Services for all Clark Faculty to succeed in excellence.
Educational and Professional Development
Workshops are frequently held for faculty, graduate students, and undergraduates. Visit our events page to learn about upcoming workshops.
Peer Learning Assistants (PLAS)
PLAS are undergraduate students selected by the faculty member to facilitate teaching and learning activities that might otherwise be difficult for the faculty member to carry out by him/herself. Experience at other institutions and in several First Year Intensive Seminars (FYIs) and other introductory level courses at Clark has shown that PLAs are most useful in facilitative roles, e.g. giving students feedback on early drafts of writing, leading small group discussions, working with individual students who are having difficulty, facilitating group project work (in or out of class), and/or facilitating online discussions on CICADA. Because they are undergraduates, as is the practice at Clark, PLAs do not grade student work, and they generally do not have the content expertise to serve as substitutes for graduate teaching assistants. PLAs are paid per hour from federal work-study funds or from other institutional funds, or some choose to take academic credit (e.g. independent study or directed reading) for their work. PLAs generally work about 10-15 hr/wk. CETL offers assistance in redesigning your course to incorporate the inquiry based learning that PLAs can help to facilitate. To discuss how PLAs might help improve your students’ learning, please contact Michael Bamberg.
We offer confidential individual teaching consultations to anyone who teaches at Clark, including full time and part time faculty and graduate teaching assistants. Consultations are typically requested when an instructor has a specific teaching area in which s/he has questions or wishes to improve, but can also be requested for more general teaching feedback. A consultation typically begins with a meeting to determine your interests and needs and to review your course. If you wish, we may proceed to one or more classroom observations, with written feedback provided, and/or continue with additional meetings. Other possibilities include, but are not limited to, videotaping your class and reviewing your student ratings. You make the decisions, and we tailor the consultation to your needs and available time. Most importantly, the consultation is completely confidential. Unless you choose to share information or reports with other people, no one else will ever know that the consultation took place, let alone its content or results. Consultations are done by Michael Bamberg.
Understanding FERPA’s implications for your teaching
see the materials from a session, presented by a nationally recognized expert, that lead faculty through the complexities of complying with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) of 1974. LeRoy Rooker discussed basic definitions, regulatory implications, HIPPA, implications for new technologies, law enforcement records and much, much more.
There are a number of local and national conference and workshops on effective teaching and learning. Please note that if you are interested in attending, CETL can provide partial funding.
Faculty Development Workshops
Stay tuned for a list of events and workshops on teaching and learning excellence!
In the meantime, you can refer to some of our past workshops listed below..
General Information for New Faculty
Being a new faculty member is both exciting and stressful! Research indicates that new faculty arrive on campuses with enthusiasm and optimism about opportunities for growth in their careers. Over time, however, work-related stress often increases and work-related satisfaction often decreases. New faculty satisfaction and success have both been shown to be enhanced by positive and supportive social and intellectual relationships with colleagues, support for both research and teaching, and clear and constructive feedback on their work.
In order to help provide new faculty with such support, Clark is pleased to offer a mentoring program for new faculty. All first year tenure-track faculty will be assigned mentors prior to their arrival at Clark, unless they “opt out” of the program, and other new faculty may request a mentor. Participation on the part of both mentors and mentees is completely voluntary.
Mentors are selected according to the following criteria:
- are tenured faculty;
- are successful in both teaching and research;
- are in a discipline that is related to, but not the same, as the mentee’s;
- have demonstrated the interest, personality, and skills to be good mentors.
Mentors may assist with issues of classroom teaching, developing a program of scholarship, time management and priority setting, and/or other areas as needed. The formal mentoring relationship is anticipated to last for the first year of the new faculty member’s appointment, and is anticipated to continue informally in subsequent years. It may be terminated at the request of either member of the team.
Mentors and mentees will be invited to write a statement of a paragraph to a page which sets out the objective(s) of the mentoring relationship (tailored to the needs of the mentee) and how they plan to achieve them. Possible strategies could include (but are not limited to) regular meetings on selected topics, classroom visits, review of materials written by the mentee (teaching or research related), regular informal conversations, etc. It is recommended that each mentor-mentee team meet about once per week.
- information for New Faculty
- Academic Program Requirements (by Department)
- Academic Advisor Newsletter (information about plagiarism, student services)
- Academic Advising Handbook [PDF]
- The 3Rs: Academic Advising Handbook 2013-2014 [.pdf]
- Advice to Prospective Majors, for Faculty and Students
- Faculty Handbook
- These links are for resources from schools other than Clark University that may prove helpful as you plan your courses.
