In November, we sponsored a giveaway for a copy of James Lang’s Small Teaching: Everyday Lessons from the Science of Learning. As part of the giveaway, we asked participants two questions:

  1. Have you ever made small tweaks to an assignment or lesson plan that seemed to make a significant impact on student learning? Or perhaps you were a student whose teacher made such a change during the course? What was that change and its impact?
  2. Looking ahead to the remainder of the term or the next time you teach, what is one small change you plan to make to improve your students’ learning experience?

We received a number of thoughtful answers and, in the spirit of building an online learning community, have compiled them in this post. Thank you to all participants for sharing your experience and expertise with us!


Have you ever made small tweaks to an assignment or lesson plan that seemed to make a significant impact on student learning? Or perhaps you were a student whose teacher made such a change during the course? What was that change and its impact?

“My students worked in groups to explore a variety of Sport Marketing agencies. Originally the assignment required each group to write a short paragraph describing what they learned about the agency, its objectives, and the type of clients it served. At the last minute the assignment was tweaked and asked students to describe the agency in 140-characters with use of emojis encouraged.  Students were far more engaged and were more creative in answers.”-Mark Beattie, GTA Sports Management

“In the first course I taught, I realized in an early-semester lecture that students seemed to be getting bored, but when I asked them for discussion participation, there was nothing but crickets. I thought back to a UCAT workshop I had attended about “minute papers” and decided to try that in the next class period. Part-way through class, I stopped talked and asked students to simply write their thoughts down for a moment. Then, I opened it up for class discussion. Suddenly, multiple students were raising their hands, we had a lively discussion, and the students were so engaged and excited that they even came up to me after the class ended to continue discussing their experiences and thoughts on the topic. From then on, I regularly used writing or other small techniques (like using TopHat for polls, or think-pair-share assignments) to help students organize their thoughts before asking for their participation.” –R. Arocho, Department of Human Sciences

“I had a statistics teacher who I think felt we were not getting out of the class what he was hoping. I personally was really struggling with the course, particularly with the proofs and understanding the logic for each step. Midsemester he gave us all a short questionnaire asking for feedback. Based on the feedback it was clear that I was not the only one getting lost in the proofs. He started reminding us of whatever theorem or property he was citing for each step in the proofs and it helped so much. I felt like I really began to understand not just the proofs, but why those theorems are important and broadly applicable.” –A. Montoya, Psychology Department

 “Instead of me presenting different education theorists, the students presented them to each other. Later, they had to use what they learned from each other by identifying how their approaches to teach are supported by multiple education theories.”-Judy Ridgway

“One time I was having students become “living sentences” in a German language class to demonstrate how German word order works. Especially important is that in German, in a declarative sentence the verb remains in the second position and DOES NOT MOVE, unlike in English.  My adult learners were doing well for the most part forming a sentence in several different ways, except my verb, Kathy. She kept wanting to move to make the sentences match English word order. She wouldn’t just stay still!  So I made a slight modification – I drew a square on the floor around her feet and told her she was not allowed to leave it! Not only did she then understand her role, but the rule of the verb in second position ALWAYS was cemented for the other students in the class too, much like Kathy was “cemented” to the square on the floor. (Of course, it required a little more clean up, but it was totally worth it!)” –Kate Halihan, John Glenn School of Public Affairs

What is one challenge you have faced when teaching or learning in an online environment? What strategies have you tried to overcome this challenge?

“We are trying out top hat as part of a review. We are also trying out small group discussions with case studies.” –C. DiGiovine, OT HRS OSU

 “Provide them more opportunities to make connections between their work and professional organizations.”- Judy Ridgway

“Identify the utility of the course in the first class, by sharing what I hope they learn and why, and then asking the students to share what they want to learn and why (either via Tophat responses or verbally). Survey can feel pointless to a lot of students, so establishing its utility early will hopefully encourage motivation and engagement.”- J. Doe, Academic Advisor

 “[One] challenge I have had with students is getting them to watch educational videos. They hate watching them! Over the last few weeks, I came to recognize that when the videos are given in isolation with no specific task assigned to them the students will not watch them. If I incorporate specific tasks in connection with the videos, then I will have the desired outcome I am seeking.”-Melinda Sims, ESL Composition Lecturer


If you are interested in extending the conversation further, UCAT and ODEE will facilitate Introduction to Active Learning in January. You can also read our responses to the October giveaway and learn more about what events UCAT is offering in December and January. Thanks to all who participated in our 2017 book giveaways. We look forward to resuming with giveaways in January 2018!

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