James Lang visits UVA

Cheating Lessons: Learning from Academic Dishonesty

Thursday, February 22nd, 10-11:30 AM, Harrison Small Special Collections Library

When students engage in academically dishonest behaviors, they may be responding to subtle pressures in the learning environment that interfere with deep learning and nudge them toward cheating. Hence if we can gain a better understanding of the reasons for academically dishonest behavior, we can use that knowledge to improve our course design, teaching practices, and communication with students.  This interactive lecture will provide an overview of the various pressures that push student toward academic dishonesty, consider some pathways that will help alleviate those pressures, and invite discussion about how to build a campus culture of academic integrity.

 Small Teaching: From Minor Changes to Major Learning

Thursday, February 22nd, 2-4 PM, Harrison Small Special Collections Library

Research from the learning sciences and from a variety of educational settings suggests that a small number of key principles can improve learning in almost any type of college or university course, from traditional lectures to flipped classrooms.  This workshop will introduce some of those principles, offer practical suggestions for how they might foster positive change in higher education teaching and learning, and guide faculty participants to consider how these principles might manifest themselves in their current and upcoming courses.

 Register here for both sessions

Head Shot


James M. Lang is a Professor of English and the Director of the D’Amour Center for Teaching Excellence at Assumption College in Worcester, MA.  He is the author of five books, the most recent of which are Small Teaching: Everyday Lessons from the Science of Learning (Jossey-Bass, 2016) Cheating Lessons: Learning from Academic Dishonesty (Harvard University Press, 2013), and On Course: A Week-by-Week Guide to Your First Semester of College Teaching (Harvard UP, 2008).  Lang writes a monthly column on teaching and learning for The Chronicle of Higher Education; his work has been appearing in the Chronicle since 1999.  His book reviews and public scholarship on higher education have appeared in a wide variety of newspapers and magazines, including the Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune, and Time.  He edits a new series of books on teaching and learning in higher education for West Virginia University Press; the first title in the series appeared in fall 2016.  He has conducted workshops on teaching for faculty at more than a hundred colleges or universities in the US and abroad.  In September of 2016 he received a Fulbright Specialist grant to work with three universities in Colombia on the creation of a MOOC on teaching and learning in STEM education.  He has a BA in English and Philosophy from the University of Notre Dame, an MA in English from St. Louis University, and a Ph.D. in English from Northwestern University. 

Lang flyer

Controversial Topics and Difficult Dialogues


Effectively Engaging Students in Critical Conversations in the Classroom

A workshop with Libby Roderick, Director, Difficult Dialogues Initiative, University of Alaska, Anchorage

Session 1: Wednesday, February 14, 12:30-2pm, Rouss Robertson Hall 256
Session 2: Thursday, February 15, 11:30am-1pm, McLeod Hall 5060

Register here for one of these sessions.


Colleges and universities strive to be civil venues for learning and the robust exchange of ideas on controversial issues. However, while many classrooms increasingly suffer from the combative attitudes, racial and gender tensions, and intellectual dogmatism that characterize discourse in 21st century America, numerous faculty report a tendency to avoid controversial topics or to be unsure how to proceed when charged topics surface because they lack the skills and strategies to ensure productive discussions.

In this interactive workshop, participants will learn a wide range of strategies to effectively engage students on controversial topics in the classroom, strategies that have successfully been applied to such issues as gun control, climate change, race relations, sexual harassment/assault, gay marriage, immigration policy, and more. Specifically, participants will 1) explore and practice strategies for effectively introducing controversial topics into the classroom; 2) become aware of  the broader context of the national Difficult Dialogues initiative, 3) briefly examine the rights and responsibilities of academic freedom, and 4) discuss how to effectively respond to unexpected controversy and/or disruptive students in the classroom. The workshop is based upon Start Talking: A Handbook for Engaging Difficult Dialogues in Higher Education, a field manual for educators who wish to strengthen their teaching and engage students more effectively in conversations about the most important issues of our time.  Participants will receive a complementary hard copy of the book.

