The Flourishing Academic

A blog for teacher-scholars published by the Duquesne University Center for Teaching Excellence

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Lynn Hertrick Leavitt – Effective Teaching Through Caring

MarkPrestopnikBy Mark Prestopnik, Assistant Director of Online Teaching and Learning, Duquesne University

We honor the memory of Lynn Hertrick Leavitt (1965-2017) who taught part-time for 11 ½ years in the Duquesne University MS in Leadership Studies.


Lynn Hertrick Leavitt was a strong and kind-hearted woman. I first met Lynn when I was working in the School of Leadership and Professional Advancement many years ago. In my role, I helped to on-board faculty and acclimate them to our processes and standards, as well as connect faculty with the resources and services that the University offered.

Lynn was enthusiastic and eager from the start. Her work-ethic was apparent. She wasn’t afraid to ask questions and to give a great deal of energy to her adjunct teaching for Duquesne. Even though Lynn had several other professional responsibilities, she always carved out time to provide more than enough attention to the courses she was teaching for Duquesne.

Lynn was proud of teaching for Duquesne. She really believed in the University, its mission, and the education of adult and professional students. She participated in retreats with the Center for Teaching Excellence, and was always seeking to further enhance her teaching and mentoring abilities. She made it a point to travel from Virginia multiple times to celebrate with her students at commencement. She was as much a part of the team as other faculty who lived in the immediate Pittsburgh area.

Even though it was outside of the realm of her responsibilities, Lynn constantly sought to promote Duquesne and its online leadership programs. She would relate stories about being at conferences and events and espousing the value of these degrees to those whom she sensed would benefit from them. If there was something that our administrative team would ask of the faculty, she would be one of the first to offer her hand and time, and to share ideas on how we could make things work more effectively.


On a personal level, Lynn was very kind and thoughtful. She always took the time to ask how I was doing, to encourage me professionally, and to reconnect if it had been several months since our last conversation. I could tell that she also had a similar impact when interacting with and motivating her students. She was authentic, and simply put, she cared. Even though most of our interaction was through phone or email, it was clear the type of person who Lynn was, and the positive impact that she had upon others.

The lesson that I’d like to impart to others inside academia, the lesson that I will take with me from knowing Lynn, is to put your heart into your work and your interactions. Take time to care about people on a genuine level. Look for ways that your interaction with others can make them better off, and in turn leave you more fulfilled knowing that you helped them. Get to know people, understand what matters to them, and you will find that this allows for a greater range of possibilities in your teaching and mentoring. It’s not always about knowing the right answer, or knowing the ideal solution to a problem. Sometimes it’s just listening a little bit more, and putting in that extra effort that can make the difference.

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What makes the military and veteran population students unique?

Lee Wagner casusl photo
 Lee Wagner, U.S. Marine Corps Veteran
This blog post is a collaboration between Lee Wagner and Erin Rentschler.

Over the past year, I have had the honor of learning from Lee Wagner, Duquesne University School of Nursing’s out-going Veterans to BSN Academic Coach. Lee also chaired the Veterans’ Engagement Consortium, a group of faculty and staff from across the University who are interested in helping to better serve our veteran and military students through targeted engagement focused on academic success and career preparation.

I asked Lee to reflect on how instructors can enhance the learning experience of this population of students—whose pathways to higher education and future directions both have a lot to offer both within and outside of the University. Over the course of the year, we hope to continue reflecting on how military and veteran students contribute to and diversify our campus community.  Lee’s thoughts are below. We wish him well in his new role as Veterans Program Outreach Specialist for the White Oak Vet Center.

I am often asked by faculty, “What makes the military/veteran population students unique?” That seems like a simple question to answer, but it can quickly become a rabbit hole of assumptions and speculation.  There are two simple answers, one is, “their life experience” and the other is that a majority of veteran students are first generation college students.  This unique life experience and a lack of exposure to traditional university life can leave the veteran student feeling isolated and confused.  In order for an instructor to understand this student population best, they must first have a better understanding of what that unique life experience is, what it is not, and how it differs from traditional college life.  This post will focus on the military experience, but a later post may center on the intersection of first generation and military and veteran students. 

