Blog Archive

What is the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning?

There are multiple ways that the concept of scholarship can be connected to teaching.  For example, educational research involves rigorous and systematic study of educational environments to build theory and understanding of the way people learn.  Pat Hutchings and Lee Schulman (1999), of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, distinguished scholarly teaching (classroom practice informed by current research and ideas about teaching), from the scholarship of teaching (investigations of classroom practice and resulting learning that are publically presented and subject to peer review).

At the University of Denver, in the Office of Teaching and Learning, the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) is defined more distinctly as engaging in research regarding pedagogical and curricular design and implementation practices that impact student learning. SoTL research is an example of reflective practice in higher education that is publically shared and reviewed by a community of peers.

Characteristics of SoTL Research

  • It reflects the natures, values, fundamental concepts and modes of inquiry specific to our  disciplines.
  • It considers learning assessments and outcomes.
  • It inquires into the effectiveness of aims and research into teaching and learning.
  • It responds to the need for continuous improvement resulting from reflection and inquiry.
  • It communicates new questions and knowledge about teaching and learning.


DU SoTL Faculty Learning Communities

SoTL Journals and Conferences


Have you felt overwhelmed with the task of grading student assignments? Do you ever feel that your students just don’t seem to get the purpose of your assignment, or that your grading might be too subjective? Rubrics are tools used to address these challenges and overall improve the grading process.


A rubric is a grading tool that instructors use to assess the performance or quality of student work. Rubrics help communicate expectations with students and can provide informative feedback to both students and instructors on learning. When used correctly, rubrics can make grading more objective and fair, and help students learn from the grading process. However, rubrics do take time and effort to create.

A typical rubric will contain three aspects; the criteria (elements of the assignment that are important in determining a grade), the rating levels (the levels used to measure the quality of student performance), and descriptors (descriptions of what performance looks like within each section of the rubric matrix).

Steps to Developing a Rubric

  • Think about the purpose of the assignment – why did you assign it? what do you hope students will gain by completing it? What should it look like when students have completed it?
  • Define the criteria – what are the different elements of the assignment that you find important in judging overall quality? Criteria should be observable and measurable.
    • Determine if some criteria are worth more than others – you might weight them differently
  • Determine how many rating levels you need – some assignments may only use the criteria (met/not met) while others will have multiple rating levels used for determining a grade (A,B,C, etc.). Because letter grades mean different things to different people, it is helpful to use descriptors for each level (beginning, developing, accomplished, exemplary, OR, below expectations, meets expectations, exceeds expectations).
  • Write descriptors for each aspect of the rubric – descriptions of the student performance that is judged. Descriptors should be consistent across each criteria aspects but with variation in the amount, frequency, or duration (if ‘providing evidence for the argument’ is stated within a criteria, it should be part of each level, ‘provides strong evidence,’ provides minimal evidence,’ ‘provides no evidence’).

Examples of Rubrics

Additional Resources

Evaluate your rubric with the Rubric Rubric

One of our teaching goals at DU is to help empower students to be self-directed learners and to own their learning process. A common method used in this effort is the “wrapper.” A wrapper is a short form that students complete along with an assignment or exam that focuses on the learning process rather than on the content itself.


Marsha Lovett and her colleagues at Carnegie Mellon University are credited with creating the exam wrapper technique. Wrappers were developed in reaction to their findings that many successful high school students were arriving at college with study habits that are ineffective for higher order learning. Wrappers provide students with a chance to reflect upon, compare, and adjust their learning habits and strategies. Lovett showed that student made real and important changes to their study strategies as a result of using exam wrappers (Lovett, 2013).

Guidelines for using Wrappers

In general, wrappers ask students to think about how they prepared for the assignment/exam, what went well, what didn’t, and how they might change their study habits for the future. To use them effectively, it is suggested that the wrappers:

  • focus on the study/metacognitive skills the instructor wants to promote,
  • be repeated during a class,
  • are flexible enough for minor adaptations for particular assignments,
  • are short enough to complete relatively quickly (either inside or outside of class), and
  • are non-graded or graded based on completion only.

The process

  1. The wrapper is usually handed out to students when the exam or assignment is returned.
  2. Students are asked to fill out the form in 10 minutes or less during class, or outside of class if necessary. If possible students can discuss their forms in small groups. Students are not graded based on the content of the wrapper, but rather receive credit for completing the form.
  3. The instructor and/or TA collects the forms and reads through them, looking for general themes. Potential adjustments to the course may be made as a result of the findings.
  4. When it is time to begin preparing for the next exam/assignment, the instructor returns the forms to the students. The instructor may hold a discussion about recommended study strategies, or have the students discuss and compare their strategies in small groups.
  5. This process can be repeated during a course.

