Evidence-Based Teaching Practices

What is meant by “evidence-based practices” in teaching? These are methods that have been studied and shown to be effective. There have been increasing numbers of publications in the scholarship of teaching and learning (SOTL) from a variety of fields (not just education, but from a diverse group of disciplines) using empirical methods to look at faculty and student practices that enhance learning and experiences in the classroom. While I’ve curated some articles and books on some common topics, there is a world of literature in your own fields – frequently each discipline has an entire journal dedicated to education in the field, you can find some of these listed to growing resource page on Goucher’s Center for the Advancement of Scholarship & Teaching (CAST) blog called Discipline Specific Resources. Please note that this page is under construction (citations are not all in the same format or in alphabetical order yet, for example) and will be continuously amended. I welcome resources from all of you, too!

Active Learning

  • What is it? Active learning involves engagement in a process that deepens learning and understanding by asking students to apply their learning in some way. Passive learning involves sitting and listening and taking notes.
  • Examples: debating, experimenting, role playing, problem-solving, designing or building something, creating a skit, acting out a scene, reorganizing information in a new format (concept map/table), etc. Active learning can take the form of practicing/rehearsing skills that will be assessed later (working through stoichiometry problems, drafting and re-writing a thesis statement, doing shot descriptions for several film clips, performing a part of a musical piece incorporating a just-described style/technique etc.), but doesn’t have to.  Note that student attention span during a lecture drastically drops off after just 15 minutes, so integrating active learning experiences to break up traditional lecture is highly recommended.
  • Evidence:
    • Hake, R. R. (1998). Interactive-engagement versus traditional methods: A six-thousand-student survey of mechanics test data for introductory physics courses. American Journal of Physics, 66(1), 64–74. 
    • Hoellwarth, C., & Moelter, M. J. (2011). The implications of a robust curriculum in introductory mechanics. American Journal of Physics, 79(5), 540–545. 
    • Richmond, A. S., & Hagan, L. K. (2011). Promoting Higher Level Thinking in Psychology: Is Active Learning the Answer? Teaching of Psychology38(2), 102–105. 
    • Janice D. Yoder & Catherine M. Hochevar (2005) Encouraging Active Learning Can Improve Students’ Performance on Examinations, Teaching of Psychology, 32:2, 91-95
    • Lang, J. M. (2016). Small teaching: Everyday lessons from the science of learning. John Wiley & Sons. p113-136
    • Prince, M. (2004). Does active learning work? A review of the research. Journal of engineering education93(3), 223-231.
    • Wankat, P. C. (2002). The effective, efficient professor: Teaching, scholarship, and service (pp. 107-112). Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.
    • Bransford, J., A. Brown, and R. Cocking, (Commission on Behavioral and Social Science and Education, National Research Council), “How People Learn: Body, Mind, Experience and School,” National Academy Press, Washington D.C., 2000. 
    • Springer, L., Stanne, M. E., & Donovan, S. S. (1999). Effects of small-group learning on undergraduates in science, mathematics, engineering, and technology: A meta-analysis. Review of educational research69(1), 21-51.
    • Tsay, M., & Brady, M. (2010). A case study of cooperative learning and communication pedagogy: Does working in teams make a difference?. Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 78-89.

Problem-based Learning

  • What is it? Problem-based learning (PBL) or inquiry-based learning (IBL) is learning that front-loads a complex or ambiguous problem /question and encourages students to build on their own past knowledge, curate and/or challenge different sources of knowledge, prioritize and debate ideas, and attempt to solve or address the problem creatively.  Faculty frequently design the original portrayal of the problem and may provide some resources or sources of information, but play a “guide” role more than a “professing” role. The emphases of PBL are building skills and applying methodologies much more than memorizing content.
  • Examples:
  • Evidence:
    • Albanese, M. A., & Mitchell, S. (1993). Problem-based learning: A review of literature on its outcomes and implementation issues. Academic Medicine Philadelphia68, 52-52.
    • Dochy, F., Segers, M., Van den Bossche, P., & Gijbels, D. (2003). Effects of problem-based learning: A meta-analysis. Learning and instruction13(5), 533-568.
    • Edens, K. M. (2000). Preparing problem solvers for the 21st century through problem-based learning. College Teaching48(2), 55-60.
    • Tiwari, A., Lai, P., So, M., & Yuen, K. (2006). A comparison of the effects of problem‐based learning and lecturing on the development of students’ critical thinking. Medical education40(6), 547-554.
    • Hmelo-Silver, C. E. (2004). Problem-based learning: What and how do students learn?. Educational psychology review16(3), 235-266.
    • Nilson, L. B. (2016). Teaching at its best: A research-based resource for college instructors. John Wiley & Sons.

