Four Steps for Writing about your Teaching Innovation

Violet Cheung, Associate Professor in the Department of Psychology, outlines four steps that helped her to turn a teaching innovation into a publication.

Violet Cheung

Too often we think of teaching and research as two separate endeavors – the former is our job and the latter a creative outlet. A paradigm shift for me was the phrase “teaching innovation” and the realization that you are innovating when you develop a unique course or improve an existing course. We are accustomed to sharing our research in journals, but we often don’t think of writing about our teaching in journals. Major innovations should not be hidden but shared with peers. As Saera Khan writes in her blog post “Strategies for Turning your Teaching into Publication,” there are many journals that may be interested in publishing your innovations in teaching. This paradigm shift has proven personally fulfilling to me and my coauthor and has expanded my perspective on scholarship.

While I have to admit that I wasn’t prepared for the long process involved in publishing our teaching innovation, it was easier once I saw how to breakdown the process. An important part entailed making ideas explicit–first verbally and then in print. Below I outline four steps to write about your teaching innovation:

1. Adopt a problem-solution framework to articulate your innovation

If it is hard to think of yourself as an innovator, then trying thinking of yourself as a problem-solver. Chances are that the unique student population, the unique course materials, or the unique class size has presented challenges to you in your teaching. As a dedicated educator, you adapt your teaching to address many of these challenges. Little by little, semester by semester, you have drifted far away from the traditional delivery of the course, and now you may have an innovation in your hand. Ask yourself “What problem did I try to solve?” and “What is my solution?” Turn your answers into a short elevator speech so that you can succinctly describe the problem-solution pair.

2. Ask colleagues to affirm the value of your innovation

Share your elevator speech with a colleague in your department and/or with a colleague at a different institution to see if there is interest and an audience for your innovation. Watch their reactions. If they say, “I don’t see how your method is different” or “I see why it works at your institution but nowhere else” then you will need to continue to adapt. If the reactions are more positive, such as, “Can I try using your teaching method in my class?” or “Why didn’t I think of it?” then you know this may be an important contribution.

If you received positive feedback, then listen carefully to the comments from your future readers because they may be able to articulate the benefits of your innovation better than you can. There are two reasons for this. First, they have the buyer’s point of view whereas you have the seller’s point of view. Guess which is more appealing to journal editors? Second, your colleagues can tell you the first benefit that comes to mind whereas you may be thinking of multiple benefits. Sometimes it is not possible to write about all of them because each comes with its own set of literature, and your colleague’s opinion becomes important when you have to focus on one benefit.

3. Document the efficacy of your innovation

As you search for appropriate journals, it may make sense to look for the journal’s typical data reporting style. For example, in psychology and other social sciences, data collection methods may fall along the lines of quantitative vs. qualitative, subjective data vs. objective data, comparison between class sections of different instruction styles vs. comparison of the same class section from the start to the end of the semester. Understanding the journal’s expectations for data reporting will help you determine how much you’ll need to document the effectiveness/efficacy of your innovation.

4. Familiarize yourself with the teaching literature in your field

As you investigate different journal outlets, tag relevant articles and read them. At first, It may seem an arduous task to learn the jargons and major divisions in the literature, but this is important because you want to make sure you cite the relevant literature and frame the context for your teaching innovation. If you want to write about teaching in your field, it is your responsibility to know what has been published previously and situate your innovation within the existing literature.

While I worked through this process, I came to appreciate the connection between my teaching and research, and I have been able to participate in meaningful conversations with my colleagues about teaching innovations and how to get started in the publication process. Publishing your innovative teaching methods can be a valuable way to bring together your research and your teaching.

Faculty Spotlight: Angela Banks

During our conversation, Angela Banks, Associate Professor in the School of Nursing and Health Professions, shared her passion for patients and her research in cardiovascular disease. We discussed her Fulbright experience in Jordan, bringing stories of her patients into the classroom, and running her first marathon.

Angela Banks


How did you first become interested in research?

At a very young age, I knew that I wanted to become a registered nurse. I enjoyed taking care of people that were sick, and whenever my family members became ill, I embraced the idea of helping them get better. I have a PhD in the Philosophy of Nursing.

While I was completing my PhD at UCSF, we had to select a particular area of interest, and I chose cardiovascular disease. I became quite interested in this area because I had a couple of family members who died prematurely as a result of cardiovascular disease.

How did you decide to come to USF?

