As a teacher, it can sometimes be a mystery whether and how your students are learning your class material. We’ve provided this page about Student Learning to crack the code and help you design and facilitate your classes in ways that will enhance student learning, uncover what your students are thinking, and allow you opportunities to build community in your classroom.

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Learning Theories

There are a multitude of theories out there that explain how college students make meaning of information and how their learning develops over time. Having these ideas in the back of your mind when designing courses, creating assignments, and planning lectures can help you connect with and relate to your students in ways that optimize their learning.

General Principles

One of our current favorite books is How Learning Works: Seven Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching.

This book breaks learning theories down with easy-to-digest explanations and practical ways to apply them in our classroom

The seven principles are:

  1. Students’ prior knowledge can help or hinder learning.
  2. How students organize knowledge influences how they learn and apply what they know.
  3. Students’ motivation determines, directs, and sustains what they do to learn.
  4. To develop mastery, students must acquire component skills, practice integrating them, and know when to apply what they have learned.
  5. Goal-directed practice coupled with targeted feedback enhances the quality of students’ learning.
  6. Students’ current level of development interacts with the social, emotional, and intellectual climate of the course to impact learning.
  7. To become self-directed learners, students must learn to monitor and adjust their approaches to learning.

You can borrow this book from our library or see one of our consultants for access to simple handouts that outline the chapters you’re interested in.

Perry’s Theory of Cognitive Development

William Perry’s Intellectual Development Stages illustrate the development of students’ response to authority, understanding of multiple points of view, ability to create a reasoned argument, and degree of independent thought. Students often come into college in the Dualism phase and hopefully work their way through to Relativism through the course of college. (Perry says few people actually make it to Commitment.) Of course, they may start out at different stages for different classes. If you’re teaching non-major Biology, for example, you may have a Junior
in your class who is in the Relativism stage in one of his major courses but starts out in Dualism in your course due to the unfamiliar material. As a teacher, you have the opportunity to design assignments and create in-class learning experiences that challenge and support your students to move from one stage to the next.


Bloom’s Taxonomy

Bloom’s Taxonomy is a description of how students gain mastery over subject matter. They develop from being able to simply recall material to being able to use the material to create something new. Knowing the stages of Bloom’s Taxonomy can be helpful when designing a course. As you introduce new material, use assignments to help students enter deeper into their understanding. See the video below for a short introduction to the theory.


Helping Students

Sometimes the role of the teacher goes beyond helping your students learn course material. Sometimes it includes looking out for their social, physical, and mental well-being, as well. Here are some resources we’ve gathered so that you can advocate for your students’ wellness and learn the needs of particular populations of students.

Students in Distress

The university provides two programs designed to train you to recognize signs of emotional distress in students and learn the available resources to which you can refer those students.

The At-Risk interactive online training is designed to help you identify and approach students in mental distress and, if necessary, refer them to our counseling center. By completing this simulation, you will be more comfortable and better prepared to help these at-risk students get the assistance they need. In this highly interactive 45-minute simulation, you will have the opportunity to engage in simulated conversations with up to five virtual students.

The Campus Suicide Prevention Program offers REACH training for faculty and staff to help them identify and respond to suicide risks and warning signs. The training lasts approximately 60 to 90 minutes, following which participants receive certificates verifying their completion of the program. For more information, visit their website.


As more and more Veterans begin enrolling at Ohio State using their GI Benefits, you may find an increasing number of student-Veterans in your classroom. Although in many ways, this population requires no different attention than your other students, student-Veterans will be coming in with their own experiences, barriers, and needs that may hinder their transition (back) to college. Here are a few tips for how you can help, but they are just scratching the tip of the iceberg. If you’d like to have a more detailed conversation regarding student-Veterans, please set up an appointment for a consultation.


  • Allow students to sit wherever they are comfortable
  • Encourage students to be respectful of others and avoid distracting behaviors during class

Course Design:

  • Communicate explicitly and succinctly in syllabus
  • Thoughtfully design assignments and team projects

Course Policies:

  • Create attendance and participation policies that provide a measure of flexibility
  • Don’t be wishy-washy about assignment deadlines and other class rules; be accommodating but not inconsistent

Course Content:

  • Do not assume that you know the political leanings of your students
  • If the content includes any aspect of war or terrorism, distinguish political policies from the people that carry them out
  • Be aware that content, even when it is not about war, can bring up unresolved issues


  • Build community and a positive learning environment to increase student motivation
  • Learn about your students by designing unobtrusive methods for having students self-disclose personal information
  • Be careful about publicly thanking a Veteran for their service
  • Don’t ask, and interject when students ask, “Did you kill anyone?”

