Thanks to all who attended our reception for CUT recipients, 5/4/12

On Friday, May 4th, the CTE’s Division of TA Resources (DTAR) held a reception to celebrate the awarding of certificates to 14 TAs who successfully completed our Certificate of University Teaching program in the spring. Hosting the celebration were the two people most directly responsible for this program, Aymara Boggiano and Dr. Tamara Fish, along with the CTE Director, Dave Mazella (DTAR’s Bruce Martin was unable to attend due to sickness). TA Supervisors Ruxandra Prodan (ECON) and Flavia Belpoliti (HSD) also attended.

The reception began with presentations of teaching portfolios by Lena Ogrokhina (ECON) and Maria Alvarez (HSD), where they each talked about the usefulness of compiling the portfolios.  Both agreed that the portfolios were a huge help in reflecting upon, and learning from, their own teaching experience, and in preparing for a competitive job market.

After the presentations, Ms. Boggiano and Dr. Fish presented certificates to the candidates [click on thumbnail to enlarge]:

At the conclusion of our ceremony, Ms. Boggiano announced that this would be her final semester with the CTE and DTAR, and that she would be moving on to a new post at the University of North Texas.  Drs. Mazella and Fish thanked Ms. Boggiano for her superb work establishing the DTAR and CUT programs, and wished her the best in the future.

Dr. Mazella also announced that Dr. Fish will take over supervision and coordination of the CUT program beginning this summer.  The CTE is currently searching for a full-time replacement for Ms. Boggiano, which will carry the job title of Associate Director.  Drs. Mazella and Fish will remain in contact with participating departments and supervisors until a replacement is found.

Our best wishes for all of you who have completed the CUT program.  We hope everyone has a happy and productive summer.

David Mazella,

Director, UH CTE

Congratulations to the recipients of this year’s Certificates of University Teaching! (including pics from 5/6/11 ceremony)


Vivian Santana-Islam

Burcu Mutlu

Gabriel E. Barbieri

Ligia Gramajo

Cecilia Marrugo-Puello

Kelly Lee

Allison Wright

Bruce Martin

Jessica Wilbanks (not pictured)

Danielle DuBois (not pictured)


Flavia Belpoliti

Tamara Fish

Elizabeth Kessler (not pictured but attended)

CTE faculty and staff:

David Mazella

Aymara Boggiano

Bruce Martin

Highlights from the CTE/DTAT Workshop on Adaptive Teaching, 3/10/11

As a framework for the workshop, CTE/DTAT Coordinator Aymara Boggiano highlighted the main ideas in the article, “The 4-Stage Response to Low Student Achievement,” by John Lemuel (Chronicle of Higher Education, March 11, 2011). Lemuel notes that instructors go through four stages in response to their students’ poor performance: (1) shock; (2) dismay and guilt; (3) contempt and blame; (4) acceptance. While the first three stages are passive, the fourth is active and constructive as instructors begin to ask what strategies they might use to help their students to succeed.

Prof. Boggiano introduced Professors Shankar Chellam from Civil and Chemical Engineering and Brandon Rottinghaus from Political Science, who discussed the ways they adapt their teaching to maximize effectiveness.  Professor Chellam noted that he has gone through Lemuel’s four stages, especially early in his teaching, when his expectations were unrealistic and his courses were more difficult. Chellam observed that the key is to be satisfied in his own mind that the course is satisfactory, and then he can deliver an effective class to his students. He accomplishes this by assigning less work, spending more one-on-one conference time with his students so he can get to know them better, and making the work relevant to students’ own lives and experiences, especially through the use of group projects with which they can connect.  Projects also provide advanced students the opportunity to exhibit their greater expertise. He also gives quizzes in the first or second week of class so that students know they need to work hard and are motivated to visit him. In these ways he is better able to convey his passion for the subject. Professor Chellam admitted that students still complain that there is “too much work,” or that it is “too hard,” but they also appreciate the opportunity to have meaningful conversations with a professor, and students sometimes end up doing more work than is required because of their interest. He emphasized the importance of noting, “Who am I teaching?”

Professor Rottinghaus cautioned that we should not necessarily leap to change our teaching mid-semester, and that we should be careful to determine the causes for poor achievement, making sure that the problem is with the material or its presentation, before overreacting.  Professor Rottinghaus distributed a midterm evaluation form that he sometimes uses to determine the nature of the challenges students are facing; students’ responses may move him to provide more context for concepts, clarify with extra materials, adapt writing assignments or make expectations more clear, or provide a sample A paper from a previous term to show what it should look like. He sometimes incorporates small group work mid-lecture to reinvigorate the class.  In large lecture classes, Professor Rottinghaus tries to anticipate problems, assigning students to meet with TAs, sending them summaries of what the exam is about and tips for how to improve performance, sending a “primer” on how to prepare for exams, and creating online practice tests and flashcards for all chapters.

