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The Innovative Instructor
The Blog

The Innovative Instructor blog builds on the article series focusing on pedagogy, best practices, and technology. Blog posts cover topics such as active learning, assessment, use of case studies in instruction, classroom management, instructional design, how to engage students, grading and feedback, collaborative learning, leading discussions, hybrid instruction, and teaching methods.II blog
The Innovative Instructor Blog can be found at

Print Series

The Innovative Instructor is a forum for articles on teaching excellence at Johns Hopkins University. Written by Hopkins faculty or campus instructional technology experts, the goal is to increase communication about effective teaching solutions and how to achieve them. Through these articles, instructors can share successful teaching strategies, learn what colleagues are doing, and discover new technologies and skills for the classroom or professional development.

To learn more about this series or to write an article, contact or call Cheryl Wagner at 410-516-7181.

Article Categories

There are three article types in the Innovative Instructor series:

  • Pedagogy Forum: Hopkins professors share successful strategies for teaching excellence.
  • Technology Forum: Information about emerging technologies, who is using them and why you should know.
  • Best Practice Forum: "How To" workshops on using technologies and applying innovative instructional methods.

Current Articles

"Using a Course Blog as a Class Ice-Breaker"

Anindya Roy, Postdoc, Department of Materials Science and Engineering

- In the fall of 2014 I taught a course, Stuff of Dreams: How Advances in Materials Science Shape the World, in the new Whiting School of Engineering Hopkins Engineering Applications & Research Tutorials (HEART) program. The program introduces undergraduates to engineering research in specific disciplines in a small class taught by advanced graduate students or postdoctoral fellows. The classes meet once a week for two hours for six weeks. The challenge of teaching these one credit, pass/fail courses with no requirement of the students beyond class attendance, is getting the students engaged.


"Writing Effective Learning Objectives"

Richard Shingles, Lecturer, Biology Department

- Effective teaching depends upon effective planning and design. The first step in preparing a high quality course is to clearly define your educational goals, which are your broad, overarching expectations for student learning and performance at the end of your course. The next step is to determine your learning objectives by writing explicit statements that describe what the student(s) will be able to do at the end of each class or course module. This includes the concepts they need to learn, and the skills they need to acquire and be able to apply.



Amy Brusini, Instructional Technology Specialist, Center for Educational Resources

- CATME, which stands for ‘Comprehensive Assessment of Team Member Effectiveness,’ is a free set of tools designed to help instructors manage group work and team assignments more effectively. It was developed by a diverse group of professors with extensive teaching experience, as well as researchers and students from across the U.S. First released in 2005, CATME takes away much of the administrative burden that instructors face when trying to organize and manage teams, communicate with students, and facilitate effective peer evaluation. It is now used by over 1200 institutions in 63 countries.


Past Articles

"Making Learning Click"

Kathryn Tifft, Lecturer, Biology Department

- Clickers, also known as in-class polling or voting systems, can be used in large lecture courses as a way to promote active learning. Using a small hand-held device, students answer questions posed by the instructor. Their answers are recorded by a software application on the instructor’s computer and can be shared with the class to provide immediate feedback. Recent educational professional development inspired my colleagues and me to leverage the benefits of clickers by improving, expanding, and diversifying clicker questions to increase student learning in our lecture courses.


"Bloom’s Taxonomy, Action Speaks Louder"

Richard Shingles, Lecturer, Biology Department

- Created in 1956 by Benjamin Bloom and his collaborators, the “Taxonomy of Educational Objectives” is a framework to categorize educational goals. It originally consisted of six categories: Knowledge, Comprehension, Application, Analysis, Synthesis, and Evaluation. The categories after Knowledge were presented as “skills and abilities” with the understanding that knowledge was the necessary precondition for putting these skills and abilities into practice.



Reid Sczerba, Multimedia Developer, Center for Educational Resources

- Piazza is an online question and answer style discussion board that offers useful features for facilitating communication among students, teaching assistants, and instructors. It provides a means to gauge student understanding of course concepts and allows instructors to engage with the students in an intuitive way in real time.


