Teaching Tip(s) of the Week

More teaching tips

Creating an Academic Integrity Statement for Your Course

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Academic Integrity is an important value to reinforce in students.  This is especially true for engineering students whose professional careers may include decisions with significant impacts on society.  An Academic Integrity statement that clearly elucidates the Academic Integrity rules and expectations as applied to your course should be clearly stated and included in your syllabus or a separate course document where students can refer to it.

The Academic Integrity Statement should have an introductory statement and then specific rules for the class.  Samples are provided that you can mix and match as needed.

Introductory Statement Samples

  • Cornell University requires all students to abide by its Code of Academic Integrity.  To avoid any confusion or misunderstanding of how that applies to this course, specifics for this course are spelled out below.  If you have any questions about this policy, please ask.
  • The College of Engineering requires students to adhere to the Code of Academic Integrity.  Accordingly, this course adopts the following rules:   
  • Engineers are responsible for maintaining a very high degree of professional integrity in their work.  As a student this means adhering to the Cornell Code of Academic Integrity and the specific policies detailed in your courses.  For this course the specific rules are as follows:

Exam statement examples

  • For all exams in this course you are not allowed to use any materials except …………………….  You may not give or receive any form of exam aid to any other student in this course during the exam.  Any questions should be directed to the exam proctor.
  • For exams in this course you are allowed to use a simple calculator that does not store information or programs.  No other aid is permitted during exams.
  • For exams in this course you are allowed to use a discrete calculator that has no web access.  No other aid is permitted during exams.
  • All cell phones must be turned off and put away for the duration of the exam.
  • You are permitted to bring and use >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> during exams.  No other aid is permitted during exams.
  • For each exam you will be provided with a formula and data sheet at the start of the exam.  A sample will be posted 2 days before the exam so that you may familiarize yourself with it.  No other information beside what is in your own brain may be accessed during exams.
  • Please bring your Cornell ID to each exam.  Students may be asked to have it available as part of the exam process.
  • All exam regrades will be handled as follows:
    • Any request for a regrade must be submitted in writing, within one week of the exam return, and must specify exactly where the student believes there is a grading error. The instructor reserves the right to regrade the entire exam during the regrade process. Do not submit regrade requests just hoping for a few more points as a grade could go up or down. 

Homework statement examples

  • Homework is for you to learn the material.  You may use whatever resources you feel will best accomplish this objective.
  • Homework is for you to learn the material.  You may talk with other students and gather information from the web.  However, you are expected to cite all sources of information used beyond your textbook and lecture notes.  This includes (or doesn’t include) citing discussions with a TA.  Make sure that whatever resources you use, you can solve similar, new problems on your own as you will be expected to do so on exams.  You will also be expected to apply what you have learned to completely new problems on exams so don’t bypass the thinking involved in doing the homework.
  • Homework is an important part of learning the material and your course grade.  As such homework is to be done individually and without referring to sources such as solutions manuals, prior solutions, other student’s homework, or other resources that would let you bypass the difficult but rewarding effort of learning the material yourself.    You may talk with other students about the homework, but may not share any written component of yours or another’s work.
  • CS has a very specific set of Academic Integrity guidelines for coursework and code in particular.  See for example: http://www.cs.cornell.edu/courses/cs322/2004sp/AcadInteg.htm

Projects and Papers

  • The course project provides a chance for you to apply the material you are learning in this course to a problem of interest to you (or your group).  You will be using a variety of resources to understand your particular problem and propose a solution.  Be sure to document sources you use as you develop your project. That will make it much easier to properly cite resources and references in your final report.  All material that is not specifically from your textbook or course notes and that isn’t general knowledge should be cited.  For the purposes of this course, general knowledge is considered to be information that can be found from multiple distinct sources, or that a student would have been expected to know/learn from previous or current courses.

Group work

  • All members of your group are considered co-authors of the group’s work.  Thus you do not have to cite discussions between group members.  You must cite contributions by those outside your group.
  • The Cornell code of Academic Integrity is “grounded on the concept of honesty with respect to the intellectual efforts of oneself and others”.In group work this means allowing all group members an opportunity to contribute to and learn from the group’s efforts.  

Examples of consequences for violations that you might want to include:

  • Any violation of the academic integrity policy for this course on an assignment will result in no credit for that assignment.  On exams and depending on the nature of the infraction, penalties will vary from no credit on the specific problem, overall grade reduction on the exam, or a zero on the entire exam. 
  • A first offense of this policy on an assignment will be considered academic misconduct and will result in a warning and no credit for the particular assignment.  All exam violations, and/or a second or further offenses on assignments, will be considered academic integrity violations with penalties that will be assessed following a primary hearing.

Any violations of this Academic Integrity policy will be taken seriously and will result in a primary hearing with the potential of lowering your grade in this course, possibly to an F.  

  1.  Cornell Code of Academic Integrity https://cuinfo.cornell.edu/aic.cfm,  Jan. 28, 2018

Transition from Blackboard to Canvas

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One semester down, a new one to start!

As you are hopefully aware, Blackboard will be replaced over the next few semesters by Canvas.  Canvas offers several enhancements over Blackboard, including a user interface designed for ease and efficiency of use, an open API that enables 3rd party apps, a vastly-improved mobile experience, and an integrated syllabus and calendar that helps students track pending / completed activities across courses.

The Canvas implementation begins next semester (Sp19) with the expectation that all courses will use Canvas by Spring of 2020.   So, whether you are ready or not, it is time be begin planning your own transition.   The University’s Center for Teaching Innovation is providing limited support for the migration.  For faculty who expect to need assistance, they have capacity to engage with ~20 more courses this spring; but others requiring minimal support can consider moving as well.

Who should move this spring?

  • Creating an entirely new course … might as well do it in Canvas rather than later transitioning
  • Faculty taking over an existing course who do not plan to reuse Blackboard content from the previous incarnation
  • Faculty who already have experience with Canvas (previous institution)
  • Faculty who want to leverage new features in Canvas such as better integration with Google Docs (though it is hard to understand why anyone would want that J)

Who should not move this spring?

  • large course that depend on creating sections in their Blackboard courses for grading should wait until Fall when the functionality will be available.

Who should definitely transition in Fa19?

  • All ENGRI 1xxx and ENGRG 1050 courses, as well as course that have significant freshman enrollment, should plan to be fully Canvas transitioned by Fa19.  This will ensure that incoming freshmen only need to learn one Learning Management System (LMS), Canvas.

Who should definitely transition in Sp20?

  • Everyone.  Blackboard will be gone!

Signing up for the Sp19 transition and learning more:

https://it.cornell.edu/canvas is a primary source for information.  You can sign up for Canvas in Sp19 there, as well as access several workshops to assist in the transition.  Resources include:

Specialized Engineering Training

The college will be scheduling specific and intentional training focused on the more commonly used LMS features (repository, announcements, gradebook, etc.) as well as introducing more advanced features.

  • Hold Dec. 5 at 1:00-2:00 in Olin 165 (after classes end) for a college wide introduction to Canvas.  The general introduction will be immediately followed by advanced training for the early adopters.

Any additional questions can be raised with Kathy Dimiduk, or by emailing the Center for Teaching Innovation at Canvas@Cornell.edu.

The First Lecture

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It is interesting to observe that research shows students form an opinion of a class in the first 10 minutes, and more importantly that their opinion changes very little through the end of the semester.  And “end of semester survey” at the end of the first lecture is often indistinguishable from the actual end of semester survey.

So use those first few minutes of your first class well.  Don't start your interactions with the students by going through a detailed and “boring” syllabus, and other logistics. Instead, sell the class and sell yourself as the instructor!

  • Why is this class important within their field or future career?
  • How will the course stretch their thinking and ability to function as future engineers?
  • Why are you the right person to teach this course, and show how much you're looking forward to teaching the course
  • What unique and challenging things will the students be doing for the course?

Then you can follow with key information from the syllabus followed by launching into actual content.

And of course, check the classroom and its technology and/or boards before the first lecture.  Bring adapters for your computer; some rooms are HDMI only, others are VGA only, and some have everything.  And maybe even bring your own chalk and/or whiteboard markers

Options to Mitigate Fallout from Travel Challenges for Students This Week

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As detailed by Provost Kotlikoff, there are likely to be a significant number of students who will not be able to make the start of classes.  Indeed, I was in the Midwest over the weekend and my flight back was canceled; American Airlines was accommodating enough and suggested that they might get me to Ithaca as early as Thursday (ended up driving).

Where possible, it would appropriate to record the first lecture (or two).  The recording does not need to be professional or pretty, just have the notes and voice.  There are several quick options for recording:

  1. If you teach in Upson 102, 202, 142, 146, 206, 216 or 222, or Gates G01 or 114, you have a simple option.  Cameras in these rooms are designed to readily record the lecture.  Chose “recording” on the Crestron control panel and follow directions on the room sheets.  Kathy Dimiduk and COECIS IT staff can also help.
  2. If you are familiar with Zoom, you can share your presentation (if doing slides) or just point the laptop’s camera at the screen, and rely on the laptop’s microphone.  A button on the bottom will allow you to record instantly.
  3. Similarly, if you have used Panopto on Blackboard, it can be similarly used to record slides and blackboard content.

Kathy Dimiduk’s office also has a video camera and tripod that can be borrowed for classes (let the TA record).

This first lecture may be a “low risk” opportunity to explore quick and simple lecture recording techniques for the next inevitable winter storm (or slope day).

Students will be highly appreciative of even the effort to help them through this challenge.

Beginning and Ending Lectures

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Ultimately we hope students remember, and are able to use, what we teach!  Two easy ways to help achieve this goal are (1) to start lecture with a brief outline of the material to be covered and (2) end lecture with a summary of the key points or “takeaways” (tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, and tell them what you told them!) .

At the beginning of lecture, frame the content of the day’s lecture.  For example,

  • Use a “big idea” concept
    • Today’s lecture connects to xyz
  • List specific topics to be covered - with several possible formats
    • Approaches to be used (eg. proof of xyz, case study, examples)
    • Application to specific problem/market/product (be specific)
    • Significance or connections or summary

Outlines should be specific to the day’s lecture, not a generic outline that gets used over multiples weeks. Alternatively, include key points under the specific topic instead of the approach and application.

Similarly, students are more likely to remember material if they are reminded of the “important” points at the end of lecture (see figure 1 below).  Reviews can be a simple summary slide or bullets written on the board.   Note that you have to actually leave time for the summary for it to be of any value.

Effective Retention vs Number of Days graphic showing that having student review at the end of lecture results in much more effective retention compared to no review at all as days progress.
Figure 1

To avoid running late, one timing trick is to have an example about 3/4 of the way through lecture that can be expanded or compressed. 

  • On time - continue example as planned
  • Running late - introduce example and approach but skip details
  • Running early - (does this happen?) show them the level of detail you expect on an exam including written reasoning

Then you will arrive right on time for the review, a few minutes before each class ends.

Alternatively, you can ask students to spend the last few minutes of class writing down the main ideas, and then have them compare answers with a neighbor. This takes longer, but students will likely internalize the content more effectively.

1 Biggs, J., Tang, C. and Biggs, J. (2007). Teaching for quality learning at university. Maidenhead: McGraw-Hill/Society for Research into Higher Education & Open UniversityPress. P. 109. [also available as a download from Cornell library.]

Active Learning to Increasing Student Engagement and Retention

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At times even the term “active learning” can be daunting.  But research clearly shows that moving from passive information delivery to any form of engaged classroom has a significant impact on long term student learning and retention. 
Many effective active learning techniques can be readily incorporated into existing class structures.  This week’s tip focuses on the “Think, Pair, Share” concept and I’d ask you to consider giving it a try.
Faculty are very good at asking thoughtful questions in class.  Many students, however, just sit passively and wait for someone else to answer.  “Think, Pair, Share” is a simple approach that engages nearly all students in answering a question.

     1.       Ask a question as usual. 
     2.       Ask students to think about the answer for 30 seconds (or however long you chose).
     3.       Have students pair, turn to a student near them. (10 seconds)
     4.       Students share their answers with each other and improve the answer if they can. (1 – 3 minutes)
     5.       Optional:  Call on one to three pairs to share their answer.

The process does take a little longer than just calling on one of the strong students (the ones who always raise their hands).  In exchange for this time, the entire class engages with the question; it also resets their attention span so they can focus again on the lecture content.
Consider trying a few Think, Pair, Share questions this semester if you aren’t otherwise already using active learning.  This kind of question is most successful if it is not too easy – challenge the students on a conceptually difficult idea or application.
Research shows that active learning approaches such as this increase student engagement, learning and retention of material.  For a good review paper see Michael Prince’s article “Does Active Learning Work?” http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/j.2168-9830.2004.tb00809.x/epdf

Optimizing Assignments for our Over-Scheduled Students

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Although we may wish that students had only our course to focus on during the semester, reality is that they must juggle multiple courses with multiple overlapping deadlines, extracurricular activities (project teams), and some level of social life. Common concerns in end-of-semester evaluations related to course assignments include (i) continuously shifting deadlines, (ii) last minute modifications, and (iii) assignments poorly times with respect to content delivery (homework before the lecture).

The following suggestions are perhaps obvious, but is good to be reminded of them anyway as the semester begins:

  1. Have an assignment due early in the semester so students build time for your course into their schedules; by week 3, most students have completely filled their schedules with ongoing commitments.
  2. Be sensitive to students' time-management needs. Assignments and projects should be distributed with clear deadlines and with sufficient time to allow students to interleave them with other responsibilities.
  3. Where possible, coordinate homework deadlines with other required courses in the major, and try to avoid known due dates from large common courses (e.g. Math 2940).
  4. Required topics should be covered at least 4-5 days prior to assignment deadlines.
  5. Emphasize that effort needs to be sustained throughout the week and semester, and not just the evening before the deadline or exam.

