Some Strategies for Learning Students’ Names

Why learn our students’ names? From the students’ perspective, it can make them feel more like the instructor cares about them and wants to get to know them individually. It also lets them know that, especially in larger classes, they are more accountable for their behavior and performance in class. “The professor knows our names” is regularly cited as a strength in small-group instructional diagnoses (student focus groups) at Miami ( From the instructor’s perspective, it can make her or him more comfortable calling on students and/or responding to them as individuals. By an instructor’s consistently attempting to learn and use students’ names in class, students learn each other’s names as well, which can promote better interaction in class or group activities. Using names personalizes the classroom experience. Perhaps the most compelling reason for learning students’ names is that students are more likely to be engaged in classes in which instructors know their names.

What follows are some strategies for learning students’ names that may work in any size classroom.

1. On the first day of class, make a game out of learning students’ names. If the class is smaller (under 25 or so), students might be asked to sit in a circle and recite their names one by one. Then the instructor attempts to go around the circle and name as many students as possible, getting help from students as needed until all students are named. Then ask each student to do the same. In larger classes, students might be divided into smaller groups for the same procedure.

2. Challenge students to get you to remember their name by making a connection with you, asking questions, stating their name when participating, etc. You might ask your classes to devise a name-learning strategy to use in the class.
3. Ask students to sit in the same seat for the first three weeks of class while you learn their names. Have them also make a table-tent that has their name on it in large letters to place on their desk. The visual association of where students sit in class and the table-tent helps with learning names while taking attendance, calling on them in class, etc.

4. Take individual photos of students and put their names on the back of the photo. Then practice using the photos like flash cards: Look at the face and recall the name. You may have student photos in your LMS, so you can use those the same way. Remember to practice leisurely in spaced sessions (“spaced practice”) and not to cram!

5. Practice learning students’ names while they are working in groups, perhaps again using table tents at their desks. Learning 4-6 names at a time is much less intimidating than trying to learn the entire class roster and makes it possible to keep rehearsing the smaller group of names until they’re mastered.

6. To make students’ name learning a bit more personal and informative, hand out 3X5 cards and have students put their name, major, contact information, and one piece of unusual information about themselves on the card. This can be a hobby, pet, something they have accomplished, etc. Then ask them to paste a photo of themselves on the card. This allows them to get into the act of creating a unique persona and helps them appreciate the difficulty of memorizing so many names. This approach provides information that enables you to make a connection with each student even before you enter the classroom again.

7. There is a free app called Teacher’s Aide ( for the iPad and iPhone that allows you to use your device to take student pictures for use in taking attendance. It compiles a table of photos and names, and you just press the student’s photo for attendance — one tap for present, another for absent, and a third for late. You can have up to 3 classes for free. In smaller classes the instructor can pass the iPad around and let students take their picture and type in their name. This app also offers grading features too.

Use the space below to share additional strategies for learning students’ names that you have discovered or heard about!

JCTL-cover-previewA new issue of the Journal on Centers for Teaching and Learning (JCTL) is now available online at the Journal website:

JCTL is a peer-reviewed venue published once a year at Miami University as a site through which Centers for Teaching and Learning (CTL) staff can engage in conversations, explore their relevance to their own institutional situations, and imagine new possibilities to take back to these institutions—not to mention new ways of looking at the conversations already at work there.

Volume 6 (2014) focuses on “Supporting Effective Teaching at Small Colleges: Theory & Practice.” The issue’s guest editor is Michael Reder, Director, Joy Shechtman Mankoff Faculty Center for Teaching & Learning, Connecticut College. As Reder describes the issue, “The articles in this issue have been carefully selected because they address these key issues that small colleges—and, to a great extent, all institutions—face. These articles build upon current theory and practices in new and productive ways, and ask us to push our work as educational developers to new levels or to think about our roles differently” (from “A Message From the Guest Editor,” p. 6).

