Friday at Four: Week 5

Homecoming Events for Faculty

Biology Reflections Seminar at 4pm

Please join the Biology Department for our annual Biology Reflections Seminar this Friday, October 18 at 4:10 p.m. in Dow 226. Alumni Amel Omari, K’09, and Ryan D’Mello, K’14 will be speaking on their journeys toward careers focused on health equity. Students, alumni, faculty, and staff are invited to attend.

Homecoming Connection Reception at 5pm

Please join students, alumni professionals, faculty and staff at an informal networking gathering.

Date: Friday, October 18th, 2019

Time: 5:00 pm

Duration: 2 hours

Location: Hicks Banquet Center

Sponsored by: Career and Professional Development

Contact: Rachel Wood, CCPD

Please join students, alumni professionals, faculty and staff at an informal networking gathering. Come prepared to share the story of your own career path, listen and learn from others’ work experiences, and explore professional possibilities both local and global. Hors d’oeuvres will be served and all are welcome. Attendees over 21 may enjoy an alcoholic beverage with proper identification. This is a great opportunity to network and make professional connections. Co-sponsored by the Center for Career and Professional Development (CCPD) and the Alumni Association Engagement Board (AAEB).


For more information, visit:

Friday at Four: Week 4

October 11, 2019, 4-5:30 pm

The Rescheduled Faculty Study

Arcus Center

“Binary and Non-Binary: Compressing Data and the Self”

Sandino Vargas-Pérez (Computer Science) will talk about data compression for genomics using high-performance computing and superclusters.“C” Heaps (Theater) will talk about the way non-binary and trans Twitch streamers perform their gender to a predominately white male audience.  
And as always, great conversations, non-nutritious Friday afternoon-worthy deep-fried foods, and icy cold drinks to share!

Friday at Four: Week 3

October 4, 2019, 4-5pm, DE206

Let’s talk about textbooks.

Kelly Frost from the library has begun exploring how students access required course materials, what barriers might exist, and how we as a College community can help. This fall quarter the library acquired required textbooks for 15 introductory courses and put them on Course Reserves. We’ll share the (very) preliminary results of this pilot project as well as any student surveys received. We’re looking forward to faculty input on the Textbook Project.

Review of Learner-Centered Teaching by Terry Doyle

Original Publish Date: February 19, 2017
By Patrik Hultberg

In this book Terry Doyle makes an evidence-based argument for learner-centered teaching practices. It is as convincing as the book is readable. The thesis of the book is “the one who does the work does the learning,” and it explores how to get students to do the work and what work they should be doing to optimize learning.

In the Foreword Todd Zakrajsek writes “Teaching is not something that should be left to trial and error, and it certainly should not be done without building on an understanding of what is known about this vital activity.” After reading Doyle’s book, faculty members will have a good understanding of the research on how students learn, why learner-centered teaching (LCT) best accommodates this research, and practical ways to implement LCT in their own courses.

Bjork (1994) defines learning as “the ability to use information after significant periods of disuse and it is the ability to use the information to solve problems that arise in context different (if only slightly) from the context in which the information was originally taught.” That is, learning implies that students are able to both recall knowledge and skills after the exam/course is over, and are able to transfer the knowledge to novel situations encountered in the “real world.” The only way to reach these learning outcomes, the book argues, is for students to actively engage in learning the content and skills, and then use and practice the learned content and skills for significant periods of time; this is what learner-centered teaching attempts to achieve.

