Sexual victimization and learning

By Itiya Aneece, PhD student in Environmental Sciences and Tomorrow’s Professor Today Alumna

Itiya AneeceThe Rolling Stone article-irrespective of the accuracy of the reported incident- has helped bring to light the prevalence of sexual crime across our grounds as well as other college campuses. What is the university’s role in preventing and addressing such trauma?

Students experiencing psychological distress are more likely to drop out of the university (Jordan et al. 2014). To increase student retention rates and provide equal access to education among all students, a university has an obligation to provide a psychologically and physically safe environment for learning (Jordan et al. 2014).

In their study including 750 women, Jordan et al. (2014) found that 41% of women enrolling into the University of Kentucky had been sexually victimized in their teens. An additional 24% and 20% experienced sexual crime in their first and second semesters respectively. Such sexual crimes can lead to feelings of shock, confusion, fear, agitation, depression, anxiety, guilt, shame, embarrassment, and low self-esteem (Jordan et al. 2014). They can result in several mental and physical health problems (Kaltman et al. 2005) including eating disorders, chronic pain, substance abuse, sleeping disturbance, social withdrawal, PTSD, and suicidality (Jordan et al. 2014).

What does this have to do with the university? Jordan et al. (2014) found that women who had experienced sexual victimization as teenagers matriculated with lower GPAs from high school and earned lower grades during their freshman year. Women who had been sexually assaulted during the first semester had lower GPA scores at the end of the semester as compared with women who had not been sexually assaulted. This decrease in grades may be because survivors of sexual victimization can have diminished abilities to concentrate, organize facts, and remember what they learned in class (Jordan et al. 2014). Dealing with depression and anxiety also takes up vast amounts of energy that would otherwise be available for studying or engaging with peers (Jordan et al. 2014).

Colleges and universities are not powerless and have options for action. They can incorporate trauma and mental health screenings upon entry, and offer trauma-focused interventions and treatment options (Kaltman 2005). They can educate students, faculty, and staff in responding to survivors. Listening to and believing survivors supports recovery from trauma whereas victim-blaming, taking control, and distracting can be detrimental to recovery and have long-term consequences (Ullman 1996). Although dealing with student disclosures of sexual assault and intimate partner violence is difficult (Branch et al. 2011), it is important that instructors educate themselves about how to respond when students confide in them. They may also consider strategies for trauma-sensitive teaching. In an earlier blog post, I have written on trauma and learning and suggested a few resources for instructors.

I am glad to see several initiatives that the University of Virginia has undertaken to help survivors in their recovery within the university community. It is time that we as teachers recognize the effects that traumatic events have on learning itself and make changes in the classroom to provide all students an equal opportunity to learn.

For excellent suggestions on how to support students in distressing times see Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPs) guide “How Faculty Can Help.


Branch, K. A., Hayes-Smith, R., & Richards, T. N. 2011. Professors’ experiences with student disclosures of sexual assault and intimate partner violence: How “helping” students can inform teaching practices. Feminist Criminology, 6(1), 54-75.

Gomez, J. 2013. Exploring the association between mindfulness, sustained attention, experiential avoidance, and posttraumatic stress symptom severity among females who have been sexually victimized. Open Access Dissertations. Paper 1054.

Jordan, C., Combs, J., and G. Smith. 2014. An exploration of sexual victimization and academic performance among college women. Trauma, Violence, and Abuse, 15 (3): 191-200.

Kaltman, S., Krupnick, J., Stockton, P., Hooper, L., and B. Green. 2005. Psychological impact of types of sexual trauma among college women. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 18 (5): 547-555.

Ullman, S. 1996. Social reactions, coping strategies, and self-blame attributions in adjustment to sexual assault. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 20: 505-526.

Itiya AneeceItiya Aneece is pursuing a PhD in Environmental Sciences at the University of Virginia. She has taught the Fundamentals of Ecology lab since the Fall of 2011, has recently completed the Tomorrow’s Professor Today program, and enjoys exploring new ways to encourage learning.

Redesigning the class to Increase Student Involvement

A book review by Itiya Aneece, PhD student in Environmental Sciences and Tomorrow’s Professor Today Alumna

Itiya Aneece

When is it time for a radical change? After various small improvements but the same comments of the course being too much work and not providing students with applicable skills, it was time to do something different. This semester, I flipped the classroom and redesigned assessments to address larger learning goals; students are now more engaged and produce higher quality work. This approach allows students to view and review material at a pace and location convenient for them, and allows teachers to use class time to provide personal instruction, facilitate student interaction with content, assess student learning, and garner participation from a larger majority of the class (Talley and Scherer 2013, Gullen and Zimmerman 2013, Sams and Bergmann 2013).

