Boost creativity through combinatory play

Combinatory play is the process of considering two or more unrelated ideas, topics, images, disciplines, etc. and putting them together in a way that is new. Experimentation, deconstruction, synthesis, iteration and failure are part of this process of learning and discovery. Combinatory play utilizes a wide range of learning domains that help to feed creativity and innovation.

Test early, test often, and always cumulative

There are powerful alternatives to final exams including final projects and final presentations, but if you’re set on giving a final exam, consider making it comprehensive. Further, consider frequent cumulative benchmark quizzes as part of your students’ practice regimen.

When it comes to marathon running, it has often been said that the race is really about the last few miles. “I ran great for the first 18 miles, but my time really fell off toward the finish.’ No. The race IS the last few miles. The marathon is a long challenge requiring deep and substantial practice in order to attain mastery. So it can be with our designed learning experiences.

Translating down to peers creates deep learning

Creating a simplified version of a concept is a rich learning activity for the student who plays the role of teacher, but also for the student who is being tutored. This teaching tip provides examples and guidance on using the technique in your class. Communicating a simplified translation of a concept for a peer is a learning activity that compounds deep understanding, communication skills and reflection.

Ways to improve learning objectives

Learning objectives are often overlooked because they aren’t well-written. Selecting active words to describe your expectations can help students succeed and help you plan activities and assessments to fulfill those objectives. Learning Objectives. Learning Outcomes. Course Goals. Do I have your attention or have you just skipped over it like most students tend to do?

Use video to capture students’ attention

Engage your students via voice over visuals. You can do it with tools you already have. Sure, you can make a video and incorporate it, but if you’re not quite ready, don’t despair. Put your voice into your course today. Use Keynote (or PowerPoint) and Quicktime to bring your materials to life.

Connecting with your field

You are an ambassador for your discipline. Imagine that you can put aside every external constraint when teaching your class: school and departmental requirements, considerations of technology, classroom seating, student prior knowledge and your own busy schedule. Forget. All. About. That.

Informal learning

‘Informal learning’ can be described as the learning process that takes place outside the educational institution. It is spontaneous, self-directed, not curriculum-based or qualification oriented and is accidental in nature.1 For example, clicking through on a Facebook link out of curiosity and learning about something as a result.

Online presentations can be successful

Have you been inspired by a Ted Talk? Do you look to YouTube to watch an expert in your field? With increases in web conferencing tools and improved broadband services, there are many opportunities to deliver online presentations. The ubiquity of mobile devices able to record video and the availability of server space to share recordings allows students to share public presentations with those who aren’t in the same location.

What is an A?

What type of work genuinely merits an A grade? The UAF grading system describes an A grade as appropriate for work that “indicates a thorough mastery of course content and outstanding performance in completion of course requirements.’

Why we teach

As we emerge from the caverns of winter and slip from the madness of March into bright, warm April and true spring, maybe it is safe to take a moment and ask ourselves why we do it. Given our current budget challenges, it is perhaps even essential we ask the question. What is our source of inspiration? What is the real reason we teach?

Exam review – strategies for better engagement

Many classes have an exam scheduled around the middle of the term. Having a review session before an exam can be a good way to reinforce the main ideas that you’re trying to get across to your students. Although cramming for exams does not promote good practices for long-term learning, studies do show that having some kind of review before an exam can improve test scores.

The care and feeding of progress

I’d advise everyone who uses Blackboard’s Grade Center to embed this tip–or a link to this WordPress post supporting it–in your “Getting Started’ folder. It’s perfect for the student to understand how to see your feedback.

Peer response

Giving constructive feedback to help improve someone’s work isn’t always easy. Comments like, “I really liked it’ or “I didn’t get it’ doesn’t help the originator make improvements. As the instructor, you should be modeling constructive feedback when you are reviewing student work so students have an example to follow.

Getting from A to B

A person’s first exposure to an academic course can be daunting. As an instructor, this will be you the first time you teach it. It will be your students on their first day of class. A glance at the course calendar will not help. In typical fashion, the weeks of the semester roll on with huge amounts of reading and epic level assignments.

