Davis Fellow Reflections

October 4th, 2017

This fall, the Center for Teaching and Learning will gather the Brandeis Teaching Fellows. These fellows will meet throughout the academic year and focus on various issues around teaching pedagogy and assessment. As we look to the work this new group will undertake, we pause to reflect on the work of the group’s predecessors, the Davis Teaching and Learning Fellows.

Charles Golden, Associate Professor of Anthropology and Davis Fellow from 2015-2016, highlights the challenges facing faculty in learning how to teach. You can read his reflection here.

A New Semester

August 30th, 2017

As Brandeis classes begin again for the fall, it’s important to pause and consider what you want the semester to look like. There are endless details to consider in shaping your classroom and the experience of your students.

Will you allow laptops or tablets in class? How will you treat student errors? Are there opportunities for students to earn participation credit outside of a classroom discussion? What strategies will you employ to be sure you create an inclusive space? Will current events play into your class sessions, even if they do not connect to your course materials directly? How will you protect your time away from teaching?

We’re here to help, and happy to discuss these questions with you in detail. For now, you may find these Quick Tips for Teaching, put together by the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, and let us know your thoughts.

We wish you the best for this fall and we look forward to working with you this year!

The Center for Teaching and Learning is hosting a two-day Teaching and Learning Institute. The institute, now on its second day, is engaging over a dozen Brandeis faculty and two international faculty on how to:

  • Foster more student learning with a variety of in-class and out-of-class methods.
  • Incorporate issues of diversity into your courses and create inclusive classrooms.
  • Use a powerful design method to revise and strengthen courses and assignments.

This workshop is intended for both early-career and well-established faculty – and past institutes have included participants from across the University sharing their knowledge of learning and teaching with their colleagues. As one participant wrote, “All (or most) faculty should participate in sessions like this, especially since many faculty members have never been trained in teaching methods.” The institute runs for two full days; participants attend both days and receive books and readings to help them continue to revise their teaching. The ideas you gain from the two-day Institute in May will likely save you much more than two days next year.



May 10th, 2017

As the semester nears its end, it’s important to take a moment to reflect. We encourage you to look back on this academic year. What worked well in your classroom? How was your work-life balance? What do you wish you could change?

While summer is often a well-deserved time for rest, it’s also a time for planning. How will you improve your teaching next year? You may want to review our online library to read up on articles on a variety of pedagogical issues.  Do you think you can incorporate any of these suggestions into your classroom and research projects?

We’ll be reflecting on this year right along with you. We’re always open to suggestions, too. If you think there are resources we should provide you with or programs we can offer, please let us know by emailing ctl@brandeis.edu.

Teaching Innovation Showcase

April 20th, 2017

The Teaching Innovation Showcase will serve as an opportunity for the Brandeis community to come together and learn from colleagues. Recipients of the Teaching Innovation Grants will present their projects, share their experiences, and highlight innovative practices they’ve instituted in their courses. Faculty retiring from Brandeis will reflect on their time teaching at Brandeis. The day’s agenda is below. You are welcome to attend for the full day, or attend individual sessions as you are able. Please be sure to RSVP here and let us know if you’ll be joining us for lunch. 

Submitted by: Carol Damm, MEd, Instructional Designer

In a previous blog post, I discussed the effective use of polling in the higher ed classroom as a pedagogical tool to engage and challenge students. There are a number of online tools, both freely available and subscription based, that you have access to, depending on your requirements and goals for their use.

You can also consider using clickers which are available at many departments. You will need to access an online interface to work with them. However, they do have an advantage over other online tools. Students don’t need to have their own device in order to participate. In most of the apps that I will mention, students will need to have a smart phone or laptop in order to engage with questions. If you discourage the use of laptops or mobile devices during class, then a clicker system might be preferable.

Google Forms (https://docs.google.com/forms)

As part of the Brandeis Google Drive system, Forms allows you to limit the access to any surveys or questions that you develop to Brandeis-only users. Another advantage is that you can see the immediate results from any polling in graphical format. It will also send all responses to a spreadsheet which you can then use to gain more information, depending on your needs. Forms has the added capability of changing your poll or survey into a graded quiz. You can opt to keep the responses anonymous or to record the email address of the respondent. The surveys can be accessed through a hyperlink on the student’s laptop or mobile device. They can also be embedded into your course site in LATTE.

Poll Everywhere (https://www.polleverywhere.com)

Poll Everywhere is free for up to 25 responses per poll. If you want to include more students then you would be required to pay a subscription fee. It works with any device through SMS text voting or through a web interface. The students will see immediate responses to your questions. You can also embed the polls in a Powerpoint or Keynote slide show, so there is seamless transition when making a presentation.

Socrative (https://socrative.com)

Socrative is similar to Poll Everywhere. The free version allows you to poll up to 50 students per session and the Pro version is more affordable than Poll Everywhere if you were to plan on using it in an ongoing basis. As far as I know, it will not allow the user to embed the poll into a slide show.

These are just three online options among many. If you want to poll without students’ devices, Plickers (https://plickers.com) has a unique system where you give students pre-printed cards which they hold up to be scanned by your mobile device. The Plickers app compiles the responses and immediately shows the results. The laminated Plickers cards are free for up to 40 participants.

