Building Relationships With Students Before They Arrive at the University of Saskatchewan



By Murray Drew, Professor, Department of Animal and Poultry Science

I am a member of a committee which is exploring whether there are teaching practices that support student mental wellbeing in the classroom. You are probably thinking that this means talking about mental health directly with students. That’s not what we are interested in. Instead, we want to find out how instructors can create a classroom environment that is more conducive to student mental wellbeing.

There has been some research in this area but it is a relatively new approach. In the few studies that have been published, several teaching strategies have been reported to improve student mental health. One of these factors is creating a sense of belonging and connectedness in students by promoting the development of positive relationships with fellow classmates, instructors and the university as a whole. I would like to tell you about something that I am trying this term to accomplish this.

This idea originated with Glorie Tebbutt who is a sessional lecture, teaching first year classes in English and Women’s and Gender Studies. I sat down with her one afternoon to discuss her take on effective teaching practices for student mental wellbeing. She gave me some amazing ideas that she has used in her own classes, including the one I am trying out. She contacts her students several weeks before the start of class and requests a selfie plus something they would like to share about themselves. She also asks two questions: 1) What do you need from me to be successful in class and 2) What do you need from each other to be successful in class. I thought this would be a great way of achieving the goal of building connectedness, even before students arrive at the U of S so I decided to try it in my own first year class.

I teach ANBI 110: Introduction to Animal Bioscience. The class has 67 students this year; over 90% are female and most of them are interested in becoming veterinarians. They know they will need excellent grades to be accepted into the vet med program so they are already under a great amount of self-imposed stress. It is also the only course they take that is delivered by our department in the first term. It is our one opportunity to connect students with our department and make them feel that they have an academic home. With these things in mind, I emailed this to the ANBI 110 students.

Hi everyone 

I am Murray Drew and I will be one of your instructors for ANBI 110: Introductory Animal Bioscience. I teach the laboratory component of the course and this is my favourite teaching activity. My main goal in sending you this email, before classes even start, is to find out more about you and what you need to be successful in my course, and at the U of S. I also want to build a community and help you feel connected to your classmates and instructors. One of the best things that you can do to be successful and happy at the U of S is to develop relationships with your classmates and professors. I want to start that before you even get here. 

I have two requests.

First, please send me: 1) your name and a picture of yourself (with an animal if possible), 2) one interesting thing about yourself, 3) what you want to achieve at the U of S and 4) what you need from me to be successful. My email address is (address provided). Here’s an example of what I’m looking for.

Murray Drew

Murray Drew and a horseThis summer I went to Iceland and rode an Icelandic horse on a tour through a lava field. I am the world’s 2nd worst rider. 

I want inspire students to love animal science and get them involved with animal research.

This is what I need from you. I need you to participate in class. Ask questions, challenge me, interact with your classmates. Take control of your education.

Second, please join the class Facebook page that I have set up. I hope to use this to stimulate a few conversations about the course. The group’s name is Animal Bioscience 110 for 2018.

Thanks for doing this. I look forward to seeing you next month.

In the week since I sent this, I have had 32 responses. Very thoughtful responses. Most students said that making myself available if they were having trouble with course material was very important to them. Some mentioned that they had ADHD or suffered from anxiety and that they hoped I would be understanding if they were having difficulty. Virtually all of them ended their email thanking me for contacting them and said it helped them feel a little less stressed about starting classes. I also have a class Facebook group and most students have joined it. I have posted a few questions and hope this will start some discussions and get students interacting with each other.

Of course, I know that doing this isn’t always going to be feasible. It would be almost impossible to do in classes with hundreds of students. ANBI 110, however, is a special case where this practice is workable. But, it remains to be seen if this will have a significantly beneficial effect on students. I’ll have to see what happens once the students get here.

 

 

 

 

First-time Thoughts on a Student Blog Assignment

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By Yin Liu, Associate Professor, Department of English
History and Future of the Book Blog

Why I did it

In 2016-2017 I taught, for the first time, a full-year (6 credit unit) English course, “History and Future of the Book,” which is one of our Foundations courses – that is, it is one of a few 200-level courses required for our majors. As in all our courses, there is a substantial writing component, usually in the form of essay assignments. I decided to complicate my life further by trying out a type of student assignment also new to me: a student-written course blog.