Libby Roderick is Director of the Difficult Dialogues Initiative and Associate Director of the Center for Advancing Faculty Excellence at the University of Alaska, Anchorage (UAA) and Vice Chair of the Difficult Dialogues National Resource Center. She conducts faculty workshops across the U.S. and in South Africa on difficult dialogues, indigenous ways of teaching and learning, and creating collegial departments in academe. She is the editor of Alaska Native Cultures and Issues; Associate Editor of Start Talking:  A Handbook of Engaging Difficult Dialogues in Higher Education;  co-author of Stop Talking:  Indigenous Ways of Teaching and Learning and Difficult Dialogues in Higher Education, and editor of Toxic Friday:  Resources for Addressing Faculty Bullying in Higher Education. A Yale University summa cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa, Libby is also an internationally recognized, award-winning singer/songwriter and recording artist.

Cosponsored by the Center for Teaching Excellence, the McIntire School of Commerce, the School of Nursing, the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, and the Office of the Vice President and Chief Officer for Diversity and Equity

Exploring CATME: An Online Tool to Support Effective Group Work

Date: Friday August 11, 2017
Location:Hotel D, 24 East Range

For additional workshop details, please click here.


Integration of group work both in and outside of the classroom helps create an engaging learning environment for students. But forming groups and assessing how students engage in these groups can be challenging.  CATME is a research-based online tool developed for instructors to support effective group formation and assessment of student participation in groups. The goals of this workshop are to introduce instructors to the features of CATME and help instructors become comfortable using CATME in their courses.  Instructors will have opportunities to create activities in CATME for their own courses and consider new ways to integrate group work in their courses. Faculty who already use CATME will share their experiences and be available for questions.

Participants who attend the session need to set up a CATME account prior to the workshop (https://www.catme.org/login/index) and should bring their laptop to the workshop.

The audience targeted are instructors who teach courses of 20+ students who do not currently use CATME but are interested in exploring how it can be integrated into a curriculum that uses group work.  

Presented by:
Lindsay Wheeler, Ph.D.
Assistant Director of STEM Education Initiatives, Center for Teaching Excellence
Assistant Professor

Brian Helmke, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Department of Biomedical Engineering
University of Virginia

For additional details, and to Register, please click here.

2017 Teaching as a Graduate Student (TAGS) Workshop Registration

Date: Thursday August 17, 2017
Location:Nau/Gibson Hall 1st Floor Lobby

For additional workshop details, please click here.


Each August, hundreds of graduate students are introduced to learning-centered teaching at the University of Virginia through our day-long workshop series, Teaching as a Graduate Student (formerly known as the August Teaching Workshop). This day-long event engages graduate student instructors and postdoctoral fellows from around the University in a variety of interactive workshops designed to kick-start their teaching careers at UVA.

For additional details, and to Register, please click here.

Diversity and Inclusive Teaching Practices in STEM

Diversity is vital for the pursuit of knowledge in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM), yet many STEM fields lack gender, ethnic, and disability diversity. [1] One of the places of attrition is in post-secondary education: only 40% of students who intend to major in a STEM discipline obtain a degree in a STEM discipline.[2] Students who leave STEM are often those already underrepresented in the fields.[3] So what does that mean for STEM faculty who teach undergraduates? What can we do to help reduce attrition and increase diversity in our field?

One very important consideration is stereotype threat and its impact on diversity. In a nut-shell, stereotype threat exists in any context that puts one at risk of confirming a negative stereotype about one’s group. Common identity categories that face negative stereotyping include race, gender, sexual orientation, and disability. Stereotype threat can negatively impact any individual if a situation emphasizes a stereotype-based expectation of poor performance.

For example, when researchers subtly primed students to consider race before taking a standardized test, black students performed more poorly than white students[4]. In another study, when athletic ability was emphasized, white students underperformed in golf skills compared to black students[5]. What is disconcerting is that the long-term effects of stereotype threat go beyond immediate performance. Students’ perceived value of a discipline, their sense of belonging, and even their choice of major can be impacted by an incident of stereotype threat. These long-term effects of stereotype threat may contribute to the lack of diversity in STEM disciplines. So how do we reduce stereotype threats for students?

To answer this question we will first need to understand what triggers stereotype threat. Many times students experience stereotype threat not as the result of intentional actions by their peers or instructors but as an effect of implicit bias. Implicit bias refers to unconscious attitudes that may impact an individual’s actions or decisions.

