Helping Students see the Big Picture with Integrative Learning Strategies

Johanna Inman, Assistant Director, TLC

This semester the TLC and the General Education Program are co-sponsoring a faculty Teaching Circle on the topic of Integrative Learning. This teaching circle is an opportunity for faculty who teach General Education courses to come together and discuss the significance of GenEd, how to motivate students in these courses, and how to help students connect learning in these courses to courses in their majors, their careers, and their personal lives. Johanna Inman is an Assistant Director at the TLC and co-facilitates the Integrative Learning Teaching Circle.– – – – –

Anyone who has taught a general education course at Temple University, or at any university, is familiar with the “just get through it” attitude students often arrive with on the first day of class. Many students do not value these courses and as a result, see them as a fairly low priority.

Yet, GenEd equips students with the information literacy, communication and critical thinking skills they will need for university-level work. Most of us teaching these courses also recognize the long-term impact that liberal education can have on our students’ professional and personal lives. In a recent survey conducted on behalf of AAC&U, an overwhelming majority of employers surveyed said they seek to hire graduates with the abilities to innovate, think critically, communicate clearly, solve complex problems, and draw on a broad range of knowledge—all learning goals commonly found in general education courses.

AAC&U and higher education leaders across the nation are working hard to change students’ perception of general education, while improving curriculum to make certain it actually helps students improve skills they need to be successful. Curricula nationally are undergoing re-evaluation in order to intentionally build in integrative projects, assignments, and learning experiences. This approach to learning helps students “connect, reflect, and apply learning so that the whole becomes more than the sum of the parts.”

While higher education leaders work towards improving integrative learning across the curriculum, faculty play an instrumental role in helping students value learning in all courses, make meaningful connections between them, and develop a holistic view of their learning experience throughout their entire academic career.

Strategies you can use to help students value and make meaningful connections across all learning experiences.

1. Teach transparently.

As Linda Nilson points out in her book Creating Self-Regulated Learners, students see value in assignments when “they believe it will help them receive a good grade in the course, obtain a job, achieve success in a career, or learn about something important to them.” On the contrary, they will not work hard on tasks they believe to be meaningless busywork.

What does your course promise to students? What will they learn? How will it help them be better learners, professionals, and citizens? First, make sure you know the answers to these questions, and then tell them to your students!

For every assignment, help students clearly understand the task, purpose and criteria. Students are more motivated when they know what is expected of them and there is a clear pathway to improvement. However, they cannot know these things unless we explicitly tell them.

2. Model integrative learning.

Modeling—thinking, demonstrating, or problem solving out loud in front of students—is one of the most simple, yet effective, teaching techniques. It has been proven to improve students’ metacognition and critical thinking skills and it can be an effective strategy to help students make connections among general education courses, courses within their major, and their personal experience.

Heard something in the news that relates to a course discussion? Is there a link between a lecture topic and your current research? Did you have an interesting conversation about a course reading with a colleague in another department? Tell your students! Explain the connections. When students hear faculty making these connections, they are more likely to do so themselves.

3. Provide opportunities for reflection.

Too often students graduate from college having learned a great deal—but not necessarily realizing what they’ve learned or knowing its value. Students need time and space to consider what they’ve learned, how they’ve learned it, and how they’ve grown as a result.

Provide students the opportunity to reflect on their learning by assigning learning journalsreflective essays, or a learning portfolio. Worried about the extra grading? Create opportunities for students to reflect on their learning in class with ungraded one-minute papers or ask students to submit assignments with reflective annotations or a reflective memo.

4. Reward integrative learning.

If making connections between courses or between course content and students’ personal experience is something you value, it should be included in your grading criteria. When a student mentions a link between your course content and something they learned previously—celebrate it. When students make meaningful connections, point them out and make a big deal about it. Ultimately, the goal of integrative learning is to help students realize that learning happens over time, inside of the classroom and out—to understand learning as holistic, constant, and lifelong.

Let’s Exchange Edvice

What strategies have you used to help students make meaningful connections across courses? What strategies have you used to help students make meaningful connections between learning in your course and their personal experience?

