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The Vermont State Educator – August 2023

August 2023 | Issue 1 | Volume 1 | Previous Issues

Welcome and Hello!

Greetings! We hope you feel warm ‘welcome back’ wishes from the pages of this inaugural newsletter of the VTSU Center for Teaching & Learning Innovation (CTLI)! We genuinely hope that you had opportunity this summer for some time to rest and rejuvenate. 

The CTLI is comprised of two staff members, and we have been working really hard this summer to develop meaningful resources and professional development experiences to support the expertise and efforts of you – our dedicated VTSU faculty. We also have tried to model what we advocate – that breaks allow for reinvigorated engagement. Jen spent a week camping in Maine and Jeff spent a week in Oregon visiting family and friends. Here are a couple photos from our summer vacations to provide you with a little visual joy. Do you have a photo from these past few months that you think would bring others some pleasure? If so, send us an email and we’ll put together a photo collage to include in the next newsletter. 

Image Collage. Top image shows a park along a river in Oregon with sculpture of bald eagles on a tree and lifesize copper sculptures of a band with piano, brass players, and a drum. A cement pathway is bordered by mossy rock walls. Right image shows a stream lined by cedar tress and sunlight filtering in. Bottom image shows the rocky coast of Maine with a gray sky, gray sea, and tan and black rocks along with evergreen trees. Left image shows a path through a moss-covered forest with lichen patches on the spruce tree trunks.

New Beginnings 

As we launch our first full semester as Vermont State University this fall, it is certainly a new beginning for our institution, our first class of VTSU students, and of course a new term. There are also (relatively) new influences on higher education, including the proliferation and increasing quality of AI tools. While some people thrive in change, it can be challenging for others. The CTLI aims to be a source of stability for faculty – a trusted place for information, consultation, and collaboration.  

The CTLI for Vermont State is a new, statewide department. Given there are two of us serving five campuses + online, we will be offering the bulk of our programming via Zoom. The advantage of this approach means that faculty from across the state will have opportunities to connect with one another. As you can see from our objectives (listed below), we are focused not just on teaching excellence, but also on the value of growing and improving teaching in community with one another. Teaching is a relational activity, and connecting with other faculty is one of the most important ways to feel both grounded and inspired. We will strive to create such opportunities while curating and providing relevant and practical resources to support your teaching goals. 

The Four Core CTLI Objectives: 

  • Support the implementation and iteration of evidence-based pedagogical strategies to create significant learning experiences in a variety of modalities. 
  • Promote inclusive, equity-centered course design and educational practices for student success. 
  • Foster a trusting and supportive teaching community that encourages collaborative problem-solving, open sharing of ideas, and celebration of successes. 
  • Develop and grow the visibility, inclusivity, and efficacy of CTLI programs and resources.  

Engage with the CTLI This Fall Semester 

The Center for Teaching & Learning Innovation has planned a variety of opportunities, to which all faculty are welcome.


We know that you are incredibly busy and it can be hard to attend events. While we look forward to connecting with you live, we also want you to have access to information when you need it and when you have time to engage with it. Each month, we’ll be sharing a newsletter to provide you with updates, teaching strategies, campus resources, and a profile of a VTSU faculty member to help build connections across our campuses. Additionally, we’ve been developing a website to collate ideas and information useful to your pedagogy. For instance, you may be thinking, right now, about building community in your classes and interested in some new ideas for icebreakers or you may be realizing that last year’s syllabus reflects one of our former institution’s information and you’d like an updated VTSU syllabus template. We’ve got you covered! 

For now, the CTLI website lives separate from the Vermont State website. Sometime this year, the Communications team will migrate this content to the main university website, but until then, we ask that you bookmark our site so that you can find it easily.


We plan to offer workshops throughout the semester, timed with relevance. We will do our best to offer each workshop 2 times, to accommodate as many schedules as we can. We will also plan to record workshops and post links to them on our website.

At the bottom of this newsletter, you should see links to our upcoming workshops. Please register for any workshop you wish to attend. When you register, you’ll receive an automatic email that includes a link to put it on your calendar.