These biases are not something we can easily identify, nor do they typically align with our conscious beliefs and attitudes about race, gender, etc. As hard as it is to admit, we all have implicit bias. And we, as instructors and/or researchers who mentor students, may have acted in ways that cause students to experience stereotype threat.

At this point you may be thinking ‘but I don’t have any implicit biases’ or ‘I have never made a student feel a stereotype threat, and this is a natural response. I have found a good way to understand the idea of implicit bias and stereotype threat is to consider the following questions:

  • What experiences have you had that led to the beliefs you have about yourself and your capabilities as a student and a professional?
  • How have different people/experiences/messages/cultural ideas throughout your life influenced these beliefs?
  • What are some of the stereotypes or labels that you or others have made about you?

When asking graduate students in STEM to respond to some of these questions, particularly the third question, they have given honest and eye-opening responses. International TAs feel labeled by their students as English language learners and not ‘smart’, Indian students perceive they need to be the best performers in class, and female graduate students feel they need to outperform their male counterparts just to ‘prove’ they can cut it in graduate school. While some marginalized students persist, many students do not.

Thus, we need to make an effort, particularly in STEM, to reduce stereotype threat for our students, demonstrate the value of diversity, and help improve diversity in our disciplines. I think Adrienne Rich’s quote sums up the impact implicit bias has on students:

When someone with the authority of a teacher, say, describes the world and you are not in it, there is a moment of psychic disequilibrium, as if you looked into a mirror and saw nothing.         – Adrienne Rich

We don’t want our students to feel this way, so what can we do as instructors? I propose two main ways we can promote diversity in STEM through our teaching: A) emphasize the importance of diversity in our discipline, and B) find ways to support diverse students to learn in our courses.


  • Discuss with students how diversity enhances education and the pursuit of science by examining the value of diverse in ideas, hypotheses, solution strategies, etc.
  • Include important contributors to science who represent various ethnicities, races, and genders when discussing various topics
  • Examine the diversity, or lack thereof, in your discipline (both in industry and in academia) through class discussions and course projects
  • Provide students opportunities to read and reflect on issues of diversity in your discipline

There are two ways to SUPPORT DIVERSE STUDENTS IN STEM CLASSROOMS. First, we need to address or own implicit biases. We can do this by:

  • Educate yourself on implicit bias and stereotype threat (resources provided at the end)
  • Emphasize effort and mastery of your discipline over performance and intelligence  (see some of Carol Dweck’s work on mindset: https://mindsetonline.com/)
  • Learn from mistakes by addressing an implicit bias situation and reflecting on various alternative ways to handle future similar situations
  • Get to know all of your students as individuals

Second, the use of inclusive teaching practices can help mitigate bias and support a diverse group of students in their learning. Here are some examples of inclusive and non-inclusive teaching strategies:

Non-inclusive Inclusive
Analogies and metaphors used to explain concepts are sports, military, or construction related. A broad range of analogies is used.
All lectures use text-rich slides; all assignments involve reading text with few visuals; all study guides involve only essay-type questions. Lectures use a mix of textual and visual representation; some assignments engage students in collaborative learning that requires discussion, evaluation of ideas, etc.
Under-represented minority students are all grouped together or completely separated from each other. At least two women or members of ethnic minority groups are included in a group.
Instructor’s questions have a single correct answer. Answers to questions have several correct answers, require consensus of the group, and/or require the class’s collective knowledge to be answered.
Instructor uses one instructional method (lecture) and exam (multiple choice). Instructor uses a variety of learning exercises and assessment tools.
Grading is done without discussion or a rubric. Grading rubrics are used and explained to students.

In summary, diversity is vital to STEM disciplines, and we as instructors need to find ways to create inclusive classroom environments and promote diversity in our teaching. It is also important to understand that addressing issues related to diversity can be challenging and uncomfortable, and you will likely make mistakes on the way. However, small changes to the way we interact with students and design our courses could be the difference in a student’s choice to major in our discipline and pursue a career in science, math, or engineering. And that’s worth it.

Some great resources to get you started in addressing diversity in your STEM classroom:



Handelsman, J., Ebert-May, D., Beichner, R., Bruns, P., Chang, A., DeHaan, R., & Wood, W. B. (2004). Scientific teaching. Science, 304(5670), 521-522.

