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Modeling effective faculty-librarian collaboration

By Reed Garber-Pearson and Polly Myers

The online learning environment can feel all too calculated, given it’s growing dependency on learning management software like Canvas. Module learning predetermines a rigid workflow, leaving little room for learning in exploration and choice. In an effort to heed scholars Heidi Skurat Harris and Michael Greer’s call for giving online writing students “choice in both space and time…” (p.52), we recently added a new assignment to our online advanced social science research and writing course. Creating opportunities for students to choose how and when to connect with instructors and engage with course content will “allow students to both take ownership of their learning and feel less like passive recipients in the online course” (p. 52). In addition, by promoting access to campus-wide resources outside of Canvas (the LMS) the technology becomes, “not the container of the course experience but rather as the hub of course experience” (p.52).

As well as promoting ownership over course content, we hoped our new assignment, Consult a Subject Librarian, would create a means for students to narrow their focus earlier in the research process — thereby saving some of the stress that inevitably comes with writing a research paper in one quarter. The assignment involves students identifying a librarian with expertise in their field of interest, scheduling an appointment with that librarian, and writing a short reflection on what they learned along with a plan for their next steps.

The impetus for the assignment was a desire to:

  • Connect students to campus services they might not otherwise experience
  • Provide guidance on the research process
  • Create a more personalized system of research support for students

Subject librarian consultations

Encouraging students, particularly those online, to connect with librarians is a great way for students to get a personalized learning experience. Generally, a librarian consultation will consist of a series of open-ended questions — a chance for students to reflect and get feedback on their own process and goals. The librarian acts as a sounding board, helping to frame the conversation and illustrating that research is not just about “finding things;” rather, it’s a nonlinear process of constructing questions and evidence-based answers. Research consultations, particularly for undergraduate students, often involve narrowing the focus of inquiry and identifying context to overall research interests. This assignment helps facilitate critical thinking by modeling the iterative process of asking questions and then finding gaps in the information that already exists.

We found it useful to emphasize that students should:

  • Review the University Libraries Research Guides to facilitate the selection of an appropriate librarian
  • Identify more than one librarian who fits the areas they are interested in (this course is for an interdisciplinary social sciences program)
  • Give both themselves and the librarian ample time to schedule the appointment

While we gave students a list of suggested questions to ask the librarian, we recommend having the format be more open, so as to provide a more personalized learning experience that is negotiated between librarian and student.


The results of the assignment have been positive. Some students reported having never realized there were subject librarians. Others noted that they felt less overwhelmed and reported a path forward that seemed markedly more manageable. One student reported talking with the librarian on the phone for 40 minutes, and another reported that they set up a series of follow-up chats. All displayed an increased ability to take ownership over the research and writing process by asking increasingly complex questions. As a result of this assignment, student bibliographies were more focused, topics more manageable.


Opening up opportunities for students to connect with faculty combats the isolation that many online students report experiencing. It also empowers both the student and the learning process.  As Harris and Greer point out, “To teach writing online is to design an environment” (p. 46). Overall, the benefit of this assignment is in shaping an environment where collaboration and student learning are at the center. Connecting students with librarians underscores how collaborative learning can yield powerful results.

Want to learn more about how you can collaborate with the Libraries?

Contact your subject librarian and check out the UW Libraries’ Instructor Toolkit.

Works Cited

Harris, Heidi, and Michael Greer. “Over, Under, or Through: Design Strategies to Supplement the LMS and Enhance Interaction in Online Writing Courses.” Communication Design Quarterly Review 4.4 (2017): 46-54. Web.


Reed Garber Pearson, UW Integrated Social Sciences LibrarianReed Garber-Pearson is the Integrated Social Sciences Librarian at the University of Washington. They work with the Libraries Instructional Design Team, serving faculty in creating more effective online research assignments.

Polly Meyers, UW lecturer Integrated Social SciencesPolly Myers is faculty in the Integrated Social Sciences program and the History Department at the University of Washington. She received her PhD in History from the University of Minnesota in 2008.

Reducing the distance in distance learning

By Colleen Dillon and Miriam Hirschstein

At first blush, teaching a distance learning course in infant and early childhood mental health (IECMH) seems like a paradox. Training in this relationship-based field is intensely inter- and intra-personal. What would it require to translate and enact both the content and the methods of the IECMH field online, and to create and sustain a truly connected learning environment?

Our chief goal was to reach new learners (students completing a B.A. in Early Childhood and Family Studies) by providing a vibrant, relevant, and accessible introduction to core concepts of the IECMH field. But a field is more than its concepts. We also wanted to convey its methods by calling out and modeling the “ways of being” that embody best practice with young children and caregivers.

