Bridge-in / Intro: Setting the Scene for Active Learning (Part I: An analogy)

Most teachers use the bridge-in as a means to introduce their lessons in an engaging way, build capacity and motivation to learn, or garner students’ attention or interest. I view the bridge-in as an opportunity for students to actively learn and participate in my class.

Dancing FeetThis post builds on Carolyn’s analogy that the bridge-in of a lesson may be compared to the opening scenes of a movie, in which purpose, topics, or general story are introduced.  Music is a well-known cue in film: think of any movie and the music that accompanied the opening scenes of the story.  An example that springs to mind immediately is the movie, Footloose (1984). The opening credits of the film are iconic with wide-angle shots of feet dancing along to the upbeat music.  In the story, Kevin Bacon, the main character and protagonist, challenges a ban on dancing in an extremely religious and rural town.  The opening scene and music of lyrics of Footloose play an important role in establishing tone and what viewers might further expect from the story.

To me, the bridge-in is particularly important because it sets the tone and initial learning environment for students, similar to the opening scenes of Footloose.  I have learned if students are passively engaged during the bridge-in, they often expect to continue this behaviour throughout the remainder of the lesson.  Instead, I’d rather set the expectation, right from the opening scene, that students have an active role to play.

In my next post, I’ll discuss a method that has helped me to plan and facilitate more active learning as part of the bridge-in.

Undergraduate Student Engagement Underpins Success of Indigenous Philosophy Class

How can a European educated, non-Aboriginal philosopher effectively and ethically teach a course on Indigenous philosophy? For Dr. Daniel Regnier, professor and department head of philosophy at St. Thomas More College, the answer to this question was to set aside a traditional approach to teaching in favour of collaboratively designing and teaching Phil 115: Indigenous Philosophy.

Regnier and Lee“There is a big ethical problem in approaching teaching the normal way when there is such a history of injustice. Normally, a professor who has a minimal familiarity with logic or some philosophical tradition would still be qualified to teach, for instance, an introductory logic class,” Regnier said about the challenges he faced designing and teaching a class on Indigenous philosophy.

Instead of following the traditional model, Regnier co-designed and co-taught the 2012-13 offering of Phil 115 with senior undergraduate student of philosophy Erica Lee, who is Nehiyaw (Plains Cree). The collaborative teaching style practiced by Regnier and Lee included inviting members of the on- and off-campus Aboriginal community into the class to share their perspectives and expertise. Lee said she found that “students were interested in the community part of education and in reaching out for support that is obviously lacking elsewhere on campus.” The sense of community created by Lee and Regnier’s collaborative teaching style helped students open up and engage in discussion. That the students responded by becoming engaged was pivotal to the class’ success. Lee said, “good philosophy is discussion. You can’t have philosophy without discussion.”

When asked to talk a bit about what Indigenous philosophy is, Lee said, “Indigenous knowledge is critical thought. It is composed of different traditions yet there is also contemporary Indigenous thought.” Because Indigenous cultures and their systems of thought have evolved and are not static, or located only in a text, Regnier said, “it is important to bring in the community or you’ll be out to lunch on the whole thing.”

“Indigenous philosophy is about community and collaboration,” Lee said about the importance of establishing a collaborative and community-minded classroom. Regnier noted that this way of teaching philosophy – as not only a body of content but as a way of life, can also be found in the ancient Greek understanding of philosophy as a practice and a way of being in the world. A similarly comparative analysis can be made of core, introductory philosophical topics such as personhood, identity and knowledge that would be taught in any class about western philosophy. As such, Phil 115 was not only a collaboration of people, but also of ideas.

“It was such a wonderful experience. To be given that responsibility was empowering and amazing. It is something I’m very lucky to have been involved with,” said Lee. The experience was rewarding for Regnier as well, who said, “you always say, as a teacher, that you learn from your students. This experience was different. It was clear from this case that I truly learned from my students. Teaching in this way meant students felt empowered and engaged.” Open to All at U of S

By Lavonne Cloke
Have you ever wanted to learn new software, design or business skills to enhance your personal or professional goals but don’t have the money for expensive courses?