Along with flipping the classroom I am teaching in an active learning center next semester. This center facilitates group work because desks are arranged to facilitate group discussion, the professor is able to easily walk among and interact with students, and there are multiple screens and whiteboards/ chalkboards around the room. Several universities have active learning centers including the University of Minnesota (Regents of the University of Minnesota 2009, Regents of the University of Minnesota 2013), UC Berkeley (UC Regents 2009), Indiana University (Trustees of the Indiana University 2011), and University of Washington (University of Washington Libraries 2014). These spaces help students feel relaxed, promote deep learning, increase interactions with peers and instructors, and promote active student engagement and accountability in their own and their team’s learning (Regents of the University of Minnesota 2009, Trustees of Boston University 2014, Miglio et al. 2012). Due to a flexible and accommodating floor plan, the active learning classroom facilitates flexible teaching styles: collaborative, problem-based, and project-based learning (Miglio et al. 2012).

One other innovative teaching style that can be accommodated by active learning classrooms is inquiry-based learning, which allows students to have personal experiences with concepts and put learning into context for themselves and pre-existing knowledge, as well as encouraging active participation in their own learning (Edelson et al. 1999). This allows students to practice investigatory abilities (defining the question, investigating possibilities, and presenting results), along with understanding basic concepts (Edelson et al. 1999). Technology can assist inquiry-based learning by increasing interest and motivation, providing access to information, and providing the support needed for storing, analyzing, and presenting information (Edelson et al. 1999).

Thus, there are several innovative techniques now being implemented to use technology in a way that will enhance student participation and promote significant learning. However, these techniques can only be successfully implemented in a supportive environment where teachers have encouragement, resources, and logistical support, and where students have a guided learning experience that motivates them, encourages participation, and provides them with the skills needed for this higher level of learning. This environment takes time and effort to develop but the benefits to student learning can be substantial.

Edelson, D., Gordin, D., and R. Pea. 1999. Addressing the challenges of inquiry-based learning through technology and curriculum design. The Journal of the Learning Sciences, 8: (3/4): 391-450.

Gullen, K., and H. Zimmerman. 2013. Saving time with technology. Educational Leadership, 70 (6): 63-66.

Miglio, A., Farmer, B., Gaiser, G., Chan, K., Ray, M., McGrath, O., and T. Gotch. 2012. Room 127 Dwinelle Hall test kitchen: First year review. UC Berkeley Educational Technology Services.

Sams, A., and J. Bergmann. 2013. Flip your students’ learning. Educational Leadership, 70 (6): 16-20.

Talley, C.P. and S. Scherer. 2013. The enhanced flipped classroom: Increasing academic performance with student-recorded lectures and practice testing in a “flipped” STEM course. The Journal of Negro Education, 82 (3): 339-347.

Trustees of Boston University. 2014. Here & Now: Active learning classrooms break the mold. 90.9wbur Boston’s NPR news station. Accessed at <>.

Trustees of the Indiana University, The. 2011. Center for innovative teaching and learning, Active learning classrooms. Indiana University, Bloomington. Accessed at <>.

Regents of the University of Minnesota. 2009. Office of classroom management: Office of undergraduate education, Active learning classroom (ALC). University of Minnesota. Accessed at <>.

Regents of the University of Minnesota. 2013. Center for teaching and learning, Active learning classrooms. University of Minnesota. Accessed at <>.

UC Regents. 2009. Educational Teaching Services: Active learning classrooms. Accessed at <>.

University of Washington Libraries. 2014. University of Washington: Active learning classrooms (ALC). University Libraries. Accessed at <>.

Itiya Aneece is pursuing a PhD in Environmental Sciences at the University of Virginia. She has taught the Fundamentals of Ecology lab since the Fall of 2011, has recently completed the Tomorrow’s Professor Today program, and enjoys exploring new ways to encourage learning.


Incorporating technology into a pre-existing course design

A book review by Itiya Aneece, PhD student in Environmental Sciences and Tomorrow’s Professor Today Alumna

Itiya Aneece

Have you ever been stuck in a huge lecture hall and thought- this topic has so much potential and would be so interesting if only… ? Of course, technology is not the only answer to enhancing such a lecture; the speaker must be able and willing to engage the audience. However, given the ability and desire to do so, there are several tools he/she can use to transform such a static and anonymity-promoting space into one that encourages active participation.

