Reflecting on Assessment and Feedback




At this time of year, faculty can see the learning that has occurred for students reflected back through the culminating assessments. Whether it’s the term project, the research paper, the reflective portfolio, the group presentation, or the final exam – this is a means to discover what has been learned by students and to what standard.

Bicyclist Looking in MirrorHere are 10 questions gleaned from a 2004 article by Gibbs and Simpson on assessment that support students’ learning. Looking back at the term, an instructor may ask:

  1. Did the assessment require sufficient time and effort on the kind of learning intended?
  2. Did the assessment indicate the appropriate proportion of effort to be allocated compared to other course elements?
  3. How did the assessment encourage students toward productive practice or learning?
  4. Was feedback provided often enough and in enough detail?
  5. Was feedback focused on learning processes and actions under students’ control rather than grades, competitive rank, or the student as a person?
  6. Did the feedback arrive in a timely way?
  7. Did the feedback align with the purpose of the assessment and to the criteria for success?
  8. Was the feedback at the right level of sophistication for students to benefit from it?
  9. Were students motivated to attend to the feedback?
  10. To what extent was the feedback acted upon?

After a sufficient look back, these questions also help instructors to look ahead and contemplate the adjustments they can make next time around to provide students well designed assessment of learning and effective feedback for more learning.

Several of us in the Gwenna Moss Centre for Teaching Effectiveness have an interest in assessment design. Feel free to contact us to discuss ideas.


Gibbs, G. & Simpson, C., (2004). Conditions under which assessment supports students’ learning. Learning and Teaching in Higher Education. Issue 1, pp. 3-31.

Picture courtesy of Oregon Department of Transportation via Wikimedia and carries a CC-BY license.

Open Now: The USask Open Textbook Authoring Guide



By Jordan Epp, Instructional Designer, Distance Education Unit (DEU)

The adoption and adaptation of open textbooks at the U of S has been an organic process up until this past year, with faculty and departments independently making use of open textbooks and resources to fulfill their own course needs. In 2015 the U of S announced the Open Textbook Creation/Adaptation Fund managed by the GMCTE. At that time the Distance Education Unit’s (DEU) Instructional Design (ID) Team was tapped on the shoulder to officially support these funded activities as well as the growing number of grassroots developments taking place on campus. The DEU’s busy ID team helps design, develop and maintain literally hundreds of online and distance delivered courses for a variety of colleges, departments, units, and centres across campus under the leadership of director Cheri Spooner.

With the Open Textbook Creation/Adaptation Fund’s call for proposals closing, DEU worked with a tight timeline to ensure everything would be ready to support these upcoming initiatives. Preparations for these new open textbook projects included the installation of a new online open textbook publishing platform, Pressbooks (openpress.usask.ca), and the adaptation of the BCcampus Open Textbook Authoring Guide for use at the University of Saskatchewan. The USask Open Textbook Authoring Guide piloted the Pressbooks platform to transform the BCcampus guide to focus on the needs of faculty and staff here at the U of S. Contents of the guide include information on;USask Open Textbook Authroing Guide

  • Adopting an open textbook
  • Adapting an existing open textbook
  • Creating a new open textbook
  • Pressbooks – Online Publishing Platform
  • Writing tools
  • Guidelines for Text Editors
  • Copyright and licensing information
  • Accessibility Toolkit and resources
  • And a Learning More section of Supplementary resources.

This book is a practical guide to adapting or creating open textbooks using the Pressbooks online publishing platform. It is continually evolving as new information, practices and processes are developed. The primary audience for this book is faculty and post-secondary instructors who are developing, adapting or adopting open textbooks at the University of Saskatchewan. However, there may be content within this book that is useful to others working on similar Open Educational Resource initiatives. This guide is openly available for download as a PDF and EPUB or is viewable online in its entirety at openpress.usask.ca/authoring.

The DEU is looking forward to supporting the upcoming U of S open textbook initiatives as well as continuing to support Online and Distance Education developments across the University of Saskatchewan.

Using Reflective Practice to Become the Teacher You Want to Be





With Wenona Partridge, GMCTE

Richard Feynman was a great physicist and exceptional teacher, and generally cool person. He had a vision for how he wanted to teach and kept moving towards that vision. For a glimpse of Feynman, see the video at the end of this post (or read more and see the video), and think about the kind of teacher Feynman chose to be.

So what is your vision for your teaching? What are your goals? What do you want your feedback from students to say? What stories would you like students to share about your class?

One of the ways to move toward your vision is by using a practice of reflection and action. Reflection with action can move you closer to your teaching goals, and generate energy to move you forward and enact change. This is a process of constant learning. For more on the WHY of reflective practice, take a look at this summary of the work of Donald Schön and Chris Argyris.

