CIRTL Coffee Talk with FREE LUNCH!!

Dear Faculty & Students:

The University of Houston is a member of the Center for the Integration of Research, Teaching, and Learning network The CIRTL network consists of 23 universities with a shared mission of training science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) graduate students and post-doctoral fellows, the future STEM faculty, to be better instructors in order to improve undergraduate STEM education. UH-CIRTL is partnering with the UH Center for Teaching Excellence – Division of TA Resources to provide additional program offerings designed to give STEM graduate students and post-docs a competitive edge in teaching and research mentoring.

Coffee Hour  “Teaching at a primarily minority institution”
Thursday, Mar. 28, 12:00-1:00 pm CT
Location: 326 Farish Hall

Is teaching at a historically black or Hispanic serving institution different from teaching at other institutions? What kinds of skills, understandings, approaches, sensitivities or strategies are helpful? Hear three perspectives on this very large topic and begin to explore some of the rewards and challenges of teaching at a primarily minority institution. Bring your experiences, perspectives and questions.

UH’s own Dr. Imani Goffney (Curriculum and Instruction), will share her experiences of teaching at a primary minority institution.

~ Join Dr. Goffney along with your fellow graduate students and post-docs in a learning community as this session is broadcast from the UH campus!
A limited number of seats are available for this live session in 326 Farish Hall (located on the 3rd floor of Farish Hall in the CITE computing lab suite 300).  Doors will open at 11:30 pm, and Dr. Goffney will remain in the lab after the session until 1:30 pm for an extended discussion and Q/A. Come enjoy a FREE lunch as you mingle with Dr. Goffney, students, and faculty!

Please RSVP (by Tuesday, March 26 at 5pm) to Hibah Salem at ( to ensure your seat!!

This Coffee Hour will also be facilitated through Blackboard Collaborate with the following faculty members from the CIRTL Network:

Tabitha Hardy, Post Doc, Institutional Research and Academic Career
Development Award (IRACDA) Fellow, University of Alabama at

Dr. Keri Mans, MERIT Postdoctoral Scholar, Department of
Neurobiology, University of Alabama at Birmingham

Event Flyer:

To join a Coffee Hour~
Sessions take place in the Blackboard Collaborate room.
·         The room opens one hour before each session.
·         Headphones are required to prevent audio feedback, which can occur when using computer speakers (provided by CITE Lab)
·         A microphone is also required (provided by CITE Lab)
·         Additional information, including a participant tutorial, is available at the Blackboard Collaborate<; page.

A teleconference line is also available as a back-up: 1 (855) 947-8255 , passcode: 7457 063#

For questions regarding UH-CIRTL, please contact the Program Assistant, Hibah Salem at (


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.


VIA Faculty Focus: “Enough Time to Make a Difference in Students’ Lives”

Since it’s nearly graduation time (and I’ll be hooding my first PhD!), I thought this piece by Maryellen Weimer at the Faculty Focus blog would be appropriate:

It’s that time of the year when students leave us. Some graduate and we celebrate their growth and intellectual accomplishments. We are sorry to see them go. Others cross the stage and their parting is no cause for sweet sorrow. Some leave without ever crossing the stage. And some temporarily leave, returning in the fall or for a summer session.

There are the teachers and students who barely notice one another, and then there are the interactions and relationships that stay with individuals for a lifetime, for better or worse.  Those moments, and their enduring power, are what make teaching such a risky, and rewarding, endeavor.


Faculty Workshop — Making Technology Work for You

The Center for Teaching Excellence sponsored a workshop on technology in the classroom on Friday 24 February 2012.  The workshop began with presentations from Todd Romero (History), Rebecca Forrest (Physics), and Jennifer Lazzaro (IT support staff for CLASS).

Todd Romero began the discussion by stressing the importance of getting help from IT support staff when planning to employ new technologies in teaching. He thanked Jennifer Lazzaro for her help in helping him organize the material for his history courses. The challenge for the history department is to lower the failure and drop rates for the large (450 student) survey courses it offers as part of the Core Curriculum. Those rates have exceeded 50% in the past, although recent efforts have brought that number down. Romero used clickers in his class, but discontinued the practice in favor of alternative methods for increasing class involvement. The lesson is that it is important to find out what works for a given situation, and to adjust when a given technology does not help.

The technologies Romero uses now include video podcasts to help students improve their learning skills such as note taking, reading a textbook, and taking essay tests. Many students have had no prior experience in these areas. Romero also makes extensive use of e-mails, to remind students of items on the syllabus such as tests and major assignments, and to given students feedback on how they are doing in the course, both for those who are having trouble, and those who are doing well. He explained that his use of PowerPoint has evolved from text dense slides to the use of graphics such as editorial cartoons, maps and satellite images of parts of the world. He stressed the importance of making PowerPoints visually rich.