We began by revisiting the cornerstones of relationship-based work, considering how best to:

  • Connect meaningfully with each student
  • Facilitate students’ inter-connections, leveraging learning of the group
  • Bring the visceral power of babies and their relationships with caregivers into a virtual classroom

The easy parts

Some IECMH concepts and methods translate beautifully online:

  • familyUse of video: If a picture is worth a thousand words, video (especially of a baby and caregiver) is the IECMH lottery jackpot.
  • Multiple points of entry for learners: Because IECMH is intensely interpersonal and interdisciplinary, we are accustomed to building multiple channels for diverse audiences and modes of learning and communicating; for example via small group forums and activities.

The challenges

Creating a safe, engaging environment for students first exploring this content:

  • How do we enact connectedness with 50 or 60 individual students we never physically meet?
  • How do we ensure supportive, appropriate online communications?

Missing vital cues:

Non-verbal cues help us meet learner needs in real time.

  • How do we “take the temperature” of an online room, where everyone enters discussions at different times?
  • How do we provide sensitive, individualized support in a distance learning context?

Supporting and inciting reflective practice

baby portraitLearning blooms when there is room for reflective practice–a continuous process of attending to our inner experience in relation to our work with children and families. In IECMH training, guided training and practice increase student capacity to reflect on their own feelings and responses, as well as to “wonder” about those of a child and parent or teacher. This enables early learning professionals to bridge the gap between core IECMH concepts and real world practice.

We contemplated how to do this well, growing student reflective capacity in an introductory class taught online.

The logistics: Creating online learning communities

  1. We randomly assigned students into subgroups for weekly online conversations and assignments. The size and names of groups were intended to create small, safe communities to support in-depth discussions. These “neighborhoods” posted weekly responses to prompts from lesson materials. “Blocks” within the neighborhoods were formed for infant observation forums.
  2. We created video-based activities and voice-over presentations, reasoning that mixed media generates interest and access to concepts. Specifically, we developed a series of “Powtoon” videos (using cartoons, graphics, our voices, and visually arresting phchild being lifted by adults through a fenceotographs) to introduce ourselves and each week’s content areas.
  3. We sparked exploration of the course website by including photos of infants and families, like the one to the right, that evoke visceral responses.
  4. We asked each student to enter the virtual class by uploading a 2-3 minute introductory video, sharing:
    • Their name, geographic location, and work or professional role
    • A photo of themselves as a young child (birth– 3)
    • Three words to describe themselves as a baby/toddler

Having used a similar “ice breaker” in classrooms, we were struck by how modifying it for online use activity amplified its impact. Student videos exceeded our expectations as we leaned forward to see people in their “real world” home or workplace, appreciate snapshots held up to cameras, and catch the timbre of a voice. Video, in this activity, helped close the distance in unexpected and visceral ways.

Course content:  Bringing baby into the room

For 10 weeks students observed video segments of a real baby growing and relating in the context of her family. This online proxy for infant observation, a key IECMH training experience, served three purposes:

  1. babyTo give students the opportunity to witness typical development unfold in the context of primary relationships;
  2. To engage students by harnessing their curiosity about this specific developing child (“What will Sarah do next?”); and
  3. To grow reflective capacity by prompting students to inspect their personal responses to video content, and to “wonder” about the inner experiences of Sarah and her caregivers over their development and over time. Students submitted their observations and wonderings online each week in their neighborhood’s infant observation forum.

Instructor feedback

We connected to students via weekly feedback to forums on Canvas Speed Grader. Providing consistent, thoughtful, and at times challenging, feedback to students’ posts enabled us to engage in sidebar as well as group-level conversation. Because content in this field tends to stir up strong feelings, this flexibility was instrumental to both the group process and individual progress.

We provided one-on-one support to students as they reflected on early life experiences and work in the field. Occasionally, we stepped in to scaffold and help students reflect about sensitive peer communications. In addition, we summarized the weekly “neighborhood” and “block” posts, pulling out common threads or areas of confusion to post collectively to the small groups. On the technical end, Canvas made multi-level responding and individualizing easy.

Concluding reflections

Some core IECMH methods lent themselves swimmingly to online instruction, for example the use of multi-phase video exercises, second-by-second observations, and deep reflection in small groups.

We observed a “leveling of the playing field” in online discussions as students found and used their voices in weekly forums over the quarter. Roles shifted, and we believe more introverted students benefitted from time and space to craft responses to peers and course content. We speculate that distance learning provided a different classroom experience and modalities for diverse ways of learning and being, in contrast to in-room instruction.

Some things continued to bewilder and bedevil us:

  • What are unintended effects of relating and connecting at a distance, especially in our field, and how might this play out in parallel worlds of children-with-caregivers, and learners-with-instructors?
  • What is the impact of the current zeitgeist, in which relation and connection via social media and digital channels is the norm rather than the exception?
  • What are the long-term implications for online learning, teaching, being, and relating?

Not the only Luddites on campus, we discovered during the development of this course that many faculty wrestle with issues of how best to engage in connected teaching and learning relationships with students, be it online, in campus classrooms, or in some hybrid mix of the two. This can be, quite simply, humanly challenging in any context. We continue to adapt and experiment with how best to convey the content and syntax of our field to both close distance and increase connectedness in learning.

Colleen O. Dillon
Colleen Dillon, Ph.D., is a clinical associate professor with the School of Nursing, a clinical psychologist, director of training for the Barnard Center for Infant Mental Health & Development, and teaches in the Early Childhood and Family Studies program, UW College of Education.
Miriam Hirschstein
Miriam Hirschstein, Ph.D., senior research scientist at the Barnard Center, directs the Seattle Educare evaluation study and teaches in the Early Childhood and Family Studies program, UW College of Education.

Thinking slow in online learning

By Polly Myers

For students and teachers alike, online courses can be overwhelming because of altered patterns of time. Learning Management Systems like Canvas and social media sites like Facebook provide a means for online programs to run 24/7. Students and instructors can spend either too much time online or not enough. As Brigid Schulte points out in her compelling book Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has The Time, technology “splinters the experience of time into thousands of little pieces. And living in an always-on technological haze leads to mental exhaustion.” (26) “Thinking slow” has been advocated as a means to resist the frantic pace of universities that are increasingly corporatized and focused on efficiencies. See, for example, this recent Inside Higher Ed piece on the book “Slow Professor.”

The art and practice of “thinking slow” may seem out of place in online education, but it is critical for combatting technological fatigue. Attention to the technological pressure to speed up educational processes in fact presents a unique opportunity to share with students the opportunities and benefits of a college education. Here are a few ways I do this:

  • Introduce thinking slow as vital to college education

    I have students read a speech from Harvard President Drew Faust titled “The Case for College.” I like how she emphasizes that even amidst the changes in technology, where information is right at our fingertips, a lot can be gained by slowing things down:

College teaches us to ‘Think Slow.’ No one denies the value of speed, connectivity, and the virtual world in an economy that thrives on all three. But college can also help you to slow down. And that, perhaps, is a lesson that you don’t hear taught all that often: Slow your processors down. College teaches you to sift through an enormous amount of daily information, to assess it, to use it critically. In other words, you learn to reject information as well as receive it. The ability to examine a piece of information skeptically, before deciding whether to accept it or not, is a vital skill in the workplace, and a vital skill in life.

I introduce Faust’s speech at the beginning of the quarter to prepare students to engage with the practice of “thinking slow” in their own learning.

  • Build in breaks as an expected part of learning

    Due dates can do this, of course, but it is also important to address times when everyone should be off-line. Simply identifying a few days in the quarter when I will be offline, and I expect the students should be too, is quite powerful. I share studies that show that productivity goes up when people take breaks (such as this quick and easy read in the Huffington Post).

  • Use physical books and paper

    Hand written student work
    Notes by Denise Ireland

    We don’t read or write things online the same way we do on paper. Even in an online course I have students write and brainstorm on paper (and then simply take a photo or scan of their notes). I also use physical books. Finally, I share with students data on how our brains best process information and paper, it turns out, is a key part of the process, as this recent NPR article notes.

Building in time to appreciate the nuances of education as a process, where time is best used to think in thoughtful, deep, and slow ways, is a crucial practice for online education. After all, as Faust points out, “College can help you learn how to think, more than what to think.”

Works cited

Bartolotta, Kate. “5 Science-Backed Ways Taking a Break Boosts Our Productivity.” 16 November 2015. Web. 2 May 2016. <>

Doubek, James and NPR Staff. “Attention, Students: Put Your Laptops Away.” 17 April 2016. Web. 2 May 2016. <>

Faust, Drew.  “The Case for College.” Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, Dallas, TX. 24 October 2014. Keynote Address. Web. 19 April 2016. <>

Flaherty, Colleen. ‘The Slow Professor.’ 19 April 2016. Web. 19 April 2016.<>

Schulte, Brigid. Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has The Time (HarperCollins, 2014).


Polly Meyers, UW lecturer Integrated Social SciencesAbout the author

Polly Myers is a full-time lecturer in the Integrated Social Sciences program and the History Department at University of Washington. She received her PhD in History from the University of Minnesota in 2008.

Reflective Learning Prepares Students for the ‘Real World’


By Elizabeth Lowry, The Graduate School

The concept of reflective learning may spark some initial apprehension on the part of educators and students. But once they try it, they quickly see that it works, according to research and widespread practice.

Students – in fields from engineering to dance – deepen and strengthen their learning when they contemplate the material they have just learned to find its meaning and connections to past courses, lessons or experiences. In other words, reflection helps students connect the dots.

Learning through reflection in college prepares students for the “real world” after graduation.

“Employers are looking for students who are able to retain and make connections across contexts,” said Cindy Atman, director for the UW Center for Engineering Learning & Teaching and professor in Human Centered Design & Engineering.

“No matter how engaging and authentic the context that we as educators teach in, we cannot predict and model every situation that our students would need to demonstrate their knowledge. Reflecting on new information and making connections to prior learning, and diverse contexts is a critically important skill for the 21st century workforce.”