Homework and assignments are critical to the learning experience, requiring extensive student effort. Part of our responsibility as faculty is to ensure that this effort is effective. 

Improving Classroom Climate Through Acknowledging Student Concerns

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Students feel more engaged in courses that connect to their reality and value them as individuals. Even small connections with student concerns can have significant impacts.

Recent bias incidents are likely on students’ minds. While perhaps not directly relevant to engineering classes, efforts by faculty to acknowledge these cultural challenges will resonate deeply with students.

If you would like to comment on recent issues in your class, here are a few ideas that may help you develop an effective strategy for your class and your personality. Sample slides and resources are attached and are available at the MTEI website.

  1. Simply acknowledge in class what has happened (bias incidents), the impact it has on our community, and on your and the college’s response to such behaviors.
  2. You might encourage students to (i) seek support from each other, campus resources, family and friends, and (ii) provide support to those most impacted.
  3. Post and advertise "Raising a Concern about Harassment and Discrimination” (PDF), and the slide on campus resources, to your Blackboard or CMS site.
  4. If you want to more actively engage your class, consider these possibilities:
    • Reflect on the “Any Person, Any Study” priority for Cornell. Share your intent to make your class welcoming and inclusive for all students and ask students to make a point of being inclusive in their interactions
    • Acknowledge that not everyone is impacted in the same way. Ask for a “Moment of Reflection” to think about practices they have seen that are inclusive or exclusive and how engineering practice impacts various populations
    • Write-pair-share” exercise: Have students individually reflect, in writing, on the impact to themselves or their friends (3 minutes). Then have them share their responses in small groups (3 minutes). To broaden the impact, consider having students fold their comments and pass them around like “hot potatoes” for some time, followed by small group discussion of ideas that landed in their group

New End-of-Semester Course Evaluations

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Tis the season to be thankful!  And that means end-of-semester course evaluations, which will launch on Tuesday, Nov. 27th** and close on Dec. 7th (just before the first finals).   This is a reminder that you can add your own questions (along with some suggestions), along with a reminder that there will be an entirely new survey starting now.

This semester marks the full deployment of the new evaluation (see attached), with questions grouped by category:

  • course content
  • course delivery
  • resources, assignments and assessment
  • course environment
  • comparison to other courses (old questions 8 and 13)
  • recitations/discussion (if section scheduled)
  • laboratories (if lab scheduled)
  • option to nominate a TA for a teaching award

Feel free to request lab and/or discussion evaluation sections for lecture only courses if relevant. 

You can also request up to four, open-ended questions of your own (as before).  What information might be useful the next time you teach the course?  Did you try something new this semester?  Do want to know what students found most difficult?  Some possible questions are included below. 

Sample “text” format course evaluation questions:

  1. Was there a pre-requisite topic for which students would have found a review video useful?
  2. What is the one thing students would recommend changing in the course?
  3. What topic did you find most confusing in this course?
  4. How effective was [iClickers, group discussions, homework, project] in supporting your learning?
  5. Significant background material for many of the topics in this class is assumed.  Given your background, was there a specific topic where starting at a lower level would have been really helpful?
  6. The textbook for this course is expensive.   Do you think it should continue to be a required text?  Why or why not?
  7. This is the first year that iClickers were used in this course.  Was the time and structure of the iClicker questions effective in helping you understand this material?
  8. This course is suffering from syllabus overload.  What topic would you recommend removing from the class next year?
  9. How often and how extensively did you use the posted lecture notes?
  10. Were there any specific topics in the course where you felt more examples were needed?
  11. The project is a major component of this course.  How much time did you spend on the project, and do you believe that the time was “valuable”?
  12. I’ve been starting every lecture with an engineering motivation.  Was this useful, or did you “just wish the lecture would get started”?   Why?
  13. Imagine you could give one suggestion for the course, and that it would be required reading by the next instructor one or two weeks before class starts.  What would that suggestion be?

**Course Evaluations were launched on Monday, November 26th, not Tuesday, November 27th.

Linking Final Exam Questions to Learning Outcomes

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Good afternoon.

It is that time again, the end of the semester and the bi-annual challenge of writing the final exam.

When writing questions, consider the learning outcomes you defined for your course.  Your learning outcomes capture the key abilities/knowledge that you hope students acquire through the course.  Thus the final exam is a perfect opportunity to measure (assess) one or more of these outcomes.  (Ignore ABET … focus instead on the critical skills you want students to develop.  ABET and/or Middle States will be thrilled with such intentional assessment.)

Consider letting students know you are basing the exam at least partly on the course learning objectives. This encourages students to reflect on what you identify as important and to recognize how far they have come during the semester.  As they study for the exam, it may also help them focus on bigger picture concepts and skills rather than specific problem solving strategies.

Cornell also prides itself on developing engineers who are creative problem solvers who can solve novel, complex problems.  Consider asking questions that allow students to demonstrate a range of knowledge and critical thinking skills from basic knowledge and comprehension through application and analysis up to synthesis and evaluation.   The figure below of Bloom’s Taxonomy offers verbs for each level of learning that might help jump start thinking of new problems at a range of levels.

Other reminders:

  • Reusing old exam questions (or exams) can give unfair advantage to students with access.  A better option may be to distribute last year’s exam to let students know the level and style
  • Proofread the exam carefully – and maybe have TAs actually do the exam beforehand
  • Use a broad range of question difficulty to broaden the score distribution
  • Typically, a person with knowledge of the questions beforehand should be able to complete the exam in 1/3 of the time allocated to students
  • Think intentionally about how/if you will grant partial credit, especially on questions that are dependent on successful completion of earlier sections
  • If using multiple choice, try to avoid questions that focus on obscure details or tricky wording

Bloom's Taxonomy Pyramid: Evaluation (top level): Judges the value of material. Verbs: appraise, assess, criticize, defend, evaluate, justify, support. Synthesis (next level): Formulate new structures from existing knowledge and skills. Verbs: compile, create, develop, generalize, integrate, propose. Analysis (next level): Understand both the content and structure of material. Verbs: analyze, compare, contrast, differentiate. Application (next level): Use learning in new and concrete situations. Verbs: apply, carry out, construct, demonstrate, operate, produce, use. Comprehension (next level): Grasp the meaning of material. Verbs: comprehend, condense, describe, discuss, distinguish, interpret, locate. Knowledge (next level): Remember previously learned material. Verbs: define, describe, identify, label, list, match, name, outline, recall, recognize, reproduce, select, state.

End-of-Semester Last Step-Review

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Dear Faculty,

Congratulations!  You’ve survived another semester … the students have now seen their grades and your course’s materials are filed away in preparation for a relaxing summer.  But there is one last step that you really should consider … writing a note to your future self about the course while the challenges and successes are still fresh in your mind.   This really just requires making a few notes for the next time you teach the course, or maybe for the next instructor.  For example, you might be thinking:

  • How could students have bombed that question on the final so badly?  Was this just a less than stellar exam question, or do the students need more practice on the topic?
  • I’m starting to understand this concept of learning outcomes.  Maybe I should write some specific ones now before I forget what is important for them to learn?
  • How can I avoid the most common student complaints, concerns and issues in the future?
  • What questions or topics came up the most in office hours? 
  • How did I end up having to cover 3 weeks of the course in the last two lectures?
  • Why are we still teaching about vacuum tube circuits in this course?
  • EI had really great fun teaching X, but both the students and I fell asleep covering Y.

The problem with these ideas is that they are usually forgotten by the time you next teach the course, and we often find ourselves facing the same issues over and over.  A Post Course Review, nothing more than writing these thoughts down now, can give you a real advantage next year.

Attached is a template of one possible Post Course Review, along with an annotated version giving a sense of the detail and tone.  Changes you suggest aren’t binding, but it is easier to capture ideas now for future consideration.  This is primarily a document to your future self, but can also be shared with your department curriculum committee to enhance the overall curriculum.

Have a great summer after you complete your Post Course Review.

Time to Update Your Syllabus

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A syllabus is your contract with the students laying out important logistical information and a set of mutual expectations. The larger the course, the more time and headache you can save throughout the semester by distributing a thorough and accurate syllabus at the beginning. Plan to complete your syllabus with time for thorough proof-reading by yourself and the TA.

The MTEI website has several resources and references on writing syllabi, including two excellent short PDFs; samples from various engineering courses; links to academic papers; and a variety of additional links and resources. Listed below are a few non-obvious items you should strongly consider including:

  • An explicit definition of academic integrity in your course with a link to Cornell’s official policy at http://cuinfo.cornell.edu/aic.cfm
  • An explicit statement that all materials are copyrighted by you (so you have a right to have them removed from sites like CourseHero)
  • A note to students with disabilities reminding them that accommodation needs must be documented through the Student Disability Services office (http://sds.cornell.edu); SDS provides sample syllabus text.  Consider requesting prompt notification or even a deadline for notification.
  • Unless you have taught a class multiple times and have good control of the content, or there is another compelling reason such as many guest lectures, it’s probably better to provide students with a general schedule rather than a lecture-by-lecture plan. 
  • A list of available resources is helpful, including reference material on hold at the library and online resources.  Consider also links to Engineering Learning Initiatives, the Learning Strategies Center, or the Math Support Center.

Learning Outcomes and Uploading Syllabi

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As part of both ABET and MiddleStates Accreditation reviews, the university and the college are asking that you add learning outcomes to your syllabi and that you upload syllabi for your fall 2019 and spring 2020 courses to the Class Roster.

Learning Outcomes describe what you expect students to be able to do by the end of the course.  They are not just what is covered in the course, but rather what students should be able to demonstrate or accomplish based on the instruction they received.  Thus learning outcomes normally include action verbs like solve, analyze, select and justify,  design, ……  See the link below or the MTEI website for a list of action verbs that match various levels of Bloom’s taxonomy.  Learning outcomes should be specific and measurable.  The action verbs typically inform how one might measure the student’s ability to meet the learning outcome.  At the course level, there are typically 3-5 Learning Outcomes that cover much of the content of the course.  If you need help thinking about and writing learning outcomes, MTEI will have a Teaching Topics Lunch Discussion on Learning Outcomes on Wednesday, Oct. 16th at noon followed by office hours in Rhodes 195 (please RSVP to klc78 for lunch count), or you can make an appointment with Kathy Dimiduk.

To upload your syllabus, go to classes.cornell.edu and select the correct semester.  Then select Syllabi in the upper right-hand corner and attach the appropriate syllabus to each course.

Various groups have generated good lists of Action Verbs corresponding to the different levels of Bloom’s taxonomy.  This particular list has many verbs that work well for engineering courses. http://www.northeastern.edu/nuolirc/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/Blooms-Taxonomy-Handout.pdf

Bloom's Revised Taxonomy Pyramid. Top level is Creating: can the student build on the lower order skills to create a new product or idea that is useful? Next level is Evaluating: can the student justify a stand or decision, exaplain which options are better than others and why? Next level is Analyzing: can the student distinguish between the different parts and understand how they are connected? Next level is Applying: can the student use their knowledge and understanding in a new context? Next level is Understanding: can the student explain the ideas and concepts they have remembered? The bottom leve is Remembering: can the student recall the information?
Anderson, L. W. and Krathwohl, D. R., et al (Eds..) (2001) A Taxonomy for Learning, Teaching, and Assessing: A Revision of Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives. Allyn & Bacon. Boston, MA (Pearson Education Group).

Building Students’ Overall Content Framework and Understanding

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Expert colleagues!

As subject experts, we know instinctively how the content of our course is organized, including a clear framework for connecting critical concepts.  We also know multiple approaches for solving problems, including how those approaches link and relate – experience gained over numerous years of writing challenging problems.  And as experts, we can readily integrate new material into our framework, building new strategies to address novel problems.  Unfortunately, at times we forget those years of practice and expect students will be able to develop these same skills by osmosis from our brilliant lectures and discussions.  But, as novices, students see information much more as individual facts and procedures to learn, memorize, and maybe practice.  Our strongest learners (top students), devote the time and effort to piece together the information and develop the mental connections for their own framework.  But, for most students, we need to provide them with that framework explicitly, as a complement to the content, skills, and guided practice that are a part of every course.

This point in the semester is an opportune time to help students develop that robust and integrated mental model of your course.  Consider using part of a lecture to review the content to date at the 30,000 ft level, focusing specifically on how everything fits together.  Your students have likely mastered details, and should be ready to step back to see this bigger picture and the connections.  You can also look ahead to what will be covered and how it builds on and within this framework.  During the last week of class, you might then consider revisiting the framework and adding a few finishing touches.

Now, or in those last lectures, is also an opportunity to explicitly discuss where and how concepts can be applied in the real world, and especially how to recognize those situations (if you haven’t already).  The combination of helping students build a robust framework and understand the application space will help them retain key concepts long term and to apply them in new situations. Cornell students have the intellectual capacity to learn at this level, and developing such deep understanding is a critical skill that we can share with them.

As a final note, this may also be an opportunity to address any lingering organizational issues (before that pesky end-of-semester evaluation).  Many times the difference between a good course and a great course is little more than a clearly articulated organization structure.

Time to Update Your Syllabus (Again)

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Dear Colleagues (and welcome to a new year),

A syllabus is your contract with students laying out important logistical information and mutual expectations. The larger the course, the more time and headaches you can save by initially distributing a thorough and accurate syllabus.  Ideally, there would be time for a thorough proof-reading by yourself and your TA (if any).

First Request: Engineering is not doing very well uploading syllabi to the class roster.  When you finish the syllabus, please upload by clicking on the Syllabi balloon at the top right of the roster webpage https://classes.cornell.edu/syllabi-manage/roster/SP20.

The MTEI website has several resources and references on writing syllabi, including two excellent short PDFs; samples from various engineering courses; links to academic papers; and a variety of additional links and resources.