- Orientation to College Teaching (San Francisco State University)
- 7 Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education (Arthur W. Chickering & Zelda F. Gamson, 1987)
- Implementing the 7 Good Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education: Technology as Lever (The TLT Group; A Non-Profit Organization)
- How to Create a Syllabus (University of Michigan)
- Teaching with Technology (The TLT Group; A Non-Profit Organization)
- POGIL: Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning
- Teaching and Learning Strategies (Johns Hopkins University)
- Active Learning (The Abilene Christian University)
- Websites for Instructional Use (Clemson University)
- Teaching Strategies (University of Michigan)
- Colleges of Worcester Consortium
- Various tips for being an effective teacher (Honolulu Community College)
The CETL library has many more books available, so if you are interested in a specific topic, let us know and we can let you know what we have! Alternatively, you can check out a full listing of our books . The following texts pertain to beginning your role as a new faculty member.
Boice, R. 1992. The New Faculty Member. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers. [Advice for overcoming common obstacles and building a support system in academic life.]
Boice, R. 2000. Advice for New Faculty Members. Nihil Nimus. Boston: Allyn & Bacon. [Advice on teaching and writing. Check out the website for information about this book.]
Boyle, E. & Rothstein, H. 2003. Essentials of College and University Teaching: A Practical Guide. Stillwater, OK: New Forum Press, Inc. [Check out the website for information about this book.
Gross Davis, B. 2009. Tools for Teaching (2nd edition) . San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.[A thorough compendium of effective teaching practices. Check out the website for more information about this book.]
Shoenfeld, C. A. & Magnan, R. 1994. Mentor in a Manual: Climbing the Academic Ladder to Tenure (2nd edition). Madison, WI: Atwood Publishing. [What to expect, how to balance responsibilities, how to be prepared as an academic. For more information about this book check out the website.]
In November, CETL sponsored a lunch event for faculty, staff and students where we met to discuss results from the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE). Selected NSSE results were highlighted by small groups of staff, faculty, and students to pinpoint some of the places where Clark is excelling and other places where there is still room for growth. The collective conversation focused primarily on aspects of learning at Clark that are particularly notable as areas where we might think that we are doing well – but there is still room for improvement. Rather than offering concrete solutions, the CETL tip for faculty this month aspires to encourage conversation across campus between faculty about the results from the NSSE. How can we use this information to enrich the learning environment we provide for our students?
NSSE – a Tool for Understanding the Institutional Learning Environment
NSSE offers comparative data on student self-reports of how engaged our students are in activities that are known from research to promote learning. NSSE surveys first and fourth year students from colleges and universities nationwide about student participation in learning practices that foster both personal and professional development. “Survey items on The National Survey of Student Engagement represent empirically confirmed â€˜good practices’ in undergraduate education. That is, they reflect behaviors by students and institutions that are associated with desired outcomes of college.” NSSE can be a useful tool for faculty who want to understand how students perceive the institutional learning climate. It can help us reflect on questions such as what do we value, and how do student reports about our practices measure up to our aims and expectations?
The remainder of this tip is password protected, because it discusses Clark’s 2006 NSSE Results.
Most teachers would agree that there are many parallels between the classroom and the stage. The art of teaching often lies not only in what information is presented, but also in how it is presented. Viewing the teaching role as a type of performance provides possibilities for instructors to revitalize their own approaches to familiar material.
Rosenshine and Furst (1973) found that a teachers’ enthusiasm positively relates to student achievement gains. With this in mind, one reason for approaching the classroom as a stage is that your students may actually achieve more in teaching environments when you as the instructor take risks in communicating your own enthusiasm for the subject you teach. Remember, excitement can be contagious; developing your own style of presentation can be an asset to student learning.
Adopting a new attitude to teaching and learning experiences generates question asking as a practice. Every time we try something new, we place ourselves in a â€˜beginners mind.’ In the process of thinking about students as a type of audience, instructors may begin asking questions such as: how well-received was the material of the day? What kinds of responses did my interactions with students elicit? These questions, among others, encourage reflection. By making a link between teaching and performing, instructors can actively sharpen their lecture delivery skills. This in turn, may result in more active engagement by students.
Reflect on the dynamics of previous classes and what you could do differently. For example, if students have appeared preoccupied or disengaged during the last class period you might consider starting class with a song or poem that characterizes the era or subject being studied. This tactic might also be employed at the mid-point in a class when students may need a change of pace. As noted by Tauber and Mester (1994), “if we expect students to absorb the material presented and discussed in class, we must cultivate their attention by offering the material in an interesting and captivating way.”
Some tips for approaching teaching as performance are:
- Before class, put your notes aside and get physically ready for class. Try a few humming exercises to loosen up your vocal cords. This will allow for more vocal variety in your speech.
- Know your material well enough to make eye contact with your students. You will enjoy greater freedom of movement and interaction if you feel comfortable with the content you are presenting.
- Use props and costumes to adopt different roles in the classroom. You might try coming in dressed as the famous theorist and scientist about whom students are reading.
- Use storytelling as a method of teaching. This approach will allow you to be more animated in your discussion of course materials.
- Play with space. You might try rearranging the classroom by moving tables and chairs so that students become part of the stage.
- Move in the space – rather than being tethered to the podium, try walking down the center or side aisle, or standing at the back of the room.
