September CTE Newsletter

The Ten Worst Teaching Mistakes

by Richard M. Felder, North Carolina State University and Rebecca Brent, Education Designs, Inc.
You may download a PDF version of the full article.

Like most faculty members, we began our academic careers with zero prior instruction on college teaching and quickly made almost every possible blunder. We’ve also been peer reviewers and mentors to colleagues, and that experience on top of our own early stumbling has given us a good sense of the most common mistakes college teachers make. In this column and one to follow we present our top ten list, in roughly increasing order of badness. Doing some of the things on the list may occasionally be justified, so we’re not telling you to avoid all of them at all costs. We are suggesting that you avoid making a habit of any of them. Further details and suggestions for improvements can be found in the full article here.

Mistake #10. When you ask a question in class, immediately call for volunteers.

You know what happens when you do that. Most of the students avoid eye contact, and either you get a response from one of the two or three who always volunteer or you answer your own question. Few students even bother to think about the question, since they know that eventually someone else will provide the answer. Further details and suggestions for improvements can be found in the full article here.

Mistake #9. Call on students cold.

You stop in mid-lecture and point your finger abruptly: “Joe, what’s the next step?” Some students are comfortable under that kind of pressure, but many could have trouble thinking of their own name. If you frequently call on students without giving them time to think (“cold-calling”), the ones who are intimidated by it won’t be following your lecture as much as praying that you don’t land on them. Even worse, as soon as you call on someone, the others breathe a sigh of relief and stop thinking. Further details and suggestions for improvements can be found in the full article here.

Mistake #8. Turn classes into PowerPoint shows.

It has become common for instructors to put their lecture notes into PowerPoint and to spend their class time mainly droning through the slides. Classes like that are generally a waste of time for everyone.3 If the students don’t have paper copies of the slides, there’s no way they can keep up. If they have the copies, they can read the slides faster than the instructor can lecture through them, the classes are exercises in boredom, the students have little incentive to show up, and many don’t. Turning classes into extended slide shows is a specific example of:

Mistake #7. Fail to provide variety in instruction.

Nonstop lecturing produces very little learning, but if good instructors never lectured they could not motivate students by occasionally sharing their experience and wisdom. Pure PowerPoint shows are ineffective, but so are lectures with no visual content-schematics, diagrams, animations, photos, video clips, etc.-for which PowerPoint is ideal. Individual student assignments alone would not teach students the critical skills of teamwork, leadership, and conflict management they will need to succeed as professionals, but team assignments alone would not promote the equally important trait of independent learning. The more variety you build in, the more effective the class is likely to be. Further details and suggestions for improvements can be found in the full article here.

Mistake #6. Have students work in groups with no individual accountability.

All students and instructors who have ever been involved with group work know the potential downside. One or two students do the work, the others coast along understanding little of what their more responsible teammates did, everyone gets the same grade, resentments and conflicts build, and the students learn nothing about high-performance teamwork and how to achieve it. The way to make group work work is cooperative learning, an exhaustively researched instructional method that effectively promotes development of both cognitive and interpersonal skills. Further details and suggestions for improvements can be found in the full article here.

Mistake #5. Fail to establish relevance.

Students learn best when they clearly perceive the relevance of course content to their interests and career goals. The “trust me” approach to education (“You may have no idea now why you need to know this stuff but trust me, in a few years you’ll see how important it is!”) doesn’t inspire students with a burning desire to learn, and those who do learn tend to be motivated only by grades. Further details and suggestions for improvements can be found in the full article here.

Mistake #4. Give tests that are too long.

Engineering professors routinely give exams that are too long for most of their students. The exams may include problems that involve a lot of time-consuming mathematical analysis and/or calculations, or problems with unfamiliar twists that may take a long time to figure out, or just too many problems. The few students who work fast enough to finish may make careless mistakes but can still do well thanks to partial credit, while those who never get to some problems or who can’t quickly figure out the tricks get failing grades. After several such experiences, many students switch to other curricula, one factor among several that cause engineering enrollments to decrease by 40% or more in the first two years of the curriculum. Further details and suggestions for improvements can be found in the full article here.

Mistake #3: Get stuck in a rut

Some instructors teach a course two or three times, feel satisfied with their lecture notes and PowerPoint slides and assignments, and don’t change a thing for the rest of their careers except maybe to update a couple of references. Such courses often become mechanical for the instructors, boring for the students, and after a while, hopelessly antiquated. Things are always happening that provide incentives and opportunities for improving courses. Further details and suggestions for improvements can be found in the full article here.

Mistake #2. Teach without clear learning objectives

The traditional approach to teaching is to design lectures and assignments that cover topics listed in the syllabus, give exams on those topics, and move on. The first time most instructors think seriously about what they want students to do with the course material is when they write the exams, by which time it may be too late to provide sufficient practice in the skills required to solve the exam problems. It is pointless-and arguably unethical-to test students on skills you haven’t really taught. Further details and suggestions for improvements can be found in the full article here.