There are also several not always obvious, but critical items, that you should consider including (specific text that you can cut/paste is included at the end of this message):

  • Academic integrity:  Include both an introductory statement and specifics so there is no confusion if AI violations occur.  Also, with the increasing popularity of course sharing sites, we suggest explicitly including posting of copyrighted material as an AI violation (e.g. CourseHero). 
  • Copyright: If you do not want your course materials on the Web, it is critical to include copyright notices on all notes, exams, slides, homework, solutions, etc.  With a copyright notice, it is much easier to get material removed from sites like CourseHero.
  • Accommodations for students with disabilities:  Let students know that you will work with them on disability requests, but remind them that accommodation needs must be documented (Student Disability Services) and that they need to communicate with you in a timely fashion.
  • Schedule: Unless you have taught a course multiple times and have good control of the content (or compelling reason such as many guest lectures), it’s probably better to provide students with a general schedule rather than a lecture-by-lecture plan. 
  • Policies: Specific policies such as late submission penalties, make up exam requirements, or any attendance requirement should be included in the syllabus.
  • Resources: Include, for example, reference material on hold at the library or online resources.  Also consider including links to the Engineering Learning Initiatives, the Learning Strategies Center, or the Math Support Center.
  • Course Environment: Given the current world situation, we can support all of our students by including a statement about valuing all students and expecting students to treat each other with respect.

Example text follows:

AI language:

MTEI has examples of language (www.engineering.cornell.edu/MTEI/teaching-tips-week/creating-academic-integrity-statement-your-course) and Cornell’s official policy is at theuniversityfaculty.cornell.edu/academic-integrity.

Copyright notice:

All materials distributed in this course are copyrighted and may not be distributed further.  They are intended for your sole use and may not be posted on any public or private website, or by any other sharing method (e.g. fraternity exam files).

SDS language:

Students with Disabilities: Your access in this course is important. Please give course staff your Student Disability Services (SDS) accommodation letter early in the semester so that we have adequate time to arrange your approved academic accommodations. If you need an immediate accommodation, please speak with me after class or send an email message to me and/or SDS. If the need arises for additional accommodations during the semester, please contact SDS.

Course Environment Example: 

Course environment: Students come from many different backgrounds and bring a wide variety of strengths, as well as different approaches to solving problems and viewing the world.  This is a strength of Cornell and we value all of our students, and insist that everyone treat colleagues with respect and consideration.  You are encouraged to learn with, and from, each other in an inclusive manner.

Course Specific Policies Examples:

Examples of late submissions policies:

           o   No late work will be accepted.

           o   Late assignments will be accepted within 24 hours of the due date with a 25% penalty.

           o   No late work will be accepted but one homework grade will be dropped.  Use this wisely and still learn that material.

           o   Each student will be given 1 slip day pass (turn in the assignment one day late without penalty).  This may be attached to any one assignment, except …,. 

Examples of attendance policies:

         o   You are responsible for your own learning.  Lectures and section are designed to help you learn, however, it is your decision whether to attend.

         o   Clickers or other active learning activities will be part of most lectures and sections.  While attendance is not taken directly, failure to participate in these activities misses some of the assigned work and can impact your grade.  To account for occasional reasons you might have to miss class (illness, job interview, team travel, battery died in clicker, etc.) participating in 85% of the questions and activities will count as full credit.

         o   This is an attendance based class.  If you miss more than 2 sessions you will not pass.  If there are extenuating circumstances beyond your control, contact the instructor to discuss your options.

 Gradescope – A New/Modern Way to Grade Assignments

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Since the dawn of time (or at least formal education), grading has been a challenging and seemingly interminable part of teaching.

Several of our Cornell colleagues – in engineering and math – are now using a tool called Gradescope that can indeed simplify and improve the grading process.  It is not necessarily the right solution for every course and instructor, but it is a “rare tool that helps faculty and graduate TAs save time while providing students with better, more timely feedback” (CTI testimonial).   Based on feedback from the engineering and math faculty, the Deans were convinced to fund a university-wide license.  As an added benefit, it integrates into Canvas.

There is a pleasantly short (1:50) YouTube video (https://youtu.be/LhTYHi1GG9c) that gives a nice introduction to the key concepts.

Hadas Ritz (MAE and MTEI) was one of those enthusiastic pathfinders (evangelists), using Gradescope in one of her large classes.  On Monday (Jan. 20), Hadas will hold drop-in hours from noon to 2:00 pm in Rhodes 195 to discuss and help with Gradescope.  Stop by to talk about how it really functions or to get help setting it up for your course.

Some of the key benefits of using Gradescope include:

  • developing and revising rubrics (as you grade) resulting in simpler and more uniform grading
  • reuse of comments for common errors
  • electronic submission of assignments; students receive immediate email confirmation
  • assignment returned from within Gradescope; students quickly see graded work which saves class or section time
  • easy “return” of group assignments to all members of each group
  • digital record of all assignments (for ABET and/or academic integrity purposes)
  • consolidated history of regrade requests
  • responsive and helpful technical support from Gradescope

Since the University is funding the license, we in engineering might as well make use of the tool where appropriate.

How to Foster Success on the First Day of Class

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We all know there is only one opportunity to make a good first impression. And, interestingly, research shows students form their opinion of a class in the first 10 minutes and this opinion changes very little through the semester.  Even if opinions are not closed on the first day, students certainly form a lasting impression of you – and the material – within the first few sessions.

Some ideas for setting the tone for a successful semester are listed below.   (The first three are plagiarized from the Jan. 17, 2020 issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education.)

  • Humanize yourself.  Humorous asides and occasional self-disclosure can go a long way toward showing that you’re a caring human being
  • Greet as many students as you can.  This is easier in smaller courses than big ones.  But if you can, let students know you’re glad they joined you for the course.
  • Get them comfortable with one another.  This doesn’t have to take the form of a dreaded “icebreaker.”  Just divide students into pairs or small groups, and give them a simple (or challenging) task to complete.
  • Don't start your interactions with details of “boring” syllabus or class logistics. Instead, sell the class and yourself first, and then annoy them with the syllabus.
  • Recognize that your attire can impact the student’s perception and indeed the flow/style of the class.  Professional and more formal attire may help to establish an environment of authority and respect.  This is definitely a personal decision and concept, and some faculty may find that Hawaiian shirts set the appropriate tone.
  • Explain why the class is important within their field, or for their future career.
  • Talk about your goals (education outcomes), especially as it relates to their ability to think and function as a future engineer.
  • Let them know why you are the right person to teach the course, hopefully showing them how much you're looking forward to teaching as they should be to learning

And remember, teaching can be as exciting, rewarding, and fun as research!

Opt-out option for project to develop ML/AI based summary of teaching evaluation comments

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Student evaluations of courses are an important element in our “continuous improvement process”.  While the questions give easily quantified data, the numbers don’t always capture the full breadth of student’s experience.  For that, the comments are commonly far more valuable.

For a small class, it is not difficult to read all the comments and get a reasonably good perspective.  But for large classes, the sheer number of comments can be overwhelming and often there is insufficient time to fully digest the data.

Kathy Dimiduk and Madeleine Udell are exploring development of a supporting tool that would provide a “summary” of the comments, looking for common threads and prioritizing the positives and the concerns.  Ultimately, such a tool might provide a bulleted list of actionable summaries that would facilitate improvements, as well as help guide a more comprehensive reading of the comments.

A group of students this semester will be working to develop first prototypes of this tool.  Past course evaluations, anonymized to remove faculty names and course numbers, will be used as the training data and to assess the effectiveness of the program.  Kathy and I met with the IRB (Institutional Review Board) to confirm that this would not be classified as a “human participatory research” project.

However, there is the potential for some personally identifiable data making it through the anonymizing filters (badly misspelled names for example).  As course evaluations can at times be sensitive issues for faculty, we wanted to give you the opportunity to opt-out and not have your prior evaluations included in the training data.  To opt-out, please fill out the Qualtrics survey at https://cornell.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_3Vr8uDkxPpJEOXj

I believe that this project has the potential to be extremely valuable to all of us, providing actionable recommendations from the evaluations, and helping us do our jobs well with less effort.  I hope you agree and are willing to have your data included in the training and evaluation.  We will keep you posted with results of the initial studies.

Follow up: Opt-out of project to develop ML/AI based summary of teaching evaluation comments

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This is a follow-up to last week’s e-mail (included below).  We received a small handful of opt-outs, which was about a handful more than I expected.  Given limitations of e-mail, I feel it is important for me to further explain the project, goals and potential outcomes.

First, I want to emphasize that this is an exploration into new ways to manage and process course evaluation data that we already collect.  Second, there will be no change in the actual course surveys.  Third, if it ultimately proves useful, this will only be an addition to the way survey results are communicated to the faculty.  And finally, it is an exploration that will need careful assessment and evaluation by numerous groups before there is any roll-out.  Ultimately, we just want to develop more effective ways to communicate data in forms that are useful ad actionable to those teaching the courses.

The current work is essentially “re-analysis” of old data in appropriate support of a core academic responsibility of the college.  But being sensitive to individual faculty privacy concerns, we are reaching out to offer the opt-out opportunity (https://cornell.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_3Vr8uDkxPpJEOXj) from training and test data that will be used for evaluating the potential and appropriateness of this approach.

We are keenly aware of limitations, biases, participation rates, and other issues related to on-line course evaluations.  But they are data that we need to continue collecting, and the data does have some value to faculty as they continuously improve their teaching.  This is just trying to enable faculty to make more effective use of the data.

Two final notes.  Kathy and Madeleine are working to ensure the data is anonymized as effectively as possible before being shared with a few select students as training data.  And results of this study will only be shared within the MTEI group at this time.

================= Last week’s e-mail =====================

Student evaluations of courses are an important element in our “continuous improvement process”.  While the questions give easily quantified data, the numbers don’t always capture the full breadth of student’s experience.  For that, the comments are commonly far more valuable.

For a small class, it is not difficult to read all the comments and get a reasonably good perspective.  But for large classes, the sheer number of comments can be overwhelming and often there is insufficient time to fully digest the data.

Kathy Dimiduk and Madeleine Udell are exploring development of a supporting tool that would provide a “summary” of the comments, looking for common threads and prioritizing the positives and the concerns.  Ultimately, such a tool might provide a bulleted list of actionable summaries that would facilitate improvements, as well as help guide a more comprehensive reading of the comments.

A group of students this semester will be working to develop first prototypes of this tool.  Past course evaluations, anonymized to remove faculty names and course numbers, will be used as the training data and to assess the effectiveness of the program.  Kathy and I met with the IRB (Institutional Review Board) to confirm that this would not be classified as a “human participatory research” project.

However, there is the potential for some personally identifiable data making it through the anonymizing filters (badly misspelled names for example).  As course evaluations can at times be sensitive issues for faculty, we wanted to give you the opportunity to opt-out and not have your prior evaluations included in the training data.  To opt-out, please fill out the Qualtrics survey at https://cornell.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_3Vr8uDkxPpJEOXj

I believe that this project has the potential to be extremely valuable to all of us, providing actionable recommendations from the evaluations, and helping us do our jobs well with less effort.  I hope you agree and are willing to have your data included in the training and evaluation.  We will keep you posted with results of the initial studies.

Tis the Season to Retire Blackboard and Embrace Canvas

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It’s the New Year.  Blackboard is gone – may it rest in peace.  Canvas is here – may we have a long and fruitful time together.

There is one immediate action that you need to consider now:

If you want content from your previous Blackboard sites, you must export the site to Canvas or archive it.  On May 1, 2020, Blackboard will be totally gone from Cornell (along with your data).  Instructions for exporting your site can be found on CTI’s tutorial website here.

All courses this semester will automatically have a Canvas site, and will have students automatically enrolled as they add the course (and removed as they drop).

CTI is here in Engineering, ready willing and able, to help:  Starting Wednesday (Jan 15), CTI will hold Canvas office hours in Rhodes to help faculty with all things Canvas.  Stop by as a novice or expert.

  • When:  Every Wednesday 11:00 am to 1:00 pm
  • Where:  Rhodes 191 conference room
  • Who: CTI Canvas staff

Quick Tips for Effectively Using Canvas:

  • Add your staff: While Canvas will automatically handle student enrollments, you must manually add your TA and other staff.
  • Think Modules:  There is a significant paradigm shift from file-based management in Blackboard (folders and subfolders) to modules in Canvas.  Many of us treated Blackboard as a document repository.  While Canvas can operate this way (awkwardly), it is designed to be organized as tasks, with each task module containing notes, presentations, quizzes and assignments.  This integrates with the Canvas calendar flow (one module per week or topic).  Consider shifting to this paradigm as students find it more effective when using Canvas sites.  Effort put into organizing this way can be reused much more readily in future years (using the publish on/off feature).
  • Accept that navigation is a pain: Everyone is aware the navigation needs work.  Hopefully we will see improvement soon.
  • Save and Publish: Look for a “SAVE” button before navigating to a new page (not all, but most will need you to save first).  Similarly, all content (including the course) has to be published before students will be able to see it.  You can use the “student view” to verify the site configuration.
  • Student Calendars: “Assignments” will be put on the student’s calendar if they have a due date.  If you use due dates, recommend being consistent so they always show up (or never do).
  • Canvas Gradebook unfortunate quirks:  The default gradebook in canvas displays total points (course grade) with no weighting.  There have been several cases where this has given students a false (wildly optimistic) sense of their expected grade.   

Solution 1:  Hide the course total “feature” from students

  • In Course navigation (inner toolbar on the left) click on Settings
  • Select more options
  • Then select “Hide totals in student grades summary”
  • Also select “Hide grade distribution graphs from students”
  • Click on Update Course Details

Solution 2:  Use multiple “assignment groups” and assign weighting factors to each group

  • Detailed instructions can be found here (canvas tutorial on weighted grading).
  • Note especially options for handling “0”s (both may lead to surprising behavior).
  • Remind students that you, not Canvas, assign final grades.  You may want to try to explain Canvas’s behavior, and as engineers they may even be able to follow the logic.

