Please attend our Faculty Resource Workshop, April 18th, 1-2:30pm, on Developing Critical Thinking in the Multiple Choice Format

Center for Teaching Excellence Faculty Workshop

Event Date:
Thursday, April 18, from 1:00-2:30pm

Event Location:
M.D. Anderson Library, Room 306 (Faculty Senate Offices)


The Critical Multiple Choice:  Developing Critical Thinking with Multiple Choice Format
This workshop provides a hands-on forum to help you design and evaluate multiple choice questions so that they engage your students’ critical thinking abilities.
We will cover basic principles of effective question design, as well as novel approaches that focus on fundamental pedagogical goals.

Please bring some of your own multiple choice questions to use in the workshop, and we will provide feedback and discussion on the best strategies to develop effective questions in your field.

For RSVPs or questions regarding this workshop, please contact Prof. Jim Garson at garson@Central.UH.EDU.



Thanks for Attending our “Art of Managing Graduate Students” New Faculty Workshop, 2/19/13

The session’s moderator, Dr. Tamara Fish, the CTE’s TA Coordinator, kicked off the event by introducing the speakers, which included Dr. James Zebroski (English), Gordon Taylor (Engineering Technology) and Victor Gallardo (Engineering Technology).

Dr. Zebroski’s remarks were organized around the topics of “working inside the institution–teaching”; “working inside the institution–research”; and “working outside or on the edges of the institution.” Here are a few of the highlights:

  • “I try to see TFs less as advanced students and more as junior colleagues (as cheesy as that may sound).”
  • “Set up a support apparatus or better use the one you have”; stakeholder conferences; coordination; anticipate pragmatic teaching concerns of new teachers.
  • encourage your grad students to attend and present at national conferences; attend with them, mentoring them there, and then debrief afterwards.
  • Set up voluntary groups, and FEED THEM.  Feed them some more.
  • Collaborate with wherever possible: write an FDIP grant that employs them, or use them for research, or co-teach informally with them.

Because Taylor and Gallardo work so closely together as Lab Managers for ET, they gave a joint presentation about the issues that they encountered in their work with TAs.  Here are their highlights:

  • To provide consistency of expectations with performance and outcomes, it’s necessary to communicate at the outset the department’s policies, rules, and expectations for students in the course.
  • Their lab students really benefited from a hybrid style of instruction, because it allowed them to review online materials (such as the CTE instructional modules) at their leisure, then discuss them in face to face groups or review as needed.
  • The differing cultures of students coming from different parts of the world or with experiences from different disciplines or universities made teaching more complicated at the graduate level.  Clear, consistent expectations communicated early and then reiterated throughout the semester were the only ways to address those potential misunderstandings.
  • Each semester was organized like a project that had to be reverse engineered from the final deadline back through the sequence of assignments and deadlines.

Finally, Dr. Tamara Fish noted that grad instruction was a “liminal space” where students could work together but which also might inspire anxiety, resistance, or anger.   She asked attendees to consider their TAs as apprentice faculty who would benefit from being introduced into the complexities and pleasures of academic work, even with all its institutional constraints.  As faculty, we helped to model for our students the nature of academic work.

After a lively discussion of professional dress, and the difficulties of teaching and professionalizing those not directly imitating our career paths, discussion broke up around 2:30.

If you have further thoughts on this topic, or would like CTE to address other topics of interest to you or your department, please email me at or hit REPLY on the blog.


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

Please attend our upcoming CTE Faculty Brown Bag Workshop, Friday, 9/28, 12-1:30, 306 MDA Library

For further information, please contact Jim Garson at

See you there!

Thanks to all who attended the Faculty Workshop on Getting the Most out of Blackboard: 4-21-11; UPDATED

[today’s attendees came from over 10 departments and 4 colleges, as well as the library]

[Prof. Holly Hutchins presenting]

[Prof. Lindsey Schwarz presenting]

[Dr. Simon Bott presenting]

In the Faculty Senate offices today, Dan Wells helped facilitate a faculty workshop on “Getting the Most Out of Blackboard.”  Our presenters were Holly Hutchins (who is also a member of the CTE board), Martha Dunkelberger (a UH teaching award winner this year), Lindsey Schwarz, and Simon Bott (also a teaching award winner this year).

Here are some of the highlights of the discussion; readers are invited to submit additions, corrections, or additional comments or information to this summary.

  • Holly Hutchins stressed the need for those teaching on Blackboard to remember that technology cuts two ways, amplifying the effects of either good or bad course design.  She also urged instructors to learn the mechanics of any platform they intended to use, so that they could design the course with better knowledge of the platform’s strengths and weaknesses, and so that they would be able to update or resolve any problems that came up without too great delays.
  • She showed certain modules, like a Welcome module, “Getting to know you” assignments, and a student-run “Graduate Cafe,” that were added for the sake of greater engagement.
  • She argued for the importance of addressing any questions students had about the format as early as possible, preferably before the semester even began, to allay anxiety.
  • She reminded the audience that the principles of adult learning (which was her course’s content, as well as its organizing principle) dictated that the adult students be given reasons for every stage of the assignment, so they could learn to follow directions and monitor their own performance.
  • Finally, immediacy and responsiveness from the instructor, along with the lead time necessary for good thoughtful course design, were crucial for the success of a Distance Education (DE) or hybrid-style course.

