SIP 5.11 Teaching Source Documentation

Thirsty for a Strong Instructional Practice?

Citing Sources

Many faculty mistakenly believe that by the time students get to college, they should know how to cite sources. Or, they may figure that since students in their classes have taken ENG 1020, they already know how to cite sources. Both of these assumptions are faulty and can lead to unnecessary frustration on the part of the faculty and confusion on the part of the student.

Take a SIP of This: Teaching Source Documentation

Citing sources effectively is a very complex activity and cannot be fully learned in high school or a one-semester college course, like ENG 1020. Instead, it makes more sense to think of effective source citation as something that students need constant exposure to and instruction in. If we think of source documentation as simply a bibliographic entry and an in-text citation, we actually overlook the subtleties of source selection and source integration. When we put all our attention into source documentation, we imply to students that the only reason to cite sources is to prove that they didn’t plagiarize. In fact, there are much better reasons for writers to cite sources, such as to give a nod to the people who have shaped our thinking on a topic, to indicate which conversation we are participating in, and to help our readers track down our sources so they can join the conversation.

Here are some things you can do to help students grasp the complexity of source documentation:

  • Don’t assume that students already know how to use or cite sources. Even if they tell you they do, research by Diana Stout (2013) and Lori Power (2009) suggests that they know much less than you (and they) think they do.
  • Discuss with students the multiple reasons we cite sources. Talk about your own writing and source citations and the functions they serve. Be explicit about what you as a reader expect in terms of source citation in the articles you read and why. Then connect this to your expectations for source citation from your students.
  • Help students understand that different source citation systems exist because they reflect different disciplinary values. Explain how the particular source citation format you require reflects your discipline’s values. For example, if your field uses APA format, explain why the date of publication is so important to readers in your field; and if your field uses MLA format, explain why the date of publication is less important.
  • Instead of simply telling students to cite sources or pointing them toward format guides, engage them in a discussion of how sources are cited in some of the readings for your course and how those citations direct their attention or shape their opinion of the author. Using the readings you assign as models of source citation can help students understand source citation in a disciplinary context.

· Engage multiple learning preferences by providing students with visual aids, such as color-coded format guides, and hands-on activities for practice, such as online games and citation puzzles.

· Give students feedback on their source citations that goes beyond correcting the format of their in-text citations or bibliographic entries to demonstrate that you value the citation for how it frames the source being referred to. When a source citation is missing, give feedback that helps the student understand how this confuses you as a reader. · Remind students that the Writing Center can help them with source citation questions.

When we remember that citing sources effectively is a complex activity, we can be more patient with our students when they produce source documentation that we find lacking. As with any other concept we teach, we should provide scaffolding and opportunities for productive failure, along with supportive feedback.

Still Thirsty? Take another SIP of Teaching Source Documentation

SIP 5.10 Universal Design for Learning in STEM

Thirsty for a Strong Instructional Practice?

While many of us who work and teach in the STEM fields think of our disciplines as “neutral” and empirical, there are lots of ways our teaching strategies can either increase or decrease access to the content. Traditional “weed-out” methods of STEM teaching are designed to push struggling students out of class, and their lack of success is blamed on poor academic preparation, lack of motivation, and/or deciding they are mismatched for the field.

MSU Denver recognizes that many of our students have gaps in their educational foundations, and it our responsibility to help our students bridge those gaps. Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is one way to more mindfully design our instruction to be more inclusive, resulting in stronger learning outcomes, higher course completion rates, and students who can continue on STEM career trajectories.

Take a SIP of This: Universal Design for Learning in STEM

The three basic principles of UDL are multiple means of representation and presentation, multiple means of strategic engagement, and multiple means of expression.

1. Multiple means of representation is moving your teaching beyond just delivering a lecture, such as video, and small and whole group discussions. The idea of “captioning” terms is also helpful…how can you connect meaning to the terms and concepts you are teaching? Have the keywords for the lesson posted on the board. Both seeing and hearing the word helps build meaning. This is also especially effective with English language learners. Make sure to clarify symbols and notations, especially if they vary between content areas. Students may see one symbol used in physics, for example, that is used in a different way in biology, so it’s helpful to illuminate that. You can also offer a varied selection of readings and resources about the same topic.

