Coffee and Icebergs: Analogies, Metaphors, and Stories in Teaching Tough Concepts




coffee steam 2Nancy Turner, GMCTE Director, recently came across an intriguing resource on an Australian listserve called the Chemistry Pedagogical Content Knowledge Project. This site had been developed through a large qualitative research project and this specific resource is for Chemistry. She shared it with me, and after exploring it, I was inspired by its contents. It also made me wonder if there were similar resources for other disciplines.

This resource is described on the site in this way:

Pedagogical content knowledge (PCK) encompasses carefully selected analogies, examples, explanations and demonstrations used by a teacher to make a topic comprehensible to students. (ChemPCK)

In other words, it contains specific lesson and teaching ideas that are organized by Chemistry Topic and also by Strategy Type. The goal of each lesson idea is to help students easily make connections between the specific Chemistry content and materials/experiences that they are familiar with from their everyday lives.

For example, one of the Strategy Types that you can choose is “Analogies and Metaphors”. If you select this strategy, there are 14 different suggested analogies and metaphors to use when teaching variety of topics.

Here is an example for teaching Thermodynamics:

Which has a higher internal energy – a ‘nearly boiling’ hot cup of coffee or an iceberg? This is the ‘q vs T paradox’. The mass of the iceberg is greater so it has a higher internal energy despite being colder. Ask students to explain what happens when you place the cup of coffee onto the surface of the iceberg – why doesn’t heat flow from the iceberg to the coffee to make it boil? The discussion of why heat dissipates from hot to cold is useful in reinforcing the role of entropy. (ChemPCK)

Here is another (simpler) example for Electronic Structure:

Use an analogy for filling orbitals, such as climbing up a ladder or building a house from the bottom up. (ChemPCK).

On one hand, students often struggle with understanding obscure scientific terms and concepts. On the other hand, instructors often struggle with clearly conveying these concepts to students. A resource like this can help on both of these fronts (Although, it is important that you and the students can recognize the limitations of the metaphors).

Do you have a favourite metaphor or analogy that you use in teaching? Do you know of similar resources for other disciplines? Would you like to contribute to a similar resource? Please, comment below or send us an email!

Photo courtesy of waferboard under a CC-By license.

Building Capacity for Effective Group Work



By Megan Marcoux, Student Employment and Career Centre

A session on this topic will be held during the Fall Fortnight on Monday August 22, 2016 from 1 – 4 PM. Register here.

Over the past several years, the Student Employment and Career Centre (SECC) has had the opportunity to expand its in-house offerings to support teaching and learning in classrooms across campus. The work has leveraged tools like the StrengthsFinder and Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) to give groups of students the opportunity to enhance their self-awareness and deepen their competency development in the classroom. One student competency that has been focused on and developed with great success is the ability to work more effectively in teams, which is not only included in the learning outcomes associated with the Learning Goals of the U of S Learning Charter, but also in the Career Readiness Competencies outlined by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE). These documents highlight the necessity of effective group work for success in both learning and the world of work.

The StrengthsFinder is a 177-item assessment based on positive psychology that supports individuals in identifying their most natural ways of thinking, feeling and behaving (i.e., their raw talents). Assessment results provide an outline and descriptions of an individual’s Top 5 Talent Themes (out of a possible 34), which have the potential to “serve as the foundation of strengths development” (Gallup, 2014). Reports for the assessment include a Signature Themes Report, which provides general outlines for each of the Top 5, as well as an Insight and Action-Planning Guide, which weaves together all five themes to produce unique descriptions for each and outlines steps for strengths develop.

While the StrengthsFinder helps students identify their raw talents and develop them into strengths, the MBTI supports students in better understanding their personality through measuring four pairs of opposing preferences. These preferences speak to how individuals prefer to focus their attention (i.e. Introversion or Extraversion), take in information (i.e. Sensing or Intuition), make decisions (i.e. Thinking or Feeling), and deal with the world around them (i.e. Judging or Perceiving). This assessment has a longstanding history of supporting team development through enhancing people’s understanding of their own and others’ preferences for communication, work styles, etc.

