Author and expert James Lang brings ideas about teaching to Penn State

March 03, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — James Lang, the author of several books and columns on teaching, held a series of workshops for the Penn State teaching community on Feb. 27.

Lang is the director of the D’Amour Center for Teaching Excellence at Assumption College in Worcester, Massachusetts, where he is also a professor of English.

His writings have been published in the Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune and Time. He writes a column for the Chronicle of Higher Education in a series called “Small Changes in Teaching.” Lang has authored five books, including “Small Teaching: Everyday Lessons from the Science of Learning” and “Cheating Lessons: Learning from Academic Dishonesty.”

Lang recently completed the manuscript for his latest book, “Distracted: Why Students Can’t Focus and What You Can Do About It,” which was also the topic of his second workshop of the day, “Teaching Distracted Minds.” The interactive lecture looked at whether students are indeed more distracted today than they were in the past and if technology has interfered with their ability to focus and think deeply.

In the first session of the day, “Small Teaching: From Minor Changes to Major Learning,” Lang discussed some of the key principles he believes can improve learning in almost any type of college setting. They include looking at retrieval of information not as a mechanical process, but as one where new connections are made; making students feel as though they are part of the community; giving students time to come up with answers before calling on someone; helping students make their own connections to the material; and affirming students’ values.

Lang said at the beginning of the talk that small changes can make a big impact.

“A lot of what we’ve been doing in higher education doesn’t necessarily make sense with what we know about how people learn, but that doesn't mean we have to tear everything down and start again from scratch,” he said.

Recordings of both talks are available online: “Small Teaching” and “Teaching Distracted Minds.”

The events were sponsored by the Center for Excellence in Science Education, College of the Liberal Arts, Leonhard Center for Enhancement of Engineering Education, Schreyer Institute for Teaching Excellence, Teaching and Learning with Technology, University Libraries, Center for Arts and Design Pedagogy, Penn State Learning and Undergraduate Education.

For more information on Lang’s work and his blog, visit

The Schreyer Institute for Teaching Excellence offers workshops and individual consultations on many of the strategies mentioned by Lang. Visit for a list of events or to meet with a consultant. The Schreyer Institute for Teaching Excellence is a part of Penn State Undergraduate Education.

Last Updated March 05, 2020