Designing Independent Study Courses

Reinert Center typeset_icon_2014_solid_082214by James Fortney, Instructional Developer, Reinert Center

A few years ago, I designed and facilitated an independent study course for an undergraduate student in my department. She needed a more focused, self-directed study of qualitative research methods before beginning her senior thesis project the following semester. I was impressed by her ability to articulate goals for the course and why I would be the best person to teach it. She clearly understood why she needed the independent study experience with me. But she had not given much thought to the anatomy of the course itself (e.g., format, structure, timeline, content). Before agreeing to direct the course, I asked her to put together a formal proposal that addressed six important elements for self-directed learning (see Planning for Independent Study):

  1. Description: What do you plan to do and how do you plan to do it? What are your objectives in undertaking this study? What do you hope to learn?
  2. Qualifications: What background, knowledge, or preparation do you have that will help you in undertaking this course? What books have you read? What courses have you taken? What relevant experiences have you had?
  3. Resources: What sources and resources do you intend to use? Can you provide a list of articles and books you want to read?
  4. Demonstration of Learning: How will you keep track of and demonstrate your learning? When, where, and how will you report your progress?
  5. Evaluation Criteria: How will you evaluate your work? What will be the focus of your evaluation?
  6. Expectations of Instructor: Describe your expectations of the instructor directing this independent study.

The student emailed me her proposal and we scheduled another meeting to discuss the six elements listed above in greater depth. The most challenging part for me was the shifting of power from instructor to student. I spent most of the meeting asking clarifying questions, listening, jotting down notes, and imagining ways to craft a syllabus with this student. For the most part, I stayed out of the weeds and provided space for her to identify what she needed from the course and from me. I would periodically suggest a reading (e.g., “I think this important reading is missing…”) or help frame her ideas in the context of a specific theory or relevant concept, but most of the course design work was done by the student. At the conclusion of our meeting, I was confident she was ready for independent study with me. I agreed to direct the course and, using her proposal and the notes from our meeting, we drafted a course syllabus for her independent study. It ended up being a really positive and productive experience for us both.

If you currently teach independent study courses or are interested in learning more about ways to design and facilitate them, I encourage you to explore some of the resources below. I find the document from Fairhaven College of Interdisciplinary Studies at Western Washington University to be particularly useful because of its student-centered approach to course design. If you are looking for a list of more research-oriented resources, look at the document from the University of Waterloo’s Center for Teaching Excellence. And as always, please feel free to schedule a teaching consultation with someone in the Reinert Center to discuss independent study courses.


  1. Guidelines for Independent Study (DigiPen Institute of Technology)
  2. Planning for Independent Study (Fairhaven College of Interdisciplinary Studies, Western Washington University)
  3. Recommended Independent Study Structure (School of Public Health, The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston)
  4. Self-Directed Learning: A Four-Step Process (Center for Teaching Excellence, University of Waterloo)
  5. Supervising Independent Student Project (Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence and Educational Innovation, Carnegie Mellon University)

Using This Summer to Transform Your Teaching and Learning

Reinert Center RIT_circle_2014_solid_082214by Yang (Emily) Li, Graduate Assistant, Reinert Center

Transformational learning is a reflection process to rethink life changes and events and gain new meaning out of our classroom, community and society (Alexander, 2007). For teachers who are designing courses for higher educational institutions, one transformational learning strategy is including multicultural reading material in classroom discussion.

In order to determine if multicultural discussions are right for one’s class, teachers could reflect on the following two questions:

  • How could discussing multicultural reading material help to achieve my teaching goals and objectives?
  • How could discussing multicultural reading material assist in assessing students’ learning?

As for teachers who may want to know more about the benefits of including multicultural reading material in their classes, the following are some examples.

Four benefits of multicultural approach:

Discussing diversity in the classroom is positive for science courses

Teachers may think that diversity discussions are only applicable in arts and humanities subjects; however, diversity discussions are also very important for science subject instruction. Students are invited to share their different backgrounds and discuss openly in class, which creates an equal and respectful environment to build a higher student self-efficacy.

