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.

GMCTE To Host Annual Celebration of Teaching

The Gwenna Moss Centre for Teaching Effectiveness will host the annual Celebration of Teaching in recognition of the past academic year’s award-winning teachers on Friday September 12. At this year’s Celebration, the Sylvia Wallace Sessional Lecturer Award and the Provost’s Outstanding Teaching Awards will be presented.

The Celebration will take place at the U of S in Arts 241 from 3:30 to 5:30. If you are planning to attend please RSVP to Sharilyn Lee at the GMCTE at

The award winners are listed below. Click on the individual names to learn more about the recipients.

Sylvia Wallace Sessional Lecturer Award

Rod Johnson and Bert Weichel, Geography and Planning

Provost’s Awards

The recipients of the campus-wide Provost’s Teaching Awards are:

  • Provost’s Award for Excellence in Aboriginal Education: Verna St, Denis
  • Provost’s Award for Outstanding New Teacher: Dionne Pohler
  • Provost’s Award for Outstanding Graduate Teaching: Jan Gelech

The winners of the Provost’s College Awards for Outstanding Teaching (college specific) are:

Master Teacher Award

2014 Spring: Ronald C.C. Cuming

2013 Fall: Debbie Pushor

New Research Guides at the University Library: LibGuides2 Update

By Shannon Lucky, Information Technology Library

As we enter a new Fall semester the University Library has launched a major update to our Research Guides. These guides, built on the new LibGuides2 platform, are carefully curated selections of discipline and course specific resources combined with information on how to conduct research, writing skills, and other valuable Library tools. To explore the new guides, go to the University Library homepage and choose “Research Guides” under the Tools and Services column on the left-hand menu, or go directly to


There are 3 types of Research Guides you can find through the University Library:

  • Subject Guides are maintained by your subject librarian. These guides present carefully chosen selections of subject specific, high quality, scholarly resources, saving you and your students time by highlighting the best resources in your discipline. Browse Subject Guides.
  • Topic Guides cover how-to topics such as Finding Journal Articles, How to Evaluate Information Sources, and Citation Style Guides. They also present resources and information that are not subject specific such as Open Access, Copyright for Educators, and Research Metrics. To browse Topic Guides go to the Research Guides Homepage and choose “By Type” from the menu.
  • Course Guides are built to support a specific course or individual class. They can direct students to course specific resources including permanent links to full text articles, recommended research databases, books and other library holdings, video tutorials, and much more. They can also be used to easily create reading lists that link directly to any items that the library has in our digital or physical collections. Explore an example of a Course Guide DeDe Dawson, Science Librarian, has created for a Biology 301 class. To browse other Course Guides go to the Research Guides Homepage and choose “By Type” from the menu.

Research Guides are fully integrated with the Library collections and can also including any online resources from outside the Library that fall within copyright permissions or can be linked to from the guides. This platform is very flexible and user friendly and we encourage you to make use of this newly updated resource. If you are interested in using Research Guides as a teaching tool please get in touch with your subject librarian and let them know you want to create a Course Guide using LibGuides2.  If you have suggestions or questions about your Subject Guide please contact your subject librarian or Tell US your comments. We welcome suggestions for improving the guides and tailoring them to better serve our patrons.

Peer-to-Peer Writing Feedback: That’s what friends are for!

Peer-to-PeerPeer-to-peer writing feedback is a process by which students judge other students’ written work and produce and provide feedback to them and then, in turn, also receive feedback on their own work. By feedback, I mean commentary of a formative kind: that is, students have the chance to consider and incorporate the feedback received from their peers. Peers are not assigning grades (that would be “peer assessment”), but they may be evaluating the work using a set of provided standards or a rubric. The process can be anonymous, but it does not need to be.

This fall, I will be trying out peer-to-peer writing feedback in a course I teach on leadership and professionalism.  For me, use of this learning activity serves two related learning outcomes that I intend for students:  (1) to write more clearly and concisely, and (2) to effectively provide and receive feedback (not restricted to the area of writing or to the context of peers).