U of S faculty, staff and students now have the opportunity to fully access thousands of unlimited, free tutorials, seven days a week, day and night with – a valuable online training resource. is an online training library that contains thousands of professional grade Windows and Mac tutorials accessed through streaming video. In these videos you will find information that covers many software titles, scripting languages, design and web development platforms as well as popular online sites. The video tutorials range from topics such as:

  • Microsoft products (Word, Excel, PowerPoint)
  • Adobe Suite (Acrobat, InDesign)
  • Apple products (iPhone, iPad)
  • Development and programming
  • Web and mobile app design
  • Google products
  • Time management and business skills

The site employs expert instructors that are true masters in their fields. They can answer all your questions and will offer useful advice. Their mission is to impart knowledge regarding correct workflow and they will also teach you how to develop skills.

Visit now to discover the training opportunities available to you.

In addition, a free Webinar about will be held on April 30 from 2 – 3 PM Saskatchewan time. If you are on campus you are welcome to join us in the Collaborative Learning Lab located on the first floor of the Murray Library. You may also join in from your own computer through

Bridge-In / Intro: Creating an Opening Scene

The smell of popcorn wafts by, the lights dim, the audience stills, the screen darkens then comes to life…ready for a movie?

movie nightCues signal the activity we are about to engage in and prepare our minds and bodies. We look, listen and wait for cues that tell us to wash our hands and fell hunger because dinner is about to happen, to get comfortable and be swept away by music, to wait in anticipation then yell surprise to a friend, to get warmed up and ready for a sports game…

What cues are there in your class? When I teach statistics, the first slide students see includes a toolbox suggesting an analogy through which to frame the upcoming content, the lighting may be necessarily dark by the screen but overall bright, I start by walking to the middle of the front and when stepping towards them start with why I find statistics interesting and useful.

The cues of lighting, imagery, voice, body positioning etc. highlight the value I place on the topic and signal students to be prepared to meet me part way, engage in a conversation about statistics, perhaps respect the effort required but not concerned, and see value in learning the topic.

After this initial step of BOPPPS, I often proceed to define means and other foundational content, but I continue the message of usefulness and dialogue through a pre-assessment that serves multiple purposes including: don’t get too comfortable passively listening…this class requires more than just watching the show.

Course Design Institute Being Offered as ‘Flipped’ Workshop

Course Design ProcessFor several years, the GMCTE has offered the Course Design Institute (CDI), a four to five-day intensive workshop that walks instructors through the development or redevelopment of one of their courses. This May, the CDI we be delivered in an entirely different format than in the past by “flipping” it to provide participants with more hands-on work time.

While in the past, participants attending all day for the four to five days during a single week, this offering will require participants to attend three Thursday mornings over three weeks in May. They will also watch videos and complete assignments outside of these meeting times. They will post their assignments to the discussion forum where they will receive feedback from the facilitators and fellow-participants.

The CDI is built around the resources on our Course Design Process web page and includes videos and other materials related to learner and context analysis, developing learning outcomes, creating assessments, deciding on teaching strategies and evaluating and revising the course that they develop.

Participants who qualify are also eligible for a $1,000 grant to assist in the development / redevelopment of their course.

Spots in the CDI are limited to 10 participants and applications are now being accepted. For more information about the CDI, the application and the grant, please see the CDI Web site.

4th Annual SoTL Conference to Be Held at USask

I am extremely pleased to promote and encourage participation in the 4th annual Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) symposium.  The day will be strengthened by a diversity of perspectives so we welcome all who would like to attend, no experience of undertaking SoTL is necessary.

The event will be held on the 1st and 2nd of May on the University of Saskatchewan campus. In addition to plenary presentations, there will be various opportunities to present your SoTL work or ideas. We invite participation from those interested in dipping a toe in the SoTL waters, those part way through a SoTL project, as well as those experienced with and wishing to present results of their SoTL research. We hope the event will be a chance to gather and learn from colleagues interested in improving teaching and learning at the University and beyond.

In an effort to open up the event to individuals at all points in their exploration of SoTL, we have created 4 different types of presentations:

  1. Watercooler chats – these sessions will be appropriate for those wanting to discuss a new area of teaching and learning research. This is an opportunity to share ideas in a more informal way with a small group of colleagues, discuss options, and get feedback from fellow participants.
  2. World Café – these sessions will be appropriate for those with an interest in sharing and discussing approaches or issues with their SoTL work with colleagues at the conference. The World Café begins with a short (5 to 10 minute) presentation on your topic to the whole group followed by table-based small group discussions with colleagues who wish to hear more and discuss your project, approach or issue in more detail.
  3. Poster session – these are appropriate for presentation about a completed SoTL project they would like to share via virtual poster with colleagues. There will be time during the symposium for attendees to view and ask questions about each poster.
  4. Research Presentation – these sessions will be appropriate for sharing completed SoTL projects with results. We would welcome participants presenting research to include a few minutes spent sharing lessons learned in undertaking the research.