Infusing different cultural teaching and learning styles evolves teaching

As for higher educational institutions, research is of great importance. Teachers can shape their teaching to activate students’ motivation in their particular research area through the use of this multicultural teaching strategy. Learning different teaching and learning styles from students’ cultural background enables teachers to become more flexible to students’ learning and research needs.

Using students’ reading reflection assists in assigning discussion groups

In large classes, teachers can assign students into different discussion groups based on their reflection assignment. For instance, teachers can assign students with similar reflection ideas into different groups to share their unique ideas. The teacher also can assign students with similar ideas to the same discussion group to deepen their discussion into realistic problem-solving situations.

Multicultural reading material pairs well with textbook material

Teachers can pick some reading materials with opposite opinions compared with the textbook. Students can then compare the similarities and differences between textbook and the additional reading material. This discussion will develop students’ critical thinking skills to distinguish information from different sources.



Kaplan, M., & Miller, A. T. (Eds.). (2007). Scholarship of multicultural teaching and learning.

San Francisco, CA: Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

In Case You Missed It…

Reinert Center typeset_icon_2014_solid_082214Just in case you were too busy during the spring semester and missed some of our resources or blog postings, here are three things we would like to draw to your attention.

-Technology for Teaching, an e-journal by the Reinert Center’s instructional developer staff made it’s debut. You can read the first issue at

-As part of our year long theme on Inclusive Teaching the Reinert Center staff created more than 40 resources ranging from creating transparent assignments to facilitating difficult dialogues in the classroom. You can find the list here:

-If your summer plans include catching up on reading about teaching, don’t forget the Reinert Center has a group subscription to The Teaching Professor, a newsletter published 10 times yearly. This is a great resource for research, essays about classroom practice, and ideas you might implement in the classroom:

A Year on Inclusive Teaching: Closing Reflections

inclusive teaching banner_FINALby Debie Lohe, Director, Reinert Center

As the academic year comes to a close, the Reinert Center team is wrapping up a year-long focus on inclusive teaching.  Since August, we’ve hosted more than 10 events explicitly focused on different aspects of inclusive teaching, curated or created more than 40 web-based resources to promote inclusive teaching, and secured a Campus Dialogue Grant from Bringing Theory to Practice [LINK] to develop a set of recommendations to advance inclusive teaching at SLU in the future.

Along the way, we’ve met with individuals and groups, read research on stereotype threat and the ways in which it can show up in the college classroom, and highlighted concrete practices instructors can enact to recognize and reduce barriers and minimize the potential for (accidental or intentional) exclusion.

Now that the year is coming to a close, we’ll let you in on a little secret: no matter what the Reinert Center’s theme is in any given year, we’re always focused on helping faculty and graduate students create inclusive classrooms. The fact is, evidence-based practices that create inclusion also result in learning. And the practices that lead to learning typically are inclusive. Whether or not we explicitly frame our work through the lens of inclusion, inclusive teaching is a goal. This year, we simply chose to make that commitment visible (and that, too, is an “inclusive practice”!).

As you head into the summer, we encourage you take a few minutes to reflect on the following questions.  The answers you arrive at may help you more intentionally design and teach inclusive courses.

What kinds of students may have felt excluded in your classes this year?

What might you do next year to minimize the possibility of exclusion for these students?

What one change will you make in your next course to create a more inclusive learning environment?

If you need ideas for concrete strategies, consult our inclusive teaching web resources [LINK] or come and see someone in the Reinert Center. We’re around all summer and ready to help.

Seats Still Available for May OTLI

Reinert Center typeset_icon_2014_solid_082214Faculty interested in teaching online are invited to register for the Reinert Center’s Online Teaching and Learning Institute, which will be held on campus Tuesday, May 23 through Thursday, May 25, 2017.
This three-day intensive experience is aimed at SLU faculty with little-to-no experience teaching in the online format. Each day runs from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., and participants must attend all three days.

For additional details and registration, visit our event page at

Congratulations Spring 2017 Certificate Recipients!