Rosenshine, B., & Furst, N. (1973). Research on teacher performance criteria. In B.O. Smith (Ed.), Research in teacher education: A symposium. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
Tauber, R.T. & Mester, C.S. (1994). Acting lessons for teachers. Westport, CN: Praeger.
Timpson, W. M., Burgoyne, S. Jones, C. S., and Jones, W. (1997). Teaching and Performing. Madison, WI: Magna Publications.
Seize the opportunity to set the climate for the rest of the semester by planning thoughtfully for the first day of classes. Consider how your goals and objectives for students are most likely to be received. You might begin this task by thinking back to what first spurred your own interest in the subject matter. Was there a mentor in your own life who got you curious about the topics you now teach? When you enter the classroom with an attitude of dynamic engagement, your passion for the subject matter can have a contagious effect. You will set the tone for the rest of the semester on this first day so whatever teaching style is your preferred method, be sure to incorporate it into your plans for the first day.
Before the first day of class, you may find it useful to visit the space in which you will be teaching. Familiarize yourself with the layout and identify any tools you will need that are not present in the room, such as technology or media equipment.
Some major goals for the first day of class may include:
Review Your Expectations – course objectives as outlined in the course syllabus are an ideal springboard for this discussion.
Establish Rapport – build a sense of community in the classroom by letting students know they are more than just faces in an anonymous sea of learners.
Engage Students Interactively – this is an important step in letting students know that they will be active participants in the learning process. Some approaches to getting students involve may include self introductions, small or large group discussion, or 1-minute writing tasks.
Factor in Time for Student Questions – create a learning environment that values inquiry by making time for students to voice their concerns.
Complete Administrative Tasks – hand out the course syllabus and finalize student enrollment status.
Online Resource Links
University California Berkeley – Office of Educational Development
Davis, Barbara Gross. Tools for Teaching. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1993.
Summer is a time to reflect and rejuvenate. As you transition from a schedule defined by class meetings, labs, and committee involvement, you may become curious about the latest publications on interactive teaching and approaches to redesigning the classroom setting. The following list provides a few reading recommendations that can fit easily into your carry on luggage or picnic basket as you head out to enjoy the outdoor weather.
Summer Reading Resources for Reflecting on Teaching
Creating Significant Learning Experiences: An Integrated Approach to Designing College Courses by L. Dee Fink
This book provides several conceptual and procedural tools for creatively designing courses that inspire student learning. It begins with the question – what kinds of learning will be significant for students and how can instructors create courses that corresponds to that type of learning? Focusing on how instructors can creatively adapt courses to illicit a significant learning experience for students, the underlying argument posed by this author is a move from content centered approaches to teaching to a learning centered approach.
The Achievement Gap in U.S. Education: Canaries in the Mine by Mano Singham
In this book, Mano Singham takes a look at the problem of the Black/White achievement gap in the context of larger political realities and argues that in order to understand it we must determine what is happening within the educational system as a whole.
Engaging Ideas: The Professor’s Guide to Integrating Writing, Critical Thinking, and Active Learning in the Classroom by John Bean (available in the CETL library)
John Bean’s book is a useful guide for teachers from any discipline that are interested in integrating writing activities into the classroom. The author introduces theories of learning and writing followed by concrete examples that show teachers how to encourage inquiry, exploration, discussion, and debate in their courses.
Introduction to Rubrics: An Assessment Tool to Save Grading Time, Convey Effective Feedback and Promote Student Learning by Dannelle Stevens and Antinia Levi (available in the CETL library)
This book provides a practical guide for creating and utilizing grading rubrics in the classroom setting. Throughout this text, Stevens and Levi offer examples and a step-by-step approach to designing a rubric that corresponds to your personal classroom needs.
Collaborative Learning Techniques: A Handbook for College Faculty by Elizabeth Barkley, K. Patricia Cross, Claire Howell Major (available in the CETL library)
Engaging students and promoting active learning, teachers across disciplines are incorporating collaborative learning into their teaching as a means for improving student learning experiences. This book provides instructors with detailed procedures for thirty collaborative learning techniques and offers practical suggestions on a wide variety of topics, including how to form groups in the classroom setting, assign roles, build team cohesion, conduct problem solving, and evaluate and grade student participation.
Writing to Learn: Strategies for Assigning and Responding to Writing Across the Disciplines: New Directions for Teaching and Learning Edited by Mary Deane Sorcinelli and Peter Elbow
This book is ideal for instructors who utilize writing as a key tool for learning in their classroom. It offers practical insight on how to provide students with effective feedback on their written work.
My Freshman Year: What a Professor Learned by Becoming a Student by Rebekah Nathan (available in CETL library)
This book offers a light reading introduction into what the life of a student is like. This eye opener covers topics from friendship, social life, engagement in the classroom and dorm life to experiences of racial and ethnic minorities and international students. Likely to change to the way you think about teaching!
