Facilitating Independent Study Courses

Reinert Center typeset_icon_2014_solid_082214by James Fortney, Instructional Developer, Reinert Center

Back in June, I wrote a blog post about designing independent study courses that listed several strategies for working with students to help create a course to support their goals for learning. With the start of fall semester quickly approaching, I wanted to share a few tips and resources to help you facilitate an independent study course. The University of Waterloo’s Center for Teaching Excellence recommends four tips for you to keep in mind:

First, recommend learning resources such as books, journals, people, organizations, or library materials. You may have started this conversation during the design phase of the course, but be aware of additional resources the student may need throughout the learning process. But be careful not to overwhelm the student! Only suggest resources that you feel are essential to helping the student meet their goals for the independent study course.

Second, allow the student to take the initiative in asking for assistance with learning. Do not hover, micromanage, or insert yourself into the learning process. Empower the student to learn how to learn independently.

Third, meet regularly with the student to review progress, share ideas, and encourage learning. What “regularly” means will vary depending on the student, the course, and the timeline to submit final grades. When I supervised an independent study course on a 12-week quarter system, we had six scheduled meetings (one every two weeks). We certainly had additional meetings during office hours, but they were not required and did not impact the student’s final grade. During each scheduled meeting, the student either turned something in for evaluation or prepared a reading for discussion. Both learning activities were part of the assessment plan we agreed to during the design phase of the course. Which brings me to the final tip…

Evaluate the student’s work based on the criteria described in the course syllabus. For some students, their entire grade may be based on a final paper, research proposal, or project. For other students, it may be a mix of required meetings, reading responses, blog posts, or periodic updates/check-ins online. But whatever happens during the semester, stick to the original plan for how you will assess the student’s independent work.

As you begin facilitating any independent study course, consider the four tips described above and ask yourself the following questions. When and how will you recommend learning resources to the student? How will you make yourself available as resource for information? How will you meet with the student to review progress? What will happen during those meetings? How will you evaluate the student’s work?

If you would like to discuss independent study courses or specific facilitation tips from this blog post, please contact the Reinert Center to schedule a teaching consultation.

Recommendations on how to create videos to encourage student engagement

Reinert Center typeset_icon_2014_solid_082214by Chris Grabau, Instructional Developer, Reinert Center

At the first Association for Computing Machinery conference on “Learning @ Scale,” researchers Guo and Rubin presented an empirical study on how video production techniques from videos affects student engagement (2014).  Their study analyzed viewing data from 6.9 million video watching sessions gathered from four EdX MOOC courses in order to identify best practices for online educational videos.  They used the data to measure engagement by investigating “how long students watched videos, and whether they were able to answer post-video assessments.”  It is one of the largest empirical studies investigating how video techniques influence student engagement.

Results from the study help identify a number of key characteristics that seem to make online educational videos more engaging for students.  Below is a list of their findings and a few recommendations on how you may incorporate these practices into your video design. They are as follows:

  • Shorter videos are much more engaging. Try chunking video lessons into short, 6 minute segments.  Chunking videos can also be accomplished by making shorter videos and by creating pauses within a longer video.  Use the pauses to have students answer review questions and prompting them to return to the video after they have answered the question.
  • Videos interspersed between an instructor’s talking head and slides are more engaging. Consider using video capture tools (like Tegrity) that allow the instructor’s head to be present at various times within the video.  Switch between slides and the instructor at key moments throughout the video.
  • Videos with a personal feel are more engaging than high production studio recordings.  Do not worry about recording videos in a high-quality studio, but be sure to make videos free from distractions.  Choose an informal setting that also allows you to capture audio free from extraneous noises.
  • Drawing tutorials are more engaging than PowerPoint slides. When recording demonstrations, introduce motion into your recordings by using a computer tablet.  Similar to the video recordings created by Khan Academy, the continuous “visual flow” of the tablet-based recordings combined with the instructor’s voiceover encourages sustained student engagement.
  • Instructors who show high enthusiasm and speak fairly fast are more engaging. Be yourself and bring out your enthusiasm for the subject while you are recording.  Instructors do not need to worry about making the perfect recording.  Focus on presenting the material in a natural cadence that demonstrates to students how exciting your course material can be.
  • Students engage differently with lecture and tutorial videos. Students tend to watch lecture and tutorial videos differently.  Researchers discovered that students watch tutorial videos an average of 2-3 minutes, regardless of their length.  However, students re-watch tutorial videos more frequently than lecture based videos.  Their findings suggest that students jump throughout tutorial videos in order to re-watch relevant parts.  In contrast, students expect lecture videos to be a continuous stream of information that is optimized for “first-time” viewing.  Therefore, construct videos with some consideration on how students may watch them.  For example, when creating tutorial videos, consider adding titles for each step in order to accommodate for skimming and re-viewing.

