That’s the Beauty of the Midterm Survey!

Traditionally, faculty receive feedback from students only at the end of the semester, when it is already too late to address their comments or concerns. What if you could get a feel for their experience while there is still time to do something about it?

That’s the beauty of the Midterm Survey!

By adding a short survey to your course midway through the semester, you can find out from students what issues there are that you may not be aware of, and address those concerns in time to help them get more out of the class. The students feel they are being heard, and you get the benefit of tweaking your teaching to make the students more successful in your class.

I have been talking to faculty about adding these surveys through UTC Learn, and have been able to share a sample survey with them that was created by Dr. Jennifer Ellis. She teaches Educational Technology and has been using the surveys for about 6 years. She originally pieced one together from questions she found from other schools, and she has also added a 15 minute chat component that she says takes the feedback to a new level. She is primarily connecting this way with her online students, but you could incorporate the Midterm Survey with any modality of teaching.

I spoke to Dr. Ellis about her use of the surveys and the data she gleans from the comments. She has found that any change to a course could be gauged by using the survey: for example, a change to a new textbook or eText, a new version of the learning management system, or even general changes you have made to a previously taught course.

I asked Dr. Ellis if she feels the students are honest in the surveys and take them seriously. She says that she does and she dedicates quite a bit of time to reviewing the data from the surveys and addressing what they have shared. She has the anonymous surveys, but then she also follows up with a Google Hangout or a Zoom with each student. She finds they are more candid in the anonymous portion, but together these two tools help her gauge if what she is doing is impactful, if the rigor is about right, and if they are putting in enough hours – especially in graduate level courses. For example, she expects them to put in 6-9 hours, and if they mention committing less than that to their coursework, she can let them know that may be a contributor to why they are making lower grades than they should!

AFTER the initial survey she holds a short, online, individual chat with each student. After that initial online meeting, they are more likely to reach out to her on chat again in the future when something isn’t clear. She tells them “don’t spend hours trying to figure it out, get help, ask me.” Before it ends, she invites them to engage her online in the future. After the online chat, Dr. Ellis says the 2nd half of the course tends to go more smoothly.

We talked about the opportunity for specific changes to the course, and I asked her what is the biggest change she has made that came about due to student feedback? Dr. Ellis said, “On the front end, explain the “why”. Explain the reasons for assignments, and link them back to the course outcomes. Their “voices are heard”, especially when she can see trends on certain assignments, if there is one that gets mentioned over and over. If they say they don’t see how it relates to the course learning outcomes, they may need a bigger picture explanation. She might then go back and create a short video instruction, or give more details in the textual instructions, to help them make that connection.

We spoke about the impact the surveys have on student perceptions of her, her teaching, and the course.

She has created a very transparent process. She publishes the results with comments. They can tell she has reviewed the data and spent the time needed to analyze it. This shows her support of their learning, especially the asynchronous online portion: they are allowed to be ‘seen’ and captured during the learning process.

After reading some of her survey data, I told Dr. Ellis I found this student comment fascinating, “Less discussion boards. I rarely, if ever, have gotten anything out of a discussion board in any online course I’ve taken.”

She gave me a great response! “I love all the contradictory comments I get on my Midterm evaluation. Most of the time it all balances out and I have to make minor adjustments.”

I asked her about that comment, how she addressed it, and she said she addressed this by justifying the why and going back to the course learning outcomes.

Also, she said lots of times the comments will be at both extremes: “this was the best tool, this was the worst tool”. She said you can choose to share that kind of data or not, but if you do share it, address it and give your rationale.

The Midterm Survey evaluations offer a more “timely response” than the end of semester, when there’s no chance for more clarification.  This can also help instructors professionally, as when they are looking at tenure it is another data source to help guide your pedagogical decisions.

Faculty, if you would like to try a Midterm Survey with your classes, contact us today at . We’re happy to meet with you and get your started!


