Digging Deeper (Learning)

Digging Deeper (Learning)

Explore these topics from the Mines Online community that are essential to delivering a high-quality STEM education:


The goal of Mines Online is to provide an enriching and transformative learning experience for all students. Mines Online learning experience designers and instructors collaboratively build courses that can adjust to the needs of each student to the greatest extent possible.

To learn more about accessibility in online course, visit the Accessibility Fundamentals Overview offered by W3’s Web Accessibility Initiative to learn the basics. At Mines, there is the Accessibility Course for Education built in Canvas that provides similar information. To increase accessibility in STEM courses specifically,  it’s important to learn how to use equation editors, for example like EquatIO, using the Equation Editor in Word and Powerpoint (which is better than using screenshots), and learning about the accessibility of MatLab. Finally, don’t forget to write alternative text for all your images and/or graphs! Click here for information on writing alt-text from WebAIM.

When it comes to testing your learning materials, accessibility checkers and screen readers are becoming adept at flagging information needing your attention. Try using the WAVE accessibility plugin for Chrome, running the Microsoft Accessibility Checker with all files shared with students, and using Adobe PDF Accessibility tools (note:  requires Adobe Acrobat Pro).


Active Learning

Active Learning involves an approach to instruction that focuses the responsibility of learning on the students and requires active cognitive processing (more than passively receiving information).  It can be “anything that involves students in doing things and thinking about the things they are doing” (Bonwell & Eison, 1991, p. 2). However, the thinking should move beyond recall of information. Active Learning should develop students’ skills, attitudes, and content knowledge (all three) as they engage in higher-order thinking tasks such as analysis, synthesis, design, and evaluation.

Many of Mines’ faculty have redesigned their courses to utilize Active Learning approaches. To create a class with Active Learning requires intentional planning, course design/development in advance of teaching, and rich implementation. Active Learning requires students to do the cognitive work by reading, writing, discussing, analyzing, and/or solving problems during instruction time and not only as homework or out-of-class time. Short lectures may be part of active learning, but lecture-only classes do not engage students in active learning.

Numerous studies have shown the positive impact of Active Learning on faculty productivity, student performance and student learning. Meta-studies show a 0.5 Standard Deviation in improved student outcomes (~19-20% improvement) (Streveler and Menekse, 2017).

For more information on Active Learning, read some of the articles below, reach out to the Trefny Center or Mines Online, or participate in a workshop on active learning.



Bonwell, C., & Eison, J. (1991). Active learning:  creating excitement in the classroom. Washington, DC:  School of Education and Human Development, George Washington University.

Brame, C. (2016). Active learning. Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching. Retrieved [11-07-2018] from https://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/active-learning. Access the library permalink here.

Freeman et al. (2014). Active learning increases student performance in science, engineering, and mathematics. PNAS, 111. 8410–8415. Access the library permalink here.

Prince, M. (2004). Does active learning work? A review of the research. Journal of Engineering Education, 93(3), 223-231. Retrieved from this library permalink.

Streveler and Menekse (2017). Taking a Closer Look at Active Learning. JEE, 106, 186–190. Access the library permalink here.

Advanced Learning

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Creating strong assessments that closely align to learning outcomes is a standard for Mines Online. Professors and designers work together to craft assessments that optimize learning, specifically for the online environment. Many online students participate in team projects that prepare them for the demands of professional life after graduation. Mines Online courses also include formative (or practice) assessments that check in on student learning to ensure that students are ready for larger, summative exams. Mines Online utilizes cutting edge educational technology to increase student engagement and ensure fairness in grading, for both summative and formative assessments. For more information on assessment for online learning, read the descriptions below.  

Formative Assessment for Online Learning

Formative Assessment is assessment for learning. It includes checking in on student learning and finding ways to improve teaching—and it is beneficial for both students and faculty. This facet of teaching can often get overlooked—as instructors feel pressure to move on. Fortunately, there are numerous online tools that support and facilitate formative assessment.  