Canvas resources:

TA use, training and expectations

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First a quick reminder: CTI has drop-in help on CANVAS in 191 Rhodes from 11:00-1:00 today

The Engineering Dean’s Advisory Council (EDAC) met with students and discussed broadly the elements of instruction that are most effective for their learning.  Teaching assistants, both undergraduate and graduate, were identified as one of the strongest and most critical components in the teaching infrastructure.  These tips are for those of you who are fortunate enough to have such TAs.

Suggestions for coordination with TAs to maximize their impact and minimize complaints:

  • Emphasize that TAs are a critical part of the teaching team.  It may help to let TAs discuss their own experiences and identify the most positive characteristics of an effective TA.
  • Be intentional and understand your TAs’ background and teaching experience.  Identify areas where you may need to provide them with additional support.
  • Emphasize the need for a common notation in the class, especially if you use something different from the textbook, or if there are multiple notations in use in the field.  It is fair to require TAs to follow your lead.  Student may ultimately need to deal with multiple notations, but it increases the cognitive load for students learning new material.
  • Remind TAs that questions must be answered professionally both in class, office hours, and online.  In particular, answers should not be being dismissive, judgmental, or condescending.
  • TAs should normally work problems in advance of section and office hours.  Discuss how TAs can reach out for help if they cannot solve problems (you, head TA, etc.).  Students understandably get frustrated when they hear different answers from the professor and TAs. 
  • Discuss homework and grading policies, especially consistency if there are multiple graders.  How can TAs find the most recent (corrected) assignments and how are grading rubrics developed? 
  • Encourage TAs to voice any concerns they might have, and to act as a voice for students in the class.  Students may be more likely to express issues to the TAs and not directly to you. 
  • It goes without saying, but still probably worth being explicit about potential conflicts of interest (same fraternity, boyfriend/girlfriend, same sports team, friends, etc) and about prohibitions on budding relationships with students in the class.
  • Similarly, remind TAs to be proactively inclusive, definitely not showing favoritism to certain groups, races, or genders of students.  These issues commonly show up on course evaluations.
  • Remind TAs of FERPA requirements (e.g. no stacks of graded papers, no grades on the front cover, etc.).
  • Set your expectations for recitations if your TAs formally present.  What is the nature of the interactions you expect, how much problem solving versus content explanations, assisting students in solving problems versus showing solutions, etc.

Have a great semester and enjoy introducing students to the joys and power of the topics you are teaching.

Managing that awkward “topic change” during lecture effectively

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Reminder: CTI has drop-in hours for CANVAS help from 11-1 on Wednesday in 191 Rhodes. Starting next week, this will change to Mondays from 11-1 in the same location.

The constraint of our 50 (or 75) minute standard meeting times doesn’t always mesh with the time required to complete topics in a course, and some of us are left with the challenge of making a clean transition to a new topic in the middle of lecture.   As instructors, it is only slightly challenging since we know it is coming from that blank section at the end of the notes or the line across the page.  But for students, it can be disconcerting and, in some cases, students may not even notice that the topic has changed.  Even when the shift is clear, there is often a very significant lag in their attention as they “close that folder” and “open a new topic folder”. 

The mind needs a moment to reset, just as we do when shifting tasks.  Last minute thoughts need to be filed away, and the existing clutter reorganized to provide space for the new topic.  Simply adding an intentional transition time can make the change less jarring and keep the students with you.  Here are some suggestions on how transitions might be handled:

  • Take an intentional 2- or 3-minute stretch break.  Let students relax, talk with each other, or finish up their own notes before starting the next topic.
  • Explicitly stop and give students a few minutes to jot down final notes on the topic and ask (or write down) remaining questions.  Set aside a specific amount of time to avoid the awkward “any questions” silence.  During the time, you might also
    • Answer questions from the class or from individuals (wander around)
    • Collect questions to pass on to recitation instructors
    • Collect questions and promise to answer in the next lecture or through Piazza
    • Ask students to bring their questions to office hours or recitation
  • Develop an intentional transition “micro-lecture” that links or compares the old and new topics (how related, why this transition now).  This can simultaneously serve as a summary of the old topic and introduction to the new.
  • Try the think-pair-share.  Ask students to write down several important points about the first topic and then share them with a neighbor.  This helps them mentally summarize and close the topic, while also hopefully internalizing the key takeaways for the topic.

And remember, spring will be back soon … just have patience.

Classroom polling (iClickers or low-tech pseudo-clickers)

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First a quick reminder:  CTI is still holding office hours for Canvas.  The schedule has shifted to Mondays from 11:00-1:00 in Rhodes 191.  As no one has class today, it may be a chance to get that question resolved; feel free also to send your TAs.

A 50- or 75-minute lecture is a long time for students to sit quietly, take notes, ignore text messages, and maintain attention on your engaging words of wisdom.   So, every now and then, it is good to wake them up and an easy way to promote such periodic engagement is through the use of classroom polling methods such as iClickers.

iClickers are a very low-investment, easy to implement active learning strategy. The vast majority of the undergraduates already own iClickers (from freshmen courses), and the on-line version that uses their cell phone (REEF) is relatively cheap (though does have the disadvantage of having cell phones out during lecture).  You can consider experimenting even without having any specific grade consideration.

Carl Wieman’s Science Education Initiative at UBC has written a helpful guide that explains benefits and best practices of iClickers (http://www .cwsei.ubc.ca/resources/files/Clicker_guide_CWSEI_CU-SEI.pdf).  Page 2 has an executive summary, pages 6-11 get into the best practices, pages 20-27 is an FAQ.

Some quickies:

  • Questions can be used to introduce a subject by having students “predict” a result; this gets them invested in understanding the new material.
  • Polling is a great way to uncover common mistakes or misconceptions. After a student commits to an answer, and especially if they get it wrong, they become much more invested and are more likely to retain the correct information.
  • Coming up with tempting wrong answers, based on mistakes you know students tend to make, improves the efficacy of the clicker questions. It’s also helpful for us as faculty to see whether students are “with us” or getting lost.

If you’re thinking of using them in your classroom, faculty at MTEI or staff at CTI can get you started. If you’re not interested in getting new software involved in the middle of the semester, you can use “pseudo-clickers”: ask multiple choice questions and have students vote by holding up different colored index cards, or holding up 1, 2, or 3 fingers. That loses the benefit of instantaneous histograms of their answers but retains the benefit of students committing to an answer.

One … Two … continuing the remote course delivery conversation

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Day two and slowly counting.  The situation remains fluid and guidance is still evolving.  I am meeting almost daily at 8:00 with counterparts in other colleges and with the Provost’s office to think through options and logistics.  I want to keep you informed as quickly as possible, and I apologize up front for not being able to vet and edit these messages as carefully as I would otherwise attempt.  In particular, I may well have overlooked some obvious alternatives solutions and missed key challenges.

Some things are becoming clear.  First … as you think about your courses moving forward, you need to consider two different time windows; (i) options that are viable before spring break while students are expected to still remain local and available for physical classes and (ii) options for post-spring break course delivery.  To help you thinking, below are some considerations.

Pre-spring break:

  • Courses can continue to be taught in conventional formats with sensitivity to students who may be at greater risk due to underlying medical conditions. 
  • It is not appropriate to attempt to compress the remaining semester into the lectures before break.  Other courses continue and students will have numerous distractions / other priorities.  Increasing stress by attempting to compress 6 weeks into 1 week is inappropriate.
  • Synchronous deliver of content via on-line lectures is viable.  Hardware may be challenging since rooms with dedicated equipment for synchronous delivery are likely already scheduled for other classes which may not have gone on-line.
  • Restructuring the syllabus timing to deliver content that is most dependent on synchronous delivery should be prioritized for this period.
  • Labs, in particular, should be thinking of shifting analysis to post-spring break and focusing on experimental work immediately.

Post-spring break:

  • Think about course remote delivery as consisting of two distinct components, with the second absolutely critical
    • Content delivery (lecture, notes, etc.)
    • Substantive interaction – the direct interactions that provide value to the students beyond listening to content
  • Expect that synchronous delivery of course content will be difficult and available to a very small subset of courses
    • Key challenges include the distribution of students across many time zones, including international zones.
      • Normal class times are unlikely to be viable
      • Any shift of class time to accommodate synchronous delivery will need coordination across the University’
    • Hardware is the least of the concerns in this case
    • Please communicate with Kathy Dimiduk if you believe synchronous delivery is critical for your course
  • Asynchronous delivery can take multiple forms and consider many alternatives
    • CTI has notes for several options … see their website for on-line instructions
    • The 50 minute quantum for courses is no longer dictated by the physics of the universe.  Consider smaller chunks and how you will manage them.
  • Think proactively about methods for substantive interaction
    • On-line office hours and discussion sessions
    • Group projects mentored by you and TAs

Research and Project based courses:

  • The best guidance we have at the moment is that undergraduate will not be permitted to continue in any campus based activities post spring break (independent research, projects, etc.).  It is also unlikely – at the moment – that there will even be a petition option to waive this restriction.
  • Think about comparable experiences for students in these classes that can be delivered remotely (literature exploration, designs).

I will continue to send daily updates every morning with the latest information that I have.  Please feel free to contact me directly and I will make every attempt to be much more responsive than in normal circumstances.

We will survive this landing!

ADA Accessibility, Students, Course Planning

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I hope everyone was able to take a break before diving back into planning for fall courses.  As we approach the start of the semester we’d like to share some information and hints that you may find useful.

ADA accessibility for online courses and course components

All courses that are online or have an online component (so all courses) need to take concrete steps to make their courses ADA accessible for anyone, not just students identified through SDS.  Many of the steps will add value for other students as well (e.g. international students needing a bit of help understanding lectures, students who have trouble reading your handwriting, students who find that organized headings help them organize the material…).  Examples of such steps include:

  • Caption posted videos.  This can be done automatically if the correct settings are engaged.  They do not need to be live captioned. 
  • Make documents that are posted online accessible via a screen reader.   Instructions vary by the kind of document.
  • If you post your lecture notes online, also post the lecture recording and refer those in need of an accessible version of the notes to the recorded lecture.
  • If you post hand-written solutions, have a TA (or yourself) record working through the solution and point those needing an accessible version of the solutions to the recording.
  • Post all course materials on your Canvas website rather than publically accessible websites.

Detailed implementation instructions are on the MTEI website at https://www.engineering.cornell.edu/MTEI/course-material-accessibility.  Additional information is available through CTI, https://teaching.cornell.edu/learning-technologies/hybrid-online-learning/accessibility-accommodation-inclusion

Your Students

The class schedule is still being developed and pre-enroll won’t happen until late August.  This will put your students and advisees under a lot of stress due to how late they will be pre-enrolling.   Please consider reaching out proactively to your advisees to express your concern for them and offer some office hours during pre-enrollment. 

Expectations for Fall Classes

We are no longer in an emergency situation like last spring when classes abruptly needed to move online. Though Covid-19 and uncertainty continues to be an issue, faculty have the opportunity to rethink the structure and pedagogy for their class depending on the modality they have chosen: online, hybrid, or in-person with some remote students.   This is an opportunity and challenge to update content and teaching to maintain Cornell’s standard of high quality teaching.  Students will benefit from well thought out plans that are clearly communicated.  Pay special attention to student engagement and interaction with both the teaching team and other students.  Both MTEI and CTI are have information on their websites that may be useful and are available to discuss teaching plans and approaches.

https://www.engineering.cornell.edu/MTEI especially links to

     Faculty Teaching Resources,

     ADA accessibility directions,

     Tips for Teaching, and

     Information for Teaching Remotely

https://teaching.cornell.edu/teaching-resources – CTI’s teaching resources

https://teaching.cornell.edu/programs – CTI programs

Classroom technology

CIT is offering an opportunity for faculty to test out and to get some hands-on experience with typical classroom technology that will be deployed this semester. 

From CIT:

To book an appointment please use the link below (requires a NetID login).  To participate you must be on the essential staff list and wear a face covering when in the building.


Once an appointment is scheduled, you may park in the lot at 120 Maple.  After arrival please call 607-255-5389.  A staff member will then greet you and escort you to the show room.  There is also directional signage for "Classroom Technologies" with the above phone number listed.

Technology available for hands on demonstration includes:

1. A Mini camera tripod for either USB camera or iPhone/Android.

  • When used with a webcam the camera connects to a laptop via USB.
  • When used with an iPhone or Android, the phone joins the Zoom session using the iOS or Android application.  An advantage here is that a second video screen is provided to the students in addition to the laptop camera.
  • The camera or phone can be used to capture lab activities, white boarding, or other activities in the room that the laptop camera is not suited to capture.

2. A USB camera to be used with the above mini camera tripod.

3. A USB document camera.

  • The document camera becomes a video input for the computer and can be shared via Zoom or projected in the classroom. 
  • Instructors can write equations with pen and paper or share other physical content (see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NlYgvMp1Dbs for example)

4. A Wacom tablet for electronic white boarding and annotation.

  • The tablet once connected is both a screen and a mouse-like input device for a computer. 
  • As an input device the instructor can use the stylus to annotate on content, use white boarding applications, or write equations or other content. As an additional screen the content on the tablet can be shared via Zoom or projected in a room (see https://youtu.be/7e16ahVR2jk for example)

5. A USB speakerphone for use with Zoom.

Course shopping, First Lecture, Polling, and an Update on Accessibility

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Student’s course shopping
Students may want to visit courses during the add/drop period and may be in touch with you to ask if that is allowed.  You could write a response that you can copy and paste into replies to students with your policy or that directs students to an appropriate departmental support team member.   You could, for example, share a Zoom link with students if you want to allow them to visit your course.  Don’t just post your Zoom link publically as you don’t want Zoom bombers across the semester.