Let us start with what it is not.  Not all military and veteran students have a service-connected disability, have seen combat trauma, or want to talk about their time in the military. There are hundreds of military occupation specialties that a man or woman can serve in.  Some members serve in the infantry, which has a higher likelihood of experiencing combat, while others serve in clerical administration positions that have a lesser chance of seeing action.  However, both can serve in a combat zone. Other occupation specialties include cooks, medics, reporters, truck drivers and helicopter mechanics–the list goes on.  Having assumptions about one’s service can limit the potential of the student and can greatly diminish the connection they make with the faculty member or University. 

Second, what it is.  Military experience, is just that, experience!  Our society often places an unnecessarily high value on military service. Today’s military services members are all volunteers who have willfully entered into a contract with the US government.  Of course, their service needs to be respected and honored; however, it should not lead us to blind patriotic beliefs that all military and veteran students are the same.  Those are assumptions that should not be made.


Lastly, how does military service experience differ from traditional college life?  The best way to understand this question is to ask the student veteran directly, yourself.  My point being that all service members are people (individuals) first and how they see their experience is based off their core values and beliefs, not our own assumptions or generalizations about what military life is/service is like. 

Here is a tip to help get you started: when speaking with any veteran, not just a student, incorporate these kinds of opened-ended questions into your conversation.

  • Can you tell me more about why you decided to serve in the military?
  • Why did you choose the branch you served in?

The answers to these questions will give you insight into how that particular student’s military experience shapes who they are as a person and how they differ from a traditional college student. From there, you can begin taking steps for engaging this unique individual in an engaging learning experience.

Lee’s reflection begins thinking through how we might both serve and be served by our veteran and military students in our teaching and learning endeavors. I hope you’ll join me in considering this population as one of many that make Duquesne University a unique place to teach, learn, and work.

One place to continue this conversation is at the upcoming talk by Elizabeth R. Barker, who will present Military and Veteran Culture across the Education, Practice, and Research Continuum.” Details and additional resources below.

vbsn image

For more information about how Duquesne engages and supports military and veteran students, see the following resources.
Miller, R. S., Accamando, D., & Wagner, L. (May 12, 2017). Collaboration between an Academic Library and Campus Partners to Connect with Military and Veteran Students. Pennsylvania Libraries: Research & Practice, 5, 1, 35-41.
Support Services for Military and Veteran  Students at Duquesne University




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Involving Students in Online Collaborative Learning


by Emtinan Alqurashi, a doctoral candidate in Instructional Technology and Leadership at Duquesne University. Her research interests include online teaching and learning, student learning experience, and instructional technology.

Working collaboratively in a group is an important skill to learn. Nowadays, many college students participate in online collaborative learning, especially if they are taking online courses. This type of learning teaches them how to become responsible for their learning as well as their peers’ learning. While collaborative learning is appealing, there are some issues that need to be addressed. Some common issues that appear in empirical studies (see references below) regarding collaborative learning in online learning environments are as follows:

  1. Students don’t know how to work collaboratively online.
  2. Students don’t have the understanding of how to construct knowledge together within an online environment.
  3. Grading and assessing individuals in an online collaborative work.collaborative-wok

These problems of online collaborative learning are interrelated. For example, when students don’t know how to work collaboratively online, they won’t be able to construct knowledge together, and this in turn may cause problems for the assessment of individuals within the groups. These problems occur because students don’t seem to have the knowledge and the skills needed to work in an online group. This post discusses the three common problems with online collaborative work with ways to overcome them.

Simply putting students together in groups and asking them to work together online doesn’t necessarily result in having collaborative work. For example, I had an online class where the instructor asked students to work collaboratively on a topic related to ethics in education. We divided the work so everyone had a piece to work on; however, we ended up working more cooperatively than collaboratively (click here to read more about the difference). It seemed easier to discuss ideas, suggest change in content, edit peers’ work in face-to-face than in an online environment. Students avoided editing or commenting on their peers’ posts and writings to avoid hard feelings.The absence of face-to-face communication and interaction, facial expression and body language are only some of the limitations of collaborative work in online learning settings. However, if students master those skills and have the required knowledge, group work can allow students to play an active role in the learning process.

