Carnegie Mellon University

Eberly Center

Teaching Excellence & Educational Innovation

Explore a compilation of notes from our roundtable discussions by theme. Still curious about something? Email the Eberly center to setup a consult.

How can I effectively assess students’ performance in class activities?

  • Use rubrics to clarify expectations of both good and bad work.
  • Evaluate craft and technique, not just 'creativity'.
  • Define for students what constitutes a 'creative' process or product in your course.
  • Include the process as well as the final result in the rubric.
  • Use multiple reviewers (customers, clients, users) in the evaluative process to provide different perspectives.

What kinds of feedback help students think creatively/innovatively?

  • Choose an evaluation method that fits the task - Quizzes or exams might not be the best venue to assess creativity; peer review or critique or an external evaluation panel might be a better way to give students feedback.
  • Use progress reports, group/self evaluations, or assignment wrappers for students to reflect on what they did or learned along the way.

Is there a relationship between self-efficacy and innovation?

  • Build student confidence - When students are confident and feel competent (i.e., have higher self-efficacy), they are more likely to innovate. If they’re not confident, they may not be willing to try.
  • Scaffold student learning by stepping up task difficulty in increments.
  • Learn from failure - Ask students to discuss why a new idea failed. What would have made it better? What supports do you (the instructor) have in place to allow students to fail safely (i.e., drop your lowest assignment, revise and resubmit an assignment, etc.)?

How do I show students that these skills relate to real-life applications?

  • Use case studies from various disciplines to help students see problems from different perspectives. Ask them to analyze the case from multiple points of view.
  • Point out biases that might be a hindrance to critical thinking. Work as a group to expose students to their own biases, or to larger biases within the discipline.

How can I teach critical thinking in large classes?

  • Ask students to write their own exam questions - Edit or peer-edit student responses to provide feedback, refine the questions further, and you have a new bank of potential test questions!
  • Use blogging as a means to generate topics for small group discussions.

How can I help students develop as writers?

  • Expose students to examples of writing in different fields. Being a good reader is an important prerequisite to being a good writer.
  • Don’t be afraid to return to the fundamentals - Use pre-assessments to gauge students’ prior knowledge and tailor material appropriately.
  • Allow for iteration - Let students revise drafts and earn points for revision.

How do I help students communicate effectively during class discussions

  • Identify places of stasis - Have students identify where places of disagreement occur in a text or argument and then think about the nature of disagreement.
  • Communicate explicit goals for the tasks you are asking them to do during class. What are the goals for the class discussion? Is your prompt question clear and meaningful?
  • When assigning students a reading which will form the basis for discussion, give them a set of questions to answer that guide them to discover the key points.

Group work and team projects tools

How do I deal with “slackers” or “social loafers” in team project groups?

  • Peer and/or evaluations - Have students review themselves and their team members either on paper early in the project. Act as a neutral party to help groups to resolve any issues or problems. Or using tools like CATME.
  • Team contracts - Have students agree upon a set of rules for group work and contributions before the project begins. Allow for updates periodically, particularly after major deliverables are due.
  • Assign both individual and group deliverables.

How much guidance do I give groups?

  • Provide a list of possible project or topic choices for students to model your expectations. Set specific criteria or guidelines for other topics that students want to choose on their own.
  • Set up intermediate deliverables (e.g., early prototypes, rough drafts, or proposals) and give feedback on each.
  • Post project deadlines, goals, rubrics, and samples online so students can review these later multiple times instead of using class time to explain them.

When does technology enhance learning?

  • Ensure that the tool helps achieve your learning goals. Do not use tech just for tech’s sake.
  • Ask yourself whether the tech tool:
    • Fits your students’ needs
    • Fits your teaching needs
    • Fits your technology ecosystem (i.e., in line with other tech tools you, your students, your department, and the University are using)
  • Are there benefits that the technology can provide over paper and pencil?

What are some technology tools for various applications and what tips do you suggest?

