Towards a Turn it Off Day?


Last fall I saw Alex Soojung-Kim Pang give a talk on Contemplative Computing. The one thing that has really stuck with me is his advice to never watch a screen loading. I can’t say I always follow this advice, but I do find myself thinking of it every time I’m cursing Blackboard or a streaming video for not loading quickly enough.

How much time do we waste waiting for screens to load, and how much do we disconnect from the physical world due to those screens? This question isn’t new, but it’s in the news again this week as a short film by Charlene deGuzman is making the rounds. You can see the movie, I Forgot My Phone, on You Tube.  It’s had over 21 million views since being posted at the end of August, so it must be striking a chord with someone.

Do you find yourself or your students more distracted by smart phones these days? Is it time for SLU to join the National Day of Unplugging?

Share your thoughts below.

Learn More
Alex Soojung-Kim Pang’s Tedx Youth Talk: Secrets of the Blogging Forest Monks:


Teaching at a Jesuit Institution: Thoughts for Those New to SLU

CTTL_ignationbannerby Debie Lohe, Director, Reinert Center

Four years ago this week, I came to SLU from what some might call a highly secular institution.  At that time, I had no personal experience with Jesuit institutions, no real sense of what the educational mission of the Jesuits entailed.  I did not know the long tradition of academic excellence, how many Jesuits had contributed over the centuries to an expansion of our collective sense of history and possibility and humanity.  Heck, I wasn’t even Catholic!  (I’m still not.)

What I found, though, as I read and talked with people here at SLU, was that I felt an almost instant kinship with the core values and principles of Jesuit education.  This has led to what I can only think of as a kind of “values alignment” for me.  The values that speak most to me — values of individualism and inclusivity and personal growth — are ones that many educators privilege in their work with students.

For those who are new to the context of a Jesuit institution, there are so many things to learn.  As I posted on this blog last year, there are core values and charisms that all of us should be familiar with: cura personalis, magis, and the Ignatian Pedagogical Paradigm.  Key to Jesuit education is a set of core assumptions and beliefs about what makes for an educated person, and the general expectations of the Ratio Studiorum (Latin for “plan of studies”) will sound familiar to those from a liberal arts background.

If you are a new faculty member or graduate student at SLU, seeking to deepen your understanding of what it means to teach at a Jesuit institution, you might find a few key resources useful:

A Jesuit Education Reader, G. Traub, S.J.

Ignatian Pedagogy: A Practical Approach

The Jesuit Guide to Almost Everything, J. Martin, S.J.

Resources on the Jesuit Tradition and Mission of Saint Louis University

Whatever else you take from readings like these, I hope you’ll begin to find your own foothold, to experience your own “values alignment” at SLU.  So many of us arrive here from places that value teaching only nominally.  At a Jesuit institution, you have permission to care for your students and to care about your teaching.

If you’re interested in learning more about Ignatian approaches to teaching, the Reinert Center is hosting a short Introduction to Ignatian Pedagogy on Thursday, September 19, noon-1:00 p.m. in Verhaegen 219. Click here to register.

Call for Innovative Teaching Fellowship Applications and Pre-Application Workshops

CTTL_ITF banner_fall2013

The Reinert Center for Transformative Teaching and Learning is pleased to announce the next call for applications to teach in the Learning Studio, an experimental, technology-rich classroom located in Des Peres Hall, Room 213. The call begins on Monday, August 26 and closes on Wednesday, October 2, when applications are due. For a comprehensive overview of the Innovative Teaching Fellowship program, the revised application process, and updated application forms, please visit the Reinert Center website.

The Learning Studio is a state-of-the-art teaching space designed by a team of Saint Louis University faculty and students as part of the Herman Miller Learning Spaces Research Project. The Learning Studio provides flexible furniture combined with a range of innovative features and technologies, and seats up to 25 students at a time. By leveraging the instructional design assistance provided by Reinert Center staff and the unique features and technologies in the room, full-time faculty teaching in the space will have a chance to experiment with teaching strategies to create engaging and interactive learning experiences.