Student Success a Conference Success at Temple University

Dr. Tinto's Keynote

More than 130 instructors from around the region joined over 100 faculty and administrators from Temple University at the Teaching and Learning Center’s 13th Annual Faculty Conference on Teaching Excellence.  This year’s theme, Student Success, focused on ways faculty can support student success inside and out of the classroom.

The conference was designed to reflect the Teaching and Learning Center’s belief in learning-centered teaching and active learning. During the keynote address as well as the breakout sessions, educators were given the opportunity to discuss research-based teaching methods with an interdisciplinary group of colleagues from two-year and four-year schools around the region. Faculty were also given several opportunities to individually reflect on their own role in student success.

Check out Temple Faculty member Jonathan Singer’s recap of the conference through social media on storify.

Keynote Address

TLC was honored to invite Dr. Vincent Tinto, author of the books Leaving College and Completing College as this year’s keynote speaker. Dr. Tinto’s address, Student Success Does Not Arise By Chance began by highlighting the importance of classroom success—“one class, one course at a time,” to a larger institutional goal: student success.  

Dr. Tinto focused the discussion on four key factors to student success:

  • (high) expectations
  • support
  • assessment and feedback
  • engagement

Throughout the general session, Dr. Tinto took questions and examples from the audience of strategies and methods to student success. He highlighted several programs such as early warning systems, learning communities and first year experience courses as strategies that have been successful.  

In closing Dr. Tinto reminded the audience, “the object of education is student learning. Retention is merely the vehicle by which it can arise.”

Breakout and Poster Sessions


Breakout and Poster Sessions

Morning and afternoon breakout sessions focused on a variety of research-based strategies that lead to student success in the classroom and were facilitated by members of the Temple University Provost’s Teaching Academy. Click here to read summaries of each session.

This year’s call for poster session proposals brought in over thirty-five submissions from educators affiliated with regional institutions such as Rowan University, Philadelphia University, and University of Pennsylvania. Twenty-four posters were selected for presentation.

Conference attendees voted and selected “The Trauma-Informed Classroom: Understanding the Neuroscience of a Student’s Capacity to Learn Following Exposure to Traumatic Events,” by Pierce College’s Kathleen Watson, as this year’s best poster. Her prize was a Google Chromebook.

Watson’s poster discussed strategies to assist learners inside and outside of the classroom in a way that is informed by the literature on trauma and the brain.  The poster included a definition of trauma grounded in scientific evidence, rates of trauma among young adults, an introduction to the neuroscience of learning, a discussion of barriers to learning (inside and outside of the classroom) for students who have been exposed to trauma, and teaching strategies that may better serve students who are coping with the effects of trauma.


Conference Attendees

Looking Forward

TLC is already beginning to plan for our 2016 conference, which will take place Thursday, January 7th! If there is anything you would like to see at our next conference, leave a comment below, email us at, or tweet us @TempleTLC.

Thank you to everyone who made this year’s conference a true success!

Inclusive Teaching = Effective Teaching

Carl Moore

Increased student effort does not always guarantee academic success. In my ten-plus years as an academic support administrator in higher education, I found this to be true. My attempts to support students — providing them with guidance and proven study strategies — were sometimes undermined by instructors and learning spaces that did not meet the students’ learning needs. This phenomenon motivated me to investigate how the academy could hold educators more accountable for student success.

Through my research, I discovered canons of literature that alluded to the subversive ways in which learning structures can marginalize learners. On any given college campus, there are myriad potential learning spaces; the classroom is the only one that every student will encounter. But often the classroom contains unintentional barriers, because the instructor has not considered the diversity of learners and their needs.

How might educators proactively alleviate these barriers? My dissertation, Inclusive College Teaching: A Study of How Four Award-Winning Faculty Employ Universal Design Instruction, aimed to answer this question. It shed light on a multitude of inclusive teaching approaches that can be informed by the Universal Design for Learning framework. However, in my time working in faculty development, I have come to realize that the effectiveness of even these strategies heavily hinges on the mindset of the instructor.

Capacities-Based Mindset

Carol Dweck breaks down the concept of mindset into two categories: growth and fixed. A fixed mindset is a belief that people are inherently smart or dumb, good or bad, and that these characteristics will not change. People with this perspective commonly see challenges as a roadblock instead of an opportunity.

