It’s Course Design Not Entertainment: A visit from John Boyer




On October 7, we had the pleasure at the University of Saskatchewan of welcoming John Boyer from the Geography Department at Virginia Tech to speak with us about his innovative and increasingly acclaimed approaches to teaching large classes and his approaches for motivating learning and designing assessment.  Recordings of his talks are available at these links, and are embedded at the end of this post.

1. Assessment Innovations that Reduce Cheating and Enhance Learning
2. Teaching (Really) Large Classes (Very) Well

There is some repetition between them since there were slightly different audiences in attendance at both sessions and John therefore needed to describe the format of his course each time.

I got to hang out with John all day long and it was truly inspiring and thought provoking.

A few things that stand out to me about John and his messages:

  • John was intensely and passionately clear about why he wanted students to learn about the world (he teaches an intro to World Regions).  He constantly referred to his vision and not because he was trying to persuade us of anything, but to explain why he chooses to teaches the way he does.  This guy knows his true teaching philosophy and lives by it and thrives as a teacher as a result, I’d say.
  • John has many of the same frustrations with present day student approaches and attitudes that many others report.   He’s decided, because he’s so clear on what he wants them to learn, to set high standards for their engagement and learning and then to let the students decide what to do with respect to both.  Students respond and learn as a result.
  • John faces criticism from a small number of vocal colleagues about his approach.   He says voices of detractors might have stopped him in his tracks, had they started their criticism earlier in his teaching career.  A key to his success, according to John, is that he was being innovative in teaching under the radar of his colleagues and the institution.   It wasn’t until a particular tipping point of the 2,760 person class taught in a blended format with political and arts leaders visiting or skyping in to talk with his students that he started to gain notoriety at his institution and in higher education.  By then, John knew what he was doing and had the deserved confidence and positive outcomes to face the critics.  I’m happy it worked out this way for John, but am concerned about other innovators getting “put back in their places” by group norms and power structures in academia.
  • John embodies a highly entertaining persona.  This  energy and quirkiness must surely enhance the course—but only to a point, and only for some.  I have popped on to his web site  and find his appearances and podcasts much more low key and not necessarily infused with high energy.  Make no mistake, Educatus readers, it is the design of his course that has students engaged.  He provides choice, relevance, community, and fun.  John’s personality is ultimately separate from the design and content of this course.  Let me say it again, it’s the design of this course that leads to the high levels of engagement and learning.  The design.

We’re keen at the Gwenna Moss Centre to have more discussions about some of the innovative and provocative notions brought forward by John.  Let us know what you think.

USask Professor Adopting Open Textbook



By Eric Micheels, Assistant Professor, Department of Bioresource Policy, Business and Economics

The following post was written by Eric Micheels of the University of Saskatchewan and was originally published on his blog on October 6, 2014, under the title, The Economic of Economics Textbooks. It is reprinted here with his permission.

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of having a meeting with Heather Ross, an instructional design specialist at the University of Saskatchewan, where we discussed open-access textbooks. The meeting came about after a conversation on twitter where I mentioned that I was considering adopting an open-access text for AGRC 113, a course that has a heavy micro-economics base but tends to drift into more practical applications and current issues in the agri-food industry. In the past three years, I have gone through the gauntlet of texts. I started with an agricultural economics text (Drummond and Goodwin), then changed to the more popular microeconomics texts. In years 2 and 3, I used McConnell, Brue, Flynn, and Barbiero and Mankiw, Kneebone and McKenzie. I decided to go away from the agricultural economics texts as 1) I think it helps agricultural students to see the broader picture, and 2) these texts were the ones used by ECON 111, the main prerequisite for my course.

However, not all students take my course immediately after they take ECON 111 (for whatever reason). Therefore they get stung with the pain of selling their text back to the bookstore after ECON 111 only to have to buy a newer version at a higher price point a couple semesters later. The Economist had a recent post that discussed the steep increase in textbook prices (which is in itself an economics lesson in captive markets and inelastic demand). This led me to a search for a better option for these students while also not causing undue financial strain on students who are taking the course in the recommended sequence.

