ITL Masthead

Vol. 1, No. 2

Your Source for Teaching & Learning News and Information

Winter 2008

p h b    Campus News

CSU Channel Islands Leads ITL's Discipline Research Projects

Ed Nuhfer and Virgil Adams , CSUCI
Ed Nuhfer and Virgil Adams
Planning Meeting at CSU Channel Islands

Building a direct link between research and practice, Dr. Ed Nuhfer, Faculty Center Director and Professor of Geoscience, and Dr. Virgil Adams III, Professor of Psychology, both of CSU Channel Islands, lead two ITL Discipline Research Projects.

Instilling Conceptual Thinking in Introductory Science Courses

Nuhfer explains the focus of this multi-campus project:

We address the critical need for students to learn to think conceptually through appropriate use of the framework of reasoning in science.  We believe that we can succeed in engaging students to realize both the power of frameworks of reasoning and the value of the processes of understanding as components of becoming educated.  Once students understand the great value of mastering a conceptual framework of reasoning, this awareness can begin to extend to other disciplines. The concept that one becomes educated by acquiring factual knowledge, producing “right answers” to convergent problems, and getting “tickets punched” in required courses can give way to the realization that all required areas—science, humanities, arts, social sciences, and professions—have their own unique and valuable frameworks for understanding.

The faculty leaders engaged in this project:

Ed Nuhfer, Lead Geology & Faculty Development Channel Islands
Beth Stoeckly Physics Channel Islands
Carl Kloock Biology Bakersfield
Carla Benejam Biology Monterey Bay
Christopher Cogan Earth & Environmental Sciences Channel Islands
Christopher Wheeler Geology Channel Islands
Gregory Wood Physics Channel Islands
Jerry Clifford Physics Channel Islands
Lisa Lindert Chemistry/Biochemistry San Luis Obispo
Myriam Weber Earth & Environmental Sciences Monterey Bay
Natalie Zayas Science Education/
Environmental Sciences
Monterey Bay

The Social Psychology of Intergroup Relations:  A Teaching & Research Collaborative
Adams describes the focus of this collaborative project:

We address the critical need of improving students’ awareness and understanding of how distinctions based on race, religion, culture, gender, lifestyle or other social categories can often generate stereotypes, prejudices, discrimination conflict, and sometimes violence.  An August 2007 press release noted that “one in every 10 of the nation’s 3,141 counties has a population that is more than 50 percent minority” (U.S. Census Bureau, 2007).  These demographic patterns illustrate how important it is to enable students to understand the socio-psychological dimensions of these phenomena, regardless of their majors or career goals, to equip them to be productive members of an increasingly diverse society.

The faculty leaders engaged in this project:

Virgil Adams, Lead Psychology Channel Islands
Thierry Devos Psychology San Diego
Steven Fleischer Psychology Channel Islands
Luis Rivera Psychology San Bernardino
Heather Smith Psychology Sonoma
Luis Vega Psychology Bakersfield
Ed Nuhfer, Lead Faculty Development Channel Islands

CSU Dominguez Hills: Conversation with Alexander Astin

Quick quiz:  What is the best predictor of student retention in college?

  1. professor enthusiasm

  2. student attendance requirements

  3. student involvement in learning

  4.  faculty research and grants

If you mentally marked “c,” you have correctly identified a key finding of Dr. Alexander Astin’s 40 years of studying student success in college.  Astin defines student involvement as the time, energy, and effort that a student invests in the educational experience.   Examples include:

  • Involving class assignments (e.g., project and community-based assignments, writing assignments, experiments, exhibits, and performances)
  • Classroom collaborative & cooperative learning
  • Learning communities (peers collaborate on course aims)
  • Student study (success centers) on campus
  • Part-time jobs on campus
  • Residential living on campus
  • Co-curricular activities

This past November, CSU Dominguez Hills faculty and administrators participated in two informal group discussions with Astin, hosted by Dr. Jim Cooper and Interim Provost Sam Wiley.  You can share in their experience via streaming video by going to their Center for Teaching and Learning Web site at and clicking on Speaker Series.