Retrieving, predicting and interleaving

  • What are these techniques? Retrieving is the unassisted act of attempting recall, the struggle to pull something learned from memory. Predicting is the act of asking students to predict the answers to questions (even if there is no way for them to know correct answers), because this enhances both retention and comprehension of course material once it’s learned (the science of this is pretty cool, it has to do with helping our brain organize information). Finally, interleaving is the combination of spacing out the study of something over multiple sessions and interweaving current and past topics or different subjects in each session. The opposite of interleaving is studying a single subject/topic for a block of time, and then moving past it without really going back to it much.   
  • Examples of retrieving: At the beginning or end of class, asking students to write down from memory the major lessons of the last class, last unit, or of the assigned reading (without use of notes) is an example of retrieval practice. Graded or ungraded quizzes (or small performances of techniques) prior to an exam are also ways to do retrieval practice
  • Examples of predicting: try low or no-stakes pretests before content or concepts are covered, or pause/interrupt cases/videos/novels and ask students to predict “what will happen next?”
  • Examples of interleaving: Ask questions (in class or in exams) that require students to connect past material with current or upcoming material. Make time each week or each unit to draw from previously covered material. Ask students to apply a concept from class to something they are studying (ore previously studied) in a different course.
  • Evidence
    • All three of these are reviewed in Lang, J. M. (2016). Small teaching: Everyday lessons from the science of learning. John Wiley & Sons. 
    • Brown, P. C., Roediger, H. L., & McDaniel, M. A. (2014). Make it stick. Harvard University Press.
    • Butler, A. C., & Roediger III, H. L. (2007). Testing improves long-term retention in a simulated classroom setting. European Journal of Cognitive Psychology19(4-5), 514-527.
    • Ambrose, S. A., Bridges, M. W., DiPietro, M., Lovett, M. C., & Norman, M. K. (2010). How learning works: Seven research-based principles for smart teaching. John Wiley & Sons.
    • Birnbaum, M. S., Kornell, N., Bjork, E. L., & Bjork, R. A. (2013). Why interleaving enhances inductive learning: The roles of discrimination and retrieval. Memory & cognition41(3), 392-402.
    • Rohrer, D., Dedrick, R. F., & Stershic, S. (2015). Interleaved practice improves mathematics learning. Journal of Educational Psychology107(3), 900
    • Dunlosky, J., Rawson, K. A., Marsh, E. J., Nathan, M. J., & Willingham, D. T. (2013). Improving students’ learning with effective learning techniques: Promising directions from cognitive and educational psychology. Psychological Science in the Public Interest14(1), 4-58.
    • Carvalho, P. F., & Goldstone, R. L. (2014). Effects of interleaved and blocked study on delayed test of category learning generalization. Frontiers in psychology5, 936.