I had been thinking about using a student blog assignment ever since I heard a talk given by Daniel Paul O’Donnell (U Lethbridge) about using blogs in his own teaching. The point that struck me most forcibly about Dan’s argument was his observation that students wrote better when they were blogging. Since one of my goals in teaching writing is to help students write better, I thought I should give the idea a try.

Setting it up

From the outset, I had to make some fundamental decisions about how the blog assignment should work within the course. It became one of the writing assignments, taking the place of a regular (2000-word) essay: the blog post itself was to be 500-1000 words long and accompanied by a commentary (read by me only) in which students discussed the process of writing the blog post, especially the challenges they encountered and the solutions they developed. The commentary gave students a chance to reflect on and thus to learn from their own writing processes; it also helped me to evaluate the effectiveness of the assignment. The blog was made publicly available on the Web, but students could opt out of having their own work posted, although it still needed to be submitted to me for grading. Thus students also needed to supply signed permission to have their work published on the blog.

Heather Ross of the GMCTL guided me to the U of S blog service (words.usask.ca) and gave me valuable advice about permission forms and other such matters. The ICT people set me up and increased my storage quota, I fiddled with the WordPress templates, and we were good to go.

Results and learning

Each student wrote one post for the course blog, and thus the assignment was like a regular term paper except that (a) it was not an essay, and (b) it was published to the Web. Acting as the blog editor, I suggested changes to students’ first submissions, which they could incorporate into the final, published version if they wished; but I resisted the temptation to tinker with their final versions, which were published warts and all. I also used the course blog to post a series of Writing Tips for the class.

Students did, for the most part, write noticeably better in their blog posts than in their regular essay assignments. More was at stake in the blog posts; students knew that their work would be read not solely by their professor, but also by their peers and possibly by others outside the class. The informal nature of a blog also allowed students to write, in many cases, with a more genuine voice than for an essay assignment, and thus more effectively. This less formulaic, less familiar genre compelled students to rethink the basics of writing: ideas, information, audience, organisation, clarity. There was a higher chance that they would write about something that truly interested them, and quite a few expressed enthusiasm about the assignment. Students could also read and learn from the work of others in the class. The experiment was a success, and I would do it again.

Our course blog, History and Future of the Book, can be found at https://words.usask.ca/historyofthebook/. Some of the students’ posts have been removed at their request, but most remain, and you are welcome to browse through the Archive and read them – the best of them are excellent.

Using Forums Effectively: Ways to improve engagement

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By Katharine Horne

This post originally appeared on the University of Sussex Technology Enhanced Learning Blog. It is being republished here with permission.

In a Virtual Learning Environment such as Study Direct (Moodle), forums can be a great way to share course information, build community and allow students to easily share resources and ideas.

Last year our post The benefits of lurking in higher education explored the ways in which learners engage with forums.

However, often these forums can seem quite sparse and neglected. So how can we encourage students to actively engage with forums? Below are a few key tips to help you make the most of the forums in your modules.

Set out clear expectations

It is important to set out clear expectations at the beginning of the module, both expectations that you have of students as well as what students can expect from you. Make it clear how often you would like students to contribute to the forum as well as your commitment to monitor the forum and respond to queries and requests. Be sure to set out clear instructions and guidelines in the description of your forum. In these instructions you might also want to ask students to read previous posts before asking a question to check if their question has already been answered. Also encourage students to give threads clear titles so that information can be found easily. This will avoid you having to write the same response numerous time, and might even cut down the number of questions you receive by email!

Set specific tasks

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flickr photo by tecabh shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

Focussed tasks give students more reason to write a forum post. You could set exercises in seminars and lectures that involve students reflecting on the week or finding an interesting journal article or news item and sharing it with the group.

This could also be an opportunity for students to work in pairs or study groups, for example completing peer review exercises, something that again may encourage students to engage with forums whilst building a sense of community among the cohort. You could start off by asking students to introduce themselves to the group, this helps students get used to using the forum and alerts them to where it is positioned on the site.

Consider separate forums

You may want to think about creating separate forums for different functions, for example one forum to deal with general requests around admin issues and one for topic discussions. However, be careful not to overpopulate your module site with too many forums.

Consider group size

You may want to consider the number of students that have subscribed to a forum. If your lecture size is 500 and all students are actively engaging, this would make for a very busy forum! In this case, splitting your students up into smaller groups, perhaps seminar groups, would be a better option. At the same time, a group of five or six would probably result in less interaction as the group is so small. Think carefully about what would work best for your students. See this Study Direct FAQ – How do I set up groups? – if you would like help setting up groups in your module site.

