College and University Teaching

Laura McNeill

Review: Student Engagement Techniques

There are many valuable techniques offered up in the Barkley text, but I found Chapters 7 and 8 to be particularly insightful for my current position as an instructional designer working with faculty.

Chapter 7 set out the goal of (1) expecting students to be engaged in learning and cautions instructors to resist settling for less. I think, if it’s possible, we all need to paint this on our walls, write this on our notebooks, and memorize it so that it becomes part of our daily lives.

In addition, Chapter 7 also sets out the expectation of (2) teaching things worth learning. I am a huge proponent of teaching students lessons that they can apply to real life, skills they can use in a job, and knowledge that impacts their career and life goals. Further, if students understand why they are learning what they are learning, and can tie it to prior learning and make it something that is meaningful to them, the enthusiasm for the subject and engagement in the class material will come much more naturally.

In Chapter 8, Barkley explains that instructors need to (3) be clear on their learning goals. This is crucial, in my opinion, and should drive everything that happens in the classroom (or online learning environment) from the first moment to the last. We all are familiar with Bloom’s Taxonomy, and are able to apply the “proper” verbs to objectives, but the process should be so much more than A = B = C. The process of objective setting should involve a clear intention of making those objectives nontrivial, clear, and actionable, as well as meaningful to students. Only then can we design our learning activities and authentic assessments.

I have also had several recent conversations with student which tie back to our class discussion on “What the Best College Teachers Do.” Many of my faculty are almost apologetic about the amount of reading they assign, or the degree of difficulty that an assignment might involve. My advice has been, and will continue to be (unless someone has another brilliant idea – please step in!) to set those expectations front and center. Phrases like: Your reading will be very involved and intense, it will take ___ hours a week, expect to spend time with this project, it will be challenging can set the stage in your syllabus and in your very first contact with students, on the page, in the classroom, or online.

To that end, we as educators need to be clear that students will achieve an academic level or grade equivalent to the amount of effort they put into the class. Using rubrics, the students have a clear idea of what they need to accomplish for an A or a B, and it is now up to them to perform.

There are so many other recommendations included in Barkely’s work, and I look forward to using this text as a reference and reminder in the years to come.




Reflection: “All About Rubrics”

It has been a pleasure watching and reviewing everyone’s videos this week. We have such a creative and talented group of educators.

In terms of my own work, I chose rubrics as it is a tool that I have a personal interest in, enjoy using, and will be teaching to my faculty at UAB next month. It was helpful, especially, to think about what was most important to include in the six minutes we were allotted. This forced me to determine the most crucial portions of the instruction and drill down to exactly what I wanted to say and show in a short time period.

A DSLR camera was used to shoot the video, and I recruited UAB student workers to play the part of students. The purpose of using the students was to add an element of fun, humor, and surprise for the viewer. We also used Articulate 360 to create and edit the interactive, clickable, and drag-and-drop activities, which would be better showcased allowing students to work through the module themselves. I believe that in trying to show how a student might work through the “class,” some of the “clicks” were not perfectly in sync with the video and words, which I would correct the next time around editing in Adobe Premiere. For those of you who edit quite a bit, Camtasia is also quite useful, a bit more user-friendly, and great for short videos.

In hindsight, after one of my classmates pointed it out, I would have used a “real” rubric to demonstrate what one looks like. At the time, I believe I decided to go with an empty one because there are limitless possibilities for the content and appearance of a final rubric. In reviewing my video, I also used the phrase “first, we’ll look at…” twice. I’ll have to be more careful when talking off the cuff. It’s so easy to fall into the trap of having catch phrases or transitions, especially when you don’t have a recording to play back.

In all, it was a fun and extremely useful assignment for me. I truly believe that there is always something to learn and improve upon in our own work.

Again, I really enjoyed seeing everyone’s projects!



All About Rubrics

My submission for the AHE 603 Sample Teaching Module is ALL ABOUT RUBRICS.

It was created with Articulate 360 (Storyline), which would be interactive for students taking the course in a LMS like Blackboard or Canvas.

Ideally, designing a slightly longer module, I would add a survey at the beginning to gather information from ‘students’ about their baseline knowledge or feelings about rubrics, and wrap up the module with an interactive quiz or test, perhaps dragging and dropping elements of a rubric matrix, to make sure ‘students’ learned and can apply the material.

Here are my objectives:

  • Define the term “rubric”
  • Identify the 3 components of a rubric
  • Evaluate the authenticity of a rubric
  • Determine the value of using a rubric for course assignments

Watch below or visit

Thank you for watching!


Teaching Observation Rating Form

After getting buy-in from our associate dean at UAB for the teaching observation assignment, she asked if I would also use the following form and complete it.

Dr. Major suggested that I share the form with the class, as well as the policy and procedures that were developed in conjunction with it, as we (as a class) are tasked with developing a rating form to use for the observation.