"Getting to the Source of the Problem"

Bill Leslie, Professor, Department of Science and Technology

 - Even the smartest undergraduates need to be taught that everything worth knowing won’t be found on a smart phone. Luckily, the Homewood campus offers endless opportunities for teaching from primary sources. The Hamburger Special Collections and Archives has everything from rare books, official university records, and historic photographs to films and artifacts, including a growing collection devoted to undergraduate life. Beyond the library there’s another world of primary documents to discover-artwork, memorials, even the very buildings where our students live and learn. With the right tools, and some help from the Center for Educational Resources (CER), I tried to bring these sources to life for the students and get them out of the classroom to experience the campus in an entirely new way.


"Creating Rubrics"

Louise Pasternack, Teaching Professor, Chemistry

 - Instructors have many tasks to perform during the semester. Among those is grading, which can be subjective and unstructured. Time spent constructing grading rubrics while developing assignments benefits all parties involved with the course: students, teaching assistants and instructors alike. Sometimes referred to as a grading schema or matrix, a rubric is a tool for assessing student knowledge and providing constructive feedback. Rubrics are comprised of a list of skills or qualities students must demonstrate in completing an assignment, each with a rating criterion for evaluating the student’s performance. Rubrics bring clarity and consistency to the grading process and make grading more efficient.



Macie Hall, Instructional Designer, Center for Educational Resources

 - Prezi is a free, cloud-based, presentation tool that allows users to place content on a screen in non-linear order. Prezi uses a Zooming User Interface (ZUI) to enable navigation and display of content. ZUI is a term used in computing to describe a graphical environment wherein users can change the size of a viewing area by enlarging or reducing it, navigate by panning across a surface, and zoom in and out of content.


"Interactive Collaboration Using Facebook"

Dr. Alexios Monopolis, Lecturer, Earth and Planetary Science

 - When I started teaching at Hopkins, Blackboard was offered as the course management system and most faculty seemed to be using it as their primary means of communication with students. Although Blackboard has some useful functions, I was looking for a different set of utilities – ideally, a class communication solution that students would find intuitive, easy to use, and interactive. Facebook is an application that most students are already quite familiar with and have incorporated into their daily lives. It became the obvious choice to help connect and engage my students outside of our formal in-class hours.


"Preparing an Effective Syllabus"

Richard Shingles, Lecturer, Biology Department

 - A course syllabus can be more than a list of class topics and readings. It can give students an immediate sense of what the course will be about, what they will learn, and how they will be evaluated. A syllabus can provide students with an clear understanding of expectations, course support, and proper conduct in class. It is a students’ "first impression" of your course, which will resonate through the semester and excite them about the course content they will soon learn.



Brian Cole, Senior Information Technologist, Center for Educational Resources

 - Panopto is a service that enables easy video capture, streaming, and sharing. While traditionally categorized as a lecture capture service, Panopto can do much more.


"Leveraging Peer Instruction"

Mike J. Reese, Associate Director, Center for Educational Resources
Dr. Julie Schell, Educational Researcher, Harvard University

 - Instructors often seek student-centered, active-learning teaching practices. These teaching methods are intended to increase student retention and engagement but the ways in which they are implemented is important for success.


"To the Cloud and Back Again"

Reid Sczerba, Multimedia Developer, Center for Educational Resources

 - The term ‘cloud’ refers to storing files on a remote server. Services such as Dropbox, Google Drive, and OneDrive provide cloud storage that keeps your files secure and backed up, ensuring that they are available when you need them. Access to your files will require an internet connection on your computer or mobile
device. Such services typically offer a small amount of storage for free with fees charged for upgrading the services. Fortunately for Hopkins faculty, students, and staff, IT@JH offers a cloud storage service called JHBox with at least 25 gigabytes of storage per user at no cost.



Brian Cole, Senior Information Technologist, Center for Educational Resources

 - Turnitin is a web-based service for detecting plagiarism and improper citations in studentsubmitted work. Johns Hopkins University has a multi-year subscription to Turnitin. All instructors in the Whiting School Engineering and the Krieger School of Arts & Sciences are covered by this subscription. There are no limits on the number of classes or number of student papers checked. Over 450 JHU faculty are registered Turnitin users, and in the past year, over 12,000 papers have been submitted to Turnitin to check for originality.


"Bring on the Collaboration!"

Rebecca Pearlman, Senior Lecturer, Department of Biology

 - Getting students to participate in class discussions is a common challenge. Every instructor has faced the dreaded silence after posing a question. Active learning activities can stimulate student engagement, but they can be difficult to implement in classrooms that were designed for lectures - fixed seating inhibits opportunities for collaborative exercises such as group work and discussion.