Inclusive Teaching

  • What is it? These are practices that are designed to include and be effective for all students, including those from racially diverse backgrounds, underrepresented populations, international students, first-generation students or even neurodiverse students.
  • Examples: having a learner-focused syllabus that removes or explains academic jargon, community building (link to icebreaker pdf), learning students preferred names and saying them correctly and consistently, transparent assignment design that outlines the purpose and task and evaluation criteria of the assignment, including diverse content and perspectives (reflecting the contributions and perspectives from historically marginalized, oppressed, or underrepresented groups), modeling skills (such as inviting a colleague to debate a topic with you) and providing examples of excellent work to acquaint students with your expectations, facilitate low-stakes opportunities to practice skills (test-taking, writing, etc.) before high-stakes assignments. Another thing to consider is your choices of examples from pop-culture: not all students will be familiar with or appreciate once-popular white-centric television shows (Friends, Seinfeld) or cultural icons (Kurt Cobain, Lassie, Lady Gaga) – be mindful when you choose to integrate pop culture references and explain them/provide context for the ones you do choose to include.
    • Strategies to consider for introverted/quieter students: find ways to allow participation that are not just speaking up/hand raising immediately after a question (give students quiet time to consider the question, have students write responses on flash cards that are exchanged, allow written responses to be provided in lieu of oral ones at some times, etc.).
    • Strategies for neurodiverse students (students with neurological differences such as those who are on the autism spectrum, have dyslexia, attention deficit, executive functioning differences, etc.): use universal design, provide content in a variety of modes/formats, ensure there are transcripts/closed captions for videos, provide very specific and explicit instructions for completing assignments and working in groups/partnerships, provide a detailed schedule and an agenda for what will happen in each class period, be consistent
  • Evidence:
    • Richmond, A.S. (2016). Constructing a Learner-Centered Syllabus: One Professor’s Journey. IDEA Paper #60 (www.ideaedu.org)
    • Kohli, R., & Solórzano, D. G. (2012). Teachers, please learn our names!: racial microagressions and the K-12 classroom. Race Ethnicity and Education, 15(4), 441–462. https://doi.org/10.1080/13613324.2012.674026
    • Shmulsky, S., Gobbo, K. Donahue, A., & Banerjee, M. (2017). College students who have ASD: Factors related to first year performance. Journal of Postsecondary Education and Disability, 30, 373–382.
    • White, S. W., Elias, R., Salinas, C. E., Capriola, N., Conner, C. M., Asselin, S. B., Getzel, E. E. (2016). Students with autism spectrum disorder in college: Results from a preliminary mixed methods needs analysis. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 56, 29–40.
    • Roberts, K. D., Park, H. J., Brown, S., & Cook, B. (2011). Universal Design for Instruction in Postsecondary Education: A Systematic Review of Empirically Based Articles. Journal of Postsecondary Education and Disability, 24(1), 5–15.
    • Tinto, V. (1987). Leaving college: Rethinking the causes and cures of student attrition. University of Chicago Press, 5801 S. Ellis Avenue, Chicago, IL 60637.
    • Freeman, T. M., Anderman, L. H., & Jensen, J. M. (2007). Sense of belonging in college freshmen at the classroom and campus levels. The Journal of Experimental Education, 75(3), 203-220.
    • Hove, M. J., & Risen, J. L. (2009). It’s all in the timing: Interpersonal synchrony increases affiliation. Social Cognition, 27(6), 949-960.’
    • Zubrunn, S., McKim, C., Buhs, E., & Hawley, L. R. (2014). Support, belonging, motivation, and engagement in the college classroom: A mixed method study. Instructional Science, 42, 661-684.
    • Elbow, P. (1997). High stakes and low stakes in assigning and responding to writing. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 69, 5–13. doi:10.1002/tl.6901
    • Meer, N. M., & Chapman, A. (2014). Assessment for confidence: Exploring the impact that low-stakes assessment design has on student retention. The International Journal of Management Education, 12(2), 186–192.
    • Winkelmes, M. A., Bernacki, M., Butler, J., Zochowski, M., Golanics, J., & Weavil, K. H. (2016). A teaching intervention that increases underserved college students’ success. Peer Review18(1/2), 31-36.
    • Bowman, N. A. (2009). College diversity courses and cognitive development among students from privileged and marginalized groups. Journal of Diversity in Higher Education2(3), 182.


  • What is this? Simply enough, metacognition is the process of thinking about learning. It can include self reflection, self-analysis, planning, and actively considering themselves learners. Students who develop an awareness of their own learning and what strategies are effective do far superior performing in class. Without metacognition, many students are blissfully unaware of how to learn, what strategies are effective and assume their poor performance is innate or unchangeable (“I am just not good at math”). 
  • Examples: Become aware of effective learning strategies yourself (ACE can help here, too) and ask students about the difference between studying and learning, ask how they learned something successfully (what is something you’re good at? how did you become good at it?). Having students go through exercises where they reflect on what does work well for them and what didn’t (i.e. skimming the class notes before the quiz didn’t work well, or practicing problems with a group of students did help me master that skill). Have students pause at the end of class (or a section of class) to review what was most confusing for them, what they key points were, what they need to do/practice to gain better mastery (some faculty do a “muddiest point” exercise). You can also try doing “exam wrappers” or “cognitive wrappers.”
  • Evidence:
    • Bannert, M., Hildebrand, M., & Mengelkamp, C. (2009). Effects of a metacognitive support device in learning environments. Computers in Human Behavior25(4), 829-835.
    • Bransford, John D., Brown Ann L., and Cocking Rodney R. (2000). How people learn: Brain, mind, experience, and school. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press.
    • Kinnebrew, J. S., Segedy, J. R., & Biswas, G. (2014). Analyzing the temporal evolution of students’ behaviors in open-ended learning environments. Metacognition and learning9(2), 187-215.
    • Schraw, G., Crippen, K. J., & Hartley, K. (2006). Promoting self-regulation in science education: Metacognition as part of a broader perspective on learning. Research in science education36(1-2), 111-139.
    • Ellis, A. K., Denton, D. W., & Bond, J. B. (2014). An Analysis of Research on Metacognitive Teaching Strategies. Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences, 116, 4015–4024. 
    • Sart, G. (2014). The Effects of the Development of Metacognition on Project-based Learning. Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences, 152, 131–136.
    • Zhao, N., Wardeska, J. G., McGuire, S. Y., & Cook, E. (2014). Metacognition: An effective tool to promote success in college science learning. Journal of College Science Teaching43(4), 48-54.