Whether you are recording videos for an online course or creating supplemental material for an on-ground course, consider these suggestions to help encourage student engagement.  And, as always, please feel free to schedule a consultation with someone in the Reinert Center to discuss ways to engage students with video-based course content.



Guo, P. J., Kim, J., & Rubin, R. (2014, March). How video production affects student engagement: An empirical study of MOOC videos. In Proceedings of the first ACM conference on Learning@ scale conference (pp. 41-50). ACM.

Embodiment and Teaching

Reinert Center typeset_icon_2014_solid_082214

by James Fortney, Instructional Developer, Reinert Center

I was 23 years old when I taught my first undergraduate course at the University of Utah. My age, I feared, would prevent me from being taken seriously by my students and potentially undermine my credibility as a teacher and scholar. In an attempt to thwart such ageism, I did my best to look and sound more experienced than I was. I wore black-rimmed glasses, donned tweed blazers and striped neckties, and used lots of big words like ‘epistemology,’ ‘heteronomativity,’ and ‘deconstruction’ during each class. While my contrived performance of age may have made me feel more confident in front of my students, I was not fooling anyone. As Roland Barthes (1978) reminds us, “I can do everything with my language, but not with my body. What I hide by my language, my body utters” (p. 44).

My age was (and continues to be) always visible to my students — and at that time, being 23 years old did impact how I taught. Different situational factors throughout my teaching career have prompted awareness of my “teaching body” in similar ways with regard to ability, gender expression, markers of social class, sexual orientation, and even fitness/health. One of the interesting things about online teaching, for example, is that it makes you acutely aware of how much your body matters to your teaching because you are suddenly confronted with its visible absence. And the fact that our bodies change over time reminds us that their relationship to our teaching will also change, often in unexpected, uncomfortable, and potentially difficult ways. The bodily realities of instructors may include many situations seen and unseen and many situations beyond easy categorical description (Freedman & Holmes, 2003). We teach in and through our bodies, thus it seems productive to consider how bodies have been talked about and conceptualized in pedagogical research. It is also useful to reflect on your “teaching body” and how its various embodied identities (e.g., age, health, gender) impact your teaching.

Listed below are three resources to get you started. Freedman & Holmes (2003) provide a nice primer on embodied pedagogy through several personal essays that work to discard the idea that the teacher has no body. Importantly, each author emphasizes the impact of different bodily identities on the teacher-student educational dynamics. The other two books are written by tenured professors who both experienced physical disabilities toward the end of their careers. The late Robert Murphy (1990) chronicles his slow progression into quadriplegia and the impact it had on his identity as a teacher and scholar. Christina Crosby (2016) offers a deeply vulnerable account of a bicycle accident that rendered her paralyzed. She invites readers to acknowledge the dependencies of all human bodies by “diving into the wreck” of fragility, grief, and loss to find new ways of teaching and living on. Together, these texts invite critical consideration of how all bodies marked by difference “negotiate [the] space of authority that is the classroom” (Fredman & Holmes, 2003, p. xiii). Disability, pregnancy, and overall bodily fitness/health are particularly compelling accounts because of their shifting and often unexpected impact on teaching.

