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Teaching Best Practices

This page provides a compilation of research-based overviews for best practices in teaching at the higher education level. 


Culturally Responsive Pedagogy/Teaching

  • Culturally responsive teaching (CRT) is an instructional pedagogical strategy meant to provide equitable education outcomes for all students. Culturally responsive educators develop a cultural diversity knowledge base, design culturally relevant curricula, and demonstrate cultural caring (Larke, 2013).
  • Culturally responsive teaching is an effective teaching tool that can enhance teaching in areas of cultural competence and understanding, critical consciousness, and academic success (Larke, 2013).
  • When creating a culturally responsive curriculum consider incorporating current research from the Council for Exceptional Children and the Center for Research on Education, Diversity, and Excellence. One can utilize their diversity standards and evaluation methods while creating course objectives, syllabi, rubrics, matrices, etc. (Baumgartner et al., 2015; Yamauchi, Taira, & Trevorrow, 2016). Also include members of the community and experts from diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds as guest speakers (Baumgartner et al., 2015).
  • Include and validate the cultural knowledge that candidates bring to the course through personal histories (Baumgartner et al., 2015) and include examples, readings and models that reflect their unique experiences. At the same time, do not expect graduate students of color to serve as the racial expert in the classroom (Fitchett, Starker, Salyers, 2012; Linder et al., 2015). Further, faculty should take responsibility for facilitating discussions related to race and racism and intervene in instances of microaggressions (Linder et al., 2015).

Culturally Responsive Teaching for Teacher Educators

  • Teacher educators play an important role in shaping teachers who will potentially be better prepared to model culturally responsive teaching in their own practice.
  • Faculty can foster this development of future teachers by creating a supportive classroom climate, using student-centered teaching techniques, understanding students’ values and experiences, and using performance-based assessments to guide students’ professional growth (Baumgartner et al., 2015).
  • Preservice teachers exposed to culturally responsive teaching were more confident in their ability to teach using these same practices (Fitchett, Starker, & Salyers, 2012). Similarly, when faculty focus on teaching efficacy, attitudes toward inclusion, and socio-cultural diversity there is a positive association with their students’ attitudes toward inclusion and socio-cultural diversity (Gao & Mager, 2011).
  • Therefore, faculty should address critical issues such as color-blindness, cultural conflict, meritocracy, deficit conceptions, and expectations into their curricula and instructional practices (Milner, 2010).
  • Faculty can enhance the knowledge of preservice teachers working with English Learning students by encouraging contact and collaboration with diverse ethnolinguistic communities. Preservice teachers should build an understanding of EL communities and the dynamics of language in students’ lives and communities (Garcia et al., 2010). 

Inclusive Classrooms 

  • Faculty can set the tone for inclusive classrooms that respect and value the knowledge and experiences of all students. They can also utilize targeted interventions and course design that supports students of color.
  • Faculty can utilize critical race-gendered epistemologies like critical race theory and Latina/Latino critical theory which recognize students of color as holders and creators of knowledge (Bernal, 2002). In order to create a space in which all students can be successful, higher education pedagogy should recognize the “funds of knowledge” of culturally, linguistically, and economically diverse students (Daddow, 2016). At the same time, students of color should not be expected to do the heavy lifting in conversations around race and racism (Linder et al., 2015).
  • Sense of belonging plays a role in academic success and specific social belonging interventions for first year students have been shown to improve the academic and health outcomes of students of color (Walton & Cohen, 2011). Further, faculty should ensure that elite academic codes are made explicit (Daddow, 2016) to make academia a space for all learners.
  • Additionally, courses can be designed in a way that best supports and engages culturally and linguistically diverse students. For example, research shows that changing course structure to “moderate-structure” (defined as a having a preparatory/review assignment due once per week and students talking in class for 15-40% of the course time) increased performance for all students, and especially for Black and first-generation students (Eddy & Hogan, 2014).
  • Inclusive classroom environments are a general best practice to support and engage all students (Daddow, 2016).

Collaborative Learning

  • Group work, team quizzes, and peer teaching are all examples of classroom collaboration that play an important role in students’ learning experiences. There are certain things faculty should be aware of in order to ensure collaborative learning goes smoothly.
  • In regards to group-work at the higher education level, free-riding and communication issues are among the greatest concerns (Hall & Buzwell, 2012; Smith et al., 2011; Popov et al., 2012). It’s also important to consider how to move through socio-emotional challenges in group work. For example, students may be frustrated to be receiving the same grade as their non-contributing group member(s). Faculty should identify free-riding behavior early to reduce its impact (Hall & Buzwell, 2012).
  • Faculty should also be able to recognize and respond to the socio-emotional challenges in group work. Research shows that group work challenges need to be resolved on the emotional level, not just the cognitive level, in order for work to get accomplished (Naykki et al., 2014).
  • Students’ cultural background, specifically measured on the individualist-collectivist dimension, affects their perceptions/importance of group work challenges. For example, there may be different expectations with respect to learning in groups and the behavioral motives of others, which may lead to conflict (Popov et al., 2012).
  • When quizzes are both collaborative (discussing in pairs how to answer questions) and open-book, students perform better on their final exams and projects (Rezaei, 2015)
  • Professors report that peer teaching benefits students’ critical thinking, communication, and personal development, but not necessarily their academic development (Stigmar, 2016).