2. Multiple means of engagement means increasing student motivation for learning by making the topic more relevant—why does it matter? How does it connect with who they are and what they know? How do you let students know you are interested enough in who they are to go to the trouble of engaging them? Giving students choices also facilitates engagement, especially in collaborative projects. They have a greater sense of autonomy and can learn from each other. If you are asking students to work in lab teams, for example, make sure assessing the way they work together is part of their grade.

3. Multiple means of action and expression provides students with choices to demonstrate their learning through multimedia projects instead of written papers, for example, or by quizzes and a project instead of one final exam, or at least to balance out the weight of the scale. Are assessment plans meant to weed students out? Once students are in a grading black hole they tend to give up and drop out. Expression based in real world challenges is also more like the kind of projects they will encounter in the workplace; this is known as problem-based learning. Students may tackle an issue like urban water pollution, for example. Interactive technologies like clickers can help facilitate students feeling more engaged.

We know from the Equity Scorecard Report that there is work to be done if we want to improve the academic outcomes of underrepresented and first generation students here at MSU Denver. This challenge is even more pronounced in the STEM areas. Persistence in STEM does not rely solely on improving the academic preparation of students; the responsibility is ours to rethink our teaching practices and consider what WE can do differently to better serve our students. Applying the concepts of UDL to STEM instruction can help us do just that.

Still Thirsty? Take another SIP of Universal Design for Learning in STEM

SIP 5.9 Debate as Instruction

Thirsty for a Strong Instructional Practice?

Discussions, in either online or face-to-face classes, can sometimes turn into an exchange of opinions without much evidence for support. In addition, a few students can dominate a discussion while other students’ voices fade into the background.

Take a SIP of This: Debate as Instruction

Creating discussion in the form of debate, either face-to-face or online, can encourage students to consider viewpoints more thoroughly and sometimes argue for viewpoints that are not necessarily their own. Debates require students to create thoughtful, well-articulated arguments and support them with empirical evidence from original sources, research, and case studies, among other sources.

Structured discussions, such as debating, can encourage students who aren’t always comfortable speaking up in class to take a role. Students who are less comfortable speaking may start by being the judge in an advocate decision-making debate at first, and then rotate into the role of debater. Students who are particularly comfortable speaking up in class could facilitate a debate, in addition to taking part. Students’ roles can reflect their strengths and areas for development in public speaking.

Many types of debate are highly structured and used in debate competitions. This SIP takes some liberties in suggesting modified approaches that could be used less formally in the college classroom. Here are some ideas:

Advocate Decision-Making Debate

1. Three students group to include a judge, one student in favor, one student against.

2. The judge makes a list of questions that serve as an outline for the debate and that the debaters use to develop their arguments.

3. The judge establishes criteria for evaluating the quality of an argument and standards for supporting evidence.

4. The debaters take turns presenting their arguments and counterarguments.

5. The judge evaluates the arguments and decides the winner.

Four Corners Debate

1. The professor poses an assertion to the class.

2. Students decide if they strongly agree, agree, disagree, or strongly disagree and write one paragraph on their opinion, using evidence for support.

3. Students choose one corner of the room where the professor has posted pieces of paper, each saying strongly agree, agree, disagree, or strongly disagree.

4. Students spend 10-15 minutes discussing their ideas with their classmates in each corner and can change corners if their position changes.

5. Students return to their seats and write a second paragraph describing how their opinions changed as a result of the discussion, using evidence as support.

Fishbowl Debate

1. Criteria for the quality of an argument and supporting evidence are established, either by the professor alone or with the class.

2. Four students are selected or volunteer to sit in a semi-circle in front of the class.

3. One at a time, classmates ask the panel questions about a topic that the class has already studied. The panel discusses a question until it is exhausted.

4. New students take their place on the panel after an existing panel member has made three contributions to the debate.

5. The activity continues until each student has taken a turn on the panel.

Online Debating

Using public, online debate platforms either you or your students can debate with each other or with the public. Here are a few:

Still Thirsty? Take another SIP of Debate as Instruction

SIP 5.8 Chunking

Thirsty for a Strong Instructional Practice?

