How to Jump Start You Curriculum Innovation

Curriculum and teaching innovation are rarely held back, ultimately, by money alone. But, if getting a bit of money could get your initiative moving ahead, you might like some help from the Curriculum Innovation Fund.

What is the Curriculum Innovation Fund?
The CI Fund is intended to provide financial support to curriculum innovation and renewal projects at the University of Saskatchewan that specifically change or develop content or methods of a collection of courses.   The fund can support initiatives focused on a single course that pilot an innovation or show potential to contribute to program-level change.

Why was the Curriculum Innovation Fund established?
The fund was established by the Provost’s Committee on Integrated Planning (PCIP) to implement the priorities of IP3 and specifically to support innovation in academic programs and services. The fund is allocated $250K annually, beginning in 2012-2013 and ending in 2016-2017. For a list of projects and recipients to date, see:

What is the application process?
The application is in the form of a 4-page word document with word limits suggested, point form accepted, and a budget table provided. Drafting assistance is available from the staff at the GMCTE. Applications are accepted at any time and response usually occurs within 1-3 weeks.

How to start?
Contact us at the GMCTE, check out our comprehensive website, and consider coming to a workshop for hands on drafting assistance on Feburary 4 or March 4. Click here for more information and to register.

Connecting Ideas for Innovation

Connecting Ideas for Innovation

When do your great ideas come to you? Where do your great ideas come to you? Is it when you’re alone in your office or lab? How about when you’re out for a walk?<

Are you sure about that?

Steven Johnson, the author of How We Got to Now, Everything Bad is Good for You, and Where Good Ideas Come From argues that while bits and pieces of those ideas may come together in your solitude, they actually become really good or even great ideas when they have a chance to mingle with other ideas.

In his TED Talk Where Good Ideas Come From (see the video below), Johnson argues that the really great ideas come when a percolating idea from one person encounters those of other individuals. It happens at meetings with colleagues, those in-between conference session conversations, and, in his main example, places like coffee houses (he notes the original coffee houses of London to start the point rolling).

Johnson gets to the heart of this his Ideas book:

“But the truth is, when one looks at innovation in nature and in culture, environments that build walls around good ideas tend to be less innovative in the long run than more open-ended environments. Good ideas may not want to be free, but they do want to connect, fuse, recombine. They want to reinvent themselves by crossing conceptual borders. They want to complete each other as much as they want to compete.” (Johnson, 2010, p. 22)

We need to help our ideas connect. We need to put ourselves in those situations where serendipity can happen.

Universities are prone to siloing. A siloed structure encourages people stay within their colleges, sometimes just within their departments and this can be a problem if we want to encourage creativity. I’ve seen early forms of ideas blossom when a faculty member from one department has a conversation with a colleague from across campus at our Course Design Institute around something as basic as assessment. I’ve seen blog posts about one concept lead to ongoing conversations across the Web leading to new courses or research topics. If we remain within our silos or cloistered away in our offices with no flow of ideas outside of our heads, we could be doing ourselves and our ideas a great disservice.

As Johnson said, ideas want to connect, they want to evolve with the input of others, they want to join forces with the ideas of others and become great.

Johnson, S. (2010) Where Good Ideas Come From: The natural history of innovation.  New York: Riverhead Books.

Authentic Assessment

I think of authentic assessments as ways for students to demonstrate knowledge and understanding in a public way. What makes assessment authentic for me is that students do something to show what they know in a public way that benefits a wider community than the one person assigning a grade.

The posters that students did in their first year College of Agriculture and Bioresources (AgBio) classes this past term are, in my way of defining authentic assessment, stellar examples.

Working in teams, students prepared a research poster as part of their undergraduate research experience. On the afternoon of December 3rd there were 99 posters on display up and down hallways in AgBio. What an impressive and exciting initiative!

I spent the afternoon asking students about their research and reading posters. I spent time with about 30 of the 99 teams. All students were articulate, knowledgeable, engaged, and prepared. In comparing notes with the other judges, this was the rule—without exception.

It was a great afternoon—and example authentic assessment—students got direct feedback through their interaction with their peers, instructors, and people walking through AgBio. They received feedback from their instructors throughout the research process that culminated in the poster afternoon.

It was a big undertaking for the students, instructors, TAs, and research coaches involved but the impact, the connections, the sharing of ideas and information, the chance to discuss and explain…It was powerful. And I think it created memories that will not be forgotten for a long time—if ever.

So the students could have handed in an individual report on a question they were interested in and the instructors could have been the only people who benefitted from reading what the students wrote, but this was an event.

If you have an example of when you have implemented an authentic assessment strategy in your class or you are interested in brainstorming and planning ways to integrate authentic assessment in your class please contact us at the Gwenna Moss Centre.

