Faculty welcome to attend Simon Bott presentation, “Active Hands-On Learning in Large Lecture Classes,” tomorrow, 1-2 pm

This announcement came from Prof. Shirley Yu, CTE Board Member and campus coordinator for CIRTL:

Dear Colleagues

Faculty are cordially invited to attend Dr. Simon Bott’s presentation, “Active Hands-On Learning in Large Lecture Classes,”  on Monday 1:00-2:00 pm  in the CITE lab room 326.
His topic should be of interest to faculty and graduate student future faculty regardless of discipline.   Dr. Bott does a lot for the university through his creation and running of the PALS program, Profs with Pride, and the Cougar Trading Cards, so this is a great opportunity to meet him and learn some ways to engage large classes.  Please RSVP to Shirley Yu at slyu@uh.edu if you would like to attend.

Thank you,
Shirley Yu


VIA Houston Chronicle: “Quality education is the key to a growing energy industry”

UH’s own Rathindra Bose, along with David Holt, wrote a nice op-ed piece today about the need for Texas and specifically Houston to build a better education system, if we wish to sustain the growth we’ve recently experienced from our energy industry.  They write:

Quality education, from primary school through post-graduate-level work, is the key to a growing and sustainable energy industry, and the economic growth that accompanies it.

To promote this goal, they’ve sponsored events like the upcoming Energy Day event Oct. 20 downtown, which include fun hands-on activities like the CSTEM Challenge, which will highlight things like robotics and alternative vehicles.

What this op-ed and the Energy Day activities demonstrate is the importance of systemic educational improvement for this region’s economic goals.  Here’s hoping that plenty of 12-year-old kids turn up at the George H. Brown center, and start dreaming up new ways to build cool robot cars.


“Fostering Deep Learning”: CTE Fall Conference, 11-16-2012: UPDATED

On behalf of the University of Houston Center for Teaching Excellence, we would like to invite you to be part of an exciting conference to be held Friday, November 16, 2012.  “Fostering Deep Learning” 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.

The keynote speaker will be Dr. Ken Bain, the Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs and Professor of History and Urban Education at the University of the District of Columbia. He is the author of the book, What the Best College Teachers Do (Harvard Press 2004), which won the 2004 Virginia and Warren Stone Prize.  It has been widely adopted by universities around the world for their faculty development programs, and is one of the top selling books on college education. “I am fascinated with human learning,” said Bain, whose research has concentrated on a range of issues, including deep and sustained learning and the creation of natural critical learning environments.

Other highlights of the conference will include a variety of breakout sessions, complimentary lunch, and the chance to win a copy of Dr. Bain’s book compliments of the University of Houston LibrariesRegistration is free and open to all.

UPDATE: Lunch reservations are only available until 9 am on Monday, November 12. After that time, lunch is not guaranteed and will be available only if space permits.

There will be 6 breakout sessions devoted to the best methods of encouraging deep learning in your courses and discipline.

The conference will be held at the Hilton Hotel on the University of Houston Main Campus.

If you have any further questions, please email conference Co-Chairs Prof. Sara McNeil (smcneil@Central.UH.EDU) or David Mazella (dmazella@uh.edu).

Deadlines announced for nominations for the Provost’s Teaching Awards

Since the CTE has always maintained strong ties with the Provost’s Teaching Awards, we’re proud to announce the deadlines for this year’s round of nominations.
Deadlines are as follows:
Esther Farfel Award: November 2, 2012 (first nomination stage)
Teaching Excellence Awards: November 9, 2012 (first nomination stage)
*includes Piper Award nomination
Moores Professorship: February 7, 2012
Provost Faculty Advising Award: February 10, 2012Award program information and guidelines can be found here.

If you have any questions, please contact Dr. Kennedy at hkennedy@uh.edu or 3-9187.

Thanks for attending our “Why we fail our students” faculty workshop, 10-11-12

Our speakers today were Drs. Casey Due-Hackney (MCL), Donna Pattison (BIO), and Andrew Hamilton, our new Executive Director for Academic Innovation. The panel was moderated by Prof. Jim Garson (PHIL), who led off discussion with his own comments.

Garson noted that when he arrived here some time ago, he was surprised by the atmosphere surrounding instruction, which was dominated by cheap credits ($30/course) and “shopping for courses.”  And he suggested that the student culture has not moved sufficiently beyond that attitude.  He also noted that faculty attitudes then and now focused on aspects like students’ lack of preparation, which were essentially out of faculty control, rather than aspects of instruction that were in our power.  And he concluded with a call for faculty and students to change the prevailing culture of low expectations, and build together a culture of high expectations and success.  This cultural shift, however, would demand that both faculty and students embrace the risks and uncertainties of genuine learning.


Hamilton’s presentation, “Rethinking the Large Lecture” was organized into two parts: Problem and Solution.  The large lecture has been in use ever since medieval lecturers found it the cheapest way to disseminate information from big, expensive, hand-produced books, as we can see below with the variously distracted and sleeping medieval students might suggest.