Preparing to Teaching Online – a spring 2017 seminar series

Just as online learning is different for students, online teaching is different for instructors. This spring, I will be offering a series of sessions on the topic of preparing to teach online. The first session is – Is Online Teaching for You? In this session, we will talk about how online teaching is different from teaching in a physical classroom. What is the role and responsibilities of the instructor? What is the role and responsibilities of the students? If you already know you will be teaching online soon, or are new to teaching online this semester, consider attending the other sessions in the series:

  • Designing an Online Course using Best Practices
  • Learner Engagement
  • Testing, Grading, and Feedback

The content of these sessions is based on Quality Matters (QM) standards. UTC adopted QM in the summer of 2015 and it is the goal of the institution that every online and hybrid course be aligned with these evidence-based standards. There are 42 QM standards in 8 general categories. One of the central tenets of QM is alignment. This means that the content, activities, and assessment in a course are aligned with module/unit outcomes which are in turn aligned with course student learning outcomes. In the Designing an Online Course session, we will delve into the alignment standards in more detail. Another important aspect of QM is that learners are engaged! Learners are engaged with the content, the instructor, and each other. An online course cannot be passive and meet course outcomes; there must be interactivity. An example of learner engagement is the use of course tools such as discussion forums and wikis to promote student-to-student interaction to achieve a learning goal. The learner engagement session will provide information about how to set up these active learning activities. The last session in the series is about designing tests, grading efficiently online, and the use of feedback to interact with students and improve their learning. Critical to the success of an online course is designing assessments that require critical thinking. Yes, multiple-choice tests are fine, but should be supplemented with additional assessments that require higher order thinking. I hope you will join me this semester as we explore these aspects of online course design.

To register, visit our webpage and look for the Preparing to Teach Online series.

UTC Learn Key Dates

Welcome back!  We hope that everyone was able to get some much needed rest during the holiday break.

In this blog entry I wanted to provide you with the timing of several key events in UTC Learn that recur every semester.  I will present each event, and then provide the applicable date for the Spring 2017 semester in parentheses, Summer 2017 semester in brackets, and Fall 2017 semester in braces.

  • Courses for a new term are created eight (8) weeks before the first day of classes. (11/14/2016) [3/22/2017] {6/26/2017}
  • Instructors are added to courses on the same day that they are created. Courses will be available to instructors by 8:00 am.  (11/14/2016) [3/22/2017] {6/26/2017}
  • Course merge requests begin processing on the same day that courses are created. (11/14/2016) [3/22/2017] {6/26/2017}
  • Students are added to courses one (1) week before the first day of classes. Student enrollments will be processed by 8:00 am.  (1/2/2017) [3/10/2017] {8/14/2017}
  • Course merge requests must be submitted by two business days before the first day of classes by 5:00 pm. (1/5/2017) [5/15/2017] {8/17/2017}
  • The previous term’s courses are made unavailable to students on the last business day before the first day of classes. This event will occur after 5:00 pm.  (1/6/2017) [5/16/2017] {8/18/2017}
  • All full-term and part of term 1 courses are made available to students on the first day of classes. This event will occur at 12:01 am.  (1/9/2017) [5/17/2017] {8/21/2017}
  • All part of term 2 courses are made available to students on the first day of the part of term 2 classes. This event will occur at 12:01 am (3/6/2017) [6/28/2017] {10/16/2017}

Another question that we often receive is “How long will my previous semester’s courses be available to me?”  For Fall and Spring terms, the current UTC Learn course retention policy states that courses will be made unavailable to instructors in UTC Learn of the last day of midterms of the corresponding semester one (1) year later.  For example, FA16 courses will become unavailable the last day of midterms of the FA17 semester.  For Summer courses, they will become unavailable at the end of the following summer term one year later.  For example, SU16 courses will become unavailable on the last day of the SU17 semester.

Finally, I would like to address how instructors are placed into courses in the learning management system (LMS).  UTC Learn has an active integration with the institution’s student information system (Banner).  This system is authoritative over the LMS.  An instructor will not be added to a course in UTC Learn until they are listed in Banner as the official instructor of record.  This integration runs every two hours on the even hours.

I hope that this information is useful to you, and everyone from the Walker Center wishes you great success in the new semester!

Keeping Students Engaged Immediately Before and After Spring Break

March is upon us and Spring Break is right around the corner! While this is a welcome break for many, it can also bring about certain challenges for instructors.

Although the expectation is that students will be present in class the days leading up to Spring Break, this is often not the case. Some students will choose to start their break a few days early, and in anticipation of the break, the students who are physically present in class may not be at their full capacity to learn and retain information. Including an interactive activity instead of a typical lecture is a great way to modify your class plans while still achieving the course goals you established.

