Identifying Most Important Inforamtion: What to Listen For in Lectures

For example, you can listen to someone, but not truly tune in to what he or she is saying. And the way you listen to a concert for enjoyment and appreciation is not the same mode of listening you’d find most effective if you’re trying to understand and absorb the material being presented. Thus, students who want to get the most out of your lectures can benefit from some straightforward advice that can help them focus their concentration as they listen.

In Essential Study Skills, Eighth Edition, Linda Wong encourages students to listen for six kinds of information as they pay attention to your lecture and take notes. These are:

1. Key or “signal” words. Keywords (or “signal words”) such as “causes,” “purposes,” “effects,” “ways,” “advantages,” “characteristics,” and “types” can be used as “headings” to indicate that the speaker is introducing a major portion of the lecture (e.g. “Now, I am going to discuss the top five ways that…”).

2 . Main ideas. Topic sentences indicate the main points or ideas that the speaker is trying to communicate. These are often indicated by such words as “First…” “Second…” “Third…” and “Finally…”.

3. Definitions and key terms. If the instructor is taking the time to define a term, it is almost certainly a critical concept that’s central to your understanding of the topic. If the speaker says something like “[the term] means…” or “[term], also known as…”, you’re hearing a definition. Wong recommends writing “DEF” or “=” in your notes to indicate that you’ve copied down a term defined in class.

4. Supporting details. Examples, dates, statistics, anecdotes and other details illustrate the key points, provide supporting evidence for the topic under discussion, and help clarify your understanding.

5. The speaker’s verbal clues. Most instructors will use certain keywords (as described above) to indicate important concepts. You may also notice that an instructor becomes more enthusiastic at a certain point in the lecture,  or that he or she “punctuates” key points with a louder voice, deeper tone, or particular gestures. The more familiar you become with the instructor’s speaking style, the more readily you’ll come to know his or her method of confirming that a particular point is important. (And of course, if the instructor says “This is important,” it’s important!)

6. The conclusion. The instructor will likely “wrap up” the lecture by summarizing the main points that he or she covered that day. Be sure to capture these points, and write them under the heading “Conclusion” so that you can readily find them when it’s time to review.


How to Productively Manage Student Entitlement

An issue that often arises in the classroom centers on student entitlement. Maryellen Weimer, Ph.D., noted in this week’s “Faculty Focus” newsletter, “Maybe the advice is missing because confronting entitled perspectives is challenging. If a student wants to take the exam at a later date so he can attend Grandma’s 90thbirthday celebration, or if the objection to phone usage during class is answered with, “I paid for this course—what I do in it is my business”—the faculty member can say no or can cause the student to incur some consequences. Although those actions may take care of the immediate issue, they probably won’t change the student’s attitude. Rather, the student is more likely to conclude that the faculty member is difficult, or more jocularly, a jerk.”

Weimer suggests a two-prong approach to entitlement.

1. Teachers should clarify their expectations at the beginning of the course and in the syllabus, and provide reminders as needed. “Grades are not curved in this class.” “Students with borderline grades are not bumped up.” “Exams are taken the days they are scheduled.” “Late homework gets feedback but no credit.”

2. A second preventative approach involves having a conversation about entitlement before it’s expressed. Do students know what it is? Are the attitudes ones they hold?

She concludes, “Is persuading students a reasonable goal for conversations about entitlement? Probably not for one conversation, but if the message is consistently delivered by multiple teachers and across the institution, then we’ll start seeing progress.”

How to Increase the Value of Tests

  • Incorporating frequent quizzes into a class’s structure may promote student learning. These quizzes can consist of short-answer or multiple-choice questions and can be administered online or face-to-face. … Providing students the opportunity for retrieval practice—and, ideally, providing feedback for the responses—will increase learning of targeted as well as related material.

  • Providing “summary points” during a class encourages students to recall and articulate key elements of the class. Setting aside the last few minutes of a class to ask students to recall, articulate, and organize their memory of the content of the day’s class may provide significant benefits to their later memory of these topics. Whether this exercise is called a minute paper or the PUREMEM (pure memory, or practicing unassisted retrieval to enhance memory for essential material) approach, it may benefit student learning.

  • … Pretesting students’ knowledge of a subject may prime them for learning. By pretesting students before a unit or even a day of instruction, an instructor may help alert students both to the types of questions that they need to be able to answer and the key concepts and facts they need to be alert to during study and instruction.