  • Low stakes quizzes (Canvas Quizzes or New Quizzes) 
  • Peer reviews (Canvas Assignments) 
  • Rough drafts (Canvas Assignments) 
  • Polls (Google or Outlook Forms) 
  • Discussions (Canvas Discussions) 
  • Self-assessments / reflections (Canvas assignments) 
  • Interactive Reading (Hypothesis)  

Review the Canvas course titled Assessment for Online Learning for more specific examples of online tools for formative assessment.  



Summative assessment is assessment of learning, and these assessments come in many formats. When most people think of summative assessment, they think of multiple-choice question exams. While multiple choice questions are easy to grade, they can be hard to write, easy to cheat on, and poor evaluators of content mastery. To reduce cheating and increase inclusivity in online assessment, Mines Online strives to do the following:  

  • Offer a variety of question types (multiple choice, true false, open & essay). 
  • Ask students to show their work 
  • Ask students to demonstrate metacognition (ex. explain why they made specific choices) 
  • Be flexible with due dates and deadlines  
  • Provide tech support before and during the assessment timeline 
  • Offer a low/no stakes practice test using the same software 
  • Be available and ready on test day to answer questions   
  • Include a collaborative element to the assessment so students can support each other  
  • Break assessments up into smaller pieces  
  • Vary the types of assessments in the course to increase assessment equity 


Council of Chief State School Officers, C. of C. S. (2018). Revising the Definition of Formative Assessment. CCSSO.org. Retrieved July 19, 2022, from https://ccsso.org/resource-library/revising-definition-formative-assessent 

Worcester Polytechnic Institute  

Augmented, Virtual, and Extended Reality

Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) are great tools for engaging students, as they remove barriers, create space for play, and encourage experimentation. Additionally Extended Reality (XR), which combines both AR and VR, is gaining interest amongst educators especially after the COVID-19 pandemic. Although concerns about accessibility and cost arise when it comes to AR/VR/XR, there are still low-cost and free options available for instructors and students. Mines Online supports and encourages members to employ AR/VR/XR systems to provide innovative, ground-breaking, and authentic experiences for online students.

To learn the basics of AR/VR, begin by accessing Doerner’s 2022 textbook available from Arthur Lakes Library. From there, try experimenting with COSpaces or Mozilla’s Hubs to get started with your vision. Other platforms such as ALTSpaceVR, Spatial, Meta Horizon Workrooms, or Verbela offer many choices and advanced functionality such as interoperability, accessibility, and content curation. As a reminder, be sure to request an ITS software review, especially if you need to download or install new plugins or software on a Mines-owned equipment.

Advanced lessons can be created with the support of an online learning experience designer (OLED) using tools such as Articulate Storyline’s 360 images, Google Cardboard, or other software not listed. Nevertheless, continue to dream of lessons and stay informed by engaging with communities of practice for XR such as UC Berkley‘s, or following social media accounts like Educators in VR.

Canvas Tutorials

Canvas is the learning management system (LMS) that Mines uses to create, distribute, and manage the delivery of instructional material. Whether you are teaching online or in-person classes, having a good understanding of this tool can help facilitate and streamline instruction. The resources below can help beginners learn the basics and provide options for those looking to take their skills to the next level.

Training Services Portal – This is the best way to start! To access the Training Services Portal you must be logged into Canvas. From the Global Navigation Menu (located on the left side of every page in Canvas), click Help and Resources. Then, select Training Services Portal. Once you access the portal it is recommended that beginners complete the Canvas Field Guide training.

Canvas Instructor Guide – Have a quick question about how to do something in Canvas? The Canvas Instructor Guide provides a series of guides that will walk you through everything you need to know to use Canvas as a teacher, from creating assignments to managing course settings.

Canvas YouTube Channel – Canvas provides lots of lectures and walkthroughs on their YouTube channel. Some playlists worth exploring include Canvas Basics and Teacher Training.