In brief, these are the main topics covered:

  • Research from cognitive psychology that supports the notion that learning is a change in the learner’s brain.
  • How to motivate students to do the work (given their long experience with teacher-centered teaching). Many strategies provided for how to achieve this.
  • A case for the power of authentic learning; that is learning in contexts that involve real-world problems and projects that are relevant to the students. It is hinted at, but I would emphasize, that these projects should be matched with the students’ level of expertise (cognitive load theory) and the amount of instructional guidance should be carefully calibrated.
  • The book does not completely dismiss lecturing (almost), but it does make a strong case for faculty to move from being lecturers to being facilitators of learning. Practical, step-by-step, advice on how to achieve this is provided and it basically boils down to creating daily lessons plans (not lectures) including daily learning goals, activities, practice, and feedback. A case is made for limiting faculty “talking” in favor of (effective) class discussions.
  • The importance of getting to know our students in order to create a safe and comfortable learning environment, as well as promoting a growth mindset among the students. The importance of relationships and community.
  • A case is made for giving students control and choices in terms of course policies, content, teaching methods, and organization.
  • Several chapters are devoted to teaching in ways that support our evolutionary past, such as teaching to all the senses, highlighting content patterns, and using the evidence-based learning strategies of spacing, interleaving, retrieval practice, and elaboration (reflection).
  • The book also highlights the importance of sleep, nutrition, and exercise to learning.

Overall, the book makes a strong case for learner-centered teaching. I agree.

Reflections on Tutoring

Original Publish Date: October 21, 2016
By Reid Gomez

Tomorrow I receive the first batch of papers from the Insurgency and Solidarity class. The assignment: write three paragraphs. The first: where you currently stand in relationship to the material (previous knowledge). The second: what you hope to get out of the class (expectations). The third: your areas of special interest.

I tell them, up front, the assignment is for me. Can you write a paragraph with sentences? I’m big on study skills. What do I need to change about the course, now?

I learned how to teach from a lot of people: my grandparents, and most explicitly the Writing Program at the Student Learning Center at the University of California at Berkeley. As tutors we worked directly with students, and we also met in a weekly seminar where we discussed the pedagogy of writing. I worked my way up from an individual tutor, to a workshop leader (labor resource for the UC system that is largely diverting teaching to undergraduate, graduate and professional services), and finally to a senior tutor (tutoring others on how to tutor).

At our colloquium I appreciated the focus on “good tutoring.” When I’m lost I go back to the skills I learned and used as a tutor. The one on one delivery and co-exploration of content continues to be the foundation of my classroom practice. I’ve changed. The students have changed. But one thing remains the same: we have to know each other to work well with each other.

I made it through Cal because of my writing tutor. I became a writer, in part, because of him: Augustine Robles. I was taught that writers could spell, pronounce correctly, never used double negatives, and did not write run together sentences. I couldn’t do any of those things—spell check did not exist, and the dictionary was my nemesis (all those words spelled correctly). Augie told me, “hey, I think you could be a tutor.” And, I applied.

The first assignment I give allows me to change, yes, change the course, now. The changes are some times small (drawing examples from their research areas, not mine) and they are sometimes large (letting a student select a book I have not listed on the books to chose from list). They keep me on my toes, and I try to keep them on theirs.

I believe our relationship as learners and leaders in the classroom is what shapes the class and their engagement with the material. I hope the class process (framework) gives them a method (theory) to approach evaluating materials, stretching their minds, and developing analytical abilities for whatever content, in whatever field, they encounter. Co-producing knowledge also makes them better teachers themselves—demystifying the process.

Teaching Students How to Learn

Original Publish Date: September 26, 2016
By Patrik Hultberg

All of us want our students to learn as much as possible in our courses. This is why we stay current in our disciplines, attend workshops related to pedagogy and teaching effectiveness, and perhaps pick up the occasional book on teaching. Many of us, perhaps all, have experienced the frustration associated with our best intentions not leading to student success in our current course and a lack of transfer of learning to future courses. It is possible, perhaps likely, that deep and sustainable learning by our students require them to do act differently. There might be a need for our students to employ more effective learning strategies.

This is what Dr. McGuire proposes in her book “Teaching Students How to Learn.” She recommends, nay urges us, the professors, to be the ones to teach our students how to learn our material more effectively. Our first reaction might be that this is not our responsibility and that students should have learned to study in high school. Unfortunately, it is and they have not. If we truly want our students to learn the material we care so deeply about, we should teach them how to learn it – and Dr. McGuire’s book tells us exactly how to do so.