  • Blackboard quizzes or assignments for pre-class work.
  • Discussion boards (Blackboard, Slack, Piazza, etc.) for posting questions. Post a rubric so students know what constitutes a good post.
  • Personal response systems (e.g., iClickers, Poll Everywhere, Socrative, etc.) for large classes. Use the moderation tool for open-ended answers. Assign points for either completion, correctness, or both.
  • OLI to provide scaffolded practice with feedback.

What do others do to gamify their classrooms?

  • Meaningful gamification is using design elements to help users find meaning in non-game contexts.
  • Game design elements can include:
    • Badges
    • Levels (unlocking content)
    • Points
    • Unexpected rewards (bonuses)
    • Countdown (challenges with limited time)

Why would I want to gamify my course?

  • Can increase students motivation and interest in the subject matter.
  • Connects to course goals related to teamwork or problem solving.
  • Can provide students with agency and investment. For example a professor at Bethel University uses an Quest-based (MMORPG) curriculum that lets students choose projects and assessments related to their interests and goals (as opposed to all students doing the same activities).

How do I set learning goals for students with different backgrounds?

  • Solicit feedback from other instructors from the various disciplines covered to make sure that goals are aligned with disciplinary or department-level goals.
  • Poll classes early to get a feel for their strengths, weakness, and differences.
  • Allow for some customization of objectives and assignments. Students customize weights (within a range) for various assignments or are allowed to choose what assignments they will complete from a menu of options at the beginning of a course.

How do I bring together students from different disciplines?

  • Use rich problems or case studies - Interdisciplinary situations arise from individual problems.
  • Use analogies to relate disparate topics.
  • Take time to define terms and establish a common language between various disciplines.

How do I get students to care about required courses?

  • Motivation is based on both students’ value as well as their expectancy (their expectation of successfully achieving learning outcomes). Discuss with students aspects of the course or topic that they value (or might later value) early on, as well as their self-efficacy and mindset.
  • Relate course content to real life -- not just disciplinary, but everyday interactions or relevant current events.
  • Recognize that students each bring in their own unique viewpoints and leverage these for learning. Encourage students to draw from their own experiences to generate ideas and discussion topics.
  • Give students many opportunities for low-stakes practice to increase self-efficacy and discourage cheating.

How can I avoid making assumptions about students’ prior knowledge?

  • Use surveys or pre-assessments for completion credit early in the course to know for sure where your students are in terms of prior knowledge.
  • Share (anonymous) statistics with students early on to identify areas of heterogeneity and communicate (or get students to recognize) the importance and benefits of a diverse environment.

How do I make sure the assessments are well-suited for heterogeneous students?

  • Give frequent opportunities for practice and feedback and chances to iterate or rectify mistakes.
  • Vary the types of assessments - Assign both verbal or written exam, include drawing tasks or flow charts in addition to essays, vary the difficulty of problems on assessments to diagnose where students are struggling.
  • Allow students to work in teams for some assignments or activities. Use challenging, open-ended problems that benefit from diverse perspectives.

What is a flipped classroom/active learning?

  • Active learning - Any task that engages students in the classroom beyond passive listening or note-taking. Could include:
    • In-class discussions
    • Group work or peer instruction
    • Individual activities that ask students to complete a task (with or without credit or a deliverable)
  • Flipped classroom - Students gain first exposure to material before class and engage in meaningful activities during class time guided by the instructor who provides expert advice and feedback along the way.

How to I respond to pushback from students?

  • Tightly align instructional methods with your assessments and learning goals. Point out to students the explicit connections between each so they can see the logic behind your methods.
  • Discuss why you are using this method of instruction over others. Connect this to your course goals and to professional goals for students beyond the course.
  • Active learning/flipping need not be all-or-nothing - You can use a mix of mini-lectures and activities effectively tailored to your and your students’ teaching and learning needs. [See Just-In-Time Teaching approaches for more strategies]