Using Story as a Tool for Teaching

Textbook imageby Lindsey Joyce MSN, RN, CNL, CNOR, Adjunct Instructor School of Nursing

With technology all around us, it can be difficult to grasp student’s attention during times of learning. So, what can we do to enhance learning and engage students? Story has been used as a pedagogy for many years in various subjects, for a variety of purposes. It is a fundamental way in which we share and interpret our experiences. Those experiences allow educators to connect concepts in class to students. Stories capture students’ attention and allow for more engaging conversations and learning to occur. Stories can make instructors seem less threating and more approachable, which makes connecting with students easier.

Students want to be able to link what they learn in the classroom to the real world we are preparing them for. Sharing stories can help link the classroom to actualities in the real world. Promoting problem solving skills and motivating and demonstrating vocational relevance are other ways educators might consider using stories.

So how can storytelling be successfully performed? There are several things to keep in mind when using stories. Good stories often include the following characteristics:

  • Have elements that can be taught effectively
  • Allow for facts and realities that students may face in practice
  • Possibly tap into emotional connection
  • Are complex, ambiguous and have relevance to the course and its objectives

Consider the timing for when using stories in a course might have the most impact. The following are a few ways to think about the timing of a story:

  • As an introduction or end to a program
  • To tie into future concepts
  • To tie into a learning objective
  • To draw a group’s interest back into a concept
  • To start a group’s discussion
  • To enhance a participant’s comments
  • As an energizer when groups look bored
  • When a participant asks for an example

Finally, if you have not used stories in your classroom before, there are a few additional effective practices to keep in mind:

  • DO be sincere and genuine.
  • DO keep the story brief and to the point
  • DO share the story with enthusiasm, varied tone and intensity
  • DO tie the story into the skill or concept by explaining how it relates or why you are telling it
  • DON’T use too many personal stories and remember to involve the group and ask for their experiences as well
  • DON’T tell stories about controversial topics such as politics, race, gender, age
  • DON’T tell unrelated stories as they may cause you to look unorganized or trying to kill time
  • DON’T tell a story that isn’t fresh to you and contains facts you may have forgotten


McNett, G. (2016). “Using stories to facilitate learning.” College Teaching, Vol. 64, 4, 184-193.


New Resource Guide Available

Icon squareA new resource guide on Capstone Projects has been posted to the Reinert Center website [LINK].

If you want to talk with someone about capstone projects, or other high-impact practices, in your own classes, you may request a teaching consultation by completing this form (LINK).

If you have ideas for resource guide topics you would like to see posted, share them here (LINK).

7th Annual Learning Studio Symposium

Reinert Center RIT_circle_2014_solid_082214On Friday April 20, Innovative Teaching Fellows presented at the Paul C. Reinert, S.J. Center for Transformative Teaching & Learning’s 7th 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:

Dr. Pascale Perraudin, Associate Professor of French in Languages, Literatures, Cultures presented on some of the challenges related to redesigning an existing course, FREN 4180 French and International Relations, and how she revisited her integration of a global simulation project in her class.

Katie Devany, Instructor and Director of the Hospitality Management program in the School for Professional Studies, presented on her course design process as well as the future implications of teaching an introductory entrepreneurship course in the learning studio.

After the faculty presentations, attendees met to talk more about the Innovative Teaching Fellowship to as well as teaching in the Learning Studio.  Upcoming 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, 2018.

New Technology for Teaching ejournal now available

Reinert Center typeset_icon_2014_solid_082214The latest edition of our ejournal, Technology for Teaching, is now available.  For this issue, we devoted our attention towards teaching that utilizes video-based multimedia.  Featured in this issue is our interview with Dr. Mary Gould, Associate Professor in Communication.  Dr. Gould talks about digital storytelling and how to create, assign, and assess video-based assignments.

Also featured is a review of a new video tool Flipgrid, and how it can help transform instruction.  Finally, this issue includes a series of resources available to help you in the creation of video-based teaching assignments.

Technology 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

First Person Video and Learning

Icon squareby Chris Grabau, Instructional Developer, Reinert Center

Video tutorials have become an increasingly popular way to effectively learn new tasks.  In a recent study on Google customer trends, 7-10 of all YouTube viewers use the platform to seek help with everything from work, studies, or hobbies (O’Neil-Hart, 2017

However, when demonstrating certain tasks, the perspective of the video can have an impact on how well a person learns a new task.  In a 2017, Fiorella, Van Gog, Hoogerheide and Mayer found that first-person videos have a positive effect on viewers ability to model, complete, and remember modeling the assembly of a circuit board compared to presenting videos in the third-person.

