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Promising Practices Toolkit

The role of faculty and instructors in creating and sustaining exceptional learning opportunities is critical to achieving UNC’s ambitious goals for student success. This toolkit provides strategies that instructors can begin incorporating into their classes immediately. A 2020 student data snapshot can be found in the full Toolkit document.

Promising Practices for Undergraduate Success

This is an overview of six promising practices that instructors can use in their classrooms to support student success. These include taking attendance, early low-stakes assessment, low-cost/no-cost textbook options, increased availability for student meetings, UNC progress reports, and student reporting. 

  • Implementing Early Low-Stakes Assessment

    Incorporating early, low-stakes assessment in the first three weeks of the semester can help you track student progress early.  These assessments also encourage attendance and help with content retention. Low-stakes assessment lowers student stress because they can build confidence in their learning in a low-risk environment. Finally, low-stakes assessment can help teachers recognize student misconceptions and knowledge gaps quickly and early. These assessments can also be used as a way to track attendance in face-to-face and online courses.

    Low-Stakes Assessment Ideas

    This is not an exhaustive list, but here are some examples of easy, early low-stakes assessment techniques. There is also information for using these in online courses. For more ideas see Angelo & Cross (1993), Barkley (2010), Barkley, Major, & Cross (2014) and McCartin & Dineen (2018).

    This is What I Know

    Randomly call on students at the beginning of class and ask them to tell you one thing they already understand about the content before you jump into lecturing. You can do this in a Zoom chat and ask different students to post in the chat during each session. You can also have students submit this to a discussion forum or a quick Canvas quiz.

    Stump the Expert

    As students enter the class, require them to turn in a 3x5 card with their name and a question on it.  Randomly pull from the questions, ask where the student is seated so you can talk directly to them and answer questions for the first few minutes of class. At the end of class, pull a few more questions to answer and wrap up by asking if there’s a question that remains unanswered. You can ask students to do this on a Padlet or course whiteboard to avoid exchanging paper or for an online course. Student can also submit these through a Canvas discussion forum or quiz.

    Graphic Organizer

    During the last 5 minutes of class, give students a list of the main concepts discussed during the session and ask them to draw a picture connecting the concepts to one another with a sentence explaining why they are connecting them.

    Smaller Chunks

    Create small quizzes for a larger unit and have students take them every few days.

    Explain It to a Second Grader 

    Ask students to explain a complex concept using simple language that is easy enough for a second grader to understand. Have them make an analogy to help clarify the subject.

    Buddy Quizzes/Group Assessment

    Have students take a quiz independently, then take 10 minutes to meet with a small group to discuss the answers.

    For more ideas see:

    Angelo & Cross (1993), Barkley (2010), Barkley, Major, & Cross (2014) and McCartin & Dineen (2018).

  • Providing Low-Cost/No-Cost Textbook Options

    A 2014 study on student perceptions of textbooks costs found that students don’t buy textbooks because they are too expensive, they took fewer courses because of high costs of books, and that they would do better in classes with a free book because there is no stress about being unable to afford the book and having access to the course content (Senack, 2014). Some suggestions for lowering this cost for students include:

    • Put a print copy of the textbook on print reserve in the library.
    • Put the first few chapters you assign on e-reserve in the library in case students cannot buy the book before classes due to financial aid issues.
      • Fill out this form to put something on reserve.
    • Consider books with no codes since students can’t sell these back.
    • Consider using a combination of e-books, e-book chapters, and journal articles available in the library rather than a set textbook. Students have free access to all library materials. 
  • Taking Attendance

    Attendance is not about teacher control but about student success! Research indicates that students who attend class regularly are more successful (Crede, Roch, & Kieszcynka, 2010; Schimming, n.d.; Sleigh & Ritzer, n.d.). Class attendance is a better predictor of grades than any other academic performance predictor, including ACT/SAT scores, study habits, and high school GPA (Crede et al.). The act of taking attendance indicates to students that you care about them being in the room and that attendance is important to you. The experience of being called by name as a participant at the start of a group-learning experience increases each students’ personal investment in the class process. Many students at UNC express a real value of our small-classroom atmosphere relative to other universities. Being able to call your students by name certainly increases this feeling.

