Center for the Advancement of Faculty Excellence (CAFE)

Best Practices

You can spend a satisfying lifetime investigating, testing, and honing best practices in teaching in your discipline. This website is a small sampling of our favorite resources and ideas.

Also, see our:




Self-Directed Guide for Designing Courses for Significant Learning (pdf)

Cal Poly Pomona Course Design Kit (doc)

  • This downloadable kit contains definitions for hybrid, online, and face-to-face course formats; a syllabus template; a course plan template, module templates, a sample module, and sample learning assessment plans.


  • Research amply demonstrates that students learn and perform better when they understand what they're supposed to learn from assignments and why certain learning activities are being used. Some fairly easy changes to your assignments can produce far better student work.
  • Here's a research compendium: Transparency and Problem Centered Learning
  • Here's an online workshop on how to make your assignments more transparent, including sample assignments

An effective syllabus

  • Award-winning research from the University of Virginia shows that a learning-centered syllabus helps students get off to a good start, while not reducing the perceived rigor of the course.
  • Rubric for a learning-centered syllabus
  • Sample syllabus that meets Cal Poly Pomona's syllabus policies and scores high on the rubric – feel free to adopt and adapt




Organize your course

Research shows that organization and clarity are the most important factor in creating a course that helps students to succeed. As a bonus, an organized, clear course enhances your identity as a professional in your discipline and leads to better student ratings.

  • The Quality Matters template provides a ready-made organizational structure and some pre-populated useful information for your students.
  • Here's an online workshop about organization.


It's much easier to create your course materials to be accessible to students with disabilities in the first place instead of going back to fix them when you have students who are eligible for accommodations.

  • See our Accessible Instructional Materials webpage for detailed how-to's
  • Join the Blackboard Ally program and enlist Blackboard's help in ensuring that your materials are accessible




Active learning

There's so much to say about active learning that we're having to control ourselves to offer the top few resources!

Special situations




Get feedback

Getting feedback while a class is ongoing is the best way to improve.

  • From students: Getting midterm feedback helps you solve problems in time for your current group of students. It helps you find ways to reach your particular group of students, and it helps keep you from being surprised by end of term student rating results. It's best to do this by Week 5 of the semester. You MUST circle back and tell your students 1) what you learned from their feedback, 2) what you are willing to do in response, and 3) what you are NOT willing to do and why. If you don't circle back, it's worse than if you had not asked in the first place. Don't ask for their input if you're not willing to respond or to change anything.

    How to do it:
    • By yourself: See the website Ten Tools to Try and pick your favorite. (Bonus: Include a question that asks students what they need to do differently as well.)
    • Involve a trained interviewer: Ask Victoria, who will use this method.
      Victoria can only do 3 or 4 of these per semester, first come first served! Ask early!
  • From colleagues: Here's an online workshop about how to give and get collegial feedback on your classes. Note that this is NOT the same as official peer visits for RTP or lecturer evaluation.
  • From yourself: You are your own best source of feedback if you can muster up the discipline to keep a class journal at least once a week and then look over the journal as you prepare to teach the class again. Stephen Brookfield's Critical Incidents Questionnaire, modified to be from your perspective as the instructor, is a good framework for consistent reflection. You can also use teaching diary prompts.

How we know if they know: Classroom Assessment

  • It's useful to know before a test if students are actually “getting it.” Classroom assessment techniques (CATs) are quick, fairly easy to implement activities that deliberately probe students' progress and understanding. The information you gain from CATs can help you adjust your instruction to meet students' needs batter – and can help students to adjust their own activities to learn better.
  • There's a wide array of CATs to choose from – here's a list of 50. Also, we recommend the book Classroom Assessment Techniques for everyone's teaching library.

Troubleshooting: Where to get help

  • For problems with student behavior: Victoria
  • For problems with student learning: April, Bo, Eric, Erick, Richard, or Victoria
  • For being overwhelmed with grading: April, Bo, Eric, Erick, Richard, or Victoria
  • For conflicts with students: Victoria, then if necessary the Ombuds or Student Conduct
  • For problems with technology: Studio 6



Our ten favorite teaching books

  1. Applying the Science of Learning in Education (free, downloadable e-book)
  2. How Learning Works: Seven Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching
  3. Teach Students How to Learn: Strategies You Can Incorporate Into Any Course to Improve Student Metacognition, Study Skills, and Motivation
  4. Small Teaching: Everyday Lessons from the Science of Learning
  5. Why Don’t Students Like School? A Cognitive Scientist Answers Questions About How the Mind Works and What It Means for the Classroom
  6. Classroom Assessment Techniques
  7. Teaching What You Don’t Know
  8. Teaching at Its Best
  9. Online Teaching at Its Best
  10. Conquering the Content: A Blueprint for Online Course Design and Development