2024 Rutgers Active Learning Symposium


Event Location

Richard Weeks Hall of Engineering (Busch Campus)
RALS logo

The Rutgers Active Learning Symposium (RALS) was a day of discussions, presentations, panels, and workshops relating to various topics in active learning. The seventh edition of the annual Symposium was an opportunity for faculty and staff at Rutgers and beyond to come together to share and learn pedagogic practices in this exciting area. The 2024 RALS occurred on Tuesday May 14th in Richard Weeks Hall of Engineering on Rutgers-NB's Busch Campus in Piscataway, NJ.

ufm-content.jpg This year's keynote speaker was Cate Denial. Cate Denial is the Bright Distinguished Professor of American History and Director of the Bright Institute at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois. A Distinguished Lecturer for the Organization of American Historians, Cate is the winner of the American Historical Association’s 2018 Eugene Asher Distinguished Teaching award, and a former member of the Digital Public Library of America‘s Educational Advisory Board.  Cate currently sits on the board of Commonplace: A Journal of Early American Life. Cate’s new book A Pedagogy of Kindness, will be published by the University of Oklahoma Press in July 2024 (pre-orders are open at the OUP website).

We were also thrilled to be able to highlight explorations in active learning from colleagues at Rutgers and beyond. Visit the sections below to learn more about the day's schedule and other event information.


Keynote Presentation - Engaging with a Pedagogy of Kindness

keynote-presentation.jpg What does it mean to practice kindness in the classroom? This presentation explored three tenets of compassionate teaching: justice, believing students, and believing in students. We reflected together on what kindness (and its lack) has meant to us within academia, and how we can - piece by piece - assemble a kind approach to pedagogy that engages our students and ourselves in a time of great change.

Session Resources

Cate Denial is the Bright Distinguished Professor of American History and Director of the Bright Institute at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois. A Distinguished Lecturer for the Organization of American Historians, Cate is the winner of the American Historical Association’s 2018 Eugene Asher Distinguished Teaching award, and a former member of the Digital Public Library of America‘s Educational Advisory Board.  Cate currently sits on the board of Commonplace: A Journal of Early American Life. Cate’s new book A Pedagogy of Kindness, will be published by the University of Oklahoma Press in July 2024 (pre-orders are open at the OUP website).

Keynote Workshop - Writing Kind Syllabi

workshop.jpgWhat impressions of ourselves do we communicate to our students through our syllabi? In this hands-on workshop, attendees had the opportunity to analyze different syllabi that take different approaches to communication and design, and spend some time working on their own syllabus language in light of what they discovered.

Cate Denial is the Bright Distinguished Professor of American History and Director of the Bright Institute at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois. A Distinguished Lecturer for the Organization of American Historians, Cate is the winner of the American Historical Association’s 2018 Eugene Asher Distinguished Teaching award, and a former member of the Digital Public Library of America‘s Educational Advisory Board. Cate currently sits on the board of Commonplace: A Journal of Early American Life. Cate’s new book A Pedagogy of Kindness, will be published by the University of Oklahoma Press in July 2024 (pre-orders are open at the OUP website).

Session Resources

Active Learning, If You Dare: An Unofficial Guide for Beginners

Catherine Clepper (Moderator), Bari Hanafi (Panelist), Abigail Porter (Panelist), Lyra Stein (Panelist), Jenny Yang (Panelist)

panelSo you’ve attended the Active Learning 101 workshop, you’ve worked with an instructional designer to redesign your course for active learning, and you’ve scheduled multiple sessions with the IT staff to familiarize yourself with the classroom technology that promises endless student engagement possibilities. You’re confident and excited. Then class starts—and things don’t go quite as expected. In this interactive panel, faculty new to active learning— with less than three years of experience working formally with active learning—shared their teaching experience. They began by sharing their motivation for embarking on active learning. Staying on a positive note, they discussed aspects of course redesign that worked well, and successful in-class activities to encourage student engagement. Examples included collaborative quizzes, small group discussions in large lecture courses, fostering critical thinking with in-class response systems, and the jigsaw strategy for cooperative learning. They then moved on to challenges they have encountered, especially those related to curricular and assessment redesign, classroom technology, DEI considerations, class preparation, and rethinking the role of the instructor in an active learning space. Finally, the panel shared strategies and resources for overcoming these obstacles. By reflecting on their victories and setbacks to illuminate the capabilities and limitations of active learning, they hoped this session made attendees journey to adopting active learning methods smoother and more joyous.

Catherine Clepper is an Assistant Professor of Practice at the P3 Collaboratory at Rutgers University-Newark. She works extensively with faculty, staff, and graduate students on the Newark campus to foster pedagogical best practices (including active learning strategies) in higher education. 

Bari Hanafi is an Assistant Teaching Professor in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences (EPS) at Rutgers University. Dr. Hanafi is a recipient of the 2022 Rutgers Provost Teaching Fellowship and the 2024 Excellence in Online Teaching Award. He works collaboratively with other faculty to develop geoscience courses that promote student engagement and experiential learning. He is also actively exploring new ways to integrate technology into his courses to make geology courses more accessible and inclusive. Dr. Hanafi began implementing various active learning methods in his classes in Fall 2022. 