Reflection can support student learning – in any field of study, according to Atman and Betsy Cooper, divisional dean of arts in the College of Arts & Sciences and professor in Dance. Atman and Cooper will give the keynote presentation at 3 p.m., Tuesday, April 14, during the UW Teaching and Learning Symposium in the HUB Ballroom. The symposium begins at 2 p.m. and ends at 4:30 p.m., with the keynote taking place between the two poster sessions.

“Some of the benefits are that students become more meta-cognitive in their approach to learning, moving from novice to expert at an accelerated pace,” Cooper said. “Students become more engaged in their learning as they connect experiences across learning domains. And educators become more responsive.”

The symposium will highlight some of the UW’s most innovative research and practices in teaching and learning as more than 80 faculty, staff, and students from nearly 40 departments and units across all three UW campuses present 42 posters that detail their research methods, results and implications. Interim Provost Gerald J. Baldasty will give the welcoming remarks. Poster presentations range from the impact of active learning spaces on student learning to incorporating art into assignments in social science courses to shortening doctoral students’ time-to-degree by providing writing support.

Hosted by the UW Center for Teaching and Learning, the symposium is open to the entire University, and no reservations are required.

Atman and Jennifer Turns, professor in Human Centered Design & Engineering, direct a consortium comprised of 12 campuses across the country to implement reflection in engineering classrooms. Funded by a grant from The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust, the Consortium to Promote Reflection in Engineering Education is interviewing educators about the reflection activities they use with engineering students. These activities include short, in-class reflection activities on how students used their day and student portfolios. Another form of reflection is an “exam wrapper,” in which students reflect on how they prepared for exams and how they performed. Then, students identify strategies to improve. The center staff will present a poster at the symposium with a sampling of reflection activities that local engineering educators are using, along with the rationale and benefits.

In the generative and performing arts, the most common means of reflective practice occurs through critique, Cooper noted. “This can mean self-critique, instructor or peer. It is common that all three are interwoven in a process,” she said. Through repetition and revision, based on the critique, an artist refines his or her technique and expressivity.

Other reflection methods in the arts include journaling, reflective essays on class progress and reflective essays on a portfolio. By establishing goal statements at the beginning of a dance course, Cooper’s students can create strategies to meet those goals, as well as revisit and revise the goals throughout the quarter.

The benefits of reflective learning extend throughout students’ professional lives as they can incorporate reflection into their individual work strategies and practices.

“Reflective practice can be a potent means for continued growth, and an antidote to burnout,” Cooper said.

Details, including poster titles, presenters and abstracts, are posted online.


2:00-2:05 Opening remarks: Beth Kalikoff, director, Center for Teaching and Learning

2:05-2:50 First poster session

2:50-3:00 Welcome: Interim Provost Gerald J. Baldasty

3:00-3:45 Keynote: “Using Reflection to Support Student Learning”

  • Cindy Atman, director, Center for Engineering Learning & Teaching and professor in Human Centered Design & Engineering
  • Betsy Cooper, divisional dean of arts in the College of Arts & Sciences and professor in Dance

3:45-4:30 Second poster session

Symposium co-sponsors:

  • Office of the Provost
  • The Graduate School
  • Office of Minority Affairs & Diversity
  • Simpson Center for the Humanities
  • Teaching & Learning Center, UW Bothell
  • Teaching & Learning Center, UW Tacoma
  • Undergraduate Academic Affairs
  • UW Information Technology
  • UW Libraries

Elizabeth Lowry is the director of marketing and communications for the Graduate School. She can be reached at

Thinking about learning communities, transformational learning, and online course design

By Joe Hannah

The problem of earning students’ trust, and truly inspiring them toward a life of learning and service, is central to my sense of purpose as a teacher. As more teaching moves into the online environment, and with my limited experience, I am just beginning to imagine using exclusively online formats to foster self-revelation, human interaction, and personal growth. These are transformational activities that I try to nurture and that I consider pivotal in students’ exploration of unfamiliar ways of thinking and knowing.

Full disclosure: I have a combination of resistance and curiosity to online teaching and learning. It was precisely this resistance and curiosity that led me to choose the “hybrid” format when I jumped into online course design through Technology Teaching Fellows (TTF). I was not ready to teach a fully online course; I could not yet envision how online learning communities could be created in such a ways as to encourage transformational learning. Therefore, I decided to hedge my bets and create a “hybrid” version of my “Mapping Global Health” course. In the hybrid format, I hoped I could retain enough face-to-face time so the students and I could interact together, in real-space, to wrestle with the skills and concepts central to the learning objectives of the course. I did not feel ready, either by disposition or teaching skill, to rely solely on online experiences to build the kinds of relationships with students that are conducive to transformational learning

To illustrate the kind of transformational teaching I strive for, let me tell you about a success story: “Brad,” a former student, dropped by my office last week. He had been in my class on Global Development about 4 years ago and now was on his way to an interview for admission into the Masters of Education program here at the UW. Brad had been traveling and teaching English overseas, seeing the world and working on his teaching skills. I was honored that he took a few moments on his way to his interview to say “hi.”