The process of constant learning through reflection begins with two questions:

(1) What is the current state? What am I am doing and how is that working?

(2) What could I DO to take me closer to the vision I have for myself as a teacher?

If you choose to actively reflect on your teaching practice, you can also choose to do so in a more or less structured way. This process needn’t be thought of as being done in a right or a wrong way, but there are different ways in which you can reflect. One thing to consider is that, in reflecting on your teaching, you are reflecting on who you are as a whole person, in all of your professional and personal capacities since the beliefs you hold about teaching and learning are not formed through or reinforced by only your professional experience. In other words, “[c]onsciously we teach what we know, unconsciously we teach who we are” (Hamacheck, 1999, p. 209). One guide we recommend to structure the process of reflecting on your teaching and learning can be found here: http://writeonline.ca/media/documents/ReflectiveToolbox.pdf

Now that you have reflected on your teaching practice, it is time to ACT! If you are looking for new ideas or want to brainstorm, get in touch!

Open Education Week Coming to USask




Open Education Week LogoDuring the week of March 7 the University of Saskatchewan will be offering several sessions related to open textbooks and other open educational resources (OER), along with a session on the Tri-Agency open access publishing requirements as part of International Open Education Week.

“Open Education Week is a global event that seeks to raise awareness of free and open sharing in education and the benefits they bring to teachers and learners. Coordinated by the Open Education Consortium, the event showcases projects, resources, and ideas from around the world that demonstrate open education in practice. The open education movement seeks to reduce barriers, increase access and drive improvements in education through open sharing and digital formats.  Open education includes free and open access to platforms, tools and resources in education, including learning materials, course materials, videos, assessment tools, research, study groups, and textbooks, all available for free use and modification under an open license.” (Open Education Week website)

The integration of open textbooks has grown considerably in the past couple of years at the U of S, with at least seven open textbooks now being used in courses, effecting more than 900 students. Sessions related to this will include one providing introductory information, another on what supports (financial, pedagogical, and technical) exist at the U of S for those interested integrating open textbooks or other OER, and one on the role librarians, instructional designers, and others on campus who support those interested in using, adapting, or creating open materials.

A session will be offered aimed at students on how to find and use open resources, as well as opening up their own work. Faculty may also find this a useful session to hear about ideas for creating “non-disposable” assignments.

A session will also be offered on the Tri-Agency policy that now requires those receiving funding from any of those three agencies – SSHRC, NSERC, and CIHR – to publish a version of their articles in either open access journals or institutional repositories.

Registration is now open for all of these sessions. You can find a complete schedule and register through the Open Education Week page on the Open USask website.

Historical Biases in Understanding Culture – A Barrier to Indigenization?




Western society has made significant advances in empirically derived truth and scientific inquiry (e.g., anthropology, psychology, linguistics, etc.) since the Age of Enlightenment (e.g., Descartes, Diderot, Montesquieu, Turgot, Vico, Voltaire, etc.). The impact and importance of this epistemological approach to the world and its mass adoption by Western societies can be perceived in many elements of European civilization and culture (Boon, 1972; Goodenough, 1961; Keesing, 1974; Triandis, 1994).

The rise of Europe’s epistemological renaissance occurred during the era of colonial expansion. At the time that Europe was pressing itself onto numerous societies around the world, dominating the global stage, many Western thinkers were using this colonial perspective as the backdrop for their formation of a scientific approach to culture. From their perspective, culture comprised of a society’s knowledge, values, beliefs, arts, technologies, morals, laws, customs, practices and habits (Boon, 1972; Goodenough, 1961; Hofstede, 1984, 2001; Keesing, 1974; Triandis, 1994). While this is a reasonable interpretation, it contained, unfortunately, the value of innovation and technological advancement (see Tylor, 1871; Harris, 1971; Stocking, 1966). This innovation approach to knowledge and culture is a European value rather than a core component of culture. The problem with this misattribution is that it is self-serving; it allows for the imposition of continuum-based view of a society’s culture based on their technological sophistication and advancement. For Europeans, this provided them with the appearance of an unbiased way of judging societies as more or less civilized (or savage). Furthermore, this social evolutionist perspective of culture (Harris, 1971; Long & Chakov, 2009) allowed colonial societies to believe, naively or not, that less civilized societies would eventually evolve toward the same position as Europe, especially if they were given the ‘right’ support and guidance (Boas, 1904).

