Motivating Student Writers to Revise

writingby Debie Lohe, Director, Reinert Center

Recently, I was invited to facilitate a workshop with faculty on working with student writers.  It’s a topic very close to my heart; for almost 15 years, I taught composition classes to undergraduates at all levels, and I served for a time as director of a composition program.  It’s also a topic many instructors want to talk about, for various reasons.

Sometimes, they’re frustrated by what they see as students’ inability and/or unwillingness to write appropriately for an academic setting.  Sometimes, they’re stymied by their own unmet desire to grade flawless, grammatically-perfect prose.  Sometimes, instructors are just at a loss about how to motivate students to take their own ideas and writing seriously.

For many of us, writing = thinking.  As Laurel Richardson has written, “I write because I want to find something out.  I write in order to learn something that I did not know before I wrote it.”  However, John C. Bean (in his wonderfully useful Engaging Ideas: The Professor’s Guide to Integrating Writing, Critical Thinking, and Active Learning in the Classroom), and numerous others, have pointed out that this is not the relationship most undergraduates have to writing.  Instead, they write in order to show their instructors that they “know” things, that they can provide the “right” answer; they don’t, as Bean says, see knowledge as dialectical, the way most academics do.

Perhaps one aspect of helping students to move to a more dialectical way of thinking about knowledge – and particularly, about what they know – is to motivate them to engage writing as a tool for thinking.  But this is hard to do when so few student writers revise in a deep way. For many of us, writing isn’t the act that matters; RE-writing is.

So, how can faculty promote a culture of revision for their students – and perhaps motivate student writers to revise more?  Here are five suggestions:

Scaffold writing assignments: Break down longer writing assignments into smaller tasks and ask for bits and pieces building up to the final deadline.  Providing a small bit of formative feedback on those tasks can help, too.

Allow re-writes: Maybe not always or without constraints, but for students who truly miss the mark – or who truly take up the call to revise – provide an opportunity for deep and substantive revision to improve their grades.

Share your work/experience: Often, it’s hard for students to believe that even professionals and academics write in messy, chaotic phases before the finished product is complete.  Sharing your own writing struggles or even drafts of your own works-in-progress can be valuable in promoting a culture of revision in your classes.

Set a “fake” deadline: On the day essays are due in your class, ask students to flip them over and write a quick self-assessment on the back: maybe 2-3 things they think they did really effectively in the paper and 2-3 things they would do to the paper “if only they had 2 more days.”  Then, give them two more days, and require them to make substantive revisions, based on the areas for improvement they’ve already identified.  (An alternative: ask students to identify “the one fatal flaw” in their essays; then send them away to address it.)

Grade “responsively”: When reading student essays, try to de-emphasize “correctness” and privilege instead responding to each writer’s ideas. Years ago, I read some wonderful advice: stop “grading” essays, and start “reading” them.  If we take students’ work seriously, we should try to inhabit a reader-ly perspective, rather than a grader-ly one.  Indeed, if we want students to better understand that they have readers, we must demonstrate that someone is actually listening to their writer-ly voice.

Of course, these are just a few broad suggestions.  You probably have other tried-and-true strategies for motivating student writers to revise.  If so, please share them in the Comments section.

If you’d like to talk about these (or any other) strategies for working with student writers, come see us in the Reinert Center.

Justice in Jesuit Education

Ignatius statue copyby Jacob Van Sickle, Graduate Assistant, Reinert Center

At the Reinert Center for Transformative Teaching and Learning, we take the Jesuit identity of Saint Louis University very seriously. “Ignatian pedagogy” is an oft-repeated and discussed idea in our publications and workshops, and its principles thoroughly imbue our programming. Hopefully most if not all instructors at SLU have come into contact with these principles and reflected upon how they might use them to improve learning outcomes in the classroom. But a “Jesuit education” is about more than the pedagogical tools employed to deliver discipline-specific content; it also has something to say about the right use of that content.

