Charter Chats

The University of Saskatchewan has a new Learning Carter.  First written in 2010, then updated in 2018, our charter is helpful in framing what we believe about teaching and learning.  It will also provide a sense of direction for work at Gwenna Moss over the next year:

The Learning Charter thus acts as a conceptual map and planning document, linking together our pursuits and how we strive for them, encouraging and guiding us on our educational journey. As a map, it is also a focal point for our community to discuss where we are and where we want to go in our shared future.

This post will be the hub of the “Charter Chats” related to our new charter.  As each new monthly post is written, the post will be linked on this page. The chats are informal introductions to a charter educator commitment or commitments.  They explain what that commitment means for educators, and suggests one or two implications for teaching in a higher ed setting.

Here is a summary of the month each topic will be posted, its title,
and the related educator commitment.

April: Graduates with perspectives and approaches the world needs

  • Explicitly recognize their own position and work to understand, acknowledge, and value perspectives and worldviews different from their own

May: Building Broad Minds: Active learning strategies for large classrooms

  • Exemplify active learning and curiosity, demonstrate broad thinking

June: High quality, respectful classroom dialogue

  • Encourage and foster open and healthy dialogue
  • Engage with students and peers in a respectful manner
  • Co-create, with students, a shared space for learning in which all participants, including graduate and undergraduate teaching assistants, feel respected, valued and empowered to contribute as they achieve their goals and share the gifts of their identities in relationship with one another

July/August: You need to practice your research skills early and often

  • Provide opportunity for students to be inspired and engaged with and in the process of authentic inquiry, wherever possible, in their learning

September: All Aligned – Outcomes (3 part series on triarchic alignment)

  • Be aware of the range of instructional methods and assessment strategies, and select and utilize teaching methods that are effective in helping students achieve the learning outcome of a course or learning activity

October: All Aligned – Instruction

  • Be aware of the range of instructional methods and assessment strategies, and select and utilize teaching methods that are effective in helping students achieve the learning outcome of a course or learning activity
  • Ensure that content is current, accurate, relevant to learning objectives, representative of the knowledge and skills being taught and appropriate to the position of the learning experience within a program of study

November: All Aligned – Outcomes-based Assessment

  • Ensure that assessments of learning are transparent, applied consistently and are congruent with learning outcomes
  • Design tools to both assess and enable student learning
  • Learn about advances in effective pedagogies/andragogies

January:  Transparent Assessment

  • Provide a clear indication of what is expected of students in a course or learning activity, and what students can do to be successful in achieving the expected learning outcomes as defined in the course outline
  • Ensure that assessments of learning are transparent, applied consistently and are congruent with learning Outcomes
  • Design tools to both assess and enable student learning

February: Feeding Learning: Mark better work in less time

  • Provide prompt and constructive feedback for students on their learning progress at regular intervals throughout the course

March: Reflection and Dialogue

  • Engage in meaningful conversations about their practices with others
  • Seek candid feedback from students about their learning experiences
  • Seek feedback from peers and other sources to allow for evidence on all aspects of teaching

Top Hat: How is it being used at the U of S?

The University of Saskatchewan has a continuing commitment to a technology-enhanced learning environment for students and in January 2016 acquired a campus-wide license for the Top Hat student response system. Top Hat is a software-based student response system, incorporating a “bring-your-own-device” solution, that is available at no direct cost to instructors and students. The primary goal of Top Hat is to enhance the teaching and learning experience for both instructors and students by bringing more engagement and interaction into traditional passive lecture-style learning approaches.

Who we are

We are a research team at the University of Saskatchewan who are interested in student response systems with a specific focus on Top Hat, their pedagogical effectiveness, and investigating the best teaching practices for these systems. Our team is organized under the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) cluster titled “Technology-Enhanced Learning: An Assessment of Student Response Systems in the University Classroom.”

  • Carleigh Brady, PhD, Instructor, Dept. of English
  • Soo Kim, PhD, B.Sc.PT, Professor, School of Rehabilitation Science
  • Landon Baillie, PhD, Professor, Dept. of Anatomy, Physiology and Pharmacology
  • Raymond Spiteri, PhD, Professor, Dept. of Computer Science
  • Neil Chilton, PhD, Professor, Dept. of Biology
  • Katherina Lebedeva, PhD, Instructor, Dept. of Anatomy, Physiology and Pharmacology

In March of 2018, we invited all individuals with a Top Hat instructor account at the University of Saskatchewan to participate in a survey about the use of Top Hat on campus and to share their experiences.

