Engaging Students in Learning and Teaching

UVA students are highly motivated and engaged: they participate in great numbers in extra-curricular activities, take responsibility for self-governance, and demonstrate leadership in a myriad of student organizations. In addition, our undergraduates create—without faculty oversight—opportunities for academic learning that have garnered national attention and the admiration of other institutions. For instance, inspired by the popular TED Talks, they organize Look Hoos Talking, an evening of learning that fills Cabell Hall and attracts a large online audience. Student-run Flash Seminars are now in their fifth year, engaging hundreds of students and faculty each semester. And for many years students have developed and taught courses to their peers through Student Council’s Cav-Ed program.

Group of Business People Meeting About TeamworkSuch high levels of initiative offer great opportunities for the classroom. They invite us to ponder questions such as these: How can we harness our students’ remarkable energy and enthusiasm?   How can we create learning spaces that kindle rather than squelch such natural curiosity and willingness to engage deeply? How can we provide opportunities for students to develop disciplinary mastery that comes from sharing their passions and knowledge with others? Finally, how can we learn from the perspective and expertise of students to enhance our teaching effectiveness and co-create UVA’s residential education of the future?

With this year’s series of events, the Center for Teaching Excellence opens a space for exploring how faculty and students can work together to create learning environments in which engagement and enthusiasm flourish.

Upcoming Events

Student-Faculty Collaboration in Teaching and Learning: A Design Thinking Workshop
Monday, March 23, 3:00—4:30 PM
Location: Open Grounds

Typically faculty teach to students. What happens if we approach the task differently, aiming to teach with students? What would it look like for students and faculty to co-design classes and curricula?

We will explore these questions through a design thinking activity from Stanford’s d.school. Students and faculty will be tasked with collaboratively envisioning the future of student-faculty relationships at UVA. Participants will pair up to interview each other, come to a point-of-view of how classroom experiences might look differently if co-created and then generate ideas for a collaborative approach to education. The workshop will culminate in the development of practical strategies for creating and sustaining student-faculty partnerships in teaching and learning.

This session is co-created and co-sponsored by Student Voice and the Teaching Resource Center

To register please email Stephanie Doktor at sdd5xd@virginia.edu.

Past Events:

When Trauma Impacts Learning
Monday, February 16, 3-4:45 PM

In light of the recent events on grounds, many faculty and teaching assistants are asking how they can best support students affected by trauma. Question may include: How can I appropriately express my care and concern for my students’ safety? What do the recent policy changes mean for my interactions with students who confide in me? What accommodations can I make so that students in crisis feel supported in their learning? And finally, when tragic news shake up the community, how can I acknowledge or discuss difficult topics with sensitivity?

This workshop opens with an opportunity to learn how trauma affects social and cognitive functioning and academic learning and what recent policy changes mean for us as responsible teachers and caring adults. The majority of our time together will be spend discussing case studies to explore avenues for supporting individual students in crises and for creating spaces in our classrooms where difficult events can be acknowledged and discussed.

This workshops is co-sponsored by the Maxine Platzer Lynn Women’s Center and the Teaching Resource Center

Exploring New Avenues for Co-Creating Powerful Learning Environments
Friday, November 21, 12-1:30 PM

Student Council & the Teaching Resource Center warmly invite undergraduate students and faculty to this facilitated lunch conversation that seeks to harness student ideas on good teaching and learning. The dialogue offers an opportunity for new and experienced faculty as well as for students to learn from each others’ perspectives and expertise and to begin imagining new ways for co-creating powerful learning environments.

Designing Assignments that Help Students Overcome Bottlenecks of Understanding: a Self-Guided Writing Tour
Thursday, October 16, 2-4 PM
Location: Rouss & Robertson Hall, Room 403

Matching good writing pedagogies with disciplinary teaching is often a challenge. One starting point for addressing this challenge is to focus on disciplinary “bottlenecks”, recurrent difficulties students have in acquiring specific concepts or skills. When faculty do the difficult work of articulating the ways they themselves navigate these bottlenecks, they become able to make disciplinary ways of doing, knowing, and writing (Carter 2007) transparent. Through this process of making the implicit explicit, faculty understand learners’ struggles and develop strategies for modeling expert thinking to aid their students’ learning. At the Bielefeld University’s Writing Center, the workshop facilitators developed a method that combines the Decoding the Disciplines approach – a model developed by David Pace and Joan Middendorf (Pace, Middendorf 2004) – with a writing process activity inspired by Sondra Perl (2004).

In this workshop, participants will explore this method designed to help faculty identify and describe disciplinary bottlenecks and develop writing assignments that help students learn how experts deal with them. After a brief introduction of our own approach, participants will engage in an individual writing activity, a peer feedback process and a group discussion.

Bio: Swantje Lahm initiated the first Writing in the Disciplines Program at a German University. She works at the Bielefeld University’s Schreiblabor (writing center), which in 2013 celebrated its 20th anniversary. She coordinates the project “Literacy Competencies for First-Year-Students,” which aims to support students in successfully entering their studies by integrating writing into core introductory courses. Supported by a large government grant for educational innovation, the Schreiblabor hired and trained faculty members who serve as disciplinary writing experts in ten disciplines. These specialists implement writing-to-learn, writing-process, and assessment strategies in their own courses, and share this new pedagogy with their departmental colleagues.

Swantje Lahm has served as a keynote speaker at national and international conferences and co-authored “Schreiben in Studium und Beruf” (Metzler Verlag, 2. ed. 2013), a widely used textbook for students.


Michael Carter (2007): “Ways of Knowing, Doing, and Writing in the Disciplines”. CCC 58.3: 385-418.

David Pace, Joan Middendorf (eds.) (2004): Decoding the Disciplines: Helping Students Learn Disciplinary Ways of Thinking. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, No. 98. San Francisco, Jossey-Bass.

Sondra Perl (2004): Felt Sense. Writing with the Body. Portsmouth, Boynton/Cook.

Engaging Students in Learning Resources: