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

Submitted by Tim Hickey, Computer Science Department


Over the past two years I have been formally experimenting with the use of technology in my classroom and I’ve come to a number of realizations which I would like to share in this essay.  

The first, perhaps not surprising, realization is that technology itself offers no additional benefit to teaching unless it changes the pedagogy in some meaningful way.  At first I hypothesized that the mere use of technology might serve to enthuse students and keep them more engaged, but an experiment I carried out in Fall 2014 suggested this is not the case. Some of my colleagues had the opposite intuition, they felt that requiring students to use computers in class would not improve their learning. In fact, they felt it would be a disaster with students getting distracted – shopping on Ebay, browsing Facebook, etc. I decided to test these hypotheses about the effects of requiring or banning computers by designing and carrying out an experiment with my own class.  

Since this experiment involved human subjects (my students) and was designed to produce generalizable knowledge about the effects of technology on learning, I was required to get permission from the Institutional Review Board by filling out an IRB form describing the experiment, the risks, the related literature, the protocol, etc.  This was a bit daunting the first time, but wasn’t really that formidable a task.  If anyone else wants to try it, you can get support from the Center for Teaching and Learning which has copies of several successful IRB proposals and I would be happy to guide you through the process.  

I was teaching two large sections of Introduction to Programming in Java (CS11a) in Fall 2014 and I had decided to flip the classroom.  Class time would be involved mostly with activities that required every student to think about the concepts we were covering and to practice the skills they were developing.  There was some lecturing, but this was kept to a minimum.  We made extensive use of two web-based applications created by my graduate students:

  • TeachBack: an Audience Response System created by William Tarimo with several experimental features that we were testing, and
  • Spinoza: an online programming environment created by Fatima Abu Deeb which was designed to support in-class coding exercises.

Both of these supported an active learning paradigm to help students learn to program by solving problems individually or in small groups. There is a commercial product (Learning Catalytics) which is similar to TeachBack, but I was doing research on Educational Technology so we chose to use our home grown system.

I designed the course to have four units, each concluding with a summative exam. Each section had exactly the same readings, assignments, exams, and lecture plans but I decided to ban computers in unit 3 for section 1 to see the effect, and then, for symmetry and fairness, I banned computers in unit 4 for section 2.  Units 1 and 2 both used the technology extensively and students became used to working with these tools.  The IRB approved my experimental design.

Even when computers were banned, I used the same active learning pedagogy. Both sections were given programming problems to work on using a very effective and well-known collaborative learning activity called Think/Pair/Share (TPS). The instructions for this TPS activity were to have students work individually to try to write a program to solve a particular problem.  After a few minutes, I asked them to talk to their neighbors about their solutions and help each other debug. After a few more minutes I would select a few individuals and share their solutions with the class.  This activity is easy to add to any class and has been shown in numerous studies to help students gain a deeper understanding of the material than they would by just listening to a lecture and taking notes.  

In the computer-free section, students had to write their code on paper with pen or pencil, while in the computer-required section they interacted with a code editor and compiler developed by my graduate student and this experience was closer to the skills I was trying to teach as they would be using a real system.  When we shared a particular student’s solution with the class in the computer-free section, they had to tell me what to type on the screen so everyone could see it, rather than just letting me click on their name in the online version which popped up their code. In the computer-free section, I would ask them to think about questions and then would have them raise hands rather than having them all answer the question using the online TeachBack system. I was confident that students would learn more in the computer-required section because it held them more accountable for being engaged and gave them a more genuine experience of problem solving with a computer.

We measured the effect of requiring or banning computers by looking at grades on the unit tests and results of student surveys (all approved by the Institutional Review Board!).  It surprised us that there was no statistical difference between the two classes on any of the measures we examined, except that many students said they preferred using their computers in class.  The good news is that my colleagues fear that students would be distracted was unfounded. The active learning kept them too busy to spend much time on Ebay or Facebook!  We published a paper showing that requiring computers in class “does no harm,” at least for this class.

Interestingly, most students objected vociferously when I banned computers from their section. A  few, though, were relieved because they found they were easily distracted by their laptops.  Some students felt so strongly they surreptitiously switched sections, or they would go home and watch the screen-recorded lectures with their computers open! The lesson here is that in a large class, there is no one-size-fits-all pedagogy that will work well for all students.

More recently I’ve been exploring how I could have used the technology in that class to actually improve student learning by rapidly identifying students at risk of doing poorly.  The idea was to use the information collected from the students online interactions to help identify students that were struggling on the concepts and skills covered that day. Our initial studies suggest that this may be feasible and would help us implement a proactive form of advising where we can give detailed daily feedback to students about what they need to study and how they can get help to master those concepts or skills.

