Great Resource: Diversity & Inclusion in the College Classroom

What I wanted:

“Enough is Enough!”

What I tried

Many of you may be familiar with The Teaching Professor blog, and their weekly “Faculty Focus” bulletin via email.  With incidents on our campus related to injustices and inappropriate expressions of hate, this resource from FF is rather timely.  Like many of the good bits of wisdom they share, this is practical, straightforward, “use today” material.

Here’s the link to this insightful guide, “Diversity and Inclusion in the College Classroom.”


Next time I would…

Cheating: To Chase or Not To Chase


What I wanted:

Early in my college teaching experience, I was preoccupied with students’ cheating.  With assignments, exams, papers and projects, I worked diligently to employ safeguards that would prevent cheating.  That took time.  And, it was no fun!  It felt like a “chase,” my running to catch up with those nefarious characters who seemed to be hell-bent on thwarting my best efforts to catch them in their devious ways.  Oh, the drama!

With an increase in class sizes and the ubiquitous nature of all things online, I was not catching up…..nor was I catching cheaters.  I had to find a way to highlight the importance of academic integrity, while meeting the instructional and learning objectives of the courses I teach.

What I tried

I tried to care less about cheating, and more about teaching.  It started slowly.  Baby steps.  For one course, in one semester, my approach was to back off on my CSI approach to solving the crimes of serial cheaters.  I wrote up an extensive policy for my syllabus, made a few announcements early in the semester, and soldiered on with my teaching.

Were students cheating on exams, assignments, projects and papers?  It’s likely a few of them were.  Was I a poor teacher because I was caring less and less about cheating?  I don’t think so.  In fact, I felt some genuine liberation from “the chase.”  I could devote more of my time and energy to teaching.  I could read students’ papers with a primary focus NOT on whether this was plagiarized work, but more on improving their writing skills with my edits and comments as part of assessing their writing.

Today, my syllabus cheating policy is summarized in this one paragraph:

Please represent your own work and research for anything you produce for this class: writing assignments, Online Discussion Forum posts, in-class presentations, etc. In other words, please don’t cheat! Thank you, in advance, for your anticipated honesty in maintaining your own, and the UW-Madison’s, academic integrity. For clarification about UW-Madison’s Policies and Procedures related to compromising academic integrity – a.k.a., cheating – please refer to this document:  UW Student Academic Misconduct Policy & Procedures.

My start-of-the-semester address to students is simple:  “Please don’t cheat.  If you are a student who regularly relies on others’ work, without appropriate attribution, if you are someone who makes a habit of cutting corners to get what you want, if you are unprepared to meet the rigors of study for this or other courses and cheating is your easy way out, I feel badly for you.  Because, although I may not catch you in the act, those poor choices will catch up with you.  Maybe not in this course.  Maybe not this semester.  But choosing to cheat will catch up with you.  So, please don’t do it.”

Naive?  Maybe.  And, I feel as though I’ve provided some role-modeling.  When most of my teaching effort is focused on our honest students and their hard work, cheaters, eventually, will feel left out.  And, every now and then, I believe it will give them reason to think twice about their poor choice to cheat.  Maybe, just maybe, they’ll spend more time on their studies, and less time engaged in the chase.

Next time I would…

I’m realistic enough to know that I have not completely eliminated cheating in my classes.  With the additional support of a Teaching Assistant for larger classes, we work together and “keep an eye out” for any obvious cheating.  Still, I find that I have more energy for my teaching practice if I’m not so fixated on chasing cheaters.

Engaging Environmental Toxicology Graduate Students in Curriculum Design

What I wanted:

AT consultants were invited to provide three seminars for Environmental Toxicology graduate students interested in teaching and learning with technology. We recognized that one of the many dilemmas that new or future instructors face is balancing the need to cover content coupled with the desire to teach outcomes.  Rather than diving directly into the technology, we framed the sessions within the larger context of thinking about backwards design in order to align their interest in tools/technology with their learning goals.

What I tried

Students were asked to think/pair/share on the following:

With what skills, values, and approaches would you want to equip a student in order to solve a toxicology-related problem?

By working backwards from this, the participants were then able to think about their own instructional activities within the larger context of their learning goals and then discuss the affordances of appropriate tools and techniques.  This allowed for a larger group discussion rather than a one-way lecture.