Support at Mines – If you have a Canvas design question and/or would like to speak with an online learning expert please request support from  Mines Online. If your need for support is more technical (course backups, user accounts, integration tools, Canvas features, etc.) reach out to the ITS Canvas Support team for help.

Course Showcases

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Diversity, Inclusion, & Access (DI&A)

Without hesitation, Mines Online takes the stance that our educational products must include representation of and provide access for all learners and educators. Mines Online works to uphold and promote the DI&A goals for Colorado School of Mines, especially by designing aninclusive campus culture” online Online courses are intentionally designed to promote supportive communication between students and faculty. Read the list below to learn more about what actions we take to ensure our courses are inclusive for all types of learners.

Diversity & Inclusion

  • Designers select images that represent all types of students at Mines.  
  • Netiquette standards are stated at the beginning of each course.
  • Online communication platforms are monitored by faculty to ensure that students follow inclusive communication standards.  
  • Students are encouraged to participate in study groups and other support systems.  
  • Students are given ample opportunities to communicate with their professors via office hours, email, and discussion boards. 
  • Designers focus on producing and editing language in course material to ensure it is inclusive.  
  • Students can choose their preferred pronoun and name when they create a Canvas account.


For information on access, visit the accessibility section of this page.

    Resources for DI&A

    The conversations surrounding Diversity, Inclusion, and Access (DI&A) can be difficult to have – so our hope is that you use these resources as a starting point for you and others. To begin, please review the DI&A page at Mines to find ways to engage locally. 

    Effective Teaching and Engineering Learning

    Teaching effectively and efficiently requires an intentional approach to teaching and learning. The modality of the teaching may shift the types of activities, but the majority of what makes teaching effective is not modality specific. At Mines, effective teaching has been defined by a faculty committee and guidance is available through either the Trefny Center or Mines Online.

    Moving all instruction towards highly effective teaching is critical to achieve the goals and mission of the Colorado School of Mines. The Mines vision of effective teaching includes these four characteristics:  (1) intentionally designed, (2) focused on learning, (3) supportive of students, and (4) reflective. A conceptual diagram (Figure 1) is displayed below, but please explore Effective Teaching further with the Trefny Center.

    The figure represents four intersecting circles with a region labeled "Effective Teaching" at the center. The circles are: Intentionally Designed, Focused on Learning, Supportive of Students, and Reflective.

    Figure 1 – The Four Characteristics of Effective Teaching at Mines

    While each characteristic is distinct enough to assess individually, it is the combination of the four that creates highly effective teaching – according to research. This vision provides each instructor the goal to strive towards, the criteria for assessing progress towards that goal, and the standards to use for the evaluation of teaching.

    Engineering Learning

    Universities and colleges are interesting systems in that their primary focus is education, and yet historically most faculty are not prepared as educators. While we are seeing some shifts in this trend, there is a significant need to help faculty become more proficient in educational research, theory, and practice to improve student learning in higher education. Simultaneously, cognitive science and educational research has provided new insights into teaching and learning; while technology and access to information has shifted the way people access information and learn. Engineering Learning helps address these shifts and focuses on learning and cognition (Figure 2).

    Shifting of passive learning to engineered learning opportunities concept. In the first, the instructor is only talking, whereas in the second all students are engaged with each other and the instructor is more of a facilitator.

    Figure 2 – Shifting from passive model of information delivery to Engineered Learning Opportunities.


    The idea of engineering learning is not new. Simon (1969) proposed the concept in his writings about the role of universities. He stated:

    The most important step [to moving towards modern learning theory] is to find a place on campus for a team of individuals who are professionals in the design of learning environments – learning engineers.