The articles in this issue are as follows:

Supporting Teaching and Learning at Small Colleges—Past, Present, & Future: A Message From the Guest Editor, M. Reder

Foreword: The Changing Landscape of Faculty Development at Small Colleges, M. D. Sorcinelli

Difficult Conversations We’re NOT Having: Mixed-Group Perspective Taking and Diversity Education at a Small College, J. L. Bowen & J. H. Shope

The Growth Mindset Approach: A Threshold Concept in Course Redesign, D. E. Boyd

Faculty Developer as Change Agent: A Conceptual Model for Small Institutions and Beyond, L. L. Grupp

Facilitating Mentoring Across Three Models of Faculty Work: Mentoring Within a Community of Practice for Faculty Development, P. E. Calderwood & S. Klaf

The Care and Maintenance of Faculty Culture: A Small College Curricular Approach, C. Zimmerman & C. Rutz

Supporting Faculty Teaching & Learning at Small Colleges: Selected Resources That Are Specifically Relevant to the Small College Context

We invite Miami faculty and staff to use the Journal as a resource for teaching and learning. On the website, click “Issue Archive” to access all issues of the Journal; to locate teaching and learning topics you wish to research, click on “Search Archive.” This electronic version of the Journal is provided by funding from the Center for Teaching Excellence for all Miami faculty and staff.

For information about submitting manuscripts or other inquiries, click “Submit a Manuscript” or contact

John Tassoni, Editor-in-Chief
Journal on Centers for Teaching and Learning
Miami University
Center for Teaching & Learning
Telephone: 513-529-7135

New Issue of the Journal on Excellence in College Teaching Now Available!

Journal Cover shrunkA new issue of the Journal on Excellence in College Teaching is now available online at the Journal website:

Volume 26, number 2 (2015) focuses on “Inside and Outside of the Classroom—Ideas and Processes That Encourage Learning.” The Journal’s editors describe the issue as follows:

“As the borders and spaces within which we teach and learn expand both temporally and physically, so does the need grow to find ways to accommodate learners’ needs in all of those locations. This issue’s authors speak to these needs from various perspectives and approaches and remind us that much of the learning that goes on in college occurs outside of the physical classroom. We must create learning environments that will best achieve our students’ needs and then assess our methods’ effectiveness with the goal of continual improvement.” (from “A Message From the Editors”)

The articles in this issue are:

Mentoring Graduate Students: The Good, Bad, and Gray
J. H. Ballantine & J. A. Jolly-Ballantine

Selected Application of Response-to-Intervention Principles
in College Courses: Possibilities and Limitations
C. A. Blondin et al.

Do Students Understand Our Course Structure?
Implications for Important Classroom Attitudes and Behavior
J. D. Elicker et al.

Sharing Action Research on Research Day: Students’ Perceptions of a Command Performance
T. S. Foulger & D. Zambo

Inspiring the Civil Revolution: The Role of Bullying Education and Experiential Learning
J. A. Gilbert & D. M. Raffo

A Legal Analysis and Contrarian View of the Syllabus-as-Contract Perspective
K. D. Kauffman

Formative Assessment and the Intuitive Incorporation
of Research-Based Instruction Techniques
P. Kuiper et al.

Student Perceptions of a Form-Based Approach to Reflective Journaling
P. A. Mabrouk

For those who are not aware, the Journal is a peer-reviewed venue published four times a year at Miami University by and for faculty at universities and two- and four-year colleges to increase student learning through effective teaching, interest in and enthusiasm for the profession of teaching, and communication among faculty about their classroom experiences. It answers Ernest Boyer’s (1990) call for a forum to present the scholarship of teaching and learning. The Journal provides a scholarly, written forum for discussion by faculty about all areas affecting teaching and learning, and gives faculty the opportunity to share proven, innovative pedagogies and thoughtful, inspirational insights about teaching.

We invite you to use the Journal as a resource for teaching and learning. On the website, click “Issue Archive” to access all issues of the Journal published since its inception in 1990; to locate teaching and learning topics you wish to research, click on “Search Archive.” This electronic version of the Journal is provided by funding from the Committee for the Enhancement of Learning, Teaching, and University Assessment (CELTUA) for all Miami faculty and staff.

For information about submitting manuscripts or other inquiries, click “Submitting Manuscripts” on the website ( or contact Gregg Wentzell, Managing Editor, at the Center for Teaching Excellence, 317 Laws Hall, on Miami’s Oxford campus (telephone: 529-9265; e-mail:

Enjoy reading, and watch for the next issue of the Journal (volume 26, number 3), due out in summer 2015.

