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UVM students in lecture hallIt’s that time of year again when faculty are thinking about how to better engage their students in the classroom. The first class meeting can often set the tone for the whole semester, and establishing norms for classroom interactions goes a long way towards creating a more welcoming and respectful learning environment for everyone.

One way you can help students feel more invested in these guidelines is to develop them together in class, and it is helpful to do this early on so that you can fall back on them, if needed, during the course of the semester.

Below are some examples from UVM faculty:

From Helen Read, Mathematics:

CLASSROOM ETIQUETTE: In order that we make the most of our class time, please make every effort to arrive on time and stay until class is dismissed. Please be respectful of the instructor and your fellow students, and refrain from any behavior that would distract from our work. Turn off and put away cell phones, music players, etc., before class begins, and close email, games, and anything else you have running on the computer that is not directly related to what we are doing in class.” H.P. Read –

Another example from Shirley Gedeon, Economics:

Classroom Etiquette & Policies

In class, address the professor as “Professor Gedeon”
In emails, start off with “Dear Professor Gedeon”

It’s a large auditorium, but I want to answer questions. I will do my very best to move around the room to make it easier to hear your questions. I welcome and respect all political and economic points of view and expect all students to do likewise.

Professor Gedeon writes and grades all exams.You have the right to petition grading on any question on any exam. Protocol for submitting petitions will be discussed in class.

The Teaching Assistant grades all homework. You have the right to petition grading on any homework assignment. Protocol for submitting petitions will be discussed in class.

Shirley Gedeon –

If you are teaching a class in which a number of sensitive topics will be discussed, it is even more critical to layout a thoughtful approach to classroom etiquette. This following example is from a syllabus for Introduction to Sexuality & Gender Identity Studies taught in 2010 by Reese Kelly:

Classroom Etiquette:

Out of respect for other students and the instructor, you should arrive in class on time and stay until class is over. Coming and going in the middle of a lecture is highly disruptive. Turn off your cell phones while you are in class. To be fair, my rule is that if your cell phone goes off in class, I get to answer it. Likewise, if mine goes off in class, you get to answer it.

If the use of computers or cell phones becomes disruptive to anyone in the class, including yourself, you may be asked to leave class. Recording lectures and using laptops to take notes is allowed as long as these activities are not disruptive.

Eating during lectures is discouraged, but drinks are acceptable.

You must enter the course willing to suspend, challenge, or even change many of your taken-for granted beliefs about gender, race, size, ability, nationality, sex, sexuality, class and so on. This is often difficult because the multiple layers of our identities are so deeply embedded in our daily lives including our sense of self and our intimate relationships.

You will find that being willing to examine multiple perspectives on an issue is your most important and useful tool for understanding the concepts we discuss in class. In this course, we will be covering some sensitive and controversial topics. Some of the issues we discuss may make you feel uncomfortable at times. However, in order for learning to occur, we must act respectfully towards each other, even if there is some disagreement. If, at any time, your behavior is viewed as disruptive to the class, you will be asked to leave. Personal attacks, rude comments, or harassment of any kind (racial, sexual, etc.) will NOT be tolerated! If you experience a personal attack, harassment, or if you feel as though your classmates are spoiling your learning environment, please inform me.

Reese C. Kelly,

A few more to look at:

Brian Ballif,

Alison Pechenick,

Larry Kost,

Enjoy the start to the semester!

Conducting research can be a transformative experience for undergraduate students, especially when their research supervisor serves as an effective mentor.

We invite you to join us for a 10-hr faculty seminar, beginning in late August, that examines how faculty can enhance their mentoring skills regardless of career stage. The seminar will use case studies, extensive discussions, reflection, and action plans to help faculty mentor more efficiently, communicate and establish expectations with students, address diversity issues in mentoring, assess student understanding and foster student independence.

For details, see: This seminar is sponsored by the Rubenstein School, CTL, and the Provost’s Office EPI grant program.

Some big news for sustainability at UVM: on Monday, March 9th, UVM’s Faculty Senate passed the resolution to require all undergraduate students entering UVM in Fall 2015 to meet the General Education Sustainability Learning Outcomes (SLO).  While this is a significant accomplishment, there is still much work to be done to ensure its success.

