In this issue



Upcoming Events

Blackboard Workshop: Cheating and Plagiarism
Monday, September 21st
Center for Teaching








Check out these recent posts to our blog.

Making the most out of educational videos

Three things I learned while writing about test-enhanced learning

Learning about the basics of learning

Fall Blackboard News: New Features, New Support

Announcing the New Teaching Affiliates for 2015

Peer review of teaching with a helping hand from the CFT











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September 2015

From the Director

 Think, Pair, Share. It’s a simple approach to engaging students in class discussions. Instead of asking a question of your class and waiting for a few students to respond, ask students to think about the question silently for thirty seconds, then pair up and discuss their responses for a minute or two. When you ask students to share their perspectives with the entire class, you’ll likely hear from more students sharing more thoughtful responses.  A simple approach, but one that’s informed by what we know about how students learn.

It’s also an approach I find myself frequently sharing with instructors, from graduate students taking on teaching assistant duties for the first time to senior faculty members interested in motivating more of their students to speak up during class.  Designing learning experiences for students, engaging students in learning both in and out of the classroom—these are skills that we continue to develop and refine throughout our teaching careers.

There’s a line in the CFT’s mission about helping instructors explore “new teaching practices.”  All teaching practices are “new” when we first learn about them, of course.  One of the highlights of my job is seeing instructors of all experience levels foster deeper learning through teaching practices that are new to them.

CREATOR: gd-jpeg v1.0 (using IJG JPEG v62), quality = 90 Educational technology often feels very new to instructors, both exciting and challenging at the same time.  That’s why I’m happy to launch new CFT initiatives aimed at helping instructors use technology to meet their teaching and learning objectives.  We now provide support for instructors across campus using Blackboard, Vanderbilt’s course management system.  More information on this can be found on the renovated Blackboard website.  Additionally, we are starting three new working groups for faculty, staff, and students interested in exploring particular educational technologies.  See below for information on these groups.

New teaching practices aren’t limited to those that require power and Internet connections.  We’re continuing the conversations from last year’s “Teaching, Difference, and Power” theme through a learning community focused on teaching, gender, and sexuality.  See below for information on this group, as well as another new learning community on the topic of community engagement pedagogies.  And we’re excited to welcome not one, but two cohorts of Junior Faculty Teaching Fellows, thanks to support from the School of Nursing.

These are just a few of the CFT’s offerings for new and veteran teachers at Vanderbilt.  For more information, visit our website or read our recently released 2014-15 year in review.

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We’re able to provide these programs and services to the campus thanks to our incredible staff, a staff that has gotten a bit larger in recent months!  Please join me in welcoming Stacey Johnson, Assistant Director for Educational Technology, and Lee Scarborough and Rebecca Panter, Instructional Technologists.  Stacey, Lee, and Rebecca are leading our new Blackboard support, as well as assisting with other educational technology initiatives.  Also new to the CFT staff are Assistant Director Vivian Finch, who heads up our graduate student offerings, and postdoctoral fellows Lauren Campbell and Noah Green, who support the open, online courses on STEM teaching we offer in conjunction with the CIRTL Network.  And see below for our 2015-16 Graduate Teaching Fellows!

Derek Bruff
Director, Center for Teaching

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Upcoming Blackboard Support OfferingsBb

September holds several opportunities to learn more about Blackboard. Drop-in hours will held weekly. Find the schedule on the Blackboard support site or the CFT website. We will also be conducting workshops about specific tools and features on Blackboard.

Language teachers will be happy to hear that in the first two weeks of September, Blackboard support at the CFT is partnering with the Center for Second Language Studies to offer two Blackboard tools workshops tailored to the language classroom. More information about those offerings is available on the CFT and the CSLS websites.

Finally, on September 21, we are excited to offer a special focus drop-in support session on the theme of cheating and plagiarism. From 1-1:30pm, CFT staff will lead a workshop on the topic, focusing in particular on Blackboard integrated tools and their uses. Following the workshop, participants are invited to stay for drop-in support hours and work with our Blackboard team. Details about this training and support opportunity can be found on our website.

No registration is required for these workshops, and all are welcome.

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September Teaching Visit Opportunity

The Teaching Visits program is an important way by which the CFT promotes collaborative inquiry and reflection, providing case-based opportunities for Vanderbilt teachers to consider choices they have when constructing their classes. A small group of visitors observes a host’s class on a selected day and then engages in an hour of conversation with the instructor about the strategies used in class.

Cynthia Paschal Cynthia Paschal
Associate Dean of the School of Engineering, Associate Professor of Biomedical Engineering, and Associate Professor of Radiology and Radiological Sciences

BME 3100: Systems Physiology

In BME 3100: Systems Physiology, a required class for biomedical engineering, students learn about the major body systems as engineering systems with feedback control and physical principles.  Cynthia will use interactive lecture, discussion, and demonstrations as part of her teaching.  In the post-class discussion we will have a chance to discuss a variety of pedagogies that she uses in these and other teaching, particularly interactive lectures, international study, and best practices for supporting student professional development.

