Center for Teaching and Learning

Past seminars

The Frontiers in Higher Education Research Seminar series highlights original research in college-level instruction and learning. Seminars are held monthly during the academic year. Please see below for a list of past presentations.

For a list of upcoming seminars visit the Frontiers in Higher Education Research Seminar page.

Autumn 2019 seminars

Richard Ball, professor, Dept. of Economics, Haverford College

Teaching Integrity in Empirical Research: The Pedagogy of Reproducible Science in Undergraduate Education and Beyond

Speaker: Richard Ball, Department of Economics, Haverford College

Oct. 29, 2019

Many journals now require authors to submit extensive public-facing documentation to support empirical papers. In this talk, Professor Richard Ball discusses teaching research transparency to students in quantitative fields of study. Project TIER (Teaching Integrity in Empirical Research) integrates transparent and reproducible research methods into instruction by developing standard protocols for conducting and documenting statistical research. Enacting these protocols ensures that all reported results are computationally reproducible and that the methods employed are immediately legible to other researchers.

Professor Ball gives an overview of the approaches to research reproducibility that Project TIER promotes, discusses the resulting educational benefits, and considers lessons for professional research practice that emerge from using the Project TIER system. He also identifies potential opportunities for collaboration between Project TIER and UW faculty to promote transparency in education and research.

Richard Ball is a professor of economics at Haverford College and co-director of Project TIER (Teaching Integrity in Empirical Research), which promotes the integration of transparency and reproducibility in the research training of social scientists. His research has included theoretical papers on political economy and empirical work on development and social issues.

Elli Theobald, research scientist, UW Department of BiologyMind the Gap: Active Learning in Undergraduate STEM Classes Narrows Achievement Gaps for Historically Underrepresented Students

Speaker: Elli Theobald, UW Department of Biology

Oct. 8, 2019

Women and minority students remain underrepresented in STEM majors and STEM professions, despite widespread efforts to increase their access to STEM fields. This is in part because of differential performance between historically under- and well-represented students—the “achievement gap”—in college STEM courses. Lower-performing students are less likely to major in STEM and more likely to drop out of college altogether. How can we modify instructional practice in our courses to remedy this problem?

A recent meta-analysis (Freeman et al., 2014) showed that active learning improves performance among all students relative to lecture-only classes. Building on this work, Dr. Theobald conducted the first large-scale study to show that active learning also narrows achievement gaps across STEM fields, and the first to show what amount of active learning is required to improve student performance. By pooling data from 133 studies of higher-education STEM courses that incorporate active-learning strategies, Theobald found that such courses reduced achievement gaps by up to 75%. In addition, active learning must comprise at least 30% of available class time to realize student gains.

Dr. Elli Theobald is a research scientist in the Department of Biology’s Biology Education Research Group (BERG). Before joining BERG, she worked as a middle school and high school teacher, earned her PhD in ecology, and then transitioned to discipline-based education research as a postdoc. Dr. Theobald’s research revolves around how to be a better teacher, and how to narrow achievement gaps for under-represented students.

Spring 2019 seminars

Gillian Harkins, associate professor of English and adjunct associate professor of Gender, Women and Sexuality StudiesBeyond Bars: Higher Education and Carceral Space

Speaker: Gillian Harkins

May 28, 2019

Although people think of universities and prisons as separate institutions, in fact they are highly interconnected. The UW holds contracts to purchase materials from prison labor, UW faculty engage in research projects focused on prisons, and state funding for incarceration impacts financial support for our university. Yet people who are currently and were formerly incarcerated often face the greatest barriers to entry at UW.

The term “school-to-prison pipeline” describes how disparities in access to quality education and targeting for disciplinary and police detention lead to a disproportionate number of non-white, non-heterosexual, and economically-disadvantaged youth ending up in prison, rather than higher education. However, a more accurate term is “school-to-prison nexus,” in which the pathways to prison or to college are not separate, but actually intertwined in the institutions we inhabit (Meiners 2007). In this talk, Prof. Gillian Harkins reports on her and her colleagues’ efforts to create sustainable pathways to higher education for this underserved population, by leveraging existing connections between universities and prisons.

Gillian Harkins is an associate professor of English and adjunct associate professor of Gender, Women and Sexuality Studies at the UW.  She specializes in cultural studies of the novel and contemporary sexual politics as well as the intersection between education justice and prison abolition. She currently works with three regional higher education in prison programs in the Puget Sound Area.