Embodied pedagogy cuts within and across a large amount of scholarly literature. The information in this blog post and the resources listed below represent only a sliver of that content. My hope is to return to this topic in future blog posts so that we can begin to see its breadth of relevance and importance for any discussion about teaching. I encourage you to share your reactions to this post in the comments section below. Please also feel free to schedule a teaching consultation with someone in the Reinert Center to discuss embodiment and teaching.


Crosby, C. (2016). A body, undone: Living on after great pain. New York, NY: New York University Press.

Freedman, D. P., & Holmes, M. S. (Eds.) (2003). The teacher’s body: Embodiment, authority, and identity in the academy. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.

Murphy, R. F. (1990). The body silent: The different world of the disabled. New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company.



Barthes, R. (1978). A lover’s discourse. New York, NY: Hill & Wang.

The Reinert Center Welcomes (Back) Our 2017-2018 Graduate Assistants

Reinert Center typeset_icon_2014_solid_082214The Reinert Center for Transformative Teaching and Learning enthusiastically announces two returning Graduate Assistants on our staff for the 2017-2018 academic year.  The Graduate Assistants in the Center assist in the administration of the Certificate in University Teaching Skills (CUTS) program, conduct interactive workshops, consult with graduate students about teaching, conduct teaching observations, and assist Center staff with the implementation and assessment of programs.

Both GAs this year are hard working and committed to the mission of the center, and both bring their own teaching experiences and pedagogical knowledge to the role.

Mitchell Lorenz

Mitchell is a doctoral candidate in the Experimental Psychology program (social concentration). His experiences have included both research and teaching. He earned his MS in Experimental Psychology from Western Illinois University in 2011 where he studied   dehumanization and interpersonal rejection. Mitchell joined SLU in 2012 and currently studies intergroup helping, stereotyping, and prejudice. Additionally, he has been involved in research considering students’ perceptions of psychology as a science. In addition to his      research experiences, Mitch has taught sections of General Psychology and Methods and Statistics.

Yang Li (Emily)

Emily is a graduate student in the Curriculum and Instruction Doctoral Program (Cross-cultural Educational Studies). Her experiences have included both research and teaching. She earned her BA in English Literature from Qingdao University, China in 2014. She earned her   MA in Educational Leadership and Administration from Saint Louis University in 2016. As she continues her Ph.D. work, she is working on comparative studies between American and   Chinese educational systems. In addition to her research experiences, Emily has worked as a tutor for the English Language Center for two years and has been a TA in the Department of Language Literatures and Cultures where she taught the lab component of a Chinese language course. She also volunteered at St. Louis Language Immersion School teaching elementary students Chinese.

We look forward to the contributions that Mitch and Emily bring to all those the Reinert Center serves.

Incorporating Principles in Cognitive Psychology to Improve Student Learning

Reinert Center typeset_icon_2014_solid_082214by Chris Grabau, Instructional Developer, Reinert Center

At the 2017 STEM FIT Symposium at Washington University in St. Louis, Mark McDaniel, PhD, Professor, Psychological & Brain Sciences, co-director of CIRCLE, and co-author of Make it Stick: The Science of Successful Learning (2014), presented a plenary address on how research in cognitive psychology can support effective teaching practices and improve learning.  Supported by laboratory and field experiments, many of the techniques Dr. McDaniel presented from the book can be applied to most academic subjects in order to promote student learning.

Roediger, McDaniel’s co-author, previously grouped many of these same techniques into three general principles to enhance educational practice (Roediger & Pyc, 2012).  Each principle offers an opportunity to consider how to incorporate research-supported practices for sustained learning.  Brief summaries of the three general principles are listed below.  I have also included a few examples found within the literature of how you may incorporate these principles into your teaching:

1. Distribution:  How information is distributed can determine the level of sustained learning.  Two effective strategies to distribute information: repetition and interleaved practice offer ways to improve memory and retention.  Repeating and revisiting key concepts and topics throughout the duration of a course can aid in long term memory and recall.  Furthermore, mixing (or interleaving) new information with previously covered material can lead to more durable learning and retention.

Consider reviewing topics covered in previous lectures at the beginning and ending of each class or include information from previous sections in homework assignments.  Mix questions and topics throughout the course instead of teaching in a blocked or linear fashion.  Mix problem sets instead of grouping into clusters in order to provide between-concept comparisons, improve proficiency, and promote retention for mastery learning. (Rohrer, Dedrick & Stershic, 2015; Sana, Kim, & Yan, 2017)

2. Retrieval practice:  Creating sustained and effortful learning practices can help support retention of information.  Instead of using repetition as a way to remember information, develop a sustained process of instruction where information recall is spaced over a longer period of time.

Offer low-stakes quizzes throughout the semester to help students reconstruct learning of course information.  Also, encourage students to self-test by creating flash cards.  Have students frequently shuffle cards they answered correctly into the deck until all questions are mastered. (Roediger & Pyc, 2012)

3. Explanatory questioning:  Providing spaces where students can question course information can be a powerful opportunity for sustained learning.  Two techniques to provide explanatory questioning are elaborative interrogation and self-explanation.  Elaborative interrogation opportunities allow students to explore why certain information is true.  When asking “why” questions, students are forced to incorporate existing information into their understanding of new concepts and topics.  Elaborative interrogation also prompts students to think of similarities and differences between related topics.  Similarly, self-exploration offers students a space to integrate new information with existing prior knowledge.  Broadly speaking, self-exploration invokes metacognitive questioning in order to help students make personal connections to learning.

Consider incorporating active learning exercises like the “one-minute paper exercise” at the end of class.  Ask students to write about why the topic may be relevant to their learning.  Also, when introducing new material, ask students to self-explain, “What parts are new to me?  What does the statement mean? Is there anything I still don’t understand?” (Dunlosky, Rawson, Marsh, Nathan & Willingham, 2013)

Consider how you may incorporate these principles into your teaching.  What techniques will you use to effectively distribute information?  How will you help students practice learning and re-learning course material?  What teaching strategies will you use to help students retain course information?  How will you make these techniques visible in your course design?

If you would like to discuss how to incorporate these learning principles into your teaching, please contact the Reinert Center to schedule a consultation.



Brown, P., Roediger, H., & McDaniel, M. (2014). Make it Stick. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

Dunlosky, J., Rawson, K., Marsh, E., Nathan, M., & Willingham, D. (2013). Improving Students’ Learning With Effective Learning Techniques. Psychological Science in the Public Interest14(1), 4-58.

Roediger, H., & Pyc, M. (2012). Inexpensive techniques to improve education: Applying cognitive psychology to enhance educational practice. Journal of Applied Research in Memory And Cognition1(4), 242-248.

Rohrer, D., Dedrick, R., & Stershic, S. (2015). Interleaved practice improves mathematics learning. Journal of Educational Psychology107(3), 900-908.

Sana, F., Yan, V., & Kim, J. (2017). Study sequence matters for the inductive learning of cognitive concepts. Journal of Educational Psychology109(1), 84-98.

Mentoring Undergraduate Students

Reinert Center typeset_icon_2014_solid_082214by James Fortney, Instructional Developer, Reinert Center

Instructor-student interaction is often regarded as “the most important factor in student motivation and involvement” (Chickering & Gamson, 1987, p. 3). This interaction occurs inside and outside of the classroom, in face-to-face and virtual teaching situations, through various learning activities, formal advising meetings, and informal mentoring conversations. Instructor-student mentoring, in particular, is important because it can “assist students to make sense of their own educational futures and career plans, help them feel welcome as scholars in their disciplines, and provide them with access to important networks of information and people to aid them in their success” (DeAngelo et al., 2016, p. 318). But what is mentoring?