  • Finally, instructors may be able to aid their students’ metacognitive abilities by sharing a synopsis of these observations. … Adding the potential benefits of pretesting may further empower students to take control of their own learning, such as by using example exams as primers for their learning rather than simply as pre-exam checks on their knowledge.

Learning Activity Focuses on Future General Practice Application of Technology

This semester, Drs. Jessica Hokamp and Maxey Wellman have introduced an activity into their cytology elective course that both anticipates increased future application of technology in general practice and supports student ability to identify the ideal area on a lymphoma slide for diagnosis.

Some practitioners are sending cell phone images to pathologists for diagnosis, and their activity asks students to effectively use the microscope, identify areas and cells being viewed, and capture the area identified using the iPhone.

Pictured are students attempting the capture. Drs. Hokamp and Wellman plan to refine the pilot learning module into a teaching and learning research project.

Quick Tip: Avoiding Issues with Taking Carmen Quizzes Using the Canvas Mobile App

We have been receiving reports of issues with Carmen quizzes when using the Canvas mobile app. While we have not been able to confirm this as a technical issue with our on-campus partners as well as the larger Canvas community, we are continuing to investigate and to monitor the situation.

From a student standpoint, here’s what you can do to minimize issues you encounter:

  • Always check quiz instructions before you start. In a timed quiz, the timer does NOT stop when you jump out of a quiz (by switching to another application on an iPad, closing the quiz to return later, and so on). Your quiz attempt will be automatically submitted when the timer runs out or when the quiz closes.
  • Always make sure your version of the Canvas app is up-to-date. The vendor regularly releases updates to the app with bug fixes and feature enhancements. The latest version is 3.18 for iOS, and 5.7 for Android.
  • For open-book quizzes, consider taking the quiz in a browser. While we have not be able to confirm whether switching between apps on a mobile device would cause issues, this is one of the suggestions that we were able to locate on the Canvas Community site.
  • Consider taking your quizzes in single sitting. While you are able to leave a quiz and resume later, you have enough deadlines to keep track of already. Don’t add another one to your already-full plate.
  • Review the late assignment policies of the courses you are taking. Some courses may already provide guidelines for when a quiz issue occurs in the syllabus.
  • Know that we investigate every report of issues related to quizzes and assignments by pulling access records, submission attempts, and other navigation data.
If you suspect that your iPad is misbehaving, feel free to contact us at; while we cannot resolve all issues, we may be able to point you in the right direction.

Free Online Course Teaches You to Learn How to Learn

Need some tips on learning how to learn? Here’s a great article from the New York Times on “Learning How to Learn,” an online course taken by more than 1.8 million students from 200 countries, the most ever on Coursera. The course provides practical advice on tackling daunting subjects and on beating procrastination, and the lessons engagingly blend neuroscience and common sense.

And it’s free. The following tips from the course instructor are included in the NYT article:


The brain has two modes of thinking that Dr. Oakley simplifies as ‘focused,’ in which learners concentrate on the material, and ‘diffuse,’ a neural resting state in which consolidation occurs — that is, the new information can settle into the brain. (Cognitive scientists talk about task-positive networks and default-mode networks, respectively, in describing the two states.) In diffuse mode, connections between bits of information, and unexpected insights, can occur. That’s why it’s helpful to take a brief break after a burst of focused work.

To accomplish those periods of focused and diffuse-mode thinking, Dr. Oakley recommends what is known as the Pomodoro Technique, developed by one Francesco Cirillo. Set a kitchen timer for a 25-minute stretch of focused work, followed by a brief reward, which includes a break for diffuse reflection. (‘Pomodoro’ is Italian for tomato — some timers look like tomatoes.) The reward — listening to a song, taking a walk, anything to enter a relaxed state — takes your mind off the task at hand. Precisely because you’re not thinking about the task, the brain can subconsciously consolidate the new knowledge. Dr. Oakley compares this process to ‘a librarian filing books away on shelves for later retrieval.’ … ‘Virtually anyone can focus for 25 minutes, and the more you practice, the easier it gets.’

‘Chunking’ is the process of creating a neural pattern that can be reactivated when needed. It might be an equation or a phrase in French or a guitar chord. Research shows that having a mental library of well-practiced neural chunks is necessary for developing expertise.

‘Practice brings procedural fluency,’ says Dr. Oakley, who compares the process to backing up a car. ‘When you first are learning to back up, your working memory is overwhelmed with input.’ In time, you don’t even need to think more than ‘Hey, back up,’ and the mind is free to think about other things.