From first-year Arts and Science classrooms to a fourth-year Nutrition capstone course, ESB classrooms to Grad Studies courses, the SECC has had opportunities to work with instructors and incorporate the assessments into a variety of course curricula. Through interactive workshops, students are able to further understand the theory and language behind the assessments, reflect on their results, and engage with their peers to understand how their strengths/personality can be supported and leveraged to maximize their learning and development, both in the classroom and beyond.

First Day of Class: Providing students a relevant and engaging initial taste




Sessions related to this topic will be held during the Fall Fortnight:

  • Why Teach With Top Hat? (Monday, August 22, 2016 from 10-10:25 AM) – Register Here
  • Building Student Capacity for Effective Group Work (Monday, August 22, 2016 from 1-4 PM) – Register Here 
  • Preparing & Personalizing Your Syllabus (Tuesday, August 23, 2016 from 1-2:50 PM) – Register here
  • Exploring Methods for Preventing & Detecting Plagiarism (Wednesday, August 24, 2016 from 10-11:30 AM) – Register Here
  • Attention & Memory: Increasing Student’ Learning (Friday, August 26, 2016 from 9-10 AM) – Register Here
  • Assignments, Rubrics, and Grading in Blackboard – It’s Easier Than You Think (Thursday, September 1, 2016 from 3-4:30 PM) – Register Here

As people, our perceptions and routines are engrained early on for places and people. Our experiences and decisions shaped by earlier ones. Find yourself or your students returning to their same seat? Initially excellent (or poor) meals at a restaurant tinting later dining experiences? Buying a book when the first few sentences catch your attention?

The first day of class is similar: it sets the focus of the course; instills interest; sets the context including layout and participation levels; invites selecting (or dropping) a class; and builds initial credibility and approachability.

As the recent Chronicle Vitae post by Kevin Gannon (Director of the Center for Excellence in Teaching & Learning and Professor of History at Grand View University) noted just reading the syllabus and ending class is not enough. You miss modeling how you expect students to engage in the classroom, and missing the opportunity for intriguing questions and enthusiasm for the topic. As Kevin Gannon notes “Whatever your plan for the first day, students should get some idea of what’s expected of them throughout the semester, and also have the opportunity to discern their place in the class and its activities.”

One example of engaging students in the content of the course and the level of participation and thinking you expect to see, is highlighting one of the essential ideas of the course in a way that is immediately relevant to students. Create that initial, individual, motivating connection to what they will learn.

keyholeAllow your students to glimpse the potential and be curious about where it will lead.

Highlighting a core focus of the course

1) Identify key principles, lessons or concepts that are foundational to your course

  • Resources: decoding the disciplines & threshold concept literature in nearly every discipline offers ideas to select from
  • Stats class example: ability to read descriptions of quantitative research to identify and critique reported and missing components of data description and analysis
  • Qualitative research class example: all forms of reporting involve speaking for the other person, including choosing what is conveyed and how.

2) Convey the hook of curiosity & why it is inherently meaningful to them.

  • Tip: Each discipline arose to explore and work on essential and important inquiry. As experts in the discipline, the importance is obvious but often hard to articulate to a novice.
  • Resources: Reflect on what makes this topic inherently so important and relevant. Not sure how to describe it? Try talking it out with a colleague outside your discipline (or one of us in the GMCTE).
  • Stats class example: a sample online news report of a relevant hot topic based on “research”
  • Qualitative research class example: meet and then introduce a classmate

3) Connect what students already know with what they will learn

  • Tip: Having a clear framework early on in a course allows students to organize their new ways of thinking and new information. Referring to the example, diagram, key ideas throughout the course reinforce them and help to encode new memories.
  • Resource: The meaning step in 4MAT approach to lesson planning. Attention and memory literature. There is an upcoming fortnight session on Friday August 26th.
  • Stats class example: identifying the statistical & research pieces in the news story provided and missing pieces. The initial step for critiquing.
  • Qualitative research class example: experiencing the sense of responsibility and uncertainty when speaking for another person (especially when they are sitting beside you). Wondering did they say enough or too much? Were they accurate or misinterpreted? And then connecting it with the key idea of self & research within qualitative research methods.

Photograph courtesy of David Hetre under a CC-BY license.