Add a first post

A blank canvas can be quite daunting, it may be a good idea to add the first post on your forum yourself. This could be an introduction and welcome to the course or an ice breaker activity for students to complete perhaps asking them to explain their interest in the module.

Remind students

Remind students throughout the module to continue their contributions to the forum. A small reminder in your lecture slides or during seminars might be useful as will the specific forum tasks and activities mentioned above.

Encourage commenting

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flickr photo by jamespia shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-ND) license

Forums are about building interaction between students. You can encourage this by getting students to not only author posts but also comment on others’ posts, building a dialogue between students. You might also want to encourage students who ask particular (non-personal) questions via email to add these to the forum so that other students can benefit from the answers.

In Study Direct, the University of Sussex’s Virtual Learning Environment, there are four different forum types to choose from:

  • A single simple discussion – this forum type allows for one topic to be discussed and appears on a single page, this is useful for short discussions that are focussed around a single topic
  • Standard forum for general use – this is the most appropriate for a general purpose forum and allows both students and tutors to post a new topic at anytime
  • Each person post one discussion – each person subscribed to the forum can post one new discussion topic which everyone can then reply to, this could be used for example to ask each student to reflect on the week’s topic
  • Q and A Forum – this forum type requires students to create their own post before being able to view other students’ posts, after they have added their post students can then review and respond to other posts

Forums can be a positive way of developing a dialogue, creating community and allowing students to reflect and feedback. Furthermore, forums are a useful way of turning your module site from a passive to an active environment and have the added benefit of reducing the number of emails you receive from students! If you would like further help with using forums please contact your school’s Learning Technologist or email tel@sussex.ac.uk.

Building Capacity for Effective Group Work

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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.

Stories from Librarian and Faculty Partnerships

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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.

A Short Reflection of a Graduate Student Fellow

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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.

Open Now: The USask Open Textbook Authoring Guide

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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.

Graduate Student Teacher Journey

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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.

‘Softwhere’ in the Curriculum

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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.

Open Textbooks Provide Financial Savings and Pedagogical Benefits for Students

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By Noreen Mahoney, Associate Dean, Students & Degree Programs, Edwards School of Business and Brooke Klassen, Director, Undergraduate & Certificate Programs, Edwards School of Business

We have been instructors of Comm 119 Business Competencies for a number of years and the course has evolved significantly during that time. We are constantly adapting and experimenting to add value for our students.  Initially the intention and objectives of the course were to ensure that students had the foundational skills necessary to succeed in their other courses within Edwards and to ensure that students felt a sense of identification with the Edwards School of Business as well as some fundamental computer application skills and foundation knowledge of business concepts. We wanted to have students taking classes in our building interacting with our support staff (particularly our IT staff) early on in their academic careers.

While the course continues to be a way to introduce students to business and business concepts it has expanded to include skills relevant to their overall success in University, mentorship and teamwork. In essence this is a catch all course to ensure students are well prepared for all of their University courses. Because of the diversity of materials required it has been very difficult to find resource materials to support the broad objectives of the course.

For the 2015/2016 academic year we determined that the best way to bring together a diverse set of materials was though a custom publication. We spent several weeks piecing together several texts to form what we felt was the best combination of materials. The quote for this textbook was in the $80-$90 range. Given that the material was very straight forward, non-technical material that was mostly available online in a variety of formats for free, we were unhappy with the cost to the students.

During that time we were made aware through the staff at the Gwenna Moss Centre that there was a repository of on-line open source publications that could be used for educational purposes without charging students through Creative Commons licensing.

This introduced us to a world of information that we could put together and provide as reference to students without requiring they pay significant textbook costs.

We selected a College Success open source book out of the US as our base material and edited it to include Canadian references and information relevant only to our School. We also put together chapters from other open source textbooks to enhance the materials as needed.

For the current year our goal was to simply get started using an open source textbook and to find ways of improving and adding to it over time.

The task was daunting at first as the editing process was quite cumbersome. We learned early on that converting the document into an editable word processing format was much easier than trying to work with the document in pdf format. I’m not sure that had we anticipated the amount of work required to get the chapters ready we would have undertaken this in the timeline that we did.   We set a goal of having all of the chapters ready to go prior to the start of the class. However, it has ended up that we are releasing the textbook one chapter at a time. We surmised that if you asked a student whether they would prefer to pay $80 or wait for the information to be released chapter by chapter as they needed it to prepare for each week’s lecture they would select the latter option.