On-Line Summer Resources for Recharging, Redesigning, and Reflecting on Teaching Techniques
In everyday communication, listening takes up half of our time – in and outside of the classroom (Newton, 1990). Lecturing can be a very effective means of providing a lot of information to students in a relatively short time period. By incorporating active learning and learn through inquiry principles into a lecture, students will likely leave a lecture even more informed, and with a greater comprehension for the content of the course and skills needed to succeed within the field. This month, we are offering tips on:
The Active Lecture
Prep time: a good lecture takes a while to craft. Allow time before the class to create a new lecture, or review past lecture notes – as well as noting what worked and didn’t after giving a lecture.
Use the board: we all need time to process information. Take time to write important concepts and definitions on the board. This gives students time to reflect on the material, and to make sure their notes are in order.
Arrange lecture for ease of note review: include headings and important concepts in your lecture and on the board. Students often are unsure of what material is important and how to arrange their notes. This could be remedied by giving them a copy of what good notes look like during the first class (either dummy notes, or sample notes from a previous student).
Give breaks: the average attention span for listening is about 10-15 minutes. One way to provide breaks is by periodically having students take a few minutes to work with material in a meaningful way – either by writing or discussing the material with a partner. Another option is to split the class time (not the people) up into thirds or quarters, and have some sections more interactive and other more informative.
Skills and Content
A well-designed lecture encourages students to: Develop strategies needed to learn material outside of class Participate in inquiry-based group projects Teach themselves how to learn
These skills can be achieved by allowing opportunities to maximize understanding and retention. For example:
Headlines: offer students keywords, verbal subheadings, or memory aids related to specific material. Better yet, have them generate these aids together.
Examples and analogies: relate the material to real life, and have students generate examples of how concepts relate to their own lives.
Videos: use videos to engage students in the material, then have them work in groups to answer a few key discussion questions.
Build interest: lead a lecture off with a story or interesting visual. You can use an overhead to present an initial case problem or test question that you prepare to motivate them to listen.
Real-time feedback offers tools for engagement and testing comprehension. Some examples:
Mazur’s (1997) peer instruction: give students a break from the lecture to think about the material and learn from each other. For example, students may be asked to convince a partner of a particular concept, which helps them think about the material reflectively and put those thoughts into words. Another example is to provide a Concept Test, short conceptual questions on the topic of discussion. Students are given time to come up with an answer, and then asked to discuss the answers with each other.
Involve students in lecture: offer short illuminating exercises that require students to apply concepts covered in the lecture.
Reinforce the lecture: use an application problem or have students review the lecture.
Think-pair-share: pose a probing question that cannot be answered based on rote memorization, or even in only one way. Students are given 30 seconds-1 minute to think of an answer, then pair with another student to discuss their responses, and then students are invited to share their responses with the class.
Lectures can be demanding and capture the attention of students if they are prepared, and allow for students to digest the material.
Cox, J.R. & Rogers, J.W. (2005). Enter: The (Well-Designed) Lecture. The Teaching Professor, v. 19(5): pp. 1 & 6.
Dunn, J.P. (1994). Reflections of a Recovering Lectureholic. The National Teaching and Learning Forum, v. 3(6): 1-4.
Mazur, E. (1997). Peer Instruction: A User’s Manual. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Millis, B.J. and Cottell, P.G. Jr. (1998). Cooperative Learning for Higher Education Faculty. Phoenix: American Council on Education, Oryx Press.
Newton, T. (1990). Improving Students’ Listening Skills. Idea Paper No. 23, Center for Faculty Evaluation and Development, Kansas State University.
Silberman, M. (1995). Active Learning: 101 Strategies for Teaching Any Subject. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon.
From the perspective of a learn through inquiry approach, the strategies that students learn are at least as important as the content itself. With such an approach, students learn skills such as problem solving and critical thinking as a way to work with and understand new material in any setting, in any topic matter. These skills apply to the real world and academia alike. In keeping with this emphasis, this month we offer tips for:
Teaching strategy, not content
Alice MacPherson has compiled a list called “96 Ways of Learning (or Teaching) Anything”, based on Gardner’s (1983) Multiple Intelligences. These strategies are often an interesting reminder of what instructors already do, but in some cases offer new insight. Below is a list of 16 strategies (arranged alphabetically, not ranked). Hopefully you will find them useful.
“The process is often as important as the content.” – anonymous
1. Abstract Symbols and Formulas – Learning through deciphering and extrapolation of symbolic representations of phenomena. Includes codes, calculations, number sequences, etc.
2. Analyzing Life Experience – Learning from the analysis of a significant life experience.
3. Case Study and Problem Based Learning – Learning by solving problems or discussing life dilemmas based on real situations.
4. Demonstration – Learning by observing and analyzing an expert performance.
5. Formal Debate – Learning by putting forward arguments from both sides of an issue, concern or question.
6. Group Discussion – Learning by verbal interaction with other learners.
7. In-class Writing – Learning by impromptu written reflection on a concept just presented in class.
8. Impromptu or Prepared Presentation – Learning by giving or listening to student presentations on a variety of topics.
9. Laboratory Method – learning from experimentation using social or science research models as well as action research and experience.
10. Lecture – Learning by listening to experts. Most common method of learning in education and one of the least effective as measured by enduring effect.
