Vol. 2, No. 2

Your Source for Teaching & Learning News and Information

Winter 2009

Campus News

Humboldt: Excellence through Undergraduate Research

Dr. Guy-Alain Amoussou
Dr. Guy-Alain Amoussou
Professor of Computer Science
Director of International Programs
Humboldt State University (HSU)

My passion for undergraduate research is fueled by the reward of witnessing how it academically transforms our students. In fall 2008, Joshua, a former HSU student, began his Ph.D. study at the Ohio State University in the Laboratory of Artificial Intelligence Research. And Jennifer, currently a senior in computer science, who three years ago claimed to “hate research,” is now applying to graduate school.

My research is interdisciplinary with a focus on design activities related to software systems. In past years, I have involved my students in two types of undergraduate research. The first type is in senior capstone courses. The second is in the National Science Foundation (NSF) and U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) summer Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) site. Each summer, the REU recruits 8-10 students countrywide, freshmen through juniors. It is interdisciplinary, involving students and faculty from computer science, mathematics, art/graphic design, and natural resources/Geographic Information Systems.

Sharing Ingredients of Our “Recipe” for Undergraduate Research

Basic questions:

How do I involve students in a process that is engaging, challenging, and rewarding with clearly defined expectations?

How do I provide an environment that allows students to become creative problem solvers as well as learn how to write and present their work professionally?

The steps with which we have experimented:

1. Create a research environment

  • Assess student skills; organize into project groups; and determine project roles.

  • Facilitate a discussion forum on a given topic related to all projects of a capstone class or a summer REU, where students share on quotes and readings. For example, I often assign topics around design activities in other disciplines. This creates a community of peers from which one can draw.

  • Involve the entire group of students, regardless of their assigned project, in activities that encourage creativity, definition of design, or reflections on computational thinking.

  • Under the supervision of a faculty mentor, students are provided with guidelines to peer review each other’s draft research paper or poster.

2. Define the research

  • Define a research project with clear goals, real world application, and clients who might use/need.

  • Assign a project that builds from accomplishments of the previous semester/summer.

  • Define clear milestones with dates and outcomes.

  • Explain final research experience products as a poster and paper to be presented at conferences, on or off campus.

3. Provide adequate resources

  • Arrange a library orientation on resources available; conduct pilot searches of papers.

  • Guide students through:

    • Selecting excellent papers.
    • Reading articles, evaluating the title, key words, abstract, introduction, and conclusion.
    • Writing paper summaries, including the title, key words, bulleted summaries grouped by topics, a ranking of the paper as it pertains to the research, and the paper reference.

  • Provide a series of “how to” tutorials related to writing a literature review and scientific paper, designing a poster, presenting at a conference, etc. Whenever possible, and under my guidance, students who have had a successful experience in these activities will present to their peers.

Some Key Benefits of Undergraduate Research to Students

  • Boosting of student confidence.

  • Improved work ethic and organization skills.

  • Enhanced team-building skills.

  • Appreciation of the research process.

  • Appreciation of computing, its uses and connections to other disciplines.

  • Motivation to go on to graduate school.

Faculty Lessons Learned

  • It doesn’t hurt to set high expectations and nudge students from their comfort zone.

  • Students rise to our expectations, and the results reward all.

In my best teacher dreams, Joshua and Jennifer are returning to teach at HSU, and the excellence through undergraduate research continues.

I would like to acknowledge the contributions of my HSU colleagues, Professors Steinberg, Owens, and Knight, who have been invaluable in helping to make the summer REU programs successful.


Attend an NSF regional grant conference to seek support for undergraduate research.

REU sites are funded around the country in various disciplines.

Please see the Humboldt REU site.

87 Attend ITL’s Student Success Workshop

Team Sonoma
Team Sonoma
Chancellor’s Office
November 7, 2008

Faculty developers, associates, and administrators from throughout the CSU attended a variety of “train-the-trainer” workshops, where topics had been carefully selected by campus faculty development directors. The follow-up feedback indicates that over 95% (60% response rate) judged the event to be a success!

Workshops & Facilitators

  1. Universal Design for Learning
        Emiliano Ayala & Brett Christie

  2. LMS Best Practices for Enhancing Active & Interactive Learning
        Kathy Fernandez & Laura Sederberg

  3. Moving from a Face-to-Face to an Online Learning Environment
        Jim Julius & Kevin Kelly

  4. Student Writing and Assignment Design
        Carol Holder

  5. Meaningful Assessment with Rubrics
        Mary Allen

  6. Creating Accessible Instructional Materials
        Peter Mosinskis

  7. Transforming Course Design to Improve Student Learning
        Jeff Gold & Kate Stevenson

  8. Teaching and Technology Horizons: Web 2.0 (wikis, blogs, etc.)
        Brett Christie

  9. Student Engagement in Learning
        Ed Nuhfer

  10. Promoting Classroom Civility
        Cynthia Desrochers

Review past issues at

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

Teaching & Learning Tips

Knowledge Surveys: Being Clear, Organized, and Able to Prove It

Dr. Ed Nuhfer
Director of Faculty Development
CSU Channel Islands

Research (Feldman, 2007) shows that organization and clarity are the most important instructional factors in promoting student learning. Yet, students frequently rate instruction lower in these traits. Knowledge surveys offer a way to boost organization and clarity, and they provide other benefits, only a sample of which can be described here.