Abigail Porter is an Assistant Teaching Professor in the Department of Environmental Sciences at Rutgers University. She received her Ph.D. in Microbiology from Cornell University and teaches courses that include Environmental Microbiology Lab and Environmental & Pollution Microbiology. Dr. Porter participated in the Teaching Excellence Network Course Transformation Summer Institute in 2021. Since then, she has worked to include more primary research literature into her courses, facilitated through small group discussions and cooperative learning. 

Lyra Stein is an Assistant Teaching Professor in the Department of Psychology at Rutgers University. Dr. Stein was also a 2022 Rutgers Provost Teaching Fellow and participated in the Teaching Excellence Networks Course Transformation Summer Institute. Over the past four semesters, Dr. Stein has worked to engage students in active learning discussion groups in classes of 250-400 students. 

Jenny Yang is an Associate Teaching Professor and the Language Programs Coordinator in the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures (ALC) at Rutgers. She also serves as the Pedagogy Coordinator in the Language Engagement Project (LEP). Dr. Yang received her Ph.D. in linguistics from Yale, and teaches Chinese language and culture. She currently devotes her energy to innovative approaches in the language classroom to promote inclusivity and student success, as well as creative efforts to promote world language education. Dr. Yang was a 2022 Rutgers Provost Teaching Fellow. She started teaching in an active learning classroom in Fall 2023. 

Applied Improv as Active Learning Pedagogy

Tracy F. H. Chang, Carrie Lobman 

workshop.jpgThis experiential workshop introduced faculty to Applied Improv as an active learning pedagogy that has the potential to improve student outcomes and create a more supportive classroom environment. Applied Improv is “the use of principles, tools, practices, skills, and mindsets of improvisational theater in a non-theatrical setting” (Waisanen, 2020). It is “a highly refined system of observing, connecting, and responding.” Research has found that students of faculty who took an Improv course perceived a higher level of engagement and passed their courses at a higher rate. Student feedback on the use of improv shows that it improves their communication, teamwork, creativity, and adaptability. Faculty also reported that Improv-based faculty development enhanced their ability to teach and engage students. This workshop was highly experiential and participatory. Participants were introduced to the core principles of improv - ”yes, and...” and class as an "ensemble." They modeled several improv activities that can be adapted across subject matter to make learning more rigorous, inclusive, fun and engaging. Attendees participated in these activities, drew lessons learned from their own experiences, and discussed opportunities and challenges of applying these tools in teaching. At the end of the workshop, participants were able to explain applied Improv and how it is used in teaching, as well as apply basic exercises in their teaching.

Tracy F. H. Chang, MBA, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor in the School of Management and Labor Relations at Rutgers. She is a certified classical Hatha Yoga and Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction teacher. Her research evaluates the effect of contemplative practices on well-being, positive organizational behavior, leadership, and education. “Play” is a form of yoga. She explores “play” as a pedagogy in leadership and management education and incorporates Applied Improvisation (AI) exercises in undergraduate classes as an experiential and active learning tool. In 2021, she gave a talk on “Faceoff: AI to AI in Higher Education” at the Applied Improvisation Network International Conference. 

Carrie Lobman, Ed.D., is an associate professor at Rutgers University Graduate School of Education and the co-founder of the "Yes, and" Higher Education Network. Her research examines the relationship between play, performance, learning and development for people of all ages and the importance of outside of school programs for providing young people with developmental experiences. Her publications include Unscripted Learning: Using Improvisation across the K-8 Curriculum and Development and Democracy: The Role of Outside of School Experiences in Preparing Young People to be Active Citizens. 

Applying the Fishbowl Technique to Weather Discussions

Steve Decker 

workshopStudents' critical thinking skills can be honed through experience in scientific argumentation. For Meteorology students in particular, the weather discussion is a venue in which scientific argumentation is carried out. However, simply asking students to discuss the weather in a class is not sufficient to instill a culture and understanding of scientific argumentation. Luckily, structures exist that in other contexts have been shown to support student learning, both of scientific argumentation in general and the subject matter in particular. One such structure is known as the Fishbowl Technique or Science Seminar, which Steve has experimentally applied to weather discussions in a sophomore-level meteorological analysis course. In his variation of the structure, for each discussion the class is divided into three groups, the Leaders, the Inquirers, and the Evaluators. In this session, Steve gave his informal perspective on the challenges and possible successes of this approach as well as additional logistical details. Full validation of the technique's effectiveness awaits further research.

Session Resources

Steve Decker is an associate teaching professor in the Department of Environmental Sciences and director of the Meteorology Undergraduate Program. A weather enthusiast since birth, Dr. Decker received his B.S. in Meteorology from Iowa State University, and his M.S. and Ph.D. in Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His research interests include thunderstorm forecasting techniques and numerical weather prediction, and his teaching focuses on computational methods and weather analysis. Every other summer, he leads a field trip to the Great Plains where students forecast and observe severe weather. 

The Classroom on Trial: Sending Undergraduates to Court 

Douglass Cantor

workshopStudents enrolled in Law & Politics at Rutgers University attended federal and state courthouses during the 2023/2024 school year under resources and training provided by the Provost's Teaching Fellowship Program. In the interest of active learning, the goal was to get students out of the classroom and into front-row seats where they could witness the people, institutions, and proceedings that they were studying. This presentation shared qualitative and quantitative analyses of instructor and student experiences on the visits, as well as issues and concerns for instructors planning field visits.