In the year 2000, Fr. Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, then Superior General of the Society of Jesus, delivered a landmark address entitled “The Service of Faith and the Promotion of Justice in American Jesuit Higher Education” at Santa Clara University. In it, he raises the question, what is the “whole person” that Jesuit institutions seek to form? His answer: “Tomorrow’s ‘whole person’ cannot be whole without an educated awareness of society and culture with which to contribute socially, generously, in the real world… Students, in the course of their formation, must let the gritty reality of this world into their lives, so they can learn to feel it, think about it critically, respond to its suffering and engage it constructively. They should learn to perceive, think, judge and act for the rights of others, especially the disadvantaged and the oppressed.” In other words, we educators in the Jesuit tradition are not to be in the business of producing well-oiled machines—people who can efficiently and effectively “do the work” of their discipline but without regard for the larger human context in which they operate.

The “whole person” is not a self-sufficient entity. So educating the whole person will involve more than enabling the individual to do things, full stop. It will enable the person to do things in the service of humanity. This is a daunting task. But the Ignatian tradition holds a promising avenue of approach: confidence in the goodness of human nature. What our students need most from their education is an awareness of the problems that face humanity, and they will rise to the occasion. But this cannot be simply a “textbook” awareness, an “academic” understanding (in the worst sense of the word). It requires, in the words of Fr. Kolvenbach, letting “the gritty reality of this world into their lives.”

Spurred on by the sentiments expressed by Fr. Kolvenbach and others, faculty and administrators at Jesuit Universities across the nation have developed a remarkable array of responses to the call for justice in education. Mary Beth Combs and Patricia Ruggiano Schmidt have recently edited a volume of collected essays entitled Transforming Ourselves, Transforming the World: Justice in Jesuit Higher Education that gathers many of the best examples of the progress made in our institutions in the last decade and a half.  This book is a great source of inspiration and ideas for bringing students of a wide array of disciplines into contact with the “gritty reality” of the world so that students not only learn the content of a course but also begin to discover possibilities for its meaningful application in the service of justice. I highly recommend it as a starting place for thinking about whether and how to make your course and/or program a more transformative, justice-centered endeavor. For those who wish to brainstorm possible immersion projects for their courses, the Reinert Center staff is always happy to help.  SLU also has an outstanding Center for Service and Community Engagement, which can help connect you with community partners well-suited to the projects you have in mind. All of these resources can ease the process of getting students immersed into the “gritty reality of the world” so ready to hand in our own back yard.

Teaching with Technology Forum

PrintThe Reinert Center has started a new series aimed at helping faculty and graduate students consider ways to incorporate technology into the classroom. Each semester, we’ll offer three short sessions focusing on one teaching issue or strategy involving technology.

Seating is limited and advanced registration is required. Register online here:

The sessions for this semester are as follows. All are from Noon to 1:00 pm in Des Peres 213.

February 19, 2014: Using Poll Everywhere for Simple Instant Feedback

Poll Everywhere is an online tool offering instructors a simple way to poll students for understanding or opinion. Students can respond instantly and anonymously to instructor created polls by using any device they own.


March 19, 2014: Collaboration with Google Docs

This session will explore strategies and techniques to use Google Docs in support of collaborative student projects.


April 9, 2014: Social Bookmarking for Classroom Use

Online Tools such as Pinterest make it easy to gather, organize and share information. This session will look at quick, easy tools to facilitate resource development for classroom use.

Faculty Invited to Submit Applications for Innovative Teaching Fellowships

PrintFaculty Invited to Submit Applications for Innovative Teaching Fellowships


This year, all applicants will be required to take part in a Pre-Application Workshop and a Pre-Submission Instructional Design Consultation.


The Reinert Center for Transformative Teaching and Learning announces the next call for applications to teach in the Learning Studio, an experimental, technology-rich classroom located in Des Peres Hall. Applications are due Friday, Feb. 21, 2014. For a comprehensive overview of the Innovative Teaching Fellowship program, the revised application process and updated application forms, visit the Reinert Center website

Applicants are required to attend a Pre-Application Workshop, held during the week of Jan. 27-31, 2014, and sign-up for a required Pre-Submission Instructional Design Consultation, held during the week of Feb. 10-14, before interested faculty members’ applications will be considered complete.

