Effective Teaching

Mines created a definition of effective teaching to establish a shared understanding to guide instructors and create consistency across campus. To create the definition, a Faculty Senate committee collaborated with the Trefny Center to review the empirical education literature. These efforts resulted in the identification of four characteristics of effective teaching that all Mines faculty can work towards. While each characteristic is distinct, the four overlap with and inform each other, together characterizing effective teaching. Below, each characteristic is described in more detail.

 EXPLORE THE Four Characteristics of Effective Teaching

Intentionally Designed

Effective teaching begins with a course that is intentionally designed to foster student belonging and support student learning and motivation, leveraging research-based practices while also maintaining a reasonable workload.

A well-designed course includes...
  • A clear vision that communicates the purpose of the course and how the course is relevant to the field as well as students’ careers, interests, and/or lives outside of school. This course vision takes into consideration the students who are anticipated to enroll in the course.
  • Specific and measurable learning outcomes to guide instruction, assessments, and opportunities for practice and feedback.
  • Formative and summative assessments that directly align with the learning outcomes and that give both students and the instructor information about students’ progress towards mastery of the learning outcomes.
  • Learning experiences that provide students sufficient time to actively practice the skills and knowledge defined in the learning outcomes, as well as feedback about their current level of mastery.
Interested in designing courses or learning experiences?

Focused on Learning

Effective teaching is focused on learning and on creating learning opportunities. It considers how students’ prior experiences shape their learning, is based on research about how people learn best, and frames the content in terms of its relevance to students’ lives and future careers (Ambrose et al., 2010).

An instructor who is focused on learning...
  • Activates students’ prior knowledge, helping them make connections between what they have previously learned, what they are currently learning, other coursework, their lives outside of school, and their future careers.
  • Helps students learn to think like disciplinary experts by modeling their own thinking, helping them see meaningful connections among course concepts, and providing them practice with authentic tasks.
  • Motivates students by communicating the value of the content, emphasizing learning rather than grades, making expectations clear, and setting an appropriate level of challenge.
  • Provides multiple opportunities for students to actively practice the skills required by the course learning outcomes, paired with timely feedback that is clearly tied to those outcomes.
  • Helps students become part of the learning community, maintaining a safe, respectful, and open learning environment for all (see Supportive of Students).
  • Supports students in learning how to monitor, assess, and adjust their own learning.
Interested in learning about ways you can promote student learning?

Supportive of Students

Effective teaching is supportive of all students as learners and as people.  When students feel supported they are more likely to seek help from the instructor (Ishiyama & Hartlaub, 2002), persist in challenging tasks (Cohen et al. 1999), and persist in science majors (Seymour & Hewitt, 1997).

Support can be fostered through...
  • Classroom policies, such as using language in the syllabus that is encouraging rather than punitive and establishing explicit classrooms norms for respectful and inclusive interaction.
  • Course content, for example, by choosing examples across multiple domains or representing a variety of perspectives, finding ways to draw on students’ past experiences, and making content fully accessible (e.g., closed captioning, formatted for text readers).
  • Student-instructor interactions that communicate care for students as learners, such as being present and responsive to students’ needs, combining high expectations with learning supports to provide each student with the opportunity to succeed, and communicating to students that mistakes are part of learning.
  • Student-instructor interactions that communicate care for students as people, such as learning and using student names, mentoring students, showing compassion when students confront personal issues that might impact their course work, and taking an interest in students’ lives outside of the class.
  • Guided student-student interactions that communicate structure for collaboration and community building opportunities.
    Interested in creating inclusive, supportive environments?


    Effective teaching is reflective. Schön (1983) coined the phrase “reflective practitioner” to capture the intellectual work that effective instructors do as part of their professional practice in order to iterate, revise, and improve their teaching practices.

    An instructor who is reflective in their teaching...
    • Reflects and iterates on their teaching by gathering, considering, and acting on relevant evidence of student learning and motivation. Evidence that an instructor could collect and learn from include mid-term and end-of-term feedback from students, student performance on course learning outcomes, and teaching observations by a department or Trefny colleague.
    • Seeks opportunities to continue learning about and developing in their teaching, for example, by attending professional development opportunities, observing their colleagues teach, completing self-study modules and webinars, and attending teaching-focused conferences.
    • Shares what they have learned and collaborates with colleagues to build a culture of shared responsibility for student learning and success. This can be accomplished through activities such as publishing scholarship related to teaching and learning, working at the department- or university-level to support student learning, and mentoring other faculty in their teaching.
      Interested in refining your teaching practice through reflective learning?