Ipsative assessment

The value of competing against yourself – Ipsative assessment is the practice of determining a student’s progress based on their earlier work. Many assignments and rubrics are designed to measure student work in the normative assessment mode; that is, against a static set of criteria — often necessarily so.

Students as creators

“A shift is taking place in the focus of pedagogical practice on university campuses all over the world as students across a wide variety of disciplines are learning by making and creating rather than from the simple consumption of content….University departments in areas that have not traditionally had lab or hands-on components are shifting to incorporate hands-on learning experiences as an integral part of the curriculum.

Service learning

Use service learning in your course to help students gain perspective. As an instructor, you strive to encourage students to learn, strengthen their understanding by adding depth to their knowledge, and give them real world experience through service learning. Service learning is another facet of active learning. Ask students to apply what you teach.

Effective learning

On my first day of high school I was given a slip of paper with the combination to my book and coat locker. I carried that slip of paper with me for a week, glancing at it several times a day until the set of three numbers was firmly in my memory.

To withdraw or not to withdraw

Withdrawing a student results in a “W’ on her transcript (as opposed to the possible “F’ you foresee without significant improvement) and would not factor into her GPA. There are multiple considerations when deciding whether to withdraw a student. Consider the following scenarios, options and implications.

Instructor voice

The other day I asked an emeritus faculty member where he derived his teaching style from. Looking back on a stunning 35 years of instructional experience, he said he had a great mentor instructor in undergraduate school and thought, “I want to be like him.’

Designing rubrics

You’re probably familiar with the old joke in which a man’s wife notices him cutting the ends off the ham before baking it. He tells her that’s the way his dad does it and it’s a key secret to the wonderful taste. When the man’s wife finally asks her father-in-law about it he laughs and replies, “That’s not it! If I don’t cut the ends, the ham won’t fit in my pan.’

Flipped classroom

The flipped classroom is one in which, unlike traditional methods, lectures and instruction take place outside of synchronous class time, usually in the form of instructor videos or screencasts, while homework and group activities take place during class.

Discussion prompts II

Last week we talked about how designing some tension into discussions can yield a more engaging student experience. This is often my first suggestion when I hear from faculty that student discussions seem lacking. This week the inquiry centers around timing. Just like hosting a dinner party, timing the various course elements is critical when designing student interactions.

Discussion prompts

Designing quality discussion prompts can be a challenge whether building an online discussion forum or trying to better engage the classroom learner. As instructors, we’ve all asked questions of our students that failed to lead them to our verdant garden, blossoming with student ideas. Instead, at one time or another, we’ve led students to deserts of superficial or pat answers that lay shriveled in darkness with only the chirping of crickets as adulation.

Balanced authority in the classroom

When the power goes, what happens at traffic intersections? Without the central authority of the automated traffic lighting system, the drivers are forced to slow down and become more aware of their surroundings and fellow travelers in order to pass safely through the crossroads. Traffic continues because people, largely, organize themselves.

Risk taking

When we think about the accepted content in our disciplines, we know that established theories, processes, or standards don’t start out as the perfectly polished final products that we often use as examples for our students. Theories and processes evolve, are reviewed and refined, through trial, error and peer review. Great ideas come from taking risks and accepting that the result may not be what we anticipated or even be successful on the first pass.


Explicit roleplay has a rich history in education. Law students use mock-trials to hone their craft; counselors roleplay client contact sessions, and many disciplines require students give presentations or perform project work while acting in the role of the professional they hope to become. In fact, the dialectical method of Socrates is a form of roleplay, wherein participants adopt an aspect for an argument not necessarily their own.

Practical gamification

In our last teaching tip we talked about the power of play and how celebrating successes, while minimizing the consequences of failure, can foster an environment of experimentation and discovery. In short, these are key elements that help make learning more fun. This week, we’re going to look at a practical examples of this principle applied in classrooms here at UAF.