Brad reminded me of a challenge I gave to the class on the last day of the course: I had asked, “What can you do in your life to make the world a little better for your being here?” He said he has answered the question for himself by deciding to be a high school teacher, and he is now pursuing his dream.

I tell this story because, as you might imagine, it was a moving moment for me. What more can a teacher wish for than to help a student understand the world in new and different ways – enough so that he or she identifies and commits to a life goal? These moments, rare and wonderful, are what I strive to create as a teacher.

As we all know, these moments are not made in a single lecture, with a single question. The challenge I presented to my students was only possible because of weeks of working and learning together, building trust and sharing difficult questions, overcoming issues and wrestling with ideas, in a fluid two-way interaction between me and the students. So, back to my question, can this kind of trust and transformation be inspired through purely online teaching?

I honestly do not know the answer. As I finish up the quarter and my first hybrid class, I have seen some glimpses of how this can be done. I have seen honest, deep engagement with the course material and with difficult issues. I also see where I can do more to make the online learning experience richer. I am still working through my own responses to teaching my first hybrid course, and I am waiting for additional feedback from the students in the course evaluations. Although I have first impressions, as I work through all the data I gathered during the course I will have a better understanding of what did and did not go as planned.

As I said, I am just beginning to imagine how to create learning communities online that will foster the kinds of transformational learning for my students that will last for a lifetime. This is a journey of professional development that I am looking forward to continuing.


About the author

Joe Hannah is a full-time lecturer in the Department of Geography at UW. He has taught a variety of courses (ranging from GIS to food studies to political geography to development studies to qualitative methods…) for the Geography Department, Political Science and the Jackson School, as well as for Seattle University and UW Bothell. He received his PhD in 2005 from UW Geography, and has a masters in Asian Studies from Cornell. Through his checkered career he has worked in refugee asylum and resettlement, computer programming, and telecommunications data management. He likes teaching best. His research interests are in critical cartography, history of mapping, and pedagogy.

Muddiest point: Reflecting back to move forward

By Ken Yasuhara

For the purposes of learning, reflection can be thought of as intentional bridging between past experience and future action. If getting your students to reflect sounds too complicated and time-consuming to fit into your busy ten-week quarter, consider an example of reflection that has all of the essential features but only takes a few minutes: an efficient, simple assessment technique popularly called “Muddiest Point” that can be applied in virtually any learning context.
A spectrum of reflection looking back to move forward
After some kind of learning experience (e.g., lecture, group activity, paper), you give your students a minute to write down what they find the most unclear or confusing—the “muddiest point.” Students can benefit a surprising amount from the mere minute dedicated to this reflection activity. They practice greater awareness of their learning, and repetition can help develop habits to support lifelong learning. Students who recognize where their understanding is “muddy” are also better positioned to direct their learning to remedy this. To better support this, you can also ask students to identify one thing they could do to improve their understanding of their “muddiest point”—perhaps a study group, office hours, reading, or practice exercises.

This reflection activity can inform your future action as the educator, too—not just the students’. Students’ responses help you gauge their learning and guide how you might help them address their “muddiest points.”

Compact reflection activities like “Muddiest Point” are easy to incorporate into most courses. More extensive reflection activities can help students get more learning out of educational experiences and make more numerous and deeper connections. Such activities might have students dedicating more time to the reflection and/or entail reflecting on experiences over a longer span of time.

For instance, mid-way through a multi-week team project, you could have your students write about how they and their peers could improve at being a successful team. For even larger-scale reflection, you could have your students write about how learning in prior courses contributed to their successful completion of some kind of culminating work, e.g., an honors thesis or engineering capstone.

Helping students develop habits of reflecting can help them get more out of their educational experiences. With reflection, individual experiences become more meaningful, and connections to future experiences and goals become apparent. This helps integrates otherwise disparate days, weeks, quarters, and years of education, with the ultimate goal of lifelong learning.

* This material is based on work supported by the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust through funding of the Consortium to Promote Reflection in Engineering Education (CPREE), a collaboration of twelve educational institutions.


About the author

Ken Yasuhara serves as the UW campus lead for the Consortium to Promote Reflection in Engineering Education (CPREE) and is a research scientist at the Center for Engineering Learning & Teaching (CELT). He is currently seeking to talk with STEM educators at UW who already use reflection in their teaching. If you are such an educator or are interested in learning more about reflection, please contact him at

Plagiarism and inclusive teaching: A perfect union?

By Katie Malcolm, CTL Instructional Consultant

“I wanted it to be perfect.”

Paul, who preferred to be called by his “American name,” uttered, staring down at my desk. He had been in the US for a total of six weeks and now faced an accusation of academic misconduct with the consequences of potential expulsion and deportation.