If you have any questions or would like some support in integrating polling into your course materials, feel free to contact Carol Damm, MEd, Instructional Designer via email at cdamm@brandeis.edu.

Web conferencing technology has become a mainstream way of communicating across distances and the uses for it are endless. Applications in the classroom can lead to rich and engaging experiences with people in virtually any location, as long as they have an internet connection, as well as provide flexibility for faculty and students on campus and off.
Brandeis now offers ZOOM, a web conferencing tool that will allow you to hold virtual meetings for many different purposes. A few common uses for the software in the classroom include bringing in guest presenters, teaching a class remotely if an instructor is unable to physically be on campus, or facilitate an entire class remotely due to inclement weather. Programs at Brandeis are now also utilizing the software to facilitate fully online courses, expanding access to students all over the world.
ZOOM offers a number of interactive features that allow virtual meetings to run as if everyone was in the same physical space. For example, screen sharing allows one to share a presentation as they would through a projection system in a classroom. Breakout rooms allow the instructor to break everyone into small groups for discussion and collaboration and the polling feature allows the host to create questions for the group to answer, which can often lead to rich discussions.
ZOOM host accounts are available to all Brandeis faculty, staff and students and can host meetings for up to 50 participants. More information about Zoom can be found on the Brandeis Knowledge Base. Support inquiries can be sent to webconferencing@brandeis.edu.

Alternative facts, fake news, hyperpartisan news coverage…are you trying to guide your students to firm ground in a sea of misinformation? Researchers from the Stanford History Education Group recently assessed students’ civil online reasoning and their findings point to a need for more instruction focused on the critical evaluation of information sources:

Our ‘digital natives’ may be able to fit between Facebook and Twitter while simultaneously uploading a selfie to Instagram and texting a friend. But when it comes to evaluating information that flows through social media channels, they are easily duped. 

Stanford History Education Group, Evaluating information: the cornerstone of civic online reasoning

The Library is working with the Center for Teaching and Learning to hold a faculty discussion about helping students approach news stories with a critical eye. The discussion will take place Thursday, March 9th, at 11am. At this session, we’ll discuss:

  • the role of social media
  • what we can learn from the tools and strategies used by fact-checkers
  • the challenges of addressing bias in government information
  • ways minimize the spread of misinformation in an increasingly clickbaity world
  • strategies to help students critically evaluate news and other information sources

We encourage you to bring questions and to share any of your experiences related to how your students judge the reliability of news coverage and evaluate bias in information sources.


Teaching students to write well is an ongoing challenge for faculty. The task often increases in difficulty when you are working with an international student. Cultural differences and language barriers often compound to make a brief mid-term paper a considerable struggle.

To bridge the difference in expectations, structure, and analysis, you may be interested in reviewing this brief handout, “​Suggestions for ​Teaching Writing to International Students“​ prepared by Vinodini Murugesan, Director​ of ​English Language Programs​ at Brandeis University. With examples of challenges you may be unaware your student is experiencing and concrete strategies to support your students, this document will guide you from setting expectations to teaching students how to integrate and cite credible resources.

Submitted by: Carol Damm, MEd, Instructional Designer

Polling students, whether in a face-to-face or online class setting, can be an effective pedagogical tool. I don’t refer to opinion surveys that students receive to assess a particular course. Rather, the polling that I refer to may consist of a single question or a group of questions that the instructor will put forward to assess students’ comprehension of a topic, to survey students’ opinion in real time in order to collect a reaction, to solicit direction for that day’s work, and to even vote on an issue.

There are several advantages to polling over simply asking a question or directing a question to an individual student. When asking a question out loud to the whole class, most commonly, a few students will raise their hands while others will sit quietly. You cannot tell if the quiet students know the answer and are just shy or nervous or if they don’t know the answer. They may be daydreaming, and even if they aren’t they will most likely not be fully engaged while their classmate replies to the question. The alternative of directing a random student to answer the question can increase the stress level in the class for both the student answering as well as other students. (Now, I think stress can be a positive force but it has been shown to inhibit students’ ability to process information (1).)

However, an instructor can take that same question and ask the class as a whole for a response, and with the use of an online polling system gauge how well all of the students comprehend the lecture or the readings. The dynamics are completely different when an entire class responds, as opposed to an individual. Immediately, every student feels some ownership in the problem and its solution, an important aspect to the learning process that increases accountability towards comprehension. When the answers or replies are anonymous, students feel more comfortable participating. And, equally important, the instructor can better gauge students’ mastery of the materials outside of exams or other work, which can inform what to address in that particular class or the next.

Some instructors have taken the polling process to a more advanced level by incorporating it into the entire class dynamic. As an example, Eric Mazur, PhD, a Harvard professor of physics, teaches with a method that he calls Peer Instruction and insists that students appreciate this learning process and that they engage more deeply with the topics. Dr. Mazur uses polling to introduce a problem, then, without revealing the answer, has the students discuss amongst each other the correct answer. Rather than describe in more detail his approach, I recommend that you watch the following presentation by Dr. Mazur. (It starts around 35 minutes into his talk).

There are a variety of resources used for polling. In a future post, I will discuss a number of these options.




1. Vogel, S., Schwabe, L. (2016) Learning and memory under stress: implications for the classroom. Nature Partner Journals: Science of Learning. Nature.com. Published online: June 28, 2016 at http://www.nature.com/articles/npjscilearn201611