Douglas Cantor holds a Ph.D. from the University of Illinois at Chicago with specializations in Urban Politics, American Politics, and Public Law. He also holds a M.A. in Legal Studies from the University of Baltimore, a B.A. from Rutgers University in Political Science, and an A.A. in Journalism from Brookdale University. He has taught at Northern Illinois University, California State University – Long Beach, and Loyola Marymount University. Within the Public Law and Urban Politics realms, his research interests include municipal reform, water politics, privatization, and Constitutional law. At Rutgers, Dr. Cantor’s course offerings include Law and Politics, Urban Politics, Law and Society, Constitutional Law, Courts and Public Policy, as well as seminars on topics such as Water Politics and Housing Segregation. His book, Term Limits and the Modern Era of Municipal Reform, is set to publish with Routledge Publishing in the Spring of 2024.

Co-design is Active Learning: Collaborating with Learners to Develop a Classroom Policy on Generative AI

Eliza Blau, Pauline Carpenter 

workshop.jpgCo-designing a classroom policy about text generative AI with students actively engages them in the learning process, and, critically, it ensures their voices and concerns are better represented, enhances transparency around academic integrity, and creates student buy-in to abide by the stated policy. In this workshop, attendees grappled with how we might handle the shifting AI technological landscape using design justice as a guiding framework. Infusing AI technologies in our active learning strategies can assist learning in equitable ways; however, we must continuously critically evaluate how approaches to text generating AI can disadvantage those traditionally excluded and historically minoritized in higher education (Addy, et. al., 2023). . Participants explored and shared their own instructional approaches to AI technologies, analyzed equitable approaches to AI technologies using a design justice lens, and considered how we can co-design an AI classroom policy with learners that works better for everyone. 

Addy, T., Kang, T., Laquintano, T., & Dietrich, V. (2023). Who Benefits and Who is Excluded?: Transformative Learning, Equity, and Generative Artificial Intelligence. Journal of Transformative Learning, 10(2), 92-103.

Session Resources

Eliza Blau collaborates with SAS instructors on all of their teaching and technology needs. She combines her learner-centered teaching experience and technology expertise to use best practices to help instructors meet their goals and address teaching challenges they face. Eliza holds an MA from Teachers College at Columbia University. She has taught middle school and high school social studies, and for the Rutgers Writing Program and SAS Honors Program. 

Pauline Carpenter is an instructional design and technology specialist with the Office of Undergraduate Education in the School of Arts and Sciences. She partners with SAS instructors and colleagues to promote inclusive, equitable, and evidence-based learning across course modalities. She holds an MA in Education from McGill and a graduate certificate in Learning Design and Technology from Harvard Extension. Previously, Pauline worked to advance college teaching in various roles at Montclair State’s Instructional Technology & Design Services, Harvard’s Derek Bok Center for Teaching & Learning and Cornell’s Center for Teaching Innovation.

Engaging Undergraduate Students in Research: From Cross-Discipline Programs to Published Articles

Yanhong Jin (Moderator), Moustafa Basiony (Panelist), Sanjib Bhuyan (Panelist), Gal Hochman (Panelist), Mary L. Wagner (Panelist)

panelThis panel explored the successful integration of undergraduate students into research through university-wide undergraduate programs like Aresty and honors programs at various schools in RU-NB, including the Honors College, achieving mutually beneficial outcomes for students, faculty, high education institutes, and society at large. The panel introduced a student-centered approach that capitalizes on available resources at Rutgers to cultivate successful undergraduate research experiences. This approach enriches their education experience and advance their knowledge, while concurrently being beneficial to the faculty involved and university as a whole. Panel attendees benefited in the following ways: 1) Becoming fully aware of the potential benefits of involving undergraduate students in research, enhancing their active and personalized learning while advancing personal research 2) Gaining valuable insights, strategies, and tips for effectively engaging undergraduate students in research, leveraging university/school resources 3) Learning practical tips for maintaining realism about undergraduate student research and planning activities accordingly. Overall, this panel discussion focused on fostering a supportive and inclusive and vibrant research culture at RU-NB that nurtures the next generation of scholars and researchers, while concurrently advancing faculty members own research endeavors. Panelists shared their experiences, successful projects, best practices, and strategies for effective mentoring and supporting undergraduate research. 

Session Resources

Dr. Yanhong Jin earned her Ph.D. in agricultural and resource economics from the University of California, Berkeley. She is a professor in the Department of Agricultural, Food and Resource Economics at Rutgers University, where she conducts applied economic research with a specific focus on food, health, technology, and the environment. With over fifty peered reviewed publications and numerous conferences, Dr. Jin is recognized for her scholarly contribution. She serves as an associate editor for Agricultural Economics, the journal of the International Association of Agricultural Economists. She is a devoted and nurturing mentor and advisor to students, inspiring them with her passion for research and teaching. As a Provost Teaching Fellow in 2022, Dr. Jin developed innovative team-based research projects in undergraduate teaching. These projects not only provided valuable opportunities for students to participate in the entire research process, from formulating research questions to publishing their findings, but also fostered collaborations at Rutgers and with external organizations. Dr. Jin organized a successful panel discussion titled “Empowering Undergraduates in Active and Personalized Learning through Collaborative Team Projects and Authentic Research” at the 2023 Rutgers Active Learning Symposium. Dr. Jin has introduced research projects to undergraduate classroom and actively involved undergraduates into her research projects. As a result, she has coauthored four manuscripts in the 2023-2024 school year: one has been accepted the Applied Economics Teaching Resources, two are currently under second-round review, and the remaining two are under the first-round review. 