Our working memory can only hold about seven items of information at a time (Miller, 1956). Breaking skills into bite-sized chunks and mastering them one at a time until the learner reaches fluency is a more efficient way of learning. Understanding and retaining complex information or lists of dates, facts or events can be challenging–but learning how to “chunk” information can be useful. This strategy can facilitate better retrieval of the information that students have to memorize and/or understand.

Take a SIP of This: Chunking

The instructor should examine the manner in which students will learn new content and determine how best to divide the content into small digestible, bites of information. While there are many strategies for learning to chunk complex information into more manageable parts, there are two main components to chunking: identifying the chunks, and grouping and memorizing the chunks.

Identifying the chunks: Have students identify similarities, patterns or comparisons in the information. (

Grouping and memorizing the chunks: Once the comparisons/similarities are identified, students can group or organize the information into chunks that make sense to them and memorize them. They can do this by creating a visual, such as a symbol or image. This is a great method to use for visual learners. Another method is to instruct students to write down the “bits” of information on index cards. Have students lay the cards out in front of them and then organize the information based on similarities. Students should be able to provide a rationale for their connections.

Some class activities that you can use to teach chunking:

Assess and Share Have students read an article or perhaps a passage, then have students compare their versions of the text. This activity can lead to discussions about interpretation – how people can find different meaning in the same text.

Jigsaw Chunking: You can divide a longer text (such as chapters) into sections and have small groups work on summarizing each section. Groups can share the meaning of their section with the rest of the class by using the Jigsaw strategy (for more information using Jigsaw see this SIP: Cooperative Learning Strategies: Using Jigsaw) or by having small-group presentations. (

Still Thirsty? Take another SIP of Chunking

SIP 5.7 1Book/1Project/2Transform

Thirsty for a Strong Instructional Practice?

Universities have traditionally been seen as places where students can participate in active intellectual debate around current events and ideological topics that impact society. At MSU Denver, these conversations are happening in relative isolation all the time—but campus-wide dialog can be hard to achieve with our commuter students and the rigorous demands of disciplinary content. Have you ever wanted to find a way to engage your students in campus conversations, but struggle to do so in a way that fits in to your class time and curriculum?

Take a SIP of This: 1Book/1Project/2Transform

MSU Denver has a great program that allows you to do just that. 1Book/1Project/2Transform is the Roadrunner interpretation of a common reading program, adapted and designed to fit the needs of our particular demographic of busy commuter and non-traditional students. The American Association of Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) states here that “Common readings programs of all types are helping bridge divides on campus: between disciplines, between student life and academic affairs, between the orientation period and the first semester” and suggests that “…well-planned common reading programs signal the importance of reading in college” and of “discussion and respect for diverse viewpoints.” By participating in the common reading and shared activities with your class, you help students learn to belong to an intellectual cooperative whose benefits are felt in the classroom but extend across campus and into the community.

The foundation of the program is the identification of a book for everyone to read, and the invitation of the book’s author to a speaking engagement on campus. This year’s book is In the Country We Love by Diane Guerrero. This moving autobiography, narrated by the accomplished “Orange Is The New Black” and “Jane the Virgin” actress, tells the story of how she came home from school one day to find that her Colombian-born, immigrant parents had been deported. The book details the experience of 14-year-old Diane, an American citizen, as she struggled to survive and thrive in the aftermath of this removal. The topic is especially timely and urgent for MSU Denver students in the face of the recent termination of the DACA program and in light of the high number of DACA and ASSET students that MSU Denver serves.

The highlight of the program will be the author visit on Wednesday, October 25 at 12.30 p.m. in the Tivoli Turnhalle. This event is typically attended by entire classes, visiting K-12 students, and community members, so bring your class early to get a seat! Other activities associated with the book and the author visit can be found here.

If you would like to integrate the book into your class as part of your fall or spring curriculum, there is a desk copy request form here. Additionally, there is an extensive Teaching and Learning Guide that offers ideas on writing prompts, discussion topics, and classroom activities that revolve around the book’s topic and storyline.

1Book/1Project/2Transform is hosted by First Year Success in collaboration with the Applied Learning Center, and seeks to include all students, faculty and staff on campus. If you have ideas for future books, or for activities associated with common readings on campus, please reach out to the program co-chairs, Lunden MacDonald at or Randi Smith at

Still Thirsty? Take another SIP of 1Book/1Project/2Transform

  • Inside Higher Ed has an interesting article on common reading programs across the country.
  • This literature review details the common reading choices of multiple institutions from 2015. Links are also available to similar lists from 2007 – 2014.
  • And here is a more critical approach of common reading programs in a Chronicle of Higher Education blog.