Current, full-time SLU teaching faculty interested in developing instructional approaches that effectively optimize the use of the Learning Studio’s features and technologies are invited to apply for the Innovative Teaching Fellowship. Beginning this call, applicants are now required to attend a Pre-Application Workshop during the week of September 9-13 and sign-up for a required Pre-Submission Instructional Design Consultation, held during the week of September 16-20, before interested faculty members’ applications will be considered complete.

Registration is required to attend a Pre-Application Workshop.  Click here to register for one of the four sessions below:

  • Monday, September 9, 2013 from 4-5 p.m.
  • Wednesday, September 11, 2013 from Noon-1 p.m.
  • Thursday, September 12, 2013 from Noon-1 p.m.
  • Friday, September 13, 2013 from 3-4 p.m.

Note: All Pre-Application Workshops will take place in the Learning Studio, Des Peres Hall, Room 213.

The Fellowship includes funding for a one-semester, one-course reduction in teaching load to allow the recipient time to redesign an existing course, or to design a new course, to be taught in the Learning Studio in the semester immediately following the course release. For this call, the course-release semester would take place in the Spring 2014 and Fellows would teach in the Learning Studio during the Fall 2014 semester.

Priority consideration will be given to applications that:

  • Include creative ideas for maximizing the use of the Learning Studio space and technologies to support student learning;
  • Contain a method for assessing the impact of the proposed (re)designed course;
  • Identify ways to serve as an instructional model for use by other SLU faculty; and
  • Identify possible ways to contribute to the research on teaching in innovative, technology-rich spaces.
  • Are from full-time faculty who have not previously received the Fellowship; please note: No faculty member may receive an Innovative Teaching Fellowship in two consecutive years.

To download application forms, visit the Reinert Center website beginning on Monday, August 26:

To learn more about the Learning Studio and its amenities, please visit the following link:

Applications for the Fall 2014 fellowships should be emailed to Mary Cook, Office Administrator,, or turned in to Pius Memorial Library, Suite 221, through the Quiet Study area, no later than 5 p.m., Wednesday, October 2, 2013. Successful applicants will be notified by 5 p.m. on Wednesday, October 9.

Faculty Open House

Faculty Open House copy

Join us for the Faculty Open House on Wednesday, August 28 from 3:00 to 5:00 p.m.

From Intuition to Intention

Wordleby Debie Lohe, Director, Reinert Center This week, with move-in underway, most of the campus is focused on the arrival of new undergraduates.  It’s easy to do that: they’re fresh and new and starting a journey that will take them to unexpected places.  For us here in the Reinert Center, though, we’re thinking more about the arrival of new faculty and graduate students, those brand-new to teaching and those veterans who are about to embark upon their first courses here at SLU (or have just done so this week).  They, too, are fresh and new and beginning a journey that may take them to unexpected places. As I prepared to speak with new faculty at orientation yesterday, I found myself struggling with the usual challenge: how to tell them just enough about the Center – who we are, what we do, what we value – to interest them, without providing too much information and detail about specific services and programs. So, how did I do it? I decided to read a series of statements, asking new faculty to reflect on which ones represented them and their experience.  See if any of these applies to you:

You’ve never taught before in any setting.

You’ve served as a TA or lab assistant, but haven’t taught your own course before.

You’ve worked with students and patients in a clinical setting, but haven’t taught in a formal classroom.

You have taught before (in a classroom, lab, clinic), but no one ever taught you how.

You teach as you were taught.

You teach by instinct and intuition.  (Mostly, you get it right.)

You’ve been teaching for years, but you’re bored and need re-energizing.

You keep hearing that you should use technology in your teaching, but you aren’t sure why or how you would make that work for your discipline.

You wish you knew more about teaching.

You wish you knew more about the research on learning.

You wish you could teach more efficiently, grade more efficiently, and still engage more students in more meaningful ways.

You wish you knew more about who the heck “today’s students” are because they are not who you were as an undergraduate or graduate student.