"To Curve or Not to Curve"

Mike J. Reese, Associate Director, Center for Educational Resources

 - Instructors choose grading schemes for a variety of reasons. Some may select a method that reflects the way they were assessed as students; others may follow the lead of a mentor or senior faculty member in their department. To curve or not to curve is a big question. Understanding the motivations behind and reasons for curving or not curving grades can help instructors select the most appropriate grading schemes for their courses.



Amy Brusini, Instructional Technology Specialist, Center for Educational Resources

 - VoiceThread is web-based presentation software that allows users to create and share interactive multimedia slideshows. VoiceThread presentations are used to showcase audio, video, images, and documents while allowing users to comment on them in a variety of different ways. The result is a digital conversation that can be easily shared with individuals, groups, and/or embedded into different websites, including Blackboard, the course management system used here at Homewood.


"Beyond the Classroom, Into the Community"

Eric Rice, Lecturer, Center for Leadership Education
Dr. Peter Beilenson, Lecturer, Public Health
Eva Smith, Undergraduate Teaching Assistant, International Studies

 - Although learning by doing has always been an important pedagogical tool, it may be difficult to implement in courses where the active learning takes place outside of the classroom or lab. Creating course projects that involve the community gives students a chance to affect positive social change, but working outside of a controlled environment involves unpredictable variables that can hamper the active learning experience.


"Making Group Projects Work"

Pam Sheff, Senior Lecturer, Center for Leadership Education
Leslie Kendrick, Senior Lecturer, Center for Leadership Education

 - One measure of successful teaching is student engagement. Instructors often find that student engagement increases when active learning strategies are implemented in the classroom. One strategy is to assign problem-based collaborative learning projects. Well-conceived group projects help students develop critical thinking skills, learn how to work in teams, and allow them to apply theories learned in the course to real-life situations, producing an appreciation for how the knowledge gained will be useful once the class is over. The end result is a richer learning experience for the students.


"Apps for That: Smartphone"

Reid Sczerba, Multimedia Developer, Center for Educational Resources

 - As smartphones become more commonplace, the number of small, single-purpose applications (apps) grows. These apps are functional extensions of your smartphone’s built in applications; they are powerful tools that do not require a laptop or desktop computer. While most apps are created to entertain, some are created for productivity, communication, and collaboration; all of which can enrich educational experience.


"Visualizing Population Data Geographically"

Stan Becker, Professor of Population, Family and Reproductive Health
Nazish Zafar, 4th year Graduate Student in Sociology

 - In most public health courses, statistical data are central to understanding population and health indicators as they relate to issues such as fertility and life expectancy. However, raw statistical data of one country do not usually illustrate that country’s geographical relationship to other countries or reveal broader global public health patterns. Visualizing the indicators of the countries based on their locations on the map can be difficult, especially since current resources do not usually map the latest data within a global setting, which is essential for contextual and spatial analysis.


"Setting up Guest Access in Blackboard"

Amy Brusini, Instructional Technology Specialist, CER

 - When Blackboard courses are created, access is restricted to members of the JHU community who are enrolled in each course (instructors, TAs, and students) and have working JHED IDs. But with the Guest Management application developed by IT@JH, it is possible to create and distribute guest login accounts that are open to anyone, including those outside of JHU.



Hérica Valladares, Assistant Professor of Classics
Macie Hall, Instructional Designer, CER

 - A wiki is a webpage or website that allows collaborative editing. A wiki invites participants to take part in the creation of the site content. Typically edits are tracked and a history of the contributions can be viewed.


"Digital Labs: Drawing Ancient Inscriptions"

Kyle McCarter, Professor, Near Eastern Studies Department

 - In an epigraphy course students learn to decipher and analyze inscriptions and manuscripts using traditional philological tools. The ultimate goals are to translate and interpret texts, but before they can begin to do those things, students need to become familiar with the physical characteristics of the ancient documents we study, especially the shape and other features of the writing itself. So our first job is to enhance the students' ability simply to "see" ancient writing, and this can be a challenge when using traditional tools.


"Calibrating Multiple Graders"

Pamela R. Bennett, Assistant Professor of Sociology
Andrew J. Cherlin, Professor & Chair of Sociology
Michael J. Reese, 5th Year Graduate Student in Sociology

 - Assessing student work in large classes can be complicated when several faculty or multiple teaching assistants share the responsibility. In a calibration exercise, multiple individuals work together to score a sample of student submissions before dividing and individually grading the remaining student work.


