High Impact Practices: how to incorporate them into hybrid as well as face to face classes?

After our discussion, I received the following question from Rex Koontz,

My big question regarding high impact practices is this: as we move to a more hybrid/blended system of course delivery, how can we build high impact practices into every level of hybridization?

This, I think, is a really good question. If we are moving to more hybrid or non-synchronous forms of course delivery, how do we make sure these practices are incorporated into those courses as fully as in face to face instruction?

This was my response to Rex, which I hope those of you who have taught hybrid or distance courses will comment upon.

In terms of the increasing hybridity of instruction, I’m not sure if this trend is advancing, or advancing in the right ways if we want to satisfy the equally compelling demands for better learning, improved graduation rates, post-grad success and so forth.  We would probably need better forms of assessment, for both hybrid and face to face courses, if we wanted more definite answers about this question.

All my courses, for example, use WordPress courseblogs, which is my favored delivery system. In all my courses, whether for undergraduates or graduate students, I use the course blog as a discussion forum, as a repository for required readings, as a portal for their online library resources, and as a space for their ongoing research results to be shared and reviewed.  There is no reason why this approach could not be emulated in BlackBoard, as many already do, or with other platforms.

These online interactions do not substitute for face to face interactions, but supplement them. My rule of thumb, which I have taken from the economist and NYT columnist Ed Glaeser, is that online interactions do not substitute for interactions, but supplement them, in more or less-powerful ways. This is a view that seems to be getting corroborated in at least some of the research that I have seen. (See, for example, this 2003 study by some sociologists at Berkeley).

In my view, if we are going to move towards greater hybridity, then we need to configure the online resources for optimal access, reliability and interactivity, and follow the same principles of pedagogy that we should have been using all along for face to face classes, but translated to this specific medium: these include active learning, independent research, authentic problem solving, group work, swift and detailed feedback, plenty of opportunities for practice, and so forth.

There are ways to do this with the online components of instruction, but they require development time and resources (and professional development for faculty), monitoring of what works and what doesn’t, and attentive revision and tweaking of course presentation over several iterations of the course. (and don’t forget IT support/course design infrastructures and possible additional personnel to provide high quality feedback and grading for large sections).

So building and sustaining the HIPs in the classroom necessarily entails careful planning and support at the front end, in the course design stage, and sometimes additional support during the semester itself, and then careful revision and updating at the back end, as courses are prepared for the next cycle.

At the very least, assignments have to be designed with these demands in mind, group work assignments and online forums for asynchronous coursework need to be set up beforehand.

Once the course is live and work is handed in, their work should receive some degree of peer review and instructor feedback. This feedback should prepare students to advance to the next level of difficulty with the material. And faculty need to have ways to communicate continually with students about their comprehension of the material, their concerns, and what questions they are developing.

In any case, those are my thoughts about how to develop a culture of teaching at UH that incorporates HIPs into every level and every aspect of interactions with students, both online and face to face. Best, DM


Conference Announcement: Please come to “Teaching Excellence in the 21st Century,” Friday Oct. 14th, 2011

On behalf of the University of Houston Center for Teaching Excellence and honorary conference chair Caroll Robertson Ray, we would like to invite you to be part of an exciting conference to be held Friday, October 14, 2011.  “Teaching Excellence in the 21st Century” will bring together faculty, staff, students, local businesspeople, civic leaders, and other members of the greater Houston community to learn about, discuss, and celebrate teaching and learning at the city’s only Carnegie-ranked Tier One public university.

We will be discussing a number of topics regarding instruction at UH, but one particular focus will be the question of High Impact Practices like undergraduate research affect student performance both in coursework and in postgraduate careers.

The keynote speaker will be James Lang, associate professor of English at Assumption College, author of Life on the Tenure Track: Lessons from the First Year and On Course: A Week-by-Week Guide to Your First Semester of Teaching, and columnist for the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Other highlights of the conference will include a variety of breakout sessions, complimentary lunch with hosted discussion tables, and the chance to win a copy of Prof. Lang’s On Course, compliments of the University of Houston LibrariesRegistration is free and open to all.

The conference will be held in the Houston Room of the University Center on the University of Houston Main Campus.

Updates and other news on the conference will be announced here, at the CTE blog.