Exam wrappers are the most common form of wrappers. However this technique could be used with many types of assignments or papers.


Examples of exam wrappers

Examples of wrappers for writing or performance assignments

Lovett, M.C. (2013) Make exams worth more than the grade: Using exam wrappers to promote metacognition. In Kaplan, M., Silver, N, Lavaque-Manty, D., & Meizlish, D.’s Using reflection and metacognition to improve student learning. Stylus Publishing: Sterling, VA., pp. 18-52.


Rob Flaherty

Because of the close ties between teaching, learning and assessment, the OTL now includes academic program assessment as part of its responsibilities. The new Director of Academic Assessment, Dr. Rob Flaherty, joined the OTL staff on October 3, 2013.

Rob has a PhD in social psychology, and his background includes 10 years as a faculty member (two as department chair) as well as several years of administrative experience with faculty development and assessment. Find out more about Rob by viewing his portfolio page:

Like all of us in the OTL, Rob is here to help (not just to collect reports). The role of the Director of Academic Assessment is to provide guidance and consultation to all academic programs at the University. For more on the purpose and function of program assessment at DU, please visit the assessment page on the OTL website. Additional resources on assessment are also available on a new assessment portfolio site:

Rob is located just around the corner from the OTL in room 317 in the Anderson Academic Commons. Drop in and say hi (or reach him by email: or phone: 1-6012).

Past Workshops and Resources

Visit our Canvas page for information related to Canvas workshops

The OTL also offers customized workshops for departments and units throughout the year.

Spring 2015 Workshops

Teaching and Learning Week 2015
Click here to view nearly 20 workshops and associated resources from Teaching and Learning Week 2015

Roundtable Discussion: Alternative Methods for Rewarding Teaching at DU
Facilitators: Paul Olk, Daniels College of Business, and Bridget Arend

Faculty panel: Using group work to enhance intercultural perspectives in DU classes
Presented at DU’s Internationalization Summit
Facilitators: Bridget Arend, OTL; Dan Baack, Daniels College of Business; Christopher Edwards, University College; and Margie Thompson, Dept of Media, Film & Journalism

Dealing with the Unique Challenges of Assessing Graduate Programs
Facilitator: Rob Flaherty

Authentic, Transformative, Integrative: Understanding the Value of Culminating Experiences
Facilitators: Rob Flaherty and Virginia Pitts

The Practice of Enoughness: Finding Work/Life Balance
Facilitator: Jason A. Weisberger

Winter 2015 Workshops

When Voices get Hot: Preparing Yourself for Constructive Dialogue in the Classroom
Presented at the DU Diversity Summit
Facilitators: Bridget Arend and Nicole Joseph, Morgridge College of Education
Workshop Handout

Departmental Excellence in Teaching Panel Discussion
Presenters: Sharon Lassar, School of Accountancy, Dean Saitta, Department of Anthropology, Nick Galatos, Department of Mathematics, Tiffani Lennon, Colorado Women’s College
Departmental Excellence in Teaching Initiative

Are they really learning? Methods for gathering formative feedback to improve teaching
Facilitators: Bridget Arend and Rob Flaherty
Samples of Classroom Assessment Techniques

Why don’t my students come to class prepared?
Facilitator: Bridget Arend
Motivating students to come to class prepared

Fall 2014 Workshops

Developing Rubrics for Assessment and Grading
Facilitators: Rob Flaherty and Bridget Arend
Developing Rubrics

Engaging Faculty in Inclusive Excellence
Facilitator: Chayla Haynes, Assistant Professor, University of Northern Colorado

Methods for Encouraging Self-directed Learning: Assignment Wrappers
Facilitator: Bridget Arend
Assignment and Exam Wrappers

How Research on Learning Can Inform Our Teaching
Facilitator: Virginia Pitts

Using Canvas for Assessment
Facilitators: Rob Flaherty & Ryan Shiba
Resources (you must be logged into Portfolio to see additional materials)

Assessment as Scholarship
Facilitator: Rob Flaherty
Resources (you must be logged into Portfolio to see additional materials)

Instructional Video Workshop
Facilitator: Alex Martinez


2013- 2014 Workshops

Voice for the Professor
Facilitators: Anne Penner and Greg Ungar, Assistant Professors in the Department of Theatre

Identifying and Designing Student Assignments for Program Assessment
Facilitator: Rob Flaherty  

Beyond Student Evals: Alternatives for Evaluating Teaching Effectiveness
Facilitator: Bridget Arend
Evaluating Teaching Excellence Toolkit