"In-Class Voting (‘Clickers’)"

Richard Shingles, Lecturer, Biology

 - In-class voting systems, also known as "clickers," allow instructors to rapidly collect and analyze student responses to questions posed during class. Clickers can make a class more engaging and encourage students, who often refrain from answering oral questions in class, to contribute to class dialog on questions posed by the instructor. Instructors can also obtain real-time feedback as to how well students understand concepts taught in the class.


"Civility in the Classroom"

Dr. Pier Massimo Forni, German and Romance Languages and Literatures

 - Faculty profession of knowledge used to rest on the firm foundation of the principle of authority. Most students granted their teachers respect and sometimes deference as a matter of course. That foundation has been crumbling for at least three generations. The new digital technology has virtually razed it. As college teachers, it is imperative that we realize what this means for our relationship with our students and for the future of education.


"Image Resolution"

Reid Sczerba, Multimedia Developer, CER

 - Image resolution is a concept that always comes up when working with digital images. The resolution of an image has implications for the final output of the image, whether that output is a printed poster or an image on a website. An understanding of image resolution ensures that the end result is clear, crisp, and of an appropriate file size.



Macie Hall, Instructional Designer, CER

 - Facebook is an online social networking service, designed to enable users to build communities of people who share interests. Social networking services provide different ways for users to interact online through tools such as virtual bulletin boards, blogs, wikis, e-mail, and instant messaging. Users can also share content, such as photos and videos. The name "Facebook" comes from the term for printed directories of student pictures and information distributed each year to incoming college freshmen so that they can identify each other.


"Lectures On Demand"

Michael Falk, Associate Professor, Materials Science & Engineering

 - Applied science programming courses typically involve the instructor writing examples of code during class as students follow along at their computers. Students may occasionally work through simple examples on their own, but they spend most of class passively watching the instructor.


"Teaching with Images"

Adrienne Lai, Art Libraries Society of North America Intern

 - Strategic use of images in the classroom helps engage students who have grown up in a media-rich environment. Digital technology makes images more readily available and easier to incorporate into teaching and learning materials.



Amy Brusini, Instructional Technology Specialist, CER

 - Blackboard is a web-based course management system that allows instructors to present course material and interact with students in an online environment. Depending on the instructor’s needs, Blackboard can be used either to supplement face to face courses or present courses entirely online.


"Embedding Research into the Curriculum"

Dr. Stephen Plank, Sociology

 - The complementary relationship between teaching and research was integral to President Gilman’s vision in establishing Johns Hopkins. Great researchers bring new ideas and practices into the classroom for the benefit of students, who can in turn contribute to new discoveries by engaging in the research process.


"Creating a Covenant with Your Students"

Dr. Pier Massimo Forni, German and Romance Languages and Literatures

 - If you have been dealing with student attitudes that mix disengagement with disregard, you are not alone. Millions of educators around the world are in your position. One way to improve the situation is to make your expectations explicit.



Adrienne Lai, Art Libraries Society of North America Intern

 - ARTstor is a non-profit digital image library available through the JHU Libraries. It consists of over a million images, along with essential data, of subject matter relevant to many disciplines. Despite its name, ARTstor isn’t just pictures of art or humanitiescentric. It contains images that are of great value for didactic and illustrative purposes in the social sciences, basic sciences and engineering.


"Visualizing Museums"

Dr. Elizabeth Rodini, History of Art, Museums and Society

 - Many survey courses cover a lot of ground with little time available to probe individual topics in depth. A 200 level introductory course that provides an overview of 500 years of museum history with political, social, and cultural implications, for example, offers few opportunities to explore topics in depth.


"Teaching Assistant Training Institute"

Richard Shingles, Director of the TA Training Institute

 - The Teaching Assistant Training Institute consists of a team of professionals managed by the Center for Educational Resources to provide general instructional training for full-time graduate and undergraduate students with teaching assignments in the Krieger School of Arts & Sciences or the Whiting School of Engineering.


"Timeline Creator"

Mike Reese, Assistant Director, Center for Educational Resources

 - The Timeline Creator software allows instructors, students, and researchers without multimedia development skills to develop an interactive timeline for teaching or presentation purposes. The resulting timeline can be published on the World Wide Web, through BlackBoard or other content management systems, or presented directly from a computer.