While first-person video may not be a conventional teaching approach for all topics, Fiorella et al., suggest that it may be a better way to help viewers create a more “accurate mental representation” of the “internal representation of observed spatial relations and actions.”  As a result, they discovered students who watched the first-person demonstrations were generally “more accurate, faster, and made fewer errors on an assembly task.” (Fiorella et al., 2017, p. 10).

While third-person demonstrations can be a valuable (and easy) approach to instructional videos, their study illustrates the importance of considering cognitive load when designing video-based media.   Cognitive load is the internal process of receiving, recalling, and transferring visuomotor information from working memory to long-term memory (Mayer & Moreno, 2003).  Unlike third person videos that include additional visual information, a first-person video can help viewers translate observed actions into their own perspective.

The researchers from this study suggest the creation of a “perspective principle” where first-person design becomes a preferred method of video creation for assembly type tasks.  If you are exploring incorporating video into your teaching, consider the best perspective to support your learning outcomes.  If you would like to explore how the perspective of instructional videos can support your learning outcomes, please consider meeting someone from the Reinert Center for a teaching consultation.



Fiorella, L., van Gog, T., Hoogerheide, V., & Mayer, R. E. (2017). It’s all a matter of perspective: Viewing first-person video modeling examples promotes learning of an assembly task. Journal of Educational Psychology109(5), 653.

Mayer, R. E., & Moreno, R. (2003). Nine ways to reduce cognitive load in multimedia learning. Educational psychologist38(1), 43-52.

O’Neil-Hart, C. (2017). Self-directed learning from YouTube – Think with Google. Retrieved 17 April 2018, from

Relationships Matter: Enhancing What Matters Most in Undergraduate Education

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Tuesday, May 8, 2018
BSC Saint Louis Room
8:30-9:00 Registration and Continental Breakfast
9:00-noon Workshop

Authors of the book, The Undergraduate Experience (Jossey-Bass, 2016), identified six core themes that matter most for student and institutional effectiveness: learning, relationships, expectations, alignment, improvement, and leadership. In this workshop, two of the authors, Peter Felten and Charles Schroeder, will explore how and why relationships matter for students, for faculty and staff, and for institutional culture. During the session, we will critically consider what each of us can do, no matter our context and role, to cultivate educationally purposeful relationships with students and colleagues to enhance engagement, collaboration, learning, and success.

The target audience for this workshop includes faculty (full-time and part-time), administrators, graduate students, and staff who work closely with undergraduates.

Sponsored by the Office of the Provost, the Division of Student Development, and the Reinert Center

The Power of “Constructive Controversies”

Icon squareby Debra Lohe, Director, Reinert Center

Transformative learning necessarily involves change — in knowledge, in perspective, and ultimately, in behavior. Key to this process is the idea of perspective transformation. There are many ways to link course learning to opportunities for students to shift their perspectives, about themselves and about others. Helping students transform their perspectives begins with their ability to recognize differences in viewpoint, as well as to recognize limitations in their own perspectives.

One concrete instructional strategy that can promote changes in perspective is that of using “constructive controversies” (Johnson et al., 2000). Constructive controversies “create opportunities for students to practice managing intellectual differences in a structured manner” (Dannels, 2015). Johnson et al. describe the ideal steps in structuring a constructive controversy for the classroom as follows:

Step 1: Choose an intellectual “conflict” appropriate to the course and the discipline, which has two distinctly different positions. (To the extent possible, choose conflicts or contested arguments authentic to the field/discipline.)

Step 2: Randomly assign students into groups of four, and assign each pair either the “pro” or the “con” side of the conflict.

Step 3: Provide clear instructions on the tasks, which typically include:

    • Students research their assigned position (by consulting materials provided by the instructor or discovered by students themselves)
    • Each pair prepares and presents a persuasive argument for their assigned position to the other members of their group
    • Group members engage in open discussion with the opposite position.
    • Then, the pairs reverse positions and present a persuasive argument on behalf of the opposite position.
    • Finally, the whole group prepares a final product or presentation that summarizes each side appropriately, synthesizes the points of agreement among all four group members, and/or arrives at a more holistic joint position.

Step 4: Evaluate students’ learning and their group processes/effectiveness.

This kind of structured process can take place over one or two class meetings or over a longer period of time, depending on the amount of research and discovery needed. It also “provides students a structured and controlled space in which they can practice disagreement and intellectual conflict” (Dannels, 2015). According to research conducted by Johnson et al., the use of constructive controversies can cause students to “reevaluate their attitudes about the issue and incorporate opponents’ arguments into their own attitudes” (i.e., perspective transformation), and studies suggest these changes in attitude are greater, and longer-lasting, than when students simply read about an issue.