‘Chunks build on chunks, and,’ she says, the neural network built upon that knowledge grows bigger. ‘You remember longer bits of music, for example, or more complex phrases in French.’ Mastering low-level math concepts allows tackling more complex mental acrobatics. ‘You can easily bring them to mind even while your active focus is grappling with newer, more difficult information.’

Dr. Oakley urges her students to understand that people learn in different ways. Those who have ‘racecar brains’ snap up information; those with ‘hiker brains’ take longer to assimilate information but, like a hiker, perceive more details along the way. Recognizing the advantages and disadvantages, she says, is the first step in learning how to approach unfamiliar material.

What’s New in CarmenCanvas (2017-09-16 & 2017-10-07 Releases)

You have noticed many visual changes in CarmenCanvas since the last “What is New in CarmenCanvas” entry! There were large lists of bug fixes in these two releases; below is a sub-list of changes that we would like to highlight.

(For additional information, visit the 2017-09-16 and 2017-10-07 release notes)

For Instructors Only:

  • Did you know that Canvas has a built-in course conferencing tool for running remote synchronous class sessions among individuals enrolled in the course? The Conference tool received various enhancements in the 2017-09-16 release, including an interface update, ability to allow student download of presentations, download public chat logs, full-screen mode, multi-user whiteboard, and shared notes.
  • Rubric criteria ratings can now be defined with point ranges,. Previously, entering a point value not specified by a rating would not trigger selection of a rating.
  • Published/unpublished icons have been updated.

For Everyone:

  • Email notifications from Canvas are now shown to be from the course instead of from “(Instructure) Canvas”

Tips For Giving Feedback in the Clinical Environment

  1. Establish a respectful learning environment.
  2. Communicate goals and objectives for feedback.
  3. Base feedback on direct observation.
  4. Make feedback timely and a regular occurrence.
  5. Begin the session with the learner’s self-assessment.
  6. Reinforce and correct observed behaviours.
  7. Use specific, neutral language to focus on performance.
  8. Confirm the learner’s understanding and facilitate acceptance.
  9. Conclude with an action plan.
  10. Reflect on your feedback skills.
  11. Create staff-development opportunities.
  12. Make feedback part of institutional culture.

Continuing the Conversation: OTL Presents on Teaching Without Lectures

During a facilitated discussion Wednesday morning on “Trends and How-to’s of Teaching without Lectures,” faculty participants raised many thought-provoking points regarding the merits and challenges of moving away from lecture-heavy delivery of course content. The conversation was offered as part of the college’s faculty professional development series.
  • Why do we lecture? Due to factors such as program history, curricular structures, and time constraints, lectures may seem to be the most pragmatic, straight-forward way of guaranteeing delivery of the curriculum as a whole. In addition, the prospect of receiving negative student feedback for trying non-lecture activities may be inhibiting to faculty.
Dr. James M. Lang advocates for starting with “small teaching” changes, or activities that can be incorporated rather easily at the individual class or lecture level. Another idea for experimenting with small changes is flipping a class or two by assigning learning materials for review outside of class, making use of small knowledge-checking activities, and leaving class time for additional knowledge-checking, reinforcement, and application. Mini-lectures are often used in alternative delivery methods for quick provision of essential information.
  • When and where would we consider incorporating non-lecture techniques, such as active learning? First take a look at your teaching goals and learning outcomes, then consider how those outcomes are best assessed. Brainstorm what kinds of activities and materials you can offer to your students so they achieve the learning outcomes. We call this process Backward Design.
  • What is active learning? Activities in which students actively engaging with knowledge and application. Some techniques include Problem-Based Learning (PBL), Team-Based learning (TBL), and Think-Pair-Share (TPS). See this link for additional techniques.
  • How do innovative instructional approaches affect grading? It’s worth looking at whether your exam questions align with learning outcomes. You might also ask the following: Is an exam really the best method for assessing student achievement of the intended learning outcomes? If not, how can exam questions be restructured to promote learning above the recall level? Are grades given to students on exams really indicative of their outcome achievement? If not there may be a better way to measure student learning. Is student learning better assessed with competencies than grades alone?
If you are interested in learning more and/or having additional conversations, please feel free to contact Teaching and Learning at You can also find the resources from the session in this Top Hat course.

Resources: Trends and How-To’s on Teaching Without Lectures

Teaching and Learning hosted a discussion with faculty and teaching staff regarding the merits of didactic lectures, the role and pitfalls of PowerPoint-dependent deliveries, and the advent of modern classroom pedagogical applications such as active learning. You can find the resources at this public Top Hat course.