Course Overview: Best Practices for Teaching and Learning
In the Best Practices for Teaching and Learning course, our goal is to highlight important findings on the nature of learning and teaching that promote student understanding and demonstrate how instructors can incorporate these findings in their courses to increase learning. This course is recommended for graduate students, post-doctoral associates, instructors, and professors who wish to develop their teaching skills. The course is designed for participants with a variety of interests, backgrounds, and career goals, with an emphasis on the teaching of science, technology, engineering, and math fields.
Welcome to Best Practices for Teaching and Learning!
Dr. Lourdes M. Alemán and Dr. Alison L. Brauneis are your instructors for the Best Practices for Teaching and Learning Course. Dr. Lourdes Alemán is an educational research scientist and instructor at MIT. Dr. Alison Brauneis is a postdoctoral associate who focuses on biology education research at MIT. To learn more about Dr. Alemán and Dr. Brauneis, follow the links provided below the Introductory Video.
As you become acquainted with the course and participate in all aspects of the course, feel free to contact Dr. Alemán and Dr. Brauneis by email. Our contact information can be found by navigating to the Participants link on the left side of each page. Please be sure to contact us via email if you have any questions regarding your individual progress or our feedback on your post-session assignments in the course.
Before we get started, watch the Introductory Video where we take a few moments to introduce the course and go over some important course information.
Download the transcript for the Welcome to Best Practices for Teaching and Learning video.
Session Overview and Descriptions
This course will include five online sessions. All of the content for the sessions will be delivered through videos and interactive activities that you will complete synchronously with other course participants. In addition to viewing and participating in the online videos and activities, participants of this course will be required to complete a pre-session reading assignment in preparation for each session and a post-session writing assignment for most of the online sessions. At each session viewing, the course instructors will be present remotely to facilitate the session and answer questions.
Session 1: The Science of Learning
Research into how students learn has grown enormously over the last twenty-five years, and the field continues to expand. We know, for example, that students are not passive recipients of information, but, instead, actively construct their own knowledge and understanding. We also know that instructors who have a good sense of themselves as teachers—their instructional preferences, their beliefs about teaching—are particularly effective in the classroom. This session will provide an introduction to how people learn, and an opportunity to explore your own philosophy about teaching and learning.
Session 2: Designing a Course and Constructing a Syllabus
Thoughtful course design begins with the articulation of goals and intended learning outcomes. When preparing to teach a course, you should ask: “What do I want the students to know and what skills do I want them to have when they finish my course?” Once those questions are answered, the next step is to identify the specific ways in which students will achieve those goals. What “big ideas” should students understand? What topics will be covered? What pedagogies will you employ? Finally, you need to think about assignments and exams that will further student learning and help you determine if the desired learning has been achieved. With these decisions made, it becomes relatively straightforward to write a syllabus that clearly describes your expectations and the requirements of the course.
Session 3: Constructing Effective Assignments, Problem Sets and Exam Questions
This session highlights ways in which exams, problem sets and homework assignments can be designed to best support student learning and understanding. Participants identify positive and negative attributes of sample homework problems and work collaboratively to redesign these problems in order to more effectively reinforce desired learning objectives.
Session 4: Preparing and Presenting a Lecture
This session will explore how to organize a lecture or recitation. It will help you understand how to craft the messages you are delivering and understand how they affect your audience. By the end of the session, you will have a better sense of how to use more of your expressive capacity to keep a group engaged.
Session 5: Interactive Teaching and Active Learning
Asking students questions based on key concepts engages students’ interest and intelligence. Instructors also learn what concepts students find most confusing. This session discusses the reasons for interactive teaching and provides examples of questions and techniques that can be used or adapted for teaching a variety of courses and topics.
Course Learning Objectives
Upon completion of the Best Practices for Teaching and Learning course, participants will be able to:
- Apply research on how students learn to teaching methods to promote student understanding.
- Design effective courses by identifying intended learning objectives and aligning their instruction and assessment activities with the objectives.
- Write assignments, problems, and exams that foster student learning and test whether intended learning objectives have been met.
- Plan and present effective lectures.
