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TA's Tuesday's Teaching Tips

Fall 2017

Tuesday, October 31, 2017: Tricks & Treats

Tricks (adapted from Jedi Mind Tricks in the Classroom):

  • Instead of making attendance mandatory, give a bonus for attendance at the end of the term.
  • Don't award extra-credit or accept late assignments but, instead, have more assignments available than needed for a good grade. (i.e. If you base your grading on 1000 points, have 1100 points available through perfect scores on assignments.)
  • On an exam, let students choose 5 of the 7 questions available. You can decide whether to give extra points for those who answer all of the questions.
  • Allow students to rewrite assignments turned in on time. The revisions must take into account your comments. New grade equals 60% of original work + 40% of revised work. (The contributor says few students will take advantage of this but the ones who do show improved performance so learning is happening.)
  • Pass out a list of possible essay questions in advance of a test. On the test day draw two questions randomly. Students must answer one. (Most will prepare for all of the questions.)
    • Follow-up: Note from a colleague in Psychology:  "Not allowing choice among questions applies to both research and practice (e.g., classroom, employment, etc) situations. Ultimately, it is not typically about scoring accuracy. It is about the fact that different students are taking different exams if they get to choose which questions they attempt. As a result, the reliability and validity (particularly content validity) of the “exam” can’t be established because it is not a single exam, it is multiple exams depending on the combination of questions chosen." Said colleague also forwarded the article "Recommendations for Preparing and Scoring Constructed-Response Items: What the Experts Say" by Thomas P. Hogan and Gavin Murphy in Applied Measurement in Education 20(4), 427-441.

Treats. Sean Morris's article "Saying No to Best Practices" where he gives these top ten suggestions for a "Critical Digital Pedagogy arises from a place of kindness, trust, and belief in students" is a real treat. His top ten (the explanations in the article are worth your time):

  • Be yourself
  • Create trust/ Be trusting
  • Grade less / Grade differently
  • Question deadlines
  • Collaborate with students
  • Inspire dialogue
  • Be quiet
  • Be honest and transparent about pedagogy
  • Keep expectations clear
  • Be open to change


Tuesday, October 17, 2017: Try Again! cards

Today's Teaching Tip was borrowed from a Facebook posting by Marie Gasper-Hulvat (Kent State University), in the Reacting to the Past Facebook Faculty Lounge:

If at first you don't succeed...

We all fail at times. Sometimes just acknowledging that failure is part of the learning process can be healthy for you and for your students. Here's a suggestion:

At the beginning of the term (or 4 weeks in, as the case may be), give students a couple of Try Again! cards to be used within a specified time frame for an assignment they want to resubmit or a deadline that was missed. Specify the details of the resubmission on the card. Acknowledge that sometimes we all need a second chance.

Then, publicly give yourself the same number of cards to use when you fail to get assignments graded on time, or otherwise fail to live up to the impossibly high standards you've set for yourself. If you go beyond the number of Try Again! cards you've been allotted, you'll have to give everybody in the class an additional card.

Life happens. Things happen. Sometimes all you can do is pick yourself up and try again. No questions asked.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017: PowerPoint tips

Although a few of us may be "mature" enough (ahem!) to remember the giddy days when PowerPoint changed the way we were able to present information to students (pictures? wow!), this tool, along with Keynote, Google Slides, etc., has now become so commonplace that it has become… well…. boring.

So, what are the best tips and tricks for using a presentation app?

1) Make sure that your information is VISIBLE to everyone in the room. Visibility is about font size, color and content.

  • Font Size: For most rooms, a sans serif font of at least 28 points, will work. Make sure there is enough space between the lines for people to be able to see the text from the back of the room. If you are in a large lecture hall, you may need to use a 36 point font!
    • Stick with only one font type (sans serif is best). Use color, italics or underline for emphasis.
    • Use font size for emphasis. If you suddenly have a slide with a great big number on it, that number will grab attention.

