Author Archives: dgerasim

SIMPLE Summit: Photo Report

The SIMPLE Summit took place on Oct 21 and gathered together members of the Teaching Development Groups and the Teaching Inquiry Group. We observed and engaged in insightful conversations and sharing about teaching and learning! We wanted to thank all attendees for coming and participating. This event wouldn’t happen without you! A special thank you goes to Vicky for presenting her work to us!

At the beginning of the Summit, we also discussed the project structure, research agenda, and preliminary results. For more information, please refer to our presentation: PDF

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SIMPLE Summit!

The SIMPLE project is hosting the SIMPLE summit on Friday, October 21 from 1:00 – 3:00 p.m. in the Johnson Center, Room 239A. The event is designed to serve as a space for members of all teaching development groups as well as of the teaching inquiry group to meet, learn about each other’s experience with interactive teaching, and share their tips for effective teaching. The Summit will start with the project leaders introducing the project, its goals, and major research findings, followed by a presentation of Dr. Vicky Ikonomidou about her teaching innovations and educational research on them. A major part of the Summit will be dedicated to table discussions among attendees on the topics of interest. The summit will also include snacks.

All SIMPLE participants are invited!

What is a design memo?

Design memos are an easy way to document teaching strategies and share them with the teaching community. In design memos instructors describe the strategies and techniques they practice in their classrooms, provide examples of their use, describe the pros and cons these strategies have, etc. Feel free to use the ideas from the existing design memos from our collection below and comment if you try them.

The template for the design memo can be found here: Design memo template. If you would like to have your design memo posted in our collection, please e-mail it to us at

Early Warning System

What is the strategy?

In our class, students have five chances to pass each of the ten assessments we give them. In the past, we only reached out to check in with them after they failed an assessment three times. This upcoming semester, I would like to try reaching out to them if they fail an assessment just two times, to see if that makes a difference.

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Using drawing to engage students in large lecture cell biology

What is the strategy?

During the semester, in-class drawing activities were used to foster student engagement in several ways.  In general, three strategies were used: (1) Asking students to draw cellular representations to understand where biochemical processes happen and their mechanisms in cell function (e.g., drawing the mitochondria, labeling pH values of compartments, and drawing ATP synthase facing the appropriate direction); (2) table generation alongside artwork depicting critical cellular functions (CAM, C3 and C4 photosynthetic pathways is a major example); and (3) conceptually integrative artwork that typically compared cellular processes and integrated other core concepts (cell cycle and mitosis vs. meiosis is a major example).  A notecard process (see prior design memo by Schwebach) was used for students to share their artwork with the class.  Students were told to discuss lecture content or solve problems with their peers (these discussions would take about 5 min. from initiation to students reporting out), using the artwork as a conversation piece and some of the art was handed in for extra credit or for participation points to show the class how other students were thinking about critical concepts in cell biology. 

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Qualitative Analysis: Now you have data, what do you do with it?


This design memo describes an in-class assignment where students are given data from a real research project and asked to code answers to open ended questions. The purpose of the exercise is to give students firsthand experience at making coding decisions within the context of a research question.

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Embedding review questions in lecture videos

What is the strategy?

As part of the first iteration of the distance-learning version of Biostatistics for Biology Majors I created a series of lecture videos as the main method of learning for the course. In order to create an opportunity for students to engage in active learning while watching lecture videos, I designed short activities that I embedded in each lecture video. On average, lecture videos are 13.5min (±5.6min) in length and there are 1-3 activities per lecture. After I introduce the activity in the video a Powerpoint slide is shown detailing the question or problem for the students to work through. This activity introduction slide says, “It’s your turn. Pause the video and try the following activity”. Directly after the activity is presented, a follow-up slide is shown that says, “Did you really try the video? Pause the video and try it. Warning: Answers coming next”. This slide is meant to encourage students to participate in the activity rather than choosing to skip it and passively sit watching the video. Following the slides, I present the answer to the question or problem and explain any wrong answers. For activities that will take longer than a few minutes, I end a lecture video by presenting the problem and the following video explains the answers. In this way, there is a natural break to encourage students to attempt the activity.

