Teaching Tip(s) of the Week

The First Lecture

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.

Active Learning to Increasing Student Engagement and Retention

Click to Open

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?”

Creating an Academic Integrity Statement for Your Course

Click to Open

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:

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.


  • 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 groupwork 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,  Jan. 28, 2018

Optimizing assignments for our over-scheduled students

Click to Open

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 thier 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 repsonsibility as faculty is to ensure that this effort is effective. 


Improving classroom climate through acknowledging student concerns

Click to Open

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 the "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