This year we have added a writing retreat to the end of the SoTL symposium.  We invite you to join us for this part of the event at Boffins on Friday afternoon.  The retreat will provide some time to share your writing project and aspirations for it with colleagues and, most importantly, give you time to work on your project in a supportive and comfortable environment.

To register or submit a proposal please visit submission deadline is 14th April.

I look forward to seeing you and learning with you on May 1 and 2nd.

Learning Not to Learn?

We teach so that students engage in actions to continue to learn including completing assignments, readings and answering questions in class. But does our teaching increase such behaviours or decrease them?

One lens, psychology of learning, suggests we likely do both. Unlike classical conditioning’s focus on reflexes such as drooling, B. F. Skinners’ operant conditioning examines the rewarding of active behaviours including participating in class discussion or completing homework.

What is Operant conditioning?

As Thorndike’s Law of Effect and B.F. Skinner’s operant conditioning notes we are influenced by the consequences of our actions. Good consequences encourage more of this activity, while unpleasant (or unhelpful) consequences encourage less of this activity.

Positive reinforcement increases the frequency of behaviours through either the addition of a pleasant stimulus or the removal of an unpleasant stimulus. If we want students to answer more question in class, we could:

  • add an indication that their answer is correct, stating which parts are correct if answer is not correct,  or secondary rewards of praise


  • remove something unpleasant such as provide relief from uncertainty by confirming they understand the topic or the ending of our mastered silent stare.

Negative reinforcement decreases the frequency of valued behaviours through either the addition of an unpleasant stimulus or the removal of an unpleasant stimulus, including answering questions in class when we:

  • add a dismissing or disparaging comment from the explicit “incorrect” to the implicit asking “any other answers” only when the initial student response is incorrect


  • remove something pleasant such as a change in posture to be more removed, stop smiling, or change in the amount you pick them to answer questions.

We might beneficially use negative reinforcement to decrease disruptive behaviours such as interrupting classmates, or answering cell phones

Our effect may also be neutral, including when an instructor neither confirms or discounts the response and simply says “next” until they have 3 responses regardless of correctness.

Over time, behaviours do not need to be (and should not be) actively reinforced each time to maintain higher participation or lower skipping class (see information on schedules and fixed versus variable intervals and ratios).


Try seeing how the number of students’ answers increases (or decreases) with different responses. Predict via the lens of operant conditioning. For example:

  • What happens if I ask questions that are too easy? Students likely not rewarded by answering
  • What happens if I ask questions that are too hard? Students might not be able to answer and receive the explicit or implicit feedback that they are wrong
  • What happens if I present my answer(s) on a slide after I ask them? Students might not be rewarded by answering
  • But what if I skim by pointing out all the parts they identified and building on their answer? -> Students might be rewarded and increase participation.

Applying operant conditioning is not about “coddling” or saying “good try” without correcting flawed knowledge, but creating a learning experience that is encouraging of participation, reading and incorporating feedback into later performance. Even when a students’ answer is incorrect there are ways to reward behaviours that lead to improvement (e.g., asking questions) and provide feedback to modify that knowledge by “rewarding” the correct bits, “punishing” incorrect parts, and because we can speak better than pigeons suggesting how to improve.

While it is useful to be cognizant of how our actions may act to encourage or discourage specific student behaviours, self-determination is still valued and people may not want themselves or others to be treated as treating people like lab rats such as by Sheldon on Big Bang Theory:


P.S. The physical classroom and social roles may also trigger previously rewarded behaviours including collaboration or silence.

Curating your Experience – What an ePortfolio can do for you

I recently spent some time on a project to move a learning log used by a non-profit organization to track the progress of their young participants into an online environment. I have since learned a lot about the various tools available to create and publish such documents online, but I remained curious about the rationale behind creating an online learning log or, as it is commonly called, an ePortfolio.

Luckily, the TOOC (Introduction to Learning Technologies) currently running through the GMCTE covers e-portfolios extensively in week 11.  My goal with this post is to provide a summary of what I have learned about ePortfolios, some of which draws on the resources you can find in week 11.

What is an ePortfolio?

An ePortfolio is a collection of ‘artifacts’, which can be photos or text documents – anything that represents a task or a step in the learning process. The sort of material that composes an e-portfolio can be representative of either educational or professional development.