Participants worked with sample cases in breakout sessions, discussing ways they might apply some of the concepts introduced by the speakers. Strategies discussed included:

  • Making connections with students’ interests; make the content relatable, real
  • Using multimedia
  • Enlisting older, more knowledgeable students to help teach the less well prepared; pairing an advanced learner with one less advanced
  • Differentiating instruction for different levels of learners
  • Assigning varying levels of an activity
  • Making advanced learners aware of opportunities that will challenge them outside the classroom—e.g., writing contests, clubs and organizations
  • Using current events
  • Compiling and distributing lists of additional resources—e.g., exercises to improve performance, Internet links
  • Using a KWL strategy: before teaching material, determine what students already know and what they want to learn; after teaching, ask them to write reflectively about what they have learned
  • Ending class five minutes early to allow students to come forward to ask questions
  • Making office hours mandatory for students who miss classes
  • Enlisting others on campus who can serve as resources for students
  • Clearly outlining expectations from the beginning of class
  • Using recitations to assist with large lectures

[Notes by Tamara Fish, assisted by Aymara Boggiano; Videos by Bruce Martin]

Highlights from the “Leading Discussion” DTAT workshop, 2/25/11

We had a very productive DTAT workshop on leading discussion yesterday.  CTE people on hand were Dave Mazella (facilitating), along with Aymara Boggiano, Tamara Fish, and Bruce Martin, assisting throughout.

To begin with, Anadeli Bencomo (Hispanic Studies), David Phillips (Philosophy), Peter Copeland (Geology), and Nathan Shepley (English) began with a roundtable where they outlined their own approaches to leading discussions in their respective disciplines.  Each of them gave the assembled TAs a glimpse into how they conduct their classes.  Here are some highlights:

  • Bencomo talked about the necessity of telling stories in her Spanish literature classes, and leading students to imagine different kinds of readers and different forms of response to those stories.
  • Phillips argued about the need for instructors to use silence strategically, to create the necessary spaces for students to enter into discussion, and how important the early weeks of the semester are to set the expectation for the conversations to follow.
  • Copeland gave us a whiz-bang 5 minute lesson in geology, to show how he uses examples like sand poured into the middle of a room and the Grand Canyon to teach his freshmen the basic principles of geology; he stressed the need for instructors to question students to the point where students arrive at the desired formulation or answer, instead of just delivering the answering straight away.
  • Shepley talked about the best ways to start a conversation, by beginning with the familiar and working out from there, and by dividing the class into groups with its own specific tasks to complete and share.

After some questioning from the floor, the class broke up into smaller groups to discuss and reflect upon the potential problems inherent in discussion (how, for example, does one maintain focus?) along with potential solutions (simplify one’s topic, and make clear one’s goals to the group, so that everyone knows where the discussion has to end up).

One interesting observation emerged about the varied uses of discussion for learning: in more skills-oriented contexts like language instruction or technology courses, discussion is intended to give students practice, and to help them master a particular skill or type of speech; in other contexts like literature courses, open discussion is what enables students and faculty to imagine and entertain alternative interpretations and explanations of the topic at hand.

The TAs sent a representative from each table to help summarize the best insights gathered from the session, and the group adjourned around 12:30.

Have we left anything out?  Are there any topics you think we should cover?  Let us know by hitting the Comment button.


Thanks to all who attended our Improving Assessment: Grading and Error Correction TA Workshop

Thanks to everyone who showed up at our event on Thursday, Nov. 4, and thanks especially to Dr. Tamara Fish of CLASS for putting together such a helpful presentation; thanks also to Dr. Aymara Boggiano for helping to organize the event.

We had quite full attendance, with roughly 39 registered for the event, and what felt like at least another 5-10 present who had not registered, including supervisors etc.  HSD and ET were once again most heavily represented in pilot programs, with roughly equal numbers I think from PSY, EPSY, and ENGL.  We had a very large contingent from Poli Sci, too, as well as other programs who apparently had heard from the announcement on Cathy Patterson’s grad director’s listserv.

Tamara divided the session between a 20-30 min. overview of the key concepts and practices of grading and assessment, including rubrics, followed by lunch and hands on grading exercises at tables segregated roughly by discipline.  The TAs had assignments from ENGL, HSD, and ET to grade separately and discuss their results.  Discussion at the tables and immediately following was very lively, and we all felt that we and the students could have used a bit more time to discuss the issues.

Tamara has provided us with the pdf of her handout, which those interested in reviewing the presentation may find here.


My favorite point from the discussion came when Tamara talked about the dual purposes of asssessments in instruction, which serve as “instruments of instruction” for both students and faculty:

  • for students: good assessments help them learn, understand their progress (command of content, intellectual development, quality of performance, accuracy of understanding)
  • for teachers: good assessments help us know how well we have succeeded in achieving our objectives, and show us whether we may have fallen short.

In short, good grading and assessment practices help both sides in instruction monitor and learn from the learning process taking place in the classroom.