Teaching in a Time of Crisis: Moving from Reaction to Response


by Debie Lohe, Director, Reinert Center

Even before the events of last week landed Ferguson (and, by extension, St. Louis), Missouri, on the national stage, I had been thinking about the distinction between reaction and response.  The two words are fairly similar in meaning; some may argue that they are roughly the same thing.  But when confronted with difficult topics and experiences that require us to hold multiple (sometimes even conflicting) views in our minds at once, I think we do well to consider their subtle differences.

To react feels more one-sided to me, and more instinctual.  Less planned and more spontaneous than response, but also focused (whether intentionally or not) on exerting a force over something or someone.

But to respond feels more deliberate, the result of a discernment process through which we consider possible actions in response to a stimulus and choose the one best suited to achieve a particular effect.  In this way, it feels more like dialogue to me, the interaction of multiple perspectives that lead one to a clear answer to the question, “How shall I proceed?”   Indeed, as the OED confirms, the origins of the word involve answering a question, engaging in a correspondence.

In the context of a university – and especially a Jesuit university – we are called to empower our students to move from a reactive relationship to the world beyond our walls to a responsive one.  We are called to educate the “whole person,” to form women and men who can be in solidarity with others.  If we are to help them make sense of our flawed and broken communities, and to find their own foothold for advancing the cause of justice in those communities, then we are called to help them move from reaction to response.

One way to move from reaction to response is through reflection.  Crucial to Ignatian spirituality (and therefore, to Ignatian pedagogy), the act of reflection provides the space and occasion for experiencing our own initial reactions and interrogating them before we act.  It requires us to examine where our reactions come from, what personal experiences and feelings trigger them, and what kind of consequences might accompany them.  Reflection also slows us down, teaches our brain to take a pause and creates a space in which we may listen for alternative views.

In preparing to teach this fall, give some thought to ways you might help students move from reaction to response.  As our region and our nation again roll up their collective sleeves and set about the difficult work of rebuilding broken relationships and broken trust, let us aim to model responsive dialogue, not reactive monologue, and to make visible for students the importance of tackling hard, real-world challenges with reflection and response.

Beginning with Accessibility

Printby Jerod Quinn, Instructional Developer, Reinert Center I had a paradigm shifting experience a couple of years ago. I dabble in web development and have built a number of websites over the years for friends, companies, and for my own projects. My friend Jay asked if I could build a basic website where he could showcase his music but be able to navigate and update the website himself. I enjoy building websites, but I loathe managing and updating them, so this sounded like a good idea to me. But, this was going to be a new challenge for me; I liked to think I build accessible websites, but I have never been held accountable for accessibility. Jay’s website would have to be 100% accessible to a screen reader because he has been blind for the past forty years. I have watched Jay navigate his computer and music recording software using the JAWS screen reader. Or, more accurately, listened to him navigate because he doesn’t have a computer monitor. It’s really quite impressive. Listening to him navigate his website really emphasized the pieces that were easily accessible, and the ones that were hidden from his screen reader. It took about six weeks or so of building and testing to get all the features worked out. As I was building the website, my work-world and my outside-of-work-world collided when I had the thought, “Would Jay be able to access the course materials for my class?” Universal Design in education is really just about giving all individuals equal opportunities to learn. As I started looking through my course materials, both online and traditional courses, I got pretty overwhelmed thinking about how I could go about making all my materials accessible to all people. After a few moments of panic, I decided that while I may not know enough to make all my materials accessible to all people, I certainly know enough to make them more accessible to more people. You gotta start somewhere. And a good place to start is looking at the three principles of universal design and sharing some ideas of how they can be expressed in education. The first principle of universal design (UD) is providing multiple means of representation. This is also sometimes referred to as the “what” of UD because it’s how we gather facts and categorize what we see, hear, and read. This can function in an educational environment by having multiple means of accessing the same information. For example, creating short videos to help explain confusing processes can give students a reference point for when they are squirrelled away in their residence halls, trying to make sense of their homework. But, a person with a hearing impairment isn’t going to be able to benefit from that video as much. So to applying the multiple means of representation to this instructional video would mean creating a full transcript of the video and making it downloadable. This is also a benefit to language learners as they can revisit the lesson at their own pace, or for students who study in places less conducive to playing videos such as a break room at work. It’s the same information, just multiple ways of accessing it. The second principle of universal design is providing multiple means of action and expression. This is sometimes referred to as the “how” of UD because it’s how we organize and express our ideas through strategic tasks like writing an essay or solving a math problem. An example of the second principle in action would be offering multiple ways to fulfill the requirements of an assignment. Having the option to create a presentation or write a paper as opposed to just writing a paper can offer some learners (like those with dyslexia) the opportunity to express what they have learned in a more fluent manner without getting as distracted by the mechanics of the writing process. This principle is not about giving some learners an “easier” assignment than others, it’s about leveling the playing field among learners and allowing each person to fluently express what he or she has learned. The third principle of universal design is providing multiple means of engagement, and can be referred to as the “why” of UD because it deals with how learners are challenged, excited, interested, and motivated to keep engaged. Having a system for anonymous classroom responses (iClickers, Poll Everywhere, or even Twitter) can offer learners whose cultures’ view students speaking up in class as disrespectful an opportunity to offer real time feedback in a less intimidating manner. As a Jesuit University we strive for education of the whole person, and universal design can be a practical and powerful piece of that vision. I know approaching the topic of universal design can somehow be both encouraging and intimidating at the same time, but like I said earlier, you gotta start somewhere. If you are interested in making your courses more accessible to more people, Colorado State University has a very practical checklist to help you get started as you look through your courses. It’s called “How Do You Teach?” And if you would like to dig deep into universal design check out some of the experts in it at the CAST, (Center for Applied Special Technology) website here: http://cast.org/index.html. And lastly, the Reinert Center at Saint Louis University has also developed an inclusive teaching resources webpage that includes UD, but also various other resources to develop an inclusive classroom.

Teaching without Talking

3503494291_651161974f_mby Gina Merys, Assistant Director, Reinert Center

In a recent article, “The Silent Professor,” Joseph Finckel reflects on his experience teaching on a day when he had lost his voice. Of course, the experience of teaching without a voice is not a singular one; most of us have dozens of examples of teaching while ill or incapacitated in some small way.  With the quick pace of the academic calendar, these circumstances are nearly unavoidable.

What does make these experiences useful and interesting to contemplate are the ways in which we can use them to refocus our attention on student-centered learning. There are many ways we can keep the learning center on us as teacher even when we do not have a voice by writing on the board, using power point slides, or the like, but doing that misses an opportunity to realign the learning centered on the students.  Here are two activities to consider whether you cannot speak or just decide you will not speak:


Create impromptu student led discussions

Ask all students to write out one open-ended question about the day’s topic and sign their name.  Once you have collected all the questions randomly choose one question and write the student’s name on the board.  That student is responsible for facilitating the discussion on that question.  If the discussion wanes, choose another question.  It helps to set time limits on discussions, such as 10 minutes per question, so that students practice their facilitation and discussion skills, while also making time for several questions.

Plan a set of learning experiences that build on one another

Create a set of slides that gives the directions for each task or each part of the experience. The information on the slides may include all of the most important information, but leaves enough room for students to “experience full discovering, struggling with, or working through a question or concept.” Project each slide at the appropriate time in the process to keep students moving through the stages of the experience to the next task.

During these or any other activities you choose to undertake without speaking, using the full range of “physical motions available to you, particularly those that communicate a desire for elaboration or that suggest a relationship between what two students have said” such as nods, shrugs, clapping, snapping, and hand gestures can help you to assist in facilitation or signal something important to students about what they are learning from each other.  Additionally, as Finckel points out, “your capacity to observe what happens in your classroom will increase exponentially when you relieve yourself of the pressure to speak.” This gives you an increased ability to read students’ facial expressions and body language, and to listen to what they say to each other. Teaching without talking can change not just the focus of learning in the class, but also might improve your focus as well.

Finkel, Joseph. “The Silent Professor.” The Teaching Professor. 28:6, June/July 2014.

Photo courtesy of https://www.flickr.com/photos/alisonlongrigg/

Using the Pomodoro Technique to Help You and Your Students Be More Productive

Pomodoro Techniqueby Chris Grabau, Instructional Developer, Reinert Center

The Pomodoro Technique can be a useful approach to help dedicate time and energy to a specific task.  Developed by Francesco Cirillo in the 1980’s, the technique has become a popular method to set goals, boost productivity, and improve concentration.

Named after Cirillo’s tomato shaped timer, the technique involves working in 25-minute intervals (or pomodoros), followed a 5 minute break. After the break, participants start another 25 minute pomodoro.  After 4 pomodoros are complete, a person takes a longer, 20-minute break.

Another key aspect to the Pomodoro Technique is keeping record of the the amount of pomodoros done to complete a specific task.   Cirillo states keeping inventory provides an “objective metric” that helps identify what activities need to take priority and what activities can be amended, combined, or eliminated (2009).

For faculty, the Pomodoro Technique can be a useful time management tool to help balance the amount of time spent on each students’ work.  Using the technique can help faculty prioritize feedback on assignments and prevent grading “burn-out.”

As self-regulated learning becomes a bigger focus to help today’s learners (Goleman, 2006; Nilson, 2013; Tough, 2012; Zimmerman, 2002), faculty can incorporate the technique into class assignments.  Students can record the amount of pomodoros needed to complete class assignments in order to assess their writing and studying habits.   The process can help students with goal setting and self-monitoring as well as help students develop useful time management skills.

Over the last couple of years, I have found the technique helpful to help prepare for comprehensive exams, write research articles, and to remain mindful of how much time I am staring at a computer screen.

Although the Pomodoro Technique has been discussed on many websites and “lifehack” blogs, there has been a rapid growth in the amount of apps and tools devoted to the approach.  While I prefer to simply use the timer on my iPhone, below are a few examples that are free, easy to use, and aesthetically pleasing:


For iPhone:

Flat Tomato – Time Management:


For Android:

Clear Focus – A Pomodoro Timer:


For Apple OS:

Add a Pomodoro time to the taskbar on your computer: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/activity-timer-pomodoro-edition/id882713754?mt=12

Tips for Sustaining Collaborative Learning

by Dipti Subramaniam, Post-Doctoral Fellow, Reinert Center

Implementing collaborative learning in the classroom is an exciting process. However, one can quickly learn that incorporating new efforts can be a daunting task for many instructors, especially for first timers. Here are four useful tips for sustaining collaborative learning in the classroom:

1. Plan

  • Think about when and how you would like to introduce a specific type of group work (e.g., large group discussions, small group panels, partnering, mind-mapping, etc.) during each phase of the course.
  • Example: For example, in an instance when an instructor is interested in gauging students’ understanding of the topic and the type of connections they are making, mind-mapping can be a useful collaborative activity. For mind-mapping, pick one topic and ask students to write up/list as many ideas connecting to the main topic. Take at least 20 minutes (depending on size of class) to list their ideas on a large white board.

2. Experiment

  • Do not be afraid to try new approaches early on in the semester. This generally will also give you an idea of what keeps the students interested, engaged, and involved.
  • Example: Do not wait until mid-semester to start using group activities. Change one traditional lecture to incorporate a different type of group activity within the first few weeks of class. Be sure to prepare students with expectations beforehand, especially if they will need to come to class with specific preparation.

3. Set rules

  • Establish appropriate guidelines and evaluation tools for contribution and participation for group activities as well as assignments.
  • Example: Ask students to sign a contract (i.e. Memorandum of Agreement) stating that they will be responsible in completing the specific duties expected for their particular role in the group activities. Also, using evaluation tools such as self-assessment and peer assessment forms helps student learning and accountability in collaborative learning.