Using a process like constructive controversy can help us to show students that the intellectual questions in our disciplines are alive and contested. So often, students see disciplinary content as settled, simply waiting to be memorized. Constructive controversies allow us a space in which to demonstrate how productive intellectual conflicts can be. Finally, this kind of practice also strengthens students’ ability to engage with the conflicts inherent in an unjust world and to encounter others with greater empathy.

What are the controversies in your field that have potential value as “constructive” controversies? What other approaches have you tried to help students inhabit two opposing sides of an issue? Share your thoughts in the comments section on this post.



Dannels, D.K. (2015). 8 Essential Questions Teachers Ask: A Guidebook for Communicating with Students. New York: Oxford U P.

Johnson, D.W., Johnson, R.T., & Tjosvold, D. (2000). “Constructive Controversy: The Value of Intellectual Opposition.” Eds. Morton Deutsch and Peter T. Coleman, The Handbook of Conflict Resolution. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 65-85.

Interleave Practice to Transform Learning

Icon squareby Chris Grabau, Instructional Developer, Reinert Center

The sequence in which information or skills are rehearsed can have an influence on recall, memory, or mastery of learning.  Interleaving is an approach to learning where several related items are mixed together in a single study session.  “When practice is interleaved rather than blocked, the practice of different skills is intermixed rather than grouped by type” (Taylor & Rhorer, 2009).  In doing so, the learner will focus on recalling and making connections between the items.  As a result, interleaved practice breaks free from rote memorization by ensuring the distribution of information is not a factor in learning.

One way to help explain the benefits for interleaved practice can be found in music rehearsal.  When learning a new instrument, one approach to learning new chords is to mix up the sequence in which they are played.  For example, when learning a I IV V chord sequence in the key of G (G, C, D), rehearsing different variations of those chords can help a person learn them independently from the initial chord sequence.  So, instead of playing the chord sequence GCD, a person would mix up the sequence (DGC, CDG, CDCG, etc.) or incorporate previously learned chords (GDEC, GDAE, etc.).

When items are mixed up or interwoven together in a non-sequential (or blocked) ways, we are forced to recall and re-think how the items are connected.  Interleaved practice also causes us to think about – or retrieve – each item in new ways independent from the order they are introduced.  This retrieval practice, is at the heart of learning and a key competent to procedural memory and helps learners distinguish between similar concepts or items. (Taylor and Rohrer, 2009).

The benefits of interleaved practice on procedural memory have been well researched.  While I mentioned how interleaved practice can benefit learning music (Carter & Grahn, 2016), the practice has been shown to help learn history facts (Carpenter, Pashler, & Cepeda, 2009), as well as math concepts (Rhoher, Dedrick, & Stershic, 2015; Rhoher & Taylor, 2007).

There are several ways to integrate interleaved practice into teaching (Blasiman, 2017; Taylor & Rhorer, 2009; Wissman, Rawson & Pyc, 2012).  Listed below are a few suggestions.

Interleave study skills 

While thoughtful learning strategies like flash cards were discussed in a previous Notebook article, teaching students how to learn through flashcards can be a powerful example of interleaved practice.  Encourage students to use flashcards to rehearse information.  However, stress the importance of shuffling the deck periodically in order to mix up information.  Also, do not exclude familiar items.  Instead, reshuffle the deck to integrate familiar items with newly learned concepts.

Interleave review of course information

When reviewing information in class, assign a minute paper or short quiz that incorporates new concepts with previously covered material.  Ask students to try to connect new information with information previously covered in class.

Interleave practice as a teaching technique

Consider integrating previously reviewed information with new information throughout the course.  Start class with a 5-10 review to revisit key concepts from previous class.  One simple technique is to use a PowerPoint slide with key concepts and have students orally walk through a review (Blasiman, 2017).  While this allows students an opportunity to review information and tie concepts together it also provides you with an opportunity to revisit items that students may find unclear.

If you would like to explore ways to incorporate interleaved practice into teaching, please consider a teaching consultation.  While there are many other ways to explore interleaved practice into teaching,


Blasiman, R. N., (2017). Distributed concept reviews improve exam performance. Teaching of Psychology, 44 (1), 46-50.

Carpenter, S. K., Pashler, H., & Cepeda, N. J. (2009). Using tests to enhance 8th grade students’retention of U.S. history facts. Applied Cognitive Psychology23(6), 760-771.