    (Simon, HA. (1967). The Job of a College President. The Educational Record, American Council of Education; Washington, DC: Winter, 1967, 48, 68-78)

    Engineering Learning is a framework to guide faculty towards becoming learning engineers. Engineering Learning requires significant shifts in the ways teaching and learning are approached traditionally in higher education. These shifts will transition not only the way that teaching and learning are approached, but also the expectations and ways that we think about teaching and learning in higher education. The shifts are needed to realign teaching and learning in higher education with 1) current research-based approaches, 2) student needs, and 3) the practices and understandings wanted by industry and needed for the world of tomorrow. These key shifts are outlined in the table below.

    Focus on Courses

    Addressing these shifts begins at the instructor and course-level. The primary purpose of all courses is to guide and support students so that they can master the intended course learning outcomes. Yet often course designs and teaching get focused by textbooks or a list of topics to cover, rather than learning being the driver. A well-designed course facilitates learning and requires intentional planning. Whether you are redesigning a current course or designing a new course, the process can be overwhelming. Engineering Learning is a framework for designing and teaching a course that guides faculty through four phases. The framework is based on decades of educational research. We use the term “framework” to mean a “conceptual structure intended to serve as a support or guide for the building of something that expands the structure into something useful”, in this case a course. (Lutkevich, 2022) [downloaded from https://www.techtarget.com/whatis/definition/framework.on Nov. 7, 2022]

    Engineering Learning is organized into an iterative sequence of four design phases illustrated below (Figure 3). Each phase guides faculty through four key focus areas. Each phase results in a well-defined product that is part of the course design. This is intended to be an iterative process that guides the development, enactment, and continuous improvement of rigorous learning experiences or courses.

    Engineering Learning concept that travels through the phases Imagine, Create, Enact, and Improve. In between these iterations, as shown on the figure, are course guide, course plan, course mastery, and course enhancement.

    Figure 3 – Engineering Learning Framework


    The first phase of the Engineering Learning framework, Imagine, ensures that a course is built on a solid foundation. During this phase, faculty articulate the initial vision for the course and create three foundational products for the course: a well-written course description, measurable and specific course learning outcomes, and summative assessments that are directly aligned with the learning outcomes. Each of these products are built on a new or existing vision for the course using filters grounded in education research while focusing on targeted students. The course vision is then articulated in either a course map or course guide. The course map or guide will be a reference point as faculty work through the iterative process of Engineering Learning.

    The second phase involves creating the details of the course plan (specific lessons, activities, assessments) as well as the ways a course should be taught (intended enactment) in a way that engages students from where they are at the beginning of the course and guides them to where they need to be at the end of the course. That is, engineering a pathway for students to successfully master the course learning outcomes. This intentional design framework ensures that the course is rigorous, efficient, supportive of students and focused on learning. It also ensures that students learn what the course is intended to offer.

    The third phase in Engineering Learning involves teaching the course (enacting your plan). Here is where the design, policies, interactions, and care/support for students come to life. It is the enacted curriculum; what students experience as the course. To ensure the enactment is meeting the intended curriculum goals and to strive for continuous improvement, evidence is gathered across the teaching phase. Evidence includes data sets generated across the course such as instructor self-reflection, early course feedback data, end-of-course survey data, student work (artifacts), and/or class observations.

    The fourth phase involves reflecting on available data and refining the course for continuous improvement. An important aspect of Engineering Learning is “collaboration.” Collaboration in course design and teaching is often new to faculty. Collaboration in the early phases helps connect the course with others. In phase four, collaboration is important in both the data analysis, but also in then thinking through different ways to address challenges that students encounter in the course. Collaboration may be with educational researchers, assessment specialists, faculty developers, online learning experience designers, other faculty, or others who might help push the thinking about the course and its impact on student learning.

    Engaging Learners

    Did you know that well-designed video games are, in fact, amazing learning experiences? A video game artfully moves players through various levels of learning how to play the game. As a matter of fact, well-designed video games are based on the same design elements as an online course. Yet, one can be completely engrossing while the other, well. So, what gives?