One way for instructors to encourage and support collaborative is to provide a rubric to help student understand what is required from them. This can allow students to provide constructive feedback to their peers without worrying about criticizing their work because simply they are following the rubric. Another way is to ask each group to write their own goals of their projects, each member of the group be responsible for one goal to work on, but they also provide feedback to at least one or two other group members about their work to meet their goals.

The foundation of group work (collaborative and cooperative) is to learn to construct knowledge, and students need to understand this learning process. Constructing knowledge can happen by “activating already existent cognitive structures or by constructing new cognitive structures that accommodate new input” (Dooly, 2008, p. 22). In this process, students become independent learners and responsible for their own learning as well as their peers’; and as a result, knowledge will be constructed, and transformed, by students themselves. Technological tools can be a good way for students to exchange information online whether synchronously or asynchronously. However, it is important for instructor to understand that there is no best method for doing this; it depends on many factors as identified by Dooly, which include: group personality, local constraints, age of students, objectives of the overall project and many other contextual factors.

Finally, grading and assessing individuals in collaborative work is another critical issue associated with group work. The purpose of the assessment is to evaluate group productivity and to determine how well students worked together as effective members of a group. Therefore, assessing individual’s contribution to the group is as important as the final production of the group. The idea of evaluating students in a group work can seem challenging simply because individuals are not working individually but they are working with others.

To ensure fairness in grading individuals in online collaborative work and to ensure participation by all group members, the instructor can use (1) individual assessment, (2) assess individual contribution, and (3) use self, peer, and group assessment techniques.

Individual assessment. While learning and skills are built by group work, it is appropriate to assess students individually through tests or assignments throughout the semester. The downside of this is that student’s work within an online group is not directly assessed. However, the instructor could assess students on the learning that has occurred within the group setting.

Assessing individual contribution can be done in both face-to-face and online learning environments. In online environments, however, the instructor and students can keep track of all their assigned work. Students are able to record video or audio conferences, and store online chats or writings, providing greater opportunity to reflect on their individual contribution within the group work and submitted at the end of the group project.

Self, peer, and group assessment techniques are very beneficial in online collaborative learning for both instructors and students. Generally, students who work and learn in groups are very aware of their own and peers’ contributions to the collaborative work. This awareness of knowledge can be used during the assessment. There are different techniques used to assess oneself and group members. Students can provide anonymous assessment of self and other group members such as creating a pie chart to show how much each member contributed in the group. If the majority of the group members reported someone as a not working member, that person’s grades can be affected. The instructor should provide guidelines to students for self and peer evaluation. Some examples of guidelines for the assessment report: participation (i.e. quality and quantity), preparation, punctuality, respect, contribution of ideas, creativity, and commitment. Ultimately, the instructor remains responsible for students’ final grades, but he/she could utilize the student’s recommendations when deciding how to reward individual contributions.


Carnegie Mellon University – Teaching with Technology – Collaboration Tools.

Dooly, M. (2008) Constructing Knowledge Together. In Dooly, M. (ed.) Telecollaborative Language Learning: A guidebook to moderating intercultural collaboration online, pp. 21-44. Bern: Peter Lang.

Figueira, A., & Leal, H. (2013). An online tool to manage and assess collaborative group work. Paper presented at the 112-XIII. Retrieved from

Morgan, K., Williams, K. C., Cameron, B. A., & Wade, C. E. (2014). FACULTY PERCEPTIONS OF ONLINE GROUP WORK. Quarterly Review Of Distance Education, 15(4), 37-42.,%20williams,%20cameron,%20wade%202014.pdf

Stanford University – Yes Virginia, There Is A Big Difference Between Cooperative And Collaborative Learning Paradigms.

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Teachers as Learners

By Elizabeth Pask, M.S. Ed. and current doctoral student in Duquesne University’s School of Education

“Your life as a teacher begins the day you realize you are always a learner.”

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at

-Robert John Meehan

How can I teach when I’m still a student myself?  How can I train others in a field I am still learning about? These are questions I pondered as I embarked on my first university teaching experiences at Duquesne.  As a current doctoral student in the field of school psychology, I wondered whether or not I had any expertise, any skill, or even any right to take on the responsibility of training and teaching other students in my field.