Mistake #1. Disrespect students.

How much students learn in a course depends to a great extent on the instructor’s attitude. Two different instructors could teach the same material to the same group of students using the same methods, give identical exams, and get dramatically different results. Under one teacher, the students might get good grades and give high ratings to the course and instructor; under the other teacher, the grades could be low, the ratings could be abysmal, and if the course is a gateway to the curriculum, many of the students might not be there next semester. The difference between the students’ performance in the two classes could easily stem from the instructors’ attitudes. If Instructor A conveys respect for the students and a sense that he/she cares about their learning and Instructor B appears indifferent and/or disrespectful, the differences in exam grades and ratings should come as no surprise. Even if you genuinely respect and care about your students, you can unintentionally give them the opposite sense. Further details and suggestions for improvements can be found in the full article here.

New Programs added to the CTE Calendar

The CTE is expanding programming all the time.  We try our best to offer workshops that are vital to teaching excellence and will allow faculty to present the best in the classroom and advising.  The following programming has been added to the CTE calendar.  Please be on the look-out for reminders in the weekly emails and monthly newsletters:

  • Asynchronous Part-time Faculty Aadvisor Training in D2L – This workshop will allow part-time faculty the opportunity to best …..?  This is a workshop required for all part-time faculty (unless they successfully completed it in 2010) and provide an overview of advising at SPSU including the role of part-time faculty, resource referrals, etc  We also need to include how many modules and approximate time to complete, etc.
  • GoTo Meeting training through IDU will begin in October
  • PLA: A Guide for Faculty is a fully online asynchronous 8-week workshop is provided to the USG through SPSU and all SPSU faculty are encouraged to participate. Include a link to the flier, the dates listed here,

A Note about Mandatory Advising Sessions

If your department is requested a specialized advising session, your attendance in that session will count toward completing the 2013-2014 Mandatory Advising Update.

Mid-term Student Surveys

Faculty can select to have a mid-term survey distributed in their classes and receive a summary of the results so they can choose to implement changes to their courses prior to the end of the semester.  Mid-term surveys will be administered during the first two weeks of October.  Please contact Sonia Toson if you would like to have this survey administered in one or more of your classes.

Upcoming CTE Events



9/4/2013-9/17/2013 – Mandatory Advising Updates

9/13/2013 – Teaching Partners applications are due

Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL)

RLC Panel Discussion

September 4, 11:00am – 1:00pm in CTE

RLC Meeting

September 4, 12noon-12:50 in CTE

September 18, 12noon-12:50 in CTE

Book Club

September 9, 12noon-12:50 in CTE

September 23, 12noon-12:50 in CTE

Workshops.  To register for any workshop, please click here

“Social Media in Your Department: Getting Started, Moving Forward”

September 16, 12noon-1:00pm in CTE


DegreeWorks for Advisors

September 4, 10:00am-12noon, 2:00pm-4:00pm, 4:00pm-6:00pm in CTE

September 6, 10:00am-12noon in CTE

September 10, 10:00am-12noon, 4:00pm-6:00pm in CTE

September 13, 12noon-1:00pm in CTE

September 16, 2:00pm-4:00pm

September 17, 11:00am-1:00pm in CTE

Introduction to Master Advisors Program

September 11, 4:00pm-5:00pm in CTE

September 12, 12noon-1:00pm in CTE

Tools Training

What’s New in D2L

September 18 2pm-4pm in CTE

September 26, 10:00am-12noon in CTE

Content Tool

September 19, 10:00am -11:00am in CTE

Dropbox Tool

September 24, 1:00pm -2:00pm in CTE

Discussion Tool

September 25, 2:00pm-3:00pm in CTE

UITS Product Demonstration

A/V Controls Product Demo

September 20, 10:00am – 11:00am in CTE

Please check the CTE website and your CTE office calendar for other September workshops.

Book Club

How Learning Works

How Learning Works, by Susan Ambrose.

Publisher’s Description: Distilling the research literature and translating the scientific approach into language relevant to a college or university teacher, this book introduces seven general principles of how students learn. The authors have drawn on research from a breadth of perspectives (cognitive, developmental, and social psychology; educational research; anthropology; demographics; organizational behavior) to identify a set of key principles underlying learning, from how effective organization enhances retrieval and use of information to what impacts motivation. Integrating theory with real-classroom examples in practice, this book helps faculty to apply cognitive science advances to improve their own teaching.

This month, the Book Club will meet 9/9 and 9/23 at 12noon in the CTE. 

Did know?

The purpose of the CTE is more than just training in advising and learning management systems?  CTE offers programming in improving your teaching in the classroom through the Teaching Partners Program, Mid-term Student Surveys and Improving Teaching Consultations.  Visit the CTE website for more information!

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1 Comment

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One response to “September CTE Newsletter

  1. Sonia Toson

    I enjoyed this month’s newsletter! The format is great!!

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