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Minnesota State University, Mankato

Minnesota State University, Mankato

Teaching Strategies

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How do we teach effectively? How do we convey disciplinary passion, curiosity, critique, and instinct to our students? How do we engage with them and learn with them? What do we do when they are struggling? How can we help those at the top of our courses go farther without leaving those who are struggling far behind? How can we get them talking to and learning from one another? How can we cover everything that we need to cover, and still have time to engage in intellectual debate and explore nuance?

The scholarship of teaching and learning, as well as the broader areas of learning and motivational science, have helped us to discover some foundational principles and sound teaching strategies that can help address these and a host of other questions that we face in higher education. ATS has put together some basic materials outlining some popular, evidence-supported teaching strategies below. We invite you to explore and use one or more of these strategies to help further your dreams as an instructor. We also make efforts to support the listed strategies with materials directed at supporting student engagement. You may view our entire catalog of engagement materials in our 10 Strategies for Engaging Learners series. Check out our new eBook for the entire library of 10 Strategies for Engaging Learners documents. 

Feel free to contact us should you have questions or comments or need assistance in designing your course using these or other teaching strategies, or if you'd like us to add a teaching strategy that is not represented here.

Teaching Strategy: Teaching with Technology Basics

Overview: If you're new to teaching with online tools (either as part of your face-to-face course or your blended or online course), there are a few basic types of activities that are commonly used as a starting point, including basic presentations (for use in-class or online), online assignments, readings and course packets, discussion boards, and quizzes and exams. Get a grounding in the tools and principles of good design for these types of activities before you start integrating more advanced tools and strategies.

Teaching Strategy: Quality Matters 

Overview: Quality Matters is an online rubric that outlines principles of effective design for teaching classes online. The rubric contains 41 general and specific standards that cover issues such as course structure, management, and instructional design.

Teaching Strategy: Blended Learning and Flipped Instruction 

Overview: Blended learning refers to a teaching strategy that utilizes both face-to-face classroom meetings as well as technology-enhanced learning outside of the classroom. This strategy is also sometimes called hybrid learning (although hybrid learning is also sometimes thought of as a slightly different strategy.) One popular format for blended learning is the flipped instructional model (Tucker, 2012). One of the overarching goals of blended learning and flipped instruction is to give students the best elements of face-to-face instruction and self-paced and interactive online activities. 

Teaching Strategy: Just-in-Time Teaching

Overview:  Just-in-Time Teaching (Novak, 1999) is the strategy of asking students questions about a pre-class activity, often a reading assignment or a pre-recorded lecture, before they come to class. Students complete the reading or viewing assignment, answer the questions (often using a blog or an open-ended ChimeIn question), and the instructor or a GA scans the responses for themes. The students' responses can then help guide the instructor's activities in-class, allowing those precious face-to-face moments to be more targeted towards the learners' demonstrated understandings and misunderstandings.

Teaching Strategy: Audience Response Systems and Interactive Lectures

Overview:  Polling students during class to ensure that they are understanding the concepts that we're lecturing about and adjusting our teaching based on the results has been a useful strategy to help drive in-class participation, student attention, feedback and remediation, and a more learner-centered approach (rather than content-centered) to teaching for several decades. Used well, it can provide the instructor with meaningful ways to gage student understanding, broach sensitive topics by allowing for anonymous responses, demonstrate lack of consensus as means to explore nuance, and engage learners in dialogue during a face-to-face class session. 

Teaching Strategy: Case-based Learning and Problem-based Learning

Overview:  Case-based learning and problem-based Learning are instructional strategies that uses the analysis of authentic, "real-life" scenarios or challenges as a means of demonstrating and/or building skills, competencies, and disciplinary intuition. Case-based learning tends to use cases as part of an integrated pedagogical strategy along with lectures, readings, and other instructional activities; once students have been presented with a theoretical framework they review a case and try to apply the principles to the case at hand, bridging theory and practice. Problem-based learning, in its purest form, presents a fully-formed "real-world" problem to students at the outset of a course. Students then experiment and explore to solve the problem, with the instructor acting as a "guide" in the process, offering correction, focus, and assistance to guide inquiry.

Teaching Strategy: Authentic Assessment 

Overview:  Authentic assessment focuses on using "real-world" assessment as demonstration of mastery, as opposed to simply using multiple choice quizzes and exams to assess student mastery. Examples of "authentic" assessments could be producing multi-media projects, solving real-world problems, working directly for clients, and playing structured games that replicate authenticate but hard to structure real-world environments.