Through BC Open Campus, I was able to review a completely open-access text authored by Timothy Taylor of Macalester College that I think rivals those of McConnell and Mankiw. In terms of economic material, the Taylor text covers the same material as the McConnell and Mankiw texts, while also providing more detailed coverage on information, risk and insurance, and financial markets. These two topics are pretty important in agricultural systems, so I view their inclusion as a real advantage. The chapters give adequate detail of economic concepts while also including text boxes that show how the concepts can be applied to current issues in the world. The Taylor text also provides a variety of self-review questions at the end of each chapter that allows students to see which concepts are clear and which require further study. For instructors, the publisher provides access to all the normal accoutrements (solutions manual, PowerPoint slides, test bank) that other non-open-access texts also provide.

In terms of benefit cost, I think that the Taylor text is a clear winner. It provides the a strong foundation in the core concepts of microeconomics (scarcity, consumer choice, supply and demand, market structure, externalities, and trade) while also providing detailed material on two other important topics: risk and information and financial markets. It does this at a cost much below those of McConnell and Mankiw. One negative of the Taylor text is that it is written for undergraduate students attending U.S. colleges and universities. While this may be an issue for some students and will require a bit of legwork on my part to bring in Canadian examples, I still feel the benefits of the open-access text far outweigh the costs.

Open Access Week is October 20-26, 2014!



By Diane (Dede) Dawson, Science Liaison Librarian

This year marks the eighth annual Open Access Week – an international advocacy event that seeks to promote and raise awareness about open access (OA) and several closely related areas such as open education and open data.

So… what is open access?

“Open Access (OA) literature is digital, online, free of charge, and free of most copyright and licensing restrictions. What makes it possible is the internet and the consent of the author or copyright-holder” (from Peter Suber’s A Very Brief Introduction to Open Access).

The OA movement developed as a response to the unsustainable, higher-than-inflation, journal subscription increases experienced by libraries over the last few decades (and continuing to this day). Library budgets have not kept pace, resulting in journal cancellations and less money for book purchases.

Increasingly, researchers cannot access the articles they need – and sometimes they cannot even access the articles they wrote themselves! Removing barriers on access to information will ultimately enhance the speed of scientific progress.

There are other, ethical, reasons for making research OA too. A large amount of research in Canada is funded by taxpayers through the three federal funding agencies: NSERC, SSHRC, & CIHR (“Tri-Agency”). Shouldn’t taxpayers be able to access the results of research they funded without having to pay again? Indeed, the Tri-Agency will soon require that the results of funded research be made openly available.

Researchers can make their articles OA by publishing in an open access journal (“gold” OA) or by self-archiving a copy of their manuscript in an open repository (“green” OA). There are many benefits to doing this (for more on types of OA journals see the blog post “Defining Open Access“). In particular, researchers will increase their visibility and readership… ultimately leading to more citations. This is known as the OA Citation Effect and has been demonstrated in many bibliometric studies now.

In this blog post I have focused on open access to research articles, but many researchers are now also making their data and teaching objects open too. Find out more about these quickly growing areas during Open Access Week this month!

OA Week 2014 Events at the University Library:

All events are free to attend and open to all! No registration required. More information can be found at http://words.usask.ca/oaweek/

Mon Oct 20 – Open Access Week 2014 Kick Off Event at the World Bank: Generation Open (Live-Streaming Webcast from Washington D.C.)
1-2pm, Collaborative Learning Lab (Rm 145), Murray Library

Tues Oct 21 – Open Data *for Scholars*
12-1pm, Collaborative Learning Lab (Rm 145), Murray Library

Thurs Oct 23 – Finding and Using Open Resources for Teaching and Research
12-1pm, Collaborative Learning Lab (Rm 145), Murray Library

For more information and resources related to open access topics see the Open Access Research Guide.

Defining Shared Thresholds for Dealing with Academic Dishonesty




The Academic Misconduct Policy at the University of Saskatchewan recognizes that as instructors, we often are in a great position to judge the severity of an act of dishonesty and to situate that act in the context of our course.   The informal procedures available through the U of S academic misconduct policy set clear parameters—to apply a grade penalty on the assignment or test that is of concern, it must be dealt with using the “informal procedures”.   Whereas, the formal procedures may be invoked when the grade penalty you see as deserved extends beyond the assignment or test to the overall grade for the course.

However, each of us likely has a different threshold for when a concern for academic dishonesty warrants a penalty and what the severity should be. Depending on the situation, some of us will be more apt to ask a student found to have plagiarized to, after a stern warning, submit a re-write addressing the errors or omissions for re-grading. And, some of us will be instead inclined to advance the matter to the formal procedures and participate in a hearing, seeing the plagiarism as a far more serious a matter.

So, why does this variation matter?

Students come to know that different instructors handle the same kinds of academic dishonesty differently. When students see their teachers as less diligent or less vigilant about such matters, the problematic short cut (the majority of academic dishonesty takes this form) may seem a lower risk than in another class. In this situation, students committed to academic integrity can lose faith and question whether the assessment playing field is that even, after all. That is, are the rules really the rules? And, to use this year’s Academic Integrity Awareness Week catch phrase without its intended twist, previously honest students may wonder to themselves “Why not Cheat?”

What can be done?

Today, my colleague from the ULC, Elana Geller and I, will facilitate a discussion at the College of Kinesiology at their request about developing a common approach to enacting the academic misconduct policy, especially when to use the informal procedures. We will talk about the policy as it exists, acknowledge the complexities of discovering and confirming academic dishonesty, and assist in identifying common principles the faculty and instructors in the College want to use going forward.

If other academic units are interested in our assistance facilitating something similar, feel free to contact us (or check in with your friends in Kinesiology to see how it turned out).

John Boyer touches Down on Tuesday at the U of S




Sometimes, the time is right to reach into the past for a “re-post”. Now is such a time to look again at the February 24, 2014 post by Susan Bens since we are in the wonderful position to be hosting John Boyer at the U of S on Tuesday, October 7.   He’ll be speaking from 2:30 – 3:30 in the GSA Commons on the very structure of assessment he uses in his huge, blended course on World Regions.

Check out this event, and other events appearing under the Academic Integrity Awareness Week Banner.

 

What? A Menu of Assessment Options?

By Susan Bens
I have recently come upon a few interesting ideas about the conditions we create for assessment in higher education, especially with respect to deterring academic dishonesty. Standing out to me right now is a 2013 book I’ve been reading by James Lang titled “Cheating Lessons.” This book provides inspiration, encouragement, and practical advice to teachers in higher education. Lang’s premise is that cheating is an inappropriate response by students to environments that convey an emphasis on performance within the context of extremely high stakes and where extrinsic motivators overpower the “intrinsic joy or utility of the task itself” (p. 30).Slide of a Weird Grading System

Lang points his readers to an innovative assessment practice I found quite intriguing. Professor John Boyer, in his apparently infamous World Regions class of 2,670 (!) students at Virginia Tech, affords students maximum flexibility in assessment. He structures a multi-choice assessment system that pushes students away from performance orientation and instead puts the responsibility on students to choose ways of demonstrating their learning via a point system. I highly recommend a visit to Boyer’s web page for more information on his innovative approach at http://www.thejohnboyer.com/new-education/.

The Academic Dishonesty Redirect: Be Explicit, Know your Policies, Assess Authentically




At the Gwenna Moss Centre for Teaching Effectiveness, when faculty and instructors ask us about academic integrity, we will inevitably steer the conversation to three main values:

  1. the value of being very explicit with students about the rules you expect them to follow
  2. the value of understanding the rules of your home department or college as well as the university policy on academic misconduct,
  3. the value of designing assessment for authentic learning.

Here’s a video that demonstrates this tendency quite nicely, if I do say so myself:

And, for further evidence of our redirect, coming up on Monday, October 6 1:30 – 2:15 in the GMCTE Classroom, as part of Academic Integrity Awareness Week, there will be a short session on assessment practices by Carolyn Hoessler and Barb Schindelka titled “Reduce Uncertainty, Increase Integrity: How to create relevant and effective assessments.” Register for this practical session at http://www.usask.ca/gmcte/events.