Dr. McGuire presents 39 learning strategies for students and 33 strategies for instructors (as well as step-by-step guidelines and PowerPoint slides). Far too many helpful tips to elaborate on in this brief note, but the concept of metacognition, the ability to think about your own thinking, lies at the heart of her approach (p. 16). Her strategies focus on students being aware of themselves as learners and problem solvers; to be able to actively seek out solutions and accurately judge their own progress toward solutions without relying on others to provide answer for them.

To help students develop metacognition, Dr. McGuire offers learning strategies, which she defines as anything that helps the student/learner engage with, process, remember, and apply information (p. 27). Dr. McGuire promotes active learning, as well as asking our students to move up the Bloom taxonomy of learning levels, and her suggestions are mostly focused on what students will do at home, away from our classrooms.

In broad terms Dr. McGuire recommends that students use the “study cycle,” which incorporates a preview of material before class, class attendance, review of material after class, 3-5 intense study sessions per day, and finally assessment of their own learning. (p. 39). Naturally the intense study sessions are especially important for learning and Dr. McGuire recommends setting specific learning goals, using active learning tasks, and review (as well as taking breaks as needed). These are great recommendations and can be easily combined with evidence-based learning principles from cognitive psychology such as spacing, interleaving, generation, elaboration, and retrieval practice (Brown et al., 2014 and blog #1) , which would further support deep and lasting learning.

Dr. McGuire puts a special emphasis on reading strategies and in doing so she argues against the common practice of students simply reading and re-reading textbooks and notes, a practice that might have sufficed in high school but is likely to fail in college. In brief, her recommendations for effective reading involve student preview, active reading, and retrieval practice after completing the reading. She also presents many additional strategies ranging from note taking techniques, use of homework (don’t look at solved examples), time management, and mindset considerations. Dr. McGuire also encourages us, the teachers, to construct courses and lessons that foster intrinsic motivation among our students by fostering autonomy, competence, and a sense of belonging among our students.

In conclusion, Dr. McGuire makes a strong case for why we should teach our students how to learn and she gives us all the tools necessary to actually doing so. The only question is, will we? Will you?

An additional question could be, am I using the strategies that Dr. McGuire recommends? Below I discuss five strategies that I do use and five strategies that I do not use in my classes.

Strategy 8.

Create a course syllabus that makes your expectations, your course structure,requirements for success, and student responsibilities crystal clear.

I spend a significant amount of time creating syllabi using backwards-design. That is, I try to determine first what skills and knowledge I wish for my students to have at the end of the course (course goals/outcomes). I then think about how I will know whether or not students have achieved these goals; that is, what kinds of assessment are needed. Next I determine what learning activities a student should be exposed to in order to be prepared for the chosen assessment activities – in my classes this mainly involves active learning projects (problem solving) and various formative assessment opportunities. I then, finally, consider what resources I need to make available for students (readings, videos).

Strategy 9.

Require a textbook.

I require students to read a textbook section (and/or article) before each class session (sometimes I ask them to watch videos instead). I ensure that all students do the required reading (watching) by giving them a quiz, usually online, before the class begins. I do not “reteach” material from the textbook, rather I expect students to know (remember and have basic understanding) the material and we then work on higher levels of learning in class (Bloom’s taxonomy: deeper understanding, applying, analyzing, and evaluating).

Strategy 13.

Interweave assessment and teaching by testing early and often. Doing so will encourage more students to keep pace with the course.

I’m a strong believer in testing (retrieval practice) so I constantly build in low stakes summative assessments regularly and often. I also use online quizzes in all my courses, usually before each class session. I also use formative assessment as an active learning activity in my classes quite often (team quizzes and problems, individual problems combined with think-pair-share). My courses are largely structured around students always being up to speed in the course; e.g. pre-class quizzes ensure this. I have reduced the number of high-stakes exams, often offering no more than two (midterm and final). I have also tried to introduce more student agency and choice in my courses, but I can still improve on this effort.

Strategy 19.

Make class sessions more engaging by introducing active learning strategies such as think-pair-share, small group problem solving, and reflection questions.

