Effective Teaching

The Vision

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. Next, each characteristic is described in more detail.

Four characteristics of effective teaching at Mines


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

A Well-articulated Purpose

Communicating how the course is relevant to the field as well as students’ careers, interests, and/or lives outside of school. This can be reflected in the content chosen for the course and can take into consideration the students who are anticipated to enroll in the course.

Clear, Relevant, and Measurable Learning Outcomes

Guiding instruction, assessments, and opportunities for practice and feedback.

Formative and Summative Assessments

Aligning assessments directly to the learning outcomes and using assessments that give both students and the instructor information about students’ progress towards mastery of the learning outcomes.

Instructional Activities

Providing students sufficient time to actively practice the skills and knowledge reflected in the learning outcomes, as well as feedback about their current level of mastery.


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 (e.g., Ambrose et al., 2010; Seidel & Shavelson, 2007). An instructor who focuses on learning:

Activates students’ prior knowledge

Helping students 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 think like disciplinary experts

By modeling their own thinking, helping students see meaningful connections among course concepts, and providing students practice with authentic tasks.

Motivates students

Communicating the value of the content, emphasizing learning rather than grades, making expectations clear, setting an appropriate level of challenge, and similar practices.

Provides Practice and Feedback Opportunities

Providing 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 learning outcomes.

Guides Self-reflection

Supporting students in learning how to monitor, assess, and adjust their own learning.


Effective teaching is supportive of all students as learners and as people (Cornelius-White, 2007). 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 communicated and facilitated in many ways, including in:

Classroom policies

Using language in the syllabus that is encouraging rather than punitive, establishing explicit classrooms norms for respectful and inclusive interaction, and similar practices.

Course content

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).

Interactions that communicate care for students as learners

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.

Interactions that communicate care for students as people

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, among other practices.

Guided student-student interactions

Providing structure for collaboration and community building opportunities.


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. An instructor who is reflective and scholarly in their teaching:

Self-reflects and Iterates

Gathering, considering, and acting on relevant evidence of student learning and motivation. Evidence that an instructor could collect and learn from include, among other sources, mid-term feedback from students, student performance on course learning outcomes, and a formative teaching observation by a colleague.

Continues to Learn About and Develop Teaching

Attending professional development opportunities, observing their colleagues teach, completing self-study modules and webinars, attending teaching-focused conferences, and similar activities.

Shares and Collaborates

Working 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.