Study Strategies for Content-Heavy Courses (and All Courses)

By Gerald Nelms, Academic Director of Developmental Writing, Wright State University

1. Research has shown students overwhelmingly “multitask” while “studying.” They need to understand that what we normally call “multitasking” is actually rapid task-switching, which involves moving your attention from one task to another. There all kinds of negative consequences to that: mental fatigue that leads to increased errors and lower grades; the brain having to store information in inefficient ways that leads to impaired memory and decreased ability to transfer knowledge to new contexts; up to 40% loss in productivity; increased stress; and increased time to complete tasks.

The best way to reduce “multitasking” is through time management: blocking out time for undistracted studying, reading, writing, whatever with what Larry Rosen calls “tech breaks” (short time periods for checking incoming texts, emails, etc., and checking Facebook or whatever). Students can start with short “unitasking” blocks (30-45 minutes) with 10-15 minutes for tech breaks and then build up to an hour or more of unitasking. And of course, this means turning off mobile electronic devices and the Internet. It also means turning off the TV and monitoring how distracting or not distracting the music is that they are listening to as they study. We do need to keep in mind that at least one small study has shown that “media multitasking” can have a positive effect by providing emotional satisfaction that keeps students “studying” longer, although there is no evidence that that studying is actually productive.

2. Research is also very clear that time management is crucial to college success. In fact, using a little class time to have students fill out a weekly schedule that designates some “activity” for every hour of the day and night (including non-school-related activities like meals, relaxation, exercise, and sleep) can be really effective. This allows students of study at more or less the same times daily and to see study time in the hour or two between classes in a day. The key, of course, is that students keep to their schedules. A good time management strategy is for students to break up assignments (whether projects, papers, reading, studying for tests, whatever) into smaller units of time. In fact, this is something that instructors can help with, breaking up big assignments into smaller assignments that accumulate into one big project or paper.

3. Students should also evaluate their study times and locations. How effective are the times when they study? How effective are the places where they study? They are the best judges of this.

4. Collaboration and study groups can be helpful–as long as they’re not distracting. Setting up an agenda for study group get-togethers can be important. Those get-togethers can begin with 10-15 minutes of chit-chat and then it’s down to work.

Posted to the POD listserv ( on April 24, 2015

FLC Call for Applications: Due May 8!

Please consider applying for one of the following Faculty learning Communities for 2015-16:

Faculty Learning Community for Exploring and Improving Assessment of Student Learning

Faculty Learning Community on Inspiring Creativity and Innovation

Faculty Learning Community on Advising and Mentoring Diverse Students

Faculty Learning Community on Developing Deep Impact Equity Projects: Bridging Intellect, Creativity and Action Students

Faculty Learning Community on Interdisciplinary STEM Collaborative: Developing New Capacities

Faculty Learning Community on Creative, Innovative, and Sustainable Approaches to Teaching, Science, Engineering, and Math (STEM)

Faculty Learning Community: What Now? Strategies for Female Associate Professors

Faculty Learning Community: Heanon-Wilkins Fellowship

For information and applications on all FLCs, visit the website at:

Applications are due May 8th – don’t delay!

Resources for Addressing “Coverage” Versus Learning

Craig E. Nelson, Professor (Emeritus) of Biology, Indiana University, and faculty development consultant, has written widely on the concept of “coverage” in college classes. He maintains that “coverage is indeed a major barrier to effective teaching” and has termed breaking free of the tyranny of coverage “the most difficult step” in becoming a great teacher (see: Nelson, C. E. [2001]. What is the most difficult step we must take to become great teachers? National Teaching and Learning Forum 10[4], 10-11).

Among Nelson’s tenets of coverage vs. learning are the following:

• Reducing coverage typically increases learning. Extra coverage typically decreases learning.

• Limiting coverage fosters deep (vs. surface) approaches to learning and allows for active learning, attention to misconceptions, and critical thinking.

• Reducing coverage in lecture makes it possible to use the time for interactive processing.

Steps Towards Reducing Coverage—Some examples:

Prioritize Content: Design a course for one-half of available time—this forces prioritization.