Mr. Moustafa Basiony, BA graduated summa cum laude from Rutgers University-New Brunswick in January 2024, having completed a B.A in Sociology and a Minor in Cognitive Science. With the Aresty undergraduate Research Assistant Program, Moustafa worked for Dr. Yanhong Jin from the Department of Agricultural, Food, and Resource Economics at Rutgers on multiple projects, one of which he will be presenting at the Association for Psychological Science’s annual convention in 2024 and the 20th Annual Aresty Undergraduate Research Symposium in 2024 Moustafa is interested in pursuing a Ph.D. in Social Psychology and a career in higher education and research.  

Dr. Sanjib Bhuyan is a Professor of Agricultural Economics and Marketing at the Department of Agricultural, Food, and Resource Economics at Rutgers University. Prior to joining Rutgers University, Dr. Bhuyan worked at the North Dakota State University in Fargo, ND, where he led research on various aspects of cooperatives, including cooperative performance, organizational development of cooperatives, and the role of cooperatives in community development. Dr. Bhuyan's current research and teaching areas focus on the economics of food industries, with special focus on farmer cooperatives, food industry competitiveness, and food consumption behavior by adults. He has successfully supervised teams of research analysts and worked collaboratively with faculty colleagues, both nationally and internationally, on several research projects. He has published his research in various peer-reviewed national and international journals as well as book chapters and presented his research at numerous national and international professional conferences. He has served and/or is serving as an associate editor and/or an editorial board member in several academic journals. He is also a regular reviewer of academic manuscripts for various national and international professional journals. Additionally, Dr. Bhuyan has served in several professional, governmental (e.g., GAO), and University organizations in various capacities. 

Dr. Gal Hochman is a Professor at the Department of Agricultural, Food, and Resource Economics at Rutgers University. Dr. Hochman received his Ph.D. in Economics at Columbia University in 2004. Although, while coming out of his Ph.D., he focused on international trade agreements and crony capitalism, his stay at UC Berkeley introduced him to energy and agricultural biotechnology; his current focus includes issues related to development, energy, the environment, technology, and trade. Dr. Hochman is also keen on understanding the importance of policy in facilitating the transition to sustainable and resilient supply chains and an improved understanding of aquaculture technologies and their role in future food supply chains. Dr. Hochman presented his work at numerous conferences, has fifty-eight peered-review publications, some in top journals, and has 116 publications. He is currently the Council On Agricultural Food & Resource Economics board chair.

Dr. Mary L Wagner, Pharm.D., MS is a clinical pharmacist and Associate professor at the Ernest Mario School of Pharmacy (EMSOP) involved in teaching, service, and scholarship. As a clinical pharmacist, she evaluates patient medication and medical history, provides medication therapy management, and performs limited physical exams. Medication therapy management includes providing advice about medication selection, dosing, drug interactions, and adverse effects via therapeutic drug monitoring, outcome assessment, and pharmacokinetic dosing analysis. Her teaching focus is the pharmacotherapy of neurologic diseases. She is co-director of the EMSOP honors research program and director of Inter-Professional Education (IPE) along with faculty from other health schools at Rutgers. She is a member of the New Jersey Interagency Council on Osteoporosis for the State of New Jersey, Department of Health. Her scholarship involves IPE, policy change related to interprofessional practice, medication use in patients with neurologic conditions, and evaluation of behavioral change models aimed at addressing lifestyle changes needed to improve chronic disease. 

Facilitating Group Work in the Lab Environment

Alexandra Walczak

workshopDo you have too many assignments to grade but fear that converting to group-based assignments will lead to only one or two students in the group doing all the work? In this workshop, Alexandra discussed how the General Microbiology lab moved much of the write ups of group-based activities to group submissions and away from grading individuals as much as possible. She discussed how she has created an environment that encourages teamwork and participation while holding group members accountable through group contracts and peer assessments of contributions. During the session attendees also worked in groups to brainstorm ways you can apply these concepts to lab or project-based classes and highlight the transferable skills students can develop from working together in this way.

Session Resources

Alexandra Walczak, PhD is a New Jersey native who graduated from Ramapo College with a BS in biochemistry and a minor in physics. She earned a PhD in Microbiology and Molecular Genetics from Rutgers in 2016. Her dissertation focused on how chemolithoautotrophic microbes obtain energy from sulfur minerals. As a TA for General Microbiology, she won the Award for Outstanding Contributions to Undergraduate Education. Some of her unique experiences during graduate school were a short course on Microbial Diversity at the Marine Biological Laboratory, Woods Hole, MA; interning for the US. Department of State in the Office of the Science and Technology Advisor to the Secretary of State (STAS) working on science diplomacy and Science for Diplomacy in Washington, DC; and a year as an AmeriCorp Watershed Ambassador, combining fieldwork, water stewardship projects, and facilitating outreach programs for environmental education. Currently she coordinates and co-teaches the Rutgers General Microbiology Labs on Busch campus which has approximately 100 students each semester.