Nora and Crisp (2008) identified four major domains in the scholarly literature as comprising mentoring: 1) psychological or emotional support, 2) support for setting goals and choosing a career path, 3) academic subject knowledge support aimed at advancing a student’s knowledge relevant to their chosen field, and 4) specification of a role model. Based on survey data that included 200 undergraduate students, they reported over thirty desired characteristics of a mentor situated across the four dimensions of mentoring. Below, I have teased out a few characteristics of each dimension that I feel are useful for mentoring undergraduate students in any discipline (see “Appendix A” in Nora & Crisp (2008) for a complete list of items):

  1. Psychological and emotional support: My mentor…
    1. Helps me develop better coping strategies when my academic goals are not achieved
    2. Expresses their personal confidence in my ability to succeed in pursuit of my academic goals
  2. Goal setting and career paths: My mentor…
    1. Helps me explore realistic options and provides guidance on attainable academic objectives
    2. Explains degree and career options
  3. Academic subject knowledge support: My mentor…
    1. Asks probing questions so that I can explain my views regarding my academic progress
    2. Follows up on my decisions to develop better study habits by asking questions about my actual progress
  4. The role model: My mentor…
    1. Shares personal examples of difficulties they have had to overcome
    2. Uses their personal experience to explain how college courses can be valuable learning experiences for me

Consider the mentoring characteristics above in the context of your relationships with undergraduate students. How do you provide psychological and emotional support for students? How do you help students set goals and develop career paths? How do you support students who are struggling in your classes? To what extent do you share personal experiences about your education with students? Why or why not? How do you make yourself available to students?

Mentoring is a very organic and personal process that will look different for each instructor, student, and teaching situation. These are a few questions to get you thinking more intentionally about how you mentor undergraduate students. I find the four dimensions above especially useful for establishing relational boundaries with students; to be personal with purpose, always in support of student-centered course goals and learning outcomes (e.g., Anderson & Shore, 2008).

If you want to discuss any ideas presented in this blog or develop strategies for mentoring your undergraduate students, please contact the Reinert Center to schedule a consultation.



Anderson, D. D., & Shore, W. J. (2008). Ethical issues and concerns associated with mentoring undergraduate students. Ethics & Behavior, 18, 1-25.

Chickering, A., & Gamson, Z. (1987, March). Seven principles for good practice in undergraduate education. AAHE Bulletin, 39, 3-7.

DeAngelo, L., Mason, J., & Winters, D. (2016). Faculty engagement in mentoring undergraduate students: How institutional environments regulate and promote extra-role behavior. Innovative Higher Education, 41, 317-332.

Nora, A., & Crisp, G. (2008). Mentoring students: Conceptualizing and validating the multi-dimensions of a support system. J. College Student Retention, 9, 337-356.

Common Rhetorical Patterns of Writing

by Gina Merys, Associate Director, Reinert Center

This past week, the Reinert Center facilitated the 2017 Culturally Responsive Teaching Institute. As part of that institute, participants began to grapple with what it means to live and learn through another culture and language.

Because even the ways we think are structured through the filter of culture, our language patterns, both written and spoken, often reflect those very different patterns. A simple way to illustrate this idea is to think about a common idiom in your own native language and then try to translate it directly into another language. Not only do the words of the idiom frequently cease to make sense in a direct translation, but also the structure of the idiom often becomes disorganized as well.

As a way to show how this challenge in translating our thoughts reveals itself in students’ written work, we have updated a germinal image of cultural thought patterns. This updated image is part of a larger project examining the ways in which students’ writing reflects rhetorical thought patterns, especially in specific educational settings.


To explore challenges in grading students’ written work, contact the Reinert Center to request a consultation.

