Teaching Terms

Active learning

Although information is important, passively accumulating disconnected information is not learning. To learn, students have to be mentally and often physically active as they discover their own answers, solutions, concepts, and relationships and create their own interpretations; this learning is deeper, more comprehensive, and longer lasting, and the learning that occurs actively leads to an ability to think critically.

Backward design

In this approach, teachers design courses by first focusing on the learning goals they want students to reach, and then they design the course to help students get there. In other words, "One starts with the end—the desired results (goals or standards)—and then derives the curriculum from the evidence of learning (performances) called for by the standard and the teaching needed to equip students to perform."

Quote from Understanding by Design by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe. 2005. Pearson Education and the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Cognitive apprenticeship

An educational model in which teachers “work alongside students and/or set up situations that will cause students to begin to work on problems even before fully understanding them. A key aspect of an ‘apprenticeship’ approach to teaching involves breaking the problem into parts so that students are challenged to master as much of a task as they are ready to handle.” Through this approach, students develop their own problem-solving strategies while becoming more reflective about their learning process.

Quote from A. Collins, J. S. Brown, & S. E. Newman (1989). "Cognitive apprenticeship: Teaching the crafts of reading, writing, and mathematics." In L. B. Resnick (Ed.), Knowing, learning, and instruction: Essays in honor of Robert Glaser. Pp. 453-494.

Community of practice

Coined by social anthropologist Jean Lave and education researcher Etienne Wenger in their analysis of apprenticeship practices, “communities of practice are groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly.”

Quote from "Introduction to Communities of Practice." Wenger-Trayner.

Community-based learning

In Community-based learning, students’ education extends beyond the bounds of the traditional classroom to encompass interaction with, and even immersion in, real-world communities and environments whose characteristics, problems, and/or interests are relevant to the subject at hand.

Contemplative reading practice

Contemplative reading occurs when a reader absorbs a text more fully than if he or she were simply reading the text to gain knowledge about of the information presented. Contemplative reading involves reading to gather a deeper understanding of what, how, and why the text presents the information it does.

Course evaluation

A course evaluation is a paper or electronic questionnaire, which requires a written or selected response to a series of questions to evaluate the instruction of a given course. It is a common means to produce useful feedback which the teacher and school can use to improve their quality of instruction.

Course redesign

Course redesign involves redesigning a course so that it has demonstrable and measurable goals that align with teaching strategies and assessment mechanisms. It is recommended that you select strategies that encourage active learning and monitor student progress so that you can provide support to students who require it.

Cura personalis

The Jesuit principle of cura personalis is central to Georgetown's educational philosophy. This Latin phrase, which translates as "Care of the Person," was originally used to describe the responsibility of the Jesuit Superior to care for each member in the community. To read more about cura personalis, visit Georgetown's Office of Mission and Ministry.

Deep learning

As compared to Surface, Deep learning is an approach to study that focuses on what is signified, relates previous knowledge to new knowledge, relates knowledge from different courses, relates theoretical ideas to everyday experience, relates and distinguishes evidence and argument, organizes and structures content into a coherent whole, and has an internal emphasis from within the student.

Digital humanities

The term “digital humanities” has been used in a variety of ways and has produced a number of active definitions. At base, though, this is the study and practice of investigating traditional humanities subjects with/through computational methods and information technology, such as in the use of digital media, multimedia materials, databases, data visualizations, and more.

Disciplinary languages

Disciplinary languages refer to the body of terms used regularly in scholarly work in the discipline, without which a student will be challenged in reading disciplinary work. In English, for example, "discourse," "apparatus," and "domain" become foundational terms for discussing literary works in the context of cultural theory.

Concepts signified by the terms that compose a disciplinary language may be student learning "bottlenecks" that are conceptually difficult for students. For more information on bottlenecks, see the Bottlenecks and Thresholds Project here at Georgetown, look up disciplinary thinking, or find out more about David Pace's and Joan Middendorf's pioneering work on the topic.


Diversity refers to variety in terms of race, gender, class, ethnicity, nationality, sexuality, and religion. Diversity can also indicate the range of differences in traits such as political beliefs, class year, learning styles, and interests.

Inclusive teaching: In today's college environment both faculties and students come from a wide variety of backgrounds; this diversity can often create a richer learning environment, but to truly tap into the potential, the teaching must take into account diversity and be able to include and engage the different voices and experience of student and instructor alike.