The university is also collecting information from departments on this topic to connect with the course roster.  Each department will submit from the following choices:  "Contact department", "Contact instructor," "See department's Canvas site", or "No shopping supported."

First Lecture
The first lecture is especially important this fall.  Regardless of the mode you are teaching in this fall, you want to do several things in the first lecture:

  • Confirm that students are in the correct place by posting the course number and name prominently on the board, or slide as the students enter in person or online.  They will be anxious enough with the start of classes feeling very different – at least reassure them they are in the correct location.
  • Give them reason to be excited about the material, the course, and the delivery mode.  Enliven the start with an interesting application of the course material and some good visuals.  Confirm the delivery mode and how it will work for this course.  Do this within the first 10 minutes while they are still gathering an impression of the course and your teaching.
  • Especially for online courses, emphasize how the students will be able to interact with you the course staff and each other.   How will the class be a community of learners?
  • Especially for in-person courses and hybrid courses, acknowledge how different the classroom may feel. Explain how the class will work with social distancing and how they will still be able to engage with questions and activities and content explanations during class.  Be sure to welcome both in-person and remote learners.  Make it clear that you are teaching to both groups.  This will also be reassuring to any students worried about potentially being quarantined.  
  • For hybrid courses especially, go over how to know when they attend in-person and when they attend online.  How will this be made to work?
  • Give the students a sense of how they will work with the material to learn it, such as homework, projects, papers, case studies, lab sessions, etc.
  • Students will care about grading and be worried about not having the same option to switch to SU at the end of the term.  Say something about grading.
  • This is likely enough logistics for the first lecture.  Some they can read on the syllabus and some can be covered in the next lecture.  For example academic integrity can wait till lecture two when it is less likely to be lost in the logistics overload.

Polling – information from Pat Graham, CTI
A university-wide site license has been purchased for Poll Everywhere, a mobile classroom polling product. This means polling is now available for use in any Cornell class at no cost to students, instructors, or departments. Poll Everywhere is similar to iClicker, but does not require a physical device.  As more instruction moves online, the University recognized the need for a polling solution with no cost to instructors or students. A number of Cornell instructors have used Poll Everywhere over the years, finding it to be an effective active learning tool.

What this means to you:

  • You and your students can now use Poll Everywhere at no cost for your fall courses.
  • Workshops for Poll Everywhere are being offered now.  Please see our page for details.
  • Get started yourself: Request a Poll Everywhere Cornell account by filling out this form. Note: You will need to do this even if you have already used Poll Everywhere. Any polls previously created will be preserved.
  • Support for Poll Everywhere will be provided through the Center for Teaching Innovation. See the recently revised polling section of our web site, or write us at acadtech@cornell.edu.
  • Poll Everywhere can be integrated with your Canvas course, similarly to iClicker.
  • The features of Poll Everywhere and a comparison to iClicker can be found here.
  • If you have further questions about this decision, or feel you need to continue to use iClicker, please contact us at acadtech@cornell.edu.

If you have any questions or concerns about the Classroom Polling service, you can also reply to this email.

If you have already started to use Poll Everywhere you still need to fill out the form to ensure your account is a part of the Cornell license.

Update on Help for Accessibility of Course Materials that are Online

CTI and MTEI both have information on making course materials ADA accessible on their websites.  

MTEI:  https://www.engineering.cornell.edu/MTEI/course-material-accessibility

CTI:  https://teaching.cornell.edu/accessibility

Equidocs is now licensed by Cornell and thus free for faculty to use.

CTI has some volunteers that can help with making course materials accessible.  Request help via

Assignments and Study Partners

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Finding Study Partners

Please share this information from the Learning Strategies Center with students if it is relevant for your course. The Learning Strategies Center (LSC) can help students find study partners for their courses.    With classes being physically distanced and many courses online, finding study partners can be difficult.  The LSC is able to match students with study partners and also provides tips on how to study together effectively, both in-person and online.  More information, including how to sign up, is on the Studying Together webpage.  

Assignments - Basics

This week would be a good time to review your instructions for assignments.  Remind students where to find the assignments, updates (if any) to assignments, and turn-in logistics. Explain your policy on collaboration on assignments and academic integrity.  They will be more interested in it now with an assignment in hand than they were on the first day of class. 

Assignments - Helping Students Remember Important Material

To remember something, one has to first encode the memory and then also be able to retrieve the memory.  Both steps are necessary to be able to use the idea.  In engineering, we frequently rely on homework to push students to use the material, thereby encoding how to do something and retrieving the memory of it.  But we rarely focus on practicing remembering what they just did, so some of the value can be lost.  Discussing a homework problem with a study partner can reinforce both encoding and retrieving memories of the problem and solution.  (See above for helping students find study partners).  You can also help reinforce the encoding and retrieving of information with how you design homework problems.  Consider adding a step to problems that asks students to explain something about the problem after they have finished it.  The specific explanation requested is field and course specific but the goal is common; students have to retrieve the information from memory again to explain, and then they encode again in a different mode as they write an explanation.  Multiple ways of encoding a memory make the memory stronger.   Retrieving a memory in different contexts strengthens the ability to retrieve the memory in new settings (e.g. exam, future course or work settings).  Extending a problem can also be used to push student thinking to higher levels of Bloom’s taxonomy and can help them develop the critical thinking and reasoning skills they will need as informed citizens and skilled engineers.   In addition, the “explain” part of a question is also harder to find online or to copy from another student without it being obvious.  
Some ideas to extend problems to include an “explain” component:

  1. Have students explicitly check their approximations after solving a problem.
  2. Have students explain how a boundary condition helped define the solution.
  3. Have students compare the techniques used to solve different problems.  When do the techniques apply?  How can they tell if they can use a technique?
  4. How did they decide on the test cases they used for their code?
  5. Give an example where the approximation used would fail.
  6. Why couldn’t they have solved the problem using …………..?
  7. What conditions would be important to share with an engineer designing a solution to a problem like this?
  8. Would the solution scale up or down effectively?
  9. Would the solution change if the material was changed to ……?

Other approaches to practice recalling information and to encode it again to reinforce the memory and learning include: 

  • Problems that integrate using old material into current problems are especially helpful in connecting material as well as practicing with encoding and retrieving ideas.   
  • Review problems can be effective and students will appreciate them if you assign them, or even just offer them in the week or two leading up to an exam.  
  • Course projects that link material across the course and expect students to use the material again that they learned in assignments stretch students skills and also practice the retrieval and encoding of course content.

As an added bonus, students will have practiced “explain” questions and linking material across the course which will prepare them for seeing these kinds of questions on exams. Prepared students are less likely to feel pressure to cheat on exams.   In addition, written explanations should be more unique to each student and thus harder to “get away with” at least some kinds of cheating.

Continuity for In-person and Hybrid classes

With the Covid-19 alert moving to yellow and cases and warnings increasing, students are probably wondering how that will impact their courses.  If your course has an in-person or hybrid component, it might be reassuring to students to communicate your plan for course continuity if classes have to go online for two weeks. 

Academic Integrity

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Academic Integrity is of concern for both faculty and students.  Incidents more than doubled for spring semester and cheating on homework and exams has only become easier with online courses and assessment.  Students increasingly brought up the issue on end-of-semester course evaluations.  There is no universally good approach that we can recommend to solve the problem, but there are some steps that will help.   Faculty have a responsibility to their students to address and minimize the impact of cheating to uphold the integrity of our courses and degrees and to be fair to all students.

Cornell’s guidance to faculty is no longer to have exams open for 24 hours letting students choose a time window within that.  Online websites such as Chegg.com openly advertise that students can take a picture of a question and get an expert solution back within a half hour.  The current guidance is to give the exam at two different times to accommodate students in remote time zones.   Also, at least to vary the questions or order or details between the exams.
Recommendations for faculty:

  • Be very clear, in writing, on what is and is not allowed on assignments, projects, and exams.  
  • Include in-person assessments to the extent possible.  Even if the course is online, local students are expected to take in-person, socially distanced exams. If scheduled. 
  • Earlier recommendations were for more frequent, lower stakes assessments.  However, students report stressing over these due to a perceived increase in  workload , so this is not a panacea,  but  might be part of a solution.
  • Write exam questions that require students to explain or analyze or compare and contrast rather than just calculate.  This kind of work makes it easier to detect work that doesn’t fit the course and/or work that is copied.  Students can be asked to calculate something and then explain an aspect of the result.
  • Cornell does not recommend remote monitoring of online students taking exams, but for those faculty that wish to do so, CTI has recommended two products (department will need to pay). https://teaching.cornell.edu/resource/proctoring-services
  • Spread out the assessment across the course and across different student efforts.  While homework may be too hard to police (and is ripe for cheating with online solutions), course projects, presentations, discussion posts and participation credit, writings on the topic, parallel explanations of a homework assignment approach, etc., can all be used to assign points and reduce the impact of high stakes testing that makes cheating tempting.  A simple question such as write about what you learned from a simulation or “what is something  you learned in this course that has not been asked on the exam already” can flummox students who aren’t actively working on the course themselves and will be easy points for those who are doing the work.
  • Where possible, have a TA or dept TA check sites such as Chegg, Course Hero, etc. for exam questions, ideally real time.  Ask for help through the Assoc. Dean when asking the sites to reveal who asked the question and who read the answer.
  • Follow-through on academic integrity issues.  Have the hearing.  Send a letter to the AIHB to hold in order to catch repeat offenders.  Increase the risk and cost to offenders to reduce the risk-reward calculation of potential cheaters.

Additional information:

A good overview of university guidance on instruction can be found at https://covid.cornell.edu/faculty/policies-instruction-resources

See : Addressing Academic Integrity in Engineering (Fall 2020) document on academic integrity including information on acting on incidents 

Information from CTI Promoting Academic Integrity in Remote Teaching

  • Structuring Assessments to Promote Academic Integrity


  • In-Person Teaching With Remote Learning


  • Recorded workshops on above two topics (below URL contains links):


Student Engagement, Academic Integrity, and Recording Studios

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Two common student concerns from the remote teaching portion of courses last spring were students missing the connections with other students in the class and students concerned that other students were cheating.  The extra effort of many faculty and TAs to be more available to students was recognized and thus less of a student concern in many courses.

Student – student engagement 

As we plan for the fall semester, consider if there are ways to encourage/enable students to collaborate with each other in your course even with the social distancing requirements.  Here are a few ideas which might spark an idea for your course:

  • Encourage students to find one or more study partners – create a way for interested students to share contact information and how and when they like to collaborate (discuss problems first, compare answers, etc).  This will also help students built connections that may be useful if one has to quarantine
  • Assign a group project or review assignment
  • Create a virtual study hall by setting up a zoom session where students can connect with other students in the class as they would with study partners.  You don’t have to attend, just set up and announce the study hall. 
  • Hybrid teaching
    • Your class will already be divided into cohorts that attend in-person sessions on different days (attendance cohorts).  Assign partners across the attendance cohorts so students have an in-person connection for each session
    • Expect whichever attendance group is attending a particular session (especially for a lab) to share information/data with partners in other attendance groups
  • Synchronous remote teaching:  
    • Try Zoom breakout rooms so students discuss ideas with each other in small groups
    • Try polling the class to see if they understand – iClicker Reef or Zoom polling or Poll Everywhere, let students see the results so they see the connection with the rest of the class
  • In-person, socially distant:
    • Consider alternatives for the sharing part of think/pair/share.  
    • Can Zoom chat bring in remote learners
    • Can Zoom chat share answers to a think/pair/share
    • Use iClicker Reef so remote learners can click in as well as in-person learners
  • Asynchronous remote teaching:
    • Consider some group assignments or group project(s) so students have to discuss ideas with other students.
    • Consider using Piazza  as a shared question and answer space

Academic Integrity

Experience this past Spring shows that Academic Integrity is more of an issue now than ever. For example, using websites like Chegg.com students can upload exam questions and get answers during an exam.  There are a number of ways to reduce academic integrity issues in our course.  These include setting clear expectations, using in-person exams where possible, and designing and administering remote/take-home exams in ways to make cheating more difficult.

For further suggestions see the following:

MTEI:  https://www.engineering.cornell.edu/MTEI/information-teaching-remotely/addressing-academic-integrity-engineering-fall-2020

CTI:  https://teaching.cornell.edu/teaching-resources/planning-remote-teaching/preparing-your-students-remote-learning/promoting

Mini-recording studios

COE and CIS will share 4 mini-recording studios:  Gates G11, Gates G15, Rhodes 637 and Olin 167B.  

Equipment in Gates G11 and G15:

Overhead mic, lapel mic not needed    
2 in room cameras
Whiteboards that can be captured a camera
HDMI connection for your computer (no in-room computer)
Zoom enabled through room controls (CODEC) and your computer
G11 will have a document camera soon
G15 will have a Wacom tablet soon

Equipment in Rhodes 637 and Olin 167B:

Adjustable (pan tilt, and zoom) camera
USB document camera
Annotation tablet
Large format (65”) monitor. 
Built-in microphone (which does not require close proximity).
Recording is via either Panopto or Zoom.  

Baseline lighting and acoustical treatment will be tailored to each specific space 

Reserve time in a studio either for the semester or for a single session.  Email engprebook@cornell.edu Requests for time for synchronous teaching will be filled first as those sessions are time dependent followed by requests for semester long use of the studios.   

Studio schedules will be posted once the first batch of requests are processed.  

Polling to Increase Student Engagement Near the End of the Semester

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As we come to the end of a semester that has been very hard for students and faculty, consider some activities in class meetings to increase student engagement, to help  students with processing the material in the class, and maybe even have some fun with the material.  Difficulty staying engaged during class was one of the concerns I saw the most this semester in the mid-semester feedback across many, many courses.  