Note: AgBio is one of the three pilot sites and the instructors of the first year courses took up the initiative in a big way! Their goal was for every AgBio student to have an undergraduate research experience in the first term of their first year. (For more on this initiative check out a couple of Murray Drew’s blog posts:


Mental Illness, Disability, and the Inclusive Classroom

By Adam Pottle, Graduate Fellow

In its Campus Climate survey report, which was released in November 2014, the University of Saskatchewan identified a number of areas it needs to improve in terms of making students feel safe and comfortable. The survey summary, which can be found at, reports that

 [s]ome students in minority groups had less positive experiences when compared to their counterparts, especially some Aboriginal students, other visible minority students, sexual minority students, and some students with a disability. On average, those indicating a mental health condition generally had fewer positive experiences than all other students. (4)

The survey goes on to state that “57% of those with a mental health condition reported they either considered leaving or did leave the U of S” and that students “with a mental health condition…were twice as likely to report experiencing insensitive behaviour, exclusion, harassment and/or discrimination as compared to the overall survey population” (4). These results are troubling, especially given recent nationwide efforts to generate awareness and discussion, such as Bell’s “Let’s Talk” program. Clearly, more work is needed.

Mental illness has long been a stigmatized condition, namely because it is difficult for people to understand. In the classroom, it is easier to understand and include students with physical disabilities because any hindrance to accessibility assumes a tangible, physical form. Spaces can be rearranged; lectures can be recorded; hearing devices can be implemented. Mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, depression, anxiety, and paranoia cannot be seen with the naked eye. They are obscure, and because we tend to fear what we do not understand, we stigmatize these conditions.

To help provoke dialogue around this subject, and to help instructors devise teaching strategies to promote accessibility, the Gwenna Moss Centre has created a workshop called “The Inclusive Classroom: Fostering Accessibility for Students with Disabilities.” The first offering of this workshop will be held on Monday February 9, 2015 from 1:30 to 4 PM and will feature presenters from Disability Services, the Canadian Mental Health Association, and the Learning Disabilities Association of Saskatchewan. Although the workshop will consider all disabilities, it will focus on mental illness and learning disabilities because these two conditions most commonly affect students at the University of Saskatchewan. Participants will discuss how to create open, inclusive classrooms and how to employ diverse teaching strategies for students with disabilities. This workshop will hopefully generate productive dialogue and help diminish the stigma of disability and mental illness.

The workshop will be held Murray 102. To register, please visit the events page on Gwenna Moss website and scroll down to February 9.

Flexibility is Key When Teaching Online

As the new year and new term kick off, I’m facing a great deal of time in front of a computer for the next few months. I’m co-teaching Introduction to Learning Technologies for the GMCTE, which includes a blended face-to-face and online component for on-campus registrants and a purely online open course for everyone else. At the same time I’m taking an online course in qualitative methods for my PhD and taking the four-week long online workshop through BCcampus on adopting open textbooks, which directly connects to both my work at the GMCTE as well as my PhD. That’s a lot of screen time, even for me.

I’m trying a balancing act around all of this, plus the rest of my work at the GMCTE, a reading course for my PhD and family life, while trying to carve out just a little bit of “me” time to keep my sanity. I’m not unique and I’m not asking for pity. I’m simply giving you an example of what an online learner may look like.

SturmanWorkshop-024-130302Whenever I speak with instructors about teaching online I stress the importance of flexibility. Frequently students taking online courses, especially at the graduate level, are working full-time jobs. They may need to do their course work in the evenings or on weekends. They may live in different time zones that may put them an hour off of your schedule, or maybe 12 hours off. They may work shift work. They may only have access to the course from a work computer or a library. English may not be their first language so it might take them longer to complete readings and post to the discussion forums, or the time for reflection that online courses can offer compared to face-to-face may make it easier for them to communicate with others. This is also true of any students who may be reticent for one reason or another to speak up in face-to-face classes.

It’s important to remember, as an instructor of an online course that you need to take care of yourself as well. If you have a large class or even a lively small class, discussion forums can become daunting. Students often have expectations that you are always connected, something that face-to-face students seem to expect more and more these days as well. Make it clear in your syllabus as to when you’re likely to reply to students emails, discussion posts and even phone messages. Some instructors will reply at almost any time, while others keep stricter online “office hours”. Pick what’s going to work for you, but keep the needs of your learners in mind.

The GMCTE offers a four-week online course on teaching online that covers these topics and provides practical solutions to many of the concerns that instructors teaching online may have. The instructional designers at the GMCTE are also well versed in teaching online and would be happy to meet with you one-on-one to discuss a course you’re teaching or are considering teaching.


This past term, the day after the Dean of the College of Arts and Science Peter Stoicheff”s acoustic guitar noon-hour concert, I got two recommends for new and up-coming recording artists.

Stella Swanson is my second cousin. Her grandmother sent me a link to the interview she did with CBC radio and one of Stella’s songs. I listened and was blown away! Stella and her mom and sister had done “in-house concerts” when I visited them this past spring and it was awesome. Talk about taking it to the next level with the CD release and website. Her CD is “I’m not a Bunny.” I bought her CD on iTunes and it is what she described in her interview: she thought music for kids could be written and recorded by a kid.

Dean Peter Stoicheff and Jim Cuddy 2

Peter Stoicheff with Jim Cuddy in 2012

Stella is 8 years old.

Later that same day, I got a text from a friend recommending, out of the blue, Sam Smith’s debut CD. I listened to several songs on YouTube and then bought the CD, on iTunes once again. This is one you may have heard.