The Sustainability Curriculum Review Committee (SCRC), the faculty sub-committee charged with developing a plan for the SLO university-wide implementation, has been tasked with articulating a process for soliciting, reviewing, and approving proposals to fulfill the sustainability requirement. Part of this work is to help faculty understand the “Sustainability Course (SU)” designation process. Completion of an SU course is one of three pathways in which a student can fulfill the requirement. (Please refer to GenEd-Sustainability sitefor information on all the pathways and the course process.)

To that end, all interested faculty are invited to attend “Introduction to UVM’s General Education Sustainability Learning Outcomes Course Proposal” workshop on Friday, March 20, 9:00 – 11:00 AM, Bailey Howe 303. This workshop walks faculty through the proposal development process and, for those who are ready, provides instruction on proposal writing.

For more information and to register for this workshop, please see CTL Events.

More sessions will be offered in the late spring.

In addition, the upcoming “Educating for Sustainability Webinar Series,” hosted by the Association for Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education, provides information and resources on best practices for sustainability education in higher education:

Strategies for Institutionalizing Sustainability in the Curriculum
Wednesday, March 25, 2015, 3:00 PM – 4:30 PM, Bailey Howe 303

Strategies for Redesigning your Course to Integrate Sustainability
Wednesday, April 8, 2015; 3:00 PM – 4:30 PM, Bailey Howe 303

To register for these events, please visit the CTL events calendar.

Recently, a new faculty member asked me about how David Kolb’s Learning Styles, that developed out of his Experiential Learning Theory, and the principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) intersect or relate to course design. Why and when would you use one or the other when designing instruction? It took me some time to think about this question. This is because I don’t totally agree with the concept of specific learning styles as Kolb describes them, however I do think that most people have learning preferences. David Kolb developed an Experiential Learning Cycle and then developed four learning styles based on preference of learners working within this learning cycle.

In contrast, UDL is a way to think about designing a learning environment for all learners and all learning preferences. UDL is based on research in Neuroscience and the principles of Universal Design in architecture. More information about UDL can be found at the CAST website. The UDL model proposes a series of principles based on three brain networks used for learning. These brain networks, called Recognition, Strategic, and Affective, are each correlated to a set of practices that teachers can use to design instruction and learning environments. These practices are described in the UDL guidelines.  Read more about each of the practices here.

One way to identify your learning style, as defined by Kolb, is by taking an inventory. A learning style inventory asks a series of questions about how you prefer to work or learn. Upon completion of the inventory, you total the points to have an idea of what your own learning style is according to the assessment instrument. I think taking a learning style inventory as a group can be helpful, when working on a team. Each member completes the inventory and then the group intentionally discusses how each person prefers to learn and to work. This activity gives the team a common vocabulary to use when discussing each person’s results and preferences. It is also a way of creating team expectations and norms, as everyone discusses and reflects on their own preferences and how that relates to the whole group.

(Kolb’s website, has inventories available for purchase.)

When discussing learning styles/preferences, it’s important to keep in mind that a person’s preferences are not necessarily fixed; they can change over time or be expanded upon. The process of experiential learning that Kolb discusses is one of experience, reflection, and experimentation. This learning cycle takes into consideration many of the ideas in UDL. Learning by reflection and using critical thinking are key parts of the strategic brain network. As are the ideas and new experiments that come from reflection.

Here are the Stages of Kolb’s Experiential Learning Cycle as cited from McLeod (2010):

  1. Concrete Experience – (a new experience or situation is encountered, or a reinterpretation of an existing experience).
  2. Reflective Observation (of the new experience. Any inconsistencies between experience and understanding are particularly important).
  3. Abstract Conceptualization (Reflection gives rise to a new idea, or a modification of an existing abstract concept).
  4. Active Experimentation (the learner applies new ideas and modifications to the world around them to see what results happen).

Jim Julius, an education blogger, writes about learning styles in this post, on his blog, Education Everywhere. He brings up the idea that students can also use learning styles as a crutch or an excuse.  I recommend reviewing the comment section on this post.  Quite a few commenters on the post bring up UDL as a method they like when designing instruction.

The good thing about Kolb’s model and UDL is that both are getting educators to think about the learners in the classroom and how to design a positive learning experience for them.


Julius, J. (2012). Time for a Learning Styles Post. Retrieved from: . Retrieved: 2/26/15.

McLeod, S. A. (2010). Kolb – Learning Styles. Retrieved from .Retrieved: 2/28/15.