According to Hamilton, the large lecture represents a problem because it demands a level of engagement and private study time that contemporary students are simply unable or unwilling to provide.  This, along with grade inflation and state and federal disinvestment in education, means that students will continue to fail in these important introductory courses in ever-growing numbers.

Hamilton did not propose any single “solution” to this mismatch of teaching approach to students, but instead offered a few design principles that would make success likelier than in teaching with conventional lecture models.

  • restructuring time on task, so that students must do practice work and receive feedback while still in class, instead of passively listening to content-materials
  • teaching intellectual skills, so that students can learn not just a particular content, but intellectual and critical skills (active reading, better writing, critical thinking, etc.) that could be developed further and used in other classes and contexts
  • teach students how to collaborate and work together better, so they can accelerate the pace of their own learning
  • support innovation structurally, so that systemic issues can be addressed in a similarly comprehensive way (this would include enhanced TA training, multi-use classroom space, new faculty orientation, and targeted faculty development)

Due-Hackney spoke from her 11 years’ experience in Classical Studies, and noted that her students had a very different schedule than she had when she was an undergraduate: they often work full-time, have family commitments, face significant commutes, and sometimes have responsibility for aging parents.  They are also much less prepared than she was in school, particularly in their writing.

Due-Hackney made her own recommendations about “what works for her”:

  • her enthusiasm for the material: this might seem obvious, but her evaluations have consistently shown that students enjoyed her classes because they could recognize her love of the material, and learned more because of her engagement with poems like the Iliad
  • keep your class on students’ radar, by regularly assigning weekly, engagement-oriented assignments like brief, informal writing responses to their assigned readings, and providing equally regular, timely feedback to their writing, which could be done online or in-class
  • student confidence grows with consistent encouragement and feedback, and with confidence comes better, more accomplished writing
  • stand up and be willing to be seen as a human being who makes mistakes, sometimes needs to look up answers, or can learn things from your students
  • acknowledge that the material is challenging, and that it should be hard for them to learn, and let them know that some of this material was difficult for you to learn, too
  • Finally, even in the largest classes, try to model the kind of approachability, compassion, and flexibility you have periodically needed in your own life, career, and education.  This can make an enormous difference for someone struggling with an issue in- or outside your course.

The third and final speaker, Dr. Pattison of Biology, outlined the comprehensive approach to student success that Biology Chair Dan Wells (a CTE board member) has directed in conjunction with a THECB grant, with the assistance of Pattison, Dr. Larry Williams, and Dr. Medrano, among others.  The Biology student success program, which Pattison described as “tackling every problem all at once,” included the following features:

  • tracking attendance through clicker questions
  • increasing engagement through strategic use of clicker questions followed by think/pair/share activities for questions that caused confusion
  • live demonstrations, with physical props, if necessary, to help students remember key concepts like meiosis/mitosis
  • having undergrad TAs patrol the back of the lecture hall, and make sure students are not texting, on facebook, etc.
  • arranging a dual syllabus, so that students scoring below 70% on a diagnostic must take a recitation-section version of the course with required attendance for recitations
  • field trips and other activities, including a Biology talk/dinner that allows undergrads to hear current research topics discussed
  • faculty workshops on pedagogy

Afterwards, the group discussed the problems of “disappearing students,” and the sometimes puzzling fact that students in difficulty will be able to finish classes they are engaged in, but fail the large lecture courses that are not motivating them.  We also discussed the possibility of mandatory prerequisite checks, which are being instituted in a number of courses and departments, but which are complicated by our very large transfer population, whose courses sometimes require significant time to process. Finally, the group agreed that all of these changes would require structural changes that would encourage faculty development and continual reflection upon, and improvement of, one’s teaching and courses.


Please attend our upcoming CTE Faculty Brown Bag Workshop, “Are We Failing our Students?” Thursday, 10/11, 12-1:30, 306 MDA Library

CTE Faculty Workshop  

Thursday, October 11, 12-1:30 in room 306 MD Anderson Library

“Are we Failing Our Students?”

Improving our graduation rates is an important concern at UH. The problem is particularly difficult in large core classes.  This workshop will explore what we can do to improve student success, particularly in large lectures. Participants are encouraged to share their own perceptions about the causes of the problem and its solutions.  Speakers will include Dr. Andrew Hamilton, our new Executive Director of Academic Innovation, Dr. Donna Pattison (Bio) and Dr. Casey Due-Hackney (MCL).

Please reply to Dr. Jim Garson if you plan to attend, at jgarson@uh.edu.

“Efficiency, Productivity, and Quality in Texas Higher Education State Policy”: a Presentation by Dr. Lee Holcombe, 10/11/12

I think this will be an important discussion for us as we try to understand  higher education policy in this state. Please make every effort to attend.

Thanks, DM