Next time I would…

Have more of the questions we asked during the sessions assigned as homework so we could have had the students more prepared for the discussion during the limited face to face time during the seminar.

Chemistry 311 Active Learning

What I wanted:

I wanted students to work in groups on conceptual aspects of the course where group interactions might improve their learning and visualizations and online tutorials would contribute.

What I tried

In Spring 2014, I taught the course one class period per week in the three Sterling Hall CLCs. The other two class meetings were in a chemistry lecture room. I had 80 students, so I had to use all three rooms at once. TAs were in each room and I circulated among the three rooms. (In chemistry, all 80 students met in the same room.)

I selected online resources, many of which  I had assigned as homework before, and prepared worksheets to indicate to students which resources to use and some exercises they could do with the online resources. Students had no special preparation before these sessions and there was not time to prepare much to help them learn to interact as a group. Many students did well and interacted well, but some were not clear about the learning objectives and others objected to this way of learning. The experiment was not totally suiccessfull but it was clear that with some tweaking it could be made much better.

Next time I would…

Based on feedback from students and TAs I decided to do another experiment in a different course, Chem 109, in Fall 2015. This course enrolls 350 students in lecture, with 16 discussion/lab sections of  22 students each. We have scheduled four of the discussion/lab sections in Sterling Hall; the rest will be in traditional classrooms. For all discussion sections we have prepared pre-section worksheets thaqt students can use to prepare for discussion. These include questions based on the content for that week in the course. For the Sterling Hall sections, in addition to the pre-section worksheet, students will have a carefully planned lesson that asks them to carry out an online visualization, do a tutorial, or answer an hoemwork question. Next students are given a conceptual question designed to elicit discussion and usually they are given directions for how to interact (discuss with a partner, write on the whiteboard, etc.). We plan to do an evaluation of this active-learning strategy when it is implemented in the fall. We will assess students’ learning but also try to assess how well they interact in groups.

Teaching in an Active Teaching Classroom

  • Stirling 2425 - In default layout

What I wanted:

I wanted to destabilize the classroom landscape, eliminate the front/back dichotomy of the classroom setting, encourage more group activity and as an instructor be more of a guide on the side rather than a sage on the stage. The traditional classroom I was first assigned for my 2oo level history course (with 25 students), would not assist in this.

What I tried

I signed up for an active teaching classroom (2425 Stirling Hall). Room included 6 monitors with tables arranged in 6 pods, each next to a monitor. I connected my PPTs and maps to the monitors, and when lecturing walked around the classroom talking over the main points and breaking up my lecture with numerous questions.  Furthermore, I used the room layout and technology to facilitate group activities.  The students were easily broken into groups and could do projects using the monitor (students could easily connect their computer to monitor).


– No classroom front or back – I could walk around the classroom, while still leading lecture/discussion.  Students couldn’t hide in “back” and play games, couldn’t hide from questions. Also, no students had bad seat – all could easily see graphics/slides/movies.  Improved accountability – I was moving around the classroom and could look over anyone’s shoulder.

– When I walked around the class – forced students to shift in seats to follow me – this kept them awake at higher rates (compared to my previous courses)

– Layout of tables resulted in better group discussion and allowed me to switch easily between group and class discussion without having to force people to shift between chairs and tables.

– Students loved the layout –

Next time I would…

Employ advantages of the modular tables and monitors more. I would especially do more group projects that employed the room technology – especially for more classroom presentations.

Group Learning in Reproductive Physiology

What I wanted:

Getting students to interact with each other, develop new methods of interaction, and save what they develop for the future.

What I tried

So we assigned students to groups.  The groups vary each week but are reminded they will submit group evaluations in which each student would evaluate themselves and others in the group. They are also told that the evaluations contribute to final grade.  We did not make an attempt to direct how the students would work together but left it up to themselves.  The group evaluations work well in keeping students contributing.  However there were always a few students who did not contribute to the group.  My evaluation system only really works toward the end of the semester.

Next time I would…

I would implement the evaluation at an earlier point in the semester so that students are aware of the outcome.  I would also like them to develop some method of prsenting a type of portfoilio of what they have done during the semester.

Expanding Your Horizons!

What I wanted:

Some fellow female graduate students and I ran a workshop for the Expanding Your Horizons event that occurred on campus on November 8. EYH is an event for young women exploring careers in math and science.