Creativity? Teamwork? Tips for Effective Creative Collaborating




At a recent Leadership Conversation we focused on creativity as it pertains to collaborative projects. We based our discussion on ideas from the book Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull who was one of the founders and is the current President of Pixar Animation. (For those of us who didn’t read the book, we got the Coles Notes version from a short video of Ed Catmull speaking about some of what he later wrote in this book. It’s well worth the time to watch!)

Heather Ross, who facilitated this conversation, focused our conversation around the following three questions:

1. What was one thing that you took away from what Catmull said in his talk?

2. How do you encourage people to show off their failures or works-in-progress to get better? How do you get yourself to do this?

3. How do you as a leader do those “deep assessments” even when your unit is piling up successes (so that little things don’t become nightmares)? If you’re not currently in a leadership role, or even if you are, how do you do this on a personally professional level?

From our discussion we came to a half dozen key takeaways for fostering effective creativity in collaborative situations:

  • Take care of yourself (“regular maintenance of self”). Creativity is like any kind of exercise—eat right, get enough sleep, know your limits, take time for yourself to keep at your best. Come to the creative team ready to roll and with the energy to do so.
  • Be candid in your dealings with yourself and with others. If we don’t share our ideas openly with the groups we are working in, those ideas—that may seem crazy to our internal critics—may be exactly the spark that takes the group to the next level. If you are afraid to speak up with your ideas you are doing you and your group a great disservice. Having confidence makes a person better able to contribute.
  • Do not place yourself above or below anyone else. Regardless of positional power differentials, realize that everyone has something to contribute and all ideas are worthy of respect. See yourself as equal to all other group members.
  • What you view as success needs to be embedded in a larger context. Clearly define what the most desirable outcomes are for your time together and for the project. “Success” is a very slippery concept. In fact, according to one group member, the word “success” does not even exist in the Cree language!
  • On the flip side, “failure” is simply failing to meet the established criteria at given time. Criteria and timing both shift making what might have been a “failure” at one time, a great leap forward at another. Find your way through “mistakes” [miss-takes] and keep going as you clarify and refine.
  • Watch your language! It speaks volumes! Watch your language for judgmental and victim statements. Keep focused on the shared goal and direct all energies towards the achievement of that goal. Clear and neutral language, asking for clarification, and assuming you didn’t understand before thinking that you did are all helpful for constructively working together on creative projects.

If you are interested in other Leadership Conversation topics, more on creativity, or on effective creative teamwork, please get in touch with us at the Gwenna Moss Centre.

 

Open Textbooks Easily Available Through BC Project




There has been a growing amount of talk around the U of S, and higher education in general about open textbooks. These are digital textbooks that are freely available to learners and customizable for instructors.

Open Textbook ProjectTextbooks are expensive, something particularly clear to first year university students. This fact has had a shift toward open textbooks a priority of University of Saskatchewan Student Union President Max FineDay’s since his first term. The provincial government has also this issue on its radar as evidenced by the Saskatchewan government signing a memorandum of understanding to cooperate on the creation of open educational resources with Alberta and British Columbia.

There are several commons concerns expressed about the adoption of open textbooks. In terms of adoption there are concerns about quality and a loss to access of resources frequently provided by publishers when traditional textbooks are adopted.

BC has been leading, at least Western Canada in the area of open textbooks through the BCcampus Open Textbook Project. There are currently more than 60 open textbooks listed on the OpenEd Website from twenty-four disciplines including Accounting, Biology, Chemistry, English, Math, and Psychology. Textbooks listed there can be used by anyone free-of-charge (digital versions) and instructors are free to make any modifications they wish to the text, as long as they attribute the source and, in turn, make available the revised work with an open license. Students in BC do have an option to buy printed versions of the books at a fraction of the cost of traditional textbooks.

Texts available through the site go through a peer review process (the criteria can be found here) and, for several of the books you can read the reviews of instructors in those disciplines. The Website lists ten books that have received review scores of four or five out of five from these reviewers. Ancillary materials including instructor slides are available for some of the texts as well.

Some of the texts were created in BC, while many listed on the OpenEd site were chosen from other other open repositories including OpenStax

BCcampus is actively looking for authors, reviewers and open textbook adopters. If you are interested in adopting, creating, or contributing to an open textbook, or you simply want to know more about this option, please contact us at the GMCTE.