Thanks, and if you have any questions, please put them here on the blog, or email me at dmazella@uh.edu



Thanks to all who attended our Faculty Workshop on High Impact Practices, 9/22/11

Prof. Dan Wells led a workshop on Thursday, September 22, focusing on the kinds of High Impact Practices (HIPs) that can help faculty create more engaged students and encourage better classroom interactions.  Dr. Wells began by providing a brief summary and overview of the literature regarding HIPs (linked here as a pdf), including these Faculty Senate presentations by Renu Khator and David Mazella, along with some of the recent research and scholarship concerning HIPs’ implementation in classrooms at CS Northridge (Huber) and elsewhere (Brownell and Swaner).  (For those interested in the original article regarding HIPs, please consult this 2008 study by George Kuh.)

Dr. Wells then led a group discussion regarding the HIPs currently being practiced throughout the university.  Below you will find a summary of the practices being tried by faculty who attended the workshop:

  • Clickers, polls, and other forms of instant electronic feedback were especially important for teachers of very large sections, because of their ability to help instructors monitor their students’ comprehension of the material.  Two techniques emerged from discussion:  polling the group about right and wrong answers to a question, giving students the opportunity to debate the answer for another 5 minutes, then repolling, which generally resulted in many more correct responses; asking a question mid-lecture about material covered about 15-20 mins. earlier, to make sure students are following the lecture.
  • Many faculty said they were de-emphasizing lectures, and emphasizing problem-solving of one sort of another, focusing on authentic problems from research or the workplace (examples included groups attempting to solve problems of a CEO/faculty member; or Math problem-sets; or in a literature course having students create an annotated bibliography over the previous 3-4 weeks’ reading, then trade bibs to correct each others’ work and report out to group; or having students analyze previous student work to see how they need to critique their own).
  • There was a considerable amount of discussion about building up students’ communication skills, either by using the Writing Center or by one’s own feedback on student essays.  Some also mentioned one-minute papers (i.e., “low stakes writing”)  at the beginning or end of class, to prime discussion or to assess students’ understanding of the subject matter. BlackBoard or Blogging forums also served a similar purpose of priming discussion or engaging students outside the classroom.  Other formats for teaching communication skills include the KWL method (What do you know? What do you want to know?  What do you need to learn?) and the use of snap presentations.  Even a relatively brief ungraded discussion segment regarding some “real world” dimension of academic work helps students to see the application of their studies to future goals and broader frameworks.  (e.g., human genetics and the ethical issues of cloning, stem cells, etc.).
  • There was also an extensive discussion of group work, including the difficulties of creating policies for monitoring and grading group work.  Some of those who practiced it said that though the benefits were clear, there were always some students who made their groups chaotic or dysfunctional and needed to be warned or removed from their groups altogether.  To counter these problems, some faculty suggested clear communications regarding the expectations regarding group work (up to and including specific training in group work), along with peer evaluations and ongoing progress reports from students.  to a grade for specific individual participation, seemed necessary to prevent some form of “social loafing,” perhaps the biggest single reason why students often resist group work.
  • There was a discussion of more synthetic courses or projects that allowed students to synthesize larger parts of their coursework.  This often occurs in senior-level “culminating experience” or capstone courses, but can it happen in the students’ first few years in college?
  • Finally, there was a brief discussion of attendance policies, and the desirability of enforcing or not enforcing such policies.

The meeting broke up at 4 pm.  We hope to continue to address these issues at our upcoming Oct. 14 conference, and at additional workshops.

Have we omitted something?  Still have something to say?  Please hit the “comment” link and let us know.


Google Docs for Classroom Collaboration

I’ve previously introduced Google Documents as an efficient tool to organize and publicize classroom materials to a universal or restricted audience. Here, we’ll see how using Google Docs as a collaborative tool for students enhances engagement and learning.

Sharing the Document with your Students
After creating an empty document — either a text document or spreadsheet or drawing — remember to share the document either universally or with a restricted URL.

As part of that sharing, you will allow others to edit the document as well. Remember — this edit option should only be used for those shared documents you really expect to be modified by others. You would not want to allow editing to your syllabus or reading list, on the other hand.

If you have a mailing list of all your students’ e-mail addresses, you can simply add that list to the sharing permissions. If not, you will need to copy the URL and broadcast that somehow — either in another known document, or in shortened format such as www.bit.ly which is easy to copy by anyone.

Ground Rules

Once you notify your students of the document’s URL, establish your learning expectations with them by clearly articulating what the learning activity entails and how to treat an open document. Simple rules might include

  1. Always identify your own work; this can be done by appending your initial and last name at the end of your addition such as [B Martin]
  2. Remember this is a public forum and all the rules of classroom respect will be observed within the document (here, link to your syllabus comments on classroom respect).
  3. After submitting your own work, remember to come back and review other students’ submissions and comments

These rules, of course, are the same rules you would suggest in any on-line learning environment.