Amy D. Robertson, Research Associate Professor of Physics, Seattle Pacific UniversityResponsive Teaching and Social Justice

Speaker: Amy D. Robertson

April 16, 2019

Responsive teaching is an instructional approach that attends to and builds on the beginnings of disciplinary ideas and practices in student thinking. This kind of teaching is about really listening to students, trusting that their ideas are sensible to them, and seeking to understand what they mean and the possibilities for learning within.

In this interactive talk, Professor Robertson will use a seminal example to define responsive teaching in context. Seminar participants will also explore the possibilities and limitations of this instructional approach for teaching for social justice.

Amy D. Robertson is a research associate professor of physics at Seattle Pacific University. Robertson is co-editor of Responsive Teaching in Science and Mathematics, a compilation of research on responsive teaching published by Routledge in 2016. Her research focuses on equity in physics education and on instructional approaches that seek to understand and build on students’ intuitive ideas in science.

Winter 2019 seminars

Global Flipped Classroom: Successes and Challenges of Combining Collaborative Online International Learning (COIL) with Study Abroad

Speakers: Kristi Straus, Eli Wheat, and Wei Zuo

February 26, 2019

In this talk Drs. Straus, Wheat, and Zuo describe a new study abroad model they developed for the Program on the Environment’s “Sustainability: Personal Choices, Broad Impacts” course. The “Global Flipped Classroom” builds on the existing Collaborative Online International Learning (COIL) model by adding a brief study abroad trip to the course. This new model enhances global engagement, and provides an affordable and practicable study abroad opportunity for UW students.

UW students enrolled in the class collaborated online with Tsinghua University students to explore how culture can not only define environmental problems, but can also create solutions. The course culminated in a ten-day trip to Beijing, promoting connection and conversation between Tsinghua and UW students while they experienced the city through the lens of sustainability.

Drs. Straus, Wheat, and Zuo discuss the successes and challenges they experienced while developing this model of instruction and their plans for future refinement.

Kristi StrausKristi Straus is the acting director and lecturer in the College of the Environment’s Environmental Studies program and the recipient of a 2017 University of Washington Distinguished Teaching Award. She is passionate about environmental conservation and effective teaching of environmental topics for students of all ages. Her work focuses on conservation of local marine invertebrates, as well as the science of science education.


Eli WheatEli Wheat is faculty in the Program on the Environment at the University of Washington, and is the recipient of numerous awards for teaching and sustainability work including the 2010 Excellence in Teaching Award, 2018 Husky Green Award, and the College of the Environment’s Outstanding Teaching Faculty award. In addition to teaching sustainability and agriculture courses at the UW, Eli owns and operates SkyRoot farm, a 20-acre integrated animal and vegetable farm on south Whidbey Island.


Wei ZuoWei Zuo an instructional consultant at the Center for Teaching and Learning and the co-director for the Program on Environment China: Sustainability in the U.S. and China (International Extended Flipped Classroom). Her academic and teaching backgrounds are in working with international students, Chinese, equity and diversity in teaching and learning.


Rachel Tennial, University of Arkansas, Little RockUnderrepresented Identities in the Classroom: Examining Our Privileges

Speaker: Rachel E. Tennial

February 5, 2019

Professor Tennial will discuss how her research examining aspects of identity, the influence of skin tone bias, and exploring classroom climate moved her from a theoretical understanding of the findings to an applied focus. This new perspective on her work catalyzed introspection and reflection not only on her own identities and privileges but also on the multi-faceted identities embedded in the lives of students.

Her presentation will explore how identity, identification, and skin tone bias—or colorism—relate to the real and perceived barriers that students of color face in college classroom contexts. Professor Tennial will also consider the impact of levity on classroom climate and student satisfaction.

Rachel E. Tennial is an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Arkansas, Little Rock. Her areas of interest include collective identity and identification, with a focus on race and sexuality, prejudice, stigma, colorism (skin tone bias) and teaching scholarship.

Co-sponsored by UW Tacoma.

Michael Mack, postdoctoral research associate, UW Department of ChemistryJanuary 15, 2019 seminar:

Calling Attention to Unequal Educational Outcomes in STEM Higher Education

Speaker: Michael Mack

Unequal education outcomes for historically underrepresented student groups are one of the most urgent and intractable problems in higher education. Where does this problem reside, with the students or with the institution? And who should be responsible for improving student outcomes?