Results

 A total of 58 instructors responded to the survey. We found the majority of instructors using Top Hat at the University of Saskatchewan:

  • incorporate it in class to assess student concept understanding, test student recall, and share student perspectives (opinions, experience, and demographics)
  • use it for asking questions, creating discussions, and monitoring attendance
  • prefer “multiple choice question,” “word answer,” and “click on target” formats
  • think that the greatest advantages of Top Hat are: increased participation and engagement, student assessment, instant feedback from students, and the system’s ease of use/functionality
  • consider that Top Hat’s biggest disadvantages to be the time investment for software setting-up and grading, design issues, and technical issues (e.g. room connectivity)

In summary, we found that most instructors using Top Hat found it effective in facilitating a collaborative teaching and learning environment. Top Hat encourages students to participate actively during lectures by asking questions and polling student responses online. Despite some disadvantages, Top Hat is still preferred over clickers for its increased functionality (various question formats, interactive functions, and use of graphics), as well as its instant feedback and results polling.

However, further studies should be conducted to systematically evaluate the effect of Top Hat on student academic performance.

 Find more information

Getting More Active (and getting more learning)

The holidays are a time of year that are almost inevitably followed by a feeling that you should be more active after all those treats and large meals.  Many educators want their students to be more active and engaged, but like the post-holiday feeling that you should be more active, it is hard to turn that good will into consistent action in your instruction.  This post focuses on easy changes to make your course more active.

Step 1- Clarify the purpose of active learning in your class
Active learning is time in your classroom when students are actively thinking, talking, and making sense of ideas.  It is contrasted with passive learning, when students are being receptive (listening, note taking, etc.)  An individual class is typically considered active when 60% or more of the time is students thinking and talking, rather than the instructor explaining. To get started with active learning, identify a key or threshold concept (Meyer and Land, 2003) that students need to understand well and use often, but seem to struggle with.  That’s a great place to focus on active learning, because active learning processes make it more likely your students will be able to retain and apply what they have learned.

Step 2 – Consider options
Before you make any type of change, you often need to consider possible options.  Start will some videos  or browse some resources and think about the strategies that might fit well given your content and discipline. It is essential that the specific strategy fit the concept you need student to make sense of, so you can’t just pick one at random.  For threshold concepts, strategies like error analysis, concept formation/concept attainment etc. are often the most effective.  If you’d like someone to help you consider some options best suited to you, but you don’t want to wade through the options, make a short appointment with Gwenna Moss. We’ll suggest some great options given what you explain about the concept that you are teaching and the size of your class.

Step 3 – Try something small

  1. Start by really clarifying how the process will work in your own mind.
  2. Identify what you’ll still need to teach directly so students have enough knowledge to do the active task.
  3. Choose a class you are comfortable in, and explain how important the concept is and why you’ll be using an active strategy.  If you haven’t used the particular strategy you are trying, explain the process and what behavior you’ll expect explicitly.
  4. Use the strategy, circulating to help or prompt students often.
  5. Once you are done with the activity, summarize the key takeaways and implications with your students.  Next time this key concept comes up, refer back to the activity and the lessons learned.  You use the summarizing and references to prior learning to ensure students are connecting the learning well, and didn’t miss anything essential.

Learn more:

 

Tips to Start Internationalizing Your Teaching

This week is International Education Week. It’s a great time to be thinking about how to encourage global citizenship among your students and how to make your course welcoming for international students. We can play a key role in providing the type of education the world needs, especially in a time of increased nationalism and political division. Internationalizing your course is not just about having some international course content. It is about the alignment between your beliefs, how you facilitate, and how you instruct so students learn to embrace diversity of perspective and experience.  Once you know you want to help students embrace global diversity, the next step is to consider how to align your course outcomes, content, learning activities, and assessment.

My learning outcomes: Overtly identity the thinking skills that support internationalization in your course outcomes. Here are some examples:

  1. Discuss the development of ______________ in Canada and ___________.
  2. Defend ___________ using ___________ cultural perspective.
  3. Evaluate the impact of _______ on _______ in three diverse parts of the world.
  4. Analyze international trends in _______________.

My content: Note paces where you might included a more global perspective.

  • Readings
  • Examples and professional practices
  • References
  • Videos

My learning activities: Consider instructional approaches that best facilitate learning of international students and global thinking in local ones.

  • Model effective language skills and visualization (language learning)
  • Create collaborative groups with local and international students (cultural awareness)
  • Use discursive (talking and power sharing) strategies
  • Use inductive strategies (knowledge construction strategies for students)
  • Use technologies that support creation and collaboration

My assessment strategies: Think about what to do to help assessment criteria be clear and focused on a more global perspective.

  • Students know the assessment criteria in advance (i.e. a rubric) and have seen samples
  • Assessment requires students to self-assess development of international perspectives against criteria
  • Assessment requires students to write or speak for different audiences, sometimes local and sometimes international, Indigenous, or cross-cultural

Is Your Instruction Designed to Produce Student Learning?