Romero described how technology is used in two online history classes, one on Native Americans and the other on witchcraft. Here lectures are replaced with shorter units of about 20 minutes that make extensive use of video podcasts, and film clips. Students are encouraged to engage in digital story telling, by working out their own graphical presentations on history topics. Developing a good script for a video can be as rewarding for the student as writing a paper, and many students have strong digital skills to draw on.

Romero has also used discussion boards extensively, and advises that it is not necessary to respond to everything, as he did at first. Now he takes the role of a moderator, who provides reminders, thanks students for their participation, and encourages further discussion.

Rebecca Forrest described her efforts to improve her introductory and upper-class physics courses. She used clickers as a method for peer instruction. A question is posed to the whole class. Students respond, and then discuss their answers in small groups, and are then asked to respond a second time. The hope is that the responses will converge on the right answer, and that the responses can be used as a focus of discussion of the topic at hand. Forrest no longer uses this method, as she now prefers to use that class time for demonstrations.

Forrest reported on three different online tactics she uses. The first is online systems for submission, grading and feedback on homework, which are supplied by many introductory physics textbooks. This is an improvement over manual submission and grading of homework where only a fraction of the problems can be graded by TAs, and feedback is not immediate.

A second online technique is to give short quizzes on material through Blackboard shortly before a class. She got the idea from project on teaching called Just in Time Teaching. The tests help guarantee that students are ready for a given class.

A third method Forrest uses is to provide online tutorials on math skills in the first two weeks of her introductory courses. Students in these courses are often not prepared mathematically, as evidenced by drop and failure rates in the 30% – 40% range. A diagnostic exam of math skills is given before the class begins, to warn students of their deficiencies, but even so, the problem persists. Online tutorials allow students to get back up to speed in math.

The main problem Forrest experiences is dealing with three different online systems, one for homework grading, one for quizzes (Blackboard), and one for tutorials. She is hoping that the homework systems can be integrated into Blackboard in the future.

Jennifer Lazzaro began by urging faculty to think hard about the issues they are trying to resolve before they worry about applications of technology. She described a wide range of technologies for the classroom, including Wimba, where one can create a virtual classroom with students and/or guest speakers at remote sites, and archive the entire proceedings for later use. She also mentioned Voice Boards to language training, TurnItIn for plagiarism checking, and convenient return of written comments by the instructor, Skype for virtual classrooms and guest speakers, and Google Hangout where up to 15 people can collaborate with video camera and microphone on a single document or blackboard. Lazzaro also described some successful teaching technology projects in CLASS, including a course on Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, where a website describing the pilgrimage of the characters is presented.

There followed a freewheeling discussion on a wide range of issues.

Frank Holt described the reactions faculty have to the technology revolution – from those who complain that there is no chalk in the room, to those like Forrest who develop a sophisticated range of technologies. The main problem he sees is that it is very difficult for faculty to see, and come to appreciate, the rich variety of technologies being deployed at UH. He suggested that we create a super course so that examples of best practices would be available to all.

The topic turned to the “blind” use of inappropriate technology. Jennifer Lazzaro pointed out that while Second Life is very exciting, it is far from clear how it can be successfully used in a given class setting. Rebecca Forrest pointed out that despite all the technology she deploys, she uses chalk to lecture. That is an advantage over PowerPoint, since the speed at which she is able to write matches the speed at which students can take notes effectively. When questioned about how her class of over 165 students can all see the board, she responded that she simply writes larger than usual. Jim Garson mentioned that working with PowerPoint restricts his movement and this is detrimental to keeping the class’s attention. Frank Holt remarked on the problem that turning ones back to write on the board automatically loses contact with the class. It was pointed out that using visual presentations has been around ever since the widespread use of slides. PowerPoint does help by providing more convenient storage and management of images, and the web has improved access to them.

The speakers were asked to comment on the amount of extra time it takes to use technology. Romero pointed out that his e-mail system can be managed with as little as a half an hour a week. Forrest pointed out that many of the things she must do to set things up online (such as setting up homework assignments) would have to be done in any case. She said that grading the pre class tests was manageable for 80 students, but for a class of 180 she needed to develop a new way that used multiple choice grading. In general, it is important to rethink how to do testing so as not to be swamped with the extra work. Her worst problem is managing the grades in three different system. Merging files where student lists are different can be challenging.

A discussion of the issues related to online grading of homework followed. Those systems are good at evaluating student answers, but not at evaluating the methods students used to arrive at them. It is not easy for such systems to award partial credit for a good derivation followed by a silly mistake in keying a value to a calculator. The worry is that online grading will stress getting the right answer, whereas what we want to teach is the correct method for deriving the answer. Furthermore, online grading does not encourage the student to work out a problem in detail on a piece of paper.