You can see that we have upcoming workshops in collaboration with colleagues in VTSU’s Disability Services. Our September newsletter will be focused on accessibility, and we’ve planned these workshops for you to learn more about how to support students seeking accommodations. Future months, we’ll continue to partner with student success colleagues to ensure that you faculty are up-to-date on new services and procedures, in addition to pedagogical workshops put on by CTLI staff.

Faculty Learning Community 

Have you ever received assignments that are just “off the mark” when you felt your instructions were really clear? Have you heard from students that they spent an excessive amount of time going down the wrong track with an assignment?

This fall’s Faculty Learning Community (FLC) may be just the thing for you! We will be running a group on Transforming Assignments to Increase Success and Reduce Frustration. We’ll be using the Transparency in Learning & Teaching (TILT) framework, which has research to back it up. Studies show that if instructors use transparency for just two assignments in a course, results in student success and retention are shown.

Please sign up by filling out this FLC RSVP Form (you must login to your VSC account to complete the form).

Fall 2023 Book Group 

James Lang wrote a perhaps now-more-than-ever relevant book in 2013 summarizing literature on why people cheat and what faculty can do to reduce cheating in their classes. This fall, join your colleagues for a book group on Cheating Lessons: Learning from Academic Dishonesty. As a teaser, Lang posits that faculty actually have a lot of control over cheating in their classes because they can create conditions in which students are motivated to do their own work. We’ll read this together, applying the new lens of Artificial Intelligence resources, with a focus on identifying practical course design and teaching interventions that encourage academic integrity.

Please sign up by filling out this Book Group RSVP Form (you must login to your VSC account to complete the form).

Faculty Spotlight

In this first issue of the Vermont State Educator, we are highlighting the background, experiences, and perspectives of Johnson-based education professor, Hannah Miller. As we build a new culture at our unified university, it is a pleasure to share her tips on building community and working with students both inside and outside the classroom.

Please tell us a little bit about your background and what brought you to VTSU?

I grew up in Atlanta, Georgia and went to college in Memphis, Tennessee. Before coming to VTSU, I lived in China from 2001-2009 where I taught science, social studies, and English. While I was there, I fell in love with teaching, and I also organized the country’s first successful gay pride festival, Shanghai PRIDE, which held its 11th annual celebration in 2020! I earned my Ph.D. in Curriculum, Instruction, and Teacher Education from Michigan State University in 2016, and I was happy to see that Johnson State College was hiring the year I went on the academic job market. My research interests include studying social change in schools, with a focus on privilege and oppression. My first academic love was science and environmental education, and now I have shifted to a new topic, which is supporting LGBTQ+ educators. I am currently working on a critical participatory action research project with Vermont’s LGBTQ+ teachers called “TeachOut Vermont,” which aims to build sustainable social networks for queer teachers in Vermont with funding from the Spencer Foundation. Outside of work, I love knitting, yarn, and sheep. I also love birding with my wife, Lisa Zinn, who is also a professor at Johnson. We decided to move to Vermont because we appreciate Vermont’s commitment to local community and local economies, and access to the most beautiful outdoors I have ever lived in. We also both love fall and winter, and Vermont does both of those seasons very well. We love it here!

What do you do to build rapport and community within your classrooms during the first few weeks of the semester?

In the first week of class, I set up a small advisory group of students called a “cogen” (which is an idea I learned from Dr. Chris Emdin) which is a group of students who bring me anonymous feedback from the class each week about how they are doing and what their needs are. This serves a few purposes: it opens lines of communication between me and the students (which I find can sometimes be heard to get going in that first year), and it also lets me be responsive to the needs of the students immediately (instead of waiting until I get the feedback at the end of the semester). I try to take visible steps to address their needs so the response is transparent and quick. Each class is different and has unique needs, and I like knowing what those are as the semester unfolds. Other things I do include learning their names before class #2, and having lunch in the cafeteria once a week and inviting my students to join me.