  • Color Choice: Did you know that about 8% of males are red/green color blind? (Color blindness can be for blues and yellows, as well.) Your color choice matters. Make sure that you have enough contrast between dark and light colors so that the important information stands out. 
    • Have you noticed that your students use their phones to take notes? Make sure to use a darker/warmer background color and a lighter/brighter text color so that the photos will be clear.
    • Worried about having to print copies of your slides with all the colors (that ink is expensive)? Try printing the Outline View instead. You won’t see the pictures, but all the text will be there. (URL: How to print the outline view in powerpoint)
  • Content: Provide keywords and concepts but use them as headlines to attract attention. White space is one of the most powerful tools you have in presentations: use it! Consider carefully what information will be displayed and what information will be shared by you.  If there’s a wall of text or if you read everything on the slide, your presentation will be about as interesting as someone reading the textbook aloud. Instead, use your presentation as a way of understanding the content and context better. Create space in your slides for interactivity, for reflection, for group/pair work, for brainstorming, for surprises. A good presentation will enhance the words coming out of your mouth and the interactions among students.

2) Make good use of IMAGES. Clip art is out! Instead, find images that relate to your topic via Google (you can use Tools/ Usage rights to find images “labeled for noncommercial reuse),  Wikimedia Commons or public domain collections like the New York Public library and Getty Images.

  • Rather than presenting students with a lot of textual explanation, use a CHART or a DIAGRAM to appeal to visual learners.
  • Make sure that your image is big enough for the slide. Pixelated images or those with watermarks don’t give the right impression.
  • Make sure that the image fits the topic.
  • If you have images of people, make sure that they are looking towards the center of your slide, rather than away from it! :-) Keep everyone focused on what’s important.

3) Make sure your document is ACCESSIBLE to everyone. This is actually easier than you might think, if you keep two key ideas in mind:

  • Use the Style types to make sure that the structure (hierarchy of ideas) of your document is clear. Think of it like an outline. Heading 1 is more important than Heading 2. In fact, Heading 1 may have three main points— each designated by the use of a Heading 2 style. Within each point, there are also subsets of information. PowerPoint, Keynote and Google Slides all have built in styles that you can use. If you don’t like *how* the style is displaying (i.e. you want to use a different font, size or color), that can be changed. Check the help menu for more information.
  • Make sure that all images have text descriptions. If students are using a screen reader to access the document, they will use the text descriptions rather than the images to learn. These descriptions can also be helpful for students who want to review your explanation of a diagram, for example.

Here are a couple of resources, for more information:


Tuesday, October 3, 2017: When tragedy strikes

Universities are known as Ivory Towers– places where one can think, discover and examine without being besieged by the cares of the world– but we know too well that universities are real places where human beings congregate in the endeavor of knowledge. This community, like others, is impacted by outside events and our members grieve, suffer and revolt over injustices, crises and tragedies.

How then do we reflect this in our classrooms, in our teaching practice and in other encounters with students? Over the past few years, as “shelter in place” has become as common as “duck and roll” (for earthquakes) used to be; we’ve become all too aware of how our lives and the lives of our students are touched by events big and small. As faculty, we care about our students but don't always know how to respond to crises. Here are some thoughts.

  • In times of crisis or tragic public events, classroom intervention will be appropriate for some faculty. Here are some suggestions from Jeffrey Tan at CAPS (Counseling and Psychological Services):

As always, CAPS (Counseling and Psychological Services) are here for our students. We can provide crisis, walk-in, same-day appointments, individual/couples/group therapy, or any workshop pertaining to the psychological needs of our students within scope. We can also go into your classroom to help facilitate a discussion if needed.

Sometimes in these situations creating a "safe space" for the students at the start of a class allows them the opportunity to express themselves and be more aware of their own needs. Needs that may entail a realization that they need to go to someone such as CAPS (Counseling and Psychological Services) to talk further. Reminding our students of our resources here on and off-campus is critical. Our website (URL: has links to resources that may be helpful as well.

As faculty, you are not there to diagnose or to treat, but you may allow a small space of acknowledgement and a strong connection to available resources on and off campus. Sometimes a phrase similar to, "I know that we are all here to learn about [fill in the blank]... However, I wanted to take a small moment to acknowledge  the tragedy that occurred this weekend that may have impacted all of us in many different ways....[short time allowed for students who may want to say something]... We have resources that I have placed on the board/blackboard such as CAPS on campus that provides free counseling for all enrolled students... I know that we need to get back to [subject taught], but please take the time to take care of yourselves by connecting to these resources for you on-campus...we are all here together as one CSUSB Family...".

As faculty, we may also check back in down the road with our students on if they are taking care of themselves by reminding them of the resources again.