    It’s all about creating an active experience. Video game developers focus on motivating the player to continue playing (or learning). By default, games promote active learning. In education, we often focus on the content with engagement taking a backseat. Interestingly, no one learns without first being engaged.

    For some ideas on creating more engaging learning activities visit these sites:

    Active Learning in Remote, Virtual Hybrid, Online and Physically Distanced Classrooms

    Top 5 Strategies for Integrating Active Learning into Virtual Classes

    Game-Based Learning

    Game-based learning is a complex subcategory of learning environments requiring different perspectives to fully grasp its purpose. At the heart of each perspective is the notion of play and flow – both states of mind we as educators strive for in our instruction. Play, described by Gray (2009), is an activity that is (1) self-chosen and self-directed; (2) intrinsically motivating; (3) supported by mental rules; (4) imaginative; and (5) produced in an active, alert, but non-stressed frame of mind. When a person is engaged through play, they enter the “flow” state. Flow is best described by Csikszentmihalyi (2014) as an experience that creates a well-ordered and fully-functioning state of consciousness for a person that has the perfect balance of challenge and skill for the learner.

     Games (not necessarily video games) such as trivia, simulations, and role-playing are starting points for activities potentially offering play and flow. We encourage educators to explore using games (of all types) within their courses, but be aware that not all games fit every scenario. However, once the intention is clear, games may motivate students, promote active learning, encourage experimentation, allow learners to experience failure, as well as increase social interactions among learners. McGonigal (2011) describes games as having four traits:  a goal, rules, a feedback system, and voluntary participation. These four traits can serve as starting points when designing your learning materials.

    For a quick primer read Plass, Homer, and Kinzer’s article about the Foundations of Game-Based Learning. If you’re interested in reading an empirical study on how gamification and active learning impact a higher-ed classroom, read Murillo-Zamorano et al. (2021) study. For a complete discussion of this topic, Barr’s (2019) text focuses on the employability of higher-ed learners who master knowledge and skills developed through games.

    Online Instructional Tools

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    Project and Problem Based Learning (PBL)

    Project-based learning and Problem-based learning (PBL) are teaching strategies faculty can use to engage students in real-world learning experiences. Projects can be structured to incrementally teach students not only the course required content, but also essential skills for the workplace such as team communication and project management. In project-based learning, students are typically provided with a set of desired project outcomes, a timeline for project completion and expectations for project deliverables. Projects can be assigned to student teams and peer reviews can be conducted to help promote collaborative learning. External stakeholders can also be included in the evaluation process to provide students feedback from an industry expert and help students network with potential employers.

    In problem-based learning, course lessons are structured around a set of circumstances that prevent a goal from being completed. Students are presented with a set of challenges, asked to identify the main issue preventing project completion and prompted to recommend a solution so that the project can be delivered on time. Thus, the faculty’s role is to present the project goals and challenges, then step back and allow students to explore the issues on their own. Through the use of probing questions, the faculty then guides students as they provide recommendations to resolve the key project issues. PBL is well suited for contextualizing the course content in real-world situations that students may encounter once they are in the workplace.

    PBL has been used effectively in STEM education and research indicates using PBL increases student’s interest in STEM careers (LaForce, Noble, Blackwell, 2017). The Arthur Lakes Library at Mines has several resources that can help you get started with PBL. The books STEM Project-Based Learning: An Integrated Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Approach, and Creating Project-Based STEM Environments, provide example projects and guides to help faculty interested in redesigning there course for PBL instruction.

    Universal Design

    Unintentional barriers to learning hide in plain sight. We find them in the most inconspicuous places – text heavy home pages, large image files, long video recordings, a single perspective on a topic. Fortunately, we expose such impediments by simply being aware of them. We eliminate them by designing with intentionality.

    Universal Design in Learning (UDL) puts intentional learning design into practice. Something as simple as adding a layer of student choice enhances the learning experience and minimizes the presence of unintentional barriers to learning.