The Reinert Center for Transformative Teaching and Learning honored 27 Certificate in University Teaching Skills recipients and 13 Foundations Certificate in University Teaching Skills recipients at our spring ceremony on Friday, May 5, 2017 in the Pius Library Level 2 Gallery

Adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Dr. Chad Huddleston, began the ceremony by sharing a reflection on teaching with the recipients, friends, and family in attendance. You can listen to the recording of his reflection here:

This semester’s Certificate in University Teaching Skills recipients are Rabyah Alanazi, Brittney Bauer, Leamon Bazil, Robert Bodor, Amber Eischen, Alicia Flach, Jatinderpal Gosal, Erica Holbrook, Michelle Jaques, Clark Johnson, Ilwoo Ju, Nicole Koopman, Kayla Kostelecky, Kathryn Krupsky, Allison KunerthYang Li, Hayford Nsiah, Priya Parikh, LaTrina Parker, Benjamin Peet, Eleanor Peters Bergquist, Scott Salomone, Avni Shah, Anokhi Shah, Neil Shaw, Lorinette Wirth, and Tyler Zahrli.  The recipients of the Foundations Certificate are Saleh Alanazi, Isabella Cova, Jason Chen, Joseph Eisner, Savitri Grover, Scott A. Hessel, Krista Hyde, Anne M. Ilvarsonn, Mitchell Lorenz, Cassy S. McCandless, Taehwan Park, Ashaki D. Patel, and Tesa Rigel Hines.

CUT ceremony 2017_FINAL

The requirements for the Certificate in University Teaching Skills are themselves learning experiences that help participants to make deliberate and intentional choices about teaching. Friday’s ceremony acknowledged the time and commitment these participants gave to earning one of the Certificates. We also celebrated the dedication to teaching and learning shown by those faculty members who served as teaching mentors to the certificate recipients.

For more information about our certificates visit

First Issue of New eJournal Now Available

Reinert Center typeset_icon_2014_solid_082214The Reinert Center invites you to read the first issue of our new ejournal Technology for TeachingTechnology for Teaching is a semi-annual publication from the Instructional Developer team in Saint Louis University’s Reinert Center. Each issue will explore innovative ways technology might be used in teaching. It is available online at

Teaching on/and Sexual Violence

Reinert Center typeset_icon_2014_solid_082214by James Fortney, Instructional Developer, Reinert Center

From March to November 2017, the freestanding blog “Conditionally Accepted” will feature a series of weekly posts about sexual violence and higher education. Published first on the Inside Higher Ed website, authors are invited to contribute intersectional perspectives and personal accounts of sexual violence across institutional contexts (e.g., teaching, research, and policy). Each entry supports three primary goals, “to amplify the voices of survivors of sexual violence that occurs in academic contexts, to aggravate the academic status quo that facilitates sexual violence, and to advocate for meaningful change in classrooms, research, departments, and at conferences” (“Conditionally Accepted,” 2017).

The following blog posts are particularly useful for instructors who are teaching about sexual violence and/or looking for supportive ways to respond to students who have experienced sexual violence:

  1. Teaching Rape Culture” (3/10/17)
  2. Teaching about Sexuality, Violence and Power” (3/17/17)
  3. Responding to Students’ Trauma Disclosures with Empathy” (4/7/17)
  4. Talk with Students about Sexual Assault” (4/7/17)
  5. Addressing Sexual Violence in Science” (4/14/17)

These entries are willfully vulnerable in ways that encourage the awareness, reflection, and action needed to create structural and culture changes in higher education. I recommend taking time to read and consider them in the context of your own teaching. If you would like to discuss ways to navigate the topic of sexual violence with your students, please feel free to schedule a teaching consultation with someone in the Reinert Center. You may also wish to share your thoughts on this topic with others in the comments section below.



Conditionally Accepted. (2017, May 1). Retrieved from


6th Annual Learning Studio Symposium

Reinert Center typeset_icon_2014_solid_082214On Wednesday April 19, 2017, Innovative Teaching Fellows presented at the Paul C. Reinert, S.J. Center for Transformative Teaching & Learning’s 6th annual Learning Studio Symposium.  Past and current Innovative Teaching Fellows shared their experiences with course redesign and with teaching in the Learning Studio – Saint Louis University’s award-winning, state-of-the-art teaching space designed by a team of faculty and students as part of the Herman Miller Learning Spaces Research Program.  Faculty who presented at the Symposium included:

  • Amber Knight, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Political Science, presented thoughts about how the space of the Learning Studio impacted her course, Universal Design in Practice.
  • Jeffrey Wickes, PhD., Assistant Professor in the Department of Theological Studies, presented on key aspects of designing and teaching his course, “Music, Poetry, and Religious Identity.”
  • Dr. Simone Bregni, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Italian and the Coordinator of the Italian Studies Program in the Department of Languages presented on his course, ITAL 1200, Intensive Italian for gamers.  His presentation explored the challenges and the successes of developing a content-based, focus-interest-driven hybrid/blended elementary intensive language course through backward design and scaffolding.
  • Amber Hinsley, Ph.D., Assistant Professor in the Department of Communication, detailed how her students used the physical transformability of the classroom to create collaboration spaces that fostered greater engagement in her course, Social Media as Professional Tools.
  • Cathleen Fleck PhD., Associate Professor in the Art History Program of the Fine and Performing Arts Department, presented on a new course she created, ARTH 2070 Art and the Body.  The course examined the study and depiction of the divine and human body in art from medieval to modern times as a general introduction to art history with a focus on how art and science interact and on how the body has been perceived in art.
  • Chris Carroll, Ph.D., Assistant Professor in the Department of Civil Engineering within Parks College of Engineering, presented on how wireless presentation capabilities of the Surface Pro coupled with skeleton files changed the dynamic of his course, Structural Analysis.
  • Dyan McGuire, Ph.D., J.D., Associate Professor in the Criminology & Criminal Justice Program in the School of Social Work, shared some highlights of her course, CCJ 2050: Multiculturalism for the CJ Professional, and the Learning Studio helped support the content of her course.

After the symposium, attendees met to talk more about the Innovative Teaching Fellowship to as well as teaching in the Learning Studio. Videos from the symposium will be posted on the Reinert Center Vimeo page.

For more information about the Innovative Teaching Fellowship and the Learning Studio, visit the CTTL website.  The next call for applications will be announced in late August, 2017.


Resource Guide: Two Paths to Student-Created Rubrics

Reinert Center typeset_icon_2014_solid_082214by Gina Merys, Associate Director, Reinert Center

Using rubrics to aid in the assessment of written assignments can be an inclusive teaching practice, when students have access to that rubric before beginning a project. Including students in the creation of that rubric can increase students’ agency in their learning as well as enhance the rubric’s usefulness for learning.

Below are two possible ways an instructor could include students in creating rubrics for written projects.

Path One: Starting with a Draft

One approach to student-created rubrics is for students to begin by working with a draft rubric the instructor has already created for the specific project. This method is especially helpful for students who have not had much experience with rubrics or who are new in their role as college students. The draft rubric provides a baseline for structure, organization, and standards while promoting an expectation for alteration.

An example project for this path

Students read through the draft rubric in groups identifying the key terms as well as those terms that are unclear. Then, each group makes revisions to the rubric as they see fit. The instructor compiles those suggested revisions into a second draft rubric and submits it to students for one more round of revision, this works well as a whole class activity. Then, the instructor submits a final rubric to the class for approval.

Path Two: Starting with Learning Objectives

A second approach to student-created rubrics is for students (either individually or in small groups) to begin by working with the learning objectives of the project and create a rubric that assesses those objectives. This method often works best with upper-level or graduate students who have more experience translating project expectations into an artifact of learning and have had more practice working with rubrics to achieve those expectations.

An example project for this path

Students read and discuss the project’s learning objectives and guidelines set by the instructor. They identify the key concepts and skills embedded within the objectives and describe what it might “look” like to achieve the ideal version of those concepts and skills, keeping in mind all alternative ways to achieve that ideal, within the guidelines of the project. Once they have described the ideal, they then describe the    less successful alternatives and why these alternatives would be seen as achieving lower degrees of success. Instructors could either choose to allow students each to use their own rubrics, after a process of revision and approval in cooperation with the instructor, or to compile the rubrics in some way and return the compiled version to students for further stages of revision and final approval.


Stevens, Dannelle D. and Antonia J. Levi. Introduction to Rubrics, 2nd Ed. Sterling: Stylus, 2012.

Walvoord, Barbara E. Assessment Clear and Simple, 2nd Ed. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2010.

For more information or to discuss how you might incorporate these ideas into your courses, contact the Reinert Center at