Create a glossary to build mutual understanding

Shard Understanding

In each of our disciplines we have a set of words and concepts that we ask our students to use and to define within the realm of the discipline. In some cases, words have a slightly different meaning than popular interpretation, or perhaps, a more complex or refined definition. Creating and using a glossary can be a great way to make sure students are using a similar vocabulary with a shared understanding.

UAF CTL built a glossary of words and concepts pertaining to the vocabulary used in online education, and specifically for how UAF CTL defines these words, concepts and ideas. Creating this glossary was a collaborative effort that gave staff the opportunity to identify what to include, and more importantly, to consider why each entry was important. Building consensus around definitions was an engaging exercise. It allowed for debate and sharing the meaning we each gave to the words and how we, as a group, use specific terms in context with faculty. As technology and learning theories evolve, designers will add, remove or redefine words and concepts. Review the glossary at

Build a Glossary inside of Blackboard as a shared resource for your students. Glossary is a Tool you can be add to your sidebar menu. Uploads are restricted to the instructor;   so ask the student to give you items for upload. 

A shared glossary of terms can be helpful when working with colleagues to make decisions. For example, in Phase 2 of Strategic Pathways, the CTL group created definitions for commonly used words in the field. Having this list helped assure team members used words or concepts in the same way. These definitions can help guide the reader when reviewing report results. See this list on pages 27-29 of the Strategic Pathways CTL Report.

Here are some ideas for how you might use the idea of a glossary as a class activity:

  • Create a shared space (Google Docs, Sheets or Sites, WordPress or other web site) at the beginning of the class and have students add words and concepts that are discussed as the semester progresses.
  • Before a unit, mid-term or final exam, have students come up with, and define, words and concepts relevant to specific course content in the semester.
  • Supplement a glossary of words with student media, images or text to demonstrate an understanding of application of the concept.
  • Have students search for a glossary or list of terms generated by your discipline’s professional community; ask them to apply the concepts to what you’re talking about in class.
  • Create a crossword, flashcard or quiz game using a Google Sheet and Use this resource as a student study aid. Have a student (or group) create the game in advance and then use it as a class activity.
  • Give students a set of words or concepts and ask them to define terms based on sophistication of understanding (ex: revise the definition for a 5th-grader or novice or enhance definition for an expert).
  • Create a glossary based on cultural, geographic relevance, schools of thought or alternate sides of a discipline. Compare glossaries and potential areas for misunderstandings.
  • Elisha Peterson (2009) reported seeing success when implementing a collaborate glossary activity into a math class. Students seemed motivated to work together to correctly create definitions. Peterson allowed students to use this glossary as an open resource for an exam and students reported that adding information to the glossary helped them prepare.

If you need assistance setting up one of these types of activities in your class, please take advantage of CTL’s Open Lab Calendar.


Peterson, E. (2009). Using a wiki to enhance cooperative learning in a real analysis course. Primus, 19 (1), 18-28.

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