National Center on Universal Design for Learning. (2014) What is UDL? Retrieved from Retrieved: 2/28/15.

National Center on Universal Design for Learning. (2014) What is UDL? Retrieved from Retrieved: 2/28/15.

Smith, M. K. (2001, 2010). ‘David A. Kolb on experiential learning’, the encyclopedia of informal education. Retrieved from: Retrieved: 2/28/15.


We’ve created a new website to help instructors using iClickers in their classes. Check it out here: If you have any suggestions for the site, please contact Inés Berrizbeitia:

pumpkinsApplications are now being accepted for the UVM Hybrid Course Initiative program (phase 3). The deadline is Monday, November 3rd at 5pmRead more about teaching hybrid courses, about the initiative, and the benefits in applying to teach one of these courses.


This fall, the CTL sponsored a book group exploring contemplative teaching/learning methods. The book, Contemplative Practices in Higher Education: Powerful Methods to Transform Teaching and Learning (Barbezat and Bush, 2013), describes a pedagogy that is based on long-established meditative practices and cites research indicating its effectiveness. The authors explore contemplative teaching practices’ potential to:

  • Deepen student understanding of, and personal connection to, course content
  • Develop student attention, inquiry, and problem-solving skills
  • Support student sense of compassion for self and others

In addition to theoretical background, the book presents practical ideas for applying these practices across disciplines, including mindfulness, deep listening, contemplative reading, writing, and movement.

Led by Kit Anderson, senior lecturer in the Environmental Program, the book group’s ten enthusiastic members, representing a variety of disciplines, shared stories from their teaching experiences. Kit, who has attended seminars presented by the book’s authors and has been integrating these practices into her teaching for a while, was invaluable to the discussions.

We would to like grow this community of faculty who are curious about contemplative pedagogy and plan to offer this book group again early in the spring semester. If you would like to be sent a scheduling poll for this group, please send your contact information to Please include in the message that you are interested in participating in the contemplative practices book group. Specific times and dates will be chosen after the poll has been completed and will reflect the most common dates.

students standing at top of mountain

I wrote this post a couple of years ago and I want to share it again because the resources are so valuable.

Getting students in gear for learning is really about preparing students to become active agents in their own learning—both engaged in and accountable for the process.

As with creating courses, the course objectives are the first step. Before we go there, here are some guiding questions:

  1. How do you know if your students are understanding, comprehending, and learning their course reading material?
  2. How do you get your students to do the readings?
  3. How do you know your students are learning and absorbing content?
    Guess what? They may not know either!
  4. How do I help students be accountable for their learning process? I propose that with consistent assessment and evaluation deeper learning can happen.

So how do we do this? Remember, as mentioned above:

Evaluation needs to connect to learning objectives.

As you start this process, ask yourself, why are you evaluating?

  • To make sure that students prepare for classroom discussion? (formative)
  • To prepare students to succeed on class exams? (summative)

Here are a few tools for evaluating student learning:

  • Anonymous quizzes for "just in time teaching" (JiTT) – formative assessment
  • Readiness assessment tests (RATs) or online mid-semester and end-of-year survey (ungraded) – formative assessment
  • Pre- and Post- exams (graded) – formative and summative assessment
  • Using iClickers in the classroom – formative assessment

Examples and resources for preparing students to succeed and help them get to know their learning process:

Reader's Guide
Developed by Tiffany F. Culver, PhD, this reading guide is a great tool that you can adapt and give to students as a road map to help them understand what they’re reading. It’s broken down into three parts: Planning (preparing students to focus), reading (how to read – techniques to help with retention), and evaluating (promoting critical thinking). This 1-page guide (2-sided) is helpful to all students and makes reading accessible and efficient. It also makes me wish I had something like this when I was in college!

Reading Strategies
In this blog post, MindTools authors provide helpful tips and resources for pulling out the important information when reading (including info on mind-mapping for active reading). What I like about this post is that it breaks down the process of "reading efficiently by reading intelligently" and looks at how reading techniques change based on the type of material that is being studied.

Using Reading Prompts to Encourage Critical Thinking
In this article on Faculty Focus, Maryellen Weimer, PhD reviews highlights from Terry Tomasek's book, The Teaching Professor and takes a look at using reading prompts to help students read and write more critically. The prompts in the book are organized into six categories: making connections, interpretation of evidence, challenging assumptions, making application, and mechanics.