A Lesson In “Not Imposssible”




Each year about this time I start to imagine what if this year things were different. The possibilities of lively discussions, great feats of learning, and engaged students arise with excitement and then that doubting voice drifts in…

But what if it was not impossible?

What if the needs I perceived in my students and in my goals could be met?

Inspiration is offered by Mick Ebeling and the Not Impossible labs through their work that began when they heard of a boy named Daniel, an individual with a particular need, and then asked the question “what if this is not impossible?”. After pulling together a team to think through and test possibilities, they found a solution that worked. The created solution not only gave Daniel, an arm it is changing a community – “help one, help many.”

Meet Daniel or hear Mick speak of creating an eyewriter for graffiti-artist TEMPT

What if what will help one will help many? Who is your Daniel?

My Daniel is Sara (pseudonym), the 2nd year psych student I taught back in 2005 who wanted to learn statistics and needed to succeed in her honour’s program, but was afraid of math. I began developing explanations for Sara (e.g., is the differences between groups larger than the difference within groups?). The rationale and analogies allowed Sara to see the function of a t-test, know when to use it, and know what information is needed first and then what math to use to compute a t statistic. My approach became to link a statistical test’s purpose, function, and formula by pairing the mathematical formula on the board with a description of its purpose – specifically, why this test might be used. I then illustrate the functional patterns that I would look for noting the variables of the formula they represent.

For example, I would show the formula for a Pearson correlation and describe its purpose of determining to what extent two variables are related. The Pearson correlation functions by detecting co-occurrence, such as when survey respondents answer two questions similarly. If variable A is rated highly, is variable B? The analogy I use is pair dancing – if they are in sync they get higher ratings (closer to 100 or in this case 1.0). The math reflects this purpose and function by the numbers it uses and generates.

The resulting cognitive framework scaffold of purpose-function-math not only helped Sara to face and complete assignments, it helped her classmates compare statistical tests and better understand when to select them. Since then, I have continued to develop materials and teach sessions locally, nationally, and internationally on statistics for individuals with no or little background in math and stats. The approach that was designed to meet Sara’s needs now benefits many.

A key part to the Not Impossible Lab’s success is identifying a collection of others who have the knowledge or skills needed to make the impossible not impossible. Mark needed knowledge of prosthetics and access to equipment. I talked with individuals who disliked and struggled with statistics, as well as those used statistics daily. What do you need? And who among our community of excellent educators, librarians, course (re)designers, curriculum discussion facilitators, mentors, students, and the wider community, will be on your team?

I would love to learn of your experiences of Not Impossible and wrestling with the “seems impossible”!

wâhkôhtowin: 2014: Linking Kindred Sprits




The Beadwork Committee, of the College of Education at the University of Saskatchewan, had a vision for a national conference that would bring together “kindred spirits” to unpack decolonization and kindle Indigenization processes and methods to transform educational practices. This vision is coming to fruition from September 18-20th, when the University will welcome delegates from the province, the country, and the world.

The wâhkôhtowin conference is structured uniquely, in that on the first full day, papers will be presented in concurrent sessions, where delegates might share ideas regarding Indigenous theory and application, decolonizing practices, the value of Story-telling, working with Elders, examining land-based pedagogies, and about ethics, research, and protocols. On the second day, delegates gather at wanuskewin, bringing together their collective experiences and knowledge, and work collaboratively to determine “next steps” toward decolonizing and Indigenizing. “Witnesses” from the four directions will speak at the end of the conference, to reflect on the work that has been accomplished, and the relationships that have been built.

The conference could not have proceeded without the voices and prayers of the Elders  Mary Lee, Mike Maurice, Darlene Speidel and Martha Peet who are guiding us through the conference.

Although the conference is full, the entire campus and community beyond are warmly invited to attend the plenary talk Indigenous Education: My Journey,”offered by the Right Honourable Paul Martin. We will convene for this talk in Convocation Hall, in the Peter McKinnon Building, on Friday, September 19th, from 10-11:45 a.m. There is no cost for admission to this event.