Implicit bias & stereotype threat






Inclusive teaching





[1] For details on scientific workforce diversity, see: https://royalsociety.org/topics-policy/diversity-in-science/topic/ and http://handelsmanlab.sites.yale.edu/sites/default/files/Scientific%20Teaching.pdf

[2] Waldrop, M. Mitchell (2015-07-16). “Why we are teaching science wrong, and how to make it right”. Nature. 523 (7560): 272–274. doi:10.1038/523272a.

[3] https://www.bu.edu/stem/files/2015/02/The-STEM-Pipeline-booklet1.3-36.pdf

[4] Steele, C. M., & Aronson, J. (1995). Stereotype threat and the intellectual test performance of African-Americans. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 69, 797-811.

[5] Stone, J., Lynch, C. I., Sjomeling, M., & Darley, J. M. (1999).  Stereotype threat effects on black and white athletic performance.  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 77, 1213-1227.

Leveraging classroom observations to promote instructional change

Date: Friday February 24, 2017
Location: RBT 254 (ROBERTSON HALL ROOM 254)

For additional workshop details, please click here.


While the development and widespread implementation of new observation protocols for postsecondary classrooms is providing new insights into the instructional practices of faculty, it is also raising questions about efficient strategies to leverage these data to promote meaningful reflection by the faculty and inform change in their teaching. The goal of this working session is to identify effective strategies grounded in the literature and our own practices to provide actionable feedback to faculty based on results of classroom observations. In particular, we will 1) summarize the research on effective practices to provide feedback to faculty, 2) share our developing strategy to leverage data collected from the Classroom Observation Protocol for Undergraduate STEM (COPUS), and 3) brainstorm ways to align each other’s strategies to these research findings. Participants to this session are encouraged to bring drafts or fully developed strategies that they have used to provide feedback to faculty based on classroom observations. The audience targeted is staff and faculty who are involved in the professional development of faculty and graduate students

Presented by:
Dr. Marilyne Stains, PhD.
Associate Professor, Chemical Education
Chemistry Department
University of Nebraska – Lincoln


For additional details, and to Register, please click here.

Approaches to Difficult Classroom Dialogues

Whether motivated by controversial course content or by current events, many instructors will find themselves dealing with difficult classroom discussions around “hot” topics. Often these discussions touch on aspects of identity and on deeply held beliefs, causing emotions to run high. Turning such situations into opportunities to support students’ learning and well-being requires skill as well as recognition of one’s own position and motivations.

One helpful approach to these difficult dialogues involves understanding, adopting, and communicating to students particular pedagogical stances on teaching controversial issues. Our colleagues at the Yale Center for Teaching and Learning propose three paradigms for teaching controversial issues:

A Civic Humanism approach to teaching controversies prioritizes civil discourse, social responsibility, and democratic values. This approach has a long history in American higher education and consequently will be familiar to many faculty members. It posits that education should prepare students for citizenship, help them develop a sense of social responsibility, and prepare them to engage in a world characterized by diversity, complexity, and change. Such an approach to difficult and controversial topics focuses on understanding different perspectives, appreciating ambiguity and complexity, and learning to disagree respectfully. Current prominent proponents of this paradigm include university presidents such as Derek Bok and Michael Roth, as well as the Association of American Colleges and Universities.

Liberation Pedagogy, following the work of scholars like Paulo Freire and bell hooks, understands teaching to be deeply intertwined with character formation, justice, and the development of the whole person in the world. Freire, hooks, and other proponents of this approach have argued that traditional pedagogical models in which the professor is sole authority and the students are passive recipients of knowledge can replicate unjust power dynamics, which can be particularly damaging to marginalized students. Instead, they urge a collaborative and dialogic pedagogical approach, one that recognizes the knowledge, perspectives, and identities that students as well as professors bring into the classroom, and that seeks to empower students by recognizing the ways their broader life experiences intersect with and influence their learning. Liberation pedagogy does not seek to approach all sides of a controversy neutrally, but instead frames disagreement around a search for justice.