Knowledge surveys consist of numerous (usually about 100 to 300) ordered challenges, such as test questions, skills, or project tasks. Students interact with the survey at the beginning, during, and end of the course. Think of every test, quiz, and assignment that you gave in the last course you taught. Suppose you placed all of these challenges into one word-processor file, sorted the items in the order students would encounter them in the course, and then passed that "monster exam" on to students at the first class meeting the next time you taught this course.

However, instead of asking the students to answer the test items, you asked each student to self-assess her/his ability on a 3-point scale (3 = high confidence, 1 = no confidence) to meet each challenge with present knowledge. For a 200-item survey, this takes about 30 minutes to complete online. The result is a crude pre-course survey of your students’ general knowledge. Although we now use more sophisticated design logic, the crude design described here will still bring many benefits.

Knowledge surveys offer detailed disclosure of content addressed, when the content is taught, and a detailed revelation of students' responses (Figure 1). During the course, the survey provides a learning guide for students and an instructional alignment tool for faculty. It ensures a course plan that meets desired learning outcomes.

Dr. Guy-Alain Amoussou

Figure 1. Plot of self-assessment ratings of 115 knowledge survey items by 79 students in three sections of a sophomore psychology course.

The instructor can use survey results as one estimate of student mastery of course content; they also are a means of tracking the effectiveness of different classroom methods. Knowledge surveys provide consistent results and yield reliability coefficients greater than 0.9. Professors can help students to develop self-assessment skills during the course by having students again complete a bank of knowledge survey items that pertain to an upcoming test, and after the test having students do self-reflection on any disparity between their self-assessments and their actual test performances and why these differed.

The Science Education Resource Center (SERC, 2008) includes knowledge surveys as an assessment measure, based upon positive experiences with it by some of the nation's best geoscience educators (see knowledge surveys). All courses in the geoscience curricula of University of North Dakota and Macalester College now have knowledge surveys, and these departments use them for curricular planning and assessment of learning.

Institutional use of knowledge surveys in all disciplines recently helped Honolulu Community College move to "exemplary" status in assessment of student learning, when reviewed for accreditation by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Accrediting Commission for Senior Colleges and Universities.

For more information about knowledge surveys, see Links section at the end of this e-magazine and/or contact Ed Nuhfer.


Feldman, K. A. (2007). Identifying exemplary teachers and teaching: evidence from student ratings. In R. Perry and J. Smart, (Eds.), The scholarship of teaching and learning in higher education: An evidence-based approach. (93-129). New York: Springer.

ITL’s Discipline Research Project, Round #2

Team Leaders’ Planning Meeting
Team Leaders’ Planning Meeting
Chancellor’s Office
December 12, 2008

ITL Announces Grant Recipients

Critical Issues in Chinese Language Learning

  • Kylie Hsu, Team Leader (Los Angeles)
  • Tianwei Xie (Long Beach)
  • Jeff Winters (Long Beach)
  • Jinghui “Jack” Liu (Fullerton)
  • Shijuan Liu (Los Angeles)
  • Qingyun Wu (Los Angeles)
  • Maria Costa, Faculty Development Lead (Los Angeles)

Critical Issues in Information Literacy
  • Monica Fusich, Team Leader (Fresno)
  • Caroline Bordinaro (Dominguez Hills)
  • Stephanie Brasley (Chancellor’s Office)
  • MaryAnn Hight (Stanislaus)
  • Christy Stevens (Pomona)
  • Tiffani Travis (Long Beach)
  • Peggy Perry, Faculty Development Lead (Pomona)
Critical Issues in Learning about Social Justice
  • Roberta Herter, Team Co-Leader (San Luis Obispo)
  • Jennifer Becker (San Luis Obispo)
  • Christina Chavez (Pomona)
  • Nancy Erbe (Dominguez Hills)
  • Jocelyn Clare R. Hermoso (San Francisco)
  • Edythe Krampe (Fullerton)
  • Candy Madrigal (San Francisco)
  • Shonda O’Neal (Dominguez Hills)
  • Jeff Sapp (Dominguez Hills)
  • Joe Grimes, Co- & Faculty Development Lead (SLO)


February 20, 2009 (Friday)—12:30 to 2:00 p.m.
ITL Spring Webinar Series
Topic: Promoting Student Civility
Facilitator: Cynthia Desrochers
Campuses: East Bay, San Francisco, and Sonoma
Register at your campus Faculty Development Center

March 2, 2009—Proposals Due
12th CSU Teaching & Learning Symposium
Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo

March 11, 2009 (Wednesday)—12:00 to 2:00 p.m.
ITL Spring Webinar Series Topic: Universal Design for Learning
Facilitators: Emiliano Ayala & Brett Christie
To register, please contact Brett Christie

March 27-28, 2009
Discipline Research Project, Round #2
All Grant Recipients’ Workshop

April 24, 2009 (Friday)—12:30-2:00 p.m.

ITL Spring Webinar Series
Topic: Student Engagement in Learning
Facilitator: Ed Nuhfer
FDC, please contact Cynthia Desrochers if you would like to personally host this webinar at your campus.

May 1, 2009
Faculty Development Council Meeting
Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo

May 2, 2009
12th CSU University Teaching & Learning Symposium
Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo


Knowledge Surveys
Dr. Steven Fleisher, CSU Channel Islands, recently employed knowledge surveys in his psychology courses.  Interviews* with Dr. Fleisher and his students reveal:


* Use QuickTime Player and Firefox or Safari browser.

Download sample knowledge surveys (.doc format) from the author's freshman geology course (.doc) and from Dr. Fleisher's psychology course (.doc).