  • Some faculty may not find classroom intervention to be appropriate. However, recognizing when students (or others) are in distress, can be critical in providing support. Below are some resources. Although several of these resources approach student distress as being a public safety concern, it is also helpful for faculty to recognize and support all students in distress and grief. Students' personal tragedies, losses and crises are real; these events impact their ability to participate actively and succeed in their courses. Knowing that someone has noticed your distress and cares about you makes a difference.
    • CSUSB CARE Team: Recognizing Distress: A list of behaviors that may indicate a student is in distress
    • Recognizing and dealing with grief: “College life is a period of drastic change, with a tremendous amount of growth and maturity at times tinged with confusion, fear, pressure and the thrill of newfound independence. Throw grief into the mix, and it’s easy to understand how difficult it can be to handle the huge spectrum of emotion that a college student might experience. This guide aims to provide a solid rock of support for grieving students and those who care about them.”
    • Dealing with unstable students: This short essay provides some practical advice and tips for faculty. 
    • Facilitating Challenging Conversations in Your Classes: From the University of Michigan’s Center for Research on Teaching and Learning, this article’s focus is on high-stakes topics but the guidelines offered can apply to a wide variety of contexts. 
  • Finally, remember that faculty are people, too. You may need support for yourself or recognize that a colleague is under stress and needs support. Take care of yourselves and each other, too!

CSUSB Campus Resources:

  • CSUSB CARE Team:, (909) 537-2273
  • CSU Red Folder: Assisting Students in Distress:  General Information plus campus-based resources (listed for you in this email) 
  • CSUSB Crisis Line (after business hours): 909-537-5040 
  • University Police: 909-537-5165 
  • For faculty & staff: Empathia LifeMatters Employee Assistance Program.  Confidential service accessible 24 hours per day by calling 1-800-367-7474. 
  • For students: 
    • Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS): 909-537-5040 
    • Student Health Center: 909-537-5241 
    • Student Conduct & Ethical Development: 909-537-7172 
    • CSUSB CARE Team:, (909) 537-2273

The Teaching Academy thanks the faculty member who asked that this topic be addressed.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017: Learning Students' Names

This recent article in Faculty Focus points to the importance of learning students' names. Of course, there's a big difference between small classes and/or classes for your majors and large lecture classes. But are there ways to help you learn students' names?

Here are some ideas:

  • You can find pictures of your students on PeopleSoft. Granted, student ID photos rival Drivers' License photos in terms of their resemblance to reality (!), but it's a start! (Go to the Class Roster and, under Display Options, choose Include Photos in List).
  • You can ask students to add a picture to their Blackboard Profile. Just be sure to specify what you mean by "adding a picture" (i.e. are avatars acceptable?).
  • Have students state their names before asking questions. Then make sure you use the student's name when you answer the question.
  • Get some Dry-Erase reusable name cards. Ask students to put their name on their desks. Or have them make their own name tents.
  • Don't be the only one responsible for knowing everyone's names. Make sure that students also learn each others' names.  Make a game of it-- have competitions to see which row or which group can name everybody.
  • Have a quick quiz for extra credit: Name everybody sitting next to you! Perhaps there can be a prize for winners (lots of Halloween candy in the stores right now).

Students will appreciate knowing each others' names, as well. Having a study buddy, having someone to help you understand a difficult concept and/or making a new friend will make the class more enjoyable.


Spring 2017

Tuesday, June 13: Faculty Self-Care

The end of the 23 week Winter/Spring terms is nigh and somehow that list of things you've got planned for the summer has gotten out of control! It's all you can do to finish your grading without turning into a whimpering mess...

Sound about right?

Being a faculty member is hard work. You've given it your all this year and you're exhausted. Just the thought of one more thing to do, one more committee meeting, one more... you get the picture!

The myth of summer "vacation" is just that but, for many faculty, summer is a critical part of your cycle of work. Whether you take on a summer course, plan to conduct research or just want to head to the beach to doze in the sunshine, summer has its own rhythm. We at the Teaching Academy hope you find time to enjoy it.

We offer four links below: the first two discuss creating plans for productivity and the second discuss taking care of yourself. Both of these (productivity and self-care) are important.

Wishing you a good summer-- whatever "good" means for you-- and look forward to seeing you again in the Fall!