While some students may be headed to a tropical paradise, others stay on campus, work, or do community service projects over the break. Therefore, coming back from Spring Break can be difficult for faculty members and students alike. Don’t be afraid to connect with students upon their return. Something as simple as asking students about their break can show that you value them. Showing interest in your students increases the likelihood that they will in turn show interest in your course.

After Spring Break, there are only a little over five weeks left in the semester. In this time, it is important to motivate students to finish out the semester strong. Students will need to be intrinsically motivated to succeed, but you can still do a few things to encourage and motivate them. For example, providing a review of the material that has been covered thus far can help show students how much progress they have made. Additionally, it can be helpful to go over what topics will be covered in the coming weeks and remind students that the end of the semester is in sight.

Simple things such as inviting a guest speaker, showing the class videos, and letting students pick music to play before class can also encourage and motivate students to be engaged in your course. If you have any suggestions you would like to share, feel free to comment below! Have a great Spring Break!

Smartphones and Tablets: Should you be using them in your course?


Imagine this: You’re standing at the podium, giving the biology lecture you spent hours preparing, and out of nowhere you hear the random sounds of the latest viral YouTube video being mistakenly played through a phone. You immediately know that one of your students was browsing social media instead of learning the material.

Recreational phone use during class time has become an epidemic. Many instructors have a difficult time managing student phone use, especially in a lecture-hall setting. So the question is, how can we make lemonade out of lemons? Gikas and Grant (2013) have examined the advantages and disadvantages of incorporating mobile computing devices into student learning. They defined this concept as mobile learning: formal or informal learning that is delivered and supported by mobile computing devices, such as cell phones, smartphones, or tablet computers.

One of the biggest advantages of mobile learning is the availability of content. With a mobile device, students can quickly access course content anywhere and everywhere. Mobile devices also allow for quick and convenient collaboration for both instructor and student through use of social media and apps specifically designed for course learning. They also offer a variety of ways to learn, particularly in regards to active learning techniques. Students can use mobile devices to easily create pictures or video projects related to course objectives.

When using mobile devices to enhance classroom learning, instructors must be aware of possible device challenges, such as malfunctioning apps, small keyboards, or complicated app interfaces. These devices may also serve as a distraction. Students may be tempted to quickly answer that text message or hop on Facebook in the middle of an assignment. As an instructor it is important to conduct activities that are fast-paced and engaging to discourage use of mobile devices for purposes outside of learning.

UTC has their own mobile learning app: UTC Learn Mobile. Instructors and students may use this app to check grades, view course content, receive alerts about the course, and more. For more active student learning in real-time, the Walker Center for Teaching and Learning recommends using the free REEF Polling system, where students can answer questions and collaborate together in real time, right from their devices. Find out more about REEF here:

Mobile computing devices can be a great asset to your students’ learning when employed effectively. Instructors should actively lead all classroom use of mobile devices and create a clear standard of participation to discourage potential misuse of these devices during class time.


Reference: Gikas, J., & Grant, M. M. (2013). Mobile computing devices in higher education: Student perspectives on learning with cellphones, smartphones & social media. The Internet and Higher Education, 19, 18-26.

Best Grading Practices: A Student’s Perspective

One of the biggest areas of concern for students is their grades. Many students incur a significant amount of stress agonizing over their scores on exams or assignments. Although students must work hard to obtain good grades, there are a few things you can do as an instructor to alleviate a bit of the stress.

Providing clear instructions for assignments and providing accurate, specific, and timely feedback are critical components of an effective grading strategy. It is helpful to provide students with your specific grading policies and procedures in the syllabus at the start of the semester. This information could include the frequency of feedback students should expect to receive, as well as when and how they will receive it. This helps give students a sense of control, as they know when to expect certain assignments to be graded. Providing students with this information also helps you hold yourself accountable for grading in a timely manner.

Another area of grading that can cause stress for students is if some students receive feedback on an assignment before others. A good grading practice would be to release all student grades on an assignment simultaneously, instead of one at a time as they are graded. This way, no student receives feedback before another student. This practice can contribute to feelings of equity and fairness among students.

To utilize this grading practice in Blackboard, go to Full Grade Center. Then, access the column for the assignment and select the dropdown arrow. You can then either select “Hide from Students (on/off)” or “Edit Column Information”. If you choose the “Edit Column Information” option, you will need to select “No” when presented with the option to “Show this Column to Students”. A circle with a diagonal red line should appear next to the column name in the full grade center, indicating that this column is hidden from students.

