Below, you will find a collection of topics foundational for teaching and learning at UIS.

Learning Theories, Approaches, & Pedagogies

The design of a successful online course is very dependent upon the teaching and learning strategies that a faculty member employs. The resources below provide a broad array of strategies that may help you with the development or refinement of a course.

Understanding by Design (Backwards Design)

Understanding by Design is an instructional design framework developed by Grant Wiggins and Jake McTighe that supports moving from the desired outcomes to the assessment evidence needed to verify the learning to the learning materials need to support the assessment. Jay McTighe's consulting page has a wealth of resources to support your work.

Bowen, R. S.  (2017). Understanding by Design. Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching.

Zone of Proximal Development and Scaffolding

These learning theories by Lev Vygotsky are foundational to many modern learning theories. 

Cognitive Load Theory

HyFlex Pedagogy

HyFlex (Hybrid Flexible) is a pedagogy and teaching modality that allows students a high degree of flexibility — the content is available in a physical classroom, synchronously via web conference during class meetings, and in a recorded asynchronous format. Learn more about HyFlex.

Pedagogy, Andragogy, and Heutagogy

Pedagogy is the teaching of children, or dependent personalities. Andragogy is the facilitation learning for adults, who are self-directed learners. Heutagogy is the management of learning for self-managed learners. Learn more about Pedagogy, Andragogy, and Heutagogy.


Many online courses are often built upon the principles of constructivist theory which states that we construct new knowledge as we are actively engaged in learning and that learning is tied to past experiences.

As more formally described in the book, Constructivism in Practice (Kafai and Resnick, 1996, Introduction):

“Constructivism suggests that learners are particularly likely to make new ideas when they are actively engaged in making some type of external artifact—be it a robot, a poem, a sand castle, or a computer program—which they can reflect upon and share with others. Thus, constructivism involves two intertwined types of construction: the construction of knowledge in the context of building personally meaningful artifacts.”

Active Learning

Active learning involves actively engaging students with the course material through discussions, problem solving, case studies, role plays and other methods. Active learning requires being cognitively engaged, not necessarily hands-on, physical engagement. For instance, reflective journaling is active learning because a learner is bringing together their experiences with the materials presented in the course. Being involved in your own learning is often referred to as Active Learning.

Community of Inquiry Framework

The Community of Inquiry framework is a constructivist model that focuses on the development of a community in online learning and there are three essential elements to a satisfying educational experience: Cognitive Presence, Social Presence and Teaching Presence.

Mode Neutral Pedagogy

Mode Neutral Pedagogy is a set of teaching and learning principles that shifts the control and responsibility for learning to the student. The model attempts to define and create one learning experience regardless of learner location: on-ground or online.


Connectivism has been called a ‘learning theory for the digital age.’ It seeks to overcome the perceived limitations of behaviorism, cognitivism and constructivism. The theory embraces and accounts for the utilization of technology on our learning.

Writing Learning Objectives

What is a Learning Objective

Based on the work of Mager. 

Mager, R. F. (1997). Preparing Instructional Objectives: A Critical Tool in the Development of Effective Instruction (3rd ed.). Atlanta, GA: The Center for Effective Performance. 

An objective is a collection of words, symbols, and/or pictures describing one of your important intents. An objective will communicate your intent to the degree you describe what the learner will be DOING when demonstrating achievement of the objective, the important conditions of the doing, and the criterion by which achievement will be judged.

To prepare a useful objective, continue to modify a draft until these questions are answered: 

  1. What do I want the learners/students to do? 
  2. What are the important conditions or constraints under which I want them to perform? 
  3. How well must students perform for me to be satisfied? 

When the main intent of an objective is covert, an indicator behavior through which the main intent can be detected is added. Indicator behaviors are always the simplest, most direct behaviors possible, and they are always something that every trainee already knows how to do well. 

To prepare an objective: 

  1. Write a statement that describes the main intent or performance expected of the student. 
  2. If the performance happens to be covert, add an indicator behavior through which the main intent can be detected. 
  3. Describe relevant or important conditions under which the performance is expected to occur. Add as much description as is needed to communicate the intent to others. 

The Qualities of Useful Learning Objectives



Performance of Learner

What should the learner do?

Conditions for Performance

Under what conditions do you want the learner to do it?

Criteria for Acceptable Performance

How well must it be done?

Handout based on R.F. Mager’s work for writing learning objectives.

Bloom's Taxonomy and Measurable Action Verbs for Learning Objectives


compose, construct, create, design, develop, integrate, invent, make, manage, modify, prepare, propose, synthesize


assess, choose, convince, critique, decide, determine, defend, estimate, judge, justify, measure, predict, prioritize, prove, rate, recommend, select


analyze, categorize, compare, contrast, deconstruct, differentiate, examine, infer, organize, select, test


apply, carry out, choose, demonstrate, recreate, show, solve, use


describe, distinguish, clarify, classify, compare, convert, contrast, estimate, explain, identify, locate, predict, relate, report, restate, translate, summarize


define, describe, identify, label, list, match, name, order, recall, recognize

More measurable verbs are available in this Measurable Bloom's Verb handout from Uitica University. 

