Inclusivity in Practice

During our lunch and learn discussion, “Building a Inclusive Classroom,” faculty members provided their best practices for building inclusive learning spaces.  In the spirit of inclusivity, they have offered to share them with us and the college community.

Many of the faculty focused on the way they set an inclusive tone during their first day and first weeks, including sharing the responsibilities of syllabus creation, policies, and schedule.  Some of the faculty also talked about how to maintain this spirit of collaboration throughout the course by “checking in” with students and providing methods of on-going discussion and conversation.

Building the Environment for Learning

  • Establishing shared responsibilities and classroom rights on the first day
  • Collaborating on due dates and the course schedule
  • Co-creating student-paced class/unit “guides” that serve as checklists and enable students to envision learning outcomes for the week
  • Doing a “check-in” at the beginning of class: where are they with the material? what are the “ah-ha!” moments? the muddiest moments?
  • Asking students to choose the discussion topic and/or choosing “discussion leaders”
  • Helping students to develop their own classroom policies, i.e., late work, attendance, rubric and assignments
  • Using discussion boards for ongoing course discussion

In addition the classroom environment, faculty members provided their best practices for creating inclusive assessments of student learning.  As one faculty member noted, “it’s important that assignment provide students with an opportunity to ‘show off’ what they know.”

Building the Tools for Assessment

  • Giving students the opportunity to propose an alternate assignment or project if they feel it will benefit them
  • Having students complete a “group test” where they provide evidence and justifications for their answers
  • Encouraging and facilitating peer review sessions for final papers
  • Voting on the structure of projects and the types of exams

Look for more about inclusivity in the classroom in our upcoming professional development and our continuing blog series on the topic.  Thank you to all the faculty who provided these best practices.

The Value of Course Level Assessment

By Judith Dutill, Instructional Design Technologist

Todd Zakrajsek, PhD is an Associate Professor in the Department of Family Medicine and Executive Director of the Academy of Educators at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Dr. Zakrajsek is also an accomplished author and presenter in the world of faculty development and teaching excellence in higher education; I’ve had the privilege to hear him speak on numerous occasions. During his talks, Dr. Zakrajsek usually shares a video clip called the Five Minute University:

This video is a humorous riff on a lingering question: Why invest so much time into learning if we are destined to forget most of what we learn? I acknowledge that, as educators, we knowingly view this question as illogical. We are privileged to know that higher education is not just about memorizing facts and figures or checking boxes on a degree matrix; it’s about developing the hard and soft skills that will sustain an individual in their career and for the rest of their life. The real question is: How do we ensure that our courses and curricula are equipping students with the skills they need to be successful? The answer: Assessment.

It is a misnomer that assessment is reserved exclusively for the academic department level, academic school level, or institution level. Assessment belongs at every level, especially the course level. I highly-encourage every educator to find a method of course assessment that works for them and to practice it regularly. The results of this practice are higher-quality courses and an improved student learning experience.

My personal assessment practice begins with course planning: (1) I use the approved course learning objectives as the learning goals for developing my course; (2) I determine what constitutes evidence that these learning objectives are being achieved; (3) I create an outline for my course that aligns my course learning objectives with weekly learning goals and objectives; (4) I develop assignments, activities, and instruction to support the process, capture evidence, and assess learning.

Once the course begins, I monitor overall student performance throughout the term and make note of the needed changes or improvements that become evident right away. Next, I make it a point to check in with my students regularly to hear their thoughts on their experience in my course (eventually I pair this information with my student observation results).

When the term wraps up, I add my final reflections and organize my notes (I use Microsoft OneNote* as my notebook) so they are easily accessible the next time I am scheduled to teach the course. I organize my notes into five categories: (1) things that exceeded my expectations; (2) things that met my expectations; (3) things that need improvement; (4) things that need to be eliminated from the course; (5) things that need to be added to the course.

On a final note, if you ever have the opportunity to hear Dr. Zakrajsek speak (he is the Director of the Lilly Conferences on College and University Teaching), take the opportunity. Dr. Zakrajsek is an inspiring speaker and teacher educator.

Microsoft OneNote Logo

*Microsoft OneNote is a notebook in Microsoft Office that allows you to capture notes, drawings, screen clippings, and audio notes. You can organize your notebook into tabs (I tab mine by course). There is a built-in search tool that makes retrieving notes easy.

What do you do to assess your courses? Tell us about it in the comments section!

How much work is enough?

By Judith Dutill, Instructional Design Technologist

At my undergraduate college orientation, the director of academic advisement took a moment to inform my freshman class that college is more than just attending classes. Nobody in the room look overly surprised by this information, that is until they distributed a chart that further informed the group that for a college freshman taking a full-time course load, there would be between 24-36 hours of out-of-class work per week.