It is important to remember to take these steps prior to grading students’ assignments. Once assignments for all students have been graded, you will need to go back into the Full Grade Center and make these columns available so that students are able to view their grades.

These are just a few of the many grading practices you can utilize to help alleviate the stress surrounding student grades. They may not work for every instructor, so it is important to determine what strategies work best for your teaching style and course structure.

Fostering Engagement and a Feeling of Community in your Online Course

Distance learning courses conducted through online platforms such as UTC Learn can be an extremely valuable asset to universities looking to expand their student reach. Online learning allows students to complete courses from any location and use technology sometimes not available in a traditional classroom setting. However, advantages of distance learning courses do come at a cost.

One of the greatest disadvantages is a lack of student engagement and feeling of community. Courses held in an exclusively online environment may foster a sense of anonymity and lead to student withdrawal and minimal participation. The “type” of student enrolled in a distance-learning course may play a factor as well: some students might enroll in these courses because course participation is more flexible and they believe it will require less work than a face-to-face course. Thus, disengagement may be a threat from the very beginning.

There are many ways that instructors can combat this disengagement and create a collaborative, cooperative learning community. First and foremost, course design plays a large role. Use the “Teaching Styles” function in UTC Learn to create a welcoming course environment in not only appearance, but course navigation as well. There are many options to choose from, but keep in mind your course should be easy to read and accessible. Engaging courses are easy to navigate, have a variety of assessments, and integrate multiple forms of media such as pictures, documents, and videos.

Possibly one of the biggest factors in engagement is communication, both student-to-student and instructor-to-student. Research shows a strong correlation between using multiple channels of communication and higher engagement (Crumpacker, 2001). UTC Learn offers a variety of tools to foster interaction within a course. Some tools to keep in mind include:

  • Journals
  • Wikis
  • Discussion Boards
  • Blogs
  • Announcements
  • Creation of Groups
  • Assessments
  • Email

Though using these tools through UTC Learn is a great place to start, they are only as good as the work that has been put into them. Instructors can make the most of the tools by leading discussions, asking open-ended questions, providing guidance and feedback, and setting clear expectations of performance. The goal should be to facilitate self-efficacy among students and encourage enthusiasm for the course.



Online Teaching Strategies for Engagement (Blackboard):


Crumpacker (2001) Faculty pedagogical approach, skill, and motivation in today’s distance education milieu. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration 4:4.

Ideas for Faculty: Making the Most of your Summer!

By the time Spring semester ends, most faculty are ready for a short break. Whether you teach in Summer or not, just having a lighter load can make all the difference and allow you to time to recharge.

One of the best ways to fight that burned out feeling, is to set aside a little time to learn something new. That way, when you go back to your classes, you will have expanded your own repertoire of skills and feel good about your personal professional development. I have a few ideas to get you started.

  1. Create a Blog: Maybe you have a favorite blog that you read regularly, but you have never created one of your own. There’s a great little Edublog challenge online that is just for teachers and will help you get started in an easy and non-threatening format. If you don’t want to use their service, you could also just read the ‘assignments’ and do them in your Sandbox that you have access to within our UTC Learn system. That way you can practice in a closed area that no one else sees, but you have full functionality. If you need help, you can send me an email and I will go into the Sandbox with you and create some responses to your posts to help you along. The blog’s style is one of Author’s Post and Comments. Try it out for a few weeks and see what you think!

Read the blog challenge online here:


2.Participate in a Webinar: We have access to many Magna Publication professional development webinars, and are happy to facilitate you and/or your small group in creating an informal event. Do you and  2-3 of your colleagues eat lunch together and ‘talk shop’? This would be just like that but taking it a step further, with materials to make the learning interesting and fun. Let us know if you are interested in this idea by emailing us at and requesting a Magna webinar. Some of our topics available now include:

How Can I Capture Students’ Interest in the First 5 Minutes?

10 Ways to Improve Blended Learning Course Design

Seven Strategies to Enhance Learning through Group Work

How Can I Structure a Flipped Lesson?

Academically Adrift: Findings & Lessons for Improvement ( This is about Relating your Research to UG Education)


3.Finally, maybe you’re interested in reading a great book that will connect you to students for the Fall. One of our campus programs is called “Read2Achieve” and the current book is “The Circle” by Dave Eggers. Just learning a little about the book and its author will help you feel more a part of UTC once students come back and are talking about it! To learn more, view the webpage, and let us know if you have questions:

Hope you have a great and restful summer! If we can assist you with your recharging plans, just let us know by email or phone: or (423) 425-4188!