Registration is required to attend a Pre-Application Workshop. Interested faculty should register for one of the following sessions online by 5 p.m. on Friday, January 24, 2014:

  • Wednesday, January 29, 2014 from 10-11 a.m.
  • Wednesday, January 29, 2014 from Noon-1 p.m. 
  • Thursday, January 30, 2014 from 1-2 p.m.
  • Friday, January 31, 2014 from 11 a.m.-Noon

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

For this call, completed fellowship applications should be emailed to Mary Cook at or delivered to Pius XII Memorial Library, Suite 221 by no later than 5 p.m., Friday, Feb. 21, 2014. Successful applicants will be notified by 5 p.m. on Monday, March 3, 2014.

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 innovative teaching strategies to create engaging and interactive learning experiences.

Current, full-time, permanent 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.

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 fall 2014 and fellows would teach in the Learning Studio during the spring 2015 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, and to learn more about the Learning Studio and its amenities, visit at the Learning Studio website

Reflections on the Winter Institute


Last week, the Reinert Center hosted its annual Winter Institute, a day-long series of workshops focused on our theme for the year, The Art and Science of Learning.  In spite of the snowy morning, approximately 75 faculty and graduate students turned out to learn more about how learning works and how they can structure engaging, effective learning experiences.

The morning began with a lively keynote address by Donna LaVoie, Ph.D., Associate Dean in the College of Arts and Sciences and Professor of Psychology.  The keynote, entitled, “What Makes for Effective Teaching? A View from Cognitive Science,” was intended to summarize how adult cognition works and to provide a conceptual basis from which to choose effective instructional strategies .  As Dr. LaVoie explained, research has long shown that active learning is important, but many of us don’t always understand why that is so.  Central concepts from the literature on the interplay between attention, working memory, and long-term memory can help to answer that question.

LaVoie’s keynote address served as a touchstone for the rest of the day, which featured breakout sessions from SLU faculty:

Jennifer Ashley (Aviation Science), Russell Blyth (Mathematics and Computer Science), and Sarah Patrick (Epidemiology) engaged participants in a robust discussion on the topic of “Crafting Learning Experiences: Experiential, Problem-Based, and Active Learning.”

Amber Hinsley (Communication), Milta Little (Geriatrics), and David Pole (Interprofessional Education) shared their experiences assigning and assessing critical reflection in the classroom in a session entitled, “Revisiting Reflection: Critical Reflection at SLU.”

And Lenin Grajo (Occupational Science and Therapy), Kasi Williamson (Organizational Studies), and Lisa Willoughby (Psychology) described the role of personal context, personal experience, and personal values in shaping one’s teaching philosophy in “The Teaching Philosophy in Action: Shaping Classroom Practice.”

Finally, the day closed with an interactive workshop on “Assessing Non-Traditional Projects,” facilitated by the Reinert Center’s Gina Merys and Debra Lohe.

If you’d like to listen to Dr. LaVoie’s keynote, you can find the audio on our Audio Resources page on our website.

If you were unable to join us, or just wish to learn more about topics discussed, the following references might be useful:

A Faculty Focus Special Report on “Effective Strategies for Improving College Teaching and Learning,” Weimer. (LINK:

How Learning Works: Seven Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching, Ambrose et al. (2010).  (LINK:


Beyond the Semester’s End

Printby Debie Lohe, Director, Reinert Center

Another semester is coming to a close.

You have stacks of exams and papers to grade, final grades to calculate.

You have holiday shopping to finish, pending travel plans and family obligations.

You’re tired, and cold …. maybe you have a cold.

At this point in the academic year, it’s easy to feel worn down, easy to feel you didn’t live up to the high hopes you had, only four short months ago, for the deep, transformative learning you were going to foster in your students.  In this last stretch of grading, it can be tempting to read students’ papers and exams for what isn’t there – to focus on where they fell short.