    A great place to start your UDL journey begins with a quick video UDL at a Glance and some guidelines found at CAST.org.  For an entertaining look at how we are ALL impacted by intentional barriers in design visit the TED talk by Todd Rose: The Myth of the Average.

    Using Third-Party Materials

    While copyright law has been around for hundreds of years, most teachers didn’t start thinking seriously about copyright until recently. Changes in practice and updates to the law have made it more important than ever for universities, faculty, and staff to think through the implications copyright has on teaching. Consequently, Mines Online has created a process and policy around the use of third-party materials for Mines Online courses. 

     If you are building and/or teaching a course for Mines Online, you will need to secure permission for every third-party material you use. Third-party materials are any material (such as a photo, book, article, video, certain datasets, decompiled code, audio recordings, graphics, etc) that was not created by someone as part of their work (not studies) at Mines. 

     For residential programs and courses, your best resource continues to be the Arthur Lakes Library. However, laws and policies are different for online courses, and that’s why we have a copyright coordinator, resources, and training available to help you navigate copyright and the use of third-party materials in your design and teaching of Online courses. We also have our own process and policy to help you approach third-party materials in a thoughtful and efficient way. 

    A Few Common Myths

    Myth #1 my use of a third-party material is protected by Fair Use. 

    The definition of Fair Use does include provisions for research and teaching under the Copyright Act of 1976. However, updates to the law and court interpretations have essentially made Fair Use impractical in online design and facilitation. Consequently, Mines Online policy requires that we require permission for all uses of third-party materials. 

    Myth #2 I can use non-commercial licenses because we’re a school/it’s for educational purposes. 

    Unfortunately, our non-profit status and educational purpose have no bearing on whether or not our use is considered commercial. A good rule of thumb is that if a fee is charged and/or marketing is involved, the use is considered commercial. So, that means that because we charge tuition and use marketing to recruit students, our use is considered commercial. 

    Myth #3 if it’s posted online, it’s public domain. 

    If it’s online, that means it’s publicly-accessible, not public domain. Public Domain is actually a legal status that represents works that cannot be protected by copyright. You should always thoroughly investigate the copyright status and licensing options before using any third-party material during the design or facilitation of a course.

    Myth #4 if there’s no copyright statement, it must be okay to use. 

    Copyright law currently doesn’t require a copyright statement or even a registration with the Copyright Office. Simply creating a work and making it available to the public is all it takes to claim the copyright over a work. Copyright statements were historically required, however, and are still highly encouraged. So, if you don’t see a copyright statement, you should still confirm the copyright status independently. 

    Myth #5 If I make changes, I can use the work. 

    There’s actually a little truth to this myth. Generally speaking, you shouldn’t change someone else’s work in any way, unless you have specific, written permission to do so. Many changes, such as adding labels, cropping, resizing, or adapting it to a different medium are considered “derivative uses” and require specific, written permission. Some, drastic, changes are considered ‘transformative’ and are allowed under the law, but the definition of “transformative” use is currently being contested at the Supreme Court, meaning that what’s acceptable today might not be a year from now. So, for now, we’re requiring explicit permission for all changes, until we can provide updated guidelines. 

    Copyright Coordinator

    Questions about copyright and our documentation process? Please contact the Mines Online copyright coordinator, Charles Powell at cpowell@mines.edu.

    Copyright Club

    Copyright Club is a series of workshops, courses, and resources meant to help you learn more about copyright and the Mines Online third-party process. Please visit our Events page to find upcoming sessions you can join.

    Community of Practice

    Coming in 2023, Mines Online will offer a Copyright Club community of practice on Microsoft Teams. This Teams group will provide you with additional resources to find materials you can use in courses, learn more about copyright, ask questions, and share your own insight with other faculty and staff working on designing and building Mines Online courses. Stay tuned for more information!

    Legal disclaimer: The information presented on this page is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Your use of the resources listed above and your compliance with Mines and Mines Online policy does not guarantee your compliance with any applicable laws or agreements.