The USF Nursing Program has a wonderful reputation in the community, and it’s highly respected throughout the state of California. I heard about USF long before I decided to come here. It was my first and only choice. I decided that after I graduated I wanted to work at this university, and it was also the only place where I interviewed. I’ve been here for 11 years and experienced many challenges, but overall I really enjoy teaching and the wonderful opportunities it has to offer.

How do you bring your research into the classroom?

Well I teach pharmacology and pathophysiology, so the heart is a fundamental aspect of my research. When I talk about the heart, I also share my research findings with my students. I want my students to be informed and understand the importance of cardiovascular disease and become advocates for their family members and themselves should they become diagnosed with cardiovascular disease.

Is there something in particular about working with the students and the program at USF that keeps you motivated?

Because of my many years working in the intensive care unit and also the emergency room, I have had an opportunity to bring those life experiences to the classroom. It brings the classroom alive. Students remember the stories that I tell them, the stories about my patients—how I advocated for my patients, how I advocated for their family members, and how they can do the same thing. I always say to them, you are the next generation of nurses. I’m just happy that I’m able to play a significant role in making you an excellent nurse. So when you graduate from this university you will have the necessary skills to care for people in the clinical setting or the community. One of these days you may have the opportunity to take care of me, or my loved ones and I want you to be well prepared for that responsibility.

What are the questions you’ve been thinking about recently?

I’m interested in cardiovascular disease and its impact on the female population. There are a lot of people that might not be aware of the fact that cardiovascular disease is the number one killer of all women. It’s actually the number one killer of all Americans—men and women—but it really does impact the female population considerably more. With my dissertation, I was specifically concerned about the African American population because, even though all women as well as men in the US are impacted by this disease, it has a significantly higher consequence on the African American population. I wanted to better understand why people wait to go to the hospital when they experience signs and symptoms associated with heart disease.

What leads to these delays and disproportionate impact?

From my research, when African Americans experience cardiac signs and symptoms, they wait to see if the symptoms will disappear. Many of them are wondering if these signs and symptoms are associated with something that’s not cardiac in origin. Several people experience denial, and believe that their signs and symptoms are related to something less serious, especially the female population because women do not necessarily experience cardiac symptoms in the same way that men do. Many healthcare providers, especially male physicians are reluctant to diagnose women with cardiovascular disease even though they present to the emergency room with the classic signs and symptoms. Physicians tend to attribute the symptoms that women are having to a condition that’s less serious compared to men experiencing the same symptoms when they arrive at the hospital.

You spent some time doing research in Jordan. What brought you to the Middle East?

I was in Jordan as a Fulbright Scholar, and it was a wonderful experience. I wanted to visit a place where the language, the religion, and the culture were very different from my own, so I specifically selected Jordan. I had a lot of fear associated with the Middle East, and if you listen to the media, most people would be frightened to travel to the Middle East. I wanted to branch out to a different part of the world, and it was one of the best decisions that I have ever made for my personal and intellectual growth.

How did your research collaborations work?

At the Jordan University of Science and Technology, you really needed to be fluent in Arabic in order to conduct research, and Arabic is a very difficult language to learn. So I collaborated with professors who spoke fluent English. For instance, there was a professor who was doing some interesting work on diabetes, which is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease, so we worked together and were successful in publishing a manuscript.

The professors also had their graduate students collect data, and then together we would analyze the data and write up the analyses. There was a tremendous amount of collaboration across disciplines, which is something I haven’t had the opportunity to do at USF. I would love to have the opportunity to work with professors across disciplines at USF, because we can learn from each other and disseminate the information to a broader audience.

I look forward to the opportunity of collaborating with my colleagues here at USF, specifically individuals who have an interest in how culture, and racial prejudice intersect with my area of research. I am currently working on a project dealing with culture, and oppression in the African American population who is suffering with heart failure.

How has your research impacted you individually?

I’m very conscious about my health, and I’m very much aware of the risk factors that will increase the chances of me developing heart disease—I try to eat a balanced diet and exercise as often as I can.

In Jordan, I actually ran my very first marathon for my students at the university. It was never my plan to run a marathon, but the whole purpose was to raise money for my students because in the Middle East students rarely have the funds to purchase books. They will usually purchase one book and make copies for all of their classmates, so I wanted to assist my students in paying tuition and buying books. Even though I didn’t raise a lot of money, all the money was donated to the university, and my students and colleagues were impressed. I encouraged people to run with me, but very few people in the Middle East run. Most people in the Middle East who run marathons are foreigners from other countries, the US being one of them.