I was very encouraged this week when I came upon an article by Nicol, Thomson, and Breslin (2014) where they reported on a study of how producing peer feedback impacted learning for first year engineering students. Below, I’ve integrated and summarized some of the learning benefits that stood out to me.

Receivers of peer feedback tend to find it…

  • written in more accessible language and therefore more easily understood
  • more like dialogue than a one-way transmission and also less directive, allowing students to locate the feedback they need
  • timed to allow improvements to be made

Producers of peer feedback tend to…

  • develop a better understanding of the standards being applied, and an appreciation for the role of the summative assessor (i.e., grader)
  • compare the work of their peers to their own and benefit from the examples of other approaches to writing
  • build critical thinking capacity about both the writing of peers and their own writing

And, an overarching zinger appears in the article, where the authors quote another research team:   ‘Students seem to improve their writing more by giving comments than by receiving them’ (p. 104). To me this finding aligns with the oft-quoted saying “the best way to learn is to teach.”

Let me know via your own comments if you’d like to learn more about how I go about incorporating this learning activity into my course this term and how it turns out.  Wish me luck.

Nicol, D., Thomson, A., & Breslin, C. (2014). Rethinking feedback practices in higher education: A peer review perspective. Assessment& Evaluation in Higher Education, 39 (1), 102-122.

Photograph by Susan Bens

How Do We Define Success in an Open Course

A version of this post was originally published on Heather Ross’s blog on June 24, 2014.

ToqueIn June I attended the Society for Teaching and Learning In Higher Education (STLHE) conference in Kingston, Ontario. As part of the conference I presented, along with Nancy Turner and Jaymie Koroluk (University of Ontario Institute of Technology), a poster about the Introduction to Learning Technologies (ILT) open course that the GMCTE offered earlier this year. During discussions around our poster as well as in other sessions related to open courses, I had a number of conversations with colleagues about just what is “success” in an open course.

Completion rates are often used as measures of success by administrators and the media, but is that really a fair measurement? Open courses, whether we call them MOOCs  (Massive Open Online Courses) or the TOOCs (Truly Open Online Courses) that we’re advocating at the GMCTE, aren’t like traditional face-to–face or distance courses in that students don’t pay tuition, there are no prerequisites for entry into the courses and no formal credit is given to students. Why do we try to measure success in open courses using the same metrics that we use for traditional courses when they are so different (of course the argument can absolutely be made that rates of attrition in traditional courses shouldn’t be measures of success either)?

While I was at the conference, an article appeared in The Chronicle of Higher Education about a new paper out from a study conducted jointly by researchers at Cornell University and Stanford University looking at types of engagement in “Massive Online Courses”. The authors of the study argue that there are five types of participants in open courses including Viewers (watch the videos), Solvers (complete assignments without watching videos or reading lecture notes), All-Rounders (do at least some of both), Collectors (download for viewing materials later) and Bystanders (they registered, but there’s no evidence that they did anything in the course). I think that these categories have merit and provide a more nuanced picture of participants, taking us beyond simply grouping everyone into those who complete and those who don’t.

Very few people completed all of the assignments in ILT, so if we looked at completion rates as the measure of success, then this course was a failure. If, however, we look at different metrics another picture emerges. After the course ended (it’s a truly open course so all of the materials are still open) we sent a survey to the 300 participants and 15 percent completed the surveys (yes, I know it’s a very low response rate, but it’s an open course and most people may have been ignoring my emails by the end). Of those who completed the survey, 81.3% said that they applied what they had learned for their own professional development and 69.6 percent said that they shared what they learned with colleagues and / or students.

Learning technologies are constantly changing and as such, I saw it as important that there should bean increase in participant comfort and skill in using a variety of types of tools rather than developing expertise in use of specific ones. A key success of the course for me was therefore the response to the survey question regarding the effect the course had on their comfort level with learning technologies; 55.3 percent reported a moderate increase and 21.3 percent said they experienced a considerable increase.

