Educational Development Digest: November 2023

Spark Motivation with Interleaving and Retrieval Practice

Pedagogy in Practice | By Catherine Ford, Minnesota State Program Director for Educational Development

Early November can bring with it a lull for students and faculty. This might be exhaustion, down time between large projects, automaticity of weekly tasks, or calm before the final push for finals. What can we infuse into this November lull to engage and motivate our students in a way that supports their learning, prepares them for the final unit/finals, and sparks their interest?

Here are two approaches that can inject a little freshness and spark a little motivation (for both you and your students): Interleaving and retrieval practice.

Retrieval Practice

In general, retrieval practice research demonstrates that deeper and more durable learning occurs when the learner is

  • Challenged to recall what they know, or have learned, about a subject.
  • The very practice of pulling information from stored memory into working memory reinforces learners’ connection to the content.
  • This can be done in many different forms from free recall to flash cards to frequent quizzing. 

Watch the video¬†What’s Retrieval Practice¬†(3:29)

Interleaved Practice

Spaced practice helps us determine the frequency of practice over time, interleaving helps us make effective choices about the organization of content over time.

  • In blocked practice, learners may focus on one area (block) of content at a time.
  • In contrast, interleaved practice encourages learners to revisit prior learning as new material is introduced.
  • This interleaving of content helps learners differentiate previous learning from new content and understand relationships among blocks of content. 

Watch the video The Benefits of Interleaved Practice (5:32)

When integrated into your course this November, retrieval practice or interleaved practice can serve the student need of studying for cumulative finals by increasing knowledge retention and infusing a fresh energy into the routine of the course. These approaches ask students to access previous knowledge within the course and connect it to new course content. Interleaving can also ask students to practice interacting with previous course content out of context and across to strengthen retention and increase critical thinking or solving complex problem skills. Integrating an activity or modifying an existing one doesn’t need to be a time intensive development or application.

Talk to your students about these approaches too! If you implement a strategy, tell them about it. Encourage students to create an activity that leverages one or both of these techniques to share with the class. 

Looking for additional examples of these strategies in action?

This article includes content from Integrating Retrieval Practice [Minnesota State Network for Educational Development Course] by Dan Allosso, Steve Beckermann, Ken Graetz, Elizabeth Harsma, and Cheryl Neudauer is licensed under Creative Commons CC BY-NC 4.0 International.

Intelligent Agents to Support Motivation

Academic Technology Tips | By Elizabeth Harsma, Minnesota State Program Director for Technology Integrated Learning

One way to support student motivation is through a culture of caring (Zhou, 2022). Demonstrating care is also a characteristic of culturally responsive teaching. Care isn’t to be confounded with lack of rigor. Instead, genuine caring is based in the belief and expectation that all students can achieve at a high level (Gay, 2002; Hammond, 2015).¬†Caring can be expressed through culturally responsive communication, content, assessments, and more.

Intelligent Agents is a communication tool within D2L Brightspace that can support a culture of caring. Intelligent Agents monitor course activity and send an email based on criteria you choose.

Some example criteria include:

  • Access to a course within the past few days
  • Assignment submission
  • Score on a Grade Item or Rubric
  • Access to a Content topic
  • ‚Ķand more.

Intelligent Agents could be used to demonstrate care through culturally responsive communication.

Strategies might include:

  • Sending yourself a notification email. This allows you to decide how to best connect with a student.
  • Sending students an email. Send a warm, supportive message directly to students who meet criteria. Personalize emails with student names and other course information. Schedule emails to send on a specific day/time.
  • Logging activity for later reference. Rather than send an email, log activity based on criteria. Then you can choose when to review and act on the log history.
The action menu in Intelligent Agents allows you to send a one time or repeated email to a student with the {InitiatingUser} replace string. You can also personalize a message with the course title replace string, {OrgUnitName} and the student first name replace string, {InitiatingUserFirstName}
The action menu in Intelligent Agents allows you to send a one time or repeated email to a student with the {InitiatingUser} replace string. You can also personalize a message with the course title replace string, {OrgUnitName} and the student first name replace string, {InitiatingUserFirstName}


  • “About Intelligent Agents (Knowledge Article 948.docx)” (2023 August 24). Learning Technologies Team at Minnesota State.
  • Gay, G. (2002). Preparing for Culturally Responsive Teaching.¬†Journal of Teacher Education,¬†53(2), 106-116. doi:¬†
  • Hammond, Z. (2015). Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain. Corwin.
  • Zhou, Z. (2022) “Empathy in Education: A Critical Review,”¬†International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning: Vol. 16: No. 3, Article 2. doi:

Basic Needs Resources for Students

Did You Know? | By Kate Noelke, Minnesota State Director for Student Mental Health & Wellness, and Shawn Anderson, Minnesota State Interim System Director for Student Development and Success

Embedded within Pillar 3 of the Minnesota State Guided Learning Pathways, Holistic Advising and Comprehensive Student Support highlights the need for bridging students to resources to support their basic needs. Being a student is stressful. And we know that as winter approaches in the northern states and the days get shorter, and we get closer to mid-terms and finals, it becomes harder for students to manage academic stress with all the other challenges that come with Minnesota winters (higher heating costs, safe travel, or even season affective experiences).

We know that juggling all these issues contribute to decreased engagement, compromised academic performance, and even failure or withdrawal. These issues, among others, can contribute to decreased student engagement, often resulting in compromised academic performance, potential academic failure, or even more serious implications.

Student Basic Needs Resource Hub

211 United Way

Our colleges and universities, in partnership with local, regional, and national resources, provide access to vital support to help students address these challenges inside and outside of the classroom. In the fall of 2022, Minnesota State, in collaboration with the Greater Twin Cities United Way, launched a free, confidential, and readily accessible Student Basic Needs Resource Hub, available to students 24/7, 365 days a year. Students can access this network of support for things from help with childcare expenses, to rental assistance, to SNAP benefits, to crisis response by  texting MNHELP to 898211.  Students can also access the resource by dialing 211, or exploring information and services on the Student Basic Needs Resource Hub website. While further information and resources can be explored on the 211 website.

Over the course of the last year, students who accessed the Basic Needs Resource Hub most frequently did so seeking support for their experiences of  housing insecurity, food insecurity, and mental health concerns. Minnesota State has responded by providing new, innovative, equitably accessible resources.


In a continued effort to bolster mental health support, Minnesota State provides access to Kognito, a mental health intervention training platform, to all students and employees across our 33 colleges and universities through May of 2024. Accessible through D2L Brightspace, Kognito guides participants through a virtual role play experience that helps people develop the knowledge to notice when someone might need help, and the skills and practice of how to offer help and resources, empowering them to aid a friend in need. This training also equips employees to effectively assist students experiencing mental health issues or sharing their own struggles.

It is crucial to recognize that the task of supporting students grappling with basic needs and mental health challenges is not one that falls solely on any individual or one department. These resources are crafted to assist students as well as the facilitators who provide them with guidance and aid at our campuses. While one might not possess all the answers, the ability to link them with pertinent resources, whether through a colleague on campus or a referral to 211 United Way, Kognito, or another service, remains instrumental. When working with a distressed student, the significance of empathy and compassion cannot be overstated. As the saying goes, students prioritize knowing how much you care before considering how much you know.


Educational Development and Technology, Minnesota State.

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