Fortunately, more modern social scientific thought posits “that cultures be understood in their own right, not as a rung in a hierarchical ladder of evolution, […] but simply as a qualitatively varied entity” (citing Boas; Hogan & Sussner, 2001, p. 22). Despite this more equitable and relativistic approach to culture in social scientific disciplines, it is very difficult for the typical citizen to not use what they know and value as a filter for examining other cultures and ways of knowing. Without the appropriate training and critical reflection, anyone can be forgiven for not recognizing this misattribution bias. From this perspective, I sometimes wonder if remnants of Tylor’s 1871 perspective of culture still exist in our society? How pervasive is the use of one’s own values, beliefs and institutions in trying to understand, and judge, other cultures? Can we find ways to move past these types of biases to build a pluralistic cultured environment at the University of Saskatchewan?

As always, I would appreciate hearing from you about your thoughts, concerns, or suggestions on this blog post. Please contact me to talk (stryker.calvez@usask.ca).

If you would like information about the GMCTE including about the programs and supports we offer, please contact us at gmcte@usask.ca

References
Boas, F. (1904). The history of anthropology. Science, 20, 513-524.
Boon, J. A. (1972). From Symbolism to Structuralism: Levi-Strauss in Literary Tradition. New York, NY: Harper and Row.
Goodenough, W. H. (1961). Comment on cultural evolution. Daedalus, 90, 521-528.
Harris, M. (1971).  The rise of anthropological theory: A history of theories of culture. New York, NY: Thomas Y. Crowell Company, Inc.
Hofstede, G. (1984). Culture’s consequences: Differences in work-related values. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage Publications Inc.
Hofstede, G. (2001). Culture’s consequences: Comparing values, behaviours, institutions and organizations across nations, 2nd Ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications Inc.
Hogan, J. D. & Sussner, B. D. (2001). Cross-cultural psychology in historical perspective. In L. L. Adler & U. P. Gielen (Eds.). Cross-cultural topics in psychology. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers.
Keesing, R. M. (1974). Theories of culture. Annual Review of Anthropology, 3, 73-97.
Long, H., & Chakov, K. (2009). Social Evolutionism. Retrieved on April 30, 2010, from: http://web.as.ua.edu/ant/cultures/cultures.php.
Stocking, G. W. (1966). Franz Boas and the culture concept in historical perspective. American Anthropologist, 68, 867-882.
Triandis HC. 1994. Culture and Social Behaviour. New York: McGraw-Hill
Tylor, E. B. (1871). Primitive Culture. New York, NY: Brentano’s.

Reading Students Work With Them Present – A Different Take on Marking




Many years ago, while I was a student at a community college in California, I took two courses that fell under the very general subject banner “Humanities”. One was The Individual and Society and the other The Individual and The Arts. These classes met for three hours twice a week and were team taught by three instructors that almost always were on the stage together at the front of the lecture hall that held about 100 students.

I took these courses early in my post-secondary education, but the teaching style has stayed with me as much as the content.

One aspect, in particular, comes up frequently when instructors ask me about issues related to academic integrity. I recall that we submitted papers twice in each of those classes. Each time, students would individually meet with one of the instructors and he (they were all men) would read the paper sitting next to us in the lecture theatre. He would read, mark some notes on the paper and ask us questions while he read.

keith goyne_snr_eniv. sciences_0021The instructors accomplished this by holding these individual meetings during class time. The instructors held these meetings with roughly 30 students each. Yes, it took away from class time (two 3 hour class sessions per paper assigned), but as I’ll explain below, the benefits were worth it.

First, if I hadn’t written the paper or if I had inserted chunks of work from others, it would have been difficult for me to engage in conversation about the paper. The instructor got a clear idea if the work was my own and if I understood the content.

Which leads to the second benefit. If I had been knowledgeable enough about the topic to engage in conversation with the instructor, but been a poor writer, this would have allowed me to demonstrate my understanding. This may have improved the mark that I received compared to if the instructor had read the paper without me present.

Finally, in a class of 90, having these individual meetings with an instructor to discuss my work, and often other aspects of the course, I felt like at least one of the three instructors really new me as a student. It was a wonderful way for these instructors to build rapport with the learners.

Again, yes, these individual sessions took away from class time, but not from “learning time”. Engaging students about their work is part of the learning for them, plus instructors can address some issues around academic integrity while building rapport.

Is this appropriate for every course? Probably not if you are the sole instructor teaching a large course, but for smaller courses or those team taught, consider this alternative to marking papers isolated from the authors.

If you would like to discuss the concept further, feel free to contact me at the GMCTE at heather.ross@usask.ca

If you would like information about the GMCTE including about the programs and supports we offer, please contact us at gmcte@usask.ca

Picture courtesy of the University of Missouri College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources and carries a Creative Commons Attribute Non-Commercial license.

