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Apr 26 / Carl Sorgen

Two Strategies for Engaging Students

Mathew L. Ouellett, Associate Provost and Director of the Office for Teaching and Learning (OTL) at Wayne State University was interviewed by the Idaho Statesman newspaper while attending the 2016 Summit for Transforming STEM Teaching in Higher Education. Hosted by Boise State University, the summit brought together over 75 higher education professionals from across the United States to share practices for enhancing STEM education. In the video, Dr. Ouellett discusses two active learning strategies, think-pair-share and polling, that instructors can implement in their classes. These techniques don’t take a lot of time and can be very helpful for sustained learning. Click here to read the article and view the video.

Consider using pedagogies that engage students actively, like think-pair-share or polling. Questions about active learning? Click here to see a list of FAQs. Moreover, consultants in the Office for Teaching and Learning are available to meet with you in person, by phone, or virtual meeting spaces (e.g., Skype or Blackboard Collaborate) to discuss strategies for increasing interactivity in your courses. For more information or to schedule an appointment, call the OTL at 313-577-0001 or email

Do you have a favorite way of actively engaging students in your courses?  Share your ideas in the comments.

Mar 23 / Carl Sorgen

Observing Others Teach: Using Reflective Practice to Build a Community of Teachers

Have you ever wondered how a colleague approaches teaching in the context of a different discipline? Are you interested in trying out a new pedagogical strategy (e.g., polling, small group learning, or pyramid tests, etc.) but want to see it in action first? Warrior Teaching Days offers WSU instructors a collegial opportunity to take a quick break from the “doing” of teaching to observe and reflect on the practice of teaching together.

The process of observing how others teach, also called reflective practice, is designed to facilitate informal conversations between instructors on pedagogical strategies. It offers the opportunity to observe how someone else employs a technique, and gives the observer the rare opportunity to watch instructors and students actively engage in learning. Click here to read an article discussing the perception of the reflective practice process.

Reflective practice is not a new concept in higher education, but carving out the time to engage in it can be a significant challenge given our hectic schedules. The Office for Teaching and Learning is hosting Warrior Teaching Days: a campus wide opportunity for WSU instructors to participate in the reflective-practice process. This week (March 21-25th, 2016) you can participate in Warrior Teaching Days by:

  • Opening one or two of your courses to allow other faculty to observe your teaching, and / or
  • Observing a class, chosen from a list of instructors have agreed to invite visitors.

More information can be found here.

Sign up for Warrior Teaching Days, and join a community of scholars focused on professional development that enhances student learning!

Jan 21 / Carl Sorgen

Graduate students: Will you be applying for a faculty position?

Preparing a Teaching Portfolio for the Academic Job Market


Navigating the academic job market can be intimidating and time consuming. Often, graduate students may be unsure what materials to prepare as they begin the search for a position with teaching-related responsibilities. Constructing a teaching portfolio is a great way to enhance your success in the job search process because it helps you to articulate, organize, and communicate to a search committee the practices you think most contribute to student learning.

Components of a Teaching Portfolio

A teaching portfolio has three main parts:

  1. Teaching Philosophy Statement
  2. Evidence of Assessment/Evidence of Teaching Development
  3. Discipline Specific Teaching Materials

In a teaching philosophy statement, you convey to the reader what you think is most important in teaching your discipline to undergraduates and offer some examples of how you go about doing it. The philosophy of teaching statement should be brief, about 1-2 pages, and should be written from a first-person perspective. Click here to access a guide for writing a philosophy of teaching statement.

In your portfolio, you should also include evidence of assessment and of your ongoing commitment to teaching development. This is your opportunity to show potential colleagues how you revise your teaching in response to student feedback and constructive critiques from colleagues.

Include some selected examples of discipline specific teaching materials, such as sample syllabi, exam questions, projects, writing assignments, images of artwork, etc. These materials provide readers concrete examples of how you might actively engage students in learning important concepts in your field.

You should organize your teaching portfolio materials to align with and support your philosophy of teaching statement. If the link between the artifacts you include in your portfolio and the values discussed in your teaching philosophy statement isn’t apparent, it may be advantageous to write a summary statement making such a link for the artifacts you include in your portfolio.

Added benefits of a teaching portfolio

Keep in mind that even the best teaching portfolio won’t land you an academic career on its own, but it can sway the decisions of faculty on the search committee in your favor. Beyond convincing a search committee of your readiness to teach, the reflective process of constructing a teaching portfolio will help you develop a better idea of your strengths and areas for future growth.

It’s never too early to start drafting a teaching portfolio. Even if you’ve never taught a course, you can begin writing your philosophy of teaching statement and organizing materials that reflect your standards on teaching excellence.

To help you get started, here are two selected resources about designing a teaching portfolio.

  • Click here to view or download a journal article by Mathew Ouellett, Your Teaching Portfolio: Strategies for Initiating and Documenting Growth and Development.
  • Click here to view a website from Vanderbilt University that details the different components of a teaching portfolio.

The Office for Teaching and Learning is available to assist you with constructing a teaching portfolio and developing your teaching philosophy statement. You can contact the OTL by phone at (313) 577-0001, and by email at We are available to meet in-person, via phone, or virtually using Skype or Blackboard Collaborate.

Jan 4 / Carl Sorgen

Are you ready to teach?

The Office for Teaching & Learning (OTL) offers syllabus consultation drop-in hours and appointments to help you be ready to teach this semester.  Our consultants can assist you with creating or revising an effective, purposeful syllabus. For example, we can help you refine your course description and objectives, and better align assessments and learning activities. Drop-in to the Teaching Commons in the Purdy/Kresge Library or schedule an appointment by calling (313) 577-0001 or emailing Unable to come to campus? We’re also available by phone or virtual meetings spaces (e.g., Skype or Blackboard Collaborate).

January 4-8, 2016  9:00am – 4:00pm

Oct 14 / Carl Sorgen

$3 million NSF grant to transform STEM learning at Wayne State University

The Wayne State University Office for Teaching and Learning will participate in a $3 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to advance an institutional transformation project aimed at incorporating innovative teaching approaches in STEM courses.

The five-year grant is for a project titled “Student Success Through Evidence-based Pedagogies (SSTEP).” It will fund a range of competitive department-based awards of up to $100,000 each. Faculty, postdoctoral fellows, and graduate students in successful departments will collaborate on transforming courses to incorporate more evidence-based, student-centered teaching and learning methods on campus.

“This grant will have a remarkable impact on our teaching approaches across campus and will ultimately improve the academic success of our students,” said Andrew Feig. “The NSF is investing in us to demonstrate that these types of institutional grants can help us provide better outcomes for our students and serve as a model for improving STEM education nationwide.”

Andrew Feig (chemistry) is leading the SSTEP grant as principal investigator with co-principal investigators Robert Bruner (mathematics); Peter Hoffmann (physics); Karen Myhr (biology); and, Mathew Ouellett (Office for Teaching and Learning). The award number for the SSTEP NSF grant is 1524878.

This award continues work begun with the WSU NSF-WIDER grant (2013 – 2015). The original grant was a self-study of teaching practices used in WSU classrooms and an exploration of the opportunities and barriers toward the implementation of interactive, student-centered pedagogies on campus.

Click here to read an announcement about the grant from the WSU Division of Research.

Sep 2 / Carl Sorgen

Do you have a strategy for learning students’ names?

Creating a sense of community among students fosters learning both inside and outside of the classroom. Here are some strategies for learning students’ names in courses of various sizes.


For classes with about 40 or fewer students

Have the students move their desks in a circle so everyone can see each other. Ask students say an adjective that describe them and then state their preferred name. The adjective should start with the same sound as their name (e.g., “Charismatic Carl” or “Shy Shonda”). Start with the person on your left and go around the circle.   Here’s the catch; have the next person in the circle repeat all of the previous adjectives and names. The last person should be you. It can be challenging, but hearing the names repeated multiple times and associating an adjective with each individual will help solidify the names for you as well as all of your students.

Tip: This isn’t a test! Don’t be shy about helping each other as you go around the room.


For larger class settings

  • When students ask a question, have them say their name first.
  • Use a seating chart.
  • Have students make name cards that they place in front of them.
  • Use a class list to randomly call on students.
  • Ask students to turn to their left and right (forming a small group of three) and introduce themselves.

Tip: Although it can be difficult to learn every person’s name in large classes, even trying with some success has an impact on students.


For more ideas on building community in your courses, contact the Office for Teaching & Learning at (313) 577-0001 or email We are available in person, by phone, or virtual meeting spaces (e.g., Skype or Blackboard Collaborate).

Aug 25 / Carl Sorgen

Getting to Know Your Students: Using a First Day Survey

Do you have a strategy for getting to know your students?

The first day of class is an ideal time to find out more about your students. Using a First Day Survey helps you know more about them. The survey can be brief and have questions that help you get to know the students and assess their prior knowledge of course content. It can be fun and reporting some of the results back to the class helps the students learn a bit about each other. Particularly in a commuter campus like WSU, using a First Day Survey begins to create a sense of community in your course.

This strategy will work in classes of all sizes, and can be adapted to what you think works best. You can write the questions on the board and have students use their own paper. You could distribute a worksheet with the questions and hand it out as they arrive, or you could use survey tools like Qualtrics, Blackboard, or Survey Monkey.

Assure your students that their responses are confidential, however you shouldn’t make it anonymous. Knowing who said what can help you better understand each student. Report aggregated results to not single out students and to highlight themes from the entire class.


How Students Learn

  • What do you do to be successful as a learner?
  • What are your strategies when you encounter obstacles as a learner?
  • As your instructor, what can I do to help you learn?
  • What can other students do to help you learn?
  • What else do you want me to know about you as a learner?


Background & Campus Involvement

  • Where did you go to high school? Please include the name of the city or town.
  • What’s your class standing (e.g., freshman, sophomore, etc.)?
  • Have you attended a higher education institution other than Wayne State? If yes, which one?
  • Do you participate in a student organization at WSU? Which ones?
  • Are you planning on going to FestiFall?
  • What’s one question you would like to know about other students in the class?


Prior knowledge of course content

  • What’s one example of prior knowledge you bring to this course?
  • What’s a prior experience that you think will help you in this course?
  • What are you most hoping to learn?
  • Why are you taking this course?


Click here to download a First Day Survey template to modify and use in your courses.

Sep 14 / Carl Sorgen

Teaching Tip: Muddiest Point

The muddiest point is a quick and easy way to collect written feedback on student learning.  Ask students at the end of class to briefly write and turn in a response to, “What was the most unclear part of today’s class?”  This will give you a solid idea of which concepts need clarification or further explanation.  We recommend that you post your responses to the most common questions on Blackboard.  You might also want to begin the next class time with a brief clarification of these questions as you build on course material.  Also, encourage students whose questions were not common to come to your office hours for specific answers.  Give it a try!