I hope that this might be a good starting point for developing our own AHE 603 form.

peer-review-form  (Download)

uab-peer-review-of-teaching-evaluation-policy-and-procedure (Download)



Rubric Teaching Module: Preparatory Assignments

I’m excited to share this teaching module with everyone later in February. Here is the preparation I’ve completed for the module:

I. Student Learning Outcomes

At the completion of this module, students will:

  • Define the term “rubric”
  • Identify the 3 components of a rubric
  • Evaluate the authenticity of a rubric
  • Determine the value of using a rubric for course assignments

II. Content Description – ALL ABOUT RUBRICS

  • Provide examples of student excuses for not completing an assignment or not achieving the grade desired on an assignment
  • Discuss Rubrics and how they can help instructors in the classroom or an online course.
  • Explain definition of a Rubric – Rubrics are great for authentic assessment of real world tasks like writing reports, making presentations, designing experiments, demonstrating a professional skill, or solving problems.
  1. Show what a RUBRIC looks like (GRAPHIC)
  2. A rubric is a matrix.
  3. The left side of a rubric matrix lists criteriafor the expected performance.
  4. Across the top is the rating scale(which can be words or a points range) which provides values to determine the quality of performance for each criterion.
  5. Indicators are written inside each box of the matrix, providing examples for each level of performance.
  • Examine how and why a Rubric works using the word “RUBRIC” as an acronym

R – is for Rules

  • Rubrics set the RULES for students:
    • What should students learn from the task?
    • How can students demonstrate that they have learned?
    • What knowledge, skills, and behaviors are required for the task?
    • What steps are required for the task?
    • How should the final product look or sound?

U – is for Understanding

  • Rubrics help students understand your assignment.
    • Authentic assessment measures how well students use knowledge and skills in a real context or for an authentic task like a report or presentation.
    • Authentic assessment focuses on the ability of the student to apply learning, not to memorize information or take tests.

B – is for Baseline

  • Rubrics set a baseline for students.
    • Is your student ok with making a B? A rubric sets out that measurable, observable criteria.
    • Does your student want to achieve an A? A rubric gives those students the essential elements of that learning task, phrased in precise, unambiguous language.

R – the second R – is for Responsibility

  • Rubrics are wonderful because they put the responsibility back on the students.
    • Students are aware of your expectations
    • Students are aware of the “quality” you expect
    • And you’ve communicated to students how they will be evaluated.

I – is for Integrity                  

  • When well-designed and well-thought-out rubrics are used, you can stand behind the integrity of your grading system.
    • To that end, your rubric should yield consistent results when used repeatedly under the same conditions.
    • Try this out with a TA or several other instructors in your department. When two different graders use the same RUBRIC to grade the same assignment, they’ll give similar scores. This is one way, but not the only way, you can EVALUATE the authenticity of rubric.

C – is for Communication

  • Finally, Rubrics are a great way to communicate expectations with students.
    • Rubrics show that you, as an instructor, care enough about the assignment and student success to develop and share the most important and essential elements of the learning task.

Teaching Wrap up

III. Instructional Strategy

For my instructional strategies, I intend to begin the video presentation with a sentence or two introducing the topic. I will follow that with asking the audience a question. Next, I will use humor in the classroom and include examples of typical, but humorous student excuses (with a few student actors) for not completing assignments or not completing those projects or papers satisfactorily. In addition, I will use a visual aid to depict a small portion of a rubric to identify the different sections and content. I will introduce an acronym that instructors can use to help them remember why rubrics are so effective – when created and used correctly. The last portion of the instruction will incorporate technology and active learning to work through the brief lesson.


Review: What the Best College Teachers Do

What a fantastic book! I love that it is evidence-based and so chock full of practical advice and tips. I see this as a reference book that will stay in my personal library for a long time and a resource that I will recommend to colleagues and classmates.

Among all of the fabulous recommendations, what struck me most was the idea of perception that students from different backgrounds, races, creeds, etc. develop during a lifetime and how that impacts success in academia. The book, in particular, gives the example of women, in particular, hitting “a wall” when it comes to a certain difficult level of mathematics. It was fascinating and a bit disheartening to learn that the challenge is two-fold: the perception that “women can’t handle advanced math or STEM courses,” and that women “worry that negative repercussions will result if they fail.”

The recommendations from the author ranged from instructors communicating to students that they are, indeed, capable of learning and mastering the content, and that they, as instructors, were confident in the students’ abilities. Students also benefit when assignments are designed benefits them “personally and intellectually,” as well as setting a promise that “x” is what students will be able to learn or achieve in that particular course. Most importantly, however, is the sense of autonomy that instructors can gift students, meaning that rather than decreeing what will be learned, conveying to learners that they are in charge of their own educations.

One of my favorite references from the book is from Paul Baker, who is quoted as telling students: “What you bring to this class is yourself and your desire to participate and what you do in here depends finally on that.” Another professor refers to the choice instructors have in working with students: (1) confronting with the grit of a drill sergeant, or (2) (in true Southern style) as “inviting them to the dinner table…offering biscuits and grits for every class.”

Also worth a mention is the section of the text on the inverse relationship found between the amount of work and the amount of academic success. Piling on work and assignments does not equal a better outcome for student success and, according to the text, may lead to intellectual exhaustion and student dissatisfaction with the course and material.

As an instructional designer, I loved the comment about instructors thinking about how they learned the material. Sometimes, it is difficult for faculty to think outside the box of simply “delivering” the material, so this text gave me some additional tools for brainstorming learning objects, including the “Is this a Rembrandt?” assignment in in the “How Do They Conduct Class” chapter.

I look forward to reading everyone else’s reflections on the text!

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