Add Flexibility: Designate several periods on the syllabus as “spare.”

Scaffold: Highlight texts by distributing exam-ready study questions (vs. with lectures).

References/Resources for Reducing Coverage and Increasing Learning

• Biggs, J., & Tang, C. (2007). Teaching for quality learning at University (3rd ed.). Buckingham, UK: Open University Press.

• Knight, J. K., & Wood, W. B. (2005). Teaching more by lecturing less. Cell Biology Education, 4, 298-310.

• Nelson, C. E. (1989). Skewered on the unicorn’s horn: The illusion of a tragic tradeoff between content and critical thinking in the teaching of science. In L. Crowe (Ed.), Enhancing critical thinking in the sciences (pp.17-27). Washington, DC: Society for College Science Teachers (National Science Teachers Association.

• Nelson, C. E. (1999). On the persistence of unicorns: The tradeoff between content and critical thinking revisited. In B. A. Pescosolido & R. Aminzade (Eds.), The social worlds of higher education: Handbook for teaching in a new century (pp. 168-184). Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge Press.

• Nelson, C. E. (2009). Dysfunctional illusions of rigor: Lessons from the scholarship of teaching and learning. To Improve the Academy, 28, 177-192.

• Rhem, J. (1995). Deep/surface approaches to learning: An introduction. National Teaching and Learning Forum 5(1), 1-5.

• Rhem, J. (2009). Deep/surface approaches to learning in higher education: A research update. Essays on Teaching Excellence, 21(8).

• Sundberg M. D., Dini, M. L., & Lee, E. (1994). Decreasing course content improves student comprehension of science and attitudes towards science in freshman biology. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 31(6), 679-693.

Source: Nelson, C. E. (2014, November 2). Re: Coverage [Electronic mailing list message]. Retrieved from

New Miami Membership: WCET Educational Technologies Cooperative

By Gail Campbell, eLearning Miami

The WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies (WCET) is a national, membership-based, non-profit organization whose mission is to accelerate the adoption of effective practices and policies, advancing excellence in technology-enhanced teaching and learning in higher education.

All Miami faculty and staff are invited to subscribe to WCET’s member-only e-mail lists:

· WCETNews – WCET produces a compilation of national news related to higher ed and technology, in three categories—academic, technology, and policy. It is a great way to stay on top of what is happening in higher ed and technology.

· WCETDiscuss – This is WCET’s moderated list for discussions. There are exchanges and sharing via this list over a wide range of issues—from how instructional design is organized to the integration of web collaboration tools and more. WCET’s membership includes resources from institutions of all sizes and sectors.

Anyone from Miami can subscribe to wcetnews and/or wcetdiscuss by emailing Sherri Artz Gilbert ( WCET’s blog, Frontiers, is a valuable information resource on issues related to state authorization, federal policy issues impacting distance education, and innovative practices among WCET’s community.

For further information, contact Mollie McGill, Interim Co-Executive Director, WCET, 303-541-0306, or Gail Campbell at

Turnitin Webinar: Changing Culture to Promote Integrity: Why Progress is Possible

Date: Monday, April 20, 2015
Time: 1:00 pm – 2:15 pm
Place: 320 Laws Hall
RSVP to: Brenda Quaye ( by Monday, April 20, 2015

Brenda Quaye, Coordinator for Academic Integrity, will host a viewing of the webinar Changing Culture to Promote Integrity: Why Progress is Possible, which is a part of Turniitn’s 2015 Plagiarism Education Week.

During this session with David Callahan, the author of The Cheating Culture: Why More Americans Are Doing Wrong to Get Ahead, we will explore key drivers of the cheating culture and outline what it will take to dismantle that culture. It will examine cases where education institutions have changed how young people think and behave–and how these lessons can be applied to promoting integrity.

The webinar lasts 45 minutes. Attendees are invited to stay to talk about the webinar after it concludes.

Strategies for Developing Critical Thinking in Students

Steven Tuck

Steven Tuck

The Global Miami Plan defines Critical Thinking as follows: “the habit of mind characterized by the comprehensive exploration of issues, ideas, artifacts, and events before accepting or formulating an opinion or conclusion.”