We also were able to secure funding from the Gwenna Moss Centre to hire some help to create ancillary materials. We originally planned to have an assistant prepare the PowerPoint slides, practice questions and exam materials, however we discovered that we needed to focus all of their time on preparing exam materials. It was too difficult to have someone else prepare the slides as we are both very particular about how we present and wanted to have control over the materials. That meant extra time for us to go in and incorporate the textbook materials into our slides.

We are three quarters of the way through the term and the class has been very successful, albeit a lot of work. In the midst of adopting an open source textbook we also significantly revamped our pedagogy in order to address some gaps in assurance of learning objectives established at the program level.

For anyone thinking of adopting an open source textbook I would strongly suggest starting with a well-researched book and building on it. Look for books that already have the ancillary materials created… and start early!

Don’t think too much about the possible work required or you won’t do it. Change is hard but it comes with its rewards. We are providing more targeted and relevant materials that meet our course objectives very well; there are no extraneous chapters that we have to tell students to ignore. And we know that getting over the hurdle of editing the first edition will make next year much easier. We also saved our students over $25,000 and this makes us (and them) very happy.

Our hope is that once we have finished adapting the book to our standards, we can provide it back to the Canadian marketplace as a valuable and free resource for others to adopt.

Why Mentoring for New and Pre-Tenure Faculty? Academic Success!

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By Dr. Jim Thornhill, Special Assistant to the Vice-President Research

Mentorship of pre-tenure faculty is a key component to academic success. Sutherland and Peterson (2009) advocate from a national study conducted throughout New Zealand that early academic success of new faculty is determined by 3 factors:

  1. Prior training and experience of the new candidate,
  2. Personal characteristics of the candidate (tenacity, resolve, work/life balance) and
  3. The institutional support provided (e.g. time, space, resources).

At the University of Saskatchewan, The Provost’s Office via the Gwenna Moss Teaching & Learning Centre and the Vice President Research Office via the Research Mentorship Program have come together to highlight and support mentorship in assisting new faculty in planning and implementing their teaching and research plans.

This video introduces how academic mentorship teams support new faculty at the University of Saskatchewan with their two major mandates, namely their teaching and research portfolios as experienced by two pre-tenure faculty in The College of Kinesiology. Dr. Leah Ferguson and Dr. Marta Erlandson, along with Dean Carol Rodgers, discuss what academic success looks like, how their mentorship committees were formed, the benefits to working with mentorship committees, suggestions based on their experiences, the importance of a diverse committee, practical considerations for a positive mentorship experience, and how mentorship can contribute to academic success.

If you have questions about mentorship activities at the University of Saskatchewan, please contact: Dr. Jim Thornhill, Co-Lead of University Mentorship Program at jim.thornhill@usask.ca.

Complying with the Tri-Agency Open Access Policy on Publications

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By Diane (DeDe) Dawson, Science Liaison Librarian, University Library

The new Tri-Agency Open Access Policy on Publications came into effect on May 1st 2015. This policy applies to all grants awarded from that day and onward (exception: CIHR has had this policy in place since Jan 1, 2008). This blog post is intended to be a handy, practical introduction to the policy and how to comply.

The Policy Details:

“Grant recipients are required to ensure that any peer-reviewed journal publications arising from Agency-supported research are freely accessible within 12 months of publication” (emphasis my own).

There are two routes to achieve this:

  1. Online Repositories (a.k.a. the “Green” route)
    Grant recipients can deposit their final, peer-reviewed manuscript into an institutional or disciplinary repository that will make the manuscript freely accessible within 12 months of publication. It is the responsibility of the grant recipient to determine which publishers allow authors to retain copyright and/or allow authors to archive journal publications in accordance with funding agency policies.
  1. Journals (a.k.a. the “Gold” route)
    Grant recipients can publish in a journal that offers immediate open access or that offers open access on its website within 12 months. Some journals require authors to pay article processing charges (APCs) to make manuscripts freely available upon publication. The cost of publishing in open access journals is an eligible expense under the Use of Grant Funds.