But I find that it’s more interesting to read for what is there, to look for traces of all that your students have learned, how many things they can synthesize, how far they’ve come in four short months.  It’s even more interesting to imagine what they’ll be able to do next, beyond this semester and this one course, because they’ve learned these things.

This week, as you finish up your grading and begin to recover from the fall semester, I hope you’ll play “detective” while reading your students’ work.  Identify concrete things you can see them doing, and think back to the concrete things you did to get them there.  See if you can identify what you’ve learned along the way.

The evidence that you’ve had a transformative effect on your students is all around you this week, in the stacks of exams and papers and projects.  See the act of reading them as a small reward.  Let it carry you into next semester with renewed energy and passion for teaching.

From everyone in the Reinert Center, we wish you a restful, peaceful season.

Blog posts as critical reflection tools (Yes, really.)


by Amber Hinsley, Assistant Professor, Communication

As a professor in the Department of Communication, you could say I’m in the business of communication. My classes tend to focus on journalism writing and developing digital skills, but regardless of the course topic all of my undergraduate students create blogs that they use to publish various assignments.

Yours should too, and here’s why:

  • Blogging helps students reflect upon or synthesize class readings, polishing their skills as critical thinkers who can succinctly explain their reasoning/opinion
  • Blogging also presents students the opportunity to begin building their professional identities in an online space

For students of any major, blogging for a series of class assignments can help them become better communicators—a skill in high demand among today’s employers. A recent TIME magazine report outlined several shortcomings of recent graduates: Managers said many job applicants “can’t think critically and creatively, solve problems or write well.” (Dr. Mike Lewis, an associate professor in the Chemistry Department, also addressed the need for students to be good communicators in a previous blog post.)

So how can you use blog assignments to help students be better communicators, critical thinkers, and writers?

1. Have a purpose: Think about why you want students blog and what you want them to get from the experience. How can you structure assignments to fit those goals?

2. Understand online writing: It’s different from writing more formal papers. Blog posts shouldn’t look like other types of writing your students may do in class. You can find a multitude of tips online but much of it boils down to being short and succinct, which helps students write a concise reflection of their thoughts.

3. Help students succeed: Be explicit about your expectations for each blog assignment and show your students examples. Give them specific writing prompts, such as the one below from my CMM206: Media & Society class, as well as feedback on their posts.

Hinsley-CTTL post example                                             

4. Bring the blog posts into the classroom: This is key: incorporate your students’ blog posts into class discussions. In small groups, have each student recap his/her post and discuss them with each other. As class, go over their conclusions. As part of the assignment or for extra credit, have them comment on a classmate’s blog post.

In doing all of this, students are pushed to think beyond the textbook/reading material to how it applies in their life and the lives of others—to think more broadly and with greater insight.

But why have them write blog posts instead of short papers that they turn in during class?

Because making it public makes it more real for the students—someone other than their professor might read it. It’s a first step we can take in helping them build an online identity that showcases their ability to think and write clearly about topics relevant to their chosen profession.

It is no secret that employers use online searches to find out more about applicants, and we can use our students’ blogs as a springboard for classroom discussions about the importance of crafting professional identities as undergraduates. The blogs are an effective way for students to establish themselves as insightful thinkers who have interesting things to say. The blogs also can be used as starting point for a portfolio that features the student’s projects and other materials.

Still wondering how you can use blogs in your classes?

You can check out my website (disclaimer: it’s in permanent beta) to find links to all of the blogs I’ve used in my classes. Each class blog has links to individual student blogs. You also can reach me at


Amber Hinsley photoDr. Amber Hinsley is an assistant professor in the Department of Communication, where she teaches a range of journalism & media classes. Her research focuses on issues of media management, news production, and online journalism.




