Support for Teaching in a Politically Charged Election Season

Recent events of violence and discrimination in the U.S. and worldwide, coupled with a contentious election season, are being felt on campus communities. These events have the potential to increase the stress levels among our students and faculty and result in the need to engage in difficult conversations. Many students, especially those new to college, may have limited experience interacting with people whose cultures, ideas, and perspectives differ from their own.

How should instructors respond?

Understanding Our Current Racially and Politically Charged Climate
Students and faculty across the country are responding in various ways to recent incidents of racism and other violent acts, some of which are due to or exacerbated by a tense election season. Instructors can read more about these incidents and responses to them here:

Resources on Dealing With Hate Speech
The University of Michigan Center for Research on Learning and Teaching has a blog posting on Responding to Incidents of Hate Speech. The post “offers advice for instructors as well as links to more extensive guidelines for handling these issues when they arise in class, either in planned or spontaneous ways. This includes recommendations for self care for faculty, especially those from targeted groups.”

Implications of the Upcoming U. S. Election for Teaching
Many of our students will be voting for the first time in the upcoming general election. Instructors may wish to ask themselves how their teaching is being impacted by the social and cultural climate of this election season. In particular, how are our particular disciplines impacted by the election, in what ways can our courses engage students in principles of democracy, and how might some students and instructors be especially affected by the election?

Additional ideas for teaching in the context of the election season are available here:

Instructors may wish to draw on some of these suggested resources and strategies to assist with their own classroom and campus conversations with the goal of encouraging and modeling a peaceful, fair, and inclusive exchange of ideas.

Respond to the Seminar: Mentoring Undergraduate Research and Creative Endeavors

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Date: October 18, 2016

Time 2:00-3:30 pm

Location: Laws Hall 320

Presenters: Rich Bretz, Chemistry & Biochemistry; Benjamin Gung, Chemistry & Biochemistry; Joseph Johnson, Psychology; Elise Radina, Family Science & Social Work; Jay Smart, Psychology; Jessica Sparks, Chemical Paper & Biomedical Engineering; and Harvey Thurmer, Music

Undergraduate students are often interested in, and capable of, not only making contributions to faculty research agendas, but also developing and pursuing ideas of their own. To be successful in either capacity, these students need us as faculty mentors to provide an appropriate level of guidance and support. The goal of this seminar is to highlight and discuss best practices for mentoring undergraduate students in a variety of disciplines and settings. Do you want to support independent student research or creative work, but are not sure where to start? Do you want to scale up your efforts to involve more students in research, but are apprehensive about the demands on your time? Are you unsure how involved to be in the professional development of your students outside of the research context? Do you have recurring mentoring challenges that might benefit from a broader group perspective? If so, we hope you are able to join us for a moderated discussion involving a faculty panel with representation across divisions and campuses. We will discuss a variety of specific techniques and strategies for managing, motivating, and developing mentored students, in addition to addressing questions from the audience.

Assessment Brief #92 Highlights Professional Writing Assessment

Assessment Brief # 92:
Professional Writing Assessment Activity
October 2016

In its 2015 report, the review team of the Higher Learning Commission noted that “While [assessment] plans are in place, full implementation of those plans is uneven across the University.” To enhance the quality of Miami’s assessment plans, the University Assessment Council is featuring exemplary assessment plans from diverse academic divisions in several Assessment Briefs. This Assessment Brief features the assessment activity for the A.B. Professional Writing program. The Higher Learning Commission looks for “full cycle” assessment of degree programs. This means that a program has clear and meaningful learning outcomes, multiple measures of assessment, data collection & analysis, sharing of findings, and development and tracking of plans for improvement that relate to the findings.

A.B. Professional Writing Program

Learning Outcomes & Method
The learning outcomes for this major focus on elements of writing (e.g., statement of main argument, organization, support, style, and grammar/mechanics) in two genres: a rhetorical analysis essay and a public argument. In 2015-2016, artifacts of these two assignments from thirty students majoring in this program were collected in two 400-level core courses. Artifacts were assessed via two rubrics (each focused on a different genre with four gradations of quality for each writing element). Gradations of quality descriptions were concrete and specific rather than general. For example, instead of a vague description such as “exemplary organization,” the description for the highest level for support reads: “Argument is supported with detailed evidence appropriate for purpose, audience, context and technologies of delivery; rhetorical appeals are nuanced and sophisticated.” Student artifacts were collected and scored by two faculty members who have been trained in using the rubrics and who are not instructors of either course for that year.

Findings & Strategies for Improvement
In completing the rhetorical analysis essays, students demonstrated excellent depth of analysis and scholarly sophistication, including rigorous and detailed discussions of methodology. The essays, however, were not as strong in terms of close textual analysis and style. Similarly, the public argument projects were persuasive yet suffered from uneven written style and visual design.

