Faculty: Take the test

Bill Cerbin, former director of UWL's Center for Advancing Teaching and Learning, gives a farewell address "Taking Learning Seriously" during the 21st Annual UWL Conference on Teaching and Learning.

Are you teaching with research-based strategies UWL’s long-term science of learning guru would suggest? 

When Bill Cerbin started teaching nearly 40 years ago he was a “true novice,” he recalls. Over the years he got better at engaging his students and his evaluations were good, but student performance was still mediocre at best. If only he had access to some of the educational research and easy-to-digest books available to teachers today. They provide answers on how teachers can make the best decisions to support learning in their classrooms.  

With this growing body of research available and a UWL center dedicated to turning this kind of research into practice, there is no reason a novice UWL teacher should feel alone in goals to improve teaching and learning at UWL.  Over the last decade, UWL’s Center for Advancing Teaching and Learning has helped instructors improve the design and implementation of instructional materials, teaching practices, and assessment of student learning. [Take the quiz below to see if you are using the latest teaching strategies].

The center started after Cerbin, recently retired director of the center, had asked many of UWL’s past provosts for a central “teaching center” that would unite the efforts across campus to provide faculty development opportunities. That call was answered under UWL’s former Provost Kathleen Enz Finken who asked Cerbin to start and lead UWL’s Center for Advancing Teaching and Learning in 2009. 

The center has grown to provide opportunities for instructors to improve their practice through workshops, conferences, seminars, training courses, programs, grant projects and individual consultation. It now includes online instruction, including instructional support for the new learning management system, Canvas, this academic year.   

Cerbin retired in August and gave a farewell address to campus as part of the 21st Annual UWL Conference on Teaching and Learning, “Taking Learning Seriously.” 

Cerbin, a former psychology professor, explained his position has allowed him to explore and share his educational research interests. Meanwhile, he has become a resource to not only UWL’s campus, but the entire UW System.  

During the CATL conference, Fay Akindes, director of Systemwide Professional & Instructional Development, presented Cerbin with a commemorative plaque honoring his years of dedication and distinguished service to UWL and the UW System. He has served as chair and on the executive committee of the UW System Office of Professional and instructional Development Advisory Council and provided numerous presentations and workshops throughout the UW System. 

“He leaves a legacy teaching and learning not only at UWL but throughout the System,” says Akindes.  

A teacher at heart, Cerbin used the majority of his farewell address to share some of the hallmark teaching and learning strategies he has learned about and promoted — many he would have appreciated as a novice teacher himself, including the value of test-enhanced learning.  

With this in mind, here is a short test covering a few of the studies he shared.

Take the quiz: Are you using research-based strategies?

Test anxiety is a debilitating condition for students who have excessive anxiety. It can impede their ability to perform well on tests. Research shows one way to relieve a students’ test anxiety is to ask them to write expressively about their anxiety of testing for a few minutes prior to the test.

Correct! Wrong!

True. Expressive writing just before a test has shown to help alleviate student anxiety. Ask students to take five minutes to write down their worries ... the research shows they are more likely to perform well.

Which learning strategy worked best for college students according to the latest translational research?

Correct! Wrong!

D. The process of quizzing/testing (test-enhanced learning, a.k.a. retrieval practice) has proved to outperform other learning strategies. Cerbin encourages faculty to frequently administer quizzes throughout their courses (ones that will have very minimal impact on a student’s grade, but will serve as a learning opportunity).

Students are generally correct about the most effective learning strategy for them — whether it is quizzing themselves or re-reading the material multiple times.

Correct! Wrong!

False: When students rate the best learning strategies in terms of effectiveness, it doesn’t match what studies show are the best strategies. The majority of students think repeated study is the best method. And many read and re-read their book because they think this is an effective study method. However, this gives students a false sense of security. They think they know the information because it feels familiar. Many studies have revealed that students don’t have a good grasp of whether they have learned something or not. A good litmus test on learning is to test oneself – retrieval practice.

The lecture, the most dominant teaching strategy in higher education, is NOT the best method to teach students.

Correct! Wrong!

True. Lecturing is still the most dominant strategy used in higher education, but evidence is mounting that this is actually a weak teaching method when used alone. In an analysis of 225 studies in the STEM fields, researchers compared classes that were lecture only vs. active learning classes (that include lecturing). Students had a 34 percent failure rate in lecture-only classes and a 22 percent failure rate in active-learning classes.

What is the best framework to understand a lecture?

Correct! Wrong!

B. Cerbin encouraged faculty to think of their lecture in terms of how people learn — considering students’ prior knowledge before they even set foot in the room. When a faculty member recognizes what students may not know, they can slow the lecture down and ensure students are processing the information instead of rapidly taking notes without making sense of the new information. He also encouraged faculty to brainstorm with colleagues about strategies to improve learning before, during and after the lecture.