Drawing on organizational learning theory, Dr. Mack examines the “deficit” and “equity” interpretive frameworks for making sense of outcomes in higher education, and shows how these frames oblige us to perceive unequal outcomes across student subpopulations in different ways. Participants in this session will engage with the frameworks to: 1) make sense of ethnicity-based disparities in introductory chemistry course grades at the University of Washington, and 2) construct possible strategies for addressing unequal outcomes. Recommendations for how this type of evaluation work can be applied beyond chemistry/science disciplines will be discussed.

Michael Mack is a postdoctoral research associate in the UW Department of Chemistry. His current research focuses on measuring performance disparities in large-enrollment introductory chemistry courses and the efficacy of active learning techniques for promoting more equitable outcomes.

Giovanna Scalone, research associate, UW Center for Engineering Learning and Teaching (CELT)Dimensions in Designing Reflection Activities for Students

Speaker: Giovanna Scalone

Reflection is a form of thinking where one makes meaning of past events as preparation for future engagements. Educators use many activities to help their students reflect on and improve their learning, but few frameworks exist to characterize the choices available in designing such activities.

In this talk, Dr. Scalone explores four dimensions of variation that emerge from reflection activities used by engineering educators: explicitness, customization, guidance, and accountability. Each dimension exists on a continuum that ranges from low to high, creating a large design space that allows educators to articulate their rationale for using reflection activities, foreground decisions about the type and structure of the activity, draw attention to potential positive and negative consequences of the activity, and connect to theories of learning. Dr. Scalone shows how these dimensions of variation can be used to design effective reflection activities in engineering and beyond.

Giovanna Scalone is a research associate at the Center for Engineering Learning and Teaching (CELT) in the UW Department of Human-Centered Design and Engineering. Her research emphasizes the social foundations of learning in both STEM informal and formal learning environments with a focus on agency, meaning-making and identity development.

Autumn 2018 seminars

Professor Katie Headrick TaylorLearning as Stewardship: Students at the Nexus of University-Community Relations

Speaker: Katie Headrick Taylor

November 27, 2018

Some of the most influential theories of learning come from understanding how people learn from and teach one another in settings outside the classroom.

In her Education course, “Learning Within and Across Settings,” Professor Katie Headrick Taylor provides an extra-classroom environment for her students to learn these theories in context. Students make and nurture connections to community centers and other public neighborhood assets through outreach, observation, and feedback on the nature of teaching and learning in these spaces.

In this course, the community/place serves as teacher, and expertise is distributed: across community members, across visible histories, and across different modes of engaging with new information. Professor Taylor demonstrates that empowering students in this way helps them develop a professional vision of learning theory that is not achievable in a traditional classroom setting, while positioning students as stewards of community-university partnerships.

Katie Headrick Taylor is an assistant professor in the UW College of Education. In her research, she explores digital media and technology in the lives of children, youth, and their families through ethnographic and mixed-method case studies, classroom and informal design studies, and the development and teaching of undergraduate and graduate courses.

Ben WigginsFraming Active Learning: How “Soft Skills” Enable a Supportive Classroom Culture and Facilitate Student Effort

Speaker: Ben Wiggins

November 6, 2018 

Instructor “soft skills” reference the ability to shape conversations that happen at the speed and frequency of human communication. These skills shape the effective implementation of active learning methods in class. While conversations around these skills are common in K-12 teacher development, they take place more rarely in higher education.

Dr. Wiggins draws on findings from educational psychology to describe and demonstrate soft-skill teaching methods that create a supportive classroom environment and facilitate student engagement. Techniques such as active listening, honest signals, and reciprocal demonstrations of trust can be used across disciplines, in any size class, and are effective for students from diverse backgrounds.

Ben Wiggins is the manager of program operations in the UW Department of Biology. His research focuses on using active learning in large-enrollment courses at both the University of Washington and Western Washington University.

November 6, 2018 seminar recording:

Ian SchneeActive Enough? Screens and Active Learning Classes

Speaker: Ian Schnee

October 9, 2018

There is significant evidence that the use of phones and other screens in class negatively impact student learning. There is also a great amount of evidence that classroom response technologies (CRT), like “clickers” and Poll Everywhere, positively impact student learning. Learning technology companies and universities (including UW) have largely switched to bring-your-own device (BYOD) models of CRT. However, no one has studied whether the fact that this model necessitates screen use in class takes away from the positive benefits of the active-learning allowed by CRT. Dr. Schnee’s work is a three-year project aimed at answering that question.

Ian Schnee is a Lecturer in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Washington. His research interests include epistemology and the philosophy of film and video games as well as pedagogy.

Questions about the series?

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