UMass Amherst is home to an impressive community of talented, dedicated, thoughtful, and innovative teachers. Recognizing that a teaching culture flourishes most when practices and stories are shared, the CTL has created this space to highlight faculty pedagogical strategies and successes. If you have a faculty success story, please consider sharing it with us at email@example.com!
Having students with diverse learning needs is a reality every instructor knows. Designing the course with learner variability in mind, Dr. Ashley Woodman, Senior Lecturer in Psychological and Brain Sciences, used principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) to create multiple pathways for students to engage with the content and demonstrate their learning, such as providing audio versions for reading materials, allowing students to choose between submitting written, audio or video reflections, or engaging students in small groups in-class with reviewing exams and allowing retakes.
We all want all students to succeed but for many reasons some students may struggle, miss class sessions, fall behind on assignments, or do poorly on an exam. Reaching out directly to students in our class can and does help but as Nathalie Lavoie, Associate Professor in Resource Economics, has found, reaching out to students through Academic Alert can be a powerful way to connect with students and provide them with a wider range of resources.
Dr. Elizabeth Cook, Lecturer in Epidemiology, uses structured small group activities in her large lecture course to facilitate more meaningful involvement with course concepts and leverage the benefits of collaborative learning. Not only that, the group work made the teaching of the course more joyful, fun, and purposeful!
Dr. Rachel Mordecai, Associate Professor of Caribbean Literature in English, leverages discussion-based teaching techniques to not only enhance students' critical thinking and understanding of complex topics but also to foster an inclusive, dynamic learning community where diverse perspectives are shared and respected. By employing strategies such as varying discussion formats, visualizing discussions, and allowing students to have a say in the course material, she ensures active student engagement and ownership over their learning and helps students develop strong communication and collaborative skills.
Tammy Rahhal is a 2022-2023 Chancellor’s Leadership Fellow working on UMass Flex initiatives and the Associate Chair of Teaching and Advising in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences. In this faculty success, she describes how she incorporates flexible assessment practices into her psychology course to provide students with multiple ways to demonstrate their learning.
Supporting international students and minoritized students to succeed within Computer Science and Informatics is a primary concern of Siobhan Meï and colleagues in the Manning College of Information and Computer Sciences (CICS). Read more about how she creates an inclusive and transformative learning environment in her junior year writing course.
Exam wrappers are a way to turn an exam into an authentic learning experience for students; or, as assistant professor Cathal Kearney in the Biomedical Engineering department describes, they are a more effective way to “close the loop” on exams compared to his previous strategy of providing students with exam solutions. Read more about his initial experiences with this metacognitive tool to help students continue learning after the exam ends.
We often hear that faculty are concerned their students are only focusing on their grades and not on the process of learning. Jason Hooper, Senior Lecturer of Music Theory, shares how he uses the alternative grading approach called ungrading in his upper-level music theory course to encourage creative risk-taking.
Faculty are rethinking how they assess student learning and experimenting with alternative grading approaches. Jennifer Fronc, Professor of History, discusses how she uses labor-based contract grading in her junior year writing courses to foster an intellectual community between her and her students.
How do we ensure students are retaining what they are learning in class? Asking students to explain concepts to others is one way to encourage deeper learning and better retention of course material. Read more about how Stephanie Padilla, Assistant Professor of Biology, uses oral exams to evaluate student learning while building their communication skills at the same time.
Active learning strategies promote deeper learning and help students work through difficult concepts and/or problems. Asking students to explain their thinking behind their response to a question to a peer is a particularly powerful way of active learning. Yet, many instructors struggle with scaling up such interactive student engagement in large classes. Read how Dr. Rachid Skouta, a lecturer and an adjunct Assistant Professor in Chemistry and Research Assistant Professor in Biology, uses iClicker questions for interactive peer instruction in his large Organic Chemistry classes with up to 300 students.
Exams aren’t the only way for students to show what they have learned in a class. Project-based assessments offer students opportunities to go deep with a topic of interest and, thus, foster student motivation and a longer period of engagement. In addition, project-based assessments require students to use higher order cognitive skills. Dr. Beth Jakob, Professor in Biology and Associate Dean for Student Success, Graduate School, explains how she has replaced the exam-based assessments in her 500-level course of about 50 students with creative, multimodal student projects to foster her students’ interest, creativity, and joy for learning.