Paul was a student in a writing studio that I taught, which some students took in tandem with their first college-level English courses at our open-admissions community college. The studio was popular with international students, many of whom were apprehensive about taking college English courses at a US institution. As the studio teacher, I was able to give students a space to share and discuss their work, their struggles, and strategies for success in their separate English 101 classes.

Now I had no idea what to give: advice? sympathy? reprimand? Scanning through the text below the red “0” on Paul’s essay, I noticed it was typical of his work–thorough and thoughtful–but cloaked in a very different writing style. “Did you write this?” I asked him.

“Yes,” he replied solemnly.

“Why does your professor believe you plagiarized?” I asked.

“I got too much help on my paper,” Paul stated.

“Where did you get help?”

“The tutoring center. I went there five times last week! They helped me with my grammar.”

Five times. I paused. “You’ve done well on your papers for me—why did you get so much help on this one?”

“It’s 40% of my final grade. I wanted it to be perfect.”

Sometimes I worry that we have come to see plagiarism as an irreversible breach of contract: as your instructor, I will do my best to educate you, to help you learn and grow—unless you plagiarize.

But as Paul’s example shows, plagiarism isn’t always an act of malice or laziness or even poor training—on the contrary, Paul’s laudable effort is what led him to produce work so different from his “own.” Even students who have copied entire pages from online sources have revealed to me that their reasons for doing so are governed not by indolence, but misunderstanding my expectations for sources, for citations, and/or for their own abilities and growth—imperfect as these may be.

Whatever the case, students who misunderstand my expectations are often the same students who are the least comfortable in my class for a myriad of reasons: they are the first in their family to go to college; their high schools did not fully prepare them; they are marginalized in a historically white, straight, middle-class, male institution; and/or they are struggling with academic English. In all of these cases, a little bit of inclusive teaching goes a long way.

In the CTL we define inclusive teaching as “leveraging the diverse strengths students and instructors bring to the learning environment, as well as recognizing how systems of power and privilege may play out in the classroom.

Inclusive teaching helps make our campus and our classrooms more inviting to all students—not just the students who are familiar with our expectations because these expectations mirror those they’ve encountered at home or in elite American high schools. So when students plagiarize, I use this as an opportunity for learning and inclusion, rather than punishment.

How do I do this?

First, I have a private conversation with the student. Even if I think I understand why a student has plagiarized, it’s important to hear it from them, since misunderstanding is at the heart of the issue. Once I understand where our expectations have clashed, I have a real teaching opportunity ahead of me. I keep a copy of the student’s essay in front of both of us, so that they can see the exact places where an instance of plagiarism appears and begin to visualize what this actually looks like in their work.

After I have a conversation with the student I give them a chance to revise so that they can apply what they’ve learned while it’s still fresh in their minds.

Now I hear some of you thinking, “I have 400 students—how would I find the time to sit down with those who plagiarize, or to read all of those revisions?” TAs can play a major role here, but it may also be heartening to know that because plagiarism arises from a conflict of expectations, clarifying those expectations can create a healthy dose of prevention.

This doesn’t just mean that I put a statement about plagiarism in the syllabus, although that is an important first step. I share sample essays with my students, and as a class we discuss how an effective paper weaves language and ideas from other sources into their own words, again with a tangible example in front of them. I clarify my expectations for citations in class and in the assignment prompt, and usually offer a 5-10 minute mini-review of MLA or APA or whatever style I require them to use. I point students to free resources—including online citation guides, and the UW Writing and Research Center. UW Professor John Webster has written extensively about preventing plagiarism, offering invaluable advice.

And above all, I continually stress with each assignment that although I have high expectations, perfection is not one of them. In order to learn, students need to be able to take risks, to make mistakes, and, as research has shown, multilingual students may need years of supportive writing practice before they can write in a form of English that fulfills our expectations for articles and verbs. For me, an inclusive classroom must encourage students to do their own writing, even if it includes the “errors” that novices are bound to make. This means that I occasionally have to stop and reread a sentence or two in some of my students’ papers. But it also means that I get to read work demonstrating that all of my students are learning.

About the author

Katie Malcolm has taught multilingual students in interdisciplinary writing courses for 11 years. As a CTL consultant, she works with faculty and TAs across campus to support multilingual and first-generation learners at UW.

Classroom participation & stuffed animals

An auditorm filled with studentsBy Debi Talukdar

“Oh, that issue. I have it in my classes too. It happens, don’t worry.” This was the result of a conversation I was having with one of my colleagues at a staff meeting about large classroom participation. I had graded for this particular class of hundred students before, so I was aware of the issues around engaging a large group (McKeachie & Svinicki, 2006), but as I moved onto becoming the instructor, I thought I would be magically prepared to visibly and vocally engage everyone at the same time. Quite the expectation for a first time instructor who found herself staring at a hundred silent faces when a topic for discussion was raised in the first week of class! My colleague continued to say, “Firstly, it’s not you so don’t beat yourself up about it. Secondly, I have a strategy for you that works fabulously in my class.”

