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.
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.
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.
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.
Many instructors seek ways to help students engage more effectively with course readings. One method that some have found particularly helpful is the reading guide – an outline that helps students navigate a reading, respond to key concepts, and track their understanding. Dr. Youngmin Yi, Assistant Professor in Sociology, explains how she uses reading guides to help students develop a personal relationship to course material.
You may have heard about colleagues using contemplative techniques in their teaching, but wondered what exactly happens. Lena Fletcher, Chief Undergraduate Advisor and Senior Lecturer in Environmental Conservation, and co-leader of the CTL’s Contemplative Pedagogy Group, explains how she uses short meditations in her large classes to deepen engagement with challenging course concepts.
Hyeyoung Park, Assistant Professor in the Elaine Marieb College of Nursing, uses exit tickets as an informal Classroom Assessment Technique (CAT), which provides her with important feedback from her students, while also fostering connections with her students and prompting her students to reflect on their learning.
Bogdan Prokopovych, Lecturer of Management, wanted to maximize student participation in his course evaluations, as well as to make the process meaningful both for his teaching and for his students learning about assessment practices in their industry. With a few simple changes to his approach to evaluations, he was able to get more students involved in the process, and get better feedback about teaching and learning in his course.
What are the benefits of reaching out? The CTL interviewed Steve Petsch, Associate Professor in the Department of Geosciences, about some success he has found in engaging students who may be falling behind in his 200-person General Education course. Reaching out personally to students has helped them feel cared for and learn professional communication habits. Read more about Steve’s strategies and the impact of his outreach.
For the past few years, Elizabeth Porto, Senior Lecturer II, has been showing students' brief introductory videos during class over the first few weeks of the semester. In addition to building community over time in an inclusive and memorable way, her students learn how to introduce themselves professionally and personally, an important goal she held for her students. Read more about her approach, goals, and next steps.