Teaching Strategies That Work at UH Hilo

At the January 10, 2003 Meeting on Teaching, over 80 faculty listened to students tell us what teaching practices inspire them to do their best—and learned from the National Survey of Student Engagement that we can do a lot better by our students. In breakout groups, faculty compiled lists of strategies for teaching large classes and small, for connecting with students, and for involving students in active learning. As the meeting drew to a close, each participant was asked to write down one, two, or three specific actions that she or he was prepared to commit to out of a desire to engage students more wholeheartedly and actively in learning.

Over the years, more items have been added and references to WebCT replaced with references to Laulima, the UH system's version of the open-source online course management tool Sakai.

Here’s a compilation of suggestions of student panelists and colleagues. Even the most experienced teacher will find excellent new ideas here, and all of us will be touched by the enthusiasm and creativity of our colleagues’ methods. Also listed: unresolved issues, and faculty suggestions for broader institutional changes in support of teaching--most of which remain to be addressed. (Latest update: September 2008)

National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE)

View the complete report on UH Hilo’s performance on the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE), at the UH Hilo Institutional Research Office.

From Our Students: Preparation, Passion, and Personal Connections

  • Take the initiative with your students—they are shy and the younger ones really don’t know how to reach out and make appointments with you or ask for help. Learn their names.
  • Teachers should know the name of each student. Taking the time to do this is a practical way of showing interest and concern.
  • Set high standards and help students to meet those by, for example, dividing big tasks into smaller, sequenced tasks with a lot of feedback built in. “Success at the end is very sweet.”
  • Be friendly and encouraging—especially in challenging courses, knowing the teacher cares about how well you are learning makes a big difference.
  • Be available to talk about careers as well as academics.
  • Show your enthusiasm and passion for the subject and the discipline—these are contagious. Share your own personal life experiences in the field.
  • Teachers can use the variety of student backgrounds and student interest in other students to generate interaction and discussion. Use the unusual diversity of our students to pedagogical advantage.
  • Teachers should personally invite underperforming students to individual conferences, making appointments to meet. [Passing around sign-up appointment sheets works.]
  • Field trips and group projects (e.g., one teacher took his class on a beach clean-up project) help to develop strong group solidarity and make students feel comfortable talking and contributing.
  • Encourage students to share information about their backgrounds; use student diversity as a resource in teaching. Also, this helps build solidarity.
  • Link course content, topics, and assignments to current events and real-world situations.
  • By all means assign big projects like term projects—and divide them into a series of smaller tasks that build skills and success and confidence, and that provide students with regular feedback on their progress. Students love the satisfaction of completing something complex that they initially doubted they could manage.
  • Plan different kinds of activities in each class session, for example mixing lecture, small-group work, different media.
  • Small groups can help students get more involved in class work.
  • Students admire teachers who can admit they don’t know everything but who want to learn more and who will help students find out the answers—they are modeling lifelong learning.
  • Challenge the book, challenge student prejudices and assumptions, make students think outside the box.
  • Be open-minded about how to teach, ready to change your approach if it is not working, experiment with a variety of approaches.
  • Changing perceptions of faculty over time: Some students began as shy freshmen, but supportive faculty helped them to grow more assured and to seek closer associations with faculty. One student came from a large university and appreciates the accessibility and friendliness of UH Hilo faculty.
  • On Powerpoint: use it briefly, appropriately, for overviews and backdrop, not for the whole lecture. It is useful to have notes in outline form from Powerpoint presentations. Powerpoint is okay if the professor actually looks at the students, moves in the classroom, and varies it with other kinds of presentation and activity.
  • UNIV 101 Paths to Acad/Lifelong Success (1) One student on our panel took UNIV 101 and felt it was useful because the instructor was very knowledgeable and the course covered a number of useful areas, including a good introduction to the library and its resources.

From Our Students: Encouraging Active Participation and Active Learning

  • Prompt, frequent, and specific feedback—ongoing assessment---keeps students working hard, even when the going is rough. Students appreciate--and learn from--positive, constructive suggestions for improvement.
  • It’s gratifying to turn in work every week and get it back with feedback right away.
  • At every class meeting, set aside ten minutes for one or two to present a news story about oceanography that addresses issues we've covered in class. Students must present the story and then pose a question to start discussion with the class. With global climate change and alternative energy (i.e. waves / tides) in the news so much, there are a lot of stories for students to choose from.
  • On big projects: make sure there are products and feedback all along the way, so students really get the whole process and the whole picture. (And this precludes plagiarism, too.)
  • In one course, student groups present each chapter to the class. First, the group meets with the professor, then prepares and presents material from the perspective of the student. Results: group solidarity, active learning, critical thinking, sense of accomplishment.
  • On large classes: occasionally divide class into small groups, but give small groups specific outcomes and guidance so that the work is productive.
  • Research projects with faculty: One of the panelists has had this experience. Such projects give students a taste of graduate school and help students understand the discipline more profoundly. Students would like more such opportunities.
  • In one course, students know that there might be a pop quiz at any time, so they do the reading and preparation beforehand. This puts students on the alert and makes class discussions more meaningful and lively, as well as ensuring better learning.
  • In one course, the teacher fires off nonstop questions and continually poses challenging problems, gives frequent quizzes and other surprises, uses a variety of activities, including role-playing.