Tuesday, May 30, 2017: Set up Office Hours' Appointments on Google Sheets

This tip comes from Dr. Angie Otiniano-Verissimo in Health Sciences.

Angie uses a Google Sheet that is open and available for anyone to edit. She provides the link on the Blackboard site, as well as in the syllabus.  The Office Hour Appointments sheet has 15 minute blocks (you could use 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 20 minutes-- whatever makes the most sense for your discipline). Students can sign up for one or two appointment blocks. Scheduled office hour appointments take precedence over walk-ins. Students can indicate if they want to meet in person, have a walking meeting or meet via Zoom, phone or email. They can also choose whether or not list the topic of the meeting.

Some students may be shy about coming in to your office hours but if they can set up an appointment during those times, it may help them to prepare. Also, it may feel less like they are "disturbing" you-- because you generally look fairly busy when they come to your office. An appointment is "official" and feels more purposeful than just coming to the faculty member's office. See Weimer's blog article about Why Students Don't Use Faculty Office Hours.


Tuesday, April 11, 2017: Using Scholarly Research in the Classroom

How do you approach using scholarly articles in the classroom? Do you have your students do research? Do they understand how to read a scholarly article? Do they understand the difference between a peer-reviewed article versus information found on the web? Here are some resources you might find interesting.

1) Pfau Library has a Critical Information Literacy Laboratory with helpful information for faculty and students. The video tutorials (Beginners, Intermediate and Advanced) are a particularly helpful resource for students but there are many other resources available on the site. Watch, too, for workshops and grants on CIL (Critical Information Literacy).

2) Here are two resources designed to help students understand the function of the different parts of a scholarly article:

Even if you teach in a different discipline, it's worth exploring these two sites to see how they've creatively presented the information in ways to help students better understand how researchers present their findings.


Tuesday, April 4, 2017: Tutorials via

Here's hoping everybody enjoyed yesterday's ITS Tech Talks: Teaching and Learning Technologies. What a great event!

One of the vendors yesterday was Did you know that all faculty and staff have free access to the site?  Go to the myCoyote portal and sign in.  In the Quick Launch navigation module (upper left), click on the icon (black and white, woman wearing glasses-- must be Lynda!). has lots of great video tutorials for faculty (and staff). For example, if you go to the Library and choose Higher Education, you'll see a wide variety of possibilities-- from improving your Blackboard course, to How to Measure Learning Effectiveness, to Academic Research Foundations: Quantitative, to How to Increase Learner Engagement.  Courses are classified according to amount of time it will take to complete them, date posted and level of expertise expected.

Try out the Weekly Teaching Tips broadcast from! This week's tip is about how to use the variety of online calculators available at

Winter 2017

Tuesday, March 14, 2017: The Last 5 Minutes of Class

We began our Tuesday's Teaching Tips this quarter with the first 5 minutes of class, so now let's consider  how we are using the last 5 minutes of class.

James Lang offers alternatives to cramming in as many announcements as you can in his article in the Chronicle of Higher Education  "Small Changes in Teaching: the Last 5 Minutes of Class." For example, can you book-end the first 5 and last 5 with some "larger picture" questions that help students see how the work they've done in class can be applied to other contexts? Or do you want to use those last 5 minutes to both review the day's lesson and anticipate the next activity? Or, make it a game:  as soon as the class has completed a task (made a list of 10 things related toy the day's lesson, given 3 examples of the lesson topic applied to everyday life, prioritized the 6 main ideas in order of relevancy to [insert new topic here]), everyone can leave. And if those reminders are critical, maybe that's their task: list the five things everybody needs to do by Thursday's class on the board!

The Teaching Academy is now reading Lang's book, Small Teaching.  We hope you'll join us for lunch and a discussion on Thursday! Come even if you haven't read the book yet; our discussions are always interesting!


Tuesday, March 7: Tech Tools

It's that time of the quarter when the stack of papers (on your real or virtual desk) is inversely proportional to the energy left in your proverbial tank. Each assignment graded feels like a long, slow slog through marshland... or is that just me?

In the spirit of feeling productive while trying to charge up the batteries for the next attempt at grading, check out these tech tools for some inspiration of new activities for next time around

  • Dotstorming : Create a pinterest-like voting mechanism
  • Padlet : This visual collaboration tool looks like “stickies” on a common board.
  • Voki : Allows you to create avatars that speak in a variety of languages.