Of course the low rate of response does mean we have to interpret these results with caution, but the data does add to the argument that success for these courses shouldn’t be measured by how many students do all of the work. I’m currently completing an overall program review of the course for one of my Ph.D. courses and will then be revising the course for another offering next January (watch for details about the course dates and registration to appear on Educatus in the Fall). We’re also working with Ken Coates, the Canada Research Chair in Regional Innovation at the Johnson-Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy and the Director of the International Centre for Northern Governance and Development on an open course that he’ll be teaching early in 2015. Both courses will provide us with valuable information on what students actually do in an open course, as well as how they define success for themselves.

Problem Solving = Great! But what kind of problems are our students really learning?

What learning are we really asking our students to demonstrate, and what are we saying actually matters through our assessments?

Within statistics, exams require students to apply statistical procedure such as t-tests to questions e.g., is there a significant difference between boys and girls on self-confidence or neural activity when the mean is… where the criteria of significance is typical, the problem to solve is clear and familiar, the variables are provided, and even the values are given. Just plug into memorized equations. In contrast, what if I was to ask on assignments (for practicing) and the exam questions such as presenting a news story and asking students to outline the information and statistical analyses they would engage in to take a stance.  They might then have to look up prior studies to find likely values, debate whether gender is dichotomous categories or a continuous variables for their purposes, and determine how to operationalize the topic, set a 1/20 or more conservative cut off for significance, and select and apply a statistical analysis. Which assessment would better measure the learning I would want my students to have when they go forward? Which learning would you want that A+ to represent when you are deciding if they will be your honours or graduate student?
Problem solving process

Several years have passed since I heard Dr. Eric Mazur speak of changing the activity in the classroom to engage students in learning and increase their conceptual understanding of physics. His approach of peer instruction is well shared. The video was included in an earlier blog post about participatory learning and transfer)

In the June 2014 opening plenary of the Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education conference in Kingston, Dr. Eric Mazur’s pursuit of improving learning has remained but his focus had shifted:

“For 20 years I have been working on approach to teaching, never realizing that assessment was directing the learning … assessment is the silent killer of learning.”

As educators, we do not teach so that students simply learn the concept, lens, or procedure for tomorrow, but for the days and weeks that follow. If delaying an exam one day disadvantages students or achieving a high grade cannot predict understanding of the fundamental concepts of force, he asked have they really learned? If the assessments only reflect and demand a low level of learning, then our students will not learn at the higher levels that we desire them to achieve. Do exams that promote cramming or could be answered with a quick Google search really measure the type of transfer or retention of information that we really should be aiming for?

Of several changes that Dr. Mazur outlined to improve assessment, the one that really caused me to pause was his comment about what kind of problems are we asking students to solve.

Think of the problems typically found in your field – the ones where the outcomes are desired but the procedure and path to get there is not known (e.g., design a new mechanism, identify the properties of what is before them, or write a persuasive statement). However, in our assessments, as Dr. Mazur contrasted, the problems students are asked to solve involves applying known procedures to a set of clearly outlined information to solve for an unknown outcome.

During the plenary, he presented a series of possible questions asking about estimating the number of piano tuners: the first version required students to make assumptions about frequency and populations, then to reduce students’ questions and uncertainty the second version provided the assumptions, the third the name of the formula and so on until the students were simply asked to remember the formula and input numbers…moving down the levels of Bloom’s taxonomy from creativity and evaluation to simple remembering.

Add in the removal of the resources that I would reach for when running a statistical analysis or citing for a journal article, and the removal of collaboration and consultation that my research enjoys but not my teaching of research, and the distinction between the reality I think I am preparing students for and the exam become more disparate.

The question is how pre-defined and easily remembered or repeated is the “information” students are being asked to identify, note as missing and connect.


Video: Asking Good questions, Humber College
Asking questions that foster problem solving based on Bloom Taxonomy

Bloom’s Taxonomy, University of Victoria
Lists example verbs and descriptions for each competence level

Bloom’s taxonomy,
Question stems and example assignments

Educatus Taking a Summer Hiatus

Throughout most of the year a new post is added to this blog at least twice per week. We understand that many of our readers, as well as much of the staff at the GMCTE take some time off in the summer. This summer, the Educatus blog will be taking off about six weeks before returning with our usual schedule of postings in mid-August, just as we and the rest of the University of Saskatchewan community are busily preparing for the new academic year. Have a great summer. See you August.