On the other hand, a growth mindset acknowledges that one can always gain knowledge and skills. This perspective enables teachers 1) to encourage students who are not succeeding to work harder to achieve, and 2) to challenge those who are succeeding to develop their learning muscles.

Dweck’s research yields evidence that instructors who communicate a growth mindset can cultivate like-minded students, which will nurture students’ academic resilience and increase the opportunity for student success.

A limited view of learners, however, has a deeper socio-psychological impact. Studies have shown that stereotype threat — which labels students in ways that impart low expectations — can undermine students’ academic performance.

To foster an inclusive classroom and an effective practice, educators must be willing to reflect on tacit personal biases and exclusionary teaching methods which limit students’ potential. Students’ chances of scholastic achievement are exponentially improved when their professors view them, separately and collectively, as capable learners.

Universal Design for Learning

Inclusive teaching frameworks like Universal Design for Learning (UDL) also call for educators to maintain a growth mindset. UDL invites educators to consider how a student’s range of strengths can be leveraged for learning.

Scholars posit that providing multiple modes of representation, engagement, and action and expression (assessment) best removes learning barriers from the classroom. This means presenting content in diverse ways, such as through speakers, demonstrations, and videos; interacting with students both in and out of class as well as addressing each one by name; and evaluating their progress toward achieving learning outcomes through means other than tests or essays. Instructors can seamlessly incorporate these strategies into their pedagogy in order to meet a wide range of learning needs.

Key Takeaways

With a growth mindset and UDL as a guide, professors can better educate a broad spectrum of learners and more effectively address the needs of traditionally marginalized groups. Inclusive teaching does not mean lowering the standards or goals for a course. It does, however, allow educators to create multiple, dynamic pathways for students to reach those goals.

Let’s Exchange EDvice…

What do you do to encourage success for all of your diverse students? How do you leverage a variety of teaching approaches to give students mutliple pathways to learning?- – –

Carl Moore joined the TLC as an Assistant Director in January 2013 and has infused UDL in many of the workshops, encouraging educators to see inclusive and effective teaching as one and the same. Next academic year (2014-2015) Carl will conduct an Inclusive Teaching with Technology Teaching Circle. This teaching circle will provide Temple faculty with an opportunity to reflect deeply on their teaching practices and create course materials that are accessible to a range of abilities.

The Value of a College Education

Next month Temple University’s Teaching and Learning Center and General Education Program will co-sponsor a book group for faculty on Dr. Mark Edmundson’s Why Teach? In Defense of a Real Education. In this series of essays, Edmundson wrestles with the problem of teaching in a consumer-driven climate and criticizes universities for becoming “corporate cities.” He upholds an unapologetic view that “real teachers are an endangered species in the academic ecosystem” and most faculty are in a rush to escape from the classroom into esoteric research.

TLC’s Assistant Director Johanna Inman weighs in on one topic raised by Edmundson: the value of a college education.– – – – –

Last month President Obama caused a minor uproar in the arts community by stating that “folks can make a lot more, potentially, with skilled manufacturing or the trades than they might with an art history degree.” Realizing the negative attention his remarks would likely receive, he followed the statement with, “I’m just saying you can make a really good living and have a great career without getting a four-year college education as long as you get the skills and the training that you need.”

These comments are not particularly shocking to anyone following higher education’s reputation in the political or public sphere. In fact, art history could have been replaced with any number of other college majors that now compete for notoriety on lists such as Forbes’ Least Valuable College Majors or Kiplinger’s Worst College Majors for Your Career. The current national discourse on higher education equates the value of college in terms of dollars spent, and the effects are evident. Students enter college with a consumer mentality, viewing education “as a passport to a desired job rather than a learning experience.”

In this context, Dr. Mark Edmundson, University of Virginia professor and author of the book Why Teach?, is right to be concerned. Where is the value in a degree that is bought rather than earned? When we talk about the value of a college education, we should be talking about the value of an experience where students learn to ask hard questions, accommodate diverse perspectives, take intellectual and creative risks, and embrace learning through failure. A college education used to be valued, Edmundson writes, as an experience for “seeking knowledge so as to make the lives of other human beings better” — something he hopes to reestablish.