One simple activity that can reach both sides of a hybrid class is adding some Poll Everywhere questions.  “Everywhere” includes your in-person and synchronous remote students.  It can even include many of the asynchronous students if you create a duplicate poll for them that you leave open (and ask them to vote in the duplicate poll before they see the answer in the video).

Poll Everywhere allows you to ask many different types of questions, not just multiple choice.  This includes hotspot questions (select a location on a figure) and short answer questions.  

Polling questions can also be used to make review sessions more engaging for students and lets them test their knowledge or reasoning in in a no stakes challenge.  You can ask questions to emphasize key points across the course or that will be used for the final.  You can ask whether an approach could be used for a sample problem and or under what condition it breaks.  The goals can be just review or connecting ideas across the course or building the mental connections to apply the material beyond the course, all of which add value at the end of a course.

If you are not familiar with Poll Everywhere or writing interesting polling questions I invite you to a  workshop on using Poll Everywhere in your classes.  Poll Everywhere is the new Cornell polling platform. The workshop will teach you enough to use Poll Everywhere and suggest ideas for future classes.  It will highlight the features and benefits of Poll Everywhere, how to set it up and launch interactive activities, how to integrate it in Canvas, and provide examples of where it can be deployed in your class.  The workshop will be led by Shivaun Archer, Sr. Lecturer in BME, Hadas Ritz, Sr. Lecturer in MAE, both MTEI Faculty Teaching Fellows, and Kathryn Dimiduk, MTEI.

A Cornell Poll Everywhere account can be requested at https://cornell.ca1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_3Qmr0bsnhijpxmR 

Poll Everywhere Workshop Date and Time: Thursday 4/22;  4 -5pm
Zoom Link:  https://cornell.zoom.us/j/96294170667?pwd=OFVMMjNCeFpWQ05EYUtDdUlnMGsrQT09

Please RSVP to klc78@cornell.edu if you would like to attend the workshop.

Sharing Sites: Protecting Your Content Material and Final Exam Concerns

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Unfortunately, Academic Integrity continues to be a larger than usual issue this semester.  Web sites that purport to help student learning (Chegg, Course Hero) unfortunately also serve as repositories for old exams and solutions, as well as your course notes and materials.  Some even go so far as advertising that solutions to new problems can be obtained within half an hour – solutions which are then available to other subscribers.  This is highly problematic, especially with final exams approaching and makes your job as an instructor that much harder.

Addressing this challenge requires a two-fold approach: (i) minimizing the potential for these sites to be used inappropriately and (ii) controlling the content that is available on the sites.  Ideally you have been marking all your materials as copyrighted (only requires a copyright notice in the footer); this should include exams, assignments, course notes, slides, etc.  The next step is to Google your course or some bits of your content to see if you get a hit from any of these sites – especially those that encourage students to seek help with course assignments (and exams).  

Removing copyrighted material

The DCMA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) allows you to demand that these sites remove your copyrighted material.  It requires a little bit of effect, but mostly just identifying the URLs of the material and a somewhat formulaic (legalistic) letter.  Mike Thompson shared a letter he has used successfully with Course Hero.  Chegg’s address for a similar letter is 3990 Freedom Circle, Santa Clara, CA 95054.  You can also use the site’s online take-down forms, but that can be more time consuming if you have multiple pages to take down as you need to complete the form for each URL.

You can also choose to be strategic and allow some materials to remain (notes) while insisting that others be removed (old exam solutions).

Minimizing potential issues with final exams

With many classes having online final exams, or some students taking the final remotely, the ease of searching online poses a significant academic integrity problem.  Students shouldn’t be searching, but we, as instructors, also need to play a part in not making searching for an answer online easy and successful.  Here are some tips to frustrate would be searchers:

  • Avoid re-using old problems as solutions are likely in some student organization’s files or online
  • Avoid using problems from another textbook as the solutions to those problems are likely online
  • In some courses it is very hard to create entirely new problems that can be solved in 15 minutes.  At least make the problem look different to a search engine.  Reword the problem changing some of the wording and some parts of the problem.    Can you change what is given and what needs to be solved for?  Can you adjust the geometry, or the components or materials?  Can you move parts around in an accompanying figure?  The longer it takes a student to find a similar problem and adapt it to your problem, the less value in an exam setting and the higher likelihood of errors in their adaptation of the solution.
  • Consider asking for an explanation of some component of the solution as a part of the problem.  This likely won’t be online and if a student seeks help, the wording likely will be off from your class’s approach.
  • Search for your exam problems online in advance of the exam and make sure they don’t show up easily.
  • After the exam, again search for your problems.  Google can show a match on Chegg and Course Hero even payment is required to see the full solution.  If you find your exam problem on one of these sites, this is a clear academic integrity issue and the Dean’s office can, on your behalf, request a list of who posted the problem and who accessed the problem.  This is not 100% successful as student often use false names and email addresses. You can decide whether you want to let students know you will be checking on this to maintain the integrity of your exam in fairness for all students.
  • Requiring no backtracking in an exam can be frustrating for students as they don’t know how long to spend on each problem.  But you could break the exam into two parts with no backtracking between parts, thereby reducing the amount of time for a “purchased” solution to arrive.

Effective Studying Strategies for Finals

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As the end of the semester approaches, your students will need to begin preparing and studying for their final exams. The time they spend studying can be effective in solidifying their learning for long term use versus an all too common ineffective, inefficient use of time leading to frustration and disappointment with their resulting test performance. Consider pointing them towards some more effective study approaches.  See also a couple of pieces of information on finals and student support at the end of the tip.

Many students will study for their exams by rereading the course text or their notes. Some students may go further and highlight or underline passages, or simply rewrite their notes. The idea being to “burn” something into their memory through repeated exposure. While many students will report that this method of studying works very well for them, this conclusion is not supported by empirical evidence. Rereading does not create the lasting memories necessary for learning. Many people favor this method because familiarity often creates an illusion of mastery. Yet, these same learners are often taken by surprise when they perform poorly on an exam even though they spent a lot of time studying.

If rereading is an ineffective studying strategy, then what is effective? Active retrieval. Building effective memories requires encoding the memory and being able to retrieve the memory. They have been encoding memories all semester. For the final they need to retrieve and use those memories, and this is strengthened with practice. Rereading may reinforce encoding, but it doesn’t help with robust retrieval of memories.

Retrieving information strengthens your understanding of the material and strengthens your ability to recall it later. Active retrieval is a method where a learner practices retrieving information and then actively processing the information in an effort to promote lasting memories of the material. For example, a learner employing retrieval practice would formulate questions about the key points from a textbook’s chapter, and then quiz themselves. Active retrieval must be effortful. The more effortful the retrieval, the stronger the benefit.

As you help your students prepare for their final exams, help them prepare by encouraging effective studying habits through active retrieval:

  1. Avoid passive studying methods: rereading, highlighting, underling or rewriting notes. These low-effort methods are time consuming and can create the illusion of mastery.
  2. When studying, employ retrieval practice for long lasting memories that will last beyond the exam.
    1. Self-quizzing or “testing” yourself will strengthen your memory. Ask yourself: What are the key ideas of this chapter? How would I define this term? When and how can I apply this (retrieves relevant additional information)? How does this connect to or compare with another technique (retrieves related material, reinforces connections across material)? What kinds of problems does this help solve (recognizing applications, like on a final exam)?
    2. Space out retrieval practice. Time needs to pass between practice sessions to get the most benefit from active retrieval. Practice retrieval in response to different types of questions. If you study with a partner, ask each other retrieval questions, don’t just share information directly.
    3. Rephrase concepts or main ideas in your own words.
  3. When studying, practice in a similar format to the exam. If the exam asks you to reread, then reread when studying. However, if the exam asks you complete a proof, your studying should include completing proofs. If an exam is likely to ask you to solve problems and explain, practice deciding how to solve a problem and what approaches to use and explaining your reasoning. 

 You can help students get started with this more effective studying by giving them some sample prompts to use in practicing retrieval and suggest they create their own additions as yours are samples and are not comprehensive of what might be on the final. You can tell them something about the types of questions on the final: problem solving, proofs, short answers, explain your reasoning, compare, contrast, etc. as that will guide the type of practice they need to work on. This kind of thoughtful, effortful studying will enhance their ability to use the material you have taught them and increase their use of critical thinking skills.

Additional Information on Finals and Supporting Student Mental Health
Several faculty have expressed concern that students will ask to leave campus before exams are complete or for other reasons will ask to be excused from in-person exams.   Please be flexible if possible, but instructors are not obligated to agree to such requests unless there is a documented medical reason.   See Academic Policies & Instruction Modes | COVID-19 and Reactivation Planning | Cornell University (scroll down to the questions on Spring Semester Exams)  for further information. 
If you are interested in information on oral final exams, I have a nice write-up from Shef Baker that I can share.

Here is a link to a new faculty/staff resource page on supporting student mental health

Fall 2021 Specific Information

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Mask Compliance

A few students have expressed concerns about instructors and TA’s not wearing masks and about instructors not enforcing that all students wear masks. So, just a reminder that it’s our responsibility as instructors to ensure that all students wear their masks in class and for us to set the right example. If a student refuses to wear a mask you can and should ask the student to leave the room. The current masking guidance is here: Face Masks | COVID-19 Response | Cornell University 

Information for Faculty on Student Stress, Academic and Mental Health Support and Resources for Students

  • Notice & Respond: Assisting Students in Distress 1.0 – 2021-2022 Edition (30 min) The Skorton Center has developed a Notice & Respond Course for faculty to help them recognize and support students in distress. It contains suggestions for talking with a student and for helping connect the student to additional resources where the student can get more help than you are able to provide. 

Enroll in and take the "Notice & Respond" Canvas course now

Supporting Students in Quarantine or Isolation

Please be supportive of students in quarantine or isolation as they try to stay current in your class. You will receive similar information from the VPUE, but if you want to think ahead, here are some ideas:

  • Reassure students that you understand they have to miss class and will need help staying current with the class.
  • Record your lecture with Zoom or Panopto and share the link with the impacted students. Instructions for sharing a Zoom recording started through Canvas with a subset of students: https://canvas.cornell.edu/courses/1848/pages/sharing-zoom-meeting-links-with-select-users
  • If you are teaching in Upson, Gates G01, Phillips 101, Hollister B14, Olin 155 and 255, or Thurston 203 or 205 use the room camera(s) to record lectures. You can get help learning to set this up by emailing coecis-help@cornell.edu which will generate a ticket to the ITSG.
  • Reuse old recordings. CTI can help you recover recordings from last year that are no longer visible. Email teach@cornell.edu
  • Share slides or lecture notes with impacted students.
  • Ask students to find a partner in the class, or assign partners and have them share information and notes from the class if one needs to miss a class.
  • Identify the sections in the textbook that were covered in class so students know what to study.
  • Hold Zoom office hours, either for impacted students, or open to all. Perhaps split hours across the week between in-person and Zoom. Don’t identify the students on Zoom as COVID impacted so as not to disclose health information.
  • Adjust deadlines as needed.

And finally, Engineering Advising, is available for consultation on students in distress. 

I hope you don’t need any of this information, but it may help to save it where you can find it should any of these issues come up amongst your students.

Metacognition and Learning

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Metacognition is the process of thinking about one’s thinking.  Experts do this intuitively as they consider ideas, approaches and crosschecks in solving a problem, but students need to learn how to do this.  As a teacher, walking through your thinking about an example, as well as the steps of the new technique, models expert metacognition and offers additional value across the range of student abilities and backgrounds.

Teaching using metacognition steps:

  • Planning:  Outline a solution approach so students can follow the big picture flow of solving the problem rather than getting lost in the detailed steps.
  • Implementing:  Use subheadings to label the chunks of the solution such as:  applying boundary conditions, integrating over the time the force is applied, applying a mass balance, applying equilibrium conditions, refining client needs, estimating an answer, etc.  Use the terminology of the field in subheadings to highlight the structure of the solution.
  • Reflecting:  Go back over how the planning led to the subheadings in the solution process.  Then describe your thought process in testing the solution.

IF you put this structure into your examples and homework answer sheets, it will help students internalize the big picture approaches to solving the problems in your course.  Even if it feels repetitious to you, the structure helps students follow new material and develop more field specific, expert problem-solving strategies.  

Reinforce this higher-level thinking by adding an extra part to some problems leading students to reflect on the solution.  For example, ask “what if this changed” or “how do you know this technique can be applied”, or “what does your answer imply for xxxx”, or “does your answer meet the problem constraints or physical boundary conditions”, or “how would this scale if you had more data”, etc... Or ask students to go back and label the parts of the solution similar to how you do in lecture.  The goal is to get the students to pause and think for a few minutes about and assess the problem and solution, as an expert would intuitively do, rather than just hurry on to the task.  This helps them remember the ideas as well as increases their ability to apply those ideas in a new situation outside of class, or maybe even on an exam.

When students start asking about the exam, suggest they review and compare the flow of the problems and the decisions made as well as practice the details.  Ideally, they will better understand the bigger picture approaches and new problems on the exam, or on the job, won’t be as intimidating.

FA21 COE/CIS Mid-Semester Feedback Surveys

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Dear Faculty,

The McCormick Teaching Excellence Institute, MTEI, is running mid-semester feedback surveys in most engineering and many CIS courses this fall.  Please encourage your students to take the survey so you get representative feedback.  If you want to give credit for completion, we can tell you who participated.

The table below shows the survey launch dates by department.   Departments, except MAE, will have the survey open across fall break, so we are giving approximately 2 weeks for the students to complete the survey to avoid pressure to work on it over break. Reminders are only sent to students who haven’t completed the survey.    The close dates may be adjusted depending on response rate, but students who haven’t completed the survey will all be sent a warning at least a day before the survey closes.  

There are a few opt-out courses in the “all courses” departments, due to the faculty already running their own surveys, which have already been communicated via the departments.

