Applying CRISP to Change Higher Education Campus Culture

In chapter nine of our Achieving Excellence in Teaching (2014), we explain the importance of using CRISP* as an organizational principle for effective classroom instruction in order to help students learn deeply. As we say there, “CRISP is an acronym for classroom methodology based on unity of purpose as an organizational principle; the process involves five ordered and inter-related steps: Contextualize, Review, Iterate, Summarize, and Preview” (pp. 54-55).

Recently, we have also discovered that the same five-step process of organization that promotes deep learning in the classroom can be effectively applied to other campus initiatives to bring about deep learning in stakeholders.

In short, by applying CRISP to these initiatives, we feel we have contributed to changing the campus climate.

Related Reading: Achieving Excellence in Teaching

3 Examples of Using CRISP to Change Campus Culture

Example One. As Co-Directors of the Teaching & Learning Center (TLC), Hal and I were often asked, “What do you guys do over there anyway?”  Relying on our CRISP principle, we knew we had to come up with a context, a succinct fundamental and powerful concept that both encapsulated our mission and was easily remembered. Our first response showed up on our website as our motto, “Helping Teachers Help Students Learn.”

Then, when we sat down to write Achieving Excellence in Teaching, we asked ourselves not only what were the major characteristics of a terrific teacher, but what was the end purpose of all these strategies? Life-long proponents of Roethke’s “I learn by going where I have to go,” we centered the book’s chapter three on our answer–the key reason for these strategies, deep learning. That insight caused us to make a subtle change in our TLC motto to “Helping Teachers Help Students Learn Deeply.”

Example Two. As all three of us facilitate our institution’s New Faculty Orientation (NFO), we realized that we were providing five days of orientation that went in a dozen directions:  campus ID, campus tour, tour of the 22-county service region, getting a laptop, meeting with chairs and deans, talking with HR about benefits, etc. But what was our focus? When we tried to be all things to new faculty, we found our message was dispersed in many ways, and like a lecture that’s all over the place, we wondered what the new faculty was learning. Did they have a dominant take-away from NFO? Taking a cue from our motto, we knew we had to once again contextualize.

After brainstorming on what should be our key concept, we came up with another succinct statement: “Excellence in Teaching Is Job One.” With that statement as our guiding light, we reduced New Faculty Orientation to three days and, more importantly, achieved our context.  We now begin on a Wednesday with a morning consisting of two workshops: one on Best Pedagogical Practices (which we not only talk about but demonstrate) and another on What We Teach.

As a result, our NFO evaluations have gone through the roof as the new faculty received a concentrated message on the importance our institution places on good teaching.  Moreover, we’ve taken a suggestion from our Operations Specialist, and at the bottom of all campus emails we send we broadcast the fundamental and powerful concept that “Excellence in Teaching Is Job One.”

Example Three. When we finally convinced the provost that our institution needed a Faculty Excellence in Teaching Program (FETP), one of the reasons we were able to accomplish this task was the constant iteration through saturation in our emails, presentations, and workshops of our previous two fundamental and powerful ideas.  Our FETP provided an application of the two ideas and used review to tie to them (new knowledge is built upon old).

In summary, our point is simple.  Whether as a teacher or as part of a larger unit, if you want to get your message across for some future endeavor—preview—try to be CRISP about it.

*This chapter is based on:  Blythe, H. & Sweet, C. (2008).  “Keeping You Class C.R.I.S.P.”  NEA Higher Education Advocate 26 (2):  5-8.  Print.




Author Charlie Sweet EKUCharlie Sweet is currently Co-Director of the Teaching & Learning Center (2007+) at Eastern Kentucky University. Before going over to the dark side of administration, for 37 years he taught American Lit and Creative Writing in EKU’s Department of English & Theatre, where he also served as chair (2003-2006). Collabo-writing with Hal Blythe, he has published well over 1000 items, including 15 books; of his 11 books with New Forums. Meet Charlie.