Sam Smith is 22 years old.

Stella is home-schooled. Sam started his music career, by-passing college, after leaving home and schooling at 18.

There are a couple of reasons for sharing this with you…

Stella and Sam are doing what they love and sharing it with the world. Stella’s school for these past six months has been writing lyrics and music and recording the cd with a Juno winning artist. Sam is traveling and sharing his music all over the world. I am excited to see where their paths take them! It may or may not involve universities…

Heather Ross, my colleague at the GMCTE recently briefed me on “personal learning networks” (PLN) and this was a huge validation of that concept for me. Through my PLN I got the heads up on this music. I don’t watch television or listen to the radio so music has to find me in other ways and in one day it was through my PLN which I didn’t even know about as a concept two weeks earlier.

I invite you to think about your personal learning networks and what they bring to you and how you contribute back. As for me, I wrote a blog post. ;)

Feedback to Improve Teaching

This fall I taught my first for-credit university course. I have plenty of previous teaching experience in the K-12 system and non-credit workshops/courses offered through the GMCTE, but this was the first-time teaching paying university students. I was feeling some apprehension and added pressure.

Teaching controversial issuesWith this pressure in mind (and wanting to provide the best learning experience possible) I put together a formative assessment plan for the course. This plan would allow students to provide me with feedback on my teaching and use of learning activities. Here is a list of some of the items in that plan:

  1. Pre-Course Survey: I began with a pre-course survey the last week of August. I accessed my course list through Blackboard Learn and sent the students a link to a survey. I used this survey to learn more about my students and learn what relevant skills they were bringing into the course with them. I was able to use this information to inform my lesson and activity planning.
  1. Stop-Start-Continue: Three weeks into the term, I asked students to provide anonymous feedback on what things I should start doing, what I should stop doing, and what I should continue doing in my teaching. The majority of the feedback was positive, but even that was very helpful in letting me know that I was on track.
  1. Muddiest Point: After the fourth week, I created an anonymous online survey and asked my students to identify what concepts and ideas in our recent classes were still unclear to them. This helped me supplement and enrich the materials I had provided them in order to attempt to get all of us up to the same level of understanding. I also planned a brief class discussion to address these concerns.
  1. Clickers: Also in our fourth week, I lead an activity where students were applying their learning of a certain concept to answer clicker questions in class. I did this using a free online system called Kahoot!, in which the students were able to respond using computers or mobile devices. The vast majority of students answered the questions correctly indicating to me that we had achieved that learning objective and students were ready to apply this to a summative assignment.
  1. Post-term Survey: As the term wrapped up, I began thinking about what changes I would make to this course the next time I teach it (which is in January). Apart from the college-issued survey, I created my own anonymous online survey that solicited feedback on the course in general and specific feedback on the assignments that the students completed throughout the term. I emailed this survey to my students and they have offered insightful comments that I am using in planning the next iteration. I also encouraged them to meet with me to provide oral feedback if they so wish.

Although, I was initially apprehensive about teaching this course, I found that within the first few weeks I was quite comfortable. The students and I had developed a good rapport and I was soliciting so much feedback that nothing was really able to fall between the cracks. A well-planned formative assessment plan can really set a course up for success!

Nominating an Outstanding Teacher: Why and How?

There are a number of reasons to reward and recognize outstanding teaching at our university. Teaching awards can encourage the further development of expertise, and validate the energy and hard work that goes into teaching. Teaching awards can also foster a sense of community and help to build collegial relationships. The process of preparing an award nomination is itself heavily reliant on the strength of collegial bonds and community. For instance, a nominator must know something about the teaching style of a nominee and must rely on the nominee’s relationships with colleagues and students to procure authentic and quality letters of support.

In the video below, Dr. Beverley Brenna explains her position on the function of teaching awards on campus, and provides advice to future nominators about time-lines, strategies for presenting the material collected, and key considerations when preparing an award dossier.

Crafting Artful Teaching

I’ve been a teacher since I was 6 years old and I still absolutely grin when I see a class that is well-structured and flows with lots of student and instructor excitement and enthusiasm that is “on purpose.” When the class time flies by, things are “accomplished,” there’s action, and “learning” is palpable, that is what we strive for, and to me it’s as beautiful as a great movie, a heart-felt song, or a painting that claims your attention.

I saw these qualities in a 50-minute class taught by Leah Ferguson, a new faculty member in Kinesiology. I was absolutely grinning by the end of the class so I asked Leah if I could interview her to find out more about how she planned for it…Just so you know, this was an 08:30 class that started at 08:31 with all seats full and only one student coming in very shortly after things got underway.

Where Do You Get Your Examples?

I recently interviewed Leah Ferguson, faculty member in Kinesiology, about how she chooses the examples she uses to illustrate concepts in her first year KIN class…

This might surprise you at first but then it’s an “of course!!” What a way to make research real, build a sense of collegiality, highlight what’s going on in the college, and let students know about the research of their other professors. The real examples from the college make the concepts come alive!

The interview is about five minutes…let us know what you think.