SIP 5.6 Creating Accessible PowerPoint Presentations

Thirsty for a Strong Instructional Practice?

Whether we are presenting at a conference, reporting to colleagues, pitching a proposal, or teaching classes, we want our PowerPoint presentations to be accessible to everyone. How do we do that? Here’s how…

Take a SIP of This: Creating Accessible PowerPoint Presentations


What to do  Why it is important  How to do it 
Before you do anything else, check your PowerPoint presentations to see if they are already accessible  Professors have enough to do. If your presentations are already accessible, don’t add to your work burden!  Run the accessibility checker built into PowerPoint software.  

Microsoft Accessibility Checker for Mac 

Microsoft Accessibility Checker for Windows 


When creating new PowerPoint presentations from scratch, use the preformatted slides and layouts that are provided in the PowerPoint software.   Microsoft has already done most of the work to make presentations accessible.   Begin with an accessible slide design by using an Office Theme. Find the Office Themes by following the instructions at Use an accessible slide design 
Avoid using jargon or acronyms  If you discuss something that has only been named by an acronym or discipline-specific jargon, audience members who may not be familiar with it can start to tune out, not understand or remember what you said, become frustrated, or feel alienated.  Think of your audience and the names they may know for what you are talking about. You will likely have a good sense of that in your classes, but may have a broader range of audience familiarity with discipline specific acronyms and jargon at a professional conference. 
Be thoughtful about how you use color by providing sufficient contrast and by avoiding the sole use of color to add meaning or emphasis.  Contrast between text and the background it is presented against increases ease-of-reading for all users. 

People with visual impairments, including those who are colorblind, may not gain the meaning you intend them to if they have to rely solely on color. 

Include an underline to color-coded hyperlinked text. 

Use bold or larger font for headings. 

Read your slides in high-contrast mode to see how your color scheme presents. 

Be sure slide contents can be read in the order you intend.  Sighted people read a slide by taking in all of the information, sometimes in no particular order. Screen readers, in contrast, read the slide content in the order the information was added.  When you add a new slide, select a layout from the menu. Layouts provided in the PowerPoint software have been pre-formatted to support reading order for screen readers. 

See Set the reading order of slide contents for specifics on setting reading order. 

Be sure your text is clear and easy to read  Your audience can easily become frustrated when trying to read text that is too ornate, small, or crowded.  Consider your audience and the environment where you will be presenting your slides. Use a minimum font size of 18pt (larger for larger rooms) at least 28pt font for audiences of 40-100 people, and 36pt font for audiences over 100 people. 

Sans serif fonts are better for headings, serif fonts are better for body text, and include white space to increase readability. 

Give every slide a different title  Screen readers read the slide title first, then proceed to the slide content. Confusion can result when two or more slides are titled identically because the listener can’t be sure where they are in the sequence.  If you have two or more slides on the same topic, add something indicating a sequence such as, “PowerPoint Accessibility Part 1”, “PowerPoint Accessibility Part 2”, etc. 

You can hide a slide title in the presentation but still make sure it can be read by screen readers. Find instructions at Hide a slide title 

Include alternative text for images, smart art, videos, hyperlinks, and tables  Screen readers speak the alternative text to describe images and other non-text content that users can’t see.  Although the ideas are all the same, adding alt text to different features is a slightly different process. Find instructions for each feature below. 

Add alt text to images 

Add alt text to SmartArt graphics 

Add alt text to shapes 

Add alt text to charts 

Add alt text to tables 

Still Thirsty? Take another SIP of Creating Accessible PowerPoint Presentations

Go to Microsoft’s page on Creating Accessible PowerPoints for more specifics and instructions 

Find lots of accessible PowerPoint templates at Microsoft’s Accessibility Guide page 

This article has solely addressed accessibility issues for Microsoft PowerPoint, but many of us use other technologies as well. Here is a quick overview of accessibility issues for two other very popular presentation software packages, Prezi and Google Slides: 

SIP 5.5 Action Research in the Classroom – Using Your Classroom as a Research Lab

Thirsty for a Strong Instructional Practice?