(Continued at the top of column 2)

Review past issues at

Dr. Cynthia Desrochers
Director, Institute for Teaching & Learning
CSU, Office of the Chancellor, 6th Floor
Tarita Varner
Web Content, Institute for Teaching & Learning
CSU, Office of the Chancellor, 6th Floor


p h b    Teaching & Learning Tips

ITL’s Role in Facilitating Graduation Rates

ITL Advisory Board February 2008
ITL Advisory Board
Meeting at the Chancellor's Office
February 2008

At the first ITL Advisory Board meeting in October 2007, the following question was discussed:

What are some ways that ITL can play a role in facilitating graduation rates

Using the Nominal Group Technique, a brainstorming and prioritizing activity, the following four (4) areas were identified:

  1. Share knowledge on how people learn.

  2. Promote innovations in teaching and learning.

  3. Focus on what happens in the classroom.

  4. Provide resources on active and cooperative learning.

In this and subsequent issues of ITL Connections, articles will appear on these topics, beginning with …

How People Learn – Three Key Concepts from Research

In How People Learn: Bridging Research and Practice, Donovan, et al. (1999), describe three key concepts regarding human learning, all having a solid research base and direct implications for teaching, which are summarized below:

  1. All learners develop preconceptions — sometimes accurate and sometimes inaccurate—about how things work, from planet Earth to fractional numbers. These initial understandings must be engaged in order for students to grasp new concepts.

    • Implication – Engage Student Preconceptions

      At the start of your course or unit, ask students to share their understanding of key concepts (e.g., Can atoms reproduce? What is a myth? Does the weather contribute to earthquakes? What is the difference between assault and battery? What do you know about Latin America and its people?). If you detect student misconceptions, design engaging activities (e.g., a hands-on experiment, concrete observation with explanation of events, or convincing data set where their explanations don’t hold up) that reveal these inaccuracies to students prior to teaching the accurate replacement concepts.

  2. For students to be competent problem solvers in an area of inquiry, they must have understanding of the relevant knowledge base—not just recall of what something is, but an understanding of why it is. A deep understanding of subject matter transforms factual information into a conceptual framework that allows the easy retrieval of relevant knowledge, the recognition of relationships and patterns, and the subsequent solving of new problems.

    • Implication –Teach for Depth of Understanding

      If possible, replace a superficial coverage of course topics with an in-depth focus on a limited number of significant topics. Craft many examples to share with students where the same concept is at work, examples which you feel will have maximum meaning for students. Use assessment tools intended to measure understanding versus rote memorization (e.g.,ConcepTests, essays, exhibits, and performances).

  3. As experts in our fields, CSU faculty use metacognitive approaches to learn new things. That is, we define our learning goals and monitor our own progress in achieving them. Because expertise is discipline-specific and does not translate directly to expertise in another discipline, these internal conversations need to be taught in the context of each discipline. This can be accomplished by explaining and modeling to our students what we do to learn, thereby leading to their self-regulated and independent learning.

    • Implication – Make Thinking Visible

      Model your expert thinking for students, making explicit the strategies and techniques that you most often use implicitly. Have students engage in activities that make visible the processes of their thinking, as they predict like an historian (or physicist, mathematician, economist), explain concepts to themselves or peers, note their own failures to comprehend, activate background knowledge, plan ahead, and regulate their own learning.

For Your Departmental Pedagogy Session

Consider a departmental meeting where colleagues collaboratively:

  • Identify a concept that students have difficulty understanding.
  • Brainstorm examples that relate this concept to students’ past experiences.
  • Craft a diagram to illustrate the concept visually.
  • Create a story or metaphor to build a meaningful context for this abstract concept.
  • Design an experiment, as appropriate, to “prove” this concept.


For additional explanation of these key findings, please see Links at the end of ITL Connections and download a free copy of How People Learn:  Bridging Research and Practice.

p h b    Events

March 7-8, 2008

3rd Annual Conference on Community-Based Teaching & Research
LAX Westin Hotel

March 20, 2008
12th Annual Western Region Assessment Conference
Titan Student Union at CSU, Fullerton

March 21-22, 2008
20th Annual Lilly-West Conference
Kellogg West Ranch at Cal Poly, Pomona

April 12, 2008
11th Annual Regional Teaching & Learning Symposium
Cal Poly, Pomona

p h b    Links

How People Learn: Bridging Research and Practice

This seminal book explains key findings of research on learning - free download

Podcast: A Conversation with Alexander Astin at CSU Dominguez Hills, November 2007

CSU Institute for Teaching & Learning

ITL Advisory Board Contact Information

CSU Faculty Development Council

Community Service-Learning Impact
The California State University is committed to ensuring that all CSU students have the chance to participate in service prior to graduation.

ITL Logo Image