Faculty Collaborations to Implement Evidence-Based Teaching Strategies to Promote Student Engagement and a Scholarly Faculty Identity

Sheila Tabanli (Moderator), Saiju Patel (Panelist), Lena Sandberg-Golden (Panelist), Lyra Stein (Panelist), Michael Woodbury (Panelist)

panelists.jpgWhen teaching faculty is engaged in scholarly work such as the science of learning and then purposefully implements evidence-based teaching practices, this creates a win-win-win situation for faculty, students, and the institution as a whole. The panel discussed how the panelists found a collaborative space to learn and professionally grow together to further support their students’ active learning, their professional growth, and their disciplines. The panel shared the evidence-based teaching strategies that the panelists learned about and incorporated in their courses while participating in a collaborative, non-hierarchical semester support group, Reducing the Research to Practice Gap (RR2PG), as funded by the TEN Grant (Rutgers’ Teaching Excellence Network). Faculty from multiple campuses and disciplines shared their transformations to their classroom practices, fostering students' active learning grounded on cognitive science research. The key takeaways from the panel included: (1) Reducing the gap between research in effective teaching and the actual teaching practices in a collaborative environment supports faculty as well as their students in various disciplines. (2) Collaborating with faculty from diverse backgrounds improves faculty's active engagement in the science of learning which in return positively affects students’ active learning. (3) Implementing life-long learning principles into professional practices fosters a scholarly faculty identity for faculty while enabling them to develop empathy for their students in their classrooms. (4) Gaining insights from the lived experiences of panelists from various disciplines guides the participants into how these transformations could be adopted into their teaching practices for active student learning. Panelists also shared their moments of excitement and the challenges they face as they shift their classrooms into more evidence-based, active learning spaces aligned with their unique teaching styles.

Session Resources

Sheila Tabanli is an Assistant Teaching Professor of Mathematics at Rutgers University. Her professional interests include developing student-centered, evidence-driven instructional strategies to improve student learning outcomes. Dr. Tabanli has extensive experience designing and implementing curricula and presenting workshops & PDs. She developed a course where she teaches her instructional framework grounded on research on cognitive science and SEL. As a Provost teaching fellow, she developed individualized student pathways to reduce students’ math achievement gaps. Sheila develops and leads the RR2PG semester support group focused on reducing the research-to-practice gap in teaching. She is the recipient of 2024 Chancellor’s Excellence in STEM Diversity award. 

Saiju Patel has been teaching Math for the last 26 years. She started teaching at Rutgers as a part-time lecturer in 2008, then joined as an NTT in Fall 2013. She has been a course coordinator for Pre-Calculus since Fall 2019. She is a member of departmental P2C2 committee. Saiju led the efforts to transition Algebra and Pre-Calculus courses to online teaching during the pandemic. She works with the Rutgers Learning Centers and the Learning Assistant (LA) program where she mentors LAs for Pre-Calculus since Fall 2022. Saiju developed and maintained effective classroom management plan & actively participates in educational training & planning courses. 

Lena Sandberg-Golden's background is in English and Linguistics. As a lecturer in the Rutgers Department of English she teaches Research in the Disciplines and Business and Technical Writing, in addition to freshman composition courses. Lena represented Lecturers at the Effective Teaching Conference in 2021 and was a keynote speaker at the Annual Information Literacy Summit in 2020. For her excellence in teaching Lena received the 2021 award for Distinguished Service to the Writing Program. She volunteers as a bilingual advocate for Hispanic workers and draws on her many years of experience in private finance sector to teach Financial Literacy in the Rutgers Future Scholars Program. 

Lyra Stein is an Assistant Teaching Professor in the Department of Psychology at Rutgers University. In 2022, Dr. Stein was a Rutgers Provost Teaching Fellow and took part in the Teaching Excellence Networks Course Transformation Summer Institute. Additionally, she received the 2021 Distinguished Contributions to Undergraduate Education Award. Dr. Stein has been instrumental in facilitating active learning discussion groups in large classes, ranging from 250 to 400 students. 

Michael Woodbury earned his PhD in Mathematics from the University of Wisconsin in 2012. As a Ritt Assistant Professor at Columbia University from 2012-2016 he started mentoring and advising undergraduate student research, advising many students who obtained careers in academia and industry. At Columbia, he became a convert to student engagement in the classroom. Mike seeks to help students take control of their learning and apply principles of cognitive science to their studies. He applied these principles into practice in teaching and research positions at the University of Cologne, Columbia, Brown, the University of Colorado and now at Rutgers.

Five Years of Active Learning and Pedagogical Innovation: the Humanities Plus Program

David Goldman (Moderator), Chloë Kitzinger (Panelist), Dugan McGinley (Panelist), Ileana Nachescu (Panelist), Julia Stephens (Panelist), Alessandro Vettori (Panelist)

panelists.jpgNow celebrating its fifth anniversary, the Humanities Plus Pedagogical Initiative has supported more than fifty Rutgers faculty in adopting pedagogical innovations, with a particular focus on encouraging active learning approaches to humanities pedagogy. This panel discussion explored the origins, impact, and future of the program, with a particular focus on the many active learning projects it has supported over the past five years. Panelists included program leaders as well as recipients who adopted active learning approaches with the program's support. Attendees left the session with concrete ideas for innovative, classroom-tested active learning strategies; an understanding of an effective model for institutions to support and incentivize active learning and other pedagogical innovations; and an appreciation for the importance of support from a community of peers when implementing new teaching approaches.