I am fresh out of classes and currently on my clinically based internship experience, and also very new to both being a practitioner and teaching at the university level.   As I reflected back on my own graduate school experiences, memories of theories, laws, textbook readings, and case studies were some of the strategies from my foundational courses that were useful in helping me learn how the field ideally works.  The most helpful learning experiences, however, were just that: experiences.   A recent writer for The Flourishing Academic, Dr. Susan Hines, wrote that the best teaching and learning for new and experienced teachers alike happens when you create an experience.  This is what I have been living since school got out, and this is what I have capitalized on in order to inform teaching in my courses.

The last year of my training program is all clinical, real-life experience.  I am actually working as a practitioner in my field, which had initially seemed like an eternity away when I was first starting out.  I am finding that those theories which seem old and dusty in their books are real, and are also not as neatly applied in the trenches as they initially seemed.  I have been learning through my clinical experiences that applying what you learn in the classroom is sometimes messy when the nuances of reality come into play.  For example, students do not fit neatly into special education eligibility categories like they sometimes did in the case studies that were presented in class.  In another instance, nobody ever really discussed what to do after you realize too late that a previously undiscovered complex trauma history was interfering with a child’s abilities to perform well or what implications that has on the way you’re assessing or treating that student.

This reflection and new clinical experience was what helped me to shape my teaching approach.  I wanted to dust off those theories, get them out of their books, and practice them with my students.  I realized that I have the perfect opportunity to do so in this training year.  I am able to use actual instances, complex cases, and my own mistakes to create applied, field based experiences to use as a major teaching tool.  I realized that I could use my own learning and growing process and translate it to a practical experience.  I also quickly realized that my students and I were learning together.

As a result of being able to use my clinical experience, my philosophy of teaching has been shaped into an action-oriented one, in which I ensure an understanding of theoretical groundwork for the course, provide structured and supervised practice, and assess using real life applications.  I believe that sufficient knowledge of theory is imperative for foundational understandings of the world of education at any level; however, I have often found that theory is lost without application and action, which includes both knowledge and skills that later foster and cultivate practice in the ‘real world.’

Instead of feeling less able because I’m still “just a student,” I embraced the opportunities I had and translated them into learning tools for all of us.  I was fortunate to make this realization at the outset of my teaching career.  My unique position as a practitioner who teaches will always afford me the opportunity to keep being a student so that I can continue using my practical experience to teach other future leaders in the field.

Now it’s your turn: in the comments below I invite you to share a “real-life” experience that both complicated and deepened the knowledge you teach in the classroom.

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Designing Effective Adult Learning Experiences

The following post has been compiled based on observations made by workshop participants including faculty, TAs, and Center for Teaching Excellence staff.

Dr. Susan Hines leading the "designing effective adult learning experiences" workshop on October 27.

Dr. Susan Hines leading the “designing effective adult learning experiences” workshop on October 27.

Self-directed. Voluntary learners. Problem solvers. Intrinsically motivated. These are phrases that Dr. Susan Hines, Associate Professor and Director of Faculty Development at St. Mary’s University of Minnesota, uses to describe adult learners. Understanding that adult learners function differently in the classroom than do traditional age college students is key for faculty who want to create effective adult learning experiences. Today’s post shares highlights from a workshop Dr. Hines led on this topic at Duquesne University on Monday, October 27.

According to Dr. Hines, an effective adult learning experience needs to honor the following 5 principles:

  1. Instructors should make learning experiences relevant to an adult student’s social roles.
  2. Classroom learning should build on the wealth of life and work experiences adult students have.
  3. Lessons need to be applicable to the real world.
  4. Learning experiences are best when designed to fit an adult learner’s needs.
  5. Adult learners want to be involved in the learning process.


So how can we as faculty and TAs create learning experiences that follow these principles and leave our adult students feeling like the return to school is worth it? Dr. Hines advises instructors to approach the classroom as a “learning laboratory” where both instructors and students engage in learning as an adventure, innovating and taking risks. During Monday’s workshop, she offered a 4 step process that optimizes student engagement by tapping into adult students’ life experiences and cutting material that is not directly relevant to their academic goals. This process provides a flexible structure designed to work in any discipline and in both face-to-face and online classes. All 4 steps can be accomplished in the context of one lesson.