11. Poetry – Learning by reading or creating a variety of poem and prose forms.
12. Projects – Learning by completing individual or group projects, in or out of class.
13. Question/Answer – Learning from question-answer sessions with instructors or other learners.
14. Reading – Learning by reading books, pamphlets, magazines and other printed material.
15. Storytelling – Learning by listening to, telling or talking about stories or narratives.
16. Writing – Learning by writing down experiences of self and others including creative writing, journalism, documenting historical facts, etc.
Gardner, H. (1983). Frames of Mind. New York: Basic Books Inc.
A Clark University education has three signature components – Make a Difference, Experience Diverse Cultures, and Learn through Inquiry. It is this last signature that is the focus of the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning. Over the next semester, you will notice many changes to the website related to Learn through Inquiry, but in the meantime take some time to ponder the Learn through Inquiry approach.
“Humans are born inquirers. You can see it from the moment of birth: Babies use all of their senses to make connections with their environment, and through those connections they begin to make sense of their world. As children discover objects and situations that are puzzling or intriguing—things that provoke their curiosity—they begin asking questions and looking for ways to find answers, all in an effort to understand the world around them. This is the essence of the inquiry process.”
—National Science Foundation
About the Learn through Inquiry approach
“Learn through Inquiry describes Clark’s commitment to hands-on learning and problem solving. The skills needed for problem solving in the discipline are developed sequentially, through a pervasive pedagogy of engagement. Throughout their Clark experience, students learn by actively working through real problems, issues and questions, mastering modes of inquiry, and acquiring the knowledge base required to ask and to answer important questions. Each student has an opportunity to participate in a culminating discipline-based experience in the context of senior seminars, research, or other capstone experiences.”
Some general strategies for encouraging Learning through Inquiry in the classroom:
- Design activities for in class exploration of course material. This allows students to engage in inquiry in groups, and work with the material in more meaningful ways than passively listening to lectures.
- Design assignments that allow students to explore their own interests. Students are much more engaged and interested when they are allowed to explore their own interests in relation to the course material.
- Be clear about instructions for activities and assignments. Group activities can be very frustrating for students when your expectations are unclear.
- Share your goals for each activity and assignment with students. Not only does this help to clarify your expectations, but students feel like you are invested in their learning the material.
- Vary assignments and assessment and presentation methods. Since no two students learn alike, varying assignments, presentations, and assessments allows each student the opportunity to thrive in at least some of the exercises.
To think about
How do you already incorporate Learn through Inquiry in the classroom? If you would like your answer to this question included on the CETL web site, please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Last month, we provided tips about designing tests. Of course, there are many options for assessing student performance in the classroom. This month we offer two alternatives: reaction papers and in-class group projects.
[The following information about reaction papers comes from a report by Al McLeod, In Lieu of Tests, from the National Teaching and Learning Forum, vol. 4:4, 1995. This reports his analysis on the use of reaction papers from 65 courses ad 2,300 students.]
- The purpose of reaction papers is for students to summarize the main points in a class session and/or text and critically evaluate the ideas. These are most effective when done weekly, and are well suited for mapping student improvement.
- One approach to a reaction paper would be to have students summarize the 3-4 main points of an article or class session, and then reflect on the summary. In such a model, the summary might be worth 30% and the reflection 70%.
- Pros – 91% of McLeod’s students reported that using reaction papers for assessment helped them:
- learn more than when tested
- retain more information for longer
- improve their writing skills
- sharpen their critical thinking
- experience less stress
- enjoy the material more
- cooperate better with peers.
In addition, since the papers are graded weekly, students are able to get back on track quickly if they first complete the assignment incorrectly.
- Cons – presented with the reaction paper model, students may:
- find the transition from a test only assessment model to being assessed on reaction papers a bit confusing
- have difficulty reading handwritten comments and/or papers
- be tempted to copy other students’ papers
- For a twist – McLeod has students grade each others’ papers during the semester and reviews all of the papers at the end of the semester. Having students grade increases student autonomy, and he has only had to change student grades about 5% of the time. This does lead to a lot of grading at the end of the semester though, when the instructor is faced with reviewing the grades of a semester’s worth of papers.
In-Class Group Projects
- The purpose of group activities is to give students a chance to work with the material by solving problems, generating concrete examples of abstract theories, and answering each others’ questions.
- Pros – by participating in group activities, students:
- learn to apply theories and concepts in meaningful ways
- foster cooperation among peers
- actively engage in their education
- sharpen critical thinking and problem solving skills
- Cons – some downsides to group activities include:
- ineffectiveness if activities are not well planned
- possibility of student absences disrupting group performance
- difficulty of assessing each student’s participation in the group
- One more thing – if you are using group activities to assess student learning, you will likely have to assess after each activity by either having a group or individual portion of written work.
- Group performance evaluation – one effective way to assess group performance is by having students evaluate their group members, themselves, and your evaluation. For an example of a group performance evaluation, please email email@example.com.
Please check back for more alternatives when we have the Learn Through Inquiry section of this website posted.
