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Premise: all students want to text in class and will do so surreptitiously if they can, so many faculty feel the only way to keep students focused is to ban mobile device use altogether. Many blog posts and articles on texting, cell phone, or mobile device use in class seem to start with this ereaderspremise.

Responses to the growing use of devices in the classroom have ranged from that of complete control: “Put your device on the table as you enter the classroom. Pick it up when you leave” to the laissez-faire: “Students are paying the tuition. If they want to text during class and not learn, that’s their choice.”

Developing a cogent and workable mobile device policy for the classroom continues to be a challenge. The negative effects of multitasking or auto-switching are well documented and the possibility that students may be distracted by other students’ use of devices is also a consideration.

How to deal with the presence of these devices in the classroom elicits a multiplicity of responses from faculty. A quick search on the terms “cellphone, policy, syllabus” turns up a host of ways faculty are banning or limiting their use. In fact, Cortland has collected a list of mobile device policies from syllabi that might well have been titled “36 Ways to Say No.”

However, as the prevalence of these devices continues to grow many teachers are finding ways to make the use of mobile devices work for their students’ education rather than against it. Not surprisingly, these solutions tend to encourage the integration of inquiry-based or active learning practices.

Karen Eifler suggests that mobile devices can be used to capture, archive, share and use whiteboard work done in class as well as for real-time/just-in-time information gathering. (“Cell Phones in the Classroom: Is It Time to Reconsider Your Policy?”)

John Thayer explains to his students how they will be using their devices for his Geometry class and closes with “we have work to do so please take out your phone.” (“Cell Phone Policy: A Letter to My Students”)

As New York prepares to lift its ban on cellphones in schools, many K-12 teachers will be preparing their students to use these devices responsibly and effectively. John Giambalvo explains that he will be starting slowly, using various apps as appropriate. For example, he’ll be “automating exit tickets — the micro-assessments that ask students to demonstrate their learning at the end of a lesson” using the Exit Ticket app.

Whichever mobile device policy you intend to use, it is most important to communicate it clearly to your students. As the SUNY Brockport policy on use of electronic devices in the classroom warns: “It is advisable for instructors to anticipate that issues with wireless communications and electronic devices may arise and publish any restrictions in their course syllabi.”

More recently, faculty advise having a discussion with students to build the policy together. Having students contribute ideas for a policy, and especially for how infractions should be dealt with, encourages them to consider both their own practice and their role in establishing a respectful and productive classroom for all.

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.

Applications are now being accepted for the May 2015 cohort of the UVM Hybrid Course Initiative program (phase 3). The deadline for applying is Monday, March 23rd at 5pm!

Please follow this link to learn more about the program and to apply.

We invite you to register for the upcoming info session,
“What’s the Hype about Hybrid?”
to be held this Thursday, March 11, from 1-2pm

Important dates:

Applications due: March 23, 2015
Accepted applicants notified: March 27, 2015
Full-day training: May 18, 2015

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.


This is an interesting read by Clay Shirky, a professor at New York University. “Why I just asked my students to put their laptops away.” Shirky holds a joint appointment as an Associate Arts Professor at the Interactive Telecommunications Program as well as an Associate Professor in the Journalism Department, and he’s a Fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society.

UVM’s Blackboard now has tools that allow instructors to connect their courses to publishers’ online textbook materials and assessments.

Jean Marc Côté, 1899

Jean Marc Côté, 1899

In the past, publishers sometimes offered “course cartridges” to place publisher materials into your Blackboard course space. Recently, however, they’ve been moving away from this method.

What we see most frequently now is that publishers host textbook materials on their own Learning Management Systems and provide a tool in Blackboard for instructors to connect their course spaces directly to the these systems.

You might think of this as the publishers having set up their own Blackboard course spaces for each textbook. When you want to use their online materials, you simply turn on the tool in your course to create the link between your course and theirs.

One advantage is that it streamlines students access—they don’t have to register or enter separate codes because this is handled automatically. They can even take quizzes/tests and use other interactive tools on the publisher’s site, and the results of this activity can be sent back to your Blackboard Grade Center.

UVM currently supports a number of publishers, including Cengage, Pearson, McGraw-Hill, Wiley, and Acrobatiq.
Read instructions here on how to add these tools to your course.

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.

[The professor’s] only difficulty … was to get [students] to talk at all. He had to devise schemes to find what they were thinking about and induce them to risk criticism from their fellows.

The Education of Henry Adams

The quote on the right is from the 1919 autobiography by Henry Adams, a descendant of the two Presidents.

If the “difficulty” he refers to sounds familiar—if your classroom discussions could benefit from a jolt of energy and inspiration—you are not alone.

Some of the common class discussion challenges instructors face are:

  1. asking the right questions – ones that spark ideas and elicit thoughtful replies
  2. getting the less assertive or shy students to speak up
  3. the sound of nothing but crickets chirping after a question is proffered

We invite you to attend Tips for Great Class Discussion, from our “Sound (Teaching) Bite” series coming up on Wednesday 9/17 at noon. This one-hour event will be led by J. Dickinson, Professor of Anthropology and Director of the CTL. (Registration is appreciated.)

Helpful Resources:

From Harvard’s Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning

From American Astronomical Society Education Office

From Faculty Focus

We welcome your suggestions for more resources on this topic.

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