4. Reward

  • Create a structure that allows students to be recognized for their contributions and accomplishments.
  • Example: Take the time after group activities to acknowledge students’ effort and work. As the instructor, you can acknowledge your students by providing specific feedback, words of encouragement, and support to motivate them as they work together.

groups of students working together with a marker board full of different colored post it notes.

Image source:

“Teamwork Win.” Flickr. Yahoo! Web. 22 July 2014. <https://www.flickr.com/photos/goldberg/8090949780/in/photolist-fKQiPx-djYeu9-fJHY4s-fJrrjz-fJrrjB-6DooxG-fKQiKD-2J9J8G-fPMrk5-fPMr9W-bwPCM-8PaNHU-7A1y5v-8QSYWZ-4BQ4RJ-fJrr4V-4mnXV9-fJHXxQ-fL7UwU-fKQjfR-fKQiSp-fJrqHz-fJHYf9-fJrqQx-fL7U7s-fJrq6D-fJHXqC-fJHXrJ-fJrrgH-fJHXJq-fJHXyU-fJHYco-fJHXX5-fKQjWp-7VjTLs-2JATjc-9kd6eQ-eUrmgj-ioMHVR-9mD6Hr-bsiJnY-6rz2kr-64qaiW-bhrAqD-4Y4M66-xkiu4-2J9LwN-XfkEJ-4fUspW-ioMnEm/>.

Reimagining What You Already Use

linotype pressby Jerod Quinn, Instructional Developer, Reinert Center

The summer can offer a little extra time to look around at what’s going on in the greater teaching and learning community. And because of my personality, I am drawn to new technology like a mosquito to a bug zapper. That may be why I have been thinking about gadgets in the classroom more than usual lately, but I also think it might be because in the past few weeks I have been involved in several conversations that go something like this: “Is there technology out there in the world that can help me and my students have a better classroom experience?” It’s at this point I look that faculty member straight in the eye and give the confident, unwavering reply of, “Maybe.”

Read more…

The Reinert Center Welcomes Our 2014-2015 Post-Doctoral Fellow and Graduate Assistants

The Reinert Center for Transformative Teaching and Learning enthusiastically announces our new Post-Doctoral Fellow and two Graduate Assistants on our staff for the 2014-2015 academic year. The Post-Doctoral Fellow and Graduate Assistants in the Center assist in the administration of the Certificate in University Teaching Skills (CUTS) program, conduct research on teaching and learning topics, consult with graduate students about teaching, conduct teaching observations, and assist Center staff with the implementation and assessment of programs.

The Post-Doctoral Fellow and each of our GAs this year is hard working and committed to the mission of the center, and each brings her own teaching experiences and pedagogical knowledge.

Post-Doctoral Fellow: Dipti Subramaniam

A recent graduate of SLU’s College of Public Health and Social Justice, Dr. Dipti Subramaniam, joins the Reinert Center this year as our first Post-Doctoral Fellow. Previously, she was graduate research assistant and a teaching assistant for public health courses, in addition to also having served as a graduate assistant in the Reinert Center. Throughout these experiences, she has worked with displaced and underserved individuals such as Burmese and Nepalese refugees and also grassroots organizations for community empowerment in the city of Saint Louis. She also has experience assisting faculty with course development and teaching for undergraduate and graduate students on the topics of research methods, global health and health theories. Dipti’s research interests include qualitative and mixed methods research, predictive modeling, contemporary issues in global health, and the socio-cultural and psycho-social aspects of health promotion and behavior.

Graduate Assistant: Elisabeth Hedrick-Moser

Returning for a second year as a GA in the Center, Elisabeth Hedrick-Moser is a doctoral candidate in English, with a concentration in Transatlantic Modernism and Trauma Theory. She has taught several courses in the English Department, from Advanced Strategies in Rhetoric and Research to Women in Literature. She also earned a graduate minor in Women’s and Gender Studies and has taught Introduction to Women’s and Gender Studies at the Frost campus as well as Feminism in Action at the Madrid campus.

Graduate Assistant: Kelly McEnerney

Joining us for her first year, Kelly McEnerney is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Psychology, developmental concentration. She has collaborated with the Center for Service and Community Engagement, assisting in the implementation and assessment of a reading partnership and diversity awareness program for children. In addition to her research experiences, Kelly has taught sections of General Psychology and Developmental Psychology.