Since I have switched most of my courses to the flipped classroom approach my face-to-face interactions with students are almost exclusively active learning projects. In addition to the activities similar to those mentioned in the strategy I also use role playing exercises. I rarely lecture more than 20-30 minutes during a two hour class session.

Strategy 24.

Give students opportunities to work together in small groups by administering group quizzes, group problem-solving exercises, or group projects.

As I mentioned, this is the general approach during my face-to-face time with students. I often use team quizzes, sometimes asking the students to take the quiz first individually and then as part of a team (grade is weighted average of the two). Group problem-solving activities are my main pedagogical strategy in class. I also assign many group projects outside of class, such a team papers and presentations.

Two additional strategies that I try to implement in my courses are (Strategy 1) emphasize that students’ actions, not their intelligence, will determine their success, and (Strategy 2) create a supportive environment in the classroom by demonstrating your belief that all students can be successful and that you will help each one of them attain success.

The following five strategies are currently not used in my classes. I hope to begin incorporate some of these strategies.

Strategy 3.

Teach students about metacognition, Bloom’s taxonomy, and the study cycle.

Strategy 6.

Give a 45-60 minute learning strategies presentation after students receive the results of their first test or quiz.

Strategy 18.

Provide students with targeted feedback, perhaps with a comment that you are providing the feedback because you have high standards and believe in their ability to meet or exceed them. [I do give students feedback, but not as “targeted” as described here.]

Strategy 23.

Assign students real-world tasks to help them develop a sense of belonging to the larger community. [I use cases and problems that simplify the real world, but these are not usually from students own backgrounds or the local community.]

Strategy 30.

Have students take a learning styles preference diagnostic test and write a reflection about the strategies they will use in class. [I don’t do this and never will since the learning styles as a pedagogical tool has not been shown by the research to be effective. I do use dual coding, combining verbal explanations with visuals and hands-on activities.]

Reflections on Fall Colloquium

Original Publish Date: September 22, 2016
By Patrik Hultberg

The speaker for this year’s Fall Colloquium on Teaching and Learning was Dr. Geoffrey Cohen. Dr. Cohen gave a talk titled “Powerful but Invisible: Social Psychological Factors that Shape Student Success.” A brief recap of his talk can be found on the Fall Colloquium page, but here are seven reactions to the talk from K College faculty members.

Elizabeth Manwell (Classics):

Here is what I really liked about the colloquium. I’ve been reading and thinking about the research over the past few years about “grit” (and the controversies about the work), and my question was always, “well, how do we encourage or develop grit? Or is it just innate?” I thought his talk really spoke to ways that we can develop those capacities in our students.

So, first was taking the time to get to know your students, instead of jumping into the work. The notion that the high-performing tutors could achieve more because students felt they knew and trusted the tutors was really powerful.

I also liked the idea of scaffolding and then presenting a difficult problem—not praising, but demonstrating your confidence in their ability to take on a challenge.

I also liked the idea of setting out the criteria of evaluation before you look at candidates. It seemed that this is the kind of thing that I could do even more explicitly in paper assignments and the like, so that I don’t read a paper and think, “oh I like this topic” or “oh, this is really nicely written” and give it a good grade, when it might not be measuring up in other ways (e.g., responding to the assignment, building a sophisticated argument, etc.).

Andrew Koehler (Music)

One thing that really struck me is the impact of letting students know why they’re getting feedback, and to authentically find a way to show them that you are holding them to a high standard you believe them capable of achieving. In my own teaching, I’ve thought a lot about making sure I show why the things I teach matter to me (instead of taking for granted that they are important to everyone), and my sense is these are at some level related, and that my work on this can be profitably expanded.

Chuck Stull (Economics/Business)

A few of my takeaways were:

  1. Small actions can have outsized impacts on student performance.
  2. Actions that reinforce stereotypes hurt the performance of that group while actively counteracting the stereotype can help.
  3. Details matter.
  4. How feedback is framed makes a big difference.
  5. Encouraging a “growth mindset” (you can develop your abilities) is much more successful than allowing a “fixed mindset” (you have a fixed ability) to persist.