Student Response Systems, aka Clickers, have been used in large lecture halls for years to enhance participation, assess student learning instantaneously, and encourage critical thinking. Simply incorporating these Clickers into the classroom is not going to enhance learning and there is much debate about the best way to encourage student use of the Clickers and assess the impacts of this technology. Successful implementation on this technology depends on various aspects of the students and the quality of the activities for which the Clickers are used (Trees and Jackson, 2007). However, Vaterlous et al. (2012) found an increase in student perception of confidence, attention, retention and learning. Students also perceived more effective learning when reviewing with clickers in addition to slides and verbal review than with slideshow presentation and verbal review alone; test scores reflected this increased effectiveness in learning.

Yet another example of student response systems is the classroom communication technology (CCT) that can be connected to graphing calculators in order to send and receive documents from students and to project student work for large-group discussions (Case and Pape 2013). Such technology has been shown to increase student engagement in their learning and be an effective way of pacing the class with regular assessments.

Both of these examples can be implemented easily into a classroom at low costs (especially if graphing calculators or phones are used as clickers). Bonnstetter and VanOverbeke (2011) list several other simple and cost-effective ways to incorporate technology and engage student in learning different types of skills (see table below).


Skill Technology Activity Resources
Recall PowerPoint Games California State University Northridge
Collaboration Social networking sites Group projects Ning Mode Media, Delicious
Comprehension Blogs, tweets, mind mapping tools Discussion and peer-teaching Cmap, Freemind
Application Interactive applets Simulations National Library of Virtual Manipulatives
Analysis Venn Diagram software Comparing and contrasting Gliffy
Evaluation Blogs or Webquests Quality assessment Edublogs, Information Today
Creativity Project creation software Making videos, photo collages, or presentation Videospin, Picasa, Prezi



Bonnstetter, R. and D. VanOverbeke. 2011. Turn up the H.E.A.T.: Give your students the HOTS they need. In M. Koehler & P. Mishra (Eds.), Proceedings of Society for Information Technology & Teacher Education International Conference 2011: 3143-3148. Chesapeake, VA: AACE.

Case, E. and S.J. Pape. 2013. Struggles and successes implementing classroom communication technology in a college pre-calculus course. Journal of Computers in Mathematics and Science Teaching, 32 (1): 5-24.

Trees, A.R., and M.H. Jackson. 2007. The learning environment in clicker classrooms: student processes of learning and involvement in large university-level courses using student response systems. Learning, Media and Technology. 32 (1): 21-40.

Vaterlaus, J.M., Beckert, T.E., Fauth, E.B., and B. Teemant. 2012. An examination of the influence of Clicker technology on college student involvement and recall. International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, 24(3): 293-300.

Itiya Aneece is pursuing a PhD in Environmental Sciences at the University of Virginia. She has taught the Fundamentals of Ecology lab since the Fall of 2011, has recently completed the Tomorrow’s Professor Today program, and enjoys exploring new ways to encourage learning.



Choosing Technology that Supports Learning and Encourages Student Involvement

A book review by Itiya Aneece, PhD student in Environmental Sciences and Tomorrow’s Professor Today Alumna

Itiya Aneece

Technology can be an asset to learning and increasing student involvement by increasing access to material (Khalil 2013) in flexible ways (Park 2011) and allowing students and teachers to express individuality and challenge themselves (Landis 2010, Deaton and Singleton 2004). Despite these potential benefits of technology, many teachers (and learners) resist its introduction. One key to overcoming this resistance is acknowledging it as a legitimate response. The haphazard incorporation of technology will not benefit learning; it must be deliberately incorporated in ways that support learning goals; this takes time, effort, resources, encouragement from faculty, administration, and students, and evolving modes of support (Landis 2010, Park 2011, Anderson and Wood 2009, Deaton and Singleton 2004).

To choose the appropriate use of technology to accomplish specific learning goals, it is useful to categorize technology into the types of learning it can facilitate. Park (2011) describes four categories of mobile-device facilitated learning as a function of transactional distance and learner independence. Transactional distance is a function of the degree of pre-determined structure of an activity, the level of interaction between the teacher and the learner, and the level of interaction between the student and his/ her peers (Park 2011). An activity that has a lot of structure (i.e. recorded lecture as opposed to an online discussion) and low levels of interaction with the teacher and peers would have high transactional distance so that there is a large cognitive distance between the teacher and the learner.