Furthermore, Edmundson argues that a college teacher’s “job is not to help our students acquire skills, marketable skills, bankables” but to make “moments of transformation possible.” I too believe the real value of a college education lies in its potential to be a transformative experience, because it transformed me. Like other teachers, I followed my passions regardless of financial payout and became a teacher because I wanted to make the world a better place.

But, let’s take off the rose-colored glasses for a moment. Many students do not have the luxury of spending tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of dollars on the vague notion that a four-year degree will provide the transformative experience that Edmundson describes. Many need a college education to get a job to then pay off the loans that financed college. It’s unfair to criticize them for it, and unless we appreciate the validity of these motivations, we miss the opportunity to change them.

As teachers, we have little control over changing the cost of higher education, so let’s focus on what we can change: what our students learn when they get here. Let’s commit to creating a learning experience that is valuable — in our eyes and in theirs. A college education has the potential to be a transformational experience, but transformation rarely occurs without student buy-in. In order to reach more students, we must make it completely explicit to them what they are learning in our classrooms, labs, studios, and offices, as well as how it will help them meet personal goals in career and life.

A college education has the potential to transform students through improving their ability to think critically and creatively; to communicate verbally, in writing, and through images; to make and support arguments with evidence and to challenge unsubstantiated claims; to care for and contribute meaningfully to civil and global society; and most importantly, to continue learning long after they receive their degree. This is real transformation, but these are also marketable skills that any smart employer would find attractive. I am optimistic that when educators focus on student learning, we can unpack both what we want for our students and what the students want for themselves. With this learning-centered approach to teaching, we will find common ground for the real value of a college education.

Let’s Exchange EDvice…

How do you help students value the learning process as more than a credential or letter grade?

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This blog will only allow those with a Temple University account to comment directly on the blog. If you do not have a Temple University account, we would still like to hear from you.

The Reflective Teacher

“We do not learn from experience…we learn from reflecting on experience.”

—John Dewey

Reflective teachers regularly dedicate time to evaluate their teaching practice. They consider the scope of their pedagogy — from the structure of the course to the classroom community — and reflect on how their specific teaching decisions impact their students’ learning. As they analyze their teaching, they consider how they might approach particular tasks or challenges in the future.

As we conclude the semester, this is the perfect time to reflect on your classes and consider teaching decisions for the spring.

Building a Reflective Practice

Below are useful questions that can guide your reflective process. The questions are organized around the four main components of teaching, as outlined by Dee Fink:

  • Design of instruction: Have you clearly defined the learning goals you have for your course? Do the assessments in your course measure the goals you have for student learning outcomes? Do the activities you facilitate (lectures, discussions, readings) create experiences for students to reach those goals?
  • Course management: Did your schedule of readings, activities, and assignments work well? For instance, do all of your assignments fall at the same time, or are they evenly spaced out? How do you organize assignment deadlines and manage grading?
  • Knowledge of subject matter: Is there new scholarship in your field that you would like to explore and perhaps address in future iterations of your course?
  • Teacher–Student interactions: What are the different ways you interact with students? Are you “the sage on the stage,” a facilitator of learning, or something else…? How do you relate to students during outside of class during office hours and via email?

Other opportunities for reflection through the Teaching and Learning Center

All TLC programs are designed to encourage reflective practice in a community of peers, and to orient colleagues toward learning-centered approaches. While many of our programs entail two or three meetings, the Provost’s Teaching Academy (PTA) is the TLC’s most substantive opportunity for reflective practice and development as an educator.

According to Donald Schön, reflective teaching practice is best supported by collaboration and dialogue with peers. He recommends that educators engage in individual and group reflections and take advantage of opportunities to learn from experts and peers.

The PTA offers just such an opportunity. Now in its fifth year and with a cumulative roster of more than 70 members, it is one of the TLC’s signature programs. The PTA brings together a diverse, interdisciplinary group of faculty members and academic administrators who are uniquely knowledgeable about the research on how people learn and best practices, and who serve as mentors in teaching and learning.

Each new cohort makes an impact on the educational culture at Temple University. We invite you to apply for the summer 2014 cohort.

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This post was co-written and edited by our communications extern, Alexa Mantell, Assistant Director Carl S. Moore, and Pamela Barnett, Associate Vice Provost and Director.