Lecture is an efficient way to transmit information, especially in large classes. We inevitably feel there is a lot of content to cover, since the gap between what novice students know and expert professors know is large. However, large, uninterrupted blocks of lecture are very inefficient ways to learn, because they are passive. Learners get cognitive overload and stop processing, have trouble paying attention, and remember some ideas that they struggle to apply or connect conceptually.  All of these occur, even with strong learners, and even with instructors who provide exceptionally focused, clear delivery of information. The mind just learns more if it is actively engaged in thinking.

As a method of direct instruction, lecture is focused on a well-organized, clear presentation of information.  Its cousin, explicit instruction, is much better aligned with what we know about how the brain learns, because it is active.

Explicit instruction:

  • students are guided through the learning process with clear statements about the purpose of learning the new skill
  • teachers give clear explanations and demonstrations
  • students engage in supported practice with feedback at intervals throughout the entire class, not just at the end

The key distinction is that while there are periods of telling information, student are asked to demonstrate the skill they are learning and practice it with feedback.  As a result, they are much more likely to remember, make fewer errors, are more focused, and more motivated.  They are also more likely to describe the learning and important and describe how to keep improving. There is clear alignment between the goal of having students understand more deeply, and the activities they are asked to participate in to support their learning.

Why does all this mater?

When we set the goals for what our students will be able to know and do by the end of class (outcomes), we need to think carefully about how remembering information is essential, but not sufficient, learning. We want students to be able to correctly apply the new information in a process, to make decisions and informed judgments, and to use new information for reasoned arguments.  That means our classes need help students develop these competencies and practice them with feedback. Our outcomes, our instruction, and how we assess all need align and work cohesively together to support effective learning processes. If they don’t, we become Professor Dancelot of video fame, with good intentions and little actual learning.

Learn more:

  • Interesting Book: Donald A. Bligh, What’s the Use of Lectures? (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2000), pp. 252, 11.
  • Oft cited scholarly history: C. Bane, “The Lecture vs. the Class-Discussion Method of College Teaching,” School and Society 21 (1925); B.S. Bloom, “Thought-Processes in Lectures and Discussions,” Journal of General Education 7 (1953).

It’s All About Your Outcomes


Structurally, outcomes are obligations. You need outcomes for your course syllabus, and your program as whole has some form of outcomes. From a teaching and learning perspective, however, an outcome is much more than just a hoop.  It’s at heart of why you’d bother to teach the course you do. Each outcome (and you don’t need that many), describes a skill, disposition, or set of complex knowledge that it is essential for your students to demonstrate to be successful in the course.

What does a good outcome look like?

You can read more about definitions of outcomes (what a student will do) and objectives (what an educator will teach) in another post from Gwenna Moss, but sometimes good examples can help clarify a definition.  A good outcome satisfies key criteria, including:

  • It starts with a specific, rigorous verb that reflects the type of thinking, attitude, or understanding you need students to demonstrate
  • Each outcome is worthy enough that you’ll spend a good chunk of the course returning to it and building your students’ strength with it
  • The outcome is written in language students understand and can explain in their own words

A bad outcome: Understand the definition of a just society

This outcomes is not good because there are too many ways the word “understand” could be interpreted. What would be good evidence of an outcome should be easy for students to understand the same way.  Also, this outcome might be able to be satisfied with a definition from the professor’s PowerPoint, so it isn’t worthy and long lasting enough. It is easy to make the mistake of basically describing content in your outcome, rather than what your students will demonstrate.

A much better outcome: Justify arguments about social justice using precise, accurate examples.

This is better because it specifies the type of thinking and skills student will need to do (justify an argument) and at how (using precise, accurate examples).  Social justice is a complex concept that the course will spend a long time on, deepening student conceptual knowledge overtime. Also, the skill of building an argument about social justice will built upon many multiple times in the course, sometimes in class discussions, sometime in an essay, and sometimes in an examination.  A student reads the outcome and knows the course will help you refine your skills in building arguments, and that the content will relate to social justice.

How do I write good outcomes?

  1. List the key concepts, skills, and dispositions/attitudes you’ll want in the course.  Check to ensure you aren’t just listing content.
  2. Group related things together until you have a smaller number of bigger things.
  3. Try writing statements describing things you’d accept as evidence that a student actually had the understanding, skill, or disposition you are trying to teach
  4. Look at the statements you’ve written, and ensure they each start with an active, specific verb.  Try using this list to ensure you are asking for rigorous thinking, not something students can just memorize and forget.
  5. Get someone who is not an expert to read each outcome and tell you what it says, just to make sure it is clear enough
  6. Double check that each outcome represents something you’ll want to see from students multiple times in the class. If you wouldn’t want to grade things related to it more than once, it is not important enough to be an outcome.

 

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