Tips and Tools for Complying:

Green/Repository Route:

  • You do not need to publish in an OA journal – just make sure that the journal you want to publish in complies with the Tri-Agency OA Policy. This means the journal/publisher must allow you to post a copy of the manuscript in a repository within 12 months of publication (often known as the “embargo period”).
    • Check Sherpa/Romeo for publisher’s policies.
    • Carefully read your Copyright Transfer Agreement (CTA) when publishing; negotiate with the publisher to keep the rights you need to post a copy (use an addendum tool).
    • Make sure you post the proper version of the article. Most publishers permit posting of the “post-print” or “author’s accepted version” (the final copy of the manuscript after peer-review and after final revisions have been made). Sherpa/Romeo and your CTA will tell you which version is acceptable to post by your publisher.
  • Currently the U of S does not have an institutional repository, but there are a growing number of disciplinary repositories that you can post to. Search the Directory of Open Access Repositories (OpenDOAR).
  • Posting on your own website is not enough. You must also post in an institutional or disciplinary repository. Although the Tri-Agency has not clearly stated this, it is likely that posting in a social network site like ResearchGate is also not an acceptable route to compliance.

Gold/Open Access Journals Route:

The Green and Gold routes are not mutually exclusive. If you publish in an OA journal, you can still post a copy to a repository. In fact this is encouraged. Why not have your article available in more than one location? It will increase discoverability, accessibility, and ultimately readership and citations!

All of these resources (and more!) are listed on the University Library’s Open Access Guide.

This is a modified version of a blog post originally posted on May 1st 2015 here: http://words.usask.ca/openaccess/2015/05/01/complying-with-the-new-tri-agency-oa-policy/

What is the science behind your course design madness?

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By Fred Phillips, Professor, Baxter Scholar, Edwards School of Business

As we begin another year, students are encountering some of the course design decisions made by their instructors. Some will be introduced to “flipped classrooms”, where students prepare by reading/viewing/responding to a learning prompt before it is formally taken up in class. Others will encounter new learning tools, such as adaptive reading systems that embed interactive questions within reading materials with the goal of assessing each student’s comprehension so that new topics can be delivered the moment he or she is ready to comprehend them.

Just as instructors have questions about these approaches and tools, students are likely to be curious about whether there is a method to our course design madness. To help explain the underlying learning science, I have made a few videos that describe relevant (and fun) studies that lend support to these pedagogies. Each video focuses on a particular question that students (and possibly instructors) are likely to have about elements of their courses. Each video describes two or three relevant studies in just enough depth to convey the gist of how they were designed and what they discovered. And, in the spirit of a TED Talk, they are each less than 10 minutes in length.

My thought with these videos is that instructors can send each link to students at the moment they expect their students will be asking the particular question, or they can provide them en masse. My hope is that the videos will help students appreciate why our courses might be designed as they are. And, if we’re really lucky, the videos will inspire our campus community to learn more about the scholarship of teaching and learning. Enjoy!

1. Why do we have so many tests? (7 min 24 sec)

  • Students often wonder why I plan frequent quizzes and exams throughout the term.

2. Why attempt to answer questions before “being taught”? (7 min 22 sec)

  • Students often think that there isn’t benefit in attempting to answer questions before they are formally taught content.

3. Is easier and more convenient learning better? (8 min 54 sec)

  • Is it more effective for students to have a cramming study session or to study throughout the term? When practicing, should students group questions of similar type or mix different question types? Does use of analogies help or hinder student learning?

Undergraduate Research: Co-Publishing With Students

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By Jason Perepelkin, Assistant Professor, College of Pharmacy and Nutrition

Passive listening and dumping information on exams doesn’t give students the depth of learning and experience that lasts beyond the scope of a course. Having students engage with practitioners and specialists and in a real world environment helps students learn more deeply; chasing grades doesn’t do this but chasing experience does.

The elective fourth year course Marketing for Pharmacists is designed for up to 20 students. The course is a project based course where students, working in groups of two to three, work directly with a practicing pharmacist. By working directly with practitioners, on an issue identified by the practitioner, the students learn, in a hands-on manner, about a specific practice site, while the practitioner learns about marketing and how it can be used to enhance practice.

In the first year the course was offered there were 20 students, which is the maximum. This year, 6 students were enrolled, and as a result it could be run much more as a seminar. Half way through the course I thought (out loud), based on the enriching discussions around current events in pharmacy, if I was thinking we would’ve written a manuscript on these issues. The students came back a week later and said “can we do this?” I said only if all of you are willing to be involved. They said yes, so I approached a journal to see if they would be interested in an article surrounding our class discussions; the journal responded indicating their interest.