With midterms behind us, you are still not free from the development of tests for your classes! It is important to align tests with course objectives, particularly when constructing final exams. This month, we offer tips for:
Developing Effective Tests
In-class tests are a common type of assessment for measuring what the students have learned in your class. Three common types of test questions are multiple choice, true/false, and essay questions. We discuss the basics of each, and tips for using each, below. Sample items by discipline can be found in Jacobs and Chase (1992).
When you design a test, it helps to review what you think are important things for your students to know. To help you in your review, you may want to go back to the course learning objectives, and decide on assessments that test those objectives.
Multiple Choice Items
Multiple choice items are the most widespread selection-type item in the college classroom. They are useful for testing a wide range of learning outcomes, and for use in large classes to minimize grading time. Sometimes multiple choice items can be confusing. To avoid confusing your students, Jacobs and Chase (1992) recommend instructors:
- Present the problem in the stem of the question clearly and precisely, without added material that does not add to the question.
- Avoid repeating information in each possible answer that could be stated once in the stem.
- Write the correct answer first, then the distractors. This will insure that the correct answer is the only correct and best answer to the stem.
- Avoid using “all of the above” or “none of the above”. If a student recognizes just one option as correct or incorrect, then they can easily eliminate these former options.
In addition, when using multiple-choice questions, an instructor faces the risk of measuring only superficial learning – in a study of 17 University of Kansas faculty members’ multiple-choice exams, 8.5% of the questions required the students to use complex skills, and the other 91.5% tested basic recognition or recall of facts (Jacobs & Chase, 1992). To construct multiple-choice items that challenge students, you could:
- Have students write a short explanation of why they eliminated the answers that they did.
- Have students mark all the correct answers, without specifying how many are correct.
True/False items are declarative statements that students judge to be either true, or not. The time to complete such items is less even than multiple choice, and still as easy to score. However, with 50/50 odds, students can often guess the answers to many questions and still do relatively well. One option to discourage students from guessing is to require them to explain, in one sentence, why an item is false if indeed it is. Some tips for writing True/False items are to (Jacobs & Chase, 1992):
- Attempt to test abstract knowledge rather than only constructing factual statements. Reviewing Blooms taxonomy will be useful for this tip.
- Avoid using specific qualifiers, such as “all” or “always”. These items are almost always false.
- Write True/False items using positive wording so that you assess students’ knowledge rather than their skill in reading complex sentences.
- Construct a short description of a problem, and have students identify possible solutions by answering a series of True/False questions.
Essay items lend themselves easily to testing a student’s ability to think critically about the course material. They are relatively easy to construct, go beyond assessing basic recognition, and virtually eliminate a student’s ability to guess the correct answer. They are in some ways easier to construct than multiple choice or True/False items, but much more time consuming to grade than either, and also are more open to subjective grading. To minimize grading bias, some instructors choose to cover the name on essay exams. Some tips for improving essay questions are to (Jacobs & Chase, 1992):
- Only use essay items to test higher-level cognitive functions, not factual recall. Some formats to achieve the former include beginning with “compare and contrast¦”, “present arguments for and against¦” and “describe an application of¦”
- Limit the breadth of the question so that the student knows how many conditions need be mentioned to adequately answer the question.
- Include detailed instructions for the exam at the top, including style of writing, whether grammar or spelling mistakes will subtract from the grade, and whether organization or amount of supporting data is important.
- Indicate the importance of an item by listing either how long the question should take to answer, or how many points the question is worth.
Reference (available from the CETL library)
Jacobs, Lucy Cheser & Chase, Clinton I. (1992). Developing and Using Tests Effectively: A Guide for Faculty. San Francisco: Jossey- Bass Publishers.
Soliciting student feedback mid-semester is a great way to identify the changes your students feel would help them early enough to make mid-course corrections.
Here are a few ways to structure a form to solicit student feedback:
- What is the most important thing you learned in this class today?
- What question is uppermost in your mind?
(The one minute paper can be completed frequently at the end of a class period. It provides a “quick read” on how students are learning, day by day, and it can provide material with which to launch the next class period. The “muddiest point” wording tends to direct attention to the content you covered. The “question that is uppermost” elicits some responses that extend the material into “what if” questions, which can be interesting fodder for the next class.)
- Please list one or two specific things that your instructor does that assist your learning in this class.
- Please describe one or two specific things that your instructor could change that would improve your learning in this class.
- Please describe one or two specific things that you could do that would improve your learning in this class.
(This form is best used once or at most twice during the semester. It provides feedback on how students perceive the course in general. Note that the third question directs students’ attention to the fact that learning is a shared responsibility between instructor and student.)
And here are some tips for soliciting and interpreting student feedback:
Administering the Survey
- Allow 2 (one minute paper) to 5 (teaching feedback) minutes at the end of class.
- Explain why you are doing this in a way that sets a positive tone—-because you are interested in making this class the best it can be, and because you are interested in their opinions, for example.
- If you really want to know what students think, don’t ask them to put their names on their papers.
