Brandon Myers, Lecturer, Computer Science

How do I effectively evaluate student learning in a large lecture classroom? What are best practices for combining instruction with in-class exercises, particularly in a TILE classroom? How can I best use TA-led discussion sections to prepare students for challenging programming assignments?

These are some of the questions 30 Faculty Fellows have sought to answer as participants in the first three cohorts of the University of Iowa Learning Design Collaboratory. Launched during the summer of 2017, the Collaboratory is a course transformation program intended to improve student academic outcomes, particularly in large-lecture courses.

Reflecting on Teaching in a Community of Practice

Collaboratory Faculty Fellows begin their course design projects in an interdisciplinary Community of Practice where they reflect on their approaches to teaching, discuss educational research, and refine pedagogical ideas for implementation in their courses. The process is also informed by learning analytics data and supported by individualized Course Design Teams.

Brandon Myers, Lecturer, Computer Science

Brandon Myers, Lecturer in the Department of Computer Science, joined the Community of Practice in Fall 2017. He says that reading and reflecting about teaching within a community of peers proved to be an extremely valuable experience as he and the other Faculty Fellows reimagined their teaching.

“Thinking critically about my teaching and exchanging ideas with colleagues doing the same critical thinking has helped me shape and apply changes that will improve my students’ learning,” Myers says.

During the seven Community of Practice meetings, Ania Kowalik, Teaching and Learning Specialist in the Center for Teaching, encourages Faculty Fellows to examine the practices that are most likely to impact student learning in a positive way. Faculty members discuss the importance of engaging students through a variety of learning activities, the value of communicating clear learning goals, and the role of feedback in becoming a self-regulated learner. They also reflect in writing on strategies to implement some of these ideas into their courses.

“The Community of Practice gave us a trajectory for our course design,” Myers says. “I have a clearer idea of what components of my large course are most important to focus on—including developing formative assessments and homework, lecture, and sections activities—and ideas about how to address them.” 

Data-Informed Course Design

Brandon Myers, Lecturer, Computer Science
Myers is now putting his ideas into practice. He is collaborating with Tracy Zhao, Assessment and Learning Analytics Specialist in OTLT, who is helping him gather and interpret data about student learning to determine where his students need most support.

Myers finds this access to data especially valuable for his development as a teacher. “One of my general goals in joining the Learning Design Collaboratory is to be able to set up a more sustainable practice of making data-informed changes to my courses,” he says. “The Course Design Institute [an annual three-an-a-half-day event that he attended in May 2017] helped me ask questions about who my students are and figure out the various ways in which I can collect that data. In the Collaboratory, we are collecting and looking at the data, and I have a learning data expert helping me interpret it, which has been something very new and very useful.”

Myers says he has learned that some of the strategies he thought would have a positive impact on student learning, such as allowing students to retake midterm exams to improve their grades, do not in fact significantly contribute to better grades or student retention.

He is thus thinking about more radical changes and is now drafting team-based activities that he hopes will have greater impact.

“I should be focusing on helping students practice high-level skills in class,” he says, “and getting them to help each other and teach each other while they are grappling with those higher-level tasks.” 

A Team-Based Approach

Myers’ course transformation project is ambitious, but he has considerable support from Pinar Çelik, the Learning Designer who formed and leads his Course Design Team.

“I never imagined the very high level of support I would get for professional development at the University of Iowa,” Myers says, who began his UI career in Fall 2016. “That’s been something that has continually impressed me since I arrived at Iowa.”

Interested in Joining the Collaboratory?

If you would like to become a Fellow in the Learning Design Collaboratory in the fall, please apply at Review of applications will begin on April 12.

For more information, please visit the Collaboratory website or contact Chris Clark at or 319-335-5651.