Ask Derek Bruff Your Teaching Questions


What visual learning questions do you have for Derek Bruff?

Students need to effectively organize their knowledge to be successful learners. It’s not enough to learn the information— students must be able to connect and understand the meaning of facts, concepts and skills.

“When we talk about the way people [organize] their knowledge (or, for the sake of simplicity, their knowledge organizations), we are not talking about particular pieces of knowledge, but rather how those pieces are arranged and connected in an individual’s mind. Knowledge can be organized in ways that either do or do not facilitate learning, performance, and retention.”

Ambrose, Bridges, DiPietro, Lovett, and Norman, How Learning Works: Seven Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching.

Concept maps and other visual tools help students make those crucial connections. But what are the practical techniques that lead to this kind of deeper learning? And how can instructors integrate visual tools into their class sessions?

Vanderbilt University’s Derek Bruff, one of the nation’s foremost experts in visual learning, is working with ACUE to answer these questions and more next week. Bruff is part of a cadre of higher education leaders and experts convening in New York City next week to discuss a range of topics focused on college instruction for ACUE’s Course in Effective Teaching Practices.

Goucher College President José Bowen, Portland State University Professor Dannelle Stevens, and Rutgers University-Newark Provost Jerome Williams are among the others participating.

Derek Bruff

Derek Bruff

What visual learning questions do you have for Bruff? Share them in the comments section below. You can also email your questions or ask on our Facebook page. We’ll sort through the questions and pose them when Bruff visits. We’ll post Bruff’s answers afterward.

Curious about whether all students are receptive to visual learning techniques? Skeptical about using concept maps for formative assessments? Worried that a lack of familiarity will impede students’ abilities to create concept maps?

Bruff is director of the Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching and a senior lecturer in the Vanderbilt Department of Mathematics. His research interests include educational technology, visual thinking, and social pedagogies, and he blogs on these topics at His book Teaching with Classroom Response Systems: Creating Active Learning Environments was published by Jossey-Bass in 2009. Bruff holds a PhD in Mathematics from Vanderbilt University. He previously taught at Harvard University.

5 thoughts on “Ask Derek Bruff Your Teaching Questions”

  1. How can concept maps help composition students break up their topics and ideas while still maintaining a network of connections to foster cohesion throughout the writing process?

  2. 1. How can visual tools be integrated into sequencing writing assignments for English as a Second Language students?
    2. How can visual learning be used so that it is relevant to particular career pathways of ESL students?

  3. Experts structure their knowledge different than novices. How can you use concepts to help students (novices) to think more like experts or to see how others might structure their knowledge differently?

  4. Some concept mapping software forces all the concepts to branch out like a tree and doesn’t allow more net-like joins. Does this help or hinder conceptualisation?

  5. As many students may have seen concept maps but may not be well versed in creating their own, what does an instructor need to do prior to assigning students the task of creating a concept map to prepare them to successfully complete their own as a formative assessment?

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