Sample Collaborative Learning Activities

1. Commenting on a standard text. Using the Comment feature (Insert > Comment), students can add their own interactive interpretations or questions to an existing text, such as a historical document, published article, or your own faculty classroom notes. Here, the students will see how other students think while engaging with an actual source text — two critical thinking strategies. By seeing other students’ comments and questions, they also learn from each other while bouncing new ideas that you simply don’t have time to address in the classroom.

2. Group pre-writing. As you use small-group learning strategies, groups can use a space within one class document to pre-write a paper project. I’ve used this several times in my First Year Writing course, where the entire class sees other groups’ pre-writing ideas. Groups begin to become more competitive and can “steal” other groups’ ideas if they are usable.

3. Class note-taking. Here, students add their own notes and comments to other students’ notes for a class session or a module. Called crowd-sourcing, the idea is that the collection of various perspectives on what is important from class time shows different ways of looking at the same problem. Students can then use more creative ways of approaching the same topic or question. Yes, this means that some students will submit notes and other students will not, but the task here is not to grade students on their allegiance to note-taking, but to let students on-line do what they do anyway — copying and discussing their class impressions.

See this discussion of crowd-sourced notes which includes this live example of what can happen when more than one person begins to add ideas to an existing document.
4. Group papers or data sets. Depending on your small group learning project, Google Docs is the perfect way for a group to collaboratively bring their material and revisions to one document. This is far superior to multiple documents being shared across e-mail or flash drives. Revision history is maintained by Google Docs, and with the comment feature, the group can pose questions and reply while tracking their own conversation. The final document can be downloaded as an OpenOffice, Microsoft Office, or PDF file. The document-in-process can be shared with you, so you can monitor and advise as it is being created, revised, and edited.

These are just a few ideas for using the cloud for collaborative learning. Start small, and collect feedback from multiple students — some will have more experience with both group work and cloud documents. All students, however, can learn to use these resources easily and will soon be convinced that crowd-sourcing documents is an effective way to learn and to express learning.

In the comments, please feel free to offer your experience, suggestions, and questions about using Google Docs in your classroom. We’ll respond in comments below, and in future posts.

Thanks to all who organized and attended our DTAR workshop on Student Engagement, Thursday, Sept. 15th

The CTE’s Division of TA Resources held a workshop Thursday on student engagement, and we were especially pleased with the work of our Senior TA organizers, who included Bruce Martin and Allison Wright (English), Bernice Heilbrunn (History), and Cecilia Marrugo and Eugenia Ruiz (Hispanic Studies), who organized and presented this session under the supervision of CTE TA Coordinator Ms. Aymara Boggiano and CLASS TA coordinator Dr. Tamara Fish.

After a brief introduction, the presenters broke up the audience into small groups (a recognized High Impact Practice), and encouraged each group to discuss ideas and suggestions for improving engagement in their classes.

Below you will find summarized the ideas that each group arrived at:

Encouraging contact:

  • Work in small groups
  • Actively seek for moments to talk to students (during class or office hours)
  • Create a safe class environment where students are able to discuss their ideas
  • Find out what students’ interests are, and draw upon their knowledge and background in discussions


  • Use students’ names
  • Encourage conversation among students (peer review)
  • Letting them know they have a task and to be responsible for it
  • Encourage good class environment (revoicing to gently and selectively correct student errors)
  • Physical arrangement in classroom: Encourage students to look at each other when they talk (if necessary, rearrange seats, or walk around lecture hall)

Active learning:

  • Encourage extra participation points.
  • Use the idea of the lab: not lecturing for more than 15 min, get them engaged into active tasks
  • Have students do role playing or dramatic readings; students have fun getting to know each other and actively expressing what they learned
  • Debates: students’ active role in debating ethical topics.


  • Prompt feedback when doing labs or oral activities
  • Large assignments or exams take time to be graded.
  • The sooner feedback is given to students, the more meaningful learning is

Time on task:

  • Make sure the expectations are clear for students.
  • Clearly announcing instructor’s expectations for the class and consequences for not accomplishing tasks.
  • Time management: Let them know and emphasize on the time they have to perform a task.
  • Being up front about expectations: stick to the rules (true for both instructor and students)
  • Teach them how to present themselves in their professional future
  • Show them a curve from last semester’s work.

