Integrating Evidence-Based Teaching Practices Through SAIL

Leverage New Approaches With Tested Practices

As Northeastern moves toward the vision of Northeastern 2025, new resources and strategies become available in our pedagogical toolkit. The Self-Authored Integrated Learning (SAIL) framework and platform offer a host of potential applications in and out of the classroom. It can be helpful to pair new resources like SAIL with tried and tested teaching strategies and models from the literature in order to ground our practice. In this CATLR Tip, we will take a look at how SAIL can be used to enact mastery (Ambrose et al., 2010).

As the authors note, “to develop mastery, students must acquire component skills, practice integrating them, and know when to apply what they have learned” (Ambrose et al., 2010, p. 95). At the heart of SAIL is the theme of identifying component skills, connecting them across contexts, and applying those skills in novel situations

1)  Acquisition of Component Skills

Instructors are often unaware of their “expert blind spots,” or those areas where the component skills of a particular subject are so well known they become obvious to the point of invisibility (Nathan et al., 2001). However, the process of mapping a course or other learning opportunity via the SAIL framework can help educators identify and name those component skills for learners.

Making students aware of the underlying skills embedded in an experience in an explicit way is also an effective way to increase students’ likelihood of noticing and developing those skills.  This idea of “educational transparency” is one of the theoretical underpinnings of the SAIL mapping process (Winkelmes, 2013).

Resource for Educators: Mapping Your Course in the SAIL Educator Portal

Resource for Educators: Using SAIL to Enhance Learning and Retention via Transparency

2)  Practice in Integrating Skills Effectively

Helping students identify and build connections between their learning from multiple contexts is a challenging task, but is also a key intended outcome of a university education (Huber & Hutchings, 2004). It is such an important skill that it can be helpful to explicitly include integration in your course rubric (Ambrose et al., 2010) by assessing how well students have integrated concepts from previous courses, other learning opportunities, or their other personal and professional experiences.

The SAIL Timeline and Skills Visualization are great tools to help learners visually see the connections between skills they have engaged in multiple experiences. Students can capture their insights about these connections by tagging multiple opportunities in a Moment and articulating how their engagement with a particular skill or concept has developed over time.

Resource for Learners: Getting Started with the SAIL Web Platform

Resource for Learners: Adding a Moment to your SAIL Timeline


3)  Knowledge of When to Apply What They Have Learned

The ability to apply existing skills in new contexts is called transfer. Near transfer is using skills in a situation that is relatively similar to where they were learned, such as applying concepts from Physics I in Physics II. Far transfer might look like a student recalling a concept from a first-year Math course and applying it in their senior Psychology capstone project. Far transfer is one of the ultimate goals of higher education, but very difficult to cultivate in learners (Singley & Anderson, 1989).

One way to help students develop skills that will help them engage in transfer is to facilitate opportunities for them project how their current skill set might aid them in unexpected ways in future scenarios. Setting goals in the SAIL platform prompts learners to identify what skills they would need to be successful in reaching those objectives. Educators can engage learners in conversations about which of their current skills might best be leveraged to reach those goals, promoting mental habits that can support far transfer in the future.

Resource for Learners: Creating Goals, Milestones, and Moments in SAIL


Ambrose, S. A., Bridges, M. W., DiPietro, M., Lovett, M. C., & Norman, M. K. (2010). How Learning Works: Seven Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Huber, M. T., & Hutchings, P. (2004). Integrative Learning: Mapping the Terrain. The Academy in Transition. Washington, DC: Association of American Colleges and Universities.

Nathan, M. J., Koedinger, K. R., & Alibali, M. W. (2001). Expert blind spot: When content knowledge eclipses pedagogical content knowledge. In Proceedings of the third international conference on cognitive science, 644-648.

Singley, M. K., & Anderson, J. R. (1989). The transfer of cognitive skill. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Winkelmes, M. A. (2013). Transparency in Teaching: Faculty Share Data and Improve Students’ Learning. Liberal Education, 99(2).