What important lessons have you learned from VTSU students that have shaped you as a teacher?

It is important to me to listen to my students and understand what their ideas and experiences are. If I don’t know who they are, it is hard for me to help them learn. I have also learned that learning is a two-way street—I learn a lot from my students every semester. Their ideas are important to me—they are the reason I do my job. It is important to really listen to them and trust that they understand their own experience, while also challenging them to learn and stretch their brains.

How do you encourage students to access available student support departments, such as academic support and the wellness center?

I try to invite staff from those offices into my first year class so my students get to know the humans and faces attached to the services. At times I have also accompanied students to those offices personally when I thought they would benefit from immediate support.

Do you work with any student clubs or groups? If so, what do you enjoy most about those experiences?

I am the advisor for our campus’ LGBTQ+ student organization (which was called NVUnity, but we need a new name!) and I do some collaboration with our Coalition of Minority Students. When I was a college student and I came out as a gay person, I didn’t know how to find friends who I could talk to about what I was going through. The college I attended did not allow us to have an LGBTQ+ club (that was in the 1990s in Tennessee!). I think it’s important for our queer students to know that they belong here and that they have a good experience while they are at VTSU, which is why I advise the club. We also have a knitting and crocheting club called the “Fiber Collective” that meets on Wednesdays at 1pm in the Stearns Fireplace Lounge at Johnson. Come join us! We have free supplies if you’d like to learn how to knit or crochet. It’s a great way to get to know colleagues and students once a week and talk about things other than school/work.

What advice or tips do you have for faculty members who recently joined our new university?

First, welcome! I’m so glad you’re here. We’re going through a lot of changes right now but there are good times ahead! One of the best things about working here is the supportive network of colleagues who genuinely care about their students and our school, so I recommend getting connected. It can be hard to make friends as adults in Vermont because it is so sparsely populated, and I describe the social scene as “house culture” because people tend to socialize in their homes or outdoors. For this reason, I appreciated the advice that I once heard, which was “If someone invites you to their home in Vermont, say yes!” Also, finding ways to get connected on campus has really helped me combat the feelings of isolation I have all felt since COVID. Being a part of our Fiber Collective and advising our LGBTQ+ club has helped me get re-connected to the humans in our local communities since 2020, and it’s helped me better understand what’s happening on our campus.

Summary of Literature: First Impressions


No matter what modality you’re teaching in, you have opportunities to make first impressions with your students – through your syllabus, through the first synchronous interactions, through the attention you’ve paid to digital accessibility, through the organization of your Canvas courses, through the choices you’ve made for readings and assignments, through their impressions of relevance the course will have to their careers and lives.

Research shows that these first impressions students have of their professors and courses influence their likelihood to stay in the class, to be motivated to do coursework, to engage in learning activities

Thin Slices

Much research on first-impressions utilizes a strategy called “thin slices” whereby raters are provided with short clips (5-30 seconds) of video (usually no audio) and asked to form impressions of the presenter. Researchers have evaluated the accuracy of this “thin slice” methodology, finding that certain attributes (negative affect, extraversion, conscientiousness, and intelligence) are accurately observed after a very short exposure, other attributes (positive affect, neuroticism, openness, and agreeableness) require a longer period of exposure for accurate assessment, although 5 minutes may be sufficient (Carney et al., 2007). Perhaps what is most salient for university faculty is that humans are used to making quick judgments of people, and while these are relatively accurate, there is a very short window in which to make an impression.

The Syllabus

There is evidence that when students read a welcome statement on the syllabus from the instructor, it positively impacts their motivation including their intention to attend office hours and take more classes within the department (Lapiene et al., 2022). This may be especially important in asynchronous online classes where there are more limited opportunities for an instructor to establish their presence. In online classes, an instructor may want to reiterate the welcome statement with a video recording students also watch in the first week of the semester.

In addition, the tone of syllabus has an impact on students. When the tone is perceived as friendly, students report that the instructor is warm, approachable, and motivated to teach the course (Harnish & Bridges, 2011).