Park’s (2011) four categories are high transactional distance socialized learning (HS), high transactional distance individualized learning (HI), low transactional distance socialized learning (LS), and low transactional distance individualized learning (LI). Each addresses a different set of learning goals: HS helps students develop collaboration and socialization skills; HI helps gain knowledge from the teacher in a structured way; LS encourages interaction with the teacher and with peers; and LI helps a teacher provide guided individualized learning. Hence, the learning goals of a particular activity determine the type and level of technology used.

Even when introducing an appropriate form of technology, teachers must be prepared to adapt new teaching styles and students must be prepared to adapt new ways of learning (Deaton and Singleton 2004). With clear definition of student roles and availability of resources, technology can be incorporated into learning that increases student involvement in an individualized and effective manner (Deaton and Singleton 2004).

Anderson, A. and E. Wood. 2009. Implementing technology in the classroom: Assessing teachers’ needs through the use of a just-in-time support system. In I. Gibson et al. (Eds.), Proceedings of Society for Information Technology and Teacher Education International Conference 2009: 3369-3372. Chesapeake, VA: AACE.

Deaton, B. and E. Singleton. 2004. Faculty involvement in internet based learning: Why would they ever do that?. In J. Nall & R. Robson (Eds.), Proceedings of World Conference on E-Learning in Corporate, Government, Healthcare, and Higher Education 2004: pp. 566-571. Chesapeake, VA: AACE.

Khalil, S.M. 2013. From resistance to acceptance and use of technology in academia. Open Praxis. 5 (2): 151-163.

Landis, M. 2010. Constructive technology. In D. Gibson & B. Dodge (Eds.). Proceedings of Society for Information Technology & Teacher Education International Conference 2010: 2280-2287. Chesapeake, VA: AACE.

Park, Y. 2011. A pedagogical framework for mobile learning: categorizing educational applications of mobile technologies into four types. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning. 12.2: 78-102.

Itiya Aneece is pursuing a PhD in Environmental Sciences at the University of Virginia. She has taught the Fundamentals of Ecology lab since the Fall of 2011, has recently completed the Tomorrow’s Professor Today program, and enjoys exploring new ways to encourage learning.


The use of technology to increase student “ownership” of their learning

A book review by Itiya Aneece, PhD student in Environmental Sciences and Tomorrow’s Professor Today Alumna

Itiya Aneece

What role should students play in their learning? How can teachers guide them in fulfilling these roles, and how should today’s technology be implemented to increase student involvement in significant learning?

As teachers, we want students to engage in deep learning, not simply learning class concepts, but skills they shall use long after the class is over. Such learning requires guidance by teachers, student involvement in their learning, and students being held accountable for learning and involvement (Davis and Murrell 1993).

It is well known that students develop more, learn better, and retain information longer when they are active participants in their own learning (Davis and Murrell 1993, Astin 1999). Additionally, student responsibility in the classroom aids in student development as responsible and informed citizens outside the classroom, who will in turn influence the condition of higher education in the future (Davis and Murrell 1993).

How, then, do we promote student involvement? Chickering and Gamson (1987) suggest encouraging student and faculty interactions, developing student-student cooperation, encouraging active learning, providing timely feedback, managing time to stay on task, defining high expectations, and engaging various talents and learning styles among students. Bates and Poole (2003) suggest curricula that don’t have too much material, opportunities to learn independently, and assessments that test deep learning. Students can also be involved in planning the curriculum of a course and determining methods of assessment (Bates and Poole 2003).

Technology can be implemented to increase student involvement in those ways. Although the various forms of technology available to students today can be a hindrance to learning if used inappropriately, there is a large potential for the use of this same technology for increasing student involvement in their learning. I have mentioned several pitfalls of technology and some ways to avoid them in another blog ( In this blog series, I will talk about the role that technology can play in helping students take charge of their learning and how teachers can demonstrate appropriate use of technology for learning both inside and outside the classroom.

Specifically, I shall reflect on how one can

  1. decide what technology to adopt
  2. incorporate technology into pre-existing classroom designs
  3. redesign a classroom to enhance student involvement
  4. assess enhancement of student learning with this newly adopted technology

Itiya Aneece is pursuing a PhD in Environmental Sciences at the University of Virginia. She has taught the Fundamentals of Ecology lab since the Fall of 2011, has recently completed the Tomorrow’s Professor Today program, and enjoys exploring new ways to encourage learning.