“Teaching” an Upper Level Lab Course

Test tubes and other recipients in chemistry lab

by Michael Lewis, Associate Vice President for Faculty Development and Associate Professor of Chemistry

I’m currently teaching an upper-level lab course, Biochemistry Laboratory I.  The course is required for Biochemistry majors, and given current demand for the course from students in the program, these are the only students in the course; we do not have the room to accept Chemistry majors, or majors from other Departments, in the course.  Most of the students in the course are Juniors, although there are also a few Seniors.  There are two sections, each one with twelve students, meeting once per week for a three-hour lab.  The primary purpose of this blog post is to talk about the challenges I’ve faced teaching this course.

Let me start by saying I think the course is going fine.  The students are almost always present, they generally hand their lab reports in on time, and they appear to be engaging in the material and learning the techniques.  The end of the previous sentence captures the challenge I face with this lab course: the students “appear” to be engaging in the material and learning the techniques.  I truly can’t say for certain if this is the case, and there a number of factors that go into the ambiguity.  The primary reason is that a teaching assistant takes care of most of the in-lab period.  I give an overview of the principles being covered at the beginning of each lab period, and I walk around a few times during the lab period, but the students are generally busy performing the day’s experiments.  Furthermore, the teaching assistant performs the lab the week prior to the students, and handles most of the technical issues.  Thus, there really isn’t time to probe the students’ knowledge of the principles during the lab period.

The second reason I struggle gauging the students’ learning is that the course doesn’t have any exams.  The students are quizzed at the beginning of each week’s lab to make sure they have prepared for the experiments, but it is only a short quiz.  Otherwise, the students are graded on their lab reports, and this accounts for most of the student evaluation.  Furthermore, grading the lab reports accounts for most of my time spent on the course.  Grading accounts for much more of my time in this lab course than it does in a lecture course.

There are other minor factors that make it difficult to discern student learning in this lab course; however, like the two issues above, there are no easy solutions.  This is the first time I’ve taught a lab course in six years, and before I teach another one I plan on putting thought into these issues ahead of time.  The easiest approach would likely be to decrease the number of lab reports in order to add exams, but I’m not sure if this is a feasible solution.  The course is only one credit hour and the time input for the students is already heavy.

I know this is a blog post basically relaying my frustrations with “teaching” a course where I don’t feel like I have a good grasp on the student learning, and there aren’t any firm solutions offered; however, that is where I am with this course.

If you have ideas or strategies for teaching lab courses, please share them in the comments section.

Image source: Flickr image courtesy of Horia Varlan

Adopting a “Growth Mindset” for Your Own Practice

by the Reinert Center Staff
POD Logo

Last week, several members of the Reinert Center staff attended the annual conference of POD – the Professional and Organizational Development Network in Higher Education, the premier professional society for people who do what we do.  Much of the conference focused on the field of educational development – the research, practices, and habits of mind that guide teaching center professionals – and we found ourselves stretched and challenged and nurtured as we learned new ways to think about our own practice.  However, a number of sessions also were targeted specifically for a teaching audience; these sparked numerous ideas we wanted to share with the faculty and graduate instructors we serve.  Here, we offer a few highlights.

Creating Low-Tech, High-Impact Connections

Chris Grabau

One of my favorite takeaways while attending POD came from a session titled, “Low-Tech, High-Impact Asynchronous Development for Busy Faculty.”  Led by staff from Western Kentucky University and the New York Institute of Technology, the session presented a few low-tech ways to facilitate substantive dialogue among faculty.  By utilizing “push technology” tools like Google Groups and listservs, faculty can facilitate a discussion via email with a small group of people for a set period of time.  Unlike a meeting or webinar, the email-based format is familiar for faculty and can provide an opportunity to participate in a way that is conducive to busy schedules.  I really like how this low-tech, asynchronous approach creates a new forum for discussion, but I also think it would be useful for faculty to learn for themselves.  Consider this: It could be a useful strategy to better engage with students, create graduate reading groups, or even facilitate discussion within different departments and interests.


