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Sep 7 / Carl Sorgen

Teaching through Technological Outages

How do you keep your classes moving ahead when technology isn’t cooperating?


The beginning of the semester can present technological challenges under the best circumstances.  Recently, faculty and students have experienced ongoing issues with accessing Blackboard, the WSU learning management system.  During this time of fluctuating access, consider other means to communicate with your students. For example, some instructors on campus have found email and the Academica stream helpful substitutes.


Here are some suggestions:

  • Remind students that you are available to them (in person, by phone, via Skype, or email). Highlight your contact information and office hours.   Assuring your students that they can still reach you will make them feel more connected to their course and you during a time of technological outages.
  • Reassure students that they are not the only ones experiencing these issues; the situation is campus wide and the university is doing everything possible to remedy it.
  • Email a copy of the syllabus, related course materials, and information on upcoming assignments so they have an electronic copy on hand until they have Blackboard access again. From there, they can choose what to print and what to save on their computer or in email.


You may also want to consider being flexible with your current deadlines.

  • For example, you could email your students to let them know you are extending the due date of current assignments because of the technology glitch.
  • Consider allowing students to submit assignments by email, via OneDrive, or by sharing a Google Doc.
  • If pertinent to your course, allow students multiple attempts on assignments and avoid checking “Forced Completion,” as students may not be able to complete assignments or tests if a technical glitch occurs.


As always, the Office for Teaching and Learning (OTL) and Computing & Information Technology (C&IT) are here to assist you.  We are happy to think creatively with you to ensure a successful experience for students and instructors.


Have you found strategies that are working well for you and your students? Share your ideas in the comments.

Aug 24 / Carl Sorgen

Do you have a strategy for learning students’ names?

If you want your students to be active participants in their learning over the course of the semester, then on the very first day, set an example and engage them in an active learning activity!

Many times students in your classes won’t know each other.  To create opportunities for peer learning, begin with getting to know each other’s names.  Dedicate time during the first class to learn students’ names and to help them learn each other’s 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 to 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.

Acknowledge that there is some swirl during the beginning of the semester and students will continue to come and go for the first few weeks.  During this time, use a couple of minutes at the beginning of each class session for new students to introduce themselves.  This communicates a desire to create an inclusive learning environment where they’re not just another number. 


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.

At the appropriate time, ask students to identify someone if they’re going to miss class so they can get the notes.  Even in a large lecture setting, you can ask students to turn to a partner and introduce themselves.  This helps to breakdown a sense of anonymity in a large lecture setting.  Of course, make this a voluntary activity.  Students who do not wish to share their contact information are permitted to opt-out.

Do you use a different strategy for learning names?  Share it in the comments!


Jul 26 / Carl Sorgen

Building Effective Scholarly Writing Habits

How well are you making progress on your summer writing projects?

Instructors writing

Productive scholarly writers share similar habits for long-term writing success. Here are some suggestions for maintaining productive writing practices:

  • Write a little bit every day. Even writing for 30-45 minutes a day makes a difference. In time, you will replace the habit of writing when inspiration strikes with writing as a habit.
  • Track your writing. End each writing session with what you would like to achieve the next day.
  • Use a timer. It will release you from watching the clock.
  • Figure out when you’re most creative. Begin blocking that time of day for writing as you would for other appointments.
  • Minimize distractions. Consider going to a “third space” outside of your office and home.  Use an app that blocks access to Facebook and other distractions for during specified times.
  • Create smaller milestones by taking a big project and breaking it down into small pieces. Celebrate small successes and reward yourself when you complete each one.
  • Join a writing group. Find a couple of people with similar writing goals and meet regularly.  Being a part of a writing group will help hold yourself accountable and you will find support and encouragement in the comradery.
  • Attend a retreat. Consider setting aside one day each month to be away from your home and office for a writing retreat.


Are you interested in learning more about scholarly writing habits?  Here are some selected resources for writing productively:

  • Boice, R. (2000). Advice for new faculty members: Nihil nimus. Needham Heights, MA:  Allyn & Bacon.
  • Gray, T. (2015). Publish & Flourish: Become a Prolific Scholar (2nd ed.) Las Cruces, NM: Teaching Academy, New Mexico State University.
  • Academic Writing Club is a proprietary service to help you keep on task with your writing projects.
Jul 5 / Carl Sorgen

Catching Up During the Summer – A Summer Checklist

Do you have a mountain of projects that you built throughout the academic year hoping you’ll find time to complete during the summer? We want you to be ready for another successful year, so we put together a summer checklist. If you already have a checklist, you may find more suggestions below. If you don’t have one yet, this might be a great starting point.


