Best Practices

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. We also demonstrate how instructors can incorporate these findings to develop their teaching skills and increase learning in their courses. This course is recommended for graduate students, post-doctoral associates, instructors, and professors. It is designed for participants with a variety of interests, backgrounds, and career goals, emphasizing science, technology, engineering, and math fields.

1. In this session…

We will first introduce the instructors for this course. Then we will go over the course information in the video lecture. We will provide an overview describing the sessions of this course and how they are structured. Course materials are available for download in each session as well as in the Course Materials page.

Download Slides [ PDF ]
Download Introduction Video [ ZIP, 62 MB, 540 p ]

2. Welcome!

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 below:

Course Instructors

Lourdes Aleman, Ph.D. Lourdes M. Alemán, Ph.D. [ Biography ]

Allison Brauneis, Ph.D. Alison L. Brauneis, Ph.D. [ Biography ]

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.

3. Introduction

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.

4. Session Descriptions

This course will include five online sessions. All of the content for the sessions will be delivered through videos and interactive activities. 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 and activities in preparation for each session and a post-session activity for most of the online sessions.

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 objectives. 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 and deliver a lecture. It will help you understand how to organize content and use verbal and non-verbal communication to keep your students’ attention and increase learning.

Session 5: Interactive Teaching and Active Learning

One of the most important findings in educational research is that students learn best by doing. Asking students questions based on key concepts engages students’ interest and can result in increased understanding. 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.

5. 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.

6. Pre-Session Activity

Each session has a required pre-session activities that needs to be completed prior to participating in the session. It is important to complete these prior to participating in the sessions. They are designed to extend your learning experience. For these activities to be successful, it is very important that you complete them. The pre-session activities also prepare you for the other activities that will occur during the sessions.

NOTE: Within the pre-session activity section of each session page links will be provided to the appropriate pre-session reading files and videos.

7. Session Outline

The session outlines are 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. They are provided on the session page in two file formats. 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.

8. 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 think about the questions asked, and watch additional videos. 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.

Resources for all sessions can be found on the Course Materials page.

These materials are Copyright © 2013, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and unless otherwise specified are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported license.