Center for Teaching and Learning

What helps students learn?

Research on teaching effectiveness identifies a number of factors that contribute to student learning. In consulting with instructors about their teaching, observing their classes, and interviewing their students, we have observed these factors at work in a wide variety of classes.

Instructor’s expertise and interest in the subject matter

Student comments:

  • “We appreciate the knowledge base of the instructor – he incorporates relevant issues from his work into lectures.”
  • “She is inspiring. Isn’t that what it’s all about? Trying to teach the student about something you love?”
  • “Topics are very interesting. For those topics that are not so interesting, he finds a way to make them so.”

Implications for teaching:

  • Show students what interests you about the subject.
  • Give examples, cases and illustrations which show how you draw on the content of the course in your own work.

Clarity of organization and expectations for learning

Student comments:

  • “We appreciate the instructor’s periodic summaries of where we’ve been, where we’re going.”
  • “She explains everything very thoroughly and all her examples tie in perfectly with the points she is trying to get across. The flow of the class is good; many new ideas can somehow relate to what we previously learned.”
  • “Clarity – emphasizes important points, isolates specific points or arguments and writes these on the board.“

Implications for teaching:

  • Use the syllabus, the board, and other tools to show students how you conceptually organize the material.
  • Clarify for students how particular readings, assignments, and activities relate to course goals.
  • Use class time to help students identify, assess, and record their understanding of the material.

Instructor’s ways of connecting course content to students’ frames of reference

Student comments:

  • “She relates the material that we learn to real life situations which gives us a better picture of what is really happening related to what we are learning.”
  • “The cases we read get reviewed in more everyday terms He makes it much easier to understand and uses common examples to help clarify the important points.”

Implications for teaching:

  • Learn about your students, what interests them about the course, and what they hope to learn.
  • Develop examples that will present the material to students in contexts that are familiar to them.

Opportunities for interaction with and among students

Student comments:

  • “He seems genuinely interested in whether we are learning and understanding the material, not just memorizing – stops and checks to make sure the class is getting it.”
  • “When he has us do some thinking in groups on a question he poses, it gives me more time to formulate an opinion than just asking the question to the class in general.”
  • “Class participation – getting other peoples’ perspectives –adds to the learning atmosphere of class, causes us to think analytically.”

Implications for teaching:

  • Regularly assess students’ understanding of the material during class, and give them feedback on their learning.
  • Structure specific times for class interaction, and help students prepare for it by asking them to work on specific problems or questions in writing or small groups.