Carter, C., & Grahn, J. (2016). Optimizing Music Learning: Exploring How Blocked and Interleaved Practice Schedules Affect Advanced Performance. Frontiers In Psychology7(7), 1-10.

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

Rohrer, D., & Taylor, K. (2007). The shuffling of mathematics problems improves learning. Instructional Science35(6), 481-498.

Taylor, K., & Rohrer, D. (2009). The effects of interleaved practice. Applied Cognitive Psychology24(6),837-848.

Wissman, K., Rawson, K., & Pyc, M. (2012). How and when do students use flashcards?. Memory20(6),568-579.

Reinert Center Hosts 4th Annual Ignatian Pedagogy Institute

DSC_0001[1]Over spring break, the Paul C. Reinert, S.J. Center for Transformative Teaching and Learning hosted its fourth annual Ignatian Pedagogy Institute. The day-long event brought together faculty and graduate students to increase and deepen their knowledge of Ignatian pedagogy as an extension of Ignatian spirituality and connected to contemporary contemplative practices. The concept of Ignatian pedagogy derives from the underlying principles, values, and actions realized in the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits, and is foundational to a Jesuit education.

Attendees were led through a series of reflective exercises focusing on themselves a teachers and on ways to engage their students in deeper, more intentional learning. Exercises also served as models of activities that may be adapted for a variety of disciplines and pedagogical purposes. Fr. Christopher Collins, S.J., SLU’s assistant to the president for Mission and Identity, presented on the role of the spiritual director in Spiritual Exercises.

The Ignatian Pedagogy Institute is offered in a three-year cycle, with each offering of the Institute focusing on a different aspect of Ignatian teaching: Contemplation (year one), Imagination (year two), and Discernment (year three). Attendees also are invited to join the Ignatian Pedagogy Academy, a multi-year community of practice in which faculty and graduate students meet regularly to discuss common readings and relevant topics of interest.

Academy members who complete the full three-year cycle of the Ignatian Pedagogy Institute and who participate in community of practice meetings are designated Fellows of the Ignatian Pedagogy Academy. At this year’s Institute, the Reinert Center acknowledges the first member of the Academy to complete the full cycle, Elizabeth Richard, Ph.D., associate professor in communication.

For more information on Ignatian pedagogy or on the Ignatian Pedagogy Academy, contact Gina M. Merys, Ph.D., associate director in the Reinert Center, at

Selecting and Providing Information

Icon squareby James Fortney, Instructional Developer, Reinert Center

Transformative learning theory encourages instructors to question the meaning and purpose of information they provide to learners (Cranton & King, 2003). This requires a process of critical self-reflection on course content that can occur before, during, and after we teach. During the design phase of a course, for example, we might reflect on how different readings will prepare learners to be successful on assessment activities that support course learning outcomes. At the end of a course or lesson we might ask ourselves, “What happened here?” and “What content-related choices led to that outcome?” (Mezirow, 1991). Both reflection processes benefit learning because they enable us to critically consider “the source, nature, and consequences of relevant [information]” we provide to learners (Mezirow, 2009, p. 94). As a result, we can begin to make more intentional choices about the information we decide to include in our courses.

Questioning the meaning and purpose of course information also creates exciting opportunities for dialogue between instructor and learners about the goals of a course. This type of exchange is important for transformative learning because it invites learners to participate “freely and fully in an informed continuing discourse” about their learning (Mezirow, 2009, p. 94). By focusing on the content of the course, we can communicate to students the intention behind the choices we have made while also allowing space for learners to identify missing information (“Am I overlooking something?”) and to recommend different information (“What matters to you?”) that can also support course learning outcomes.

As we approach the middle of spring semester, try reflecting on these four information-related questions that support transformative teaching and learning:

  • What information do I provide to learners?
  • What is the meaning and purpose of that information?
  • What information do learners provide to me?
  • What is the meaning and purpose of that information?

To learn more about transformative teaching and learning, explore the Reinert Center’s theme web page here [LINK]. Please also share your thoughts on selecting and providing information for your courses – or your responses to the questions above – in the comments section below. For any inquiries about teaching-related resources or support, please contact us at


Cranton, P., & King, K. P. (2003). Transformative learning as a professional goal. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, 98, 31-37.

Mezirow, J. (1991). Transformative dimensions of adult learning. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Mezirow, J. (2009). An overview on transformative learning. In K. Illeris (Ed.), Contemporary theories of learning: Learning theorists…in their own words (pp.90-105). New York, NY: Routlege.