I’ve now adopted the “flipped classroom” model in all of my classes to some extent. The key idea behind flipping a classroom is to introduce students to the content before class, and give them practice working with the concepts and skills in class.  One tool that has revolutionized the way I approach pre-class assignments is the free and open source Nota Bene system from MIT (http://nb.mit.edu). This website allows you to upload pdfs for students to read and study.  The students login to the system and jointly annotate the pdf.  They can make observations, ask questions, answer questions, have discussions and all of this happens before class has started.  By scanning their comments before class I have a very good idea of which topics need more coverage and which they seem to have mastered!

I’ve learned that one does need to spend some time in class talking about how to ask a good question. One easy suggestion is that if a student has a question that they could answer using a quick google search, then they should make that search and upload their answer as a comment, rather than just adding a question. Requiring students to make five good comments or questions the night before the next class is enough to stimulate a flurry of intellectual activity while students are reading the text at home.  By perusing the students interactions with the text the next morning, I can decide which skills and concepts the students need to focus on in class that day and which they have mostly mastered. This is an example of a technique called “Just in time Teaching” where the classroom activity is determined at the last minute after looking at the students’ responses to the required reading.  For those who use copyrighted materials for class, you can use the Perusall system which will negotiate the copyrights for your class (for a fee) .

In the flipped classes I teach, I set explicit learning goals for each day and develop activities to engage them with those skills and concepts.  To assess their developing mastery, I use the TeachBack system to assess how well students are learning those concepts and skills.  There are other commercial systems such as LearningCatalytics that offer features similar to TeachBack (again, for a fee!). I also use Computer Science specific tools such as Spinoza and similar interactive tools that aren’t useful in other departments.

A third type of technology that I’ve been using recently in all my large classes is the Echo360 screen recording and live streaming system installed in half a dozen of our large classrooms. LTS will set it up for you at your request and it will automatically screen record your class and simultaneously live stream it to any Brandeis students who want to join remotely. In the Computer Graphics class I taught in Fall 2015, I introduced live streaming half way through the course and told students they could attend class remotely through live streaming as long as they also fully participated in class using the TeachBack system — answering questions I posed, asking questions of the TA using the forum during class, working on Think/Pair/Share problems with other students using TeachBack, etc.  We found 75% of the class tried live streaming at least once, and every day about a fifth of the class was live streaming (though it was a different group of students each day). Most students preferred being physically present in class but most thought livestreaming should be an option for all classes at Brandeis.  It allowed them to attend class if they were sick, or overslept, or were traveling for personal or sports reasons. The newest version of echo360 has some of the audience response system features of TeachBack built in and this should make it even easier for faculty to experiment with allowing students to live-stream their flipped classes.

The overall lesson I’ve learned in the past two years is that technology, if properly used, can support a more active and flexible teaching style that helps me reach more of my students, especially in large classes. I’ve also discovered that I can apply the scientific method to test hypotheses I might have about ways to improve my teaching.  It’s sobering when I discover that a hypothesis I had about my teaching is wrong, but it is also exciting to start using evidence-based methods to guide and improve my teaching.  I would encourage you to try some of these tools and to assess their effect (perhaps using an anonymous survey).  Who knows, you might discover something about the effectiveness of your pedaogical explorations that surprises you!

We can help our students thrive in today’s overwhelmingly visual environment starting in the classroom, by equipping them with the tools they need to analyze and interpret the visual world around them. To enrich the context of your teaching and appeal to senses beyond the written word, try exploring the library’s ARTstor database. ARTstor is best known for its images of art works, but it also contains many other visual materials. Among its offerings, you will find documentary photographs, ethnographic images, and images of Medieval and Renaissance manuscripts and early printed books.

For tips on searching within specific subject areas, check out ARTstor’s Subject Guides ARTstor also provides a number of Curriculum Guides, which offer suggested images to coordinate with specific course syllabi. Lisa Zeidenberg, Academic Outreach Librarian for Creative Arts, would be happy to help you with ARTstor and any other arts resource; e-mail her at lzeidenb@brandeis.edu or call (781) 736-4697.


Additional resources include:

Hattwig, D., Bussert, K., Medaille, A., & Burgess, J. (2013). Visual literacy standards in higher education: New opportunities for libraries and student learning. portal: Libraries and the Academy, 13(1), 61–89. http://doi.org/10.1353/pla.2013.0008

Little, D., & Felten, P. (2010). Seeing is believing: Visual teaching and learning. NEA Higher Education Advocate (Thriving in Academe), 28, 5-8. Retrieved from http://www.nea.org/home/38020.htm

Martinez, K. (2009). Image research and use in the humanities: An idiosyncratic bibliographic essay. Art Documentation: Journal of the Art Libraries Society of North America, 28(1), 9–15.http://doi.org/10.1086/adx.28.1.27949504

Picturing United States History ( American Social History Project • Center for Media and Learning)

Schocker, J. B. (2014). A case for using images to teach women’s history. The History Teacher, 47(3), 421-450.