From Faculty: General Themes

  • We need to respect students as they are—and transform them.
  • We must understand and re-engineer student culture.
  • Expect the best from your students and help them deliver it.

From Faculty: Establishing Personal Connections

  • Many retention studies have shown that a student who establishes a positive attachment with at least one individual faculty is a student who is more likely to succeed in college.
  • Our student panelists emphasized the importance of faculty friendliness, encouragement, and support in their academic success.
  • Get to know each of your students by name and face.
  • Bring your life experiences in the discipline to the classroom, share both your passion and love for the field, discuss openly the issues and topics that continue to perplex you, be open about your own weaknesses and how you are addressing them--in short, connect with your students as another aspiring learner.
  • In on-line and blended courses, require (give points for) participation in the asynchronous bulletin or discussion boards, where students can share information, reflections and can connect informally. Students too shy to talk in class are often the liveliest contributors in this "safe" environment.
  • In on-line and blended courses, instructors need to respond promptly to student emails, use students' first names, and maintain a friendly and supportive tone.
  • Use office hours productively to help students on projects, to resolve difficulties in courses, to discuss career possibilities, to foster academic aspirations.
  • Invite groups of students in for conferencing; do this often. Students may be more comfortable in a small group than one-on-one.
  • Occasionally hold office hours in open and convenient spaces, like the cafeteria or outside the library or in the new CC-UCB plaza.
  • Be open to directed reading courses with your best students. -99 courses can give such students a taste of serious scholarship.
  • Refer troubled students to the Student Support Services Program or Counseling Services

From Faculty: Engaging Students (in Large Classes)

  • Instructors from the mainland often think that members of some ethnic groups in Hawaiʻi are reluctant to talk in class, and so they're reluctant to call on them. However, at least with some groups, students' reluctance is only to speak up voluntarily. They are perfectly willing to talk in class when they're called upon.
  • Instead of Powerpoint, use the classroom computer and projector to present lecture notes during the lecture, and type in additions, discussion points, and class responses during class. After class, post the lecture notes at your course website, complete with student comments.
  • At the beginning of the semester, have each student complete an index card with basic info: name (including pronunciation if the name is unusual), home town, major, etc. Use the cards throughout the semester to call on students to contribute to discussion.
  • Learn to use Powerpoint effectively: as the backdrop of active class discussion, to display slides, to link to the Web and back during a lecture, to highlight a few key terms at a time.
  • Learn to use Laulima, the UH system's online course management tool): you can post lecture notes, syllabi, handouts, links, continually update course materials, have students engage in asynchronous discussion--and students have continuous access to all of these.
  • Electronic photos of students: you can post them on your Laulima page, so students get to know each other’s names and faces, and so does the instructor. Especially useful for DL courses. And Laulima protects your students’ privacy (as well as your course materials).
  • Electronic photos can help instructors learn student names, too. Make a webpage with the photos alone, listed by number, then get the students to identify themselves by number of a handout sheet in the next class. (This avoids making names accessible on the internet.)
  • Use one-minute essays: pass around index cards during class and have students respond briefly to such prompts as "what is the most important thing you have learned in class today?" and "what would you like to have clarified or explained better?" and "How might you apply the idea of ---- that we discussed in class today?" Collect, review, and discuss the most useful of these.
  • Archive the best work of students and (with their permission) share with later students. Students respond to good models and high expectations.
  • Divide classes occasionally into small working groups, provide them with work sheets, clear focus, and require each group to report back to the class as a whole. Group members can also evaluate contributions of each member of the group.
  • Have each small group propose a question at the start of each lecture/discussion.
  • Take an intense but humorous approach to pop quizzes: flip a coin to see whether a quiz will be given.
  • Have students submit questions for pop quizzes.
  • Have students submit questions for midterms and final exams, discuss in class.
  • Mixed opinions on whether attendance should be required or not. Those who do swear by it.
  • Use multimedia and multiple activities to keep students active and alert.
  • To check on understanding of material and to get students to reflect on what they are learning, have them do five-minute in-class free writing or summaries on index cards, collect and rapidly review.
  • Make syllabi informative and helpful; update regularly. See the Syllabus Checklist on this website.
  • Try to determine students’ prior knowledge so they can see progress. Try a diagnostic, ungraded pretest or informal writing task at the beginning of the semester.
  • To encourage students to connect with each other in large classes and in web-based/interactive television courses, post student photos on the course website (which is accessible only to members of the class).
  • Collect 200-word “journal entries” each week by email; comment briefly and positively (no corrections) and return each immediately. Prompts should relate to course content, issues raised in class.
  • Get students to share personal experiences relevant to the course, to establish solidarity and greater understanding.
  • Avoid Powerpoint unless you have learned how to use it effectively (see suggestions above).
  • Give students index cards to pose questions during class, and collect and review these to get a bead on what your students get and don't get.
  • When long-term group projects are assigned, have students evaluate each other’s contributions and maintain a process log recording what was done when and what was learned.
  • Read aloud student free-writes to encourage discussion.
  • Post Powerpoint lectures online prior to class (instead of after class) so that nonnative speakers can print these out and bring to class. You can easily convert your slides to PDF using Adobe Acrobat.
  • Encourage students to ask each other questions about the material and formulate thoughtful responses.
  • Get to know the name of each student—and encourage students to know each other’s names.
  • Distribute a list of emails of the students in the class. Encourage email exchanges between students. Faculty should respond promptly to student emails.
  • Establish a reward system for successful performance or completion of tasks—these can be humorous (bags of M&Ms to the best group).
  • Promote work and cooperation outside class, including informal study groups as well as group projects. The Library has a number of study rooms with tables and chairs where students can work together.
  • Often there is a student who is a high-energy engine; find ways of harnessing this energy in a positive way for the benefit of the whole class.
  • Distribute a list of 100 problems/questions at the beginning of the course and have students consider them, discuss them, use them in quizzes and exams.
  • Distribute “coupons” with syllabus: one good for a phone conference and one for an office conference.
  • Occasional open-book quizzes to force familiarity with the textbook
  • At the beginning of each class, pose 3-4 exam-like questions; assign students responsibility for coming up with such questions and providing answers.