Stories from Librarian and Faculty Partnerships



By Kristin Bogdan, Librarian, College of Engineering

Sessions related to this topic will be held during the Fall Fortnight:

  • Integrating Digital Information Literacy Into Courses (Wednesday August 31, 2016 from 9 – 11 AM) – Register here
  • Stories From Librarian and Faculty Partnerships (Thursday September 1, 2016 from 1- 2:30 PM) – Register here

Students should be equipped to be life-long learners. Ensuring that students receive information literacy sessions, particularly those integrated within their courses, will foster life-long learning. Information literacy (IL) is “a set of abilities requiring individuals to recognize when information is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate, and use effectively the needed information” (ACRL). IL is no longer just about finding peer-reviewed articles in library databases. Teaching students how to critically evaluate sources like Wikipedia, and how to get the most out of using online tools like Google Scholar helps them add important tools to their research toolbox. As scholarly communication channels change, students should be taught how to find articles, books, and data within the library system as well as the other sources that they will have access to regardless of where their careers take them.

Librarians on campus are well equipped to teach information literacy skills and competencies. When faculty and librarians collaborate to offer these sessions they create life-long, information literate students.

How do we offer integrated library sessions?

An example can be seen in the ongoing collaboration between Donna Beneteau, Departmental Assistant in Mining, and Kristin Bogdan, Science and Engineering Librarian. Donna and Kristin collaborated to provide instruction to an engineering design class where students were required to write an engineering feasibility report. These reports are grey literature, which is sometimes indexed in major article databases but is also found in other sources like the websites of government agencies and corporations. In order for Donna’s students to write an appropriate report they needed to first see how those reports looked when they are produced by practicing engineers.

Donna and Kristin did a session on advanced Google searching, where Kristin demonstrated where to look for the reports and Donna talked about the reports themselves. Students were then given time and assistance in finding the reports they needed for their project. These are search skills that will help the students in their professional careers, where they may not have access to library resources.

This is just one example of collaboration between instructors and librarians. The world of information is changing quickly to include sources that do not fit in the classic academic frameworks. Students will benefit from faculty and librarian collaborations as they will be well equipped with tools to find the information they need.

Collaborations between instructors and librarians can lead to rich classroom experiences for everyone involved. In a world where students are bombarded with information from all directions, it is important to teach them how to filter not only based on the legitimacy of the source but also on the relevancy of their work.

ePortfolios and the Curious Case of the End-of-Term Journal



Sessions on this topic will be held during the Fall Fortnight:

  • Mahara ePortfolios (Short & Snappy session) (Monday August 22, 2016 from 11- 11:25 AM) – Register here
  • Mahara ePortfolios (Expansion Pack session)  (Tuesday August 23 from 10:30 – 11:50 PM) – Register here

As an undergrad, I took a senior studio art class in which I had to contribute something, anything, daily (well, at least weekly) to a visual journal we would hand in at the end of term. I did nothing with that journal until a stressful and long two days before it was due. My prof loved the hastily complied and craftily “aged” journal I submitted. I even pressed aged-looking coffee cup rings onto some of the pages. However, I would have gained far more from the course had I taken the time to truly focus, reflect, and learn by using the journal as a tool, than by doing nothing until the end of term.

As a masterful procrastinator, the “end-of-term journal problem” is one I think about often. How can a course in which students must produce a sustained and reflective project be structured to best enable their success?

One solution is to require regular check-ins to ensure progress is made. However, if the project is meant to be private and reflective, weekly in-person checks are drastically inefficient for an instructor, even in smaller classes.

There is another way to check progress and provide feedback: move the project online using an eportfolio. eportfolios allow students to retain their privacy while granting the instructor access to check progress and leave comments about their work. Of course, a student might still fall behind, but I would have landed 13 pages closer to completing my visual journal had I known my prof would be checking my journal regularly, prior to the deadline.

The University of Saskatchewan eportfolio tool is our own version of open sourced Mahara. It provides a tool for students to collect, reflect, and share (if they choose) their work from one or more courses. Unlike Blackboard, a student’s eportfolio remains with them between courses and they are able to customize it based on course or even program requirements. It can store and display videos, photos, documents, and text. The layout can be customized, and it has features for planning tasks and writing reflective journal entries.