If your department is opt-in, send Kathy Dimiduk, klc78, and email if you would like your course included.   We don’t want to double survey students, so these departments shared between 2 colleges are opt-in.  Since many faculty in CS are opted in, we switched CS to all ugrad and Meng courses are included to reduce the communications burden on everyone.

DeptModeLaunch DateTentative Close Date
MAEAll coursesThursday, Sept. 30thThursday, Oct. 7th
AEPAll coursesThursday, Sept. 30thWednesday, Oct. 13th
CBEAll coursesFriday, Oct. 1stWednesday, Oct. 13th
CEEAll coursesFriday, Oct. 1stThursday, Oct. 14th
ORIEAll coursesFriday, Oct. 1stThursday, Oct. 14th
BMEAll coursesMonday, Oct. 4thMonday, Oct. 17th
SYSENAll coursesMonday, Oct. 4thMonday, Oct. 17th
MSEAll coursesTuesday, Oct 5thTuesday, Oct. 19th
ECEAll coursesTuesday, Oct 5thTuesday, Oct 19th

All courses below 5999

Opt-in for 6000 and above.

Wednesday, Oct 6thWednesday, Oct. 19th
ISOpt-inWednesday, Oct. 6thWednesday, Oct. 19th
ECPOpt-inWednesday Oct. 6thThursday, Oct. 20th
BEE, EAS, STSCI, Cornell TechOpt-inWednesday, Oct. 6thThursday, Oct. 20th
Another courseOpt-inWednesday, Oct 6thThursday, Oct. 20th

Individual course reports are sent to faculty, usually a couple of days after the survey closes.

For your information, separate TA evaluations have already been launched by Engineering Learning Initiatives (ELI) and will close on Wed. Oct. 6th at 9 AM.  Faculty will get copies of their TA’s reports when they are sent out by ELI (ta-develop-eli@cornell.edu), hopefully 1-2 weeks after the survey closes.

Questions regarding the course mid-semester feedback should go to Kathy Dimiduk, klc78, and questions from students regarding issues with course feedback survey access should go to Orlay Santa, ods8.


Kathryn Dimiduk
Director, James McCormick Family Teaching Excellence Institute

End of Semester Details

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Dear Faculty,

As I’m sure you know, Tuesday, Dec. 7th is the last day of classes. This is also the absolute last day for students to drop classes with a W. Their paperwork needs to be completed and submitted by 4 PM on Tuesday, Dec. 7th. Students will need to get departmental approval for the drop from the ugrad coordinator.

Course Evaluations:

Course evaluations will run from Tues. Nov 30th at noon till the end of day on Friday Dec. 10th. For those of you who give your students any points or extra credit for completely the course eval for your course, you can get the list of participants after the evals close at : https://www.engineering.cornell.edu/CourseEval/crseval/instructor_view_course.cfm

Gradescope issue:

When students are put in Inactive Status due to missing a Covid-19 test, this impacts the Gradescope Canvas interaction. Please take this into account in advising students with respect to dropping the course and in assigning final grades. The information below is from Gradescope and CTI.

  • Gradescope's Canvas integration can only sync Active students from Canvas to Gradescope. This is a restriction of how the integration works, and for many institutions, this is the desired behavior (as they do not want inactive students to be able to access grades and course content on Gradescope).
  • However, note that, as soon as a student is Active again on Canvas, they do not need to wait for the instructor to re-sync the Canvas roster in order to be added back to the Gradescope course. The student will immediately be able to click the Gradescope LTI link in Canvas (either at the course or assignment level), and this will add them back to the roster of the course, even if they were removed.
  • While the student is inactive, as long as the roster hasn't been re-synced (if they are still on the Gradescope course's roster), they should also still be able to access the Gradescope course by logging in directly to gradescope.com via their Cornell NetID (SSO) or via a Gradescope-specific password.
  • Finally, note that, even if a student is removed from a course roster (i.e. if they drop the course or are inactive on Canvas and get removed during a roster sync), their existing grades and submissions will still be available to the instructor under the assignments in that course. For example, if a student has a submission for a bubble sheet assignment and then gets removed from the roster, their submission will still be available for grading/reviewing on the assignment's Manage Submissions and Review Grades page.

You may want to synch both your Gradescope grades and roster to your Canvas before assigning final grades to account for any students who drop the course late in the semester and also to fill in any grades that happen to have been synched during a student’s inactive status (student might have been active when the material was submitted but inactive when the last synch occurred.

Online Exams

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Dear Faculty,

In response to Cornell’s move to online finals the information below may be useful.  

First, send a quick email or announcement to students that the exam is now online and that additional information will be coming soon.  

To set up your exam on Canvas, the notes below describe one approach you could take. (Thanks to Dmitry Savransky for sharing this.)  Some additional information and hints are provided by CTI at Online Exam Decision Guide: CTI Learning Technologies Resource Library (cornell.edu)

  1. Create an Assignment (under your Canvas page's Assignments area) by clicking the +Assignment Button
  2. Give it a name (i.e., Final Exam) and some description (your specific instructions) and then append your existing exam into the description as a document (in the toolbar, that's the little document symbol - click it and select Upload Documents)
  3. Set a number of points (say 100)
  4. Pick an assignment group (you can create a  new one for this exam only, or just leave in general assignments)
  5. Submission Type should be set to 'Online', with only 'File Uploads' checked.  You may also restrict upload filetypes (I like to only allow for PDF uploads, so I click 'Restrict Upload File Types' and type PDF in the text box that appears). 
  6. Allowed Attempts: this defaults to unlimited, but should probably be just 1 for exams. Up to you. 
  7. Make sure nothing is checked in the 'Group Assignment', 'Peer Reviews', 'Moderated Grading', and 'Anonymous Grading'.
  8. Make the assignment due at the end of your scheduled Final period and available during the exam period only.  So, for example, if your exam is scheduled from 7 to 10 pm on Monday, you would want both 'Due' and 'Until' to be 'Dec 13, 2021, 10:00 PM' and the 'Available From' to be: 'Dec 13, 2021, 07:00 PM'.  I would recommend extending your nominal exam time by at least 30 minutes to allow for scanning and uploading of solutions.  
  9. Click 'Save & Publish" and you're done. 
  10. Most importantly, you need to clearly communicate to students what the expectations are for self-administering the exam (i.e., closed vs. open book/note) and what they should expect (i.e., the assignment appears in Canvas, they have a fixed amount of time to do it, they can only upload specific things, etc.).  Very important:  who and how should they contact someone if they run into problems with the exam or have questions.


11. Also don't forget about any students with extra time accommodations.  They may require assignment overrides, or just a separate exam assignment with different due times that's just for them. If you would like to assign something to only a subset of your class, it's possible but unfortunately tedious in Canvas.  You basically remove the 'Everyone' from the 'Assign To' box and replace it with only the names of the students you want the assignment going to.  Fine for a handful of names, but very cumbersome for a large chunk of a big class.  

In a large class, for students with accommodations, it might be easiest to create a separate assignment for them with their own time constraints.  Give their exam a version number so you can connect them to the correct version.  Set up the needed versions for various times.  Then email the students for each version to ignore the main version and to take the assignment with their specific version number.  Send this assignment only to that small group of students and tell them to take that version, NOT the main assignment exam, in order to get their accommodation.

Additional Help:
Faculty can consult with CTI using their Online Drop-In Sessions | Center for Teaching Innovation (cornell.edu) 

Teaching with Covid-19 Created Uncertainty

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Dear Colleagues,

As announced, instruction for spring 2022 will be remote for the first two weeks, returning to in-person on February 7.  With the expected large number of Covid cases, we will need to be prepared to deal with student and faculty absences and other uncertainties.   This makes planning difficult and thus requires either building flexibility into your course or constantly managing requests for accommodations. 

Here are some ideas for your consideration:

On-line Lectures

  • For remote lecture delivery, consider using Zoom breakout rooms to encourage interaction and engagement during the virtual start to the semester. Consider using polling either through Zoom or Poll Everywhere to engage students and also encourage attendance.
  • You can record lectures using Zoom as before.
  • During the on-line instruction period faculty can teach from their classrooms if they wish to.  Reach out to the COE/CIS It Team (email coecis-help@cornell.edu) before the semester starts if you need  technical support. 
  • If you prefer teaching on a blackboard, and wish to record short segments for a partially flipped classroom approach, both Thurston 203 and 205 are set up to record on the blackboard or with a document camera.  You could request time in either room via scheduling@cornell.edu to record the first two weeks of lectures.   Most of the  Upson classrooms, Olin 155, Phillips 101, and Hollister B14 and 110 are also set up with cameras to record lectures.


  • Clearly state how virtual classes will be delivered, including Zoom links, recording availability
    • Time zones may need to be considered for international students.  Consider recording lectures for those students to watch according to their time zone.  Limit the recordings to time zone impacted students by setting a passcode on the recording in the share menu on the recordings in your zoom account.  Email acadtech@cornell.edu if you need help with this. 
  • Clearly state how updates on class information or procedures will be provided
  • Clearly state that at all times, students must abide by the university public health requirements for students found here.  Expectations as of today include:
    • Remaining fully masked over the mouth and nose at all times in class
    • No eating or drinking in class, if you need to eat or drink, please step outside
    • Meeting all Covid-19 testing requirements (access to Canvas will be restricted by Cornell for students not in compliance)
    • Specify any course specific safety measures, especially as might pertain to laboratory sessions.
    • Add a general statement that the course instructors will update the class regarding expectations as needed, given the shifting public safety environment.
  • Explain how students should notify you if they become ill and/or are placed in isolation or quarantine.
  • Include instructions for any specific preferences on how to communicate SDS accommodations (e.g. In first two weeks of classes, at least 2 weeks before exams, timely for new accommodations, one week before accommodations are needed, etc.)
  • Specify your standard policy for attendance and late work
    • Include a statement on notifying you of SDS accommodations and stating that you will work with students needing these accommodations
    • Make sure your class rules don’t encourage students to attend when ill

Course Design

  • Consider having a small assignment due within the first two weeks so students don’t delay getting started on the course.  This could, for example, involve building up prerequisite skills.
  • Since the term starts online, it is likely that some to all students may not know others in the class to set up their own study sessions.  Consider creating a Zoom Study Hall by setting up specific open Zoom sessions that students can drop into.  These don’t need to be attended by you or a TA.  You can also point students to the LSC study partner tool:  https://lsc.cornell.edu/studying-together/find-study-partners/
  • Consider recording lectures as you give them, if possible, for the sake of students who may be ill and unable to attend. You can limit the viewing to just students with accommodations or open them up more broadly. 
  • Office hours in the first two weeks will be remote.  Once in-person instruction resumes consider holding some office hours remote and some in-person.  Many classrooms have document cameras and can be reserved at outside of scheduled times for office hours.  We can add document cameras to some classrooms, by request till we run out.

Student Illness, Isolation and Quarantine

Unfortunately, it is very likely that this semester will have many cases of students having to miss class resulting in labs, assignments and likely exams impacted.  Consider some options to reduce the logistical overhead of dealing with all the resulting requests for accommodations.

  • Consider giving all students a specified number of slip days that they can use for late assignments as needed across the semester.   Warn them to save them for use when/if they need them for Covid-19 issues.   Set up how these will be tracked and how it will impact homework grading.
  • Consider dropping the lowest one or two assignment grades.   Warn the students they will still be responsible for the material on exams, but they don’t need to stress over a lower assignment score itself.
  • With your exams or other assessment measures, consider dropping the lowest one to reduce the need for of make-ups. 

Best regards,

Alan Zehnder

Responding to Student Questions During Class

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The ability to ask questions about new material is an important part of learning.  The challenge for faculty is balancing individual student’s curiosity and desire to understand with keeping the class productive for all students.  Recognizing that handling of questions is highly dependent on class size, here are a few ideas to consider:

  • Emphasize that questions are a valuable part of learning.  Suggest students jot down questions as they occur to them during lecture.  Then specify how you want them asked:  as they think of them, save and ask at designated times during lecture, limit per student per lecture, after class, in section, in office hours, via Ed Discussion or whatever works for your class.
  • Have the students talk in small groups to answer each other’s simple questions and to come up with a question to ask you.  This can engage all students in thinking more critically about the content, get more questions answered by peers, and raise the value of the questions asked of you. Call on a couple of students to ask their group’s question and answer them.  Consider a method to collect all questions such as 3x5 cards or Ed Discussions or take their question to section.  This will also help you see how the material is being understood.
  • Respect the student asking a question even if the question shows lack of understanding or needs to be deflected to avoid derailing lecture.  Some possible responses:
    • That is an interesting question, but it is beyond the scope of this class.  I’d be happy to discuss it with you in office hours.  
    • That is a good question and brings up a point that we should go over as it relates to a common misconception
    • Good question, but I am going to hold that one as we will be covering it later, or in lab or …
    • Let me try explaining another way, …
    • I don’t have the answer for you, but here is where I would suggest starting to learn more about the topic, or how I would start thinking about that question.  This is especially useful in grad courses where you can start to direct students to find answers themselves. 
    • With a smile – good try, but I am not answering that question relative to the upcoming exam (when students pester you by asking if something specific will be on the exam or for details of a coming exam beyond what you have already shared).
    • If someone is harping on something or asking well below the level of the class – I can see that is still not clear, but if you can please come to office hours I will have more time to explain in more detail.

Mid-Semester Feedback Schedule and Additional Question Offer

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Dear Faculty,

Mid-semester feedback survey time is fast approaching.  With the unusual calendar this spring we are launching the survey a bit later than usual to allow students to form a solid impression of courses.  

We can add a course-specific question(s) to the survey for your course if you want feedback from students on something specific to your course – this may be especially relevant this semester with the unusual schedule or if you are trying something new.  If you would like to add a question(s), please send me the question by March 1st.  