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Introduction to Reading Primary Literature


Reading a scientific paper can be a daunting task for an undergraduate. This assignment is designed to provide a structure for students to read a paper from primary literature. This exercise will instruct students to analyze each figure individually and identify the authors’ conclusions. They will then interpret the data themselves and decide whether their conclusions coincide with the authors’ conclusions.  

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Integrating active worksheets into a lecture-based Biology course

What is your strategy?

The factual information that is required for understanding the topics being discussed in each lecture are presented in a short Powerpoint presentation, which is posted on Blackboard directly after class.  At the start of each lecture, students are provided a list of the learning goals and objectives that clearly state what facts, concepts, and skills they are expected to acquire from the lecture. The short presentations are supplemented with worksheets that are designed to be completed at different points during class time, usually intermittent with the Powerpoint presentation.  Activities written within the worksheets are varied and include learning games, designing experiments, and analyzing figures from primary literature to reinforce the facts and concepts addressed during the Powerpoint presentation.  Importantly, students are allowed to choose whether they work on the worksheets on their own or in small group (no more than 3 students per group).  After giving students 3-10 minutes per question on the worksheet, students share their answers and have the opportunity to analyze and provide feedback for each other’s responses.  Ultimately, the bulk of the time spent in the classroom is spent addressing any misconceptions or confusion about the material introduced in the Powerpoint presentation.  With the students consistently engaged in the material, they learn from their instructor, each other, and on their own throughout the 90 minutes of class time. 

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Helping Instructors Prepare Students in Prerequisite Math Courses

During discussions in SIMPLE meetings, a concern that came up early in the Fall 2015 semester was how prerequisite mathematics classes are not homogeneous, which means students have varied levels of preparation, and in some unfortunate circumstances, students are not completely ready for their current course.  Since instructors can get behind, or that classes are sometimes canceled (e.g., snow days), we considered which topics could be listed as optional in Calculus 1 and 2, and we discussed the possibility of providing instructors of these courses with target schedules. Little discussion happened in the SIMPLE meetings regarding the course which many students place when they enter GMU: Precalculus Mathematics.  Consequently, I decided to collect, create, refine, and organize resources for future instructors of Precalculus.

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Teaching Inquiry Group at ITL!

Members of the Teaching Inquiry Group (TIG) presented their work at Mason’s Innovations in Teaching and Learning Conference on September 16, 2016. The TIG members conduct educational research using self-study methodology under the guidance and mentorship of Anastasia Samaras, Professor in the College of Education and Human Development. To become familiar with members’ research, please take a look at their poster below!

ITL TIG 2016

The TIG team at ITL!


Highlights from the SIMPLE mini-poster session at ITL!

On September 16, 2016, the SIMPLE project organized a mini-poster session with the Innovations in Teaching and Learning Conference at Mason. During the mini-poster session, members of Teaching Development Groups presented their posters, in which they described and discussed interactive teaching strategies that they use in their classrooms. All posters are available on our website ( We would like to thank all attendees who came to the session and engaged in conversation about teaching and learning! Special thank you goes to all members who created the posters and made this session possible! Thank you, Laura Kosoglu, Anthony Battistini, Bob Sachs, Chris Kauffman, Mark Snyder, Rebecca Ericson, Anne Crowell, Diana Karczmarczyk, Reid Schwebach, Chelsie Romulo, Marieke Kester, Julia Nord, Jessica Rosenberg, and Tracy Cator-Lee!

Bob Sachs   Chelsie and MariekeChris Kauffman   Laura and AnthonyDiana   Tracy

What are SIMPLE posters?

SIMPLE posters are artifacts created by members of the Teaching Development Groups that function within the SIMPLE project. In these posters, authors describe and discuss interactive teaching strategies they use in their classrooms. The posters below were presented at Mason’s Innovations in Teaching and Learning Conference on September 16, 2016.

Please feel free to borrow ideas from the posters and comment on them! Additionally, we always seek ways to expand our collection, so if you would like to create a poster and have it published on our website, please email us at, and we would be happy to post it!

Julian Treasure: How to speak so that people want to listen

Video: Julian Treasure: How to speak so that people want to listen

Have you ever felt like you’re talking, but nobody is listening? Here’s Julian Treasure to help. In this useful talk, the sound expert demonstrates the how-to’s of powerful speaking — from some handy vocal exercises to tips on how to speak with empathy. A talk that might help the world sound more beautiful.