Syllabi also signal instructors’ beliefs in students. In one study by Canning et al. (2022), syllabi messages indicating an instructor’s growth mindset beliefs about students’ abilities to learn and achieve affected belonging for all students and performance for female students. These growth mindset signals can be structural (such as grading for partial credit on homework) and verbal encouragement (such as the instructor’s readiness to provide support if a student feels underprepared).

The First Day of Class

An initial study by Buchert et al. (2008) discovered that while students may have some information about a professor’s reputation before a class begins, the impressions they form in the first two weeks outweigh any preconceived ideas about the instructor and also do not waiver through the end of the semester. However, a follow-up study by Laws et al. (2010) found that in fact, these impressions were formed and persistent from the first day of class. Upperclass courses had higher favorable ratings than first-year courses.

So what should be done on the first day? One evidence-based approach (used in a variety of disciplines) is the reciprocal interview (Case et al., 2008), which has shown benefits for all students and especially those from historically underresourced identities in higher education. This activity begins building a community of learners, emphasizes the critical role and purpose of student inquiry and engagement, and allows students to develop early relationships with peers and the instructor.

After a quick review of the syllabus, the first part of this two-part activity begins with interview questions presented to students with questions such as:

1. What are your goals for this course? 2. How can the instructor best help you achieve your goals? 3. What reservations, if any, do you have about this course? 4. What resources do you bring to this course? 5. What norms of behavior or ground rules should we set up to ensure that the course is successful? 6. What are some of your pet peeves of professors and classes? What are some annoying traits of professors that you’ve had? (Case et al., 2008, p. 211)

Students are given time to respond individually (5 minutes), discuss in small groups (10 minutes), then bring to the whole class (15 minutes).

The second half of the activity is an opportunity for students to interview the professor. They are given topics to consider asking questions about related to course expectations, approach to grading, the students’ role, the instructor’s objectives, etc. Students are given time to brainstorm individually (5 minutes), formulate questions in small groups (5 minutes), and then ask questions of the instructor (10 minutes).

This activity could be adapted for an online class, using a discussion forum.


Buchert, S., Laws, E. L., Apperson, J. M., & Bregman, N. J. (2008). First impressions and professor reputation: Influence on student evaluations of instruction. Social Psychology of Education, 11(4), 397–408.

Canning, E. A., Ozier, E., Williams, H. E., AlRasheed, R., & Murphy, M. C. (2022). Professors who signal a fixed mindset about ability undermine women’s performance in stem. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 13(5), 927–937.

Carney, D. R., Colvin, C. R., & Hall, J. A. (2007). A thin slice perspective on the accuracy of first impressions. Journal of Research in Personality, 41(5), 1054–1072.

Case, K., Bartsch, R., McEnery, L., Hall, S., Hermann, A., & Foster, D. (2008). Establishing a comfortable classroom from day one: Student perceptions of the reciprocal interview. College Teaching, 56(4), 210–214.

Harnish, R. J., & Bridges, K. R. (2011). Effect of syllabus tone: Students’ perceptions of instructor and course. Social Psychology of Education, 14(3), 319–330.

Lapiene, K. E., Pettijohn, T. F. I., & Palm, L. J. (2022). An investigation of professor and course first impressions as a function of a syllabus welcome statement in college students. College Student Journal, 56(3), 281–288.

Laws, E. L., Apperson, J. M., Buchert, S., & Bregman, N. J. (2010). Student evaluations of instruction: When are enduring first impressions formed? North American Journal of Psychology, 12(1), 81–91.

Teaching Tip: The Power of Five Minutes

I like considering these two articles in the context of one another because they address the bookends of any class session: the first and final five minutes. I was trained as an educator to plan a class in 20-minute chunks, given research on attention spans. But when I start with a 20-minute chunk right out of the gate, I’m missing an important opportunity for intentional transition to the class. Likewise, if my focus is on a final 20-minute activity, I may be wrapping up that piece, but not necessarily the whole class session. These articles have changed my teaching practice, and I hope you find some useful ideas, as well.