Lanny Potts (Theatre Arts):

As a teacher of creative content that is melded with the practical necessity of its execution, my project philosophy has often been that of a sink-or-swim approach (with full knowledge that pool noodles, floaty wings, and life vests are necessary for those that are having a hard time swimming). I feel that with Geoff’s “a little valuation can go a long way” that to continue to focus upon the positive (which I try to do regularly and consistently – but, HIS positive valuation reminded me of HOW IMPORTANT this work is…), that is: that in reframing, and by explaining the why with subtlety both will continue to go a long way in helping students who struggle with both the “how do I do it” of creative content AND the execution “I know this needs to be good” of their project based work.

Thus, upon reflection, my takeaway was twofold.

First, I am reminded of the importance. GREAT importance. Of how valuable and valued positive reinforcement – timely, adroitly, and appropriately applied – can be for creative content and execution of extremely challenging projects. It re-ignited a fire to strive to continually seek ways to provide profoundly thoughtful – and insightful – comments to student work.

Second, I was reminded of the great gift (and awesome responsibility) we have as teachers. If great teaching genuinely is not “teaching” but inspiring learning, I think Geoff’s lessons should give all of us a great tool to aspire to be, and inspire our students, to pursue lifelong learning.

Jan Tobochnik (Physics)

Here are new things I learned or relearned:

  1. I liked the idea of little nudges such as the growth mindset comments on papers and perhaps better ways of framing tests so that students don’t judge them as a measure of some fixed ability that cannot be changed.
  2. I don’t know if I can implement this, but the idea of creating experts in student experts so that the students see the need to collaborate.
  3. The nudges in (1) are probably better given individually rather than as some kind of announcement to the class. Thus, personalized comments are best.

Reid Gomez (Critical Ethnic Studies)

At our colloquium I appreciated the focus on “good tutoring.” When I’m lost I go back to the skills I learned and used as a tutor. The one on one delivery and co-exploration of content continues to be the foundation of my classroom practice. I’ve changed. The students have changed. But one thing remains the same: we have to know each other to work well with each other.

I believe our relationship as learners and leaders in the classroom is what shapes the class and their engagement with the material. I hope the class process (framework) gives them a method (theory) to approach evaluating materials, stretching their minds, and developing analytical abilities for whatever content, in whatever field, they encounter. Co-producing knowledge also makes them better teachers themselves—demystifying the process.

Amy MacMillan (Economics/Business)

  1. Validation of what I currently do: continue to use first class of each course to establish rapport with students, set expectations. Tempting to want to race into the material, but this time up front pays dividends later.
  2. Tweak what I do: spend even more time explaining why I write so many comments on the students’ papers, using this as a chance to convey how much I believe in their potential. Ditto for explaining my somewhat tough grading assessments overall, including the intentional ambiguity in some assignments (versus being spoon fed with a detailed rubric).
  3. Make a significant change: stop telling students when I think an assignment is easy. Instead, spend more time telling them when it’s hard and why. Set them up for a challenge. Then, let them come to their own conclusions that they’ve done a good job, rather than simply having this message come from me.

How Today’s Students Learn

Original Publish Date: September 19, 2016
By Patrik Hultberg

I was recently asked the question, “How do today’s students learn?” It is an important question, but my initial answer was “the same way as students have always learned.” My cavalier response was influenced by my recent reading of books on cognitive psychology and learning. Clearly the brains of today’s students are identical to the brains of students in the past and therefore, strictly speaking, students today learn the same way as previous generations of students. To learn something students must still use their brains to receive and process sensory input; in fact, learning equals a change in the learner’s brain (Zull, 2002). Although my colleague was probably hoping for more practical advice, I actually think these thoughts contain the beginning of a more careful answer.

The brains of today’s students might be the same, but available technology and our knowledge of learning and pedagogy have changed drastically. These changes influence what students do, and what they should do, inside and outside of the classroom. Technology is very important; new technology has changed how students access and consume information. New technology may even change the interaction between students and the teacher, as well as interactions between students, in the classroom. However, changes in our understanding of the brain may be even more important for improved student learning.