    Tracking attendance gets results

    Faculty in UNC’s Criminology & Criminal Justice program began tracking attendance and contacting students who missed two classes. CCJ faculty found that this attendance initiative revealed improved retention rates in CRJ 110 and implemented the initiative as department-wide practice. This practice has resulted in a 4-year increase in retention of new transfer students (+23%), new first year students (+12), and an overall retention rate of +7%.

    How do I talk about attendance?

    It’s important that students know why you take attendance, so consider discussing the research about attendance and success with your students on the first day of class. It’s important for students to know that attendance is more about their success than your control and that you take attendance because you care about them.

    What do I do if students don’t attend class?

    If a student misses two classes in a row, or is consistently missing classes, email the student in a non-threatening way. For example:

    I have noticed that you missed the last two classes and just wanted to check in with you. If you need any kind of help, please get in touch! Coming to class is really important, and we miss you.

    What are some teaching strategies that promote better attendance?

    It is also important to make class worth attending! Consider enhancing your class with activities that engage students and assist them in learning something in a way that can’t be done by reading or getting notes from a friend. See Barkley (2010) and Barkley, Major, & Cross (2014) in the resources section.

    What do we know about the evidence supporting an attendance policy?

    While faculty can track attendance without making attendance mandatory, mandatory attendance policies can also be helpful for students. When attendance is required (i.e., attendance is graded and contributes to overall semester points) there is an additional boost. In other words, taking attendance is clearly positive for students. Taking attendance and including it as a graded event is even better. Attendance for a grade can be done positively instead of punitively – instead of taking away points for missing class students earn points for attending. This puts them in complete control of that portion of their grade.

    How do I take attendance in an online course?

    Canvas' Attendance tool, Roll Call, gives instructors the ability to take attendance in a Canvas course shell. During a pandemic, the tool can be useful for contact tracing and reporting, if necessary. The tool includes a drag and drop seating chart that works with your roster and the ability to run attendance reports.

    Important things to know about using Roll Call:

    • If the tool does not appear in your course menu, you have to activate it in course settings on the navigation tab.
    • Roll Call works by generating an assignment, and as soon as you take attendance, the assignment appears on your assignments page and in your grade book. By default, the assignment is worth 100 points.
    • You can make changes to any part of the assignment except the assignment title. If you change the title, the tool will not work.
    • The easiest way to use the tool for grading is to put the assignment into a weighted group equal to the percentage of the grade you assign to attendance. If you do this, the point value will not matter. Note that if you do this, all assignments will be weighted and so you will have to group all of your assignments and assign the desired weights. If you use weighted groups, you can also give the tool a 0% weight so that you can use the tool without assigning a grade.
    • The attendance assignment awards full credit by default, and credit is deducted based on overall attendance. For example, if a student is present on day 1 and absent on day 2, the student’s attendance score is 100% after day 1 and 50% after day 2. If the student is present for the next 2 days, the overall score is 75%.
    • While you can change the seating chart every day, it is designed to work best if students remain in the same seat for the entire term.

    More information can be found on the official Canvas guide to Roll Call, which includes information on how the tool works in Canvas, how to create a seating chart, and how to run attendance reports.

  • Being Available

    Be available to students in a variety of ways so that students can communicate with you in a way they feel comfortable. This is especially important during the pandemic as the number of online courses has increased and students may not be able to meet with you in person.

    Office Hours

    Have office hours and discuss with students what these are. Consider calling office hours something more recognizable, such as Chat Time or Open Lab. Office hours are not familiar to many first-year students. Students may have class during office hours and perhaps addressing alternatives would be helpful.  Virtual office hours can be held through Zoom or Microsoft Teams; you can use the same session link and keep it posted in a Canvas announcement all semester.

    Online Discussion Forums

    Set up an open discussion board in Canvas where students can post questions anonymously about course concepts and assignments. This is a low-risk way for students to indicate a question.