Advancing Your Assessment Program Workshop
Facilitator: Rob Flaherty
Resources (you must be logged into Portfolio to see additional materials)    

Using Video for Student Feedback
Facilitator: Alex Martinez

Using Top Hat in a Biology Course
Blog Post: Faculty Showcase: Using Top Hat in a Biology Course
Top Hat Webinar

Facilitating Student Groups
Facilitators: Roberto Corrada, Cindi Fukami, Nancy Sasaki
Blog Post: Advice about Facilitating Student Groups
Basic Cooperative Learning Structures
Overview of Cooperative Learning

Is there an app for that? iPads for Teaching & Research
Facilitators: Kathy Keairns, Carrie Forbes, Rafael Fajardo, David Thomson, Chris Brown
Blog Post: Is there an app for that? iPads for Teaching & Research
Google Spreadsheet

Strategies for Working with Challenging Students
NSM difficult students 2013
Difficult Students Syllabi Examples


Prior Workshops

Managing Difficult Students
Facilitators: Alan Kent, Executive Director of Health & Counseling Center, Jacaranda Palmateer, Director of Counseling Services
Blog Post: Managing Difficult Students/Situations
Managing Difficult Students

Teaching Chinese Students: Implications for the Classroom
Facilitators: International Student and Scholar Services and the Office of Teaching and Learning
Blog Post: Teaching Chinese Students-Webinar Reflections
NAFSA Webinar Handouts
NAFSA Webinar Slides

Teaching International Students
Blog Post: Teaching International Students
NAFSA Webinar Slides
International Student Statistics
Teaching Chinese Students Small Group Discussions

Secrets of Effective Presentations
Facilitators: Bridget Arend, OTL and Carol Zak-Dance, Colorado Women’s College
Blog Post: Presentations/Lectures
Evaluation Checklist
A Presentation about Presentations

How Learning Works: Part II
Facilitators: Bridget Arend, OTL and Ginger Maloney, Morgridge College of Education
How Learning Works Part II Handout
How Learning Works Part II

How Learning Works: Part I
Facilitator: Bridget Arend, OTL
How Learning Works Part I Handout
How Learning Works Part I

Fostering Critical Thinking in Online Discussions
Facilitators: Bridget Arend, OTL and Kim Hosler, University of Northern Colorado
A Guide for Identifying and Eliciting Cognitive Presence

Managing Laptops and Mobile Devices in the Classroom
Managing Laptops and Mobile Devices in the Classroom

Effective Grading: Saving your sanity & that of your students with rubrics & expectations
Grading Tests & Assignments


All members of the University community we are entrusted with the responsibility of observing certain ethical goals and values as they relate to academic integrity. Essential to the fundamental purpose of the University is the commitment to the principles of truth and honesty. Responsibility for upholding these principles lies with the individual as well as the entire community.  In the video below, Buie Seawell describes how faculty members can create a culture of academic integrity in the classroom.

Strategies for Instructors

Faculty members should set a tone of academic integrity in their classroom.  Below is a summary of Tips for Promoting Academic Integrity in the Classroom developed by members of the DU Honor Code Advisory Council.

  • Include the DU Honor Code and your own statements on academic integrity in your syllabus. Remind students that a syllabus is a contract and that they are responsible for reading it and adhering to both the letter and the spirit of its policies.
  • Define “integrity” for students and explain how it applies to research in your field. Use one or two case studies to illustrate the impact that moral values (one definition of integrity) have on a scientist’s experiments, a historian’s research, or a composer’s work.
  • Explain what plagiarism is, in all its manifestations. Students who are merely told “Don’t plagiarize” often have little understanding of the difference between cutting and pasting text from a website versus paraphrasing text from a journal article.
  • Explain major assignments in class, as well as providing detailed written instructions in a handout or online. For written assignments, consider including such details as: title, numbered pages, and font specifications. You might consider showing students an example of the submissions guidelines for a journal in your field, so they see your requirements for their work as on a continuum with published scholarly material. (You might also consider having them complete a checklist before submitting.)
  • Design your writing assignments in ways that counter plagiarism.  If you are not sure how to do this, contact the Writing Center to discuss the possibilities.

Learn More

View a past OTL Conference presentation by James Lang

Grading is teaching. Although we often view grading as a tedious task, it is the ultimate teachable moment.


Here are some tips for making the most out of your grading time.

