructors can see all course activity for all users in the class, including such activities as taking a quiz, commenting on a discussion, or submitting an assignment. The analytics show the distribution of grades for each assignment. Individual student data will also reveal how a student is doing in the course. Together, these data may help instructors to predict how students will react to course activities; identify at-risk students or students needing help; and provide a deeper understanding of what students are achieving in the course. For more information please refer to NUIT’s Faculty Support Service and the Canvas Help guides.
Making sense of CTECs
Teaching evaluations can be a valuable resource for instructors as they continue to improve and enhance their teaching, but it can be hard to identify the most meaningful bits. Instructors may find it particularly difficult to make sense of contradictory opinions, feedback that doesn’t seem to reflect what happened in class, or emotion-filled comments.
Consider the following comments from two students in the same class:
- “I didn’t learn a lot in class. It would have been better to give us the lecture notes so that we’d know exactly what the prof was getting at.”
- “Great class – definitely an opportunity to think independently.”
These students are both expressing their genuine response to the course, but clearly had different ideas about what the course should look like. The first felt that the instructor had let her down by failing to clearly explain the material, while the second enjoyed the degree of autonomy she was given to explore ideas on her own.
Instructors may find it helpful to:
- Seek to understand the messages behind the comments, and consider the perspectives and approaches to learning that students bring with them.
For instance, students who expect a more transactional approach to the course – you talk and I’ll listen – will feel annoyed when they are asked to engage more actively or to play a role in running the course. Students who are looking for expectations to be crystal clear will feel frustrated when there is some ambiguity built into assignments or grading criteria.[i]
- Add their own questions to the CTECs (or other end-of-term ratings).
If instructors ask their own questions about specific assignments, activities or methods used in the class, they are more likely to glean useful, relevant and focused feedback from their students.
- Be transparent about their own expectations for students early on.
Instructors also have a fair degree of control over the expectations their students have of the course. For instance, if instructors want students to engage actively in discussions or in-class assignments, they should let their students know why this is important. When students understand the kind of thinking that an instructor is expecting, and believe that the instructor’s reason for a given activity is valid, they’re more likely to accept even activities that don’t align with their personal preferences (and to be easier on the instructor in the end-of-course evaluations).
- Making sense of student evaluations
- Using student evaluations to improve teaching
- Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATs)
[i] Entwistle, N.J. & Tait, H. (1990). Approaches to learning, evaluations of teaching, and preferences for contrasting academic environments. Higher Education,19, 169-194.