Please encourage your students to fill out the survey so that you receive data that is representative of your class.  As usual, we can give you a list of participants in the survey if you want to give students credit.  

Specifics by department are below:

DepartmentSurvey to LaunchApprox. Survey Close Date
AEP - all coursesMarch 3March 13
BEE - by request to avoid duplicating CALS surveyMarch 8March 21
BME - all coursesMarch 4March 16
CBE - all coursesMarch 4March 18
CEE - all coursesMarch 3March 15
CS all ugrad and 5000 level courses, 6000 level by requestMarch 4March 17
EAS - by request to avoid duplicating CALS surveyMarch 8March 17
ECE - all coursesMarch 4March 17
Env - some with CEE, some by request, ask if unsureMarch 3March 15
INFOMarch 3March 10
MAE - all coursesMarch 3March 10
MSE - all coursesMarch 7March 19
ORIE - all coursesMarch 3March 14 
Systems - all coursesMarch 7March 20
Other - by requestMarch 8March 21

TA evaluations are run separately by Engineering Learning Initiatives (ELI) and will run from Feb. 23- March 11.  If you have a TA for your course, please make sure the students understand that TA feedback is provided on a separate survey from the course mid-semester feedback survey.  This is done to enable  feedback to be provided to TAs and Faculty in as efficient and timely manner as possible due to the workload of all the steps and the processing needed to send the information to the proper TAs and faculty.  

Kathryn Dimiduk
Director, McCormick Teaching Excellence Institute

Office Hours

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Dear Faculty,

As the first round of Prelims finishes and some students are disappointed with their results, this is a good time to reemphasize the value of office hours. If you don't already have your or your TA's office hours scheduled for a room suitable for groups of students to attend and work together (such as an empty classroom), consider reserving such a room for the remainder of the semester. Here are some reminders you can share with your students and TAs as appropriate:

For students:

  • Plan office hours into your weekly schedule. This is a good time to have set aside to work on the course, whether or not you know ahead of time that you'll have questions.
  • Office hours near assignment deadlines tend to be more crowded, so plan ahead and get started early to have access to more focused course staff attention.
  • If you need to have a private discussion with the professor (grades, improving in the course, accessibility issue, make-ups from illness, etc. (but not private tutoring)) ask to make an appointment as office hours are often a shared time.

For TAs:

  • Avoid directly answering or providing solutions to HW problems.
  • Ask students to talk through their plan or solution process to uncover where they get off track or confused.
  • Take advantage of peer learning: if you helped one student understand a problem, ask them to explain it to the next student struggling with the same problem.
  • As you go over student work to locate an error, "think aloud," explaining your thought process. That can help teach students to debug their own work in the future.
  • If certain problems give many students trouble, let the course instructor know. It may be helpful to send a clarifying announcement, record a supplementary video, or spend a few minutes during lecture or section addressing the confusion.
  • Be cognizant of sharing your time across multiple students. It is easy to get “captured” by one student asking lots of questions. Answer one or two and then suggest the student work on the problem on their own for awhile while you help other students. Circulate amongst multiple students (advantage of a small classroom or conference room for OH).

Zoom Office Hours: Consider keeping the zoom call open rather than using a waiting room. Students also learn from listening to each other’s questions and the answers. Intentionally call on everyone. Break-out rooms can be used for students to work together. Consider a mix of zoom hours which can improve accessibility and in-person office hours.

Office hours can be one of the most valuable and rewarding aspects of a course. Enjoy that time with your students!

Hadas Ritz, MTEI Faculty Teaching Fellow and MAE Senior Lecturer

Kathryn Dimiduk, Director McCormick Teaching Excellence Institute

Alan Zehnder, Assoc. Dean for Undergraduate Programs

Wrapping Up the Semester

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As this semester wraps up, there are a few things to keep in mind

  1. Course evaluations will be sent to you once your grades have been submitted.
    • Make a few notes regarding your course while the semester is fresh in your mind. What went well this semester and where do you want to make changes the next time you teach the course?
    • Add a few more notes after reviewing your course evaluations. Look for strengths that are worth keeping/amplifying and for concerns to address and especially any action items to consider the next time you teach the course. You don’t need to solve the concerns now, but it will help to have a few points noted, rather than having to reread the course evals next year. Feel free to reach out to me if you’d like to discuss the evaluations.
  2. Save August 10th on your calendar for our first annual Engineering Teaching Day, 10 AM – 4 PM. Workshop sessions will be a la carte so choose the one(s) that are most relevant to you.
    • Join your colleagues for lunch and discussion of teaching and the upcoming semester.
    • Topics will include resetting student’s study skills, groupwork tips and tricks, syllabi and policies (share ideas and sample wording), active learning to increase student engagement (and attendance), and improving student’s thinking and learning via metacognition and reflection.
    • More details to come; https://www.engineering.cornell.edu/MTEI/engineering-teaching-day.

Invitation to Cornell Engineering Teaching Day

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Dear Engineering and CIS Faculty,

You are invited to the First Annual Engineering Teaching Day on August 10, 2022. This inaugural annual event, led by MTEI, celebrates the teaching mission of Cornell Engineering. Join us to share your passion for teaching, to workshop ideas with fellow faculty, and to improve the learning experience you offer to students in the coming year. Five one-hour sessions will be offered; come to as many as you like. View the session abstracts on the MTEI website.  Please RSVP by August 8th.

10:00  Course Policies: Crafting Syllabi that Benefit Your Students and You, led by Michael Clarkson, CS and Hadas Ritz, MAE

11:00 Active Learning: Building Student Connections with Content, Peers, and Your Course, led by Kathy Dimiduk, MTEI and Kyle Harms, IS

12:00 Joint Luncheon with New Engineering Faculty: Complimentary lunch will be provided.

1:00 Helping Students Learn: Tools to Help Students Reset Study Strategies, led by Shivaun Archer, BME and Jennifer Bokaer-Smith, Learning Strategies Center

2:00 Teamwork: Facilitating Group Work and Collaboration, led by Shivaun Archer, BME and Rob Parker, Engineering Leadership Program

3:00 Metacognition and Reflection: Easy, Practical Ways to Improve Student Learning and Satisfaction, led by Celia Evans, Engineering Learning Initiatives and Kyle Harms, IS

For more information, contact Michael Clarkson,  mrc26@cornell.edu.

Kathryn Dimiduk, PhD

Mid-Semester Course Feedback Schedule

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Dear Faculty,

Mid-semester course feedback gives students an opportunity to provide you with anonymous feedback. Your course can use the standard mid-semester feedback questions or a set modified for your course.  As always, the goal is to get you actionable information, without taking your time to create, run, and process the survey. 

If you want to encourage participation by including the survey as part of an assignment or by giving credit for its completion, MTEI can provide a list of participants.

Tentative Schedule for Launching the Surveys

Thursday, Sept. 22 – AEP, ECE, and MAE

Friday, Sept. 23 – ORIE, CEE and BME

Tuesday, Sept. 27 –   CS

Wednesday, Sept. 28 – CBE, Sysen

Thursday, Sept. 29 –  MSE

Friday, Sept. 30 – requested courses in Info, StatSci, BEE and EAS (note: for  BEE, EAS and StatSci the default is the CALS mid-semester feedback survey)

Tuesday, Oct. 4  – CBE

Courses Included

In AEP, BME, CEE, CBE, CS, ECE, MAE, MSE, ORIE, and Sysen all regular courses are included.  The following  courses are included only by request: seminar, independent study, research, short courses. We do have specialized  questions  for seminar,  practicum and lab courses.   In BEE, EAS, INFO,  and StatSci courses are included only as requested by the professor or department.


If you would like to preview the questions, here are links.

There is an option to add or modify questions for a specific course.   If you are trying something new or teaching a new course and would like specific feedback on a topic, we can add or revise questions for your course.  Email Kathy Dimiduk, klc78@cornell.edu, to request special questions.

Kathy Dimiduk and the MTEI team


Managing the Questions that Aren’t Asked

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The opportunity to ask questions of experts is one of the advantages of in-person instruction at Cornell. But this is also a limited resource, especially in large classes. How can you distribute this resource more equitably to the advantage of your students? This tip focuses on including the quiet students and their unasked questions. A previous tip dealt with answering questions actually asked in class.

Having questions when learning new material is normal, but many students won’t ask questions for a variety of reasons such as intimidation, confusion, and cultural norms.

So, how can you draw out some of these unasked questions?

  • First normalize that asking questions is part of learning something new.
  • Periodically stop and ask for questions. Provide sufficient wait time for questions to bubble up.
  • Ask students to discuss their questions in small groups. Then call on a few groups to share a question. This also helps address simple and off-topic questions.
  • Try a one-minute paper: ask all students to spend a minute or two writing down questions they have. Collect responses on paper, or a 3x5 card, a discussion board, through a short-answer poll, or a Canvas survey. Responses can be anonymous or part of a participation grade.

Possible responses to one-minute papers:

  • Address a question in class ( if a co-teacher or TA in class can select a question real time).
  • Collect the papers. After class, read some papers and select a question(s) for the next lecture.
  • Post answers to a few questions. For example, seed them into Ed Discussion.
  • Hand off a few questions to the TAs to cover in recitation.
  • Encourage office hours for remaining questions.

You don’t have to answer all the questions. Just pick one or a few that seem to show up for multiple students or that seem especially relevant. The goals are to answer questions from quiet students, to validate/norm the value of asking questions, and to increase the sense of belonging in the class. You can find more information and hints on using Minute Papers on the new MTEI website being developed.


Book Special Classrooms Now, Mid-semester Course Feedback Information

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Classroom pre-booking for spring for special cases

Special requests for Distance Learning or Active Learning or Computer Lab classrooms for spring semester are due Sunday, Oct. 16th.  Make requests through your course coordinator or the MTEI pre-book form.  Requests submitted by the deadline get priority.  Space is limited, so flexibility on days and times is appreciated and makes it more likely you can get the requested type classroom. (Reminders were sent to departments earlier, but some faculty may not have heard.)

Request Mid-semester Feedback Participant List

Email Orlay Santa, ods8, to request the list of participants in the Mid-semester feedback survey for your specific course.

Close Dates for Mid-semester Course Feedback Surveys

DepartmentTentative Close Date, 8amReports to Faculty
BMEThursday, Oct. 13Oct. 14
CSThursday, Oct. 13Oct. 15
ORIEFriday, Oct. 14Oct. 16
BEEMonday, Oct. 17Oct. 17
CEEMonday, Oct. 17Oct. 18-19
ECETuesday, Oct. 18Oct. 19-20
MSE except Junior Lab and 5005Wednesday, Oct. 19Oct. 21
Stat SciThursday, Oct. 20Oct. 22
InfoFriday, Oct. 21Oct. 23
SysenMonday, Oct. 24Oct. 24
ChemEMonday, Oct. 24Oct. 25
MSE junior lab and 5005Open Oct. 13-14 Closes ~ Wed Oct. 26Oct. 27

What to do with your feedback report (especially for new faculty)

  1. Read the report and try not to take complaints too personally.  Think in terms of the course.  Feel free to claim compliments personally.
  2. Look for concerns that come from multiple students.  Look for any diversity and inclusion concerns, even if just 1 student.
  3. Divide concerns according to:
    • What can realistically be addressed this semester (clarify something, post promptly, return graded work, etc). Pick 1-3 to focus on
    • What is worth noting for the next time you teach the class but cannot be addressed this term (early lecture or assignment issue, grading structure, syllabus, course structure, etc).
    • What likely cannot be addressed by you (University policy, Covid impact, time course is taught, credit hours, etc)
    • Ask if you need help sorting or creating an action item (MTEI team:  Kathy Dimiduk, Michael Clarkson, Hadas Ritz, Shivaun Archer, Kyle Harms)
  4. Report back to class. Thank them for providing feedback.  
    • Note a change or two you plan to make
    • If relevant, note something that is good to know for future classes, but that can’t be addressed mid-semester
    • If relevant, agree something is annoying, but beyond your control
  5. Focus on the change(s) you decided to make and don’t stress over the other issues this semester.

Kathryn Dimiduk (klc78)

Director, James McCormick Teaching Excellence Institute (MTEI)

Responding to your TA’s feedback

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Your TAs received student feedback last Friday with you copied.  The attached letter from Engineering Learning Initiatives, ELI, accompanied the feedback.

For many TAs this will be first time they receive this kind of feedback, so it has the potential to hit them hard.  Your support, thoughtful advice, and encouragement to ‘reflect’ on the feedback can help them decide on reasonable steps to take to improve their teaching over the remainder of the semester and help them see the feedback as a professional development opportunity. 

Conversation with each TA

Have a short conversation with your TA(s) about their feedback – mostly listening and asking probing questions, so they will reflect and set a few tangible goals.

  • Let them share what they perceive as their greatest strengths (gleaned directly from the feedback)
  • Thank the TA for their effort.  Remind them of the value of the teaching work they do, both for their students and, also, for their own development as professionals explaining their field
  • Then, based on their experience and the feedback, ask them what they would like to do better or differently 
  • Help refine their ideas and add any comments/suggestions of your own
  • Finally, suggest setting 2-3 achievable, specific, goals based on what they have learned.  Ask them to write the goals down and send them to you. 

If you have many TAs, you may need to have a group meeting to give context for the feedback and to ask them each to send a short email with their reflections on the feedback and goals based on it.


ELI has found with their undergraduate educators (AEW Facilitators) that with written reflection on strengths and challenges and very specific goal setting, change is more likely to happen.

You might want to make a few notes for yourself about your TAs’ teaching in case you are later asked for a recommendation.

Thank you to you and your TAs for this attention and effort,

Celia Evans, Lisa Schneider -Bentley,

ELI  - Teaching Assistant Development (ELI)

Kathryn Dimiduk

McCormick Teaching Excellence Institute (MTEI)