If any of these applies to you, you may find it helpful to come and talk with us. What do we do here in the Center? The shortest answer I can give is this: We help you to identify what you do by intuition and ways to do it more intentionally. To find out more about how the Center might support you in your growth as a teacher, read more about our services and programs here and find out about this semester’s upcoming events here.  If you do nothing else, consider subscribing to The Notebook; it’s a way to stay connected to the Center, to see what’s on our minds, and to add your own voice to the conversation. And please join us for our Faculty Open House next week (8/28/13, 3-5 pm, Pius Library, Suite 221), our annual welcome reception for new faculty.  (Click here to let us know you’re planning to stop by.) We hope to see you soon.

Student Motivation in Online and Flipped Courses

Printby Sandy Gambill, Instructional Designer

Many of the ideas we’ve posted this summer for motivating students in a traditional face-to-face class can be applied in online or flipped courses, but you may need to build in some additional structure to foster engagement and help students accept the shift in the balance of power that occurs in these settings.

In completely online courses, it’s easy for the boundaries of time and space to dissolve, and for procrastination to set in. Setting a consistent weekly time when new material will be released and assignments will be due helps students manage their time within the week.

If you set up a time, say 4:00 p.m. on Monday, to begin and end your online week, and find students aren’t beginning work until close to the deadline, try instituting a mid-week benchmark with points attached. For example, if you’re planning a discussion topic that opens Monday at 4:00 p.m., make the initial posting due by Wednesday at 4:00 p.m.

A common concern of professors considering flipping a course (using technology to move lecture or first exposure to material outside of class meeting time and using class time for discussion or activities typically done as homework.) is motivating students to come to class prepared.

A common approach is a short quiz on the readings or lecture material that students can take in Blackboard or on paper during the first few minutes of class.  An advantage to doing these quizzes online is that if you shut the quiz down before class-time, you can use the results of the quiz to help you know what to stress in class.

While pre-class assessment is almost guaranteed to motivate students to do the work, two recent studies address the issue of how well students actually learn this way.

A 2013 study at Harvard stressed the importance of “chunking” lectures into small 5 to 7 minutes chunks and then doing a short quiz or activity on each chunk. This technique, interpolated memory tests, is described in detail by Julie Schell, on her Turn to Your Neighbor Blog.

A study by Stanford University questions the entire structure of the flip, by suggesting that it might be better for learning to have students work problems before viewing video lecture and doing readings.  Participants in the study had a 25% increase in performance by “flipping the flip.”

What do you think will work for your students? We’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments section.

Review: The Teaching Professor Newsletter and Successful Group Projects

by Gina Merys, Assistant Director, Reinert Center

I often hear the laments of faculty about not having enough time to keep up with the current research in their disciplines, much less time to read about teaching and learning.  While one of the best parts of the summer months is that it can be a time to catch up on the research and reading that has piled up over the academic year, there are some resources on teaching and learning that are pithy enough to read even in mid-October.

One of my favorite such publications is the The Teaching Professor newsletter.  Part-original work, part distillations of longer texts, The Teaching Professor newsletter contains short articles on a wide variety of teaching and learning topics ranging from engaging students in the classroom to including higher-order thinking questions on exams. These are concise pieces, usually only one-two pages long, focused on topics that are current, useful, and researched.

For instance, in volume 27.6, the June/July 2013 issue, two articles concentrate on the perennial challenge of group projects.  Noting the enhanced learning opportunities group projects have both in creating a project beyond the size and scope an individual student can produce and in providing the opportunity to develop teamwork skills, “Improving Group Projects,” features ten recommendations about how to create conditions for group work that culminate in successful projects that meet high expectations for quality work.  The research behind this article supports scaffolding skills for working together, group formation, goal setting, and student roles, as well as creating interim reports and tracking contributions as important aspects to incorporate into a plan for creating group projects.

In, “Laziness and Apathy are Not the Only Reasons Students Don’t Pull Their Weight in Groups,” the authors point to the exact assumption both faculty and students make about students who do not contribute in group projects.  This assumption is primarily responsible for instructors not including group work in their classes and for student frustration during group work.  The article works to move beyond a blanket answer to this challenge and takes the opportunity to explore the other reasons for noncontributors’ behavior.   As the article reveals additional reasons why some students do not contribute in groups it also gives subtle suggestions on possible ways to address the potential situations before they occur.

These two articles, which together only take up two pages of the newsletter, give significant insight and clear recommendations on ways to think about incorporating group projects to more meaningful and successful ends.


“Improving Group Projects” and “Laziness and Apathy are not the Only Reasons Students Don’t Pull Their Weight in Groups.” The Teaching Professor. 27.6 (June/July 2013): 4-5.

Image courtesy of Magna Publications

Actively Engaging Students in Reading & Discussion: Article Review

Lovely books from Flickr user, slightly everythingby Michaella Thornton, Assistant Director for Instructional Design

Encouraging students to actively engage in (and complete) a course’s readings can sometimes feel like a Sisyphean task, especially if class discussions are dependent on students’ comprehension and ability to analyze, critique, and synthesize the readings throughout the semester. So, how do we, as teachers and instructional designers, “encourage students to read carefully, interact with the readings, articulate their ideas, and make meaningful contributions to class discussions” (Connor-Greene, 2005, p. 173)?

Dr. Patricia A. Connor-Greene, professor emerita at Clemson University and editor of Teaching and Learning Creatively: Inspirations and Reflections (2006), offers a teaching strategy for helping students move from passive consumers of course readings to active discussion participants and co-constructors of knowledge through her “Question, Quotation, and Talking Points” (QQTP) framework for daily in-class response papers (or to adapt this strategy for online learners, using weekly response journals or blog entries connected to the readings).

In this short Faculty Forum article for the Teaching of Psychology — “Fostering Meaningful Classroom Discussions: Student-Generated Questions, Quotations, and Talking Points” — Connor-Greene asks students to go through the following process to participate fully with class readings and the ensuing discussions:

  1. QUESTION: Before the full class or small-group discussions in class, have students “create questions that have ‘one foot in the reading’ but cannot be answered simply with facts from the reading assignment”
  2. QUOTATION: “Identify quotations [students] find provocative” or particularly noteworthy
  3. TALKING POINTS: Students write down their key take-aways to distill what their opinions are before class discussion.

To prompt students to share their thoughts during class discussion, Connor-Greene asks for two volunteers at the beginning of class to put their QQTP questions on the board (alternately, she suggests that 2-3 online students post their questions to a discussion board in a similar fashion as the face-to-face version). She keeps track of who she calls on so there is an “equitable rotation among students” and that students actively monitor air time so no one posts a second question until all students have posted one. She also asks students to work in small groups to select a question, quotation, or talking point that is especially salient.

To create an efficiency process for this assessment technique, Connor-Greene stresses that every student prepares QQTPs before the next class session and she randomly collects QQTPs from select students each class period.  She provides written feedback on a third of a 30-person class each time, with students maintaining a portfolio of all QQTPs that is ultimately reviewed and graded at the end of the semester.  The QQTP portfolio is worth 25 percent of students’ final grade.

QQTPs are evaluated on a 3-point scale:

  • 3 = Outstanding: A thoughtful question that invites analysis, synthesis, or evaluation, or makes connections between previous readings and discussions
  • 2 = Good: Goes beyond the reading but prompts little discussion.
  • 1 = Poor: Confusing question or one that can be answered simply from the facts in the article (e.g., lower levels of Bloom’s taxonomy, such as identify, list, define)

So, how effective is the QQTP process in helping students become closer readers and more active discussion leaders and participants? Connor-Greene surveyed two of her undergraduate courses at Clemson and had students anonymously report the value of the QQTP process in understanding and processing course readings and preparing for class discussion on a 5-point scale (1 – not at all helpful to 5 – very much helpful).  Per the small survey study, Connor-Greene’s students reported that “questions and talking points received higher ratings than did quotations in enhancing both understanding and preparation for class” (2005, p. 174).  This finding made eminent sense to the professor-researcher as creating questions and talking points are more cognitively challenging than simply selecting a provocative quotation. Overall, students responded favorably to all three steps of the QQTP process.