With teaching, service, and increasing research expectations, we are all stretched thin. One way to “kill two birds with one stone” is to turn your classroom into a research lab – and to bring students along for the journey. You can do this by conducting action research in your classroom.

Take a SIP of This: Action Research in the Classroom – Using Your Classroom as a Research Lab

Using your classroom as an action research lab can help you increase educational access for your students by allowing you to critically approach the aspects of your teaching that may currently present learning barriers to some students.

Action research is usually designed and conducted by the instructor. The instructor analyzes the data with the goal of improving their teaching practices. Action research usually includes examination of programs, students, or instructional practices. You can research student outcomes (dispositions, achievement); curriculum (instructional materials, learning outcomes, frameworks); instruction (teaching strategies, use of technology); departmental or classroom climate (student morale, teacher morale, relationships between teachers and students), etc.

Action research follows these steps:

  • Choose a research question
  • Design the study
  • Collect data
  • Analyze data
  • Use the findings to improve teaching practice
  • Return to more questions

Action research is a great opportunity to evaluate and improve your teaching for equity and inclusivity. Some possible research questions include:

  • What is working or not working in your classroom?
  • Who is learning? Who is being left out?

Disaggregate your data by race, ethnicity, Pell Grant eligibility, veteran status, first generation, gender, etc. So all groups succeed at similar rates in your class? If not, there might be something to study related to inclusive practices.

  • How does your curriculum provide opportunities to learn?
  • How do you know when your instruction is effective?
  • Which students do you talk to most? Least? How does that correlate to their grades?
  • How representative are the readings in your class? For example, do the people and situations that illustrate the materials you use in your classroom reflect the identities of your students (racial, ethnic, economic, etc.).

To get started on action research make a list of “I wonder” statements about concerns you have related to your classroom. Then choose one of those statements and turn it into a research question. Run your research question by a colleague. See what questions/ ideas/ thoughts your colleague brings to your question.

Then decide on the evidence you need to answer your question (and determine if you need to complete an Institutional Review Board (IRB) application. You may need approval from the Institutional Review Board to conduct research with your students. Contact MSU Denver’s Human Subject Protection Program office to discuss your ideas well before you want to begin your data collection. They will be able to provide you with guidance on whether or not your study will need to be reviewed. Remember, IRB can take a while, so make sure to plan the project out in advance in case you need IRB review time.

Here are some inquiry tools you might use for data collection (an explanation for each can be found at

  • classroom maps
  • anecdotal records
  • time-sampled observations
  • samples of student work
  • drawings & photographs
  • interviews & conversations
  • surveys
  • teacher research journals

It is a good idea to use several tools to triangulate your data. Once data are collected, analyze it by looking for patterns across the data.

Decide how to change your practice based on what you learned. Then write up the research and send it off to a journal.

Ask new questions!

Still Thirsty? Take another SIP of Action Research in the Classroom – Using Your Classroom as a Research Lab

On the Web:



  • Action Research in Higher Education: Examples and Reflections.By Zuber-Skerritt, Ortrun
  • Action Research: Theory and Practice for Higher EducationBy Lesley Willcoxson

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Call for “Guest SIPs”

Inspire instructors and benefit students by sharing your own Strong Instructional Practices

We invite our readers to share their Strong Instructional Practices through the Submit a SIP! page on The Well. Many will be shared with all MSU Denver faculty and staff through our regular Thursday distribution or posted on The Well. We look forward to reading about your Strong Instructional Practices!

About The Well

Metropolitan State University of Denver appreciates and practices inclusive excellence. A significant part of inclusive excellence is instructional practice that supports the social and academic achievement of all students.

The Well serves as a central repository for university faculty to share ideas and resources for strong instructional practice. It is maintained by the sipsquad, a group of MSU Denver professors who study and use inclusive pedagogy in their teaching.

The sipsquad publishes weekly SIPs written by us and other MSUD faculty who practice inclusive pedagogy. We invite instructors to submit their own SIPs using the “Submit a SIP” form on this site.

In addition, we look out for resources related to strong instructional practice in higher education and share those through the “Sources for SIPs” page and the MSUDenverSIPs twitter feed. We encourage you to send us links to resources that will benefit the university faculty.

Drop us a line at  😎

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