Processing the Feedback
- Categorize the responses to each question on a handmade tally sheet. The first time a particular response to a question appears, write down a couple of words that summarize it. The next time the same response appears, put a tick mark by the item.
- Pay the most attention to the items that appear the most often.
Giving the Students Feedback
- If you want the students to take exercises like this seriously in the future, then it is vital that you give them prompt feedback on the results—preferably, in the next class period.
- In class, or via email if class time is limited, give students a summary of their most prevalent responses to each question.
Focus mainly on the suggestions for change, and the things the students are unhappy with.
For each of the important issues, do one of the following
- say “that’s a good idea, we’ll try that”—then do it
- explain why you can’t change
- invite suggestions as to how competing needs could be reconciled
Stay open, don’t get defensive. Remember, you asked! Your interest in and openness to feedback will go a long way to creating a positive climate, even if the changes you can make are limited.
And of course, point out what the students suggested that they could do to improve their learning. Remind them that this is a joint enterprise!
Engaging students in a classroom experience is a way to encompass learning from teacher to student, student to teacher, and student to student. Students are actively engaged when there is an emphasis on the exploration of each student’s attitudes and values rather than the transmission of information. Engagement includes the development of student skills, engagement through activities, and an emphasis on higher-order thinking, such as analysis, synthesis, and evaluation.
Research conducted by numerous educational researchers (Astin, 1985; Chickering & Gamson, 1987; Cross, 1987; Ericksen, 1984) and compiled in national reports (the Association of American College’s Task Group on General Education, 1985; National Association of Student Personnel Administrators, 1987; Study Group on the Conditions of Excellence in American Higher Education, 1984) have concluded that students learn more, and care more about the material, when they are actively engaged in their learning.
Strategies to engage students take many forms, including talking, writing, reading, discussing, debating, acting, role-playing, journaling, conferring, interviewing, building, creating, and more. Here are some specific tips to get you started:
Mix it up. Students typically have attention spans of about 10-15 minutes. Try to design your lectures in segments. For example, in a 50 minute class period, you could lecture for the first 15 minutes, then incorporate a group activity for the second 15 minutes, lecture for another 15 minutes, and then summarize what has been covered in the class in the remaining 5 minutes.
- Design interactive lectures. For example, have students begin by brainstorming what they know or think they know about a topic. Use this list as a framework for introducing material.
- Ask meaningful, open-ended questions. You could direct these at the whole class (be sure to allow sufficient time for students to contemplate the question and formulate a response). Or, direct a few related but different questions at smaller groups who can contemplate and respond with a group answer.
- In larger classes, solicit written questions for discussion, or assign a group of student volunteers to take a leadership role about a specific topic for the class to discuss.
- Include group activities in your planning. Be sure to fully explain the task and stick to a structured timeframe for discussion. Some possible group activities include:
- Focused Listing: Your task is to come up with a concept you think is important for students to know. After informing the students of the task, in groups students will have to list one thing they know about the concept and then pass to the next person as each reads his/her item out loud. The list should make it through the group at least 3 times, and students may pass if they cannot come up with an item. This is a good way to gauge what students know about a topic, and share their knowledge with others.
- Three-Step Interview: Your task is to outline 3 questions important to a specific topic in class. In pairs, students take turns asking the three questions of their partners. At this point, in groups of 4, each partner recaps the other’s answers to the other pair. This too is a check of the students’ comprehension.
- TV Commercial: Your task is to determine a concept that you have already covered that is worth more attention from the students. Then in groups, the students will have to make a 30 second TV commercial that illustrates this concept. This is a good way for students to apply their knowledge.
- Quick Thinks: These are activities that are easily inserted into a lecture and allow the student to stay focused and check their understanding of the material. Your task is to choose a topic that needs more emphasis than is achieved in lecture format only. The following is a list of possible quick think formats:
- select the best response
- correct the error
- complete a sentence starter
- compare or contrast
- support a statement
- reorder the steps
- reach a conclusion
- paraphrase the idea
Some of these tips are from Charles C. Bonwell and James A. Eison, Active Learning: Creating Excitement in the Classroom. To borrow this book or other resources about active engagement, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more tips online:
Active Learning Online
Network for Cooperative Learning in Higher Education
Brief Reference List
Association of American Colleges (1985). Integrity in the college curriculum: A report to the academic community. Project on redefining the meaning and purpose of baccalaureate degrees. Washington, D.C.
Astin, A.W. (1985). Achieving educational excellence. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Chickering, A.W. & Gamson, Z.F (1987). Seven principles for good practice. AAHE Bulletin 39: 3-7.
Cross, K.P (1987). Teaching for learning. AAHE Bulletin 39: 3-7.
Ericksen, S.C. 1984). The essence of good teaching. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (1987). A perspective on student affairs: A statement issued on the 50th anniversary of The Student Personnel Point of View. Washington, D.C.
Study Group on the Conditions of Excellence in American Higher Education (1984). Involvement in learning: Realizing the potential of American higher education. Washington, D.C.: National Institute if Education/U.S. Department of Education.