How is an ePortfolio used?

An ePortfolio is also a map of the learning process and a means of reflecting back on what one has learned or accomplished.  As such, it is a means not only of demonstrating what you have learned or accomplished, but can itself become a means to better identify goals and more intentionally direct one’s path.

How do I put an ePortfolio together?

There are many tools available online to help you build a visually appealing ePortfolio. Before you choose a tool, it is important to remember that, as pointed out in an article by Suzanne Bowness for University Affairs, “Even fans acknowledge it’s not so much the tool as the philosophy that makes e-portfolios compelling.”

If it is the case that the ideas underpinning an ePortfolio are more important than the tool used to build it, then it is with this step that you should ideally begin.  Bowness also claims it is the “dual function of reflection and record keeping that is one of the e-portfolio’s most compelling features.” I believe this dual function applies to both learning and professional ePortfolios.  As such, a portfolio should contain artifacts as well as some context, or reflection on the artifacts.

I also believe that there is no set recipe that needs to be followed when putting together a portfolio, since the ideas underpinning each different portfolio will themselves differ.  That said, if you are having a tough time getting started, do your homework on the topic of ePortfolios first. For instance, you can review the resources in week 11 and the University of Waterloo’s excellent summary of ePortfolios.

Open Textbooks – An Instructor’s Perspective

The Sun

By Karla Panchuk

This post originally appeared on the blog Petragogy on March 23, 2014.

I’ve wondered before about the feasibility of creating an open textbook for introductory physical geology.  I got as far as sketching out some of the ideas and stopped when it became clear that a lot of work would be involved.

My most recent thinking about open textbooks was motivated by learning some startling facts from my students:  (1) At sea level, water boils at 1007°C.  (2) In areas on the ocean floor where new ocean crust is produced, water can be heated up to 10,007°C.

Setting aside for a moment the fact that that my students didn’t see anything wrong with water boiling at 1007°C, or with water on the ocean floor being a little shy of twice the sun’s surface temperature, what bothered me is that they encountered this information in their textbook.  I get that typos happen.  I’ve made some in my own course materials. The issue is that they are very hard to fix.  Ideally, I should be able to go into a document, change 1007°C to 100°C, and hit “update.”  Voila.  Problem solved.  Instead, I emailed the publisher’s salesperson for my region and told him about the error.  If he passes my email on to the right person, then in two years when the new edition comes out, water might once again boil at 100°C.

This is why writing my own textbook has a certain appeal.  Because no one is going to pay me to do it, I might as well make it freely available online.  It is free and relatively easy to make the textbook look pretty and to put it in places and formats that allow convenient student access.  The main difficulties are twofold:  First, I have to write it and find appropriate images that I am legally entitled to use.  Second, if done properly, I will have made use of online open education resources, and that means continually monitoring those resources to make sure they haven’t changed in unacceptable ways, or disappeared altogether.

When looking at a task requiring this much work, it is wise to see if someone else has already done the work for you, or is in the process of doing so.  Sadly, it appears no one has seen fit to build what I need.  It is also wise to see if others are interested in accomplishing the same task. Ideally, a project like this would involve a number of contributors with a wide range of expertise.  Perhaps a book sprint could be organized.  These are remarkable events during which a group of cloistered writers spends three to five days working on the book, facilitated by a company which organizes and feeds them.  At the end of five days a finished product is ready to upload… and apparently it is a good one.

Who knows—after years of writing fixes for course materials, I might have enough for a textbook anyway.

2014 Higher Ed Horizon Report Released

Every year the New Media Consortium (NMC) and EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative release a series of reports on what they see as the coming trends in learning technologies. One such report looks specifically at higher education and the 2014 edition was recently released.

While the report has always included what these groups see as the “important developments” that will be adopted in this area in three time frames (within one year, in two to three years, and in four to five years), this year’s report also includes “Key Trends Accelerating EdTech Adoption in Higher Education” and “Significant Challenges Impeding EdTech Adoption in Higher Education”.

The “key trends” are broken down by likeliness and the expected time frame until they “create substantive change”, while the “significant challenges” are in categories of “solvable”, “difficult” and “wicked”.

Both of the “important developments” that they see as being adopted within the next year are already happening here at the University of Saskatchewan – flipped teaching and the use of learning analytics. Contact the GMCTE for more information on these initiatives.

You can read the entire report or a shorter “Preview” version on the NMC Website.

The following is a brief video summary of the report.