The Doyle Engaging Difference Program

The Doyle Program serves the entire Georgetown University community and is a campus-wide collaboration between the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs, the Center for New Designs in Learning and Scholarship (CNDLS) and Georgetown College designed to deepen the university's own commitment to tolerance and diversity and enhance global awareness of the challenges and opportunities of an era of increasing interconnectedness.

Engelhard Project

Using a curriculum infusion approach, the Engelhard Project for Connecting Life and Learning focuses on teaching to the whole student by bringing health and wellness issues into the classroom in a way that supports student knowledge gain and encourages students to reflect on their own attitudes and behaviors.


Unlike novices, experts “notice features and meaningful patterns of information [and] … have acquired a great deal of content knowledge that is organized in ways that reflect a deep understanding of their subject matter….Experts’ knowledge cannot be reduced to sets of isolated facts or propositions but, instead, reflects contexts of applicability … Experts are able to flexibly retrieve important aspects of their knowledge with little attentional effort.” Adaptive expertise, a term coined by Giyoo Hatano and Kayoko Inagaki, describes a certain fluency and flexibility with a subject that allows individuals to creatively apply tools, skills, and methods to solve novel problems.

Quote from Bransford, John. How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School: Expanded Edition. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press, 2000.

Flipped classroom

Flipping the classroom makes the most of class time by moving delivery of course content to outside class time (taking advantage of technological innovations such as lecture capture software to do so) and using class time for application exercises, which traditionally would have been completed as homework. This means that for the more cognitively challenging tasks that ask students to apply the material, the students can interact with each other and receive support from the professor in real time.

Higher-order thinking

“Higher order thinking skills include critical, logical, reflective, metacognitive, and creative thinking. They are activated when individuals encounter unfamiliar problems, uncertainties, questions, or dilemmas.” Benjamin Bloom (later updated by Anderson and Krathwohl) developed a taxonomy of the cognitive domain that illustrates the relationships between lower order and higher order skills.

Quote from F.J. King, Ludwika Goodson, & Faranak Rohani. "Higher Order Thinking Skills." Publication of the Educational Service Program, Florida State University.

Instructional continuity

Instructional continuity refers to the goal of continuing course work despite disruptions due to weather, illness, or other factors. Visit Instructional Continuity to see how Georgetown faculty and students maintain meetings and classes.

Inquiry-based approach

An active learning teaching strategy that, within a broader subject matter, presents students with specific questions or hypothetical situations to solve or address. Instead of receiving general information passively, students more deeply internalize knowledge by applying it to concrete concerns.

Just-in-time teaching

"Just-in-Time Teaching (JiTT for short) is a teaching and learning strategy based on the interaction between web-based study assignments and an active learner classroom. Students respond electronically to carefully constructed web-based assignments which are due shortly before class, and the instructor reads the student submissions 'just-in-time' to adjust the classroom lesson to suit the students' needs. Thus, the heart of JiTT is the 'feedback loop' formed by the students' outside-of-class preparation that fundamentally affects what happens during the subsequent in-class time together."

JiTT resources at IUPUI

Knowledge transfer

Knowledge Transfer in the fields of organizational development and organizational learning is the practical problem of transferring knowledge from one part of the organization to another (or all other) part(s) of the organization in an effort to organize, create, capture or distribute knowledge and ensure its availability for future users.

Learner characteristics

Students learn in very different ways. Most commonly discussed are the differences between verbal and visual learners, but, according to Richard Felder, this is just the beginning of the complexity; altogether, there are five dimensions of learning style: perception (sensory or intuitive); input modality (visual-nonverbal, visual-verbal, auditory, or tactile-kinesthetic); organization (inductive or deductive); processing (active or reflective); and understanding (sequential or global).

Felder, Richard, "Reaching the Second Tier: Learning and Teaching Styles in College Science Education." J. College Science Teaching, 23(5), 286-290 (1993).

Learning community

Learning communities are classes or groups linked or clustered often around an interdisciplinary theme, and enroll a common cohort of participants.

Learning goals

Learning goals can be written for individual courses or for academic programs. They answer two questions:

What do you want students to know by the time they finish a course or a major?
What do you want students to be able to do with what they know?

Aligning goals refers to setting up content standards, performance standards, curriculum, instruction, and assessments to all work toward meeting particular knowledge and skill expectations.


