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Teaching Strategies

Below we've highlighed some teaching strategies that have been shown to be effective in the university classroom. If you would like to make comments or suggestions, recommend useful resources, or share your practice, please email Michelle Schwartz.

Active learning has long been identified as a principle of good practice in undergraduate education (Chickering & Gamson). For learning to be active, students must do more than listen, they must “read, write, discuss, or be engaged in solving problems. Most important, to be actively involved, students must engage in such higher order thinking tasks.” Active learning activities can include case study, “cooperative learning, debates, drama, role playing and simulation, and peer teaching" (Bonwell & Eison).

PDF fileBest Practices: Active Learning

Case method is a powerful student-centered teaching strategy that can impart students with critical thinking, communication, and interpersonal skills. Having students work through complex, ambiguous, real world problems engages students with the course material, encouraging them to “see it from an action perspective, rather than analyze it from a distance” (Angelo & Boehrer). Case studies are, by their nature, multidisciplinary, and “allow the application of theoretical concepts…bridging the gap between theory and practice” (Davis & Wilcock).

PDF fileBest Practices: Case Method

There is no one way to teach a class and there is no one way to manage disruption when it arises. Many of the variables that affect how a large class is taught—student characteristics or room layout, for example—will also determine how to manage student behavior. Whatever method you try, it's important to manage issues before they arise through the use of creative course design, and by collaborating with students when setting ground rules or determining how to deliver course material.

PDF fileBest Practices: Classroom Management

Debate in the classroom can take many forms, from simple to complex activities taking place in-class or online, and can be applied to a vast range of topics and disciplines, from sociology and history, to marketing, nursing, and biotechnology (Kennedy, 2007).

Research has identified numerous benefits associated with using debate in teaching. Debate has been referred to as a “holistic teaching method” because it not only increases students’ disciplinary knowledge, but has the potential to improve students’ critical thinking, problem-solving, and skill at argumentation, as well as their self-expression, oral and written communication, and presentation skills. Depending on how it is used, debate can also build student abilities in collaboration, discussion, and teamwork (Doody & Condon, 2012).

PDF fileBest Practices: Debate in the Classroom

The failure of students to complete their assigned readings before class is an unfortunately common occurrence at every level and in every discipline within higher education. In fact, it has been demonstrated by multiple studies that for any given day or assignment, “compliance with course reading” is only 20-30% per class (Hobson, 2004). In order to motivate students to do their assigned readings, it is important to understand the reasons why the compliance rate is so low.

PDF fileBest Practices: Encouraging Student Reading

"Experiential learning means learning from experience or learning by doing. Experiential education first immerses learners in an experience and then encourages reflection about the experience to develop new skills, new attitudes, or new ways of thinking" (Lewis & Williams). In experiential learning, the student manages their own learning, rather than being told what to do and when to do it. Learning may not take place in the classroom, and there may be no textbooks or academic texts to study. Finally, the curriculum itself may not be clearly identified — the student may have to identify the knowledge they require and then acquire it themselves, reflecting on their learning as they go along (Moon).

PDF fileBest Practices: Experiential Learning

Never underestimate the importance of the first class! Lay out your expectations for students, but also demonstrate to students what they should expect from you—using the first class as a model for the way the course will be run will help motivate students, clarify how they should best spend their time, and let them make an informed decision as to whether they should drop the course.

PDF fileBest Practices: The First Day of Class

The flipped or inverted classroom is a form of blended learning in which “events that have traditionally taken place inside the classroom now take place outside the classroom and vice versa” (Lage et al., as cited in Bishop and Verlager, 2013). In this model, learning is divided into two parts – “interactive group learning activities inside the classroom, and direct computer-based individual instruction outside the classroom” (Bishop & Verleger, 2013). 

PDF fileBest Practices: The Flipped Classroom

Gamification refers to “the use of a pedagogical system that was developed within game design but which is implemented within a non-game context” (Higher Education Academy). Gamification takes the mechanics of gaming, like points, levels, badges, or leaderboards, and applies them to the way a course or module is taught.