The first five minutes of class

James Lang, author of (amongst other texts) Small Teaching: Everyday Lessons from the Science of Learning, wrote a blog post on Small Changes in Teaching: The First 5 Minutes of Class. Read more about his four ideas for helping students become present in class:

I’ve combined a couple of these ideas. I often give students a question prompt and ask them to do low-stakes writing (for 1- to 5-minutes). Sometimes, students share their ideas with a partner. The prompt might be a question to get their gears turning about the focus of the upcoming class or it might be related to previous learning. This writing becomes a ritual in class. Additionally, students are given the chance to shift, from their busy lives, into the learning environment in a meaningful way.

The final five minutes of class

Classroom assessment techniques (CATs) have long been encouraged as useful for both students and faculty to generate a picture of where learning is solid and where more time needs to be spent to promote understanding. The blog post on Disrupting Illusions of Fluency by Desai, McCray, & Todd provides an interesting framework for the purpose of CATs – namely this idea that students may be disillusioned about their own competency, highlighting the need for facilitated metacognition.

I don’t think these illusions are intentional by students, and I bet we can all relate if we think about times we’ve been a novice learner. While I exercise with regular walking/jogging, I am not great at independent strength training. Pre-pandemic, I was taking a twice-per-week class at a gym. Having minimal previous exposure to the majority of activities we engaged with each week, I definitely approached the class with beginner’s mind and body. An observer probably would have chuckled at my “illusion of fluency,” as the patient instructor corrected my form despite my absolute certainty that I was doing a move perfectly! However, this disruption of my illusion created opportunities to then ask questions and make adjustments, which are critical to progress.

Close up of an analog clock showing the minute hand

In most classes, students’ beginning mastery of content knowledge or a skill is less visible than in my strength training class. Faculty can’t just look at students to assess their progress. Spending the final five minutes of class engaging in a one-minute paper, a muddiest point exercise, or a class wrapper (as described in Desai, McCray, & Todd’s blog post) can unveil the areas where students are leaving a class falsely confident about their knowledge and fluency with course materials. With this information, in the very next class, new opportunities can be created for further clarification, hence disrupting the illusion of fluency, replaced by actual fluency and deeper understanding.

Your turn – please write to us!

What are your ideas for effectively starting and ending class, being mindful of the intentions and suggestions posed in these two articles? How you can you leverage the power of those 5 minutes? Send us an email at!

Video Spotlight

You may have heard about Vermont State’s newest modality, but what exactly is Face-to-Face Plus (F2F+)? This video spotlight includes pilot faculty members, administrators, and students.

Campus Partner Update

Guest Writer – Tim Dusablon, Manager of Learning Spaces Technologies

I’d like to introduce you to the Learning Spaces Technologies Team and share a bit about who we are and what we do.  The Learning Spaces Technologies Team consists of myself who works mainly out of Williston, Jonathan Jacobs who works primarily out of Castleton, and Jason Kaiser who works primarily out of Lyndon.  We also have an honorary member of our team that works out of Winooski, Jim Smith.  Our team reports to the Director of Learning Technologies, Sarah Chambers, who works out of both Castleton and Randolph.  We have been super busy this summer, with full or partial upgrades to 48 learning spaces for VTSU, and several more classroom upgrades for CCV.

The Learning Spaces Technologies Team handles all things audio-visual in our academic spaces.  This includes projectors, sound equipment, cameras, microphones, and all kinds of other hardware that regularly gets used in our learning environments.  Our team is glad to help in any way that we can!  If you have a technology issue, or would like to request training on classroom equipment, simply submit a work order at  Also, if you would like to discuss future upgrades to learning spaces, or have ideas you would like to share, you can reach out to me directly at

Your feedback is really important to us, so please feel free to reach out at any time!

Upcoming Events


“I have come away with better knowledge about how to design my F2F+ class for the fall, and with a long list of things to investigate.”

Summer 2023
F2F+ Pilot Faculty Member