Teaching Strategy: Gamification

Overview:  Gamification refers to using elements of gaming as part of instruction. (Kapp, 2012) Aspects of games that have been found to have educational benefits including being able to model high-stakes situations in low-stakes environments, allowing learners to "level-up" by beginning with a version of a game with more "hints" and slowly removing the help and support mechanisms, providing ongoing, continuous feedback (the "infinitely patient tutor"), and increase students' focused mental effort on course material by making the work of learning fun (Higdon, Miller, and Paul, 2009).

Teaching Strategy: Learning Analytics

Overview:  Learner analytics is part of the "big data" conversation. In essence, the strategy implies that we do three things:
1.Assess students early, often, and meaningfully in a course -- including assessments of non-graded motivational indicators, such as logging into the course web site and doing ungraded practice problems (for example);
2.Identify those students who, at every assessment moment, fall below a threshold for understanding or engagement; and
3.Quickly and efficiently stage meaningful interventions for those students who are struggling to help them get back on the right track.
This strategy is powered by the fact that, increasingly, our assessments and course activities are conducted in a digital context.

Teaching Strategy: Think, Pair, Share, and Peer Instruction

Overview:  Think, Pair, Share (Lyman, 1987) and Peer Instruction (Mazur and Hilborn, 1997) are related strategies that focus on having students consider mastery questions during class, commit to a response, discuss their thoughts with their neighbor in the class, and then share back with the larger class. The major distinction between these strategies is that Think, Pair, Share is often done without technological enhancements, while Peer Instruction leverages audience response technology such as ChimeIn or clickers to engage learners.

Teaching Strategy: Competency-based Instruction and Badging

Overview:  Increasingly we are being asked (by accrediting bodies, by legislators, by parents, and by the business community, among others) to demonstrate and certify that students have mastered specific skills, knowledge, and competencies, rather than simply providing a summative grade in a course. Competency-based instruction is the natural extension of basic principles of instructional design; it assumes that a curriculum has overarching competencies that are the threads that tie the individual courses together, and that those competencies are being taught and built upon throughout the Aristotelean arc of the courses that make up the curriculum. One means (among, perhaps, others) that people have tried to use to credential individual curricular competencies is through the use of badges -- like a digital version of boy scout or girl scout badges -- that instructors can use to credential learners with specific skills or competencies. Examples of badges might be "technical writing", "public speaking", "self-learning", "Java programming", or "leadership". As instructors across a curriculum see these skills emerging among their learners, they may choose to provide them with badges, or "level them up" in a badge that they have already been provided (such as a bronze, silver, and gold level of the "leadership" badge). The learners can choose to accept badges or not, and display them in a wide range of places -- such as their LinkedIn profiles, their Facebook profiles, in an ePortfolio, or on a personal web site. The badges are linked back to a page with metadata indicating who was the issuer (in this case, MSU, Mankato), what the rubric for assigning the badge were, and, if available, demonstrations of mastery from the learner (such as a link to a web page that she or he created).

Teaching Strategy: Multiple Intelligences 

Overview:  Theory One and the Theory of Multiple Intelligences (Gardner, 1985) begins with the premise that, barring physical disabilities (such as being hearing or visually impaired), all human beings have seven types of intelligences: visual spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, musical, interpersonal, intrapersonal, linguistic, and logical-mathematic. While the pedagogies that have emerged (such as the idea of "learning styles", which posits that learners have dominant intelligences and learn best if we teach to those preferred learning styles (see, for example, Riener and Willingham (2010)) are slightly more controversial, we believe the underlying premise that all learners learn across the intelligences can be compelling.


Gardner, H. (1985). Frames of Mind: The theory of multiple intelligences. Basic Books (AZ).
Higdon, J., Miller, S., & Paul, N. (2009, October). Educational Gaming for the Rest of Us: Thinking Worlds and WYSIWYG Game Development. In World Conference on E-Learning in Corporate, Government, Healthcare, and Higher Education, Vol. 2009, No. 1, pp. 359-362.
Kapp, K. M. (2012). The gamification of learning and instruction: Game-based methods and strategies for training and education. San Francisco, CA: Pfeiffer.
Lyman, Frank. "Think-Pair-Share." Unpublished University of Maryland paper (1987).
Mazur, E., & Hilborn, R. C. (1997). Peer instruction: A user's manual. Physics Today, 50(4), 68-69.
Novak, G. M., Patterson, E. T., Gavrin, A. D., Christian, W., & Forinash, K. (1999). Just-in-time teaching. American Journal of Physics, 67, 937.
Riener, C. and Willingham, D. (2010). The Myth of Learning Styles. Change Magazine. September - October, 2010. Retrieved online, 5.26.13 from
Tucker, B. (2012). The flipped classroom. Education Next, 12(1), 82-83.