- Design interactive pedagogies that increase student learning and promote intended learning objectives.
Each session has a required pre-session assignment that needs to be completed prior to participating in the session. It is important to complete these assignments prior to participating in the sessions.
There are activities incorporated into our sessions that are designed to extend your learning experience and provide an opportunity to learn from and with your classmates, as well as your instructors. For these activities to be successful, it is very important that each of you complete the pre-session assignments. The pre-session assignments are designed to prepare you for the discussions and activities that will occur during the sessions.
NOTE: Within the pre-session assignment section of each session page links will be provided to the appropriate pre-session reading files and videos. However, these and all course files are also available in the Session Files folder located at the bottom of every session page.
We have provided a session outline for each session. The outline is designed to serve as a guide while you are participating in the video and interactive activities and it may also serve as a tool for note-taking.
In addition to the session outline, the session presentation slides are provided for your reference [PDF]. They are provided in Adobe Reader format for viewing and printing.
Two file formats of the outlines are provided for all sessions. The Adobe Reader [PDF], format is provided for easy viewing and printing, and the Microsoft Word [DOC], format is provided to allow you to add your notes by typing them directly into the outline during the session.
Session Chat Room
For each session of this course we will utilize a chat room to provide you real-time interaction with your peers and instructors. During the scheduled session time, the instructors will be logged into and available in the provided chat room. This tool provides a wonderful opportunity for you to interact with your instructors and peers in real-time.
Please use the chat room during the scheduled times to send and receive real-time messages between your peers and instructors regarding the session content. The chat room is provided as a real-time interactive tool for you to post questions and comments to your instructors.
We recommend that during each scheduled session you have two browser windows open. One displaying the chat window and the other displaying the online course session page. Having two windows open will ensure that the chat and session content are visible at all times.
Throughout this course, you will be able to communicate with the instructors via email, the chat room, and discussion forums. The Cyber Café is a student lounge area that is an informal, online conversational space using the threaded discussion forum tool. This Cyber Café, or discussion forum, will allow you to connect with each other on a social level.
The Cyber Café is an ungraded discussion forum that provides you with a means to contact your instructors about general issues and it enables all class members to see important issues that are raised and resolved. Use it to post your questions or thoughts about the concepts covered in the online course material, sessions, as well as the pre- and post-session assignments you are to complete. Other learners and the instructor can help you by providing guidance and suggestions to help you understand the concepts more clearly. If you have any questions about your individual progress or instructor feedback on your post-session assignments in the course, please contact the instructors separately.
The Cyber Café discussion forum will be the first thread that the instructors check upon login. Please review the posts in this discussion forum and offer clarification, assistance or guidance to your classmates whenever possible.
The Cyber Café link is available here, as well as on the right hand side of each page directly below the instructor information.
This is an ungraded discussion forum. Use it to post your questions or thoughts about the concepts covered in the online course material, session, as well as the pre and post assignments you are to complete. Other learners and the instructor can help you by providing guidance and suggestions to help you understand the concepts more clearly.
If you have any questions about your individual progress or assignments in the course, please contact the instructors individually.
This discussion forum will be the first thread that the instructors check upon login.
Response Guidelines: Review the posts in this discussion and offer clarification, assistance or guidance whenever you can.
Session Video Links and Resources
Each session contains pre-recorded video lectures that include pauses where we will engage in a variety of activities. Some of the activities will require you to interact with your classmates, watch additional videos, and post responses to provided discussion forums located within the online course room. All of the resources required for these interactive sessions are provided as links on the session pages. All of the activities incorporated into our sessions are designed to extend your learning experience and provide an opportunity to learn from and with your classmates, as well as your instructors.
We look forward to the opportunity to interact with you throughout the online course room, and in real-time during the scheduled sessions.
Session Schedule for 2013
Introduction and The Science of Learning
Designing a Course and Constructing a Syllabus
Constructing Effective Assignments, Problem Sets and Exam Questions
Planning and Presenting a Lecture
Interactive Teaching and Active Learning
Best Practices for Teaching and Learning Course Acknowledgements
Download the Course Overview full video [62 MB, ZIP].