The QQTP process really highlights a relatively straightforward approach for almost any discipline that has important course readings that need to be scaffolded into the reading, writing, and discussion process for college students. QQTP is a teaching strategy that many before Connor-Greene have found useful in engaging students in critical thinking: Voltaire, Claude Levis Strauss, and many others have underscored that it’s not the answers we come to in learning, but rather the importance of the questions we create.


Connor-Greene, P.A. (2005). Fostering meaningful classroom discussion: Student-generated questions, quotations, and talking points. Teaching of Psychology, (32)3. 173-175

Blog photo attribution to Flickr user, slightly everything, who took the photo of “beautiful books.” Some rights reserved.

Formative and Summative Feedback and Its Impact on Learner Motivation

Submitted to the Teaching Issues Writing Consortium
by Julie Frese, Ph.D., University of the Rockies

According to Dempsey & Sales (1993), the motivational approach to feedback is based on the belief that “…letting people know how well they are performing a task acts as an incentive for greater effort in the future” (p. 4). Creemers (1996) cited the use of feedback and corrective instruction as one of the instructor behaviors that contribute to better student outcomes.

Learners tend to fall on a goal continuum that ranges from ego-involved (performance orientation) to task-involved (learning orientation). If they are ego-involved, they have strong incentives to demonstrate and display their abilities. If learners are task-involved, they possess strong incentives to learn, gain skills, and improve mastery. If a learner receives no cues or feedback to select or favor one goal orientation over another, they act according to their predispositions (Dempsey & Sales, 1993; Hattie and Timperley, 2007).

Typically, instructor feedback has been viewed as a useful technique to assist learners. For example, learner thought patterns and/or actions can be redirected and areas of strength or weakness can be communicated. According to Hoska (1993), it is possible to provide feedback to learners that can influence their goal orientations and maximize their incentive to perform. Approaches that have been successful include: modifying the learner’s view of intelligence, altering the goal structure of the learning task, and controlling the delivery of learning rewards. Hoska (1993) also believes feedback should help learners understand that abilities are skills that can be developed through practice, effort is key to increasing one’s skills, and mistakes are not failures; rather they are part of the skill-development process.

In order to provide effective feedback, the facilitator needs to reflect upon his/her approach to the teaching-learning process. For example, does the instructor view learning from a constructivist perspective or approach it in a more traditionalist fashion? If constructivist teaching practices are used, the emphasis is on helping learners internalize and reshape, or transform new information. This transformation occurs through the creation of new understandings (Jackson, 1986; Gardner, 1991). New cognitive structures can emerge from these understandings. In contrast, the traditional approach has been deemed to be more of a process where the learning process involves repeating or miming new material or information (Jackson, 1986). These two different approaches to learning will determine the instructional strategies used by the instructor, and in turn will impact the level of learner motivation. Feedback can also be organized around different types of interaction: learner-to-learner, learner-to-instructor, learner-to-content, and learner-to-interface (Hillman, Willis, & Gunawardena, 1994).

White and Weight (2000) discuss the issue of the online student who needs extra motivation, and propose various strategies that the instructor/facilitator can use to provide this motivation. These range from sending a direct note to the student to asking all students to relate their learning to their current work experience. The authors also stress the importance of the sensitive nature of these actions. In addition, they believe “Feedback that is timely is far more motivational and beneficial to performance improvement than delayed feedback. Thus, online feedback is best when it is prompt” (p. 63).