In the case of my studio course, for instance, I could have used an eportfolio to post articles I was reading in my Art History classes that were informing the art I made in the studio. I could have tracked and reflected on my progress by uploading photos of each piece in different stages of completion. The possibilities are numerous, and the ability for instructors to check-in quickly on students’ work, online and from anywhere at anytime, builds in a layer of accountability and support. This layer can help instructors track students’ learning at more points in time than only due dates and exams, and help students stay engaged with ongoing projects.

Why Do We Acknowledge Treaty 6 & Metis?



A session on this topic will be held during the Fall Fortnight on Monday August 29, 2016 from 9:30 – 9:55. Register here.
Many of you may have noticed that across the campus that there has been an increase in number of people who are acknowledging “that we are on Treaty 6 Territory and the Homeland of the Métis. We pay our respect to the First Nations and Métis ancestors of this place and reaffirm our relationship with one another”. One year ago the University of Saskatchewan’s academic governing body, the University Council, agreed to use specific language to acknowledge that the University was built on Indigenous peoples’ land. This official acknowledgement was developed for use at important meetings and gatherings on campus.

Since starting in my position I have been asked numerous times why are we doing this? What does it mean?

I have been working with Indigenous communities for a long time and most of the meetings that I have attended start with some type of acknowledgement of the land and place. My understanding of why we do this is that it shows respect for the land and the people who have lived on it. So much of what we, Indigenous people, know about the world and ourselves is based on the places we have lived for forever. Our land is sacred in that it is an important part of who we are and who we have always been. When we acknowledge the land and territory we are in, we are taking a purposeful moment to respect our history, culture, and knowledge that exist because of the land.

But it is more than just about the land that we belong to, it is also about the treaties we signed. The oral stories describing the treaty process provide our account of the agreement to share our land and resources, but not to absolute surrender of the land. We knew the value of our land with intimate detail, so we would never have given it away. Would you? However, the treaties were negotiated and signed in legal English and reinforced afterwards to support Canadian prerogatives rather than the spirit of the agreement or the Indigenous position. So despite agreeing to share the land with the new settlers in return for ongoing support, an unscrupulous and systemic process of governance ensured that Indigenous people never received what was promised for the land. Therefore, the prosperity and economic stability that Canada benefits from based on the gift, or sacrifice, of Indigenous people. So acknowledging the traditional territory that we are on also recognizes and honours this gift.

Lastly, I would like to thank the Truth and Reconciliation Commission for bringing a national spotlight to the cultural genocide experienced by Indigenous people. In better understanding these experiences I have added another layer of understanding to my acknowledgements. Acknowledging the place that I am meeting is also a way of participating in reconciliation; publicly declaring the importance of remembering that as long as the sun has shined, the grass grown, and the rivers flowed, the place we are meeting has a sacred connection to Indigenous people. For many, this acknowledgement will be a starting point for a united show support and willingness to help build a health and productive future for Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in Canada.

Why Consider Open Educational Resources?




Sessions on this topic will be held during the Fall Fortnight:

  • Open Educational Resources (Monday August 22, 2016 from 9-9:25 AM) – Register
  • Using and Adapting Open Textbooks (Wednesday August 24 from 1-2:30 PM) – Register

There has been a lot of talk around the University of Saskatchewan during the past year about the use of open educational resources (OER), specifically open textbooks. During the 2015-2016 academic year, approximately 900 students benefited from the use of these textbooks instead of traditional commercial textbooks, saving the students approximately $90,000 overall. We expect that number to increase during the 2016-2017 academic year as more instructors have indicated that they will opt for using these resources.

In addition, there are currently six open textbooks in production at the U of S, with some being adaptations of existing resources and others being new books.

This growing interest in the use of OER isn’t limited to financial savings for students. The licenses attached to almost all open textbooks allow instructors to adapt the resources to best meet the needs of their particular courses. For example, an economics text written in the United States can be modified to update spellings and provide Canadian examples for learners. Chapters can be rearranged, removed, or replaced. Individual images or sections can be combined with other OER to create entirely different resources.

The licensing of OER also allows for having students adapt and create course content instead of simply reading or watching it. Open pedagogy moves away from the “throw away” assignment (the ones students complete, instructors mark and return, and students then throw away) and towards more practical work.