From the Faculty: Term Projects and Other Major Tasks

Structure major projects carefully: divide into smaller tasks (including a number of writing assignments) that build skills and generate feedback and that will result in a cumulative final product. Begin with individual conferences to help student focus on a realistic topic, to develop a bibliography, and to plan the semester’s work. Fairly early on, students should bring in articles related to the project and discuss these with the instructor early on in the project.

From Faculty: Some Big Unresolved Issues

  • Students often lack the reading skills and experience to do the work we expect of them. But all disciplines require strong reading skills and tremendous amounts of reading, and a well-educated citizen of the world must be well-read in many fields.
  • We need to combine a certain amount of memorization of foundational information with a great deal of creativity and critical thinking.
  • How do we serve the 77% of students who are reasonably engaged and prepared while winning over the other 23%?

From the Faculty: “The Institution Should . . . .”

  • Have more workshops, training on good teaching practices.
  • Limit the number and size of large classes where interaction is difficult or impossible, or limit the number of large sections a single professor is assigned to teach. Smaller sections are especially desirable in the GE courses.
  • Reduce teaching loads for faculty who undertake research projects with students—in all disciplines, humanities as well as the natural and social sciences.
  • Gather better information on why freshmen leave and why they stay, and develop a plan for responding to this information.
  • Develop a more teaching-centered course evaluation form. [CAFNRM form is a good example of one that focuses on good practices. The UH Hilo Congress Committee on Course Evaluation has drafted a new form focused on good teaching practices; this will be reviewed by the governance bodies in 2004-2005.]
  • Encourage more facilities like the Math Lab, where students can work with upper-division majors who serve as tutors and mentors, and where faculty can meet with students in a setting conducive to study and work.
  • Consider use of highly qualified senior majors as teaching assistants receiving course credit for their efforts. [Several departments, including Biology, Marine Science, Mathematics already offer such courses.]
  • Provide tutors in computer skills for 100-200-level courses.
  • Encourage departments to draw on the skills and personal resources of outstanding majors, who can serve as intermediaries, mentors, and models to younger students.
  • Encourage student and faculty commitment to the quality of life on the island, long-term, especially the environment.
  • Support DL technologies/resources which enable faculty to interact with their DL students, such as webcams, streaming video—and provide good training in use of these technologies.
  • Provide courses or lab work for students who are admitted but who lack skills in reading, math, writing.
  • Revisit admissions standards.
  • Recognize the importance of teaching innovation and curricular development in the personnel review process, which currently gives little weight to teaching.

Add Your Own

Would you like to add to any of these lists? Please email your contributions to shelbyw@hawaii.edu.