Formative feedback potentially “modifies a student’s thinking or behavior for the purpose of learning, and summative feedback assesses how well a student accomplishes a task or achieves a result for the purpose of grading” (White & Weight, 2000, p. 168). Since formative feedback influences thought and behavior, it is more motivational. During this process students are asked to continue doing what they have been doing, ask questions, participate, stay on topic, and/or modify their thinking or approach (when and if necessary). White & Weight (2000) also stress that feedback should be multidimensional, non-evaluative, supportive, student controlled, consistent, constructive, objective, timely, and specific. They cite some of the best practices used by online instructors for providing constructive formative and summative feedback:

  • Focus on specific behavior rather than on the online student
  • Take the needs of the online student into account
  • Direct feedback toward behavior the online student can change
  • Help online students to “own” the feedback
  • Give timely online feedback
  • Check online feedback for clarity
  • Consider online feedback as part of an ongoing relationship (White & Weight, 2000, p. 173-4).

As we strive to provide constructive and substantive formative and summative feedback, it is essential to understand its impact on learner motivation. This knowledge will allow us to utilize more effective instructional practices and provide more meaningful learning experiences, while also improving our course design.



Creemers, B. (1996). The school effectiveness knowledge base. In D. Reynolds (Ed). Making good schools. London: Routledge.

Dempsey, J.V. & Sales, G.C. (1993). Interactive instruction and feedback. Englewood Cliff, NJ: Educational Technology Publications.

Gardner, H. (1991). The unschooled mind: How children think and how schools should teach. New York: Basic Books.

Hattie, J. & Timperley, H. (2007). The power of feedback. Review of Educational Research. 77(1). 81-112. London: Sage Publications. doi: 10.3102/003465430298487

Hillman, D. C. A., Willis, D .J.  & C.N. Gunawardena (1994). Learner-Interface Interaction in Distance Education: An Extension of Contemporary Models and Strategies for Practitioners. The American Journal of Distance Education. 8(2), 30-42.

Hoska, D.M. (1993). Motivating learners through CBI feedback: Developing a positive learner perspective. In Dempsey, J.V. & Sales, G.C. (Eds.), Interactive instruction and feedback (pp. 105-132). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Educational Technology Publications.

Jackson, P.W. (1986). The practice of teaching. New York: Teachers College Press.

Sales, G.C. & Johnston, M.D. (1988). Graphic fidelity, gender, and performance in computer-based simulations. (Research Bulletin #1, Improving the Use of Technology in Schools: What We Are Learning). Minneapolis, MN: MECC/UM Center for the Study of Educational Technology.

White, K. W. & Weight, B. H. (2000). The online teaching guide: A handbook of attitudes, strategies and techniques for the virtual classroom. Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.


Strategies for Student Motivation

by Sandy Gambill, Instructional Designer, CTTL

It’s high summer and I’m thinking about the course I’ll be teaching this fall. Maybe it’s just the time of the year where my own attention wanders, but I’m spending more time than usual thinking about student motivation. What is the secret to getting students engaged with the course material so that they are as excited as I am?

Researchers on learning theory have a lot to say about student motivation. How Learning Works: 7 Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching devotes an entire chapter to the factors that motivate students to learn.

Some of the strategies that motivate students to learn identified by HLW echo what you probably hear from your own students: connect the material to the their interests, provide authentic real-world tasks, and demonstrate a relevance to students’ future professional lives. After all, as much as we wish we had unlimited time to spend pursing knowledge just for the sheer pleasure of learning something new, we know our students don’t usually have that kind of time as undergrads.

Another category of strategies deal with helping students stay motivated by making sure the course is well organized so everyone knows what the expectations are.  Making sure objectives, assessment methods and instructional strategies are in alignment so students know exactly what’s expected of them. Pegging your course so that it is challenging enough but your expectations of what students can do at a particular level is realistic. Perhaps the most interesting strategy is “providing early success opportunities” which the authors suggest is especially important in “high risk or gateway” courses that students stress about. The idea is that by providing less challenging assignments that students are likely to succeed at early on in the semester, you will motivate students by building their confidence before they encounter more difficult work.

If you are teaching online or flipped courses, you may need to build in some additional structure to encourage student motivation.  We’ll address that in a post later this month.

What techniques work to motivate your students? We’d love to see your comments below.


How Learning Works: 7 Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching. Susan A. Ambrose, Michael W. Bridges, Michele DiPietro, Marsha C. Lovett, Marie K. Norman, and Richard E. Mayer