Open textbooks are currently being used at the U of S in the Edwards School of Business, the College of Agriculture and Bioresources, and in several departments throughout the College of Arts and Science.  Open textbooks exist for almost all common first year courses in Economics, Biology, Chemistry, Accounting, Sociology, Psychology, History, Anatomy & Physiology, Math, and other subjects. There are also resources for many upper year courses.

If you’re interested in using an open textbook or other OER in your courses, please see the Open USask website to see some of the many resources available in a variety of subjects. If you have an interest in adapting an existing resource, turning some learning materials that you’ve created into OER, or including open pedagogy in your courses, the U of S has supports in place to assist you. Please contact Heather Ross for more information.

 

3 Ideas for Promoting Academic Honesty



With Elana Geller (Student Learning Services at the University Library) & Heather M. Ross (GMCTE)

A session on this topic will be held during the Fall Fortnight on Wednesday August 24, 2016. Register here.

Beauty of Reading
#1 Student skill development (Libraries)

Most students will make the right choices given enough knowledge. In order to support students attaining this knowledge the University Library maintains a number of resources including a citation guide, which can be accessed at http://libguides.usask.ca/citation. Students can also ask questions about citations at the Research Help Desk and Writing Centre, either in person or online. The Library is also looking into the creation of a tool that would have more breadth and would organize academic integrity information in an easy to use format. This tool would go beyond citation styles, to include information on collaboration, possibly specific field or discipline content, and policies. This endeavour will be one of collaboration. If you have any advice about what you would like to see in such a tool please contact Elana Geller at elana.geller@usask.ca.

#2 Technologies to detect potential plagiarism (GMCTE)

Both students and instructors have an interest in preventing and detecting potential plagiarism. For instructors, cutting and pasting questionable passages can assist in detecting materials that may have been taken from websites, journals, and other resources found online. In addition, SafeAssign is a copied text detection tool available within Blackboard. While this can be used for comparing student work to other works found online for the purpose of identifying potential plagiarism, it has great power as a teaching tool. If faculty set SafeAssign so that student can submit and then make changes based on the report, students can learn from their errors.  For more information about these issues, how to use SafeAssign following U of S guidelines, and how to use SafeAssign and Google for plagiarism detection and as learning tools, please contact Heather Ross at heather.ross@usask.ca.

#3 Assessment design (GMCTE)

When students regard what they are being asked to produce to represent relevant, valuable learning and when they believe they know what is expected and that they reasonably have the ability to do what is expected, they are more likely to invest the effort and submit authentic work for grading. With variation in disciplines for what makes an assessment appropriate and valid, not one piece of advice fits all. If you’d like to talk through some ideas for “cheat-proofing” assessments, please contact Susan Bens at susan.bens@usask.ca.

Picture courtesy of Luke Hayter and carries a CC-BY-NC license.

 

Gearing Up With Fall Fortnight 2016




Fall Fortnight Postcard - Front“Happy New Year!!” That is how I think of September and the new school year. This often coincides with a strong pull to stationary stores, tidying my office, organizing my supplies, reading new books, and pulling out sweaters and warm socks.

Gearing up for the Fall Term is exciting. There’s often anticipation, hope, renewed energy for trying new things and looking forward to tweaking things I tried last year. I think about taking a class. There are new “school” clothes, crisp mornings, and longer shadows when I head for home. All of that is bundled together as the new term starts. I think about the new faculty, staff, and students joining the community of University of Saskatchewan in the most beautiful city in Saskatoon. And meeting new people and renewing connections with colleagues after the summer is fun.

The Fall Fortnight 2016 tugs on all these feelings of fresh starts, new ideas, learning that leads to change, connecting and reconnecting into the campus community, and gearing up for the 2016-2017 teaching and learning adventure. With over twenty sessions on a wide variety of topics in a variety of formats you will no doubt find something that intrigues you or answers a question you might have. There are Just-for-YOU sessions for new faculty, grad students, and post-docs in addition to all the other sessions on offer. New this year are sessions on the ADKAR change model and strengths-based approaches to setting up groups for success. For more highlights and a description of the sessions types take a look at this short video:

And it’s easy to register too. Check out http://www.usask.ca/gmcfortnight/

If you don’t see what you are looking for, drop us a line and let us know what you would like to see on the schedule next time around. And you can also request a tailored session—we work with you to design a session on the topic of your choice specific to your unit’s needs.