Date: Thursday, September 17th
Time: 9:35-11:50am (Class, 9:35-10:50am, Discussion, 10:50-11:50am)
Location: Stevenson 5306
Facilitator: Cynthia Brame, CFT Assistant Director


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Junior Faculty Teaching Fellow Spotlights:
Karen Hande and Ravindra Duddu

Each month, the CFT Newsletter highlights the work of our Junior Faculty Teaching Fellows. This month, Karen Hande, Instructor in Nursing, and Ravindra Duddu, Assistant Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, talk about their teaching philosophy and interests.

Karen Hande

My interest in teaching began when I precepted nurse practitioner students in my practice.  It was particularly rewarding when students developed the professional skills and knowledge to be successful practitioners.  The positive engagements I shared in the clinical setting with students were the springboard for actively pursuing an educator role after earning my Doctor of Nursing Practice degree at Vanderbilt in 2013.  My teaching responsibilities now entail the coordination of three doctoral integrative application courses.   This series of courses provides the DNP student the opportunity to develop, propose, implement, and defend the scholarly project, a hallmark of Vanderbilt’s practice doctorate.   The student applies practice inquiry skills related to his or her topics and populations of interest to include the evaluation of health outcomes, the provision of leadership in translating new knowledge into practice within interprofessional teams, and the dissemination of evidence.

Engaging students in a distance learning program requires me to consider a variety of learning preferences and alternative modalities to enrich and encourage students to reach their scholarly  potential.  Organization with clear course expectations, ongoing communication, and an abundance of resources builds the framework for adult learners to play an active role in their education. My role as the facilitator of learning challenges me to provide guidance and support for a student-centered approach.  The newly implemented scholarly project timeline, modules for the development of a DNP portfolio and the scholarly project process, and rubrics to evaluate scholarly project papers and presentations have created structure for students to be responsible for their learning and development.  Exploration of scholarly writing skills to encourage student project publications is on the forefront of redesign.

Although my primary faculty role is to be an effective facilitator of learning, I also uphold the values of Vanderbilt School of Nursing to pursue my areas of research, service, and practice.  My research seeks to answer the question of how mindfulness-centered stress reduction can effect nursing students and ultimately patient outcomes.  Advocating for full-practice authority for Advanced Practiced Nurses in Tennessee continues to be my area of service to improve access to care for all Tennesseans.   My practice as an Adult Nurse Practitioner at the Vanderbilt Ingram Cancer Center in the Supportive Care Clinic allows me to provide quality and compassionate care to a population that is at the center of my heart. 

Ravindra Duddu

I teach Mechanics of Materials and Advanced Mechanics of Solids to sophomores and first year graduate students at the Vanderbilt University School of Engineering. As Leonardo da Vinci said “mechanics is the paradise of the mathematical sciences, because by means of it one comes to the fruits of mathematics.” However, I feel that mechanics is a “paradise lost” with traditional teaching methods and standard textbooks focused on information rather than skills, memorization rather than understanding and on derivation rather than application. In my experience, this often leads to poor engagement of students in class; consequently, student learning and knowledge retention is subpar. Considering that mechanics courses introduce a lot of equations and formulae, typical complaints from the students are “too many equations” and “not sure why I am required to take this course.” Thus, my challenge as an instructor is to design my course materials and lectures so that it enhances students’ learning and understanding, develops their reasoning and analysis skills, and exposes them to the real world applications. While this is a difficult challenge by itself, the requirement to teach several fundamental topics in the vast area of solid mechanics within a limited number of class hours makes this a formidable challenge.

To address this challenge, I have been experimenting with “active learning” techniques. In each lecture, I incorporate two-minute and five-minute active learning exercises in order to help the students think and learn. I usually begin the lecture with a two-minute concept question based on a physical observation either from a laboratory experiment or real-life event, and let the students discuss and debate it. Since problem-solving skills are crucial to engineers, I require the students to apply the newly learned concepts and solve a textbook problem in class by working in groups of two or three, which also develops their teamwork and collaboration skills. Just like music is better learned by performing and language is better learned by speaking, I think mechanics is better learned by problem solving.
My teaching philosophy is strongly inspired by the Latin proverb “By learning you will teach, by teaching you will learn." For synergy between learning and teaching, I believe it is important to maintain a free and open environment in class; wherein, the students are encouraged to ask and respond to one another’s questions. Such an environment induces the spirit of research that is all about asking the right questions first, so as to inspire the next generation of scientists and teachers.

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Be Part of the Teaching, Gender, and Sexuality Learning Community

tdpAll year, the CFT continues its attention to issues of teaching, difference, and power by organizing a learning community on Teaching, Gender, and Sexuality.  The hope for the group is to have a dynamic discussion of, both the many issues that arise when teaching a student body of varied gendered and sexual identities, and how gendered and sexual subjects may be taught effectively.  This learning community will involve informal discussions of pedagogical readings, teaching challenges, and practical strategies for improving our teaching and learning. 