Trauma and Learning

A book review by Itiya Aneece, PhD student in Environmental Sciences and Tomorrow’s Professor Today Alumna

Itiya Aneece

Why do we as teachers need to care about our students’ emotional and mental health in the classroom? Trauma negatively impacts learning, and if we want to create learning spaces that allow all students equal access to education, we need to consider ways to support students that experience emotional difficulties. More equal-opportunity learning environments can be created by establishing a safe learning space, collaborating with agencies that provide psychological care at the institution, promoting self-care and the professional development of the teacher, and having policies in place to support learning for survivors of trauma (Kerka 2002).

Trauma disrupts normal activity of the physiological and neurophysiological system (Perry 2006). Because the brain and body respond to trauma as if the stressor is still actively present (Perry 2006, Australian Childhood Foundation 2010), such chronic stress can impair the brain’s ability to learn and store memory (Perry 2006). This hinders survivors’ ability to remember and process information (Australian Childhood Foundation 2010). In addition, because memory is affected by trauma, survivors may emotionally react in unanticipated ways without realizing that they are reacting to a trigger (Australian Childhood Foundation 2010). Childhood trauma can also lead to smaller and slower-acting bridge structures that connect the right and left hemisphere of the brain, hampering the ability of an individual to recognize and describe what they are feeling, and recognize feelings in others (Australian Childhood Foundation 2010). Furthermore, when trauma is experienced during childhood, changes in the brain can impact the individual even through adulthood, affecting the ability to correctly incorporate new information (Perry 2006).

Within the classroom, trauma may manifest itself through absences, avoidance, social isolation, dissociation, difficulty concentrating, and difficulty taking risks such as starting new tasks, responding to questions, or thinking about alternative views (Horsman 1997). Students experiencing high levels of stress and fear may be unable to access more “mature” problem-solving capabilities and to explore and learn (Perry 2006).

The first step in supporting students who experience the effects of trauma is to establish a safe learning environment. This means giving students control over their learning in a guided framework, and providing alternative ways to use their time (Horsman 1997). Safe environments provide a framework of predictability and consistency, and can be adapted to provide learners with control (Australian Childhood Foundation 2010). Giving student a sense of control will not only benefit traumatized learners. What is good for students struggling with stress is good for everyone, whether or not trauma is present (Horsman 1997). Creating environments that provide students with choices is good pedagogy and increases student motivation (Ambrose et. al. 2010, Nilson, 2010, Svinicki, 2004.)

For survivors, nurturing healthy, consistent relationships within safe learning environments can have a profound impact. By helping students be academically successful, we are not only helping them learn in our classes. We are also contributing in a small way to the survivor’s difficult work of re-writing the script that was established through the traumatic event (Australian Childhood Foundation 2010). Good pedagogy and a little bit of caring can positively influence a student’s wellbeing and learning, both inside and outside of the classroom.

You might also be interested in reading my blog post on sexual victimization and learning.


Ambrose, S. A., Bridges, M. W., DiPietro, M., Lovett, M. C., & Norman, M. K. (2010). How Learning Works: Seven Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching: Seven Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching. John Wiley & Sons.

Australian Childhood Foundation (2010). Making SPACE for learning: Trauma informed practice in schools. Australian Childhood Foundation, Ringwood VIC.

Horsman, J. (1997). “But I’m not a therapist”: Furthering discussion about literacy work with survivors of trauma. Canadian Congress for Learning Opportunities for Women. Toronto, Ontario. 37p.

Kerka, S.( 2002). Trauma and adult learning. ERIC Digest. ED472601. 8p.

Nilson, L. B. (2010). Teaching at its best: A research-based resource for college instructors. John Wiley & Sons.

Perry, B. (2006). Fear and learning: Trauma-related factors in the adult education process. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, no. 110: 21-27.

Svinicki, M. D. (2004). Learning and motivation in the postsecondary classroom. Anker Publishing Company.

Itiya Aneece is pursuing a PhD in Environmental Sciences at the University of Virginia. She has taught the Fundamentals of Ecology lab since the Fall of 2011, has recently completed the Tomorrow’s Professor Today program, and enjoys exploring new ways to encourage learning.