Looking forward to seeing at you at the Fall Fortnight (or in the Bowl or at a stationary store).

Fortnight Postcard - Back

A Short Reflection of a Graduate Student Fellow



By Ayodele Olagunju, Doctoral Candidate, School of Environment and Sustainability

Ayodele OlagunjuMy time working on a graduate fellowship at the Gwenna Moss Centre for Teaching Effectiveness highlights a most significant period in my graduate program. As a doctoral candidate with a deep longing to be part of a vibrant academic community, I did have a clue of my job description, which was to support some GSR classes, among others, and I was confident it was going to be a two-way opportunity both to equip and to be equipped in the areas of effective teaching. The only fear I had then was that despite a fair amount of exposure to teaching at the university level, teaching about teaching was not a familiar terrain for me. But sometimes in life, to discover what you are good at, you need to get the opportunity to try, sometimes to fail, at other times to surprise yourself, and eventually to succeed.

During my time at the Centre, I had opportunities working with great colleagues—faculty, staff, and students. I explored, engaged, learned, and evolved. In the process, I became much more aware of myself as an instructor through reflective practices and interaction with colleagues. Over time, it became increasingly clear that what stimulated my interest in the fellowship originally was my desire to always be the best I could through openness to learning and willingness to take intelligent risks as an instructor. From my experience teaching as a sessional in the department of geography and planning at the university, I had known at least from student feedback that my teaching strengths include my ability to experiment with different learning activities in order to cater to diverse a student audience, to facilitate an interactive and safe learning environment where students can have poly-logic conversations, and to provide constructive feedback during the learning process. However, it wasn’t until this fellowship that I was able to put these qualities into perspective, as I had to shift my role from learning about teaching to contributing to teaching about teaching. With this opportunity, I developed the confidence to share my stories—successes and failures—with graduate students and colleagues who enrolled in the courses I was part of.

Pondering on my experience at the Centre, there are two key take-aways for me as an instructor. Firstly, my experience reinforces my long-held belief about teaching, particularly that a teacher is a leader—a builder of dreams, a model, a motivator, and a mentor. The teaching team I worked with exemplified these characteristics in the way the classes were facilitated and from the various formative feedbacks obtained from students in the process. Secondly, and more importantly, is that an effective teacher is a life-long learner. Like we say in sustainability parlance, sustainability effectiveness is a journey, not a destination. So also is teaching! It is a journey of learning, of giving and receiving, of reflection, of discovery, and of accomplishment! The experience has been a real challenge as I have entered an unfamiliar territory, but an essentially transformative one. The fellowship has not only enabled me to advance my teaching skills, it has also helped me to re-evaluate my approach to teaching and learning, to observe model teachers, and more importantly, to be inspired to take risk by stepping out of my comfort zone, both at the Centre and in other classes I teach on campus.

And if, in this process, my contributions have enabled graduate teachers enrolled in our classes to become more confident, more aware of their actions and beliefs as teachers, and more effective and engaging teachers, there is no greater sense of fulfillment better than this for anyone with such opportunity. My experience is that what I have learned through this fellowship is both reassuring and transformative, and offers a springboard to future teaching successes. The course on the Philosophy and Practice of University Teaching is definitely one that cannot easily go away; I have learned about teaching and learning in a more practical sense as a member of the teaching team. Many of the questions I had before taking up the fellowship have now been dealt with, and it’s time to move on with those valuable insights with the hope that I can inspire others with them.

I am thankful for the great relationships I have built with students and colleagues across the campus, who repeatedly motivated me through their comments, feedback, and inspiring personal stories about teaching and learning. Thanks to the great team at the Gwenna Moss Center for Teaching Effectiveness, and to Dr. Kim West in particular, for being my guide on the journey, and for the opportunity to contribute my perspectives to the team. Life is a continuum; the end of one phase is the beginning of another. While the interval between the two offers opportunities to explore, to discover, to be challenged, and to adapt, endings are an opportunity to assess, to reflect, and to be motivated for the future ahead. And whatever direction the journey of life takes me; the Center will always be part of me.