We look forward to the contributions that Dipti, Elisabeth, and Kelly bring to all those the Reinert Center serves this year.

Fostering Self-Regulated Learning

Self-regulated learnersby Debie Lohe, Director, Reinert Center

So many of our frustrations with “today’s students” stem from their not-yet-well-developed ability to function as self-regulated learners.  We could debate the reasons – cultural, generational, developmental – why many undergraduates have not yet cultivated a strong sense of self-regulation in their approach to education, but it may be more fruitful to explore ways we can contribute to their development in this important area.

This is the basic premise of Linda Nilson’s Creating Self-Regulated Learners: Strategies to Strengthen Students’ Self-Awareness and Learning Skills (2013), and it’s well worth a read this summer as you work to develop new courses and reimagine old ones.

At once “a handy compendium of activities and assignments” and “a call to weave self-regulated learning into course design” (107), this book offers specific guidance on ways faculty can help students cultivate strong self-assessment and meta-cognitive abilities.  Nilson explains that self-regulation “encompasses the monitoring and managing of one’s cognitive processes as well as the awareness of and control over one’s emotions, motivations, behavior, and environment as related to learning” (5).  As such, it demands that learners develop their ability to effectively plan, monitor, and evaluate their own learning.

At just over 100 pages, the book is packed with usable, relevant, common-sense activities, ranging from readings to assign students (like Learning (Your First Job), Learning to Learn, and Study Guides and Strategies), to pre-and post-reading activities (chapter 3), to in-class activities to promote engaged learning during lectures (chapter 4).

If you are looking for concrete ways to help students take more responsibility for their own learning, Creating Self-Regulated Learners: Strategies to Strengthen Students’ Self-Awareness and Learning Skills is worth a look.


Share your own strategies for promoting self-regulated learning in the comments section.  To discuss ways you might make self-regulation a goal in your own courses, come and see us.


Book image courtesy of Amazon.com

Online Teaching and Learning Institute

PrintOn June 2nd through June 5th, faculty from across the University attended the 2014 Online Teaching and Learning Institute (OTLI) at The Learning Studio in Des Peres Hall.  The four-day institute examined effective practices and pedagogy for teaching online.  Members of the CTTL staff facilitated discussions on course design, assessment tools, and university-supported academic technologies.  KimScharringhausen from Information Technology Services also presented an overview of Blackboard’s quiz tool tool.

While the Institute is a great opportunity for faculty to learn more about online course design, another benefit of OTLI is the cross-disciplinary dialogue that takes place throughout the week.  Faculty gain valuable insight from colleagues on what online practices work well in other academic disciplines.  The conversations often help provide new perspectives on teaching as well as generate useful tips on how to engage students online.

Afternoon breakout sessions provide an opportunity to address specific technical and course design questions.   At the end of the Institute, attendees leave with a plan for how to expand their online teaching presence.

Although the next OTLI session won’t be until next summer, Reinert Center Instructional Developers are available to meet with faculty to talk about online course design at any time.  To schedule a consultation, simply complete the consultation request form, which you can find using the following link: https://docs.google.com/a/slu.edu/forms/d/1nPnmAPuuodDle8s-SgwxmtbzLITx17ufe3z6v5OyNgk/viewform.

“You say Tomato, I say Tomato…”

3843988724_180a4462a8_mby Sandy Gambill, Senior Instructional Developer, Reinert Center

Are you spending some time reflecting on your spring semester and wondering why the group projects you spent so much time designing fell short of your goal?

We may think we’re designing collaborative projects where students are working together towards a common goal, however, students often view these group projects as cooperative, splitting up tasks and then merging the individual work into a final product that can seem disjointed.

Here are a couple of resources to help you better strengthen the collaborative objective.

Cooperation vs. Collaboration

Towards Better Group Work: Seeing the Difference Between Cooperation and Collaboration.”

Photograph available via Flickr.