Academic Detachment understands the controversy itself as an object of academic inquiry. Under this paradigm, professors and students might, in Stanley Fish’s words, “detach [a controversial topic] from the context of its real-world urgency, where there is a decision to be made, and re-insert it into a context of an academic urgency, where there is an analysis to be performed.” The focus might be on the history and nature of different sides of an issue with a goal of understanding the controversy but not of taking sides or passing judgment. Gerald Graff has argued that this approach of “teaching the controversy” focuses students on the nature of academic debate and knowledge production.

Instructors may find that a particular approach best fits their pedagogical style, their comfort with difficult classroom dialogues, and/or the nature of their subject matter (though arguably any subject could be approached from any of these stances). Many of us may also choose to adopt one stance or another, or even to overlap them, depending on context. For instance, the same professor who asks students to take an academic detachment approach to a discussion on abortion in a reproductive ethics class might choose to take a liberation pedagogy approach to an unplanned discussion about a hate-motivated incident that has upset the campus community.

Communicating the approach, as well as its goals and rationale, to students is also crucial. An instructor may assume everyone agrees that a controversial discussion should be approached as a dispassionate dialogue, but students who have a deeply personal stake in the topic and feel their identities, experiences, and emotions should be taken into account might be expecting a different approach. Such a mismatch in expectations has the potential to cause frustration and hurt on all sides. Whatever paradigm a professor uses, the discussion will be much more productive if everyone is on the same page about how and why we approach difficult topics in particular ways. It can also be helpful to look at the same issue through multiple pedagogical lenses, particularly as a way to model simultaneously honoring and analyzing the influence of emotion, identity, and personal experience on learning.

As always, we would be happy to talk with you about further strategies within the context of your particular teaching setting. Call us at 434-982-2815 or request a confidential consultation online.

Association of American Colleges and Universities. (2014, April 18). What Is a 21st Century Liberal Education? Retrieved December 8, 2016.

Bok, D. (2006). Our Underachieving Colleges: A Candid Look at How Much Students Learn and Why They Should Be Learning More. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Fish, S. (2006). Tip to Professors: Just Do Your Job. Retrieved December 8, 2016.

Freire, P. (2005). Pedagogy of the Oppressed. (M. Bergman Ramos, Trans.) (30th Anniversary Edition). New York and London: Continuum.

Graff, G. (1992). Beyond the Culture Wars: How Teaching the Conflicts Can Revitalize American Education. New York and London: W. W. Norton and Co.

hooks, b. (1994). Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom. New York and London: Routledge.

Roth, M. (2014). Beyond the University: Why Liberal Education Matters. New Haven and London: Yale University Press.

Yale Center for Teaching and Learning. (n.d.). Teaching Controversial Topics. Retrieved December 8, 2016.


Discussing Critical Incidents

In our last blog, we highlighted ways you can support your students though the simple act of acknowledging that you are aware of the range of thoughts and emotions that people may be experiencing around current events. Here, we would like to share some thoughts about ways to respond if, in your class, one or several students want to discuss a recent incident involving, for example, hate or bias.

You may begin by acknowledging the students who raised the issue, maybe by thanking them and pointing to the importance of their concern. You can note that people may have different feelings and thoughts about the issue and affirm your own and the institutions commitment to the values of diversity, civility, and respect. As you consider whether you are ready to discuss the issue right away, it may be helpful to make some of your thinking transparent to your students, acknowledging, perhaps, that you are torn between wanting to make time for the conversation and wanting to honor your commitment to teaching your subject. You may also want to get a sense about the interest and willingness of other students to share their perspective on the issue. You could do so after class by sending out a Google form in which students can state their preference anonymously. (You can also use this technique proactively when an incident occurs, signaling that you are thinking about students, even when they are not sitting in class.) If you and your students want to engage in a conversation, you can schedule it for a later class period, or a time outside of class, and suggest ways for everyone to prepare. If you schedule the conversation during normal class time, you may consider offering students the option of opting out of the conversation to make room for those who may have good reasons for not wanting to participate in a difficult dialogue.

Our colleagues in Michigan break down the actual process of facilitating a difficult conversation in into nine steps including

  • identifying a clear purpose for the conversation
  • establishing ground rules
  • providing a common base for understanding
  • creating a framework for the discussion that maintains focus and flow
  • including everyone in the conversation
  • being an active facilitator
  • summarizing discussion and gathering student feedback
  • handling issues that involve the instructor’s identity
  • and identifying university resources.