David Goldman works with SAS instructors and teammates on the Teaching and Learning Team to cultivate and support a community of excellent teachers at Rutgers. He also coordinates assessment practices that emphasize improving student learning. David has a Ph.D. in Philosophy from UCLA and has taught at UCLA, Yale, Ohio State, and Rutgers. Before coming to Rutgers, he was Program Director for Humanities and Social Sciences at UCLA Extension, where he helped to build the UCLA Prison Education Program. He has helped coordinate the Humanities Plus program since its inception in 2019.

Chloë Kitzinger is an Associate Professor of Russian at Rutgers and incoming director of the Program in Russian and East European Languages and Literatures. She is also affiliate faculty in Comparative Literature and an Honors College Faculty Fellow. Her research and teaching focus on 19th-20th-century Russian literature and the novel. Her scholarship has appeared in Narrative, NOVEL, Slavic and East European Journal, and the Oxford Handbook of Global Realisms, among other venues. She is the author of Mimetic Lives: Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, and Character in the Novel (Northwestern University Press, 2021) and is currently working on a study of Dostoevsky’s early 20th-century reception in translation. In Fall 2021, the Humanities Plus Program supported her work to incorporate service learning into a survey course on Leo Tolstoy’s works and thought.

Dugan McGinley is an Assistant Teaching Professor in the Department of Religion at Rutgers. His primary research interests and areas of publication include contemporary Catholicism; gender and sexuality; religion and the arts; and the intersection of religion, culture, and society. A lifelong educator, Dugan began his career as a high school music teacher. In 2020, a Humanities Plus grant supported him in adopting artistic assignments in his course Religion and the Arts. He was also just awarded a second Humanities Plus grant to introduce AI as a conversational partner in The Question of God in Modern Culture.

Ileana Nachescu is Assistant Teaching Professor in the Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Department at Rutgers University. She received her doctorate in Global Gender Studies from the University at Buffalo, followed by a postdoctoral fellowship at Rice University. The recipient of an Excellence in Teaching Award from her alma mater, she is the Director of the WGSS Honors Program. In 2019, a Humanities Plus grant supported her development and use of a student podcast project. She has also received a Humanities Plus grant this year to integrate zines and zine-making into the course Feminist Practices.

Julia Stephens is an associate professor in the History Department at Rutgers University-New Brunswick and a faculty adviser for the "Law and History" minor/certificate program. She teaches courses on modern South Asia, Islam, Asian migration, legal and family history, and is particularly interested in helping students to think critically about the relationship between the past and present via active learning methods. She is the author of Governing Islam: Law, Empire, and Secularism in Modern South Asia and is finishing a new book Worldly Afterlives: Tracing Family Trails between India and Empire. In Fall 2020, Humanities Plus supported her work with Judith Surkis to develop and integrate Law Labs into their course Law and History.

Alessandro Vettori is Professor of Italian and Comparative Literature. He is Chair of the Department of Italian and served as Faculty Director of Humanities Plus for the last three years. His fields of expertise are medieval Italian poetry as well as contemporary novel and theater in relation to sacred texts and theology. He is the editor of the journal of Italian Studies Italian Quarterly and he co-edits the translation series Other Voices of Italy with Rutgers University Press. He teaches a class on Dante where he has experimented with pedagogical innovations to improve student involvement in large lecture courses.


Rick Anderson, Kenny Chen, Maka Gradin

sessionAttendees learned about GRID Labs, a new initiative to help Rutgers faculty, staff, and students learn about using machine learning/AI, game-based learning, gamification, augmented and virtual reality, and more in your courses.

Rick Anderson is Director of Virtual Worlds for Rutgers University and directs Game Research and Immersive Design (GRID), a part of Teaching and Learning with Technology (TLT). He's demonstrated a commitment to active learning by sponsoring and mentoring the Information and Informations (ITI) Capstone project for the last ten years. The students make a thing and pitch it as a product for their own company. He is currently working with faculty from the social sciences and the humanities to integrate the latest in machine learning and game technology to create immersive and interactive learning assignments.

Large Lectures, Small Groups and Re-envisioned Active Learning

Nick Linardopoulos

workshopThis session analyzed the design and outcomes of a re-designed approach in incorporating small group activities in large lecture courses as an innovative form of active learning. In this two-stage project, small groups were purposefully and strategically introduced to a large lecture course for the purposes of enhancing student engagement with the course material and the learners. After an initial tryout of one year, the small group set-up was redesigned in two key ways: team membership was determined based on the results of a personality test (Enneagram) as opposed to randomly generated and/or allowing members to pair with each other. In addition, the assessment of the group activities was revised to include a peer evaluation component. The presentation analyzed the outcomes and student perception of the small group component before and after those two key interventions and will share recommendations for best practices associated with the incorporation of small group projects as part of incorporating an active learning approach scalable for all courses.