This blog will only allow those with a Temple University account to comment directly on the blog. If you do not have a Temple University account, we would still like to hear from you.  

Practice and Assessment, Grading and Feedback

This post highlights key takeaways from Chapter 5 of How Learning Works: 7 Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching, by Susan A. Ambrose, Michael W. Bridges, Michele DiPietro, Marsha C. Lovett, and Marie K. Norman. This book has become an essential resource for TLC programs and initiatives, so much that we have invited Drs. DiPietro and Lovett to keynote at our annual conference on January 17, 2014! See below for details.– – – – –

Clear expectations. Hours of grading. Ample feedback. No improvement.

The fifth chapter of How Learning Works, on practice and feedback, starts with testimonials on student performance that most instructors will find all too familiar. The first example tells of a professor who spent hours grading assignments and offering substantial comments for improvement. Yet his students’ subsequent efforts on different assignments were just as disappointing. What went wrong?

Drawing on our summary of best practices in course design, this situation suggests a misalignment between learning activities, assessments, and course goals. Here, students were not given the opportunity to incorporate the professor’s feedback into further practice activities. Perhaps they would have applied new understandings, but they weren’t given the chance to try again with the specific task. Furthermore, the sequence of assignments was an issue; the professor was assessing different skills with each assignment, instead of giving students additional opportunities to demonstrate and master the targeted skills.

In a well-designed course, each learning goal is matched with the appropriate quality and quantity of activities and assessments. Scenarios like the one above are all too common. This begs the question: How can we better approach these processes of practice, assessment, grading, and feedback to improve student learning?

Key Considerations from the Book

The authors of How Learning Works proclaim that students will miss crucial learning opportunities if the professor’s practice and feedback activities do not “work smarter.” It is “smart” to offer multiple opportunities for practice and to give feedback that is clear and specific. Students need sufficient practice in advance of assessments, wherein their knowledge and abilities are measured.

The more opportunities students have to practice, the more chances the instructor has to observe their performance, evaluate their progress, and provide targeted feedback, which students can then incorporate to improve their subsequent performances. This mix of practice and feedback will guide students toward eventual achievement of the course learning goals.

The Cycle of Practice and Feedback

Similarly to Fink’s work on course design, the authors suggest that all practice and feedback elements center around designated learning goals. This is explained as a cycle (pictured below) wherein “practice produces observed performance that, in turn, allows for targeted feedback, and then the feedback guides further practice. This cycle is embedded within the context of learning goals that ideally influence each aspect of the cycle” (How Learning Works pp. 126-127).

Practical Implications

The authors provide some guiding principles for directing this cycle effectively: 1) Focus students’ efforts “on a specific goal or criterion.” 2) Set standards at a “reasonable and productive level of challenge.” 3) Provide multiple opportunities for practice, both in and out of class. The research reiterates that “time on task” is essential. Both quality and quantity matter.

The authors’ recommendations for “strategies that address the need for goal-directed practice” include:

  • “Conduct a prior knowledge assessment to target an appropriate challenge level” (p. 145)
  • “Be more explicit about your goals in your course materials” (p. 145)
  • “Use a rubric to specify and communicate performance criteria” (p. 146)
  • “Give examples or models of target performance” (p. 147)

Professors should also maintain open and specific communication about students’ progress and improvement throughout the course. It is not helpful to comment on every error in an assessment; prioritize your feedback to focus on where specific learning goals are (or are not) met. It is best to give feedback quickly and frequently, the authors note. They recommend a number of ways to achieve effective feedback, such as:

  • “Look for patterns of errors in student work” (p. 148)
  • “Balance [student] strengths and weaknesses in your feedback” (p. 149)
  • “Provide feedback at the group level” to communicate common errors (p. 150)
  • “Require students to specify how they used feedback in subsequent work” (p. 151-152)

The authors note that as students internalize the lessons learned from regular practice opportunities and from targeted feedback, they can become independent, self-regulated learners. According to the authors, the ideal goal of these approaches is for students to actively engage in and direct their own learning. Ultimately, these goal-driven practice and feedback opportunities are examples of how students and teachers can work “smarter,” not harder.