As I progressed through my college education, I learned that the 24-36 hour figure presented at orientation was an estimate that varied widely depending on the course subject and level, my pre-existing knowledge, and the professor’s teaching style. Yet, my freshman year was an eye-opening experience that included many late nights in the library spent reading and writing more pages than I had ever previously attempted in my academic career. Sometimes it felt impossible to keep up with my work, and that was without the responsibilities of a full-time job or family, which so many of today’s college students balance in addition to their studies.

Years later, the tables turned, and I found myself in the role of educator. There I was, looking at the very same chart I received my freshman year, wondering how I would find the right workload for my students. It turns out, I am not alone; I am often brought into conversations with colleagues who feel challenged to find the right balance for their students. It seems many of us feel that this challenge is only compounded by technology and the multitude of teaching modalities that blur the line between time spent in-class and work performed outside-of-class.

As you pursue the right workload for your students, my best advice is to seek input from colleagues both inside and outside of your academic discipline, to talk to your students, and to tune into the research and conversations about student workload that are happening across the landscape of higher education.

A handy tool for gauging your current (or future) student workload is Rice University’s Course Workload Estimator. This is an impressive, research-based tool created to estimate how much time a student can reasonably expect to spend on work outside of your class every week based on  planned weekly reading assignments, writing assignments, exams, and other assignments; I highly recommend checking it out.

What do you do to determine the right workload for your students? Tell us about it in the comments section!

Rubrics and Creativity

By Judith Dutill, Instructional Design Technologist

A grading rubric is a great tool for communicating with students about our expectations, preparing students to use detailed feedback, encouraging students to think critically, and bringing efficiency to the grading process. However, some professors worry that using rubrics will take the creativity out of their students’ work; this does not need to be the case!

In her article, Imagine Creating Rubrics That Develop Creativity, Linda Payne Young (2009) argues that the higher-level thought processes of imagination and creativity should be a valued part of our assessment process. Payne Young states, “When imagination and creativity become components of the classroom experience where students are routinely encouraged to generate new and novel ideas, we can freely include imagination as part of classroom assignments” (p. 75).

Some examples of rubric criteria that develop and encourage creativity include:

  • Uses non-conventional modes of thinking
  • Recognizes ideas worth pursuing
  • Uses new ideas or new approaches
  • Questions or analyzes assumptions
  • Works to overcome obstacles
  • Tolerates ambiguity
  • Takes reasonable risks
  • Solves problems
  • Embraces contradictions
  • Connects, synthesizes, transforms
  • Communicates divergent and creative perspectives

Do you use rubrics in your class? How do you balance using rubrics and encouraging student creativity? Tell us about it in the comments section!

Want to learn more about rubrics? Check out the Training Archive in the Center for Teaching Excellence on Blackboard for our webinar and resources on creating and using grading rubrics.

Additional Resources:

Arter, J. and Chappuis, J. (2006). Creating and Recognizing Quality Rubric (CAR), Portland: Pearson Assessment Training Institute.

Association of American Colleges & Universities. (2014). Creative Thinking VALUE Rubric. Retrieved August 01, 2016, from

Brookhart, Susan M.. How to Create and Use Rubrics for Formative Assessment and Grading. Alexandria, US: ASCD, 2013. ProQuest ebrary. Web. 1 August 2016.

Stevens, D. D., & Levi, A. (2013). Introduction to rubrics: An assessment tool to save grading time, convey effective feedback, and promote student learning. Sterling, Va: Stylus Pub.

Turley, E. D., & Gallagher, C. W. (2008). On the uses of rubrics: Reframing the Great Rubric debate. English Journal, 97(4), 87-92.


Young, L. P. (2009). Imagine Creating Rubrics That Develop Creativity. English Journal, 99(2), 74-79.

Lunch & Learn: Classroom Assessment Techniques

By Judith Dutill, Instructional Design Technologist

Today’s Lunch & Learn was a big success! The event featured roundtable discussion, resource sharing, and pizza; thanks, again, to those who attended.

Faculty Lunch & Learn

All attendees were asked to bring their favorite classroom assessment technique to share. Shared techniques included:

  • Having students interview professionals in their chosen field and report back to the class
  • Having students interview one another
  • Bringing a question to class (or posting a question on the Discussion Board in Bb)
  • Having online students create video presentations with Screencast-O-Matic
  • Giving students random functions to demonstrate for the class (especially great for tech classes)
  • Using games (Jeopardy, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, or board games like Apples to Apples)
  • Letting students work in groups to create test questions and including some of their questions on the exam
  • Pairing students together by pairing high-performing students with at-risk students

Here are links to the resources we discussed today:

Do you have a favorite classroom assessment activity? Leave it in the comments section!