Active & Flipped Classrooms 

  • Students prefer active learning and it has been shown to increase engagement (Fook, 2012; Ní Raghallaigh & Cunniffee, 2013). However, a learning environment that is safe and welcoming, where students can take risks, give opinions, and reflect together is critical to the success of the active learning methodology. The teacher-student relationship also plays a role in the success of the methods used (Ní Raghallaigh & Cunniffee, 2013).
  • Flipped classrooms—an instructional model in which the most lecture material is filmed and viewed by students for prior to class and the class session is spent primarily on engaging activities—are related to academic gains, higher levels of self-efficacy beliefs, increased creativity, and improved faculty and student class satisfaction (Jensen, Kummer, Godoy, 2015; Kurt, 2017; Al-Zahrani, 2015; O’Flaherty & Phillips, 2015). More specifically, the active learning component of the flipped classroom that leads to higher learning gains and better attitudes, rather than the flipped classroom itself (Jensen, Kummer, & Godoy, 2015).
  • Graduate and credential students have been shown to benefit from the flipped classroom model. Preservice teachers displayed higher levels of reflection and inquiry and modelled a higher number of instructional strategies compared to their peers that received traditional instruction. Master’s students demonstrated more critical thinking and better peer collaboration than their peers receiving traditional instruction. (Vaughan, 2014; Moraros et al., 2015).
  • Flipped classroom design is important for its success. Some faculty run into issues with the flipped classroom when students are not preparing outside of the class and are not able to fully engage in classroom activities (Al-Zahrani, 2015). Flipped classroom design must include an opportunity for students to gain first exposure prior to class, enough time for students to carry out assignments, and an incentive for students to prepare (Kim, Kim, Khera, Getman, 2014). 

Blended Learning

  • Blended learning (BL), instruction in which a part of traditional face-to-face learning is replaced by online learning activities, has been shown to improve achievement outcomes. For example, researchers found that students who received BL instruction performed better than those in the typical classroom condition (Bernard et al., 2014; Means et al., 2013).
  • The type of blended learning also makes a difference. Studies have shown that students recall more information with interactive videos in comparison to conventional videos (Shelton, Warren, & Archambault, 2016). Interactive digital stories supported engagement, scaffolded learning, and increased learning gains, but did not increase accountability (Shelton, Warren, & Archambault, 2016).
  • Successful blended learning instruction is impacted by course design. Instructors should consider the program structure, complexity of instruction, level of planning and organization, time constraints, and possible variation in access to digital platforms (Ocak, 2011; Butz & Stupinsky, 2016). 

Online Teaching

  • There are several benefits of online learning that are tied to increased engagement, including facilitation of communication and collaboration, shared feelings of membership, and authenticity in assignments (Swaggerty & Broemmel, 2017). These benefits are contingent on factors such as course design, having multiple communication channels, and student comfort with online technologies (Song, Singleton, Hill, & Koh, 2004; Dixson, 2010).
  • Online teaching appeals to students because of its potential to provide a clear and coherent structure of the course content, support self-regulated learning, and effectively distribute information (Paechter & Maier, 2010).
  • Online teaching that utilizes video discussion posts, blogs, and wikis can promote a sense of community and foster collaborative work (Oberne, 2017; Grosseck, 2009).
  • Online learning can present challenges, specifically regarding technical issues, lack of community and interpersonal relations, and difficulty understanding objectives (Song, Singleton, Hill, & Koh, 2004).Students tend to be more satisfied with face-to-face learning for building a shared understanding or interpersonal relations (Paechter & Maier, 2010), even though it has been found that online group work actually leads to more collaboration (Rezaei, 2017). Several studies have found that face-to-face group work leads to higher student satisfaction, as well as a better final product, when compared to online group work (Rezaei, 2017; Smith et al., 2011).
  • The professor plays a critical role in fostering the online learning community, and can facilitate community development by creating discussion questions that are interactive, varied, interesting, and open-ended and by being present through text or video to keep the discussion on track (Pollak, 2017; Thomas, West, & Borup, 2017). Students prefer active faculty involvement in online group discussion (Rezaei, 2018).
  • The instructor’s role in the online learning community changes over the course of the class to facilitate community development, evolving from a guide in the first class, to a facilitator and collaborator, to an observer in the later stages of the class (Ouyang & Scharber, 2017). 