Today we know that passively listening to a lecture, reading a textbook chapter, googling for an answer to a homework problem is not conducive to deep and lasting learning. These three common examples of student “learning” have one thing in common: they make learning easy. Students don’t have to engage their brains in these activities; instead students become familiar with information, which in turn creates an illusion of fluency, an illusion of knowledge. What we, as teachers, are beginning to understand is that “learning is deeper and more durable when it’s effortful” (Brown et al, 2014).

What should students do to make learning, in effect, more difficult? Cognitive psychology has many suggestions, let’s briefly review some practices that students can engage in to learn more in less time. Learning implies that a student will be able to store and in the future retrieve knowledge or skills from memory and deeper and better learning implies a greater ability to do so. Retrieval practice is therefore an important tool for deeper levels of learning. Effortful retrieval makes for deeper learning and greater retention (Brown et al, 2014). Two strategies that can be used to make retrieval more effortful, and therefore learning more durable, are spacing and interleaving.

Spacing, or distributive practice, is the act of distributing retrieval practice over time thus encouraging a student to schedule shorter study sessions over say a week (say days 1, 3, and 7), rather than spending the same amount of time cramming the night before an assessment event. It is an application of the Forget To Learn theory (Carey, 2014); that is, learning is strengthened when a student has time to partially forget the material before recall. Distributed practice (spacing) disrupts memory loss and improves long-term retention. Interleaving is the practice of mixing related but distinct material during learning sessions, forcing students to discriminate between problems and selecting the correct solution method given the context (Brown et al, 2014). This approach also facilitates forgetting and results in spacing, which leads to greater storage and retrieval strengths (deeper learning). Combining spacing and interleaving with self-testing allows students to further practice retrieval and such tests prevent any illusion of knowledge. These techniques all make learning more difficult as they force students to “think” (retrieve knowledge); they also compel students to notice how much they don’t know.

Three additional practices greatly enhance student learning: generation, elaboration, and reflection (Brown et al, 2014). Students practice generation by attempting to solve a problem or answer a question before being given the answers. By seeking answers, students explore alternatives and make possible connections. Generation makes the student’s brain more receptive to new learning (Brown et al, 2014). Students practice elaboration when they attempt to find additional layers of meaning in the material learned. Reflection is a combination of both retrieval of knowledge and elaboration of such knowledge. Reflection powerfully makes additional connections which allow students to strengthen their learning and skills.

Clearly these learning techniques are very different from students’ common approach to studying. They are also more difficult and mentally painful, so it is perhaps unrealistic to assume that every student will use these strategies voluntarily. If so, are there some things we as teachers can do to help? Well, yes, we can structure our courses in ways that encourages students to engage in behaviors that foster deep and durable learning.

There are certainly activities we should avoid doing; e.g. providing a steady stream of lectures only briefly interrupted by exams does not foster deep student learning. Perhaps we can use technology to make content delivery more efficient and thereby open up space in our face-to-face interactions with students for more meaningful activities. We can possibly pursue active learning activities that require students to generate and retrieve information and skills, as well as asking students to elaborate and reflect on the material. We can use various formative assessment techniques to encourage students to increase their brain’s storage and retrieval strengths (learning), as well as motivate them to read texts or watch videos. We can even structure our courses so that spacing and interleaving is an integral part of the student experience. In short, there are many ways we can encourage students to unwittingly use the many lessons about learning that cognitive psychology provides.

Brown, P. C., Roediger, H. L., and M. A. McDaniel, Make It Stick: the Science of Successful Learning, Cambridge: Belknap Press, 2014.

Carey, Benedict. How We Learn: The Surprising Truth About When, Where, and Why It Happens, New York, Random House, 2014

Zull, James E. The Art of Changing the Brain: Enriching Teaching by Exploring the Biology of Learning, Virginia: Stylus Publishing, 2002.