Making the Review of Assigned Reading Meaningful
In this article, Sarah K Clark, PHD gives us four strategies to promote meaning-making when reviewing assigned readings. I really appreciate her candid writing about the importance of engaging students. Sarah shares techniques and ideas that have been helpful to her in her class: “the top ten,” secondary sources, journaling, and divide and conquer (for larger size classes)

Key Terms: Assessment
In this blog post from the Bok Center at Harvard University, assessment is highlighted and examined. This post offers some assessment-related tips. Here is another from the Bok blog that speaks directly to the question "How Do We Measure Learning?"

Authentic Learning
A Primer_ Diagnostic, Formative, & Summative Assessment.pdf
Marilyn M. Lombardi talks about the important role of assessment in relation to successful teaching and learning in this Educause Learning Initiative paper – Making the Grade: The Role of Assessment in Authentic Learning.

On-campus Help
And remember the Writing Center at UVM (, and the UVM Learning Co-op in Living/Learning ( These are helpful resources on campus to share with your students to help enhance their writing skills and to get assistance with studying.

Next Steps:

If you would like to sit with a member of the CTL to talk about ways to use these tools to assess your students, request an appointment by emailing If you would like to contact me (Henrie Pazamor) directly, send me a note at

Read (or rather, view), on, one faculty person’s evolving position about teaching with this tool and allowing students to present their work with it.

Tip #1: Learn names. Jonathan Leonard (CDAE) makes the effort to learn every student’s name, even when he has hundreds of students! His strategy is to open the class roster page in Banner and display the students’ photos and, while studying each face, he speaks their names aloud. Over and over. And over. Occasionally he shifts the page arrangement, by changing the row settings to, for instance, students three across instead of five, and he keeps testing himself. He admits that it takes several practice sessions, but he claims the effort is well worth it. His students are completely astonished when he greets them at the door by first name. A large class it may be, but an indistinct mass of anonymous faces it is not. Individuals are being recognized and this, he says, changes the whole game.

(By the way, Jonathan isn’t the only one to stress the value of learning names. Every year when the CTL holds a panel discussion with the latest winnersof the Kroepsch-Maurice Excellence in Teaching Award, at least one of the panelists mentions that this practice is vital to their teaching style.)

Tip #2: Get students talking. Sheila Boland-Chira (English) recommends the turn and talk method in any class, but particularly on the first day when anxiety may be running a little high. She asks an evocative question related to the course topic and invites students to turn to their neighbors and talk about it. After a few minutes, she invites volunteers to share their thoughts with the whole group. Not only does the lively buzz change the atmosphere in the room, doing this on the first day lets students know that the class is participatory and that they are going to be challenged to think.

Tip #3 Make personal connections. Char Merhtens (Geology) asks students to come to her office and meet with her individually during the first week or two of the semester, just to say hi and chat for a few minutes. However, because there are 200+ students in one of her classes, visiting with everyone isn’t practicable, so she invites only the first-years and seniors, the two groups she feels would most benefit from this (although, for completely different reasons). Char says that this simple social gesture has paid off in countless ways and many students go out of their way to thank her.

Tip #4: It’s standard practice to review the syllabus on the first day of class, but a few faculty offered tips to make this ritual more meaningful:

  • Before the first class meets, contemplate your schedule again and identify the overarching themes. When you review the syllabus on the first day, share this 10,000-foot view with your students and talk about how the key themes are woven throughout the schedule. This overview provides not only a conceptual map of the course, but a rationale for the work you are going to be asking them to do.
  • Make the syllabus review more engaging by including interesting visual elements, e.g., drawings, concept maps, or a humorous cartoon. Consider playing music.
  • Use Blackboard’s test tool to create a short quiz about the syllabus with multiple-choice type questions (so Blackboard will do the grading for you) and make it a mandatory assignment by the second day of class. Doing this gets them to delve deeper into the syllabus and you can review the stats in Blackboard before the next class, so you can touch upon any murky areas.

Tip #5: Finally, convey enthusiasm! J. Dickinson (Anthropology) offered what might be the most important tip for the first class and every class: that it’s crucial to communicate your excitement about what you teach. Even if you’re not teaching your dream course, you should be able to muster enthusiasm for it. Foundational or introductory-level courses are exciting when you consider the potential for learning and that you just may spark an interest that has a formative effect on someone’s life. Genuine enthusiasm can be infectious.

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