This guide helps you to consider each of these steps in detail.

As always, we would be happy to talk with you about further strategies within the context of your particular teaching setting. Call us at 434-982-2815 or request a confidential consultation online.

Resources to Support Our Students

In this post-election time, many of you are asking for resources to support your students. In a recent blog post, our colleagues at Michigan’s Center for Research on Teaching and Learning remind us that there are many factors that will influence whether or not you choose to engage your students in conversations about current events. Your own emotions, positionality, and confidence with facilitating difficult conversations are just three among many legitimate reasons.

Even if you choose not to discuss events directly in class, there are a few things you can do to support your students’ well-being and learning. For example, your students will appreciate it if you acknowledge in person or in an email that this is a difficult time and that they may be struggling to keep up with school work. This simple acknowledgement can normalize feelings of distress, ease a sense of isolation, and signal that you care. If you teach immediately following a distressing incident, consider inviting your students at the beginning of class to free-write for a few minutes about a prompt such as the following: “How do you make sense of the current events and your emotions in light of your values? Who do you want to reach out to later in the day for more processing and support?” You may also give students the choice to leave class if they need to process differently and offer flexibility regarding assignment deadlines. We know from the research that such an acknowledgement can increase students sense of belonging and their ability to learn.

For further resources on responding to specific incidents and on inclusive teaching and difficult dialogues more generally, please see the following selection.

Responding to specific incidents (U Michigan):

Resources for critical conversations and inclusive teaching:

Self-care as a member of a marginalized group and an academic:

We would be happy to talk with you about further strategies within the context of your particular teaching setting. Call us at 434-982-2815 or request a confidential consultation online.

The CTE is committed to the values of diversity, inclusion, social justice, and education.

What are students really typing?

During my graduate career at the University at Buffalo in the Anthropology program, I was occasionally invited to lead a class discussion.  The classroom itself could seat upwards of 200 students, many of which had brought along their laptops.

Photo from Wikimedia.org

On one balmy spring morning, I was asked to give a lecture on social scripts.  Seeing a natural connection to the classroom setting, I began my discussion from the back of the classroom, immediately breaking the students’ social expectations (i.e. their social scripts) for what a prototypical lecturer should be doing.

Although the strategy worked, that is not the point of this post.  Carrying on the theme of a recent “Flipping the Classroom” conversation within the Hybrid Challenge group, I was struck by the number of students who had their own laptops (this was about 8 years ago), and further struck by the percentage of those students who were updating their social network status, checking last night’s basketball scores, or browsing YouTube.

For someone who self identifies as an ‘engaging teacher’ (perhaps engaging teaching assistant would have been more accurate at the time), the students’ lack of engagement left me downtrodden.

Map of Online Communities from xkcd

It appears I was not alone, because recently a St. John’s University law professor had researchers look over students’ shoulders and two University of Vermont business professors used computer software to monitor what students were doing on their laptops during lecture. Though neither study had quite the precision of a true controlled experiment, these results are notable because they relied on observations of students instead of self-reporting and surveys.

In the Vermont study, students cycled through an average of 65 new windows per lecture, of which over half were considered distractions. At St. John’s, most second- and third-year law students used their laptops for non-class-related purposes over half the time.

Any visit to a large lecture is likely to reinforce these data. Students are apt to drift to email inboxes and social networking sites. Facebook is a staple of many college students’ laptop screens.

Many times, students will simply pull up Microsoft Word or PowerPoint to copy down bullets when the professor advances to the next slide, and then return to surfing the web.

The study also revealed a significant deviation between student survey results and actual computer-use practices. Students tend to under-report the amount of time they spend on distracting activities in class.

At this point, you may be saying to yourself, “Self, this is horrible!  By allowing my students to bring their laptops into my classes I am condemning them to a fate of distraction and disengagement.”

To which I reply,  “Wait!  The end is not nigh!”  Do not be so quick to ban laptops in your classroom.

In later posts, I will further discuss the consequences of laptops in the classroom, and propose a number of ideas to engage students through their technology.

This post is part of a series relating to TRC’s theme, “Face-to-Face Education in the Digital Age”.

Read the next post –>, “Engaging Students Through Their Laptops”.

About the author: Matthew Trevett-Smith, TRC Assistant Director & Assistant Professor