Blog Archive

The unfolding events in Ferguson, Missouri, are unquestionably on many students' minds--as they are on faculty's--as they go about their daily lives on campus. The civil unrest in Ferguson is a topic, like many other current events, about which people hold widely divergent and deeply-felt perspectives, often connected in powerful ways to their own identities. Even if you don't teach content related to such issues, unfolding current events are affecting your students' experiences of learning and being on campus. Given how polarizing such topics can be, how can you foster engaged dialogue among students that are meaningful and productive of learning? 

Group of students in a classroom

CRLT's website features guidelines for discussing difficult topics to support teachers in facilitating such conversations in classrooms across the curriculum. If you want to raise such topics in your classroom in order to explore connections between course material and contemporary events, here are some strategies for planned discussions of high-stakes topics (other sites around the web provide ideas for teaching about Ferguson specifically). Other CRLT resources offer you ways to prepare for and respond to challenging conversations that emerge when you haven’t planned for them

Some strategies highlighted on these pages--useful for either planned or spontaneous discussions--include: 

  • Create a framework for the discussion, using specific questions to guide student contributions.
  • Allow everyone a chance to contribute, but don't force students to participate in the discussion. Consider letting students write briefly about the topic to gather their thoughts individually before sharing or to provide a way to contribute ideas anonymously. 
  • Consider supportive ways to open and close such a discussion. You might begin by explaining the goals and relevance of the discussion to your class and explicitly welcoming a range of perspectives. To close a discussion, you can thank students for their contributions and indicate ways they can continue to explore the topics. 
  • Where possible, discuss links to the content of your course or discipline. Even in settings where you immediately see a connection to your topics, this is likely to be affecting your students and their ability to focus on your class. Acknowledging this can be a powerful way to facilitate their learning.

The final weeks of the term can be an especially valuable time to engage students in reflective thinking about their learning. Often teachers use the end of the term as a time to review content, but you can also use this time of final projects and exam preparation to prompt student "metacognition," or critical thinking about their own learning processes. When students pay attention to how they learn best and deliberately assess their own strengths and weaknesses, they can more intentionally and successfully plan their future approaches to learning. By helping students develop such metacognitive habits, you can help solidify their learning in your course, increase their ability to make use of it in future courses, and enhance their capacities as self-directed learners.

What are some effective ways to prompt metacognition in the final weeks of the term? Specific strategies include:

  • Invite students to analyze one of their first assessments of the term, considering how they would approach the assignment or test differently now. What knowledge, skills, or habits of mind they have developed that were not evident in the early part of the semester? 
  • Review your syllabus, reminding students of your learning objectives for each unit or assignment. Have them write a 'minute paper' assessing their mastery of each goal.
  • Collect advice from current students for future students who take the course. What were their most and least effective study strategies or writing practices? What were the most challenging concepts to learn and how did they (or could they have) overcome those challenges? 

Such activities not only help students solidify, assess, and plan their learning--they can also help you understand in greater detail what students have gained from your course. For additional ideas about teaching metacognition (including bibliographies of research about how it improves learning), check out these resources:


TeachTech FeastFest logoInterested in incorporating a new technology into your teaching? Looking for a boost to get started? Or a refresher on a technology you learned about at Enriching Scholarship in the spring? Join the Teaching with Technology Collaborative on Friday, November 21, for TeachTech FeastFest, a day-long series of 75-minute sessions on a range of technologies you can use in your courses.

Sessions will allow participants to sample and share ideas about a variety of tools and techniques to enhance student learning through technology. Topics include: screencasting, transitioning to the Canvas learning management system, designing effective presentation slides, using videoconferencing to connect your students with guest speakers around the world, understanding the enhancements of the latest version of iClicker, and much more. Register here soon: sessions are filling up quickly!

On this CRLT webpage, you can find a regularly-upated collection of examples of U-M instructors using these technologies and more. As always, CRLT consultants are also available to help you think through plans for integrating instructional technology into your particular courses.  Read more »


Canvas logoThis fall, 18 U-M instructors are piloting the Canvas learning management system (LMS) as an alternative to CTools in their courses. The pilot of Canvas will expand to additional courses in the winter term as U-M evaluates whether Canvas is the right choice to be our next generation LMS. Canvas is available to U-M by virtue of our membership in the Unizin Consortium.

Canvas includes many features that are similar to CTools, such as gradebook, assignments, quizzes, file sharing, and announcements. Canvas also has powerful tools for improving the teaching and learning experience such as integrated rubrics and peer evaluations. The Canvas SpeedGrader tool is proving popular among pilot instructors because they can view, annotate, comment on, and grade assignment submissions without downloading and re-uploading files. 

CRLT is currently interviewing the pilot instructors and surveying their students about their Canvas experience and how it compares to CTools. We'll share these findings with ITS and the Digital Innovation Advisory Group (DIAG) this December to inform next steps in U-M's exploration of Canvas. 

Learn more about Canvas and the pilot on the NextGen LMS pilot site


What does it mean to succeed as a U-M student? This is one question the upcoming SuccessFest, organized by LSA's Newnan Advising Center, is designed to help answer.

The October 22 event will bring together representatives from a range of campus programs and offices that provide support and opportunities to help students succeed in many different senses. Topics range from academic skill-building to career development, financial strategizing, and personal wellness. Students sometimes perceive campus support services as designed only for those who are struggling, but teachers see first-hand that students who regularly seek help and take advantage of campus resources are often among the most academically successful. SuccessFest captures this idea with their slogan, "everyone needs this."

SuccessFest banner

Though SuccessFest is organized by LSA, all members of the campus community are welcome. You can encourage your students to attend, or check it out yourself. Whether you're new to teaching at Michigan or have been here for decades, you're likely to learn something new about the range of campus resources available to your students, whether they are facing challenges or just looking for a boost. Read more »