Near the end of the workshop, the topic turned to textbook publishers, the new online tools they provide, and the digital revolution in the way students will read them. Several participants mentioned heavy lobbying by textbook representatives interested in the large profits to be obtained by having a whole department adopt their text for an introductory course. Packages with textbook and online materials can run well over $200. As to whether these costs will come down for students who use digital readers rather than hard copy, Lazzaro thought that the answer was: No. At present, publishers offering packages where the student uses his or her digital reader are provided for a limited amount of time (6 months to a year), cannot be sold after their use, are harder to use than a hard copy text, and still cost only about $15 less. Frank Holt remarked on the poor quality of some texts, which are only lightly revised and retitled for use in very different courses.

New Faculty Workshop — Working with Graduate Students

Last Tuesday new faculty met to discuss supervising teaching assistants, research assistants, and graduate students in various disciplines. The workshop was co-sponsored by the UH Commission on Women, Human Resources, and the Center for Teaching Excellence.  Dr Julia Wellner of Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, Dr. James Zebroski of the Department of English, and Ms. Aymara Boggiano of the CTE shared their experience working with graduate students over the years. 16 other faculty attended this discussion in the Faculty Senate offices in 306 M. D. Anderson Library.

Dr. Wellner emphasized that faculty should establish a firm, yet open relationship. She explained that a strict professional engagement that shared concerns about the graduate student’s community worked best for both parties. Sharing one’s interests is different than sharing one’s life, for example. She also stressed that students should be encouraged to lead when they need to lead.

Dr. Zebroski suggested that teaching assistants and research assistants be introduced to the CTE’s learning modules to address many concerns with classroom management and teaching strategies. Dr. Zebroski addressed the benefits of a first-semester orientation course that demonstrates research-based teaching methods. He also recommended that faculty should not make surprise observations for teaching assistants, but schedule a pre- and post-observation meeting to discuss plans and reflection on the classroom time. When mentoring teaching assistants, faculty should have the TA focus on just one or two items and encourage the observation of other TA’s in the department. Finally, he encouraged reflection for both the TA and the supervisor — “making visible what is going on in their head.”

Aymara Boggiano, Director of TA Resources in the Center for Teaching Excellence presented this slide presentation, with commentary.

Supervising Graduate Students

Faculty Workshop: The Art of Managing Graduate Students Tuesday 21 February 12:00-12:50pm

The Center for Teaching Excellence, in association with UH Human Resources and the University Commission on Women, will present an open workshop for new and all faculty on the “Art of Managing Graduate Students.”

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

12:00 – 12:50 p.m.

in room 306, M. D. Anderson Library

Experienced faculty and Human Resources professionals will present strategies for developing successful graduate experiences that include setting expectations and gaining commitment, effective communication, inspiring and motivating through burn-out and crisis, and impacting future work ethics.

You are welcome to bring your lunch with you. Cookies and beverages will be provided. Please R.S.V.P. to 713-743-9182 or email  

VIA the Chronicle of Higher Ed: Teaching: a “good deed most punished,” or an “innovative approaches”?

If you want to experience a real whipsaw effect, read these two accounts of teaching in higher ed, the first from a Promotion and Tenure advice columnist in the Chronicle, the second an account of a teaching and learning conference just held at Harvard.

The first comes out with statements like the following:

High on any Top 10 list of the most frequent advice offered to young faculty members is this: No good deed goes unpunished.

The aphorism at first seems cynical, pessimistic, dysfunctional. Doing good, as members of a higher-education community, is our job. What if everyone just looked out for No. 1? The entire promotion-and-tenure system—which depends on altruistic volunteerism—would collapse. Nevertheless, there are many situations where taking too much time, trying too hard to do good, or doing good for the wrong reasons or for the wrong person can lead to career trouble, or worse.

The account of the highminded and undeniably expensive model of teaching at Harvard is equally compelling, but seems to be taking place in another universe:

Too often, faculty members teach according to habits and hunches, said Carl E. Wieman, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist and associate director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, who has extensively studied how to improve science education.

In large part, the problem is that graduate students pursuing their doctorates get little or no training in how students learn. When these graduate students become faculty members, he said, they might think about the content they want students to learn, but not the cognitive capabilities they want them to develop.

“It really requires someone to be doubly expert,” Mr. Wieman said. As sometimes happens in some disciplines and departments, a few people develop deeper knowledge of pedagogy. These doubly expert faculty members, he said, can show colleagues how to apply new approaches to teaching the discipline.

Such approaches would demand much more of students and faculty. Students should be made to grapple with the material and receive authentic and explicit practice in thinking like an expert, Mr. Wieman said. Faculty would need to provide timely and specific feedback, and move beyond lectures in which students can sit passively receiving information.

So how might we reconcile these contradictory pieces of advice, which seem equally plausible, depending on your institution of employment?  Is it simply a matter of a two-tier education system that values engagement, but only for the students whose parents can afford it, or can these expectations of engagement for both faculty and students be applied across the board?  Which will it be?