The next speaker was Martha Dunkelberger, who talked about how she taught writing in the context of Communication Disorders.  She stressed the use of asynchronous chats for their writing assignments, which gave her and her students additional opportunities to discuss assignments and whatever problems they were encountering.

The third speaker was Lindsey Schwarz, who presented her techniques of conducting classes using Wimba technology, which enables instructors to conduct classes using microphone headsets, a “whiteboard” that can be drawn on, private messaging, and pdfs and ppts with predesigned content.

The final speaker was Simon Bott, who talked about his experience teaching large Chemistry lectures using BB as a way to foster engagement.  One of the biggest issues for Bott is the problem of the bank of test questions, which need to be generated much more frequently than he initially expected.  Bott does not provide notes to his course, but he does conduct weekly review sessions that he makes available to students, while also selectively providing students with accommodations some support with additional teaching materials from his lectures.  He also encourages his tutors to come onto his forums to help ask and answer questions online during the weekend.

The meeting broke up around 2:30, with the promise that CTE would host additional workshops on topics of interest to those teaching using technology in the coming year.


UPDATE: Mr. Bruce Martin, our very capable assistant at the CTE, has investigated one of the questions that came up, and reports as follows:

A question was asked about automatic forwarding of Blackboard mail to personalized mail. This can be done by the student through his “My Settings” once logged into BB.

My Settings > My Tool Options > Mail > Mail Forwarding

The e-mail address is maintained under the student’s profile, which is located within the Roster. This means, then, that the Roster must be enabled and visible to students to use.

From within the course > Build > Designer Tools > Manage Course > Tools > Roster

UPDATE #2: Lindsey Schwarz has provided the pdfs for Wimba, one for instructors, the other for the students:



Thanks for coming to the CTE Faculty Discussion on Peer Mentoring, 3/24/2011

[Pictured: CTE Co-Chair Dan Wells leading discussion, while CTE TA coordinator Aymara Boggiano and Prof. David Shattuck listen]

Discussion began with CTE Co-Chair Dan Wells stating that the CTE was interested in developing a pool of faculty who would be interested in participating in a Peer Mentoring program and establishing guidelines for such a program.  Two draft documents were pre-circulated, to serve as the basis for discussion.



Attendees then shared their previous experiences and expectations for a peer mentoring program.

–Some mentioned having extensive experience mentoring other faculty under different circumstances, such as being called upon by the Chair of the Department to act as mentor to a junior faculty. Others had participated in setting up mentoring and consultation programs at previous institutions. A few had experience mentoring TAs and Adjuncts. One person had informal experiences with colleagues requesting assistance and feedback on their teaching. Some had engaged in observation of classes and discussions of teaching methods. At least two people expressed that they had found that mentoring in research and scholarship was readily available, but none on teaching; so this initiative would be a good idea. It was mentioned that mentoring for teaching was not unlike mentoring for scholarship.

Several ideas came up in terms of what activities and services should be provided through a peer mentoring program.

• Producing not just evaluations of teaching but guidelines for consistent and fair evaluation.

• Providing a consultation service for individuals interested in improving their own teaching.

• Developing a handbook with very specific and practical information such as how to write exam questions, how many slides to have on a Power Point Presentation, or how to deal with issues of diversity.

• Organizing seminars to generate a “Community of Teaching,” starting from inside of each Department.

At the same time, some caveats and possible problems were mentioned about the proposed mentoring program:

• the mentoring and evaluation program should remain voluntary for participants; chairs or deans should not dictate who gets mentored .

• the name should be changed to something like “Consulting Program”

It was also mentioned that the program needs to be professionalized and organized; nonetheless, developing a Peer mentoring program had the potential to be a mutually rewarding experience for both the mentors and the mentees.

Two challenges for mentors were identified and will need to be addressed as we think about implementation of the program:

• Mentors need to become proactive and focus on helping mentees up front to plan and structure their courses, perhaps reviewing syllabi to avoid potential problems or difficulties.  Mentors could help mentees structure courses and syllabi to anticipate and resolve potential problems.

• Both mentors and mentees will need to arrange for specific times to meet regularly throughout the semester or the year.

It was also pointed out that existing mentoring programs in place at UH or at other institutions could provide resources for the establishment of the CTE’s program.  For example:

• The Math/Chemistry departments reportedly have strong mentoring program in place

• The Medical Center has a Cooperative Master Teaching Program

• There are funded professional sources of faculty who are doing this training. They can be called to come in and train local faculty (NSF Mentoring the Mentors Grant)

A few attendees came in the hopes of finding a mentor because they were having difficulties in their classes and thought that getting a mentor would be helpful. One had been assigned to teach a Hybrid course, but had no experience with teaching on-line courses, and was also interested in getting help with course development. They were told to contact CTE board members, and they would receive further informal assistance, while we set up more formal programs.