Graduate Student Teacher Journey



By Noura Sheikhalzoor, Graduate Student, College of Pharmacy and Nutrition

Teaching has been a rich and rewarding part of my graduate school experience. It added a new flavour to what I have been already doing in my program of courses and research. My teaching experience has taught me a lot on the technical and personal levels. I started my M.Sc. program with teaching responsibilities as part of a scholarship I earned and I was given the opportunity to be a teaching assistant (TA) to be a lab instructor and mark assignments.

Through this post, I would like to take you in a journey with me to one of my classrooms. Are you ready?

Before My Class

Before we enter the class, I need to prepare my lesson plan and materials. I make sure that I have clear learning objectives and a realistic plan for my lesson. I also prepare handouts and teaching materials, if needed, such as slides, markers, flipchart paper that will make my lesson interesting and easy to follow. I use models, visuals, and even stories.

Noura's ClassroomIn My Classroom

Now that I am ready with my plan and materials, I go to my class early to arrange the class set-up to fit my lesson. I then welcome students with a smile and I bring my energy and enthusiasm to the lesson. I use a variety of activities and teaching strategies like think-pair-share, group work, story telling (even in labs), etc. I try to also vary between the use of computer technology and low technology.

After the lesson

When my lesson is done, I sometimes ask students for feedback using a variety of methods. I then reflect on my lesson to see what went well, what needs improvement, and how I could incorporate needed changes in my future teaching. I commit to continuous reflection that will help me develop a teaching development plan and allow me to explore new ways of teaching.

Building Relationships and Seeking Mentors

Along the way as a TA, new relationships are built as you meet people such as students and mentors. Building a good rapport with students is important. It really helps in making teaching more effective and these relationships could last for a lifetime. I always tell my students that we might work together one day!

As a TA, I also work with professors and other graduate students and learn from their experiences.

Continuous Learning and Development of Teaching

Development of teaching knowledge and skills is an essential part of the teaching process. To do that, I completed courses such as GSR 989: Philosophy and Practice of University Teaching, Introduction to Teaching Online and workshops such as Instructional Skills Workshop and many other workshops on learning technologies, assessment, teaching strategies, flipped teaching and other teaching and learning topics through the Gwenna Moss Centre for Teaching Effectiveness (GMCTE).

Teaching PortfolioUnderstanding myself as a Teacher

Finally, understanding myself as a teacher is one part that has developed from learning and reflecting on my teaching. During my university teaching experience, I developed my teaching philosophy statement and my reflective teaching portfolio, both of which I am proud of!

I consider teaching to be my reward in graduate school. I would like to acknowledge all of my students, mentors, and the GMCTE for enriching my graduate school experiences and making days memorable.

Me and Program Evaluation




I genuinely enjoy working as a Program Evaluator because the idea of efficiency and effectiveness genuinely appeal to me. In addition, being an applied and use-oriented person, the ability to use all my theoretical knowledge to help others is extremely fulfilling and appealing.

Program evaluation allows for effective resource allocation, documentation of need, improvement of effectiveness and efficiency, test novel small-scale interventions, address political issues and accountability. The different types of program evaluation are mainly about determining whether or not a program is needed, or being implemented as intended or achieving intended outcomes.

Needs in the context of program evaluation refers to the needs of the clients or participants of a program. There are times when we, as program developers or deliverers believe we understand the needs of a specific group, but in truth we do not. It is therefore important to verify the actual needs of the group.

Implementation has two aspects in program evaluation; the actual implementation and the intended implementation. This is very important in a program because the intended implementation is usually a theoretical one while the actual implementation is a function of the environment, participants, delivery and several other features. It is important to document the actual implementation, to ensure it is being implemented.

Program evaluation is not focused on goal attainment. It is ensuring that the program is in a state to achieve intended goals. Another important aspect of program evaluation and goal attainment is whether or not it is achieving unintended outcomes. Unintended outcomes can have positive or negative effects on participants or the community or other stakeholders.

As a result, program evaluation requires the awareness that all programs are situated within a context, and acknowledgment that the context affects, and is affected by, the existence of this program.

The concept of program evaluation is a simple one, however, in my experience it has required a shift in how I view the world in order to understand and apply the concepts of program evaluation. It also allows you to work in a variety of areas, which appeals to me on a very personal level, as I enjoy learning.

Program evaluation uses many of the same skills as research, but unlike basic research, it is applied; it is adaptable to the realities of working with people in their vast and complex world. It is all about serving the needs of the program and less about being a perfect piece of research. Also, by serving the program, it ends up serving the clients of the program, which, in my opinion, is extremely fulfilling.