After working on the article as a group, and in consultation with myself, we submitted the manuscript for peer-review to the Canadian Pharmacists Journal at the beginning of December. In early January we received notification that our manuscript was accepted for publication, but required some minor revisions first. Since the students were not in the course anymore, and were out on experiential learning rotations across the country, I wasn’t sure if I was the one that would be completing the revisions; however, the students jumped at the chance to revise the manuscript, and even spoke of how they learnt, from the reviewers, how the manuscript can be enhanced. This allowed the students to experience the entire process, from the idea, to the research and drafting of the manuscript, to receiving feedback from peer-reviewers, and ultimately to acceptance. The manuscript was accepted the day after the revised manuscript was resubmitted, and will be published in the May/June 2015 issue.

I am not sure if this would work as well as it did, especially since it arose – after the course was half completed – from an organic process of critical thinking and discussion in class, with a different group because the maturity of the group and their willingness to cooperate was very high. As a sign of maturity, at the beginning of the course when students are to form groups of their choice, all agreed they were willing to work with anyone in the course (despite not being in the same ‘clicks’), and therefore I put all of their names in a hat and randomly selected members of each group.

Some students want to do this sort of a project and these students are the ones working on projects before they even start the course. If enrollment increased, it would be harder to ensure all papers got published and this could lead to disappointment for the students. A smaller class allows full participation in the publishing process, and in the course as a whole.

Context is incredibly important in making this work. For some students in this college marks are not as important as experience and peer-accountability is in motivating them to first enroll in the course, and second engage in the course and project. This sort of course gives students a different experience from traditional pharmacy courses, and brings recognition to other concerns such as how marketing can be used to better meet the needs of patients and the health care system as a whole. This is the first course of its kind in Canada, and provides those students that take the course the ability to learn a unique skill set that is not readily available once they enter practice; there are only a minimal number of continuing education opportunities in the area of marketing.

Developing ePublications

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By Adrienne Thomas and Wayne Giesbrecht (Media Production)

With discussion surrounding open resources, this is a good time to talk about actually developing epublications and ebooks. For the past 3 years, Media Production (formerly eMAP) has been working with faculty and content creators to realize epub resources. With each new project, we have learned more about what to do and how to do it – an ongoing lesson as the software, media files and platforms continue to evolve.

Interprofessional Skills Learning GuideWithin the university environment, we are all concerned with the development of unique and immersive material to be used for information, education, research or knowledge mobilization purposes. If you want to make your content available as an epublication, you need to first determine who your end users are, and secondly, how they will access the material. Once you have made these decisions, it is a matter of formatting your content and designing a publication which will meet your informational or educational objectives to greatest effect. This can be a relatively easy process such as a PDF document converted to an epub format for web browser access to a more involved publication with media-rich/interactive content to be distributed across multiple supported platforms.

When thinking about access for your readers, you will also need to determine if this material will be open or free, or if it will be monetized and distributed commercially. If you self-publish, there is an opportunity for not only creative control, but price control. This was a major consideration for Dr. Bruce Grahn when he decided to e-publish his last textbook Ocular Diseases of Companion Animals for international distribution. Working with Dr. Grahn and the associated contributors, we formatted a full reflow etextbook, navigated account setups, acquired an ISBN and the required approvals (with associated proprietary file formats!) from commercial distributors. The textbook is now available for purchase on ITunes and Google Play.

The creation of the text was cost effective and any future revisions will automatically be updated in all distributed editions at no extra cost to the end user.

A media-rich experience and end user access were the requirements when we started working on an interprofessional education guide for the College of Medicine. There was a need for flexible access which would allow for independent learning or small discussion groups via mobile devices. Working with Heather Ward and Dylan Chipperfield, this project allowed us to develop an ebook which used video to moderate the content and present simulations. Embedding video within the epub presented interesting challenges, particularly for multi-platform access. When adding media-rich content (video, audio, animations, quizzes etc.), file size, reflow and platform incompatibility can be problematic and requires more consideration in layout and formatting. The project, Interprofessional Skills Learning Guide, was completed and is now accessed by health care professionals through the College of Medicine website, on ITunes and Google Play.

`Traditional publishers are invested in ebooks, it is an emerging technology likely to hold. It is also a gateway to open source educational materials and immersive experiences for students.

For more information about creating an eBook, please contact Adrienne at (306) 966-4280 or Wayne at (306) 966-4287.

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