As the semester approaches, you may be curious to know a little bit about your new students. For this month’s tip, we offer suggestions of how to get to know your students with the:
Beloit College Mindset List for the Class of 2013
Most students entering college this fall were born in 1991.
- For these students, Martha Graham, Pan American Airways, Michael Landon, Dr. Seuss, Miles Davis, The Dallas Times Herald,Gene Roddenberry, and Freddie Mercury have always been dead.
- Dan Rostenkowski, Jack Kevorkian, and Mike Tyson have always been felons.
- The Green Giant has always been Shrek, not the big guy picking vegetables.
- They have never used a card catalog to find a book.
- Margaret Thatcher has always been a former prime minister.
- Salsa has always outsold ketchup.
- Earvin “Magic” Johnson has always been HIV-positive.
- Tattoos have always been very chic and highly visible.
- They have been preparing for the arrival of HDTV all their lives.
- Rap music has always been main stream.
- Chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream has always been a flavor choice.
- Someone has always been building something taller than the Willis (Sears) Tower in Chicago.
- The KGB has never officially existed.
- Text has always been hyper.
- They never saw the “Scud Stud” (but there have always been electromagnetic stud finders.)
- Babies have always had a Social Security Number.
- They have never had to “shake down” an oral thermometer.
- Bungee jumping has always been socially acceptable.
- They have never understood the meaning of R.S.V.P.
- American students have always lived anxiously with high-stakes educational testing.
- Except for the present incumbent, the President has never inhaled.
- State abbreviations in addresses have never had periods.
- The European Union has always existed.
- McDonald’s has always been serving Happy Meals in China.
- Condoms have always been advertised on television.
- Cable television systems have always offered telephone service and vice versa.
- Christopher Columbus has always been getting a bad rap.
- The American health care system has always been in critical condition.
- Bobby Cox has always managed the Atlanta Braves.
- Desperate smokers have always been able to turn to Nicoderm skin patches.
- There has always been a Cartoon Network.
- The nation’s key economic indicator has always been the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
- Their folks could always reach for a Zoloft.
- They have always been able to read books on an electronic screen.
- Women have always outnumbered men in college.
- We have always watched wars, coups, and police arrests unfold on television in real time.
- Amateur radio operators have never needed to know Morse code.
- Belarus, Moldova, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Armenia, Latvia, Georgia, Lithuania, and Estonia have always been independent nations.
- It’s always been official: President Zachary Taylor did not die of arsenic poisoning.
- Madonna’s perspective on Sex has always been well documented.
- Phil Jackson has always been coaching championship basketball.
- Ozzy Osbourne has always been coming back.
- Kevin Costner has always been Dancing with Wolves, especially on cable.
- There have always been flat screen televisions.
- They have always eaten Berry Berry Kix.
- Disney’s Fantasia has always been available on video, and It’s a Wonderful Life has always been on Moscow television.
- Smokers have never been promoted as an economic force that deserves respect.
- Elite American colleges have never been able to fix the price of tuition.
- Nobody has been able to make a deposit in the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI).
- Everyone has always known what the evening news was before the Evening News came on.
- Britney Spears has always been heard on classic rock stations.
- They have never been Saved by the Bell
- Someone has always been asking: “Was Iraq worth a war?”
- Most communities have always had a mega-church.
- Natalie Cole has always been singing with her father.
- The status of gays in the military has always been a topic of political debate.
- Elizabeth Taylor has always reeked of White Diamonds.
- There has always been a Planet Hollywood.
- For one reason or another, California’s future has always been in doubt.
- Agent Starling has always feared the Silence of the Lambs.
- “Womyn” and “waitperson” have always been in the dictionary.
- Members of Congress have always had to keep their checkbooks balanced since the closing of the House Bank.
- There has always been a computer in the Oval Office.
- CDs have never been sold in cardboard packaging.
- Avon has always been “calling” in a catalog.
- NATO has always been looking for a role.
- Two Koreas have always been members of the UN.
- Official racial classifications in South Africa have always been outlawed.
- The NBC Today Show has always been seen on weekends.
- Vice presidents of the United States have always had real power.
- Conflict in Northern Ireland has always been slowly winding down.
- Migration of once independent media like radio, TV, videos and compact discs to the computer has never amazed them.
- Nobody has ever responded to “Help, I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.”
- Congress could never give itself a mid-term raise.
- There has always been blue Jell-O.
(1) Do you think you contributed to the group’s effort at a level equal to that of the rest of the group?
(2) If not please explain whether you think you contributed more or less than the other members of the group.
(3) Please explain your perspective on the relative contributions of each of the other members of your group.
(4) In addition to each individual’s level of contribution, cooperation, coordination, and communication with your group members are critical to effective, productive group projects. Please describe your perspective on the level of cooperation, coordination, and communication for yourself and your other group members.
(5) Acknowledging the challenges of doing group work, please let me know any additional comments, suggestions or concerns about the process that you may have.