Let’s Exchange EDvice…

What practice opportunities do you give your students in order to prepare them to complete an assignment or exam? What EDvice do you have for colleagues who want students to learn from and use their feedback?

– – –

This post was co-written by our communications extern, Alexa Mantell, and Assistant Director Carl S. Moore.

This blog will only allow those with a Temple University account to comment directly on the blog. If you do not have a Temple University account, we would still like to hear from you.  

Composing a Course for Significant Learning

Course design is to teaching and learning what sheet music is to performing a symphony. Both require careful composition, indeed, but to deliver the best outcome, the most satisfying result, all parts must work together harmoniously. A well integrated course provides structure and is characterized by a reciprocal alignment among the essential course components: goals, assessments, and teaching and learning activities.

At the Teaching and Learning Center (TLC), Dr. Dee Fink’s work (concisely represented in A Self-Directed Guide to Designing Courses for Significant Learning) provides the foundation for many of our programs and initiatives. We always design our own programs with his model of integrated course design in mind, and we encourage colleagues to do the same. Lessons on integrated course design are a key component in our most robust faculty development programs, such as the annual summer Provost’s Teaching Academy and the Teaching in Higher Education Certificate program.

The Model

Fink’s model (pictured below) challenges educators to not only articulate intended course goals but to ensure that assignments, activities, and assessments all lead to the achievement of those goals. He also highlights the presence of situational factors, which are contextual issues in any given course environment that could affect the learning. These could include but are not limited to: the age of students, their prior knowledge of the subject matter, and the size of the room.

As illustrated in the diagram, Fink stresses that all components of a course are interdependent and impacted by situational factors. A course designed with Fink’s framework in mind results in a more student-centered and intentional pedagogy.

Fundamental Features

The core course components discussed in Fink’s work are: goals, activities, and assessments, defined below:

  • Goals are the final learning results of a semester-long experience. Teachers should ask themselves: “What will students learn or be able to do once they complete my course?” A Primer on Writing Effective Learning-Centered Course Goals offers excellent guidance for articulating clear, measurable goals.
  • Activities are the teaching strategies and learning experiences that comprise the day-to-day of the course. In the best courses, each element is used to prepare students to successfully complete the assessments. What do the students need to read, hear, see, practice, do if they are to meet the goals measured by the assessments? Fink recommends that activities directly link to the overarching course goal(s) and stimulate active learning. Examples of classroom activities that Fink provides include debates, simulations, guided discussion, small group problem solving, and case studies.
  • Assessments give students the opportunity to demonstrate where they are in relation to achieving the course learning goals, and you an opportunity to evaluate the students’ performance and give feedback.

The goals must be determined first; once they have been articulated an educator can begin the work of thoughtfully integrating each component with the others. So, as an example, if a professor’s course goal is for students to be able to evaluate the quality of an argument, an aligned teaching activity might be for students to read a successfully argued article, then hear a brief lecture where the teacher identifies the components of the good argument such as a clear thesis and evidence. A professor might then ask students to read a sample article and engage in a think-pair-share learning activity, using a rubric to evaluate those same components together. An aligned learning activity might look very similar to the assessment; after all, it is not fair to ask students to demonstrate mastery without having had some practice first. In this scenario, students might be asked to put their evaluations of a sample article’s argument into writing.

Payoff Potential

Integrated course design requires that instructors are intentional about how each individual component is significant to the final outcome. This method fosters a more coordinated experience, Fink writes, so that at any given moment in the semester, students can understand the importance of assignments and activities as well as which goal(s) they are working toward.

If intentional about design, educators can maximize the potential for a course that is stable in its structure, steady in its pacing, purposeful in its direction, and meaningful in its instruction. Integrated course design, Fink posits, enables students to better retain knowledge and extend their involvement in the material beyond a single course. Fink encourages each teacher to “increase [his or her] power and effectiveness as someone responsible for the quality of other peoples’ learning experience” (original emphasis).

Let’s Exchange EDvice…

As you reflect on courses you have taught or taken, can you share an instance where the key components were not fully aligned? or were? How do you plan to better align the goals, activities, and assessments in your course?

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This post was co-written by our communications extern, Alexa Mantell, and Assistant Director Carl S. Moore, and edited by Alexa and Pamela Barnett, Associate Vice Provost and Director.