Using Technology in the Classroom

  • Mobile learning (learning with cellphones, smartphones, and mobile tablets) is advantageous in that they create opportunities for collaboration, allow for access to boundless information, and facilitate constant connectivity (Gikas & Grant, 2013; Rossing, Miller, Cevil, & Stamper, 2012). Conversely, these devices may create frustration as well as be distracting in the classroom learning environment (Gikas & Grant, 2013; Rossing Miller, Cevil, & Stamper, 2012).
  • In regards to teacher education specifically, mobile learning is primarily reported as beneficial to preservice teachers’ learning experiences and their mobile technology integration skills (Baran, 2014). The use of mobile technology instruction by teacher educators may shift perspectives of preservice teachers toward the integration of mobile devices into their classrooms (Baran, 2014).
  • Social media and online sharing through discussion boards does not alone develop a learning community. One study found that when usage of a community based discussion board (similar to Twitter) increased, a sense of community decreased (Morris & Parker, 2014). However, Google docs technology was found to be very beneficial, allowing for flexibility in sharing and learning (Slone & Mitchell, 2014). In regards to social media, students utilized it more than faculty and more readily identified with the positive aspects of using social media in their classes (Jacquemin, Smelser, & Bernot, 2014).   

Reference List

Al‐Zahrani, A. M. (2015). From passive to active: The impact of the flipped classroom through social learning platforms on higher education students' creative thinking. British Journal of Educational Technology, 46(6), 1133-1148.

Baran, E. (2014). A review of research on mobile learning in teacher education. Journal of Educational Technology & Society, 17(4), 17.

Baumgartner, D., Bay, M., Lopez-Reyna, N. A., Snowden, P. A., & Maiorano, M. J. (2015). Culturally responsive practice for teacher educators: Eight recommendations. Multiple Voices for Ethnically Diverse Exceptional Learners, 15(1), 44-58.

Bernal, D. D. (2002). Critical race theory, Latino critical theory, and critical raced-gendered epistemologies: Recognizing students of color as holders and creators of knowledge. Qualitative inquiry, 8(1), 105-126.

Bernard, R. M., Borokhovski, E., Schmid, R. F., Tamim, R. M., & Abrami, P. C. (2014). A meta-analysis of blended learning and technology use in higher education: from the general to the applied. Journal of Computing in Higher Education, 26(1), 87-122.

Butz, N. T., & Stupnisky, R. H. (2016). A mixed methods study of graduate students' self-determined motivation in synchronous hybrid learning environments. The Internet and Higher Education, 28, 85-95.

Daddow, A. (2016). Curricula and pedagogic potentials when educating diverse students in higher education: students’ Funds of Knowledge as a bridge to disciplinary learning. Teaching in Higher Education, 21(7), 741-758.

Dixson, M. D. (2012). Creating effective student engagement in online courses: What do students find engaging?. Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 10(2), 1-13.

Eddy, S. L., & Hogan, K. A. (2014). Getting under the hood: how and for whom does increasing course structure work?. CBE-Life Sciences Education, 13(3), 453-468.

Fitchett, P. G., Starker, T. V., & Salyers, B. (2012). Examining culturally responsive teaching self-efficacy in a preservice social studies education course. Urban Education, 47(3), 585-611.

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Gao, W., & Mager, G. (2011). Enhancing pre-service teachers’ sense of efficacy and attitudes toward school diversity through preparation: A case of one U. S. inclusive teacher education program. International Journal of Special Education, 26 (2), 1-16.

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Grosseck, G. (2009). To use or not to use web 2.0 in higher education?. Procedia-Social and Behavioral Sciences, 1(1), 478-482.

Hall, D., & Buzwell, S. (2013). The problem of free-riding in group projects: Looking beyond social loafing as reason for non-contribution. Active Learning in Higher Education, 14(1), 37-49.

Jacquemin, S. J., Smelser, L. K., & Bernot, M. J. (2014). Twitter in the higher education classroom: A student and faculty assessment of use and perception. Journal of College Science Teaching, 43(6), 22-27.

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Oberne, A. (2017). I Can Cee You! Using Videos in Online Courses to Promote Student Engagement. Journal of Teaching and Learning with Technology, 6(1), 85-90.

Ocak, M. A. (2011). Why are faculty members not teaching blended courses? Insights from faculty members. Computers & Education, 56(3), 689-699.

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Swaggerty, E. A., & Broemmel, A. D. (2017). Authenticity, relevance, and connectedness: Graduate students' learning preferences and experiences in an online reading education course. The Internet and Higher Education, 32, 80-86.

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