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Teaching Tips and Tricks from the Signature Course Advisory Council

Juan Dominguez, PhD, professor for “Love, Mating, and the Brain”

  • Before students take a quiz, I like to provide them with a list of questions that might be in the quiz. I tell them that questions in the quiz will come from this list, however, the questions are comprehensive and so in an effort to prepare for the quiz by answering all the questions, they’re in fact learning all the material that I think is most important to learn in our class.

Patricia Carter, PhD, professor for “Sleep: Are We Getting Enough?”

  • Listen to your students… actually listen and when they don’t answer a question right away, give them time, prompts, and encouragement to engage. They are so used to passively receiving information and are so afraid of making a mistake that they really need to be supported to step out. Along these same lines, don’t stop at the first answer given by the ‘same’ student. You know the one that sits in the front row and is always quick to answer. If you stop there, no one else will volunteer and it becomes a ‘conversation’ between you and one other student with 200 observers.

  • Find joy in what you are teaching. If you are having fun, then your students will have fun. Joy is contagious. No matter how dry the material, if you have fun then it will transfer to your students.
  • Make mistakes and demonstrate that it is ok to do so and move past. If you are not perfect, then your students won’t think that they have to be. This makes you more approachable and it allows the students to relax and learn.

Ann Johns, PhD, professor for “New World/Old World Encounters”

  • For my upper division, “smaller” classes (20-50 people), I’ve revived (over the last two years) the old practice of having students write reading responses. I ask for short responses and I give them choices. So, there might be 30 appropriate responses from the readings and students write ten of their choice. Discussions were dying out in my classes and it took me a semester or two to figure out that this was happening because students weren’t doing the readings. Now, I have very engaged students and excellent classroom discussions, without making the students feel that they are responsible for every single reading. Not only are discussions better, but students get to know one another better, and we build a stronger community of learning.

Patrick Davis, PhD, professor for “Really Bad Bugs”

  • Many faculty members use a ‘readiness assessment test’ at the beginning of class to hold students accountable for background assignments and to allow for ‘just-in-time’ teaching to address issues that need clarification before diving into the class material. For the past decade, I have employed commercial “IF/AT” cards (Immediate Feedback Assessment Technique) for conducting these assessments in my Signature Course. These are basically ‘scratch off’ cards that give students instant feedback as to whether they get the question right, and if not, allows for additional attempts for lesser and lesser credit. With many assessment methods, students are given their results days later and have to reconstruct what they were thinking at the time of taking the test. In addition, questions are usually graded as ‘all or none’ and students do not get credit for narrowing down the choices based on their understanding. IF/AT cards overcome both of these issues, and students find them engaging. IF/AT cards are available from and I would be happy to provide cards to any faculty members who want to give them a try.