What I tried

We developed a project for the middle school girls in which they broke up into small groups and designed their own video games. They created art and game aesthetics, developed plots, game goals and mechanics, and even looked up sound bytes they would use if they were game designers.

Next time I would…

The girls were engaged and interested in the myriad careers that exist in the game design industry. In fact, they enjoyed this role so much they actually wanted to create their games! In future, I would love to see a component of actual game creation in this workshop, either by limiting the scope to the creation of a board game prototype, or by the incorporation of game design programs such as Scratch or Kodu.

Help? / Help.

What I wanted:

Research suggests that connected learners are more successful in school. I wanted to create a trusting community in the class, where students felt comfortable opening up to each other, and would begin to look to each other as resources.

What I tried

“Help? Help.” Instead of a “High/Low” check-in at the beginning of the first year student class I teach, I frame the discussion to encourage students to 1) see each other as resources, and 2) de-stigmatize the sharing of needs.

Help? — Students share something that they’re struggling with on campus. Other students respond.

Help. — Students share something they learned that they found useful in navigating campus.

Next time I would…

In one-on-one meetings, students report that this is one of the most significant aspects of the class because they feel safe asking each other questions, and feel useful and appreciated when they provide answers.

UW-Branded Open Textbook Publishing Platform


What I wanted:

How do I publish an OER (open-educational resource) open textbook at UW-Madison?

Furthermore I wanted it to meet these requirements:

    • Requires no technical expertise to revise and maintain the content.
    • Allows for remote collaboration among co-authors.
    • Requires no log-in for the reader (content as completely public webpages).
    • Readers who want to print out entire units/chapters can do so easily.
    • Hosted at UW-Madison at no cost*.
    • Easy for the reader to navigate a complex structure with many chapters, and many sections within chapters.
    • Fully accessible for readers with disabilities.
    • Mobile-friendly (reads and navigates well on a smart phone or tablet)
    • Search-engine optimized (so that learners Googling for a specific content question discover this resource.)
    • The reader can search the contents of the textbook to find matching textbook sections for their question.
    • Make it easy for readers to see what content changes have been made recently, without adding administrative tasks for the authors.

* Cost: DoIT Shared Hosting can host WordPress sites for you. They do have an annual fee if you are setting up this server just for this purpose. But many academic units have a Silver or higher-level Shared Hosting account already going for other purposes, in which case adding another WordPress blog to that server, with this e-textbook theme installed, would have zero cost.

What I tried

After surveying the UW landscape and having many conversations with many people, I ended up building a WordPress theme that did all of the above. You are welcome to have a copy of this theme for you to install on your own WordPress server. You only need to have also installed the official UW-Madison WordPress theme available from plus a couple free plugins detailed here:

I also worked with UW Legal Affairs to ensure that I handled copyright and licensing correctly. I ended up using this Creative Commons license for my textbook.

Next time I would…

The first textbook launched on this platform was on Oct. 22, 2014. So I will be able to answer this question in about one year. So far I’m quite satisfied.

We conducted a pre-intervention survey in early October 2014 to establish baseline data and we will conduct two post-intervention surveys in 2015, one among learners who experienced the transition from print to this e-book, and one among learners who only experienced the new textbook. The latter group will give us an objective comparison in learner perceptions.

Students and Seniors at Camp Randall

What I wanted

I wanted to connect nursing students from UW with seniors from the community, so that both would benefit. I learned that my community partner Waterford in Fitchburg, was offering a tour of Camp Randall for their residents. Many residents there are  Badgers who haven’t been able to get to a game for years. Others have lived in Madison a long time, but have never even been to campus, much less to Camp Randall. This was going to be a meaningful experience for them, maybe even fulfilling an end-o

What I tried

To make this happen required lots of coordination:

    • The activity director at Waterford coordinated transportation for residents and tour scheduling
    • I coordinated my students and coordinated our class learning experiences so they were prepared
    • We needed 10 wheelchairs, which came several different places, and some had to be transported there- in my mom’s wheelchair accessible van.

It was a lot of work, but incredibly successful! Residents were thrilled. Students posted reflective statements on my course Facebook page that were very enthusiastic, as well as showing how challenging and meaningful this experience was, and what they learned about how inaccessible Camp Randall can be. Several said that I should do this again with every class.

Next time I would…

I would bring more wheelchairs for some whose walking was more limited. Otherwise, I think it was a great success!