I decided because I’m getting older and it’s such a burden on your body—that constant jarring when you’re running—so I decided to take up swimming. So now I swim because that’s the type of exercise that I can actually do for the rest of my life.

It seems like you’re always working on this goal of learning more, focusing on the community, and disseminating the information. Do you have a large goal for your research?

It’s a work in progress. If we can just get people to the hospital when they experience signs and symptoms associated with cardiovascular disease, that would be phenomenal because so many people, not just African American but also individuals from other ethnic groups, delay in getting to the hospital. When it comes to the cardiac muscle, time is very important because the longer you wait, the more damage you actually do to the heart muscle. If someone is aware of this knowledge about cardiovascular disease, it places them in a much better position to advocate for themselves and their family members.

How do you inform people about your research?

I’ve tried to reach the African American community, and educate women in general. In April, I spoke to a group of over 250 women about heart disease and shared the classic signs and symptoms. It is so important that they advocate for themselves if they go to the doctor, and if they feel like they might be experiencing symptoms associated with cardiovascular disease. It is important to get the physician to listen to them and not dismiss their concerns. A lot of it is education, but I’ve also found that even with educating people, it may not necessarily change behavior. So we still have a lot of work to do.

Strategies for Turning your Teaching into Publication

Saera Khan,  professor in the Department of Psychology, shares different approaches to identifying your pedagogical strategy and how to turn it into a publication.

Saera Khan
Saera Khan,  professor in the Department of Psychology

Professors take pride in their high caliber teaching, and when we innovate in our teaching, our primary goal is to create unique and original curricula or techniques to maximize our students’ understanding and critical analysis of the material. However, our efforts and engagement in teaching need not be limited to the students in our classroom. Academic journals and conferences devoted to sharing pedagogical innovations, strategies, challenges, and best practices (to name a few) exist so that others may benefit.

Identify your Strategy

To help you get started in thinking about how to turn your teaching into a publication, we created this non-exhaustive list of potential categories of types of articles you may write on your curricular innovations:

  1. Innovative teaching strategies, exercises, or assignments. My colleague, Violet Cheung created an original teaching exercise to help advanced research methods students learn about the statistical concepts of reliability and subjective data. Together, we refined her technique and tested the utility of this exercise over several semesters of this course. We presented our findings at the Annual Teaching of Psychology Conference.
  2. Curriculum design. Department members may collaborate to create learning goals and outcomes for specific courses as well as the overall program structure. Programs may take on a unique philosophy or pedagogical approach when student populations are considered in the design. In this case, a specific course may not be the focus per se, but rather how courses are designed and sequenced in relation to each other to create a comprehensive program.
  3. Case studies and storytelling in teaching. A narrative approach may teach a concept far more powerfully than a lecture. When we cover depression and suicide in my general psychology course, I present the true story of a young woman whose struggles with mental illness ends in tragedy. The story also allows us to explore the complexities in working with young adults suffering from severe depression as well as the right to privacy between college-aged students and their families.
  4. Narratives or reflections on teaching a particular course, population, etc. Teaching articles need not be geared towards teaching students. Your article can be a meta essay exploring broader themes or concepts about your challenges or joys in teaching. For example, one of my colleagues is writing an article on teaching a course as a queer woman of color.
  5. Adapting your course or teaching to a specific population. As our student populations diversify, our pedagogical strategies may need adaptation to reach all our students. Share how your teaching has grown more inclusive to students’ needs. Several of my colleagues are writing articles on adapting their teaching to support a high number of international students in their classes.

Please note that not all ideas fit neatly into one category exclusively and that your idea may be worthy even if it does not fit any of these categories!

Choose a Journal

After going through this exercise, your next step is to target a journal within your discipline and research the requirements. The ACRL Instruction Section Research and Scholarship Committee has a list to help find journals devoted to teaching in general and specific discipline areas.

Three Questions to Evaluate Your Probability for Success

There are three questions you need to ask yourself to evaluate your chances for success.

  1. Ask yourself: how will you evaluate success? In other words, what forms of persuasion can you use that will convince the reader that your ideas are worth trying?
  2. What previous articles have been published in the journals you are interested in? This will give you an idea of whether or not your article is a good fit for the journal or addresses an unmet gap in your field.
  3. Do I need to collect data to show evidence of my teaching approach, curricular innovation, or of student learning? For some of you, collecting pre and post intervention data is advisable and it may even be required for some teaching journals. For others, collecting students’ feedback specifically on your technique or exercise is sufficient.