The following outline of the 4 step process is adapted from a handout created by Dr. Hines:

Step 1: Awaken current knowledge. Encourage students to think about their prior contact with the content of the lesson you are about to teach. By mining their experiences and knowledge, you engage their interest and create an opportunity to integrate their current knowledge into the lesson. Here are a few ways to do this:

  • Reflection Prompt: “think of a time when . . .” or “what was your worst/best . . .”
  • Storytelling: bring your students’ “autobiographies” to the classroom by asking each of them “to tell a story that is closely related to the” content of the lesson.
  • Anonymous Polling: “use anonymous polling software to gather student perceptions related to the content topic.”

Step 2: Add new knowledge. Once students share their current knowledge, give them an opportunity to encounter new material by engaging in

  • Student Micro-Presentations: “have students, working in small groups, provide a micro-lecture on topics related to the reading concepts.”
  • Socratic/Guided Questioning: give students an opportunity to “design questions to probe into their understanding of the readings.”
  • Gallery Walks: “post key questions, separately on poster paper, around the room.” Direct students to visit “each poster and write their response” and then debrief the responses as a class.

Step 3: Practice new knowledge. This step affords instructors the greatest opportunity to connect classroom content to the real world. You can do so by incorporating

  • Mini Case Studies: “provide students with real-world case studies to solve/apply learning to.”
  • Fish Bowl: “have students role-play a newly learned skill while other students observe and critique the performance quality.”
  • Critique Examples: “provide examples of the newly learned skill and have students critique the qualities.”

Step 4: Apply new knowledge. Unlike traditional age college students who typically believe they will apply their newly acquired skills sometime in the future, adult learners tend to want to apply their knowledge immediately. You can facilitate this need for immediate application using some of these ideas:

  • Self-Assessment: invite students to “self-assess their learning products/assignments (before submitting for grade)”
  • Real-World Application: “have students write a brief reflection on ways to apply new concepts to personal work/life roles.”
  • Create a “Never Again List:” prompt students to write “a list of what they will never do again based on their new learning.”

Now it’s your turn. In the comments below, we invite you to share what has and has not worked as you design learning experiences for adult students.

For more information on the topic, Dr. Hines recommends the following resources.

Angelo, T. & Cross. K. (1993). Classroom assessment techniques: A handbook for college teachers. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Bean, J. (1996). Engaging ideas: The professor’s guide to integrating writing, critical thinking and active learning in the classroom. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Brookfield, S. (1999). Discussion as a way of teaching: Tools and techniques for democratic classrooms. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Davis, B. (2009). Tools for teaching. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Meyer, D. (2000). The accelerated learning handbook. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

Nilson, L. (2003). Teaching at its best: Research-based resources for college teachers. Boston, MA: Anker Publishing.

Silberman, M. (1996). Active learning: 101 strategies to teach a subject. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn and Bacon.

Wlodkowski, R. & Ginsberg, M. (2010). Teaching intensive and accelerated courses: Instruction that motivates learning. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

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Coming Soon: Designing Effective Adult Learning Experiences

By Rachel Luckenbill, CTE Instructional Consultant for TAs

We usually don’t post on Thursdays, but today we wanted to offer a little forecast of a post that we’ll publish on November 3. The topic? Designing effective adult learning experiences.

If you’ve ever had the experience of teaching adult learners you know that it doesn’t work to assume the same things you do about traditional college students. I’m having that experience this semester. For the first time I’m teaching a writing course for adult learners. Their approach to grades, their investment in the material, the life experience that informs their participation in the classroom, and the challenges they face are often radically different from what 18 to 22-year-old college students bring to a course.

For this reason, I’m looking forward to participating in a workshop on designing effective adult learning experiences this coming Monday, October 27, hosted by Duquesne University’s Center for Teaching Excellence. The workshop will feature Dr. Susan Hines, Associate Professor and Director of Faculty Development at St. Mary’s University in Minnesota who has been involved in numerous studies on adult student engagement and provides keynotes and workshops on adult learners at regional colleges.

The week following her address, we’ll present valuable insights from the workshop here on The Flourishing Academic.

Duquesne faculty and graduate students: if you’re interested in attending the talk please register here.