  • Grade what matters most. Both you and your students have limited time and energy. Focus both of your efforts on the most pertinent skills and knowledge. If the main goal of an assignment is problem solving, grade the process rather than just the answer. Conversely, don’t spend all your time grading spelling and grammar if your main goal in an assignment is critical thinking.
  • Hold students accountable. Correcting every error in a student’s work can be counterproductive. “Minimal marking” may work best, which involves giving general comments about what needs to be revised, rather than specific corrections to be made.
  • Create standard responses for incorrect answers. These can be developed over time and used over and over with minor customization. Take advantage of online test features that give automatic feedback about correct and incorrect answers.
  • Share examples of good papers or exemplary lab reports so students know what to aim for.
  • Create rubrics. These do not need to be detailed spreadsheets, but can even be short statements about how an exam or assignment will be graded. For example,

To achieve the full 30 points for this assignment, your paper should:

(Content – 20 points)
Provide a brief but adequate description of the experience
Critique the learning experience based on X and Y’s theories
Contain recommendations or re-design ideas for the future

(Writing – 10 points)
Include 5 pages of quality text
Contain at least 5 cited references
Follow the proper use of CMS
Contain few, if any, grammatical mistakes

  • Share grading rubrics with your students before the assignment is due. Ask them to grade themselves based on the rubric before turning it in. Or better yet, ask students to grade each other’s assignments based on the rubric, and allow them time for revision before you do your own grading.
  • Use the Canvas grading tools. Students at DU expect to see their grades on Canvas, and appreciate knowing how they are doing in class during the term, rather than afterwards. Think of this as formative feedback to students about their progress and what they need to change to improve.
  • Use quizzes wisely. In many courses, there is great need for practice of skills and retention of facts and basic knowledge. In other courses, these skills are not the main focus of the course. It is tempting to use the multitude of ready-made text bank questions provided by textbook publishers if only to ensure students complete the required readings. However, make sure this repetition and practice is essential for the course and not just busywork. Students can not necessarily prioritize weekly small-stakes quizzes over larger, more important assignments.
  • Grade fairly. There is evidence to suggest that when students give lower course evaluation marks to instructors who are “harder,” it is often because those courses are perceived as being “unfairly” hard. All people, including students, like challenge, but only when we feel we have a fair shot at success.

Additional Resources

Grading and classroom assessment are often viewed as tedious activities, rather than exciting teaching moments. While grading may not be exciting, it is a vital piece in the process of student learning, and could be considered the ultimate teachable moment. It is through assignments, grades, and instructor feedback that students behavior, skills and knowledge are shaped. Yet grades are often inadequate, imprecise, and subjective.


How do we use grading and assessment as a process for learning rather than of learning? Here are four lessons about classroom assessment from the literature:

  • Will this be on the test?
    Assessment directs students’ time and energy – take advantage of it. Measure what you value most. Use your grading practices to tell student not only what content they should focus on, but what type of learning (cognitive skills) you want them to be developing during your course.
  • Avoid the “gotcha” game
    Clarity of assignments is important and does not in itself dumb down learning. The goal of an assignment is usually to improve students’ knowledge or skills, not to test their ability to read directions. Keep students’ time and energy focused on learning by telling them what you want them to do and how well you want them to do it.
  • Emphasize depth over breadth
    The ‘coverage’ problem is hard to overcome. Studies from neuroscience and about novices and experts show depth is better than breadth for deeper levels of learning. Knowing one concept in depth is considered better for long term retention than shallow memorization of many unrelated facts. Through your assignments and exams, explicitly ask students to spend time developing the necessary mental structures in your content area.
  • Align learning goals, assignments and assessments
    Assessment methods make sense and are less frustrating for instructors and students when they clearly support the learning goals and what students “practice doing” during the course. This satirical video of teaching a dance class through lecture shows an extreme version, but if the message is simple. Not only should we grade what we want students to learn, but also give them time to practice these skills during the course.
  • Assess using multiple methods, continual feedback, over time
    Break up your summative assessments into smaller pieces, and use formative assessment as much as you can. Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATs) are useful for formative assessment. Consider these lessons from the literature:

What makes summative assessment successful? [Thomas Angelo’s (1996) framework of AAHE’s 9 Principles of Good Practice for Assessing Student Learning (1992) Principle #2]
o Use multiple methods of assessment
o Assess multiple dimensions of learning
o Use multiple assessors
o Assess over time

What makes formative assessment successful? (Black & Wiliam, 1998, Assessment Reform Group, 1999)
o Frequent and timely feedback
o Precise feedback
o Students having a chance to use the feedback given to them
o The instructor changing course content or teaching methods based on student feedback

Essentially, assessing learning throughout a course, in different ways, and with timely, specific feedback is more conducive to learning than requiring one or two high stakes assessments and providing general feedback after the quarter is over. Try to make each assessment a learning opportunity for students.

Additional Resources

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