Team-Based Learning

Over the past year and a half, we’ve hosted two campus workshops on team-based learning, also called TBL.  Bill Roberson of the University at Albany does a great job on getting your buy-in on the method, and many folks, including one entire department, have implemented it extensively at UTC.  TBL is much more than “group work”; it is a strategy on which you plan your entire course.  There are four essential components of TBL:  formation of permanent student groups, student accountability, instructor feedback, and assignment design.  To be able to use this approach, your course content needs to be chunked, that is, formed into 5 to 6 modules that take a few class sessions to work through.

For each module in a course, the instructor takes the students through the three TBL phases.  The first phase involves giving individual study assignments such as a readings or online lectures that students do before class (sound familiar – flipped classroom?).  The second phase starts with students coming to class and taking an individual quiz, which is called an Individual Readiness Assurance Test or I-RAT, and turning it into the instructor.  Without knowing how they did on the quiz, they then take a group quiz (Group Readiness Assurance Test or G-RAT) which is the same quiz they took as an individual. During the G-RAT, students hold each other accountability for having completed the pre-work (this may not happen immediately, but will in time).  Once the correct answers are made known, teams can appeal quiz questions if they feel they were worded poorly or have more than one correct answer, for example.  Appeals must be submitted in writing and are signed off by the entire team.  Next, the G-RATs are turned in and the instructor quickly reviews them to see what students need to know more about.  What are the groups missing – what are the gaps in their knowledge or understanding?  This process leads to a mini-lecture only on that material that is needed by students.  Whew, that’s the end of phase 2.

Now phase 3 is the application of the course material through team-based application exercises.  This involves exercises that take 30 minutes or up to a couple of class sessions.  Much like the flipped classroom approach, students become engaged in the content by applying their knowledge.   Ideally, these exercises involve student groups all working on the same problem and reporting simultaneously in class – this gets their competitive juices flowing.  Once the applications are completed, then it’s back to phase one with the next module!

Want to know more about team-based learning?  Contact us for a individual session or check out our spring seminar schedule.

Additional Resources

Team-Based Learning Collaborative.  (2013).  Getting started.  Retrieved from

Florida State University.  (n.d.).  Team-based learning.  Retrieved from


Faculty embrace experiential learning and critical reflection in a general education science course

Brad Reynolds and Tom Wilson received a Beyond the Classroom ThinkAchieve grant to fund an experiential learning activity in a general education non-laboratory science course.  During fall 2012, students in Bio/ESC 1100 (Conservation of Biodiversity) were given the option to participate in a hands-on field experience and reflection activity in lieu of taking the final exam in the course.  Instead of just listening to a professor talk about conservation, these student volunteers actually practiced conservation and contributed to a real-life conservation-based research project.  The conservation project, still ongoing, seeks to monitor the impact of upland deforestation on local amphibian populations.

Professor Reynolds and a student recording data The instructors, Brad Reynolds and Tom Wilson, took the student volunteers to a local wetland where the students helped sample and process frogs and salamanders.  Once in the field, students checked pitfall traps for animals and learned how to properly identify, sex, and measure the frogs and salamanders they discovered.  They were likewise taught how to properly record scientific data, before releasing the animals into the wild.

Critical thinking was fostered in the student volunteers through active, experiential learning and critical reflection.  Students were expected to keep reflective journals before, during, and after the experience as a means of documenting the transformation that had taken place within them.  These journals also served as a vehicle through which critical thinking and the challenging of preconceived assumptions was encouraged.  According to Brad Reynolds, “We challenged the students to actively combat the biodiversity crisis by participating in a real-world conservation-based amphibian monitoring project. The end result was that the students developed a greater respect for reptiles and amphibians, and at the same time, had their overall conservation ethics impacted in a positive way through experiential learning and reflection.”


Brad Reynolds is a faculty member in the Biological and Environmental Sciences.  In addition to the Conservation of Biodiversity course, he teaches Introduction to Environmental Science I and II.

Thomas Wilson is also a faculty member in the Biological and Environmental Sciences. He teaches Herpetology, Ecology and Amphibian Conservation.