Students with Disabilities

Students who are physically challenged may be relying on special transportation and may need special considerations. Instructors who are flexible about time and make sure that physical arrangements accommodate these students help them participate in higher education.

Students with physical and learning disabilities may require such considerations as extra time to take a test, a reader to read the text or test to them, or special equipment to compose written work. Ohio State’s Office for Disability Services provides services for students with a wide array of disabilities, such as learning disabilities, and mobility, visual or hearing impairments. Staff in the Office for Disability Services can advise instructors on what is reasonable to allow and how to refer students to appropriate support services. Often, however, students will be reluctant to ask for special arrangements. Instructors can help by notifying the entire class publicly, or stating in the syllabus, that any student who has need for test-taking or note-taking accommodation should feel free to discuss the matter with them.

Student Feedback

The question of whether or not your students are learning in your class can sometimes make more than exams to answer. Asking your students how things are going at the middle and end of each term can provide valuable feedback as you work to improve your course.

Student Evaluation of Instruction (SEI)

Ohio State’s University Rules require students to have the opportunity to evaluate their instructions at the end of every course. The Student Evaluation of Instruction (SEI) is the standardized survey instrument used to that effect.

When interpreting your SEIs, the Registrar makes several suggestions, including the following:

  • Consider the results within the context of other less quantifiable information, such as the
    usual performance of the instructor and special circumstances surrounding the particular
    offering that might have influenced student opinion.
  • Check response rate to determine if the scores reflect the opinion of a substantial part of
    the course enrollment. For small section sizes, look at frequencies as well as mean
    scores, since outliers can greatly influence the mean rating.
  • The focus should be on patterns of responses and general comparisons rather than on
    trivial differences in mean values. To dwell on a trivial difference in mean values is
    inappropriate as a basis for comparing one instructor with another. Differences of a few
    tenths of a point should not be the basis for personnel decisions.

For a full explanation of SEIs and guidelines for interpretation, visit this page and download the SEI Handbook.

If you’d like assistance interpreting your SEIs and planning for changes to future courses, please contact us to set up an appointment.

Small Group Instructional Diagnoses

If you are interested in gathering midterm student feedback, UCAT can help you do so in a unique and comprehensive way by conducting a Small Group Instructional Diagnosis (SGID).

What is a SGID?

A SGID is a way to gather rich, contextualized information about your course and your teaching through an in-class focus group interview, facilitated by a UCAT instructional consultant. After having an initial consultation with the facilitator to learn what you would like to discover through the SGID experience, you will schedule 20 minutes on a usual class day to step out of the room and allow the facilitator to become a “research tool” for you. The facilitator will ask your students to have small group discussions about three questions related to their learning in your course. Then, the facilitator will pull the smaller groups back into a full class discussion to summarize and clarify their feedback.

After the SGID, you will meet with your facilitator again to receive and review the data he or she collected for you – written feedback from the students’ small group discussions, and the facilitator’s impartial summary of the large group discussion. Together, you will work to interpret the comments to help you decide how you would like to address the student feedback with your class. SGIDs are normally conducted mid-term so that you have the opportunity to react to the information you’ve gathered and apply it to the remainder of the quarter, in whatever ways you see fit.

Why a SGID?

A SGID provides a much fuller picture of student feedback than an SEI or other written evaluation likely would. The facilitator is able to put the students’ answers into context by asking follow-up questions and gathering illustrative examples, give you an idea of how many class members agree with a particular piece of feedback, and explain the tone in which comments were made. Students may also help each other to put their own feedback into context by responding to one another’s comments (e.g., if one student complains about the amount of reading, others might respond that the amount is on par with what should be expected of them).

Moreover, SGIDs frequently result in better instructor-student communication and a greater sense of community in the classroom. Students are often impressed that the instructor took the time to ask for their feedback in a detailed manner, and in return, they respond with insightful, eloquent, and articulate answers.

If you are interested in pursuing a SGID, email UCAT to set up an appointment with an instructional consultant to determine whether a SGID would be a useful tool for you and your class.