Fostering Student Learning through Inquiry

Jerod Quinn

One of the workshops that really caught my attention was one called, “Freedom to Explore: Helping Faculty to Support Student Learning Through Inquiry,” presented by Susan Shadle and Andy Goodman of Boise State University. A question or issue stimulates inquiry-based learning. It involves students in the construction of new knowledge and understanding. In inquiry-based learning, the teacher’s role is one of a facilitator and there is a move towards students’ self-directed learning. The facilitators of the workshop had us work through two different examples, one from poetry and the other from anatomy, to demonstrate that inquiry-based learning is not discipline-dependent. Shadle and Goodman outlined four basic types of inquiry, each with its own range of difficulty:

  • Information-responsive asks, “What is the existing answer to this question?”
  • Information-active asks, “What is the existing answer to my question?”
  • Discovery-responsive asks, “How can I answer this new question?”
  • And discovery-active asks, “How can I answer my question?”

The workshop facilitators also offered a framework to begin thinking about how to get started creating inquiry-based learning projects. This seems like a great approach to help students learn to build their own knowledge base and encourage lifelong learning. Consider this: If you are thinking about flipping your classroom, an inquiry-based framework could help answer the question, “So, what do the students do during class?”


Addressing Diversity in the Classroom

Michaella Thornton

“How do we manage our discomfort when confronted with cultural issues we may not know how to discuss?” This was a key question posed in this special-interest group session. The dozen or so college-level educators and faculty developers who attended this meeting had many thoughtful ideas, two of which really struck me:

  1. The role of “localizing content” in learning, and
  2. Why crafting a collection of community-based personal identity narratives may help the larger college or university begin an important conversation of who the learning community is and what it often takes for students, faculty, and staff to get here

“Localizing content” is the process of contextualizing and customizing topics, concepts, and questions by having faculty and students translate what these ideas may look like within disciplines, learning communities, and various identities. For instance, Penn State Harrisburg’s Faculty Center storytelling project, World Wide Narratives, asks students, faculty, and staff to share personal stories to discover what others’ journeys in higher education look like and sound like to begin a larger, more inclusive conversation about diversity. SLU offers two similar opportunities for students, Share Your Story: First-Generation College Student and Una’s “Tell Your Story” initiative. Consider this: Teach and model to students how and why “localizing” a discipline’s values, contexts, and key concepts is vital to both their understanding of a discipline’s concepts and materials and for better understanding and discussion of how cultural issues affect teaching, learning, and our communities: be it on- or off-campus or online.


Moving from “Failure” to “Learning”

Debie Lohe

One really noteworthy session was the last workshop of the conference, “Flipping the Mindset: Reframing Fear and Failure as Development Catalysts,” facilitated by Diane Boyd (Furman) and Traci Stromie and Josie Baudier (Kennesaw State).  This session took Carol Dweck’s notion of fixed and growth mindsets as a springboard for inviting us to shift from thinking about “failure” to thinking about “learning”.  People with fixed mindsets often have trouble with failure – and failure, the workshop facilitators reminded us, is simply a mismatch between expected outcome and actual outcome – whereas those with growth mindsets experience such occasions as opportunities to stretch themselves, to evolve, to learn.  In the session, participants were challenged to think of a recent experience that didn’t go as planned and to apply an IDeAS framework: Identify what didn’t go as planned; Debrief about the expectations we had for the initial experience and what we did to get back on track; Analyze how it felt, how we reflected, and whether the experience was part of a larger pattern; and finally to Strategize what we might do differently in the future.  This very Ignatian approach to reflecting on experience seems well-suited to SLU faculty and to reflection on teaching.  Consider this: Think of a recent experience with your students where you thought they would do one thing, but instead, they did something else. Apply the IDeAS framework to reflect on the experience and to identify things you could do differently in the future to achieve a different result.

If you want to brainstorm some ways these insights might inform your own teaching practice, please contact us at or share your thoughts in the comments section.

