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Faculty Development: Terry Derting

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Using JiTT

Using the JiTT to make your classes effective and engaging

Terry Derting

Murray State University, Biology
Spring 2016

Time. (2007) mat_n/Flickr

We know that new learning builds on prior learning. Therefore, as educators, we need to know what our students already know and understand and what they do not know and do not understand in order to use class time most effectively.  An exciting approach that is user-friendly, takes advantage of short web-based assignments and incorporates the effectiveness of active-learner classrooms is JiTT – Just in Time Teaching.

What is JiTT? Based on student responses to web-based questions, the instructor identifies gaps in student understanding of concepts before class; “just in time” to modify the upcoming class session so that it focuses on the students’ specific learning needs.

Some key benefits of JiTT are:

  • Specifically targets gaps in student understanding in class sessions
  • Better prepares students before they come to class
  • Gives students the opportunity to correct and clarify their thinking about concepts during
  • Promotes high expectations of students

How does one implement JiTT? The first and most time-intensive component of JiTT is developing online exercises that effectively probe for student misconceptions, as well as their understanding. These exercises can take many forms, including short essays, puzzles and problems, and podcasts and simulations that incorporate quiz questions. Students earn credit by submitting answers to questions that focus on specific concepts or issues a few hours before class. Next, the instructor compiles the responses, identifying sources of misunderstanding and lack of in-depth comprehension. Once gaps in student knowledge and skills are identified, the instructor then modifies the conceptual plan for the upcoming class session so that the in-class activities target those gaps. The instructor focuses specifically on active-learning activities that target learning goals for which students demonstrated the least progress. Modifications of a class session typically involve allocating more time for working on some concepts or problems and reducing time spent on concepts in which most students demonstrated competency.

Fortunately, many resources for JiTT exercises are already available to instructors through JiTT websites. I recommend that you look at examples at some of the following websites to find activities that are ready for your use or to guide you as you develop modifications that are suitable for your classes.

JiTT is fun, easy to implement, and makes class time efficient and effective.

Increasing learning during assessment

Increasing Learning During Assessment

by Terry L. Derting

Murray State University, Biology

Fall 2015

“Assessment: The Silent Killer of Learning” was the title of a prestigious annual lecture at Harvard University in 2013. How can assessment detract from learning given the ongoing emphasis on assessment in higher education? Can assessment be used to enhance learning? Although not frequently addressed or implemented, the very practices that we use to improve learning in the classroom can also be used to improve the amount of learning that occurs during assessments.  

A major form of assessment used in higher education involves students working individually to complete a task, quiz, or exam. At these times the classroom is typically silent. The individual-assessment approach is in contrast to modern classroom strategies that increase student engagement in the learning process through increased student interaction (e.g., think-pair-share, online discussions, collaborative work, and peer review; resources are available at 

We can increase the learning that occurs during individualized assessments by incorporating:

  • Two-stage exam in which students take an assessment individually and then retake it in pairs or groups. The individual component might be done the day before, as an on-line assignment, or in class. The instructor decides the allocation of total points between the two assessments. There are many publications available to you about the implementation and learning impacts of two stage exams; two of practical use are Eaton, 2009 and Weiman et al. 2014
  • Think-pair-share clicker assessment which uses in-class clicker questions to which points are assigned. Students answer a question individually for some number of points, discuss their answer with their neighbor(s), and then submit a second answer for additional points. 
  • Immediate-feedback assessment technique (IF-AT) allows students to answer a question multiple times until they arrive at the correct answer. Prepared IF-AT forms are typically multiple-choice questions, but you can create questions in Canvas that use written responses. Students submit their first answer and are immediately informed whether it is correct or not. They then talk with their classmates about the question and submit a second answer, usually for a lesser amount of points, and continue the process until they have the correct answer. For each answer submitted the student receives immediate feedback.
  • Development of models and analyzes as open-ended tasks in which groups of students collaborate to use the knowledge and skills they have learned in new ways. You may have students complete individual quizzes or tests beforehand to assess their understanding of course concepts. Students then work together on an assessment to produce solutions to new problems by using their knowledge and skills in new ways.

Assessments can be an important part of the learning process by incorporating strategies that are known to improve student learning. I highly recommend viewing Dr. Eric Mazur’s lecture as a means of developing collaborative approaches to assessment.

“I Tried Something New and the Students Hated It!” Overcoming barriers to learner-centered teaching

“I Tried Something New and the Students Hated It!” 

Overcoming Barriers to Learner-Centered Teaching

Terry Derting

Murray State University, Biology
Fall 2015

Faculty work hard to help students learn but student interest and motivation can be difficult to sustain. Being knowledgeable in two areas can help in improving student buy-in to more interactive approaches to learning.   

Just as one must learn how to conduct and use new research techniques, so must one learn how to implement new teaching methodologies.  

  • As an example, do your students understand the reasons why you are using your approaches to teaching? Do they know how the tasks you ask them to complete will benefit them? Try using the first-day approach described by Smith (2008); it can help your students understand their needs and your teaching. 
  • Teaching practices used in learner-centered classrooms frequently involve skills that are listed as high priority requirements by employers (e.g., critical thinking and analytic reasoning, complex problem solving, teamwork skills in diverse groups). Linking classroom activities with employer needs can stimulate students to invest in their own development through class activities, and help students value the teaching approaches you use.  
  • Be knowledgeable about the tools, techniques, and resources that are available for implementing your teaching practices. You can save much time in adapting tested resources rather than starting from scratch, and can avoid common pitfalls (e.g., As a starting point, many professional societies have online teaching resources for their discipline.
  • Show your students published evidence that learning is increased with active rather than passive methods. Students can see the types of learning behaviors that are associated with higher performance on course assessments. 

There will always be some student resistance to any teaching method, but you can find simple solutions to many sources of student dissatisfaction through user-friendly and accessible resources (e.g.,

Be knowledgeable about sources of student resistance to new teaching techniques. Most of us are not experts in the psychology of cognition and student learning, but we can strive to understand student difficulties and work to mitigate or overcome them. 

  • Resistance by some students is inevitable, and comes in many forms, including having a poor self-image as learners, not understanding the relevance of learning tasks, fear of the unknown, incompatibility between preferred learning styles and teaching practices, and demands beyond one’s capabilities (Brookfield 2006); but you can lessen its impacts. Check in with students periodically during a semester and ask what have they learned? With what are they struggling, including types of learning? The insights you gain from their answers can help you align your teaching to better meet students’ needs; and at the same time help students reflect on and realize what they are learning. 

Learning and implementing new approaches to teaching is a challenge, but the rewards are well worth it. Be encouraged by your successes and persevere.

Brookfield, S. D. 2006. The skillful teacher: On technique, trust, and responsiveness in the classroom, 2nd ed.  Jossey-Bass.  320 pp.

Smith, G.A.  2008.  First-day questions for the learner-centered classroom. The National Teaching and Learning Forum, 17 (5):1-2.