Teaching and Learning


  • “The Personal is Pedagogical: Embracing Moral Debate in the Religious Studies Classroom.” Religious Studies News: Spotlight on Teaching. October 28, 2015. [Full Text]

Abstract: In this essay, I argue that student impulses to essentialize, personalize, and exoticize that which they are studying becomes more intense when the difference they encounter is not simply religious, but moral. I then outline two alternative strategies, drawn largely from the pedagogical toolbox of our colleagues in philosophy, that prove useful for teaching in the midst of these impulses. The core insight of both strategies is that deeply personal disagreement and debate can, and indeed must, be a central component of our classrooms when teaching the moral traditions of others.

  • “Preparation for a Complex World: Why the Critical Exploration of Values is Important in Undergraduate Education,” BGSU Magazine. Spring, 2002.

Blog Posts

  • “Research on Student Ratings Continues to Evolve. We Should, Too,” Reflections on Teaching and Learning: A CTE Blog. February 22, 2018. [Full Text]

Abstract: Three years ago I wrote a short post on student ratings that is still being shared by faculty and administrators. Like many of our readers, I've spent the last three years trying to keep up with the ever expanding literature. I haven't been impressed with everything I've read, but at least two studies published in the last year were significant enough to warrant an update.

  • “A New Taxonomy of Learning Goals,” Reflections on Teaching and Learning: A CTE Blog. May 15, 2017. [Full Text]

Abstract: Helping faculty think through what they value in the context of their courses is my favorite part of course design. But I have to confess that the traditional taxonomies I use when doing so have never made much conceptual sense to me. So after many years of introducing these categories with the caveat that we shouldn't think too hard about them, I finally decided to create my own. I didn't think the world needed yet another taxonomy of learning goals, but I thought I would do a better job talking with faculty if I could present the alternatives in my own vernacular. And it turns out they liked it enough to insist that I share.

  • “How Much Work Should We Assign? Estimating Out of Class Workload,” Reflections on Teaching and Learning: A CTE Blog. July 11, 2016. [Full Text]

Abstract: "How much should I assign?" is one of the most basic questions teachers ask when designing and revising their courses. Yet it is also one of the most difficult to answer. To help instructors better calibrate their expectations, we've created a course workload estimator that incorporates the most important insights from the literature on how students learn.

  • “Meaningful, Moral, and Manageable? The Grading Holy Grail,” Reflections on Teaching and Learning: A CTE Blog. February 16, 2016. [Full Text]

Abstract: In December of 2014, I stumbled upon an article by Linda Nilson about something called "specifications grading." I wasn't sure whether or how it would work, but in the spring of 2015, I threw out my traditional script and made yet another attempt to reimagine my grading. And here is what I've learned.

  • “What is the Point of a Teacher?” Principled Pedagogy. October 23, 2015. [Full Text]

Abstract: If one thing unites Molly Worthen, Damon Linker, and my colleagues in SoTL, it is the view that teachers--whatever we are doing in the classroom--are a central component of what makes the collegiate experience worth more than four years of trips to the public library. But why? What is it that makes a teacher valuable in a way that books are not? In this post, I propose that how we answer this question--that is, how we conceptualize the value of the teacher--is likely to be the best predictor of whether and how we use the lecture within our pedagogical repertoire. 

Profiled on Yale’s Center for Teaching and Learning Blog [Full Text]
Profiled in J. Bradford DeLong’s Weekend Reading Blog [Full Text]

  • “Academic Blogging and Student Evaluation Clickbait: A Follow-Up,” Reflections on Teaching and Learning: A CTE Blog. July 28, 2015. [Full Text]

Abstract: A few weeks ago, we published a piece in which I argued that nearly everything written about student evaluations on the internet is a form of academic click bait, and that there is often little-to-no relationship between the viral success of these pieces and the quality of their arguments. I was, of course, aware of the irony of making such claims on the internet, particularly via a blog post that intentionally avoided the literature I called on all of us to read. And as this piece got a great deal of attention in the days after it was posted, I couldn’t help but smile as my intuition on these matters was confirmed.

  • “Do Student Evaluations of Teaching Really Get an ‘F’?,” Reflections on Teaching and Learning: A CTE Blog. July 9, 2015. [Full Text]

Abstract: It's been a bad year for student evaluations. In the space of two weeks in October, both NPR and the Harvard Business Review published pieces summarizing studies that were critical of their use. With provocative titles like "Student Course Evaluations Get an F" and "Better Teachers Receive Worse Student Evaluations," these pieces were (and continue to be) widely shared and much discussed among academics.

Profiled in Inside Higher Ed [Full Text]
Profiled in The Daily Nous [Full Text]

PODCAST interviews and screencasts

  • “Course Evaluations with Betsy Barre,” Teach Better Podcast, Episode 72, March 22, 2018 [Listen].
  • “The Research on Course Evaluations,” Teaching and Learning in Higher Ed Podcast, Episode 89, February 26, 2016. [Listen]
  • Student Ratings of Instruction Literature Review Screencast. February 1, 2015. [Watch]

Abstract: As Co-Chair of the Committee on Teaching's Subcommittee on Teaching and Course Evaluations at Rice, I performed a review of the research literature on student ratings of instruction. This screencast is a recreation of that presentation from 2015 (note that I have since updated my views in light of recent research).


  • “Sanctuaries of Nonrepression: Freedom, Safety, and Religious Disagreement on Campus.” Presented at the American Academy of Religion Annual Meeting, 2015.

Abstract: After a Marquette ethics instructor became the epicenter of an on-line debate about codes that limit speech within college classrooms, Eric Posner penned an Op-Ed in which he argued that these codes should be celebrated because they mean that, among other things, “moral instruction and social control have been reintroduced to the universities after a 40-year drought.” This debate raises a number of important questions about how we should conceptualize the political and moral purposes of higher education in a liberal democracy. And, more specifically, how instructors should organize their classrooms to achieve those ends. These questions are especially pressing for those of us teaching religion in secular, public institutions. In this essay, I will argue that how we frame the moral dimensions of the traditions we study, and how we choose to engage (or not engage) the value commitments of our students, can have profound pedagogical and political implications.

  • “Beyond Expression: Helping First-Year Students Understand the Nature and Function of Academic Writing” Presented at the Annual Conference on College Composition and Communication, 2014.
  • "Ethics as a Liberal Art: Applying the Principle of Toleration to the Ethics Classroom," Presented at the American Academy of Religion Annual Meeting, 2013.
  • "Teaching Comparative Religious Ethics: Paradigms, Strategies, and Resources," Presented at the Joint Annual Meetings of the Society of Christian Ethics, Society for Jewish Ethics, and the Society for the Study of Muslim Ethics, 2012.