In the Literature

UIS Course Evaluations

UIS Course Evaluation System

The UIS Course Evaluation System is available for a time period at the end of each term. The Provost's office will email faculty with specific information regarding the course evaluation period each term. Course evaluation results may be viewed online

Strategies for Increasing Course Evaluation Response Rates

The Timing – A barrier for course evaluation completion is timing the evaluation close to finals (Cottreau & Hatfield 2001).  At UIS, course evaluations become available three weeks prior to the end of the semester.  Thus, begin asking for feedback earlier in the semester!

You might be concerned that that timing may be too early to get accurate feedback from students, as not all activities and assignments have yet been completed.  Research has shown, however, that the results of course evaluations completed earlier in a course are highly correlated with results of course evaluations completed finals week or after (McNulty et al. 2010).  Not only do you increase the likelihood of having a higher response rate, students completing evaluations earlier provided more qualitative feedback than students completing evaluations later (McNulty et al. 2010).  At UIS, these additional (write-in) comments are provided only to the instructor and are not added to the instructor’s faculty file.

The Frequency – For online course evaluations, post announcements as many times and in as many places as you can:

  • Post the link in your syllabus.
  • Create a specific announcement about the evaluation.

Sample Announcement – Course evaluations are open online. These are very important in improving the quality of classes at UIS. They also are an important instrument used in the promotion and tenure process for faculty members. Please take a few moments to fill out the evaluations for this class and any others you may be taking that have online evaluations: These evaluations are available only through Saturday, May 4.Faculty members do not see the results of course evaluations until after final grades are submitted for the term. Thanks for taking the time to fill them out!

  • Include the link to the evaluation in emails and announcements until the end date (And remember the course evaluation is available at x until x date).
  • Add as an item to the course calendar

Tell Students Why It’s Important – Remind students why course evalutions are important at UIS (see below) and remind them that you cannot see the feedback until after final grades are due and that it will not impact their grade in any way.  Students are more likely to respond if they knew how their evaluations will be used and what decisions their responses will influence (Kidd & Latif 2003, Anderson et al. 2005; Cottreau & Hatfield 2001; Hatfield & Coyle 2013).  The largest factor for not completing evaluations is that students believe the evaluations will not result in change or would not benefit them (Hatfield & Coyle 2013).

The Method – For on-campus classes at UIS, faculty have the choice of having online or in-class evaluations.  Research is mixed on whether online or paper evaluations result in higher response rate, as shown below:  

  • Compared with paper surveys, online evaluations have been associated with increased response rates (Barnett & Matthews 2009; Anderson et al. 2005; Thorpe 2002; Hatfield & Coyle 2013).  
  • Online ratings produce a lower response rate than in-class ratings (Avery, Bryant, Mathios, Kang, & Bell, 2006; Benton, Webster, Gross, & Pallett, 2010 ; IDEA, 2011; Nulti, 2008).

Your class’s typical attendance rate should be considered when deciding whether the in-class or online evaluation will be more effective. 

Why are Course Evaluations Important at UIS?

Goal #1 of the UIS Strategic Plan states that “UIS will achieve academic excellence through excellence in teaching and learning and excellence in scholarship.”  Action Step #4 of the UIS Strategic Plan states that UIS will “Improve the assessment of learning outcomes and of teaching; use aggregated information from course evaluations to inform faculty development programming:  a) Establish and fund a program to support improvements in the assessment of learning outcomes and program review.  b) Adopt a new course evaluation instrument.  c) Implement a multidimensional approach to teaching evaluation.  d) Use the data from the improved teaching evaluation approach as the basis for issues addressed in faculty development programs.”

Presently, course evaluations are used for retention and promotion decisions and for course improvement.  Completion of student course evaluations is imperative in evaluating curricular trends and teaching effectiveness, particularly if no other assessment methods are performed (Hatfield & Coyle 2013).

Research suggestions that student ratings of courses and faculty are a reliable and useful method of evaluating teaching and course effectiveness (Kidd & Latif 2003).  In fact, student evaluations are as reliable as peer evaluations, provided that response rates are good (Paulsen 2002).  However, course evaluations should be used in conjunction with other evaluation tools, such as the peer evaluation and a teaching portfolio, when evaluating the effectiveness of an instructor.  Research has found that faculty members receiving the best evaluations are not always the most effective teachers according to students (Surratt & Desselle 2007).  The Dr. Fox Effect, as seen in the following video, suggests that a highly expressive presenter can earn high evaluations even when the content presented is nonsensical.