"A MOOC (Massive Online Open Course) is a model of educational delivery that is, to varying degrees, massive, with theoretically no limit to enrollment; open, allowing anyone to participate, usually at no cost; online, with learning activities typically taking place over the web; and a course, structured around a set of learning goals in a defined area of study. The range of MOOCs embody these principles in different ways, and the particulars of how MOOCs function continue to evolve."

"Seven Things You Should Know About MOOCS II" Educause. 2013.

Problem-based learning

Through problem-based learning, students learn how to use an iterative process of assessing what they know, identifying what they need to know, gathering information, and collaborating on the evaluation of hypotheses in light of the data they have collected.

Public scholarship

According to Julie Ellison and Timothy Eatman, public scholarship is “complex knowledge that is part of broader trends and movements for change….Publicly engaged academic work is scholarly or creative activity integral to a faculty member’s academic area. It encompasses different forms of making knowledge ‘about, for, and with’ diverse publics and communities. Through a coherent, purposeful sequence of activities, it contributes to the public good and yields artifacts of public and intellectual value.”

Quote from Julie Ellison and Timothy K. Eatman, "Scholarship in Public: Knowledge Creation and Tenure Policy in the Engaged University." 2008.


A rubric is an assessment matrix based on a set of criteria (self or group defined) used to evaluate a student's performance across a holistic spectrum.


According to Lindsay Lipscomb, Janet Swanson, and Anne West, “the term ‘scaffolding’ was developed as a metaphor to describe the type of assistance offered by a teacher or peer to support learning. In the process of scaffolding, the teacher helps the student master a task or concept that the student is initially unable to grasp independently. The teacher offers assistance with only those skills that are beyond the student’s capability. Of great importance is allowing the student to complete as much of the task as possible, unassisted. The teacher only attempts to help the student with tasks that are just beyond his current capability. Student errors are expected, but, with teacher feedback and prompting, the student is able to achieve the task or goal. When the student takes responsibility for or masters the task, the teacher begins the process of ‘fading,’ or the gradual removal of the scaffolding, which allows the student to work independently.”

Lindsay Lipscomb, Janet Swanson, and Anne West. "Scaffolding." Emerging Perspectives on Learning, Teaching and Technology.

Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL)

The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) is a practice in which faculty members apply the same approaches that they use in their research to their teaching and their conceptualization of learning.  SoTL practitioner Pat Hutchings, working with the Carnegie Academy for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, has identified four different kinds of questions SoTL projects might ask and answer:

  1. "Is it working?" – evaluating whether the learning strategies are helping the students achieve the desired learning goals
  2. "What does it look like?" – developing a descriptive framework for thinking about teaching and learning
  3. "What would it look like?" – envisioning approaches that are new for the field
  4. "How can we conceptualize or theorize about what is happening?" – building a different way of making meaning of what teachers and students do

Student-centered learning

Actively preparing lectures and activities to fit the needs of the student, not the needs of the teacher.

Students as experts

As newcomers to their respective fields, students are typically novice in their understanding of the subject matter. But students can begin to develop expertise by engaging in the practice of experts—learning not just content, but also how to think like an expert thinks.

Synthesizing information

Drawing upon elements from different learning experiences to make sense of a problem or deepen their understanding. See Vanderbilt's guide on Bloom's Taxonomy.

Tacit knowledge

Tacit knowledge is knowledge that has become ingrained, operational, and does not draw attention to itself. A person who possesses tacit knowledge in a domain will probably not know what they know (what they once had to learn).


A strategy for uncovering someone's thought process involving describing and recording each step in solving problems through recording or computer technology.


Used to engage students in prior knowledge of a topic. Students first think about a question related to the topic of study, then pair up with a partner to share throughts, and finally the pairs choose one major idea to share with the entire class.

Transparent grading

The process of helping students understand the grade they have received through rubrics, comments, distribution of points, or location of error.

Writing as reflection

Writing from a first-person perspective in a way that encourages students to think about what they have learned from a particular reading, project, or experience, with an emphasis on helping students become metacognitive of their learning process.

Writing for an audience

Writing for an audience refers to the process by which authors of any written object tailor their choice of words, formality, mood, and depth of explanation to their assumed audience. For students, this process is a necessary challenge as they encounter and evaluate new audiences and become more self-reflective about their writing.

Please reach out to us at cndls@georgetown.edu if you'd like to have a conversation with someone at CNDLS about these or other teaching issues.