Wait, What? Questions to Facilitate Dialogue, Discussion and Reflection

ryan bookby Chris Grabau, Instructional Developer, Reinert Center

In 2016, James Ryan, Dean of Harvard University’s School of Education, gave a commencement speech on how asking (and answering) good question can help evoke empathy, understanding, and curiosity.  During his speech, Ryan presented “5 essential questions” that are to serve as a guide for inquiry throughout a person’s life.  They are: “Wait, what…?; I wonder….?; Couldn’t we at least…?; How can I help?; and What truly matters?”  What Ryan is proposing is that “the five questions are like five crucial keys on a key ring.  While you’ll certainly need other keys from time to time, you’ll never want to be without these five (questions)” (Ryan, 2017).

Ryan’s questions clearly resonated with people.  In the months following the graduation ceremony, a recording of Ryan’s commencement speech has received over 122 thousand YouTube views – becoming one of Harvard University’s most watched videos.  His address has also been made into a book titled, “Wait, What” And Life’s Other Essential Questions (2017).  Much like his speech, the book incorporates examples from politics, history, popular culture, and social movements, as well as his own personal life to explore how asking these essential questions offers a thought-provoking (and accessible) reflection that will challenge any person’s outlook on life.

Ryan’s “essential questions” also provide a nice reminder of how asking good questions can serve as a foundation to help facilitate classroom discussion, dialogue, and conversation.  Just as Ryan states, “the right question asked at the right time, will open a door to something you don’t yet know, something you haven’t yet realize or something you haven’t even considered – about others and about yourself” (Ryan, 2017).

Much of what Ryan’s essential questions propose mirror many of the benefits of classroom discussion.   In Discussion as a way of teaching: Tools and techniques for democratic classrooms (2012) Brookfield and Preskill, state “one of the defining characteristics of critical discussion is that participants are willing to enter the conversation with open minds. This requires people to be flexible enough to adjust their views in the light of persuasive, well-supported arguments and confident enough to retain their original opinions when rebuttals fall short”(pg. 7).  Brookfield and Preskill state the following benefits of facilitating classroom discussions through thoughtful questioning:

  1. Helps students explore a diversity of perspectives.
  2. Increases students’ awareness of and tolerance for ambiguity or complexity.
  3. Helps students recognize and investigate their assumptions.
  4. Encourages attentive, respectful listening.
  5. Develops new appreciation for continuing differences.
  6. Increases intellectual agility.
  7. Helps students become connected to a topic.
  8. Shows respect for students’ voices and experiences.
  9. Helps students learn the processes and habits of democratic discourse.
  10. Affirms students as co-creators of knowledge.
  11. Develops the capacity for the clear communication of ideas and meaning.
  12. Develops habits of collaborative learning.
  13. Increases breadth and makes students more empathic.
  14. Helps students develop skills of synthesis and integration.
  15. Leads to transformation.

As you begin to work on preparing to teach next semester, take a moment to reflect on the questions you might raise in classroom discussion.  Consider using questions as not just a means to check for understanding, but an opportunity to facilitate dialogue, empathy, perspective, and clarity.  As King (1995) notes, “We can further promote student use of critical questions by modeling the use of such questions ourselves.”

To better facilitate questions into teaching, The Reinert Center has a Resource Guide on Student Generated Questions, Quotations, and Talking Points.  Also, check out James Fortney’s 2016 Notebook entry on a few evidence-based strategies for facilitating diversity discussions.

If you would like to discussion dialogue and how open ended questions can bolster your teaching, consider meeting with any one of the Reinert Center staff.  We are always happy to meet.



Brookfield, S. D., & Preskill, S. (2012). Discussion as a way of teaching: Tools and techniques for democratic classrooms. John Wiley & Sons.

King, A. (1995). Inquiring minds really do want to know: using questioning to teach critical thinking. Teaching Of Psychology2213-17.

Ryan, J. (2017). Wait, What? And Life’s Other Essential Questions. Harper Collins: New York.

Woods, K. w., & Bliss, K. (2016). Facilitating Successful Online Discussions. Journal Of Effective Teaching16(2), 76-92.

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.