PDF fileBest Practices: Gamification

There are many documented benefits for students who participate in group work. For example, students working in groups achieve higher academic outcomes and gain a more comprehensive educational experience compared to students working individually (Smith, 1996; Roseth et al., 2008; Wilson et al., 2018). In addition, the use of group work has been shown to increase students’ social competency, consequently enhancing their interpersonal and critical thinking skills (Smith, 1996; Hassanien, 2006; Davies, 2009; Wilson et al., 2018). The collaborative learning that takes place in groups “combines two key goals: learning to work and solve problems in the company of others and sharpening one’s own understanding by listening seriously to the insights of others, especially those with different backgrounds and life experiences” (Kuh, 2008).

PDF fileBest Practices: Group Work

The following strategies will help you administer large classes, set policies on student contact, design instructional strategies to engage students in active and collaborative learning, and manage assessment and grading.

PDF fileBest Practices: Large Classes

The following resources for using mindfulness meditation in the classroom have been provided by Jasna Schwind, Associate Professor in the Daphne Cockwell School of Nursing.

Mindful breathing exercises, available for streaming: 

To learn more about mindfulness in teaching, the following resources are available from the Ryerson Library:

Lemon, N., & McDonough, S. (2018). Mindfulness in the academy: Practices and perspectives from scholars. Springer.

excel fileSchwind, J. K., McCay, E., Beanlands, H., Schindel Martin, L., Martin, J., & Binder, M. (2017). Mindfulness practice as a teaching-learning strategy in higher education: A qualitative exploratory pilot study. Nurse Education Today, 50, 92-96. doi:10.1016/j.nedt.2016.12.017

Problem-Based Learning (PBL) is a non-traditional teaching technique where “the problem drives the learning.” In PBL, “learning is student-centered” (Tse & Chan) and the instructor’s role is not lecturing, as in the traditional style of teaching, but coaching the students to acquire knowledge and to become “self-directed learners” (Forcael et al.; Stanford University Center for Teaching and Learning).

PDF fileBest Practices: Problem-Based Learning

Reflection is a skill that allows a learner to “use cognitive, affective, imaginative, and creative means to perceive, represent in language, and thereby undergo one’s lived experience,” to create a clear narrative of their own identity, self-awareness, intersubjectivity, and ethical discernment (Charon & Hermann, 2013, p. 3). In essence, reflection can be explained as a process that gives individuals an opportunity to consider their thoughts, feelings, and behaviours surrounding past events, and identify different, and sometimes better, ways to respond in the future (Kennison & Misselwitz, 2002; Ruland & Ahem, 2007). Reflection as a learning objective is commonly indicated as the highest level of understanding in seminal taxonomies such as Bloom’s Taxonomy (1956).

PDF fileBest Practices: Incorporating Reflective Writing

The following suggestions can help you handle a large volume of student emails as well as create effective message content.

PDF fileBest Practices: Responding to Student Email

Information and communication technologies (ICTs) such as smartphones, laptops, and tablets have become a ubiquitous part of the university classroom, where students often have one or more of these technologies present with them. While these devices can be used to facilitate learning in the classroom – like when students use a laptop to take notes – their presence has also been implicated in detrimental experiences for both instructors and students.

PDF fileBest Practices: Teaching with Technology

In the broadest sense, team teaching is defined as a group of instructors working together to “plan, conduct, and evaluate the learning activities of the same group of students” (Quinn and Kanter). Team teaching increases students’ active involvement in the material – even in a lecture format, the presence of multiple instructors allows students to engage with differing viewpoints and personalities – the “exposure to views and skills of more than one teacher can develop a more mature understanding of knowledge” (CELT).

PDF fileBest Practices: Team Teaching

Resources Contact 

Michelle Schwartz
Educational Developer
Ext. 552094
michelle.schwartz@ryerson.ca