Next class I went into the lecture hall armed with a small stuffed animal. A Cheshire cat. My new TA. Our large class discussions were now going to be a game. When I opened the floor for contributions to a comment or question, I would throw Cheshire cat into the sea of faces. Whoever gets tagged by the cat has two options – comment or pass. They must keep the game going by throwing the cat to someone else who also either comments or passes. This continues till I ask them to stop. I try to follow up each comment with some sort of feedback to further everyone’s thinking. Dallimore et al. (2004) suggest students are likely to actively participate in classroom discussions when: the learners’ ideas and experiences are incorporated into the discussion; the facilitation is active; the classroom environment is supportive; and the instructor provides both positive and constructive feedback.

Engaging students in a large class is no mean task. I employed this technique for a couple of weeks before I came to the conclusion that it was here to stay. It kept students on point while allowing them the opportunity to pass without feeling bad. The playful element broke icy silences and created an open and encouraging environment for sharing thoughts. It was one of the most effective strategies I had employed to increase visible student engagement, outside of small-group discussions. A discussion prop isn’t the only way to do this of course. You may like to use exit slips – another personal favorite, clickers, and think-pair-share techniques to achieve participation too.

Following this, I did a mini action research study in my own class. Sixty-three percent of class said they never felt intimidated while noncontributing in a large class, which was encouraging. Small group discussion, the use of video, and the discussion cat turned out to be the most popular strategies for engagement. Seventy-five percent of class voted in favor of the discussion cat alone. Students also suggested that small group discussions would be more productive if the discussion points were sent to them in advance. They also pushed for including more personal experience based topics. Weaver and Qi (2005) found that the single largest predictor of a student’s participation was ‘‘faculty-student interaction’’ both in and out of the classroom setting. When professors affirmed students’ participation and ideas, students were more likely to participate. It was heartening to note that 95 percent of class thought that I personally validated their participation. Maybe there was something to learn from Cheshire cat after all!

Happy teaching, you all.


Dallimore, E.J., Hertenstein, J.H., and Platt, M.B. 2004. Classroom participation and discussion effectiveness: student-generated strategies. Communication Education 53(1): 103-115.

McKeachie, W.J. & Svinicki, M. (2006). McKeachie’s teaching tips: Strategies, research, and theory for college and university teachers. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.

Weaver, R. R., & Qi, J. (2005). Classroom organization and participation: College students’ perceptions. The Journal of Higher Education, 76, 570-601.

About the Author

Debi Talukdar is working towards her Ph.D. at the UW College of Education. Her research focuses on incorporating philosophical inquiry and reflective practices in teacher education. Here, she also teaches an undergraduate course in early childhood and family studies. As a fellow with the UW Center for Philosophy for Children, Debi regularly does philosophy with elementary school children in Seattle. Debi has previously worked with children and teachers at schools in India, and with the foster care/residential care system in the UK. When she is not working, she enjoys yoga, traveling, and cooking.

Give students an inch (they won’t take a mile)

Fostering Alliances and Accountability in the Classroom.

by Jessica Canton

Teacher wagging her finger at a studentIn a recent session of English 111 a student came to class without his paper for peer review. He had written his paper, but as he was running to class his paper had flown out of his backpack and before he could retrieve it, a bus hit it. Fair enough. As the class began the peer review process, and the student took out his computer, I told him he could participate by reading his paper aloud. He said that he had handwritten the paper. As college students don’t even hand-write grocery lists, I found it hard to believe that he’d used paper and pen to draft a five-page paper. On the plus side, he showed up to help his group members with their papers, but it was clear he was lying.

The temptation here is to nail a student for lying; yet our main objective can, instead, be to position ourselves as facilitators and allies, rather than as monitors. Instead of focusing on punishing late work, we can provide flexible deadlines when needed. Most students won’t need this, but if we provide them with these opportunities we shift the dynamic and positions us as an ally who wants the student to succeed. We create an environment where they realize they are accountable only to themselves because it’s up to them to take advantage of this flexibility and help. They can begin to realize that their success is completely in their hands. When they use our flexibility, we both win. We get them to reach the class goals (even if a few days late); they gain the knowledge/practice, and are more likely to do well in the class.

Some of us assume that this strategy undermines the instructor’s authority, leading to anarchy…or at least more egregious lying. Not so. My classroom definitely has rules and order; I set the tasks, the assignments, activities, and deadlines—and I don’t present them as “suggestions.” But being strict for the sake of being strict is unproductive because it sets up an “us vs. them” atmosphere, which makes it more difficult for students to see us as an ally who is invested in their learning. This flexibility can also be used in larger classroom settings because few students will actually need or ask for leniency. Keep in mind that you are not asked to do any “extra” work; rather, you are allowing the student to do their work. (The unprepared student in my earlier example made up the activity on his own time, and he showed me his draft to get credit.)