*Image courtesy of

Connecting the Dots of Practice: How One Program Improved a Collaborative Wiki Assignment

Visual representation of connecting dots. Image courtesy of Hyperakt

Visual representation of connecting dots. Image courtesy of Hyperakt.

by Kim Levenhagen, Assistant Professor, Physical Therapy

A year ago my colleagues and I in the Program in Physical Therapy piloted a wiki project to thread concepts from earlier and current coursework.  We have continued with this project, albeit with some improvements.  This project stretches the students to scaffold previously learned information in order to move from recall to application into clinical practice.  The objective of the wiki project is to assist the students in recognizing “why” the content is pertinent for their future practice.  Because each medical condition is multifaceted, the wiki assists the students to recognize the complexity of the disease process and all of the factors that impact patient care.

For those of you unfamiliar with a wiki, it is a website in which a community of users can add and delete content collaboratively.  Wikispaces is a secure dedicated wiki website that remains private until the collaborators are invited by the designer.  No one outside of the classroom has access unless invited.  For this wiki project, four students are randomly selected into a group and assigned a topic/pathology.  The students are required to recall, integrate, and apply information when discussing the pathophysiology, diagnostics tests, pharmacologic treatments, and implications to physical therapists.  The students are assessed on content, citations, ease of navigation, and grammar.  Students are required to collaborate and integrate key concepts necessary to developing their clinical reasoning utilizing technology.

Last year, I reflected on several barriers, which resulted in the limited success of the project.

These included:

  1. Poor understanding of the purpose or value of the project
  2. Poor recall of previously learned concepts
  3. Inability to accept imperfection and learn from their errors

After meeting with a focus group and reflecting on comments from a mid-year review by the Reinert Center for Transformative Teaching and Learning and on course evaluations, my colleagues and I implemented several changes.  The following will reveal lessons learned and the steps we took to improve the project.

We made a number of changes early in the semester to improve student understanding regarding the purpose of the project.  These changes included an email sent collectively to the students explicitly stating the purpose of the wiki project.  In addition, we developed detailed directions on each of the course webpages and syllabi.  On the first day of class, we provided an overview of our expectations and resources to address frequently asked questions from the previous year.  We enhanced the rubric to model our expectations for the project.  Finally, we provided a sample project with a sample rubric.  This sample project illustrated common errors and how points would be deducted.  As a result of these changes, we have had fewer questions regarding the purpose or how to complete the project.  The projects are improved with enhanced content and details.   Students have stated the project assists them in realizing the importance of the course content in becoming better practitioners.   Overall, the student feedback reflects a more positive experience with the changes.  As one student commented, “Great way for many people to view created ‘web-pages’ and an easy way to work as a group on a project since we have such different schedules.”

To assist with recall, I had several students, who were physiology tutors, and had successfully completed the course, construct study guides or mini Tegrity lectures on previously learned concepts.  A study by Cortright et al (2005) found that peer instruction enhances meaningful learning of information and therefore, improves a student’s ability to problem solve.  Students who had previously completed the course guided and enhanced the learning of students currently enrolled in the course.  In addition, these students, acting as peers, could provide insight on why the content would be meaningful for future coursework and clinical practice.

We attempted to address student imperfections and learning from errors by providing more written feedback.  The students receive feedback from each course coordinator through a collaborative rubric on Blackboard Learn.  This technique helps to clarify expectations from content experts.  In addition, students provide feedback on the collaborative learning experience, which facilitates the development of self, and peer assessment.  As students move toward clinicals or employment, it is imperative they develop the skills to receive formative feedback and implement this feedback into their daily practice.  Our goal is to have students move from reflection on action to reflection in action by the time they graduate.  This project allows for students to begin the process for critical thinking by giving real-world relevancy in a safe environment.

The wiki project offers flexibility of access and fosters autonomous student learning.  Although we utilize wiki spaces for a pathophysiology course, it can be applied to any course content.  The implemented changes have guided the students towards greater success in problem solving.  This use of technology provides the students a multimodal approach to learning.  By modeling expectations and explicitly stating objectives, we can focus students on their development through integration of coursework into current practice.

To read about Kim’s earlier wiki-teaching experiences, please visit her December 2012 blog post, “Helping Students Connect the Dots Using a Wiki”