Kendra and Shellie
Left: Kendra Strand, Assistant Professor, Japanese Literature and Visual Culture. Right: Shellie Fravel, Clinical Associate Professor, Pharmacy Practice & Science.

Today’s community of teaching in higher education provides a rich supply of ideas: from helping students engage in academic discourse with honesty and integrity, to facilitating effective group work, to going beyond traditional teaching methods and “flipping” course content. The methods instructors incorporate into their course depend on course content, instructor experience and creativity, and the prior knowledge and motivation of students.


In this series, we will highlight an array of teaching strategies implemented by instructors at the University of Iowa. Each strategy, provided directly from the instructor, enhances student engagement and broadens the scope of understanding. 









Kendra Strand, Assistant Professor, Japanese Literature and Visual Culture


  1. Semester-long creative projects. Creating original work such as writing a travel diary or compiling an anthology of poetry based on specific models from Japanese literature requires the students to become very familiar with the originals that they emulate. It also allows them to become more adept at identifying major themes and issues in the target texts, and encourages them to experiment with ways to innovate, all the while exploring their own culture and values through writing and production.
  2. Incorporate a broad range of content, drawing from textual, visual, and material cultural sources. Through discussion and other in-class activities designed to explore these materials and their social-historical context, students have a chance to practice critical analysis and to develop textual and visual literacies. This supports long-term student success by helping students understand and appreciate the rhetorical power of text and image, as well as providing the tools to be savvy consumers of complex media forms.
  3. Juxtapose historical and contemporary materials. Short-term activities centered around close reading and critical analysis reveal meaningful and often unexpected continuities and differences across history and culture. In addition, these activities demonstrate the continued relevance of premodern materials. Most importantly, these exercises help students understand works in context and identify universals.
  4. Experiential learning. In the past, I have done this through structured class visits to the UI Library Special Collections, the Center for the Book, and the UI Art Museum, usually in conjunction with a planned lecture from an expert at those institutions. However, the benefits of hands-on experiential learning are so productive and motivating to my students, I have worked to find ways to include this in every course, even when time or logistics do not allow a scheduled field trip. For example, I will take the class to a central site on campus in order to explore themes related to travel writing; create a hands-on mini-workshop on a certain element of Japanese textual history, such as calligraphy writing or letter folding; or bring relevant books or manuscript replicas to class so that students have an opportunity to interact directly with concrete objects to clearly demonstrate key points in a way that an abstract discussion could not.


Shellie Fravel, Clinical Associate Professor, Pharmacy Practice & Science

  1. Preparation. I expect students to prepare for class, and I myself come prepared. For me, preparing means knowing my audience, knowing my topic, knowing my plan for the session, and having several backup plans to allow for flexibility (what can be added if there is extra time vs. what can be omitted when time is running short). Being prepared yet flexible allows me to be more responsive to what is happening live (student questions, concepts that students are struggling with, and concepts that students have already mastered).
  2. Respect. I approach my teaching with respect for the students: I respect their time, their backgrounds, their current challenges, and their future paths. This allows me to have an appreciation for what motivates students in the classroom and, ultimately, allows me to conduct my class in a way that leads to student success.
  3. Transparency. I like to take time in class to explain why I am covering a certain topic, why I am using a certain classroom technique, or why I am using a particular assessment. I’ve found that when students know where I am coming from, they have more respect for me and for the learning process. The transparency also helps ensure that what I do in the classroom is focused on clearly identifiable benefits for students.
  4. Humor. Laughing in class makes students more likely to show up and stay engaged!
  5. Humility. In making myself relatable, students seem more inclined to engage and participate. It sends a message that the class is a safe environment to freely discuss without being judged.