Archives & Special Collectioins

November 16th, 2016

Your one-stop shop for rare and unique materials

The Robert D. Farber University Archives & Special Collections department houses a variety of rare and unique materials that can be used as effective teaching tools in myriad classes.  From the humanities to the sciences, our materials can be used to help your students build transferable skills, develop good research and analysis practices, and use old knowledge to create new knowledge.

Our team of archivists has created guides to assist students, faculty, and general researchers in locating materials within our collections that might be of interest to their research.  The guides also provide detailed information about how to find and access our collections, how to cite primary sources, and provide links to digitized material (we have material in the Brandeis Institutional Repository, the Internet Archive, and the Perseus Digital Library, as well as online exhibits hosted on our own website).  Having digitized material available allows our materials to be used in any classroom anywhere in the world.  Here are links to our University Archives guide [http://guides.library.brandeis.edu/friendly.php?s=archives] and our Special Collections guide [http://guides.library.brandeis.edu/friendly.php?s=specialcollections].  We also have a subject-based guide [http://guides.library.brandeis.edu/c.php?g=301922&p=2014838] that simultaneously lists materials from University Archives and Special Collections to give users a broader sense of our holdings.

During FY2015-2016, Archives & Special Collections hosted more than 25 classes and events from a variety of different departments.  Classes can be developed for any subject based on the needs of the instructor and/or students, whether it be an introduction to working with primary sources or a friendly debate using architectural plans—and anything in between!

If you would like to plan a visit or class session, please get in touch with Maggie McNeely, University Archivist (mmcneely@brandeis.edu) or Anne Woodrum, Special Collections Librarian (woodrum@brandeis.edu).

Open Educational Resources

November 10th, 2016

Grants for Integration of Open Educational Resources and Affordable Course Materials

Each year the cost of higher education rises. Tuition and fees are commonly recognized as barriers to higher education, but the unexpected costs of reading and study materials are a burden for students as well. As a result, students resort to cost mitigating strategies that have a negative impact on their education. Students may avoid certain courses due to expensive required materials, purchase outdated texts, share texts with classmates, or turn to other strategies.

To address the high cost of these academic resources, faculty are invited to apply to newly available funding to support the incorporation of quality open and affordable course materials. Faculty interested in implementing a new curricular resource strategy may receive funds in amounts from $500-$1000.

These funds can support a variety of efforts towards the reduction of costly course materials, including:

  • The development of original teaching materials

  • The integration of publicly accessible articles or text

  • The incorporation of library materials available through subscriptions

To learn more about open educational resources and the funding opportunities, we invite you to attend one of the following upcoming information session.

During the session you will hear from the grant coordinators as well as Jane Morris, of Boston College, who will speak to BC’s existing funding program. Each session will include a discussion of the need for open educational resources and conclude with details for this interested in submitting a proposal for funding.

Please contact us with any questions.

Thank you,

Academic Technology, the Center for Teaching and Learning, the Library and the Rabb School


November 8th, 2016

We hope you’ve found the Center for Teaching and Learning program offerings valuable, but we know some of you might be interested in joining conversations on teaching and learning beyond Brandeis. With this in mind, the links shared below might be helpful in finding conferences of interest.

Elon University has curated a valuable list of conferences that focus on teaching and learning pedagogy. You might be interested in sessions with more specific focuses, perhaps on Diversity and Inclusion.  There are also a number of conferences with emphasis on the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, which can be explored here.

If you’re looking ahead in your calendar, you might be interested in

20th Annual Best Teachers International Institute to be held in the New York City area June 20-22, 2017.

We’re happy to discuss your participation in these conferences with you! Email the Center for Teaching and Learning at ctl@brandeis.edu.

Faculty Learning Communities

November 3rd, 2016

In the exploration of teaching and learning pedagogy, connecting with colleagues is incredibly valuable. These conversations can generate new ideas, develop solutions for shared trials, and foster relationships across disciplines. The CTL offers ongoing Faculty Learning Communities which are designed to do just that.

These groups meet regularly, sometimes with consistent members, other times with new faculty stopping by. Ultimately, these communities establish safe spaces for faculty to learn peer-to-peer, to discuss challenges, and discover new strategies to use in the classroom.

For the 2016-2017 academic year, the Center for Teaching and Learning will offer faculty learning communities for instructors of large classes, faculty new to teaching or new to Brandeis, faculty passionate about the scholarship of teaching and learning, as well as for faculty involved with the instruction of foreign languages. These groups are led by Brandeis faculty.

You can learn more about the Faculty Learning Communities being offered, topics they address, and the faculty who lead these groups, by visiting the Center for Teaching and Learning website.