  • Completing UNC Progress Reports

    UNC uses a mid-term progress report to identify students who may be struggling in their classes in order to direct them to advisors and faculty who can give them timely help and direction. Around the 5th week of classes, the AVP for Student Academic Success will send a Request for Feedback on select students who are participating in specialized academic programing or identified as someone of concern in their academic program.

    Instructors are sent an email with a hyperlink to a page that allows them to indicate which of the students included in the request may be having difficulty and to specify the reason for that difficulty (e.g. excessive absences). Once the report is submitted, the information will be shared with the student by the student’s advisor/academic coach, with the intent of addressing any issues before they become too serious.  Feedback to the student may include utilizing your office hours to discuss questions they have or to gain a better understanding of the ways they could be more successful.  These progress reports are helpful for providing early intervention to students who need support and you are encouraged to complete progress reports when asked.

  • Working with Student Outreach & Support (SOS)

    Student Outreach and Support (SOS) helps students navigate difficult situations, such as food and housing insecurity, mental health concerns, personal or family crisis, and illnesses or injuries that may limit their ability to be successful. To connect a student to SOS, you can email sos@unco.edu, call 970-351-2796, or submit a Student of Concern report at https://www.unco.edu/dean-of-students/share-concern.aspx

  • Cited Reference and Resources

    Angelo, T. & Cross, P. (1993). Classroom assessment techniques: A handbook for college teachers. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

    Credé, M., Roch, S. G., & Kieszczynka, U. M. (2010). Class attendance in college: A meta-analytic review of the relationship of class attendance with grades and student characteristics. Review of Educational Research, 80(2), 272-295. doi:10.3102/0034654310362998

    Barkley, E. (2010). Student engagement techniques:  A handbook for college faculty.  San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

    Barkley, E., Major, C., & Cross, P. (2004). Collaborative learning techniques: A handbook for college faculty.  San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

    Finley, T. (2017). 20 ways to make low-stakes assessments delightful (and useful). http://www.todd-finley.com/2016/02/18/quizfizz-19-ways-to-make-low-stakes-quizzes-delightful-and-useful/

    McCartin, L. & Dineen, R. (2018). Toward a critical-inclusive assessment practice. https://digscholarship.unco.edu/infolit/20/

    Nunn, L.M. (2019). 33 simple strategies for faculty: A week-by-week resource for teaching first year and first-generation students. New Brunswick, NJ. Rutgers University Press.

    Richman, G. (2015). Assessment: Lower Stakes, Raise Retention. https://www.edutopia.org/blog/assessment-lower-stakes-raise-retention-geoff-richman

    Schiming, R. (n.d.). Class attendance. https://www.mnsu.edu/cetl/teachingresources/articles/classattendance.html   

    Senack, E. (2014). Fixing the broken textbook market: How students respond to high textbook costs and demand alternatives.  Retrieved from https://uspirg.org/sites/pirg/files/reports/NATIONAL%20Fixing%20Broken%20Textbooks%20Report1.pdf

    Sleigh, M. & Ritzer, D. (n.d.). Encouraging student attendance. https://www.psychologicalscience.org/observer/1101/tips.html

Promising Practices for Graduate Student Success

 It is important to remember that all students learn in the same way, so promising practices for undergraduate students translate to graduate students. These include:

  • Establish learning outcomes (even in a seminar course)
  • Provide early, low-stakes assessment
  • Make attendance important
  • Be available
  • Provide frequent feedback
  • Incorporate class discussions and active learning

When designing and teaching a graduate course you can capitalize on things that are unique to the graduate experience. Integrate the following ideas to support graduate students in the next phase of their education:

  • Publication
  • Presentations and teaching skills
  • Student-led discussions

Graduate students, especially those at the doctoral level, may be more ready to engage with materials and present their own ideas. Many graduate students are working in the field and are already experts in the area you are teaching. The willingness of students to speak out, and indeed speak with some authority, often calls for a constructivist approach to teaching, where knowledge is built by active student participation instead of passive student listening. It is important to design graduate level courses that give more time and agency for students to converse, share, and debate. 

Additional Resources for Supporting Graduate Students