Evidence Based Teaching

Instructor Assisting Students on Computer
Published: Tuesday, May 3, 2022

This blog post will highlight first steps to incorporating research based practices into your course.

Building an online course for the first time - or the tenth time - can feel a bit daunting. Luckily, we can stand on the shoulders of the giants and use data from education research to guide us

Some interesting results from education research that can inform teaching practices:

  1. Students need to practice. Building in opportunities for students to practice applying their knowledge helps them learn and apply their knowledge.
  2. Reinforce learning through iterative content checks. Assessing students on a topic multiple times reinforces content acquisition.
  3. Help students connect the dots. Helping students link new knowledge and old can also be thought of as creating a mental map and connecting ideas.
  4. Make the content meaningful. Learners, especially adult learners, learn best when they feel the knowledge is meaningful and applies to the “real world”. 
  5. Emotions are connected to memory. You probably remember where you were and what you were doing when you received some bad news. Obviously we don’t want to add strife to students' lives so they remember the course work, but luckily research has also shown that we are more open to learning when we are in a good mood, or just watched something funny or uplifting. 
  6. Help students feel safe. Similar to the point above - you can’t learn if you are stressed or feel unsafe. By creating a welcoming environment, you help students relax and that leads to effective learning.
  7. Decrease the cognitive load. If students have to navigate too much at once the important content gets buried and lost. 
  8. Timely feedback motivates students. Students use feedback to know they are on the right track, which motivates them to keep working and learning. 
  9. Those that do the work do the learning. Don’t let your students sit back and watch the course go by; active learning is key to understanding and memory. 

What this means in terms of your online course design and facilitation:

  1. Incorporate Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles into your course build, such as multiple means of engagement (both to deliver content and options for students to submit their work), improvements in the user experience, explicit course expectations, and explicit grading structures (use of rubrics). (A, D, F, G, I)
  2. Be a person! Include humor, personal stories, memes, funny youtube clips. Show that you care by taking time to reach out to students that are struggling via an email. (D, E, F, H)
  3. Include methods of active learning, like incorporating questions into videos and having students annotate and discuss readings. (A, B, I)
  4. Connect the content they are learning about with its application, outside of the textbook. (C, D)
  5. Include low stakes assessments so students can see if they are on the right track. (A, B, D, I)
  6. Include timely feedback for students on their assessments - whether this is auto feedback on a quiz, incorporating a rubric, or written feedback on an assignment or discussion post. (B, C, H)
  7. Keep lecture video lengths short, to 10 minutes or less. Otherwise attention wanes. (C, G, I)
  8. Make your course easy to navigate. Keep the same naming structure, formatting and module length as others in your department. This prevents students from losing time searching for information. (F, G)
  9. Solicit feedback from your students. Use mid- and end-of-course surveys to find actionable steps you can take to improve the course for your students, and yourself. (E, F, H)

References and more information: 

  • Universal Design for Learning Guidelines
  • Edutopia is a trusted source shining a spotlight on what works in education.
  • Faculty Focus provides insight into what’s working (and what’s not) in the classroom and online.
  • EdSurge aims to bridge the information gaps that often exist between those who drive change in education, and those they serve.


Authored By:

Stephanie Tammen

Senior Instructional Designer