  • Update and organize your teaching portfolio
  • Update your CV and biographical statement
  • Review your SETs from previous semesters
  • Collect and organize your course materials
  • Make notes on changes you would like to implement in future offerings of your courses
  • Prepare syllabi and course materials for courses you’ll be teaching in the fall
  • Caption your videos and make other materials accessible
  • Start working on your summer writing projects
  • Create a blog
  • Participate in a workshop or webinar
  • Plan travel for the Fall and Winter semesters
  • Focus your research goals for realistic progress
  • Outline your summer goals and break large tasks into smaller steps


We found some of the ideas for this checklist on these websites.  For more details, please click on the links.

Marr, M. (2015, June 25). Ideas for faculty: Making the most of your summer.  Retrieved from

Kelsky, K. (2014, August 18). The professor is in: The “I’m about to start a tenure-track job” summer checklist.  Retrieved from

Jun 14 / Carl Sorgen

OTL offers resources for teaching through tragedies

As part of a metropolitan research university, the diverse members of the Wayne State University community can be affected by local, regional, national and global events when a disaster or devastating events strike. It is possible that there will be occasions in our classrooms when students and instructors may benefit from acknowledging such upheavals and addressing appropriate opportunities for talking about aspects of tragedies. Huston and DiPietro (2007) suggest that instructors’ responses need not be complicated, time-intensive, or personalized for students to perceive them as helpful. They offer the following strategies as useful to consider:

  • Be yourself. Students appreciate an instructor who responds in a unique and humane way. Faculty should not feel pressured to homogenize their responses or have the perfect answer.
  • Acknowledge that members of the class may quite possibly have a direct relationship with the current event.
  • Consider holding a minute of silence at the beginning of class.
  • Be self-reflective yet neutral. Students unsure of how to relate to tragic events may benefit from seeing a mentor model open-ended reflection and self-control.
  • Understand that these incidents might resonate with prior experiences of violence (both in our own life and in our students’ lives).
  • Cognitive research informs us that working memory capacity is reduced during times of enhanced stress, making students less capable of focusing and learning new material:
    • Consider supporting anxious students by offering to grant an extension on current assignments for those who request it.
    • Offer to review course material again in a future class session in case students’ are preoccupied or distracted.
  • Faculty responses that required high levels of effort were also viewed as helpful, so those who wish to use the lens of their discipline to examine the events surrounding a tragedy are also encouraged to do so. Such strategies might include journal writing, listening to a story that addresses relevant themes, reading selected poems, and other activities that allow students to address the events surrounding the tragedy (Huston & DiPietro, 2007).

Huston, T. A., & DiPietro, M. (2007). In the eye of the storm: Students perceptions of helpful faculty actions following a collective tragedy. To Improve the Academy 25, 207-224.


The Office for Teaching and Learning (OTL) staff is available to consult with instructors on teaching strategies and learning-related outcomes associated with addressing sensitive and emotionally charged issues when these emerge in the classroom in either anticipated or unplanned ways.

We are available in person, by phone, or virtual meeting spaces (e.g., Skype or Blackboard Collaborate).  To schedule an individual consultation, click here or call (313) 577-0001.


Sometimes, more comprehensive social and psychological support is warranted. Additional resources include:


Selected Campus Resources:

Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS)

(313) 577-3398

The Thompson Home

4756 Cass Avenue


Office of Multicultural Student Engagement (OMSE)

(313) 577-9193

Student Center, 7th Floor


Selected Resources on Classroom Strategies:

American Psychological Association. Managing Your Distress in the Aftermath of a Shooting. A Tip Sheet with useful self-care strategies prepared by members of the APA after the shootings at Virginia Tech and Northeastern Illinois University. (


Counseling Services. Coping with and Responding to Traumatic Events. University of Wisconsin Eau Claire. Brief description of typical responses, signs that counseling might be indicated, strategies for self-care, and possible actions with others. (


Warren, L. (2002). Managing Hot Moments in the Classroom. Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning. Harvard University: Cambridge, MA. Describes a series of concrete strategies instructors can implement to facilitate learning in the midst of emotions and “hot moments.”  (

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.