Respecting diverse talents and ways to learn:

  • Respecting cultural differences: some students need more time than others.
  • Respect their pace. Have in mind that some students are not familiar with class material:
  • “Hot topics” (if the course includes sensitive matters of personal or public interests such as religion, sexuality, family issues, stereotypes, etc.), state these topics and the nature of the discussion in the syllabus to avoid possible confrontations, and let students know from the first day of class what the topic will be and how it will be handled

At the end of a lively discussion, we asked students to continue the conversation here on the cte blog and at our upcoming CTE Conference, “Teaching Excellence in the 21st Century,” which will be held this Oct. 14th in the UC.  We are currently looking for TA volunteers to help us organize two TA-led sessions at that day’s conference.  If you’re interested, please hit “comment” here, or email Aymara Boggiano at ABoggiano@uh.edu.

One final thought: teachers often have one or two favorite strategies for engaging students, but sometimes those do not work, either because of the exhaustion of the students or professors, or because you will have a person or person who seems determined not to join in with the class.  What strategy would you recommend to a colleague as a way to turn things around?


via American RadioWorks: Has the Lecture Outlived its Usefulness?

Dr. Tamara Fish, the CLASS TA supervisor in charge of the Core Teaching Fellows project, has passed along a link to a very interesting public radio documentary about recent efforts to rethink the lecture format taken for granted in so many college classrooms.  Well worth checking out.  Let us know: are you ready to give up lecturing?  What are the alternatives that you’d like to see more widely used?


Google Docs For Centralized Classroom Documents

Since the advent of electronic documents, one of the problems with classroom management is document creep — the proliferation of hard-copy and e-copy documents that can overwhelm the student. With the best file management system, students can still be confused and overwhelmed, and eventually inured to too many documents. Blackboard’s file system doesn’t help much — it is still a system based on the old file-cabinet model, and adding documents there, then “showing” them to the students is cumbersome.

Here, we’ll overview a free service that will help you manage your course documents, create new documents easily, and share them with your students for easy access, without Blackboard. Google Documents (Google Docs, or GDocs) has multiple advantages and has become the standard for document sharing among students world-wide.

The Cloud — Not Quite the Blob

Google Docs operates in the “cloud” — delivery of a service instead of a product. The cloud operates “out there” — part of the Internet — everywhere and nowhere. As such, there is no software to download, such as with OpenOffice or Microsoft Office. The only ware needed is a browser such as Chrome or Firefox on your computer or on your smart phone. Documents are created, saved, and shared without having to download them, file them, or send them. Documents can be organized by “collections” and any document can be organized within multiple “collections” for cross-filing. You can create text, slide presentation, spreadsheet, drawing, and form documents. You can also upload any of these file types and more — you can upload image, audio, PDF, and even video files.

The immediate advantage of Google Docs is that any file or entire collections can be shared with your students. Say, for example, you create a collection “HIST 1301” and share that with your students. When you create a new file or upload a new PDF, for example, each student immediately has access to that entire collection and each document. If you want to be more selective with your sharing, you can share individual collections or documents with individuals or groups of individuals. You can also publish a collection or document to the entire World Wide Web so that everyone on the planet has access. Google will generate a URL for you.

Beyond the immediate advantage of sharing to large audiences, the access to Google Docs is one of its first strengths over CMS platforms such as Blackboard. Students are browsing the Web all the time and access to a Google Doc is easy and very fast. Students do not need to go through a security portal and don’t need to navigate through multiple icons to find your work. Consider sharing your class slide presentation as a Google Doc — the student goes to the class collection and there it is — accessible at all times.

But more than this, since each document is “live,” you can edit your documents on the cuff, and the changes are shared immediately with everyone. This is a significant advantage over static documents that must be deleted, edited, uploaded, and “shown” every time you want to add something. So, you can present class notes for Week 1 in a single document, then when you add notes for Week 2, it’s the same document, just enlarged. You can even create an automatic table of contents for every document that shows your additions as they grow.

Finally, Google Docs permits commentary for text documents — a meta-narrative on your text. On the right margin your comments will enhance or clarify graphics or your notes and can even show a dialog between persons who are permitted to comment in the document.

Quicker, easier access, group sharing, and commentary — these are some of the initial advantages of using Google Docs in the cloud to share with your students.

Next week, we’ll discuss how you can go even further — using Google Docs as a collaborative tool to even further enhance student learning in and out of the classroom.

In the comments, please feel free to offer your experience, suggestions, and questions about using Google Docs in your classroom. We’ll respond in comments below, and in future posts.