I advocate this approach because it works. Not only do students meet the course objectives, but also more importantly they gain an understanding that they are responsible for their own learning. Going back to the original example, it is unfortunate that my student felt the need to lie to me, but I understand the impulse behind it. Nevertheless I gave him the extra time and he took part in the activity (on his own time), and practiced the objectives. It would be a storybook ending if I could report that he earned a 4.0 and lived happily ever after. But that was not the case; he did not earn a high grade in the class. But when he submitted his final assignment he was honest and told me that he knew he could have done better. He thanked me for the opportunities I had given him to make up assignments, but he was aware that ultimately he slacked off.

It’s unfortunate that many students still feel the need to lie to avoid punishment or embarrassment. We need to communicate that for us the ultimate victory is not that students submit a certain assignment on time, but that they realize that it’s 100% in their control to succeed or fail. This student realized that, and hopefully he will carry that through his academic career and beyond.

About the Author

Jessica Canton is a graduate student at the University of Washington in the English Department. She taught Composition and Literature for eight years. She recently defended her dissertation, which explored the connections between the Gothic novel and Greek/Roman Tragedy.

Great question. Let’s Google it

By Maya Smorodinsky

To begin every course, we implore students to silence their cell phones, refrain from Facebook, and abstain from lap-texting (you, in the third row, despite your best intentions, crotch-staring is not a sign of active learning). When students inevitably flout these policies, it is frustrating and disappointing. It may be a surprise, then, that I encourage (and sometimes require) personal laptops and tablets in my small, seminar-style writing classes.

True, I watch students giggle or smirk at their screens when I know I haven’t been funny in the last fifty minutes. And I am certain someone is doing math homework at least once every class period.

Nevertheless: while technology possesses high distraction potential, it also can foster inclusive learning. Technology can bridge the gaps between different learning styles and abilities, levels of language acquisition, and education backgrounds. Once, I watched a student painstakingly alternate between cellphone and paper prompt. I am glad I realized, before chastising the student, that they were using a translator app to decipher the assignment. Could a laptop, where the student could quickly tab between the assignment and a translation site, be more beneficial for this student’s learning?

Based on experience and theory, here are some positive aspects of using personal technologies in small classrooms that function through discussion, small group work, reading, and/or writing, or even larger classrooms incorporating group work or group projects into daily lessons:


  • Students don’t write papers by hand. They type them. Fast. More efficient class brainstorming and note-taking can be accomplished with a keyboard handy.
  • Students have cloud access to all their work without toting around copies of past writing or reading assignments. Lowering anxiety for busy students creates brain space for engaging with and accessing more class material.


  • Not everyone can learn just by listening – visual cues are necessary for many learners. More so, multimodal teaching enhances skill acquisition for students of various linguistic and literacy backgrounds. By explaining a concept vocally, mapping it on the board, and posting a version online for students to reference while you present, different learners can access the material in their own mode. In addition, students may clarify or extend the material in real time. Non-native speakers can engage with academic writing by referring to outside resources to buttress their learning.


  • Students thrive when given the opportunity to air ideas in low stakes settings like small group discussion. Making these dialogues visible to the whole class further solidifies that learning. Utilizing real-time applications, like comment and chat functions on Google Docs, creates a community feeling within the classroom. Students can respond to each other individually or in groups; shy students or students who process information at a different pace can engage and not feel silenced; and non-native speakers can be immersed into academic language through both audio and visual cues.
  • Online discussion boards keep groups accountable for their work to the rest of the class. They can work to diverse strengths: one student types, while another processes information verbally, while a third does some quick Googling to enrich the conversation.

Some potential drawbacks:


  • It’s not easy to transition between laptop and pure eye contact activities. Our screen-obsessed culture doesn’t put them away easily. One solution could be to establish clear vocabulary describing the activity with cues about what to do. For example: “Let’s transition to “screen-less” small group discussion.”


  • Not all of our students have access to a laptop or tablet for the entire quarter. CTE will only loan laptops for a week or two at a time. Carving out one or two days a week for screen time or requesting a campus computer lab may help.


  • We can’t assume students know the difference between a Wiki page and an online academic source. We can’t assume they know how to use Google Docs or even a twitter hashtag. Teaching and practicing those skills must become part of the classroom culture.
  • This requires some training, but luckily there are a plethora of manuals and worksheets available online already. Further, learning how to use these online tools is transferable across classrooms and disciplines.


  • This is the most well-rehearsed concern. And even students recognize this as a potential downside to using technology!
  • Hold students accountable at every stage of the lesson. You can ensure that each activity has a “product” students must post online and on time – in this way, they won’t have time to get distracted. Micromanaging small group work – in general – prevents students from wandering off-topic.

About the Author

Maya Smorodinsky has taught English literature and English composition at the University of Washington for six years. She is currently English faculty at Shoreline Community College. Her pedagogical interests include enhancing classroom learning through diverse and inclusive curricula, and a greater attention to media literacy. She is currently pursuing her PhD in English at the University of Washington, with a focus in migration literature and neoliberal multiculturalism.