Nick Linardopoulos is an Associate Teaching Professor in the Department of Communication. Nick also serves as the Public Speaking Course Coordinator and in that role, he oversees the management of the public speaking sections in the New Brunswick campus. Nick has been developing and teaching a wide range of Communication courses across all modalities with a focus on active learning and student engagement. Nick’s research interests focus on the areas of instructional technology, public communication and online learning.

Non-traditional Grading: Why to Do It and How to Manage it Using Spreadsheets

Sheehan Ahmed, Diane Jammula, Joshua Rutberg

workshopGrading is an essential part of any course and it is often overlooked when trying to revise a course to promote active learning. This may partly be due to a sense of inertia or a perception of how grading "should" work. It may also partly be due to the inflexible tools at our disposal for recording and communicating grades to students. Learning management systems like Canvas struggle to manage grading schemes that are more complicated than traditional, percentage-based grades. In this workshop, the presenters discussed the theory behind grading and share several established alternatives to traditional grading such as standards-based grading and contract grading. They discussed with examples from their own classes how spreadsheet programs like Google Sheets can be used to create tools that students can use to monitor their own progress through a course and instructors can use to manage grading systems that are more complicated than averaging assignments together. Their goal was for attendees to leave this workshop with ideas and tools necessary to implement a grading policy which will motivate students to actively engage in your course.

Session Resources

Sheehan Ahmed is an Assistant Teaching Professor of Physics at Rutgers-Newark. He received his PhD in Astrophysics at Rutgers University and is one of the lead instructors for the introductory physics course reform using Investigative Science Learning Environment.

Diane Jammula is an Associate Teaching Professor of Physics at Rutgers-Newark. She is the Undergraduate Program Coordinator and leads the introductory physics teaching team. She earned her PhD in Science Education from Teachers College, Columbia University. 

Joshua Rutberg was a New York City high school physics teacher before receiving their PhD in Physics Education at Rutgers University. Their focus is on ISLE-based curriculum development and lab reform, as well as teacher training. 

Small Changes to Make Lecture More Active

Matt Charnley

workshopActive learning can be hard to implement in a lecture style classroom with minimum flexibility in seating arrangement, as well as course structure where it is expected that you “cover content” during your lecture periods. There are many variations of "small changes" that can be made in a classroom like this to try to make class periods a little more active and engaging for students. Here, Matt showcased some of the particular versions of these that he uses in his classes, including pre-class videos/flipped learning, poll questions, and interactive problem solving, as well as how he attempts to manage this with his somewhat large enrollments of around 80 students per section. 

Session Resources

Matt Charnley is an Assistant Teaching Professor in the Mathematics Department at Rutgers University, where he started in Fall 2019 after completing his PhD. He is particularly interested in active learning to promote student engagement in large "lecture" courses and flipped classrooms. With the transition to remote instruction, he has become (more) interested in the creation of videos for content delivery and their use in the classroom. He is currently a part of the P2C2 project, looking to reform and improve the introductory mathematics courses by including more active learning, as well as an effort with the School of Engineering to redesign our differential equations course to better serve the needs of their students.

Triple A - Asynchronous, Active and Authentic Online Learning Experiences

Karen Harris, Colleen McKay Wharton

workshopAttendees got a sneak peek at the 6 Module Canvas Training Course that will be required for all prospective participants in the Rutgers Health Service Corps. From ethics to public health to racism as a social determinant of health, the presenters shared how they apply active learning strategies to the delivery of challenging topics in a fully asynchronous course. Attendees saw how creative design can be put into action by using online tools and techniques that meet the instructional goals of offering authentic experiences, promoting reflection, and building community, in order to prepare participants for meaningful service-learning roles throughout diverse communities in NJ and beyond.

Karen Harris is a Senior Instructional Designer and Assessment Specialist with the Teaching & Learning with Technology (TLT) team at the Rutgers Division of Continuing Studies and an Adjunct Instructor. She has been working for over twenty years in the varied and evolving roles of instructional designer, curriculum specialist, and technology trainer, administrator and consultant. Her prior experience has been focused on supporting teaching, learning and professional development at Rutgers University New Jersey Medical School, Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Kean University, Monmouth University and Columbia University. She enjoys participating in University life to the fullest by supporting interest groups such as Rutgers Group on Women in Medicine and Science, Rutgers Women in Technology, and Kean University Be the Change NJ. She has an Undergraduate Degree in Russian Area Studies from Columbia University and a Masters Degree in Computing and Education from Teachers College, Columbia University. 

Colleen McKay Wharton is the Director of Public Health Activities with the Center for Public Health Workforce Development at the Rutgers School of Public Health, where she has worked since 2010 developing training and education programs for NJ’s governmental public health workforce. These programs are a mix of classroom-based, as well as synchronous and asynchronous online training. Most recently, Colleen developed a ten-hour asynchronous course addressing implicit bias and cultural humility in communicable disease investigations, and another that teaches school personnel how to respond if a student has a seizure. Today, we will hear about an eight-hour asynchronous course developed for volunteers in the Rutgers Health Service Corps. Colleen received her master’s degree in health education from Montclair State University, and her undergraduate in Social Work from Rutgers University. She has worked in a range of public health environments including non-profit voluntary health organizations, local and state governmental health agencies, and, since 2010, with the Rutgers University School of Public Health. 