Based on these findings, the faculty identified several recommendations for improvement of teaching and learning: (1) incorporate the opportunity for students with exceptional rhetorical analyses to work with faculty to revise their papers over the following term to submit for possible publication; (2) increase the time in class as well as the amount of feedback on improving sentence-level style in a variety of genres, including rhetorical analysis essays and public communication genres such as brochures and web sites.

The strengths of the assessment plan for this degree program include: (1) meaningful outcomes; (2) effective rubrics with concrete quality descriptions; (3) scoring of student artifacts by outside and trained faculty member; and (4) sharing and discussion of findings among all program faculty. The assessment activity could be enhanced by incorporating an indirect assessment measure of the outcomes (e.g., course evaluation data, surveys, focus groups). In addition, it will be important in future reports to explain which strategies were implemented and to track their effectiveness over time.

Respond to the Seminar: Students in Crisis

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Date: Thursday, October 13, 2016
Time: 10:00 – 11:30 am
Location: 320 laws Hall
Presenters: Timothy Parsons, Emergency Case Manager, Office of the Dean of Students; and John Ward, Associate Director, Student Counseling Service

This program will help participants:

• Recognize the difference between disturbed students and disturbing students
• Become familiar with steps faculty and staff can take to intervene in response to both types of student crisis

Respond to the Session: Academic Integrity Lunch ‘N Learn

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Topic: Turnitin, Plagiarism, and Writing: Using Turnitin for Education, Prevention, and Detection

Date: October 12, 2016
Time: Noon – 1:00 pm
Location: 320 Laws Hall
Facilitator: Brenda Quaye, Coordinator for Academic Integrity

Is there a standard percentage on Turnitin that constitutes plagiarism? How can I help my students use Turnitin educationally? Should I bother using Turnitin at all? If you’ve ever asked yourself any of these questions or just want to get a better idea of how to use Turnitin, please join Brenda Quaye, Coorindator for Academic Integrity, at the next Academic Integrity Lunch ‘N Learn.

Turnitin is a tool with multiple uses. Like any tool, its effectiveness depends on if it fits the job it is being used for and the person using it. Join Brenda and other colleagues for a Turnitin tutorial and to discuss the benefits and detriments of using Turnitin with your students. We also will discuss low-tech/no-tech alternatives to Turnitin to encourage honesty in students’ writing.

Turnitin novices and veterans are encouraged to attend as well as those who have found success in guiding students through honest and thoughtful writing assignments with or without Turnitin.

Respond to the Seminar: Panel on Classroom Inclusion

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Date: October 11, 2016
Time: 2:00-3:30 pm
Location: 320 Laws Hall

Panelists: Fred Shueh, Student Counseling Service; Mike Curme, Dean of Students; Andy Zeisler, Student Disability Services; and Kelley Kimple, Office of Diversity Affairs

Facilitators: Carol Olausen, American Culture and English Program; Rose Marie Ward, Center for Teaching Excellence

Research indicates that inclusion in the classroom may improve learning and academic performance for all learners. Inclusiveness in the classroom is more than adding subtitles to videos and posting PowerPoint slides. It is creating discussions about the delivery of content with the learners’ success as a priority. This “panel” will provide several strategies to build an inclusive environment from different perspectives. The audience will be asked to react, revise, and provide input on the strategies. The goal is for the participants to leave with a better understanding of inclusion in the classroom and some methods to implement inclusion in their classrooms.

Respond to the Seminar: Academic Life in the US: Through the Eyes of Our International Students

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Date: Thursday, October 6, 2016
Location: Laws Hall 320

Presenters: Molly Heidemann and Jing Luo, International Student & Scholar Services

Panelists: Hye Rang (Helen) Youn, Media & Culture and Spanish; Phon Dang, Accountancy; Dharini Parthasarathy, Electrical Engineering and Mathematics & Statistics; Jiajia (Ellen) Qian, Finance; Zhi Gao, Economics; Liding (Harrison) Li, Mathematics; Austin Du, Management and Leadership

The international student population at Miami has increased rapidly in the past five years. With undergraduate students from China leading the growth, East Asian students now comprise around 85% of the international student body. This recent phenomenon has promoted student diversity, and has also created new expectations for the Miami community to support international students in their transition to U.S. college life and ensure their academic success. In this workshop, you will learn about our international student population at Miami and the academic challenges they face. These students must learn to navigate a new country, a new culture, a new language, and a new educational system. The majority of this session will be devoted to Q&A with a panel of international students speaking about their personal experiences with cultural transition. Bring your questions and be prepared to gain new insight into the experience of this growing population at Miami University.

A Response to the CTE Seminar “It’s on Us: Title IX Reporting and Supporting”

By Bethany Walker, Member of the Graduate Student Teaching Enhancement Program

Becca Getson, Miami University’s Title IX Deputy Coordinator and Sexual Assault Response Coordinator, provided this seminar for the CTE on September 27, 2016, about laws regarding reporting sexual assault of university students and Miami’s policies and procedures around reporting these offenses and supporting the victims. She overviewed the results of the 2016 Climate Survey, which presented a dismal report of the experiences of sexual assault that Miami students have. Although the survey had some major issues regarding the representativeness of the sample (very low response rate overall, and particularly for men), it shed light on the high percentage of women who have been raped and experienced other forms of sexual/interpersonal violence since coming to Miami.

Becca briefly explained the many laws and policies involved in reporting sexual assaults of university students, including Title IX, the Clery Act, the Campus Save Act, and the Miami University Policy and Information Manual (MUPIM). In part, Title IX states that no one in any education program shall be discriminated against on the basis of sex. This includes, but is not limited to, students being sexually assaulted. “Responsible employees” are mandated reporters of violations of Title IX; at Miami University, MUPIM defines which individuals are designated as responsible employees. The Miami University Police Department, as well as the Deputy Title IX Coordinator (Becca Getson), are notified of Title IX offenses. MUPD and Becca Getson contact the victim and offer her or him support, resources, and the decision of whether to pursue a police investigation. In some rare cases, however, MUPD may decide to begin an investigation against the victim’s wishes. Finally, Becca described supportive ways that people may respond if a student discloses a sexual assault. Her main advice was to communicate to the victim that you believe her or him, that it is not her or his fault, and that there are resources available.

As a new instructor this year, I was shocked and disappointed by the results of the 2016 Climate Survey. A university climate in which such high rates of sexual assault occur can have many negative consequences on the well-being of our students. Especially with sexual assault cases that have made national news in which the perpetrators were severely under-punished, I worry that students are still learning the wrong messages about sexual assault. When behavior occurs at a high rate in a population, it becomes normative, statistically speaking. Normative behavior that goes unpunished or under-punished risks being viewed as acceptable by society. When victimization becomes “acceptable,” victims and targeted groups do not feel safe, respected, or valued. (I see many parallels with the Black Lives Matter movement on these points.) The victims lose trust in the people who are supposed to protect them and may choose to keep their victimization a secret, fearing the additional trauma of victim-blaming or a court ruling that communicates the message, “This wasn’t really a big deal.” I am glad I know a little more about how I, as an instructor, could support a student who discloses a sexual assault. I plan on adding a statement to my syllabus next semester about resources available to students who experience a sexual assault or other forms of sexual/interpersonal violence, such as stalking or dating violence. I will also be more informed about how to respond supportively to a student’s disclosure, as well as what steps to take to connect the student to available resources.

Strategies for Reducing Student Test Anxiety (and General Mid-Semester Stress)

As we approach mid-semester, students (as well as faculty) are likely to feel the effects of stress. Our highly engaged students often feel mentally and physically pushed to their limit, especially at exam time. Here are some strategies for reducing student stress.

General Relaxation and Stress Management Strategies

Students appreciate help in managing their time and their lives. An excellent book on this topic is:

Doyle, T., & Zakrajsek, T. (2013). The new science of learning: How to learn in harmony with your brain. Sterling, VA: Stylus.
Doyle and Zakrajsek’s book is written for students but is highly useful to instructors as well. It provides advice on managing time, conquering the myth that effective multitasking is possible, and getting proper nutrition, sleep, and exercise.


Some of the teaching and learning literature supports that smaller, more frequent assessments tend to be better for learning as well as lower the perceived stakes for any one test (thus relieving test anxiety to some degree) rather than only one or two midterms and a final.

The Use of Humor

Humor in the classroom has been shown to reduce student stress. One book that shows how to put humor techniques into practice is this:

Berk, R. (2002). Humor as an instructional defibrillator: Evidence-based techniques in teaching and assessment. Sterling, VA: Stylus.

Also see Berk’s article in the Journal on Excellence in College Teaching (

Berk, R. A. (1996). Student ratings of 10 strategies for using humor in college teaching. Journal on Excellence in College Teaching, 7(3), 71-92.


Mindfulness training is being used in a variety of higher education contexts to help students deal with a wide variety of stressful situations, including exams.

Some resources on mindfulness are as follows:

The Association for the Contemplative Mind in Higher Education

Bellinger, D. B., DeCaro, M. S., & Ralston, P. ((2015). Mindfulness, anxiety, and high-stakes mathematics performance in the laboratory and classroom. Consciousness and Cognition, 37, 123-132.

Respond to the Seminar: Test Construction and Assessment

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Date: September 29, 2016
Time: 2:00-3:30 pm
Location: 320 Laws Hall
Presenters: Jennifer Blue, Marianne Cotugno and Beth Dietz

We will begin this workshop by exploring the question: Why test? From there, attendees will have the opportunity to learn and practice strategies for designing “tests” that assess student learning outcomes. Attendees will receive resources that will help them construct tests and evaluation rubrics. This workshop will be interactive, and attendees are encouraged to bring a test they’ve used in the past as well as the student learning outcomes for a course they teach.