The topics covered will include but are not limited to…

  • Creating inclusive, safe, but also brave spaces for learning
  • Engaging students of diverse gendered and sexual identities
  • Gender and sexuality in student evaluations
  • Managing authority in the classroom
  • Feminist pedagogy
  • Teaching gender and sexuality effectively

The learning community will be open to both faculty and graduate students and will meet five times throughout the academic year at the times below.  It will be helpful if participants can attend regularly to form a supportive intellectual community, and to work collaboratively to develop courses, lesson plans, or teaching portfolios. 

In the Fall, the group will meet September 25th (12:00-2:00pm), October 23rd (10:00am-12:00pm), and November 20th (12:00-2:00pm) at the Center for Teaching.

If you are interested in participating, please register for the discussions here.

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Join the CFT's Learning Community on Community Engagement Pedagogies

roadThe CFT is proud to continue its programming for faculty and graduate students interested in community engagement pedagogies (often called service learning), with a year-long discussion group or learning community.  As former Vanderbilt faculty Janet Eyler and Dwight E. Giles once stated, service learning is “a form of experiential education where learning occurs through a cycle of action and reflection as students…seek to achieve real objectives for the community.”  The goal of this learning community is to explore the history, opportunities, and challenges associated with community engagement pedagogy, and to help participants develop or hone their courses.  The discussions will include dialogue about critical pedagogical readings, teaching concerns, and practical strategies for improving our practices. 

Among the topics covered will be…

  • History, theory, and critiques of service learning
  • Developing ethical and effective partnerships
  • Supporting rigorous and efficient student projects
  • Assessing student learning and community impact
  • Managing one’s career while engaging with community

The group is open to faculty and graduate students and will meet five times during the academic year.  Ideally, participants will attend regularly to support one another and to develop different components of courses or teaching skills addressed across the meetings.

In the Fall, the group will meet September 25th (10:00am-12:00pm), October 30th (12:00-2:00pm), and December 4th (10:00am-12:00pm) at the Center for Teaching.

If you are interested in participating, please register for the discussions here.

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New Educational Technology Working Groups

At the Center for Teaching, we regularly consult with faculty and graduate student instructors on ways to use technology to meet their teaching and learning objectives.  Although technology use should always be driven by pedagogical priorities, sometimes instructors learn about particular technologies and want to explore ways those technologies might fit their teaching needs.  This fall, the CFT is launching three working groups to explore technologies we know have applications across the curriculum.

photoCollaborative Timelines – Interested in having students build online, collaborative timelines?  Tools like Tiki-Toki and TimelineJS can be used to create interactive, multimedia timelines that can be shared and analyzed by students.  This working group will explore tools for building timelines and assignments that leverage timelines.  We’ll look at options this fall, and pilot timeline-based assignments in fall or spring courses.

Description: C:\Users\bruffdo\Dropbox\FacDev Talks\0 - Technology and Teaching\PollEv - FRQ Practical Crypto (wide).jpgBring-Your-Own-Device (BYOD) Response Systems – In-class polling applications like Poll Everywhere or Top Hat use students’ mobile devices (phones, laptops, tablets) to help them engage with content and each other.  A number of such systems are in use around Vanderbilt today.  This working group will help determine if there is a single system that Vanderbilt can support campus-wide, perhaps as early as the spring semester.

photo2Course Blogs – Our third group will focus on the use of blogs in teaching, particularly course blogs in which students write for each other or for the open Web.  The group will consider the use of WordPress as a blogging platform, with the goal of making Vanderbilt’s WordPress platform,, a more robust option for instructors by the start of the spring semester.

If you’re interested in participating in any of these working groups, or if you have questions about the groups, please contact CFT Director Derek Bruff,

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CFT Welcomes New Graduate Teaching Fellows

This year's Graduate Teaching Fellows are, left to right,
Richard Coble (Religion), Ben Galina (Spanish & Portuguese), Brielle Harbin (Political Science), Jane Hirtle (Psychology and Human Development), and Danielle Picard (History).

The Center for Teaching is excited to announce the Graduate Teaching Fellows for 2015-16. GTFs provide a variety of services for Vanderbilt’s graduate, post docs and professional students, including one-on-one consultations on teaching issues and professional development, syllabus and course design, interpreting and responding to student evaluations, writing teaching statements, and engaging techniques such as discussion leading, lecturing, and using technology in the classroom.

In addition to fostering initiatives such as the Certificate in College Teaching program and the Mellon Certificate in Humanities Education, they also create and facilitate Teaching Assistant OrientationTeaching Workshops, and a reading group on gender and sexuality in the classroom.

To schedule an appointment with a GTF, please call 615-322-7290. 

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STEM Pedagogy Journal Club


Vanderbilt’s STEM Pedagogy Journal Club is a student-driven initiative for graduate students and postdocs interested in teaching science at the undergraduate level. We will discuss teaching theory, teaching techniques, and the latest in research on science education. No previous teaching experience needed, just an interest to learn!

Date: September 15
Time: 4pm
Location: 11455 MRBIV (11th floor conference room)

Tyler Perfitt
PhD Candidate, Colbran Lab
Molecular Physiology & Biophysics


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