• The mentoring program needs to be formative in nature, not quantitative but qualitative.

• CTE should encourage departments to form their own mentoring programs.

• The CTE will not engage in reporting on the mentoring activities to any departments, but will assist in setting up a program if requested.

• The program should be adaptable to particular needs of individuals or departments.

• There should be a commitment by all involved parties not to make mentoring or peer evaluation a punitive gesture.

Another suggestion was for the mentors to go with mentees to other classes, especially the classes of good teachers. Then they could arrange a follow up discussion about the class. Possibly even critique the course and have the instructor explain their goals and why they do things. May even be a good process for a larger group such as a group of new faculty.

Finally, the entire group reviewed CTE draft document. There was general consensus that the document was good, but still needed to make clear that “one size does not fit all.”  The CTE, departments, and mentees would need to adapt the process to each situation as it arose.

[notes taken by Aymara Boggiano, David Mazella, and Dan Wells; discussion facilitated by Dan Wells]

UPDATE: Lindsay Waters passed along the following very helpful links to webpages at the Baylor College of Medicine, overseen by Dr. Anne Gill:

Reference Materials

Web Links

Highlights from the Faculty Brown Bag, “Engaging Large Classes”–2/17/11

Presenters were Nancy Young (History), Amy Vandaveer (Marketing), Barry Lefer (Earth and Atmospheric Science), and Simon Bott (Chemistry).  David Mazella (English) helped facilitate the discussion.  37 faculty were present.

Dr. Young talked about her background as a teacher at a liberal arts college, and how she continued these engagement strategies at UH, even with larger classes.  Some of her practices include:

  • Moving around the classroom, moving around the aisles, never letting them get too far from her voice. Asking specific students, allowing them to stumble to grow.
  • Using slides with specific engaging/confronting quotes, then asking students to predict the author – age, sex, color, etc.  Slides become basis to question the material.
  • Using clickers in class room. To take attendance silently (divided through class hour). Used also to reflect reading and to facilitate discussion. Then she can talk to the students based on their decisions.
  • Starting lecture with an open-ended question, similar to the scholars’ questions, involved in the debate. Framing the lecture’s argument with a question makes it more likely for students to remember the discussion.
  • Using “challenge” questions, which unlike the opening question, do have a right or wrong answer.
  • Exploiting multimedia, bringing in sound file, music, film clips, links of recorded conversations

Dr. Young views the lecture as an embryonic distillation of actual historical inquiry.

In terms of classroom management, Dr. Young does not tolerate side conversations. She navigates the classroom to hear the students in their own voices.

Ms. Amy Vandaveer talked about the teaching principles that she had developed over years of teaching large sections:

  • Purposeful preparation
  • Unplug and engage – zero tolerance of student tech in classroom
  • Become mobile – the podium is not your friend
  • YouTube is your friend
  • Peer learning can be powerful
  • Relatable information and Collateral – visuals from real culture; use story-telling

Dr. Barry Lefer offered some of his own strategies for holding the attention of large classes and maximizing their learning:

  • Take attendance and have class participation count as grade or extra credit
  • Start lecture with “News of the Day,” some news item related to course content
  • Ask questions from names included on Attendance Sheet, wait for answers
  • Walk around the classroom.
  • Use stories from personal research/experience to bridge their understanding of course content
  • Build on students’ experience – they often know the answer, but don’t know why
  • Pop quizzes
  • Multiple cumulative exams; review exams after grading, top 10 incorrectly answered questions

Dr. Simon Bott, described how he keeps control of a 550 student class every semester.  On the first day of class, he establishes two simple rules:

  1. $1000 buys them presence in that classroom three times a week; anything that takes away from any student’s hearing chemistry is evil; no one has that right to take away that $1000 experience. Bott embarrasses late-comers, early-leavers, talkers, cell-phone users, no lap-top users
  2. Bott is the king of the classroom. Students are his subjects. Confiscates lap-tops and cell phones for class duration.

He also gives them a brief written quiz every day, which he personally grades immediately following the class and enters into a spreadsheet.  By the mid-semester, he knows the roster and is able to match faces to names and grades.

After these presentations, the group discussed the best way to ask questions to a large group, and how to make them approachable yet challenging enough to keep students’ interest.  They should ramp up in difficulty as the semester proceeds.  Marketing demands that novices learn how to ask questions of their customers or clients.  Science teaching is often based on basing questions on visual materials like graphs or illustrations.

There was also a discussion of the usefulness of attendance, roll sheets, and various kinds of attendance policies.  One audience member suggested a mid-semester survey that asked students three simple questions: what’s working? what can I do to help you learn better? and what can you do to learn better?  Another suggestion was to survey students at the beginning of the semester to ask them their goals for the course.

The brown bag ended around 2:30.

[thanks to Bruce Martin for taking the minutes for this meeting]


So, have we forgotten anything?  And what should we discuss next?  If you have a suggestion, hit the Comment button, or email us at, or visit our website at