Tuesday, 14 February 2017: Newsletters for faculty

Several email newsletters address teaching in higher ed.  Here are some of our favorites (because you can always click Delete!):

  • Faculty Focus has a weekly free newsletter with short articles and tips for teaching.  See a list of their 11 best articles from 2016.
  • ACUE (the American Council of College and University Eductors) has a newsletter that curates higher ed blogs and websites for articles of interest.
  • Inside Higher Ed doesn’t focus on teaching but, much like the Chronicle of Higher Education but without the subscription price, it does provide daily updates about national issues concerning higher education.


Tuesday, 7 February 2017: What is an original idea?

In her book, My Word, Susan Blum describes a meeting with a student where she was emphasizing the importance of editing and rewriting.  She showed the student an article she had written for a scholarly journal-- the article had just been returned to her by the editor with many comments about things that needed to be addressed.  The student's response? If the editor made so many changes, how could Blum say that the work was her own?

How would you answer this question?

The example is intriguing because it demonstrates differences in understandings between originality, editing, collaboration.  Taken further, how might you answer questions about what is acceptable in terms of group collaboration? in terms of seeking help from tutors? in terms of outside editors? When you ask students to submit "original work" but they must refer to resources, what's the distinction between a citation and originality?

It's unlikely that there is only one answer to each of these questions. Faculty approach questions of originality differently, depending on their course goals, their disciplinary standards, their own sense of "what's right."

Imagine, then, how confusing this can be to students:  why can't we all agree?

Here's the tip (we had to put it in here somewhere!):  take some time to explain to students what exactly you mean by "original work."  What kinds of support is acceptable in your class? What is not acceptable? And tell them why.  Getting students to understand and negotiate the complexity of understanding different perspectives can be an important step in their intellectual development.

If these ideas and these questions interest you, please join the Teaching Academy at Thursday's book club (see below), where we conclude our reading of Blum's book. Come even if you haven't read the book-- our discussions are always interesting!

[N.B. The TRC has copies of this book available.]


Tuesday, 24 January 2017: Checking for student learning

  • Allow time for students to write a summary of the key points of a lecture at the end of the lecture. These summaries can be used to assess students' understanding. This is also sometimes called the “one minute paper.” You can also do this at the beginning of class to do a homework check.
  • Pass out 4 different colors of sticky notes (to individuals or groups).  Project a question to the class (a multiple choice question or an ordering question).  Students will use their sticky notes to post their answers on the classroom wall. This will allow you to get a quick visual of student understanding but also allow students to remain anonymous. It also gets them up and out of their seats! (PS You can reuse the sticky notes). 
    • Example 1: Wall signs are: 1, 2, 3, 4. Question is: Put these events in chronological order: (yellow) Declaration of Independence, (blue) Jamestown Colony, (pink) bombing of Pearl Harbor, (green) Civil War
    • Example 2: Wall signs are Questions 1, 2, 3 & 4. Questions have a different color for each answer (as above).
  • Set up a Google form.  At the beginning of class ask students to type in one question they had about the reading.  Make the form anonymous.  You can pick and choose which questions to answer.
  • Try Plickers.  This app works on an iPhone or Android for classes with up to 63 students; only the instructor needs to have a phone.  Instructors print (and perhaps laminate) answer cards- one card assigned to each student. Students hold up the card with the orientation of the top indicating their answer (A, B, C & D). The instructor scans the class with the phone app and the students answers are immediately tallied.


Tuesday, 17 January 2017: The First 5 Minutes of Class

In this article from the Chronicle of Higher Ed, “Small Changes in Teaching: the First Five Minutes of Class,” James Lang cites the importance of starting class with something that will immediately catch students’ attention rather than using that time for logistical information.  He suggests asking the students to recall information from the previous course-- especially since research shows that practicing recall will improve recall. But make those questions interesting and engaging. For example, in an American Government class, rather than asking students to list the branches of government, ask What problem is the separation of powers intended to address? Or give students a problem to solve with a partner in a limited amount of time. Practicing retrieval of important information helps students learn. (This article also has links to other “Small Teaching Ideas.")

Note that the Teaching Academy will be reading James Lang’s book, Small Teaching, in our Book Club, beginning in February 2017.