Using Backward Design to Find Time for Active Learning 

Kessler McCoy-Simandle 

workshop.jpgDuring this session, attendees explored the principles of backward design to establish learning objectives and assessments. Following that, attendees applied these principles to analyze schedules and lectures. Kessler offered examples demonstrating how participants can structure, incorporate or modify schedules, lectures, class materials, or activities to accommodate active learning activities effectively.

Kessler McCoy-Simandle is a Teaching Instructor in the SEBS Biochemistry and Microbiology department currently teaching the two-semester general biochemistry sequence. Dr. McCoy-Simandle received her PhD in Microbiology and Immunology from Northwestern University in 2012. After completing a NIH IRACDA postdoctoral fellowship at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, she worked on several DOE and NSF grants focusing on STEM education while teaching a variety of chemistry and biology classes.

 What is a CURE (Course-Based Undergraduate Research Experience) and How Can It Provide Students with Experiential Based Education (EBE) Credits?

Karla Esquilin-Lebron

workshopThe Microbial Ecology and Diversity Laboratory is an example of a Course-based Undergraduate Research Experience (CURE). A CURE provides students with hands-on experience doing hypothesis driven research, where the student has ownership of their work and opportunities for science communication inside and outside the classroom. Students work in pairs and smaller groups to answer research questions they develop with guidance of the instructor. Assessments are designed to provide students with one-on-one guidance, feedback, and support to master the techniques and skills throughout the semester. Some aspects that make CUREs a successful experiential based experience for students are: relevance of the research topics, novelty aspect of the research, iteration process, use of evidence-based practices and collaboration. During this course, the instructor had the opportunity to collaborate with faculty from other disciplines and RU facilities to provide students with a diverse and enriching experience. CUREs are opportunities for students to complete the requirement of experiential based education (EBE) and experience scientific research in a supportive, diverse, and inclusive environment. Examples from the course were provided and shared with the community.

Karla Esquilín-Lebrón, PhD is a Microbiology Teaching Instructor in the Department of Biochemistry and Microbiology at SEBS Rutgers University-New Brunswick. Karla is passionate about science communication, teaching, and mentoring students. Outside of the classroom, Karla serves as the faculty advisor of the RU-SACNAS (Society for the Advancement of Latinos, Chicanos and Native Americans in Science) undergraduate chapter, co-coordinator of the Microbiology Peer Mentoring program for transfer students and research advisor for the Governor’s STEM Scholars program. 

World Language Learning in Local, National, and Global Contexts

Nela Navarro, Laura Ramirez Polo, Doaa Rashed

sessionThis panel explored the vital role that local, national, and global partnerships play in fostering language engagement and cross-cultural awareness in world language programs at Rutgers. By cultivating collaboration and solidarity across physical and virtual borders, we can collectively address the challenges and opportunities of an increasingly interconnected world and empower learners to thrive in diverse linguistic and cultural contexts, as well as to establish meaningful connections within and outside their communities. The panelists shared best practices of successful initiatives, partnership models, and student-centered curriculum designed for promoting collaboration, students’ autonomy, engagement, and ownership of the learning experience which echoes the core principles of active learning.

Nela Nicole Navarro-LaPointe, Ph.D. is an Assistant Teaching Professor in the Department of English and Language Engagement Project-In-Service Coordinator. She is also Director of Education, Associate Director, and Member of the CGHR UNESCO Executive Committee at the Center for the Study of Genocide and Human Rights (CGHR) at Rutgers. Her research interests include writing studies, language rights, language and identity, trans-lingual pedagogy, new literacies studies, critical pedagogy, digital humanities, educational reform, comparative global education, the role of technology in educational access, human rights, genocide, and peace education. A recipient of Rutgers University’s Presidential Award for Excellence in Teaching, she regularly contributes to rights based curricular reform and professional development. 

Laura Ramírez Polo, Ph.D. is an Assistant Teaching Professor at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, where she coordinates and teaches in the certificate and MA of Translation and Interpreting, and translation and interpreting initiatives within the Humanities. In this role she has managed the Language Bank project to create a database of volunteers for translation and interpreting services. Dr. Ramírez has over fifteen years of experience as a freelance translator and language processes professional. She is ATA-certified English-Spanish and CCHI-certified as healthcare interpreter. Her research interests focus on translation technology and translation training. 

Doaa Rashed, Ph.D. is an Associate Teaching Professor in the English Department and Director of the Language Engagement Project in the School of Arts and Sciences at Rutgers University. Over the past thirty years, Doaa has been a language teacher educator, program strategist, and consultant in Ecuador, Egypt, and the United States. She has served in numerous leadership roles in local, national, and international organizations, such as Maryland TESOL, the TESOL International Association, International Women Resources Center, and Africa ELTA. Doaa’s scholarship lies at the crossroads of leadership, identity development, and transnationalism, with a research focus on autoethnography and reflexivity.

Thank Yous

RALS is a community effort. Among those we want to fact for their help are our proposal reviewers: Douglas Cantor, Anita Franzione, Hebbah El-Moslimany, Lisa Palladino-Kim, Yanhong Jin, Sheila Tabanli, and Yuan-chen Yang.

Additionally, we gratefully acknowledge funding support from the Rutgers- New Brunswick's Provost's Office and Rutgers Teaching Excellence Network (NSF IUSE #2013315).