Indigenizing Education Series: Getting started …




As an Indigenous educator, researcher, and scholar, academics have asked me more often about ‘how’ we, the collective we, can improve the situation for the First Nation, Metis, and Inuit peoples than ‘why’ we should do this? While I appreciate the recognition that something needs to be done, I am often taken back when I realize that the reasons for this change, the ‘why’, are not well understood. How do you Indigenize an institution, like the University of Saskatchewan, if you don’t now what the issues are that need to be addressed? Therefore, my response is always preceded by a pause as I contemplate where do I start?

I would like to be clear, I am never upset by the ‘how’ question. The fact that people are asking questions is excellent, but we need to understand the reasons for ‘why’ we are Indigenizing so that we are better informed about ‘how’ we should Indigenize. Over the coming months, I intend to write a series of blog posts identifying and exploring some key issues that I hope you will find informative and interesting.

… In the classroom

So why isn’t there an adequate and necessary amount of support for Indigenous students to achieve their academic goals? I believe that it is important to understand that education can be a loaded term for some Indigenous peoples. Educational hostility or ambivalence does exist in some communities and households towards people who pursue educational goals. This lack of support for Western education is a direct result of the residential boarding school program. Community members who went to or have family members who attended residential schools (the last school closed in 1996 in SK; the Gordon Residential School) can perceive education as a negative goal. This means that there can be limited support for community members to attain high school diplomas or to pursue education at University. Western education can be seen as a direct threat to a community’s culture, language, and way of life (Battiste, 2001). This is the legacy that the residential school system instilled in Indigenous people, a lack of trust and value for Western education.

As educators, we should all recognize this lived reality for Indigenous students and try to support those who have worked hard to overcome these types of challenges to be at University. Once they have arrived, it should be our goal, even responsibility, to try to limit and remove the social, personal, and educational barriers that Indigenous students contend with. We must make classrooms safe and nurturing.

Classroom challenges for Indigenous students are sometimes related to their different ways of knowing, learning, and communicating course content. These students can have different perspectives or present ideas in the classroom that may not be perceived objectively by others in the classroom as the expected and appropriate response. In fact, differences in worldviews can often be treated as less-than-positive by instructors or other students, sometimes even coming across as hostile or prejudicial. We are talking about comments that are stereotype-based or discriminatory about Indigenous culture, history, and worldviews. For a great example of what I am talking about, take a few minutes to view the University of British Columbia’s short 20-minute video where Indigenous and non-Indigenous students provide examples of some of the difficulties that Indigenous students encounter in the classroom. These examples candidly and provocatively highlight moments when students did not feeling safe or supported and the repercussions that these experiences had on the students.

The University of British Columbia has developed a number of resources to help those who are interested in thinking through issues around classroom climate. Five modules have been developed as a useful starting point for your consideration.


Battiste, M. (2001). Aboriginal knowing: First voices. The U of S Pointer, 4, 1- 3.

 

‘Softwhere’ in the Curriculum



By Donna Beneteau, Departmental Assistant, Mining – Civil and Geological Engineering

In the era of rapidly developing technology, an efficient use of words in the title seemed appropriate. “Software, where in the curriculum?” didn’t provide the same effect. This question is now something that I ask myself after developing an assignment for the Gwenna Moss Centre’s course “Introduction to Learning Technologies”.

I prepared and gave a survey asking 2nd and 4th year Civil, Environmental and Geological Engineering students questions about software that they use in school, on summer jobs and on internships. In total, I received 214 responses, 110 from CE295 and 104 from CE495. As expected, the confidence level with Microsoft products increased as students learned tips from each other while doing regular group projects. However, the overall comfort level with AutoCAD (a drawing software commonly used in these disciplines and a course they take at Saskatchewan Polytechnic) actually declined between 2nd and 4th year, as some students forget what they learned.

AutoCAD and Microsoft products are only a few of the software types that students are exposed to in these fields of engineering. The combined list of software was over 30, with some being quite involved to learn. The value that specialized software brings is that it is written by experts in the field, and exists to automate repetitive or complicated procedures. Software can be difficult to learn and remember if you don’t use it, but it can also be a great bullet on one’s resume.

Looking forward, I think this survey highlights the need for strategies to integrate technology into certain programs. This should be done in consultation with students and industry. In doing so, this may help to see if tools are needed in programs, if better support could be given to students, or if perhaps we should standardize on one type (the Word-versus-WordPerfect-type debate). Also, this could avoid so many of the formatting errors we see over and over again on assignments. After all, one of the purposes of a post-secondary education is to get a job, and most jobs now are dependent on technology. So let’s not forget to formally think about software in curriculum development.