In professional practice, critical thinking is essential to the ability to persuade, discern fallacious arguments, and, ultimately, solve problems and make decisions.

Paul et al.’s (1990) Critical Thinking Handbook: A Guide for Remodeling Lesson Plans in Language Arts, Social Studies and Science presents 35 dimensions of critical thought. These include Affective Strategies (thinking independently, developing confidence in reason) and Cognitive Strategies (avoiding oversimplifications, transferring insights to new contexts, evaluating the credibility of sources, analyzing arguments, beliefs, or theories).

Based on these strategies, Steven Tuck, Classics, uses two approaches to developing critical thinking in his courses: Reading Against the Text (developed by Denise McCoskey, Classics) and Exploring Cultural Values.

Reading Against the Text (a sample assignment):

Text: Biography of Roman emperor, Caligula
Preparation: reading biography, noting 4-5 memorable events
Activity: writing as many of these on the board as possible in 15 minutes
Challenge: Students are asked to re-evaluate these events assuming that Caligula is NOT insane.
Goal: finding alternate explanations for events rather than insanity
Dimensions of critical thought (from Paul et al.): S5, 21, 24, 26, 30-35

By thinking critically, students learn that some of Caligula’s outrageous acts, such as marrying his sister, declaring was against Neptune, and naming his horse Consul, have historical precedent in other civilizations or may have been politically motivated.

Exploring Cultural Values (a sample assignment):

Assignment: The lavish public buildings and statues in the city of Rome were the result of success in Rome’s major fields of competition: war and politics. Analyze the campus of Miami University as we did areas of ancient Rome. Select ca. 5 named “things” in a distinct area of campus or 10 named things of a certain type (buildings, spaces, benches, trees, etc.). Is every building named for someone associated with teaching or research? What people and what achievements are celebrated in the names and monuments? What does this say about cultural values? What do we celebrate or honor at Miami University? Do certain types of monuments correspond to particular accomplishments? NB: this is not a comparative assignment; you are writing only about Miami’s campus.

Dimensions of critical thought (from Paul et al.): 1, 11, 12, 15, 20

Paul, R., Binker., A., Jensen, K., & Kreklau, H. (1990). Critical thinking handbook: A guide for remodeling lesson plans in language arts, social studies and science. Rohnert Park, CA: Foundation for Critical Thinking.

Tips for Being Understood by Everyone in Your Class

In their Center for Teaching Excellence workshop on How to be Understood by Everyone in the Classroom: Adapting Instruction for International Learners, Jessica Downey and Dale Ehrlich (American Culture and English) and Jeannie Ducher (Teacher Education) shared strategies for making instruction clear and understandable for all learners in our classrooms, especially international students.

Some of the strategies that were shared follow:

Be aware that the cultural expectations of U.S. classrooms differ from those of other cultures. International students may not understand that active student participation, note taking, group work, critical thinking, and academic integrity are seen as important to learning. Make clear what is expected of students to succeed in the course.

Make learning easier by providing aids. Lecture notes or PowerPoints ahead of time, key ideas and vocabulary ahead of time and/or in class (e.g., written on the board), model assignments, and guidelines for reading effectively all can help make learning easier for international students.

Beware of using idioms in class. Common U.S. idioms (e.g., “bang for the buck,” “mile a minute,” “do the trick”) may seem second nature to us and to native students, but they will likely only confuse international students. Similarly, jokes that are culturally specific are not likely to be understood by everyone.

Use rhetorical markers when speaking. Verbal signposts (such as “the first step, etc.,” “next,” “on a related topic,” “to sum up”) provide guidance that help nonnative speakers follow the discussion.

Avoid throwaway questions. Questions like “Are you with me?” or “Do you get it?” are not likely to get a response if the answer is no. Instead, use open-ended questions to check comprehension, like “What questions do you have?” Better yet, ask students a specific question about the material that requires them to demonstrate understanding.

Beware of connected speech. “I made a mistake” may sound just like “I made him a steak” to nonnative speakers. Speak slowly and articulate, and when possible, use wording that is not ambiguous.

Be willing to call on students if they are not participating. It may the only way to know if they understand or have questions. In some cultures, students expect and even want to be called on rather than speak voluntarily, which may be considered rude.