USF for Freedom: A Symposium on Refugees, Forced Migrants, and Human Security

On May 23rd, over 100 people attended the USF for Freedom: A Symposium on Refugees, Forced Migrants, and Human Security where scholars, migrants, service providers, and activists discussed the current state of migration, refugee resettlement in the Bay Area, and local resources that are available. During the symposium and the reception, participants had an opportunity to connect with scholars and activists and learn about the latest developments.  This symposium was created and funded through the Interdisciplinary Action Grant sponsored by CRASE.

Missed the symposium? Check out the Storify from Annick T.R. Wibben and video of the symposium below.

Displacement and Human Security:

Relocation, Resettlement, and Human Security:

CRASE Academic Social Media for Faculty and Librarians

CRASE hosted a workshop on Academic Social Media for Faculty and Librarians where CRASE Co-Directors Christine Yeh and Saera Khan provided a brief overview of ORCID, Google Scholar,, and ResearchGate. 12 participants from the College of Arts and Sciences, School of Law, School of Nursing, School of Management, School of Education, and Gleeson Library had the opportunity to set up profile pages and learn the specific and unique features of each site. By the end of the workshop participants learned about how to disseminate their research, increase citations, and connect with researchers all around the world. Below are some quotes from participants.

“Great pace, very manageable tasks for the time frame. I learned about some new things – such as ORCID – and got to try some things I’d heard about (ResearchGate). We had enough time to work with the different tools.”

“Helpful combination of big picture overview of faculty social media sites, with hands-on step-by-step activities. Specific examples. Helpful dialogue with the participants, too.”

CRASE & CTE: Turning Teaching into Publication

During this partnership between CRASE and the Center for Teaching Excellence, Professors Saera Khan and Violet Cheung, Department of Psychology, presented their experience of co-authoring a pedagogy article and Professors Jonathan Hunt, Keally McBride, and Christine Yeh shared advice and ideas for turning your teaching into publication. Participants learned about the different categories for pedagogy publications, and then worked in small groups to brainstorm ideas for articles and provide feedback. 39 people attended 2 Turning Teaching into Publication events in April and some of the tentative article titles include: “A Long Time Coming”:  Building Critical Diversity Studies at a Small Liberal Arts College”, “Re-Centering the Pacific in Asian Pacific American Studies”, “Using Participatory Action Research to explore the transition to college writing”, “Social Media and Health Education: An Innovative Online Course for Healthcare Professional Students.” Faculty participants shared the following feedback:

“All three facilitators did a great job. Their experience provided a base for believing this is possible.”

“[It was helpful] hearing about others’ own experiences and the types of articles that might be publishable.”

We’ll be offering a follow-up event in Fall 2016, and Saera Khan and Violet Cheung will be offering further insights in upcoming blog posts.

CRASE Faculty Salon: Identity Representation and Global Politics

During the faculty salon, Aysha Hidayatullah, Department of Theology and Religious Studies, and Taymiya R. Zaman, Department of History, outlined the impetus for writing and publishing their article, “Speaking for Ourselves: American Muslim Women’s Confessional Writings and the Problem of Alterity.” Saera Khan, Department of Psychology, and Rebecca Mason, Department of Philosophy, provided commentary on the article before opening up to a lively discussion with 19 people from several departments. Faculty shared some of their feedback about the event.

“I think it was great that the paper was circulated in advance so that everyone could discuss it with prior knowledge. This led to excellent participation among the participants. The respondents did well setting up good points of entry to the text.”

“I thought having two responses was effective by providing two different perspectives (from philosophy and psychology), and the speakers did a great job fielding an array of questions. A lively discussion was the result, so it is fair to say that the facilitators were effective.”

“It was an important topic. The speakers were dynamic and engaging. Reading the article ahead of time allowed us to use our time to focus on the discussion rather than going through the arguments of the article.  I really liked the format. It was interesting to get responses from people from different disciplines, and see how those responses were and weren’t influenced by their disciplinary backgrounds.”

CRASE Online Writing Challenge

During CRASE Online Writing Challenge, 55 faculty members of all ranks and from each schools and college committed to writing at least 20 minutes a day for 14 days and participated in an online discussion group to share advice, offer support, and share progress. Facilitators from CRASE shared daily quotes, writing tips, and reminders to keep participants motivated and focused.

Over the course of two weeks, faculty wrote over 202,379 words and logged over 34,065 minutes of writing. Faculty completed a range of projects including book chapters, articles, policy briefs, conference papers, and blog posts. The challenge proved to not only foster productivity but also created a strong support network for faculty. Below are some examples of the feedback we received.

“I felt compelled to push myself to write everyday since I was accountable to a group. No one forced me to write, but I knew that I had to fill out my daily writing log. I also felt inspired by the comments the other participants wrote about their processes.”

“[I] completed two book chapters and one revise/resubmit to a top tier journal.”

“[I wrote the] first draft of this article. I’ve never written in this way (another binge writer), but I’m glad I’m doing it. I will try to continue the process until my draft is finished, but it will be hard to keep at it without the challenge. It also reminded me how much I enjoy writing.”

“This challenge far surpassed my expectations!! The support of others on a daily basis, the simple reflective discussion questions on writing to more broadly tap into why we do what we do, and a private log for personal progress all hit the mark on so many levels. And 20 minutes is almost always feasible, and a great way to keep your finger on the pulse of the project.”

“The Writing Challenge has reminded me how difficult it is to write regularly, especially when my teaching responsibilities increase at times during the semester. I’m thankful for this challenge and the support of all you online writers! I usually criticize myself for needing the structure of writing teams, writing retreats and this online challenge — I should be able to do it myself, right? But lately I’ve shifted my thinking instead to one of gratitude. It is what it is — very difficult to carve out regular writing time when you have responsibilities other than writing, and these writing communities help me carve out the time I need. Thank you!”

CRASE will be hosting another Online Writing Challenge in Fall 2016.

CRASE Innovations with Geographic Information Systems

The USF Geospatial Analysis Lab (GsAL) partnered with CRASE to host three workshops on Geographic Information Systems (GIS). The workshops were developed and facilitated by David Saah, Associate Professor in the Department of Environmental Science  Director of GsAL, and Megan Danielson, GsAL Manager.

CRASE Innovations in GIS
CRASE Innovations in GIS

The first workshop provided an introduction to GIS resources on the USF campus and allowed participants to explore features of GIS by creating a map of earthquake risk in California. Two additional GIS Boot Camps allowed participants to develop further their skills and consider how to use GIS in their own research, teaching, and collaborations. Many faculty and staff worked on proposals for specific GIS mapping projects such as investigating unsafe public transportation to public high schools in San Francisco; migration patterns in Europe, Middle East, and North Africa; community-based ecological asset mapping; mapping urban development and arts nonprofits in West Oakland over time; and looking at voting patterns by geography. During the semester, nearly  50 people participated in the GIS Workshops. Here are some of the testimonials from our participants:

“The instruction was great–it was tailored to each of us and also gave an overview of GIS and various applications in different disciplines. It was also great to have research assistants/helpers there to provide 1-on-1 assistance.”

“Including tables and figures in my work is about as visual as my work has been. This definitely opened my eyes to how I could display information visually. It also made me think about kinds of research questions I can ask given the data sets that are available and the tools I have access to. I also see a lot of room for collaboration in this space. For example, as someone who studies workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, I see how I could collaborate with folks in politics or law to map non-discrimination policies, instances of discrimination, political attitudes, cost of discrimination, etc. ”

CRASE plans to continue its collaboration with GsAL in the 2016-2017 academic year, and we are excited to see further development of the proposals started by faculty and staff.

CRASE Going Public with It: Blogging and Advocacy for Social Justice

Huffington Post blogger and USF Assistant Professor Rick Ayers, from the Department of Teacher Education in the School of Education, led a three-hour blog writing workshop for CRASE where 14 faculty and staff from across the university  developed ideas for blog posts. During this workshop, faculty brainstormed ideas, started drafting their posts, and received feedback from peers. People wrote about a range of topics including human rights education, the #BringBackOurGirls hashtag campaign, advice to junior colleagues, art and identity, educational policy, fatherhood and race, and the Trump campaign. Faculty also shared some of their feedback about the event.

“I so appreciated having dedicated time to actually write a blog. I was able to get many ideas down and begin a blog that I have been meaning to write. I really appreciated sharing the blog drafts with my partners and hearing their ideas and perspectives. They gave great advice.”

“I loved hearing what others were working on and all the issues folks wanted to address in their own blogs I appreciated hearing different examples of blogs that Rick had done or had read. I loved hearing and reading different writing styles to expand my idea of how folks can actually write a blog.”

“It was great to have a space to write in. I loved the mix of advice and real-time pressure to write. I was surprised that I wrote something pretty coherent just in the 30 minutes allocated to write silently. This helped me see how much I can do in such a short period of time.”

Due to popular demand, Rick Ayers will offer another CRASE blog writing workshop on June 21st. More details and registration information here.