What works with study of teaching and learning?

The Gwenna Moss Centre for Teaching and Learning (GMCTL) offers grants for groups of faculty investigating what works in teaching and learning practice.  For most of, the process of teaching causes us to question, asking ourselves things like:

  • Why did that class work so well?
  • Why did students struggle so much with a particular question on a test?
  • What can I do to help with the increase in anxiety my students are reporting?

Gary Poole tells us is important to trust ourselves that these are great questions, and to work to explore them.  We need to consult the research in case there is already a well-established answer, we need to start small, and we need to work with others.

GMCTL offers clusters of faculty grants to help them do all three. However, many faculty still aren’t sure how to proceed with research into to teaching, specifically, so the process is still daunting. Dr. Nicola Simmons from Brock recently shared a set of videos that demystify the process, and this one with Gray Poole is a great simple introduction to what processes work in studying teaching and learning (SOTL).

If you are interested in learning more about studying your teaching practice, or want support working on a SoTL project with colleagues, contact GMCTL.

All Aligned – Outcomes

This post is one of a 3 part series on the concept of alignment of what you want students to learn, how you plan to teach them, and what you will assess them on.  Sometimes called constructive alignment, it has three parts:

  • Your learning outcomes
  • Your instructional approach or learning strategies
  • Your assessments

This post focuses on the need for clear learning outcomes for your students, and the next two posts in October and November focus on instruction and assessment respectively.

Why outcomes

Outcomes are statements that describe what our teaching is designed to help students know, do, or be. They start with a verb, then connect that to the key content.  Knowing what they are helps us design instruction that is focused exactly on what we want.

For example, if your goal is to have students

  • Articulate a well-defended argument based on precedent

Then you want to teach them to

  • Use criteria for well-defended to assess and build arguments
  • Find and make sense of relevant precedent

Without a clear outcome about being able to actually make a well-defended argument, you might think your instruction should stop at describing criteria for well-defended, or that a test where students recalled the definition might be better than an assessment where they actually had to make an argument.

Good outcomes help us focus our classes on the knowledge, skills, and values we actually care about our students learning, rather than explaining facts and ideas.  The educator commitments in Our Learning Charter describe being “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” as a key shared commitment of those of us who teach on campus.

More about outcomes

Read the other chats related to Our Learning Charter to learn about other educator commitments.

 

Practice Your Research Skills Early and Often

by Merle Massie, Coordinator, Undergraduate Research Initiative

We tend to think of university as a place to soak up knowledge, to learn stuff, to end up with a ‘brain full of smartness,’ as one twelve-year old boy once explained.

Yet the new University of Saskatchewan Learning Charter promises, and expects, more.

While content knowledge is important, the Charter sets out skills and practices that students, faculty and staff are expected to pursue.Three of those skills and practices are specific to research. USask wants students, faculty and staff to:

  • be able to locate, understand, evaluate and use information effectively, ethically, legally and with cultural appropriateness
  • develop and apply appropriate skills of research, inquiry and knowledge creation and translation
  • Communicate clearly, substantively and persuasively in different academic, professional and cultural contexts; nihtâ-âcimowin/nihta achimoohk (being a good storyteller).

An excellent place for students to start their skill journey is FYRE:
First Year Research Experience.

In 2018-2019, there were over 2700 student enrollments in FYRE classes. A FYRE class is a regular first-year 100 level course in every way except one: it deliberately uses research as a way to teach and learn.Students take on a research project (sometimes individually, sometimes in groups). The project must follow the research cycle: build a research question; investigate the question using the tools of the discipline; and share that knowledge with peers beyond the professor.

From the educator’s perspective, FYRE responds to another key point in the Learning Charter: strive for excellence in teaching. Using FYRE, the professor provides “opportunity for students to be inspired and engaged with and in the process of authentic inquiry, wherever possible, in their learning.”

A few thoughts on building FYRE into your first year course:

  • Consider course outcomes, beyond content. What skills does your discipline require? These could be discerning good sources, building and executing a survey, working in a lab or archive, analyzing data, synthesizing research to date, and so forth.
  • Build skill development into your course, scaffolding student learning. Give them room to develop skills, try, fail, and succeed.
  • Build a course component that could be a FYRE project. Students must move through all three parts of the research cycle: Question∼Investigate∼ Share.
  • Register your course with Merle Massie, Undergraduate Research Coordinator (email merle.massie@usask.ca) and choose a paid research coach.
  • Build a project timeline, with student feedback from a research coach and deadlines.
  • Design a way for students to share their findings beyond the professor.

FYRE allows educators to bring research into the classroom, to use it as a teaching tool, and to be up-front that FYRE is about learning and practicing research skills.

Research can be messy, confusing, frustrating and hard. It can also, at the same time, pull a student in and give them a whole new way to look at what it takes to build and add new knowledge, and to share that knowledge with others. Your learning, and theirs, will catch FYRE.

Learn more:

High quality, respectful classroom dialogue

This post is the third post in a series of the “Charter Chats” related to our new charter.  The others are linked on the bottom of 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.

High quality, respectful classroom dialogue is essential in helping student learning.  When students are engaged in actively thinking about their own learning and discussing it with others, they are more likely to understand deeply. If students are just listening to an expert talking without the interaction, they are less likely to remember the learning 6 months later.  However, understanding more deeply and remembering more works best if the interaction in class is focused on the most important learning and it is safe and encouraged to share your ideas, even if they are not fully correct or are different. There are 2 key areas to pay attention to if your goal is improved learning through high quality, respectful conversation.

Open and healthy dialogue

The instructor is essential but not sufficient in creating open and healthy dialogue.  Good dialogue occurs when diverse perspectives are welcome in the group and genuinely considered, and that requires all group members. However, you can make a big difference to how likely good dialogue is.  Some key actions you can take are:

  • Share diverse perspectives and debates in disciplinary theory to make it clear good scholarship requires considering different ideas deeply. When possible, make space for plurality, rather than just one or two ways of thinking or being. We live in Treaty 6 territory and the homeland of the Metis, therefore including Indigenous informed perspectives and content along with Western ones is an essential first step in welcoming diversity
  • Describe what you mean by open and healthy dialogue before the first conversational opportunity starts.  In subsequent opportunities, discuss anything that needs “a refresher” to be a bit better than the last time. Focus on ways of communicating that are problematic, rather than describing specific students or ideas that are a problem
  • Have students work in smaller groups much more often than asking questions of the full class.  More students will get to participate, and most will feel safer to say more about what they think if they are only speaking to a few people
  • Overtly praise students who raise a potentially contentious activity delicately and effectively. Brave spaces are important
  • Warn students in advance if the content about to be discussed will be difficult or triggering, so they can manage their own emotions and expectations more effectively

How to create a shared, positive space in your class

Students know what it is to be positive in your class by what you do.  Your language, demeanor, and willingness to allow student to help shape the thinking and decision-making all help communicate what your classes will be about.

  • Use language that includes rather than excludes potentially marginalized groups
  • When dealing with a complex issue in class, ask yourself, “What story am I telling myself. What story might the other person be telling about themselves or about me?” Thinking it through helps with defusing, rather than escalating, potentially problematic moments
  • Co-create, with students, a shared space for learning through co-constructing or brainstorming together and working often in small groups as a part of daily class interactions
  • Raise errors as opportunities to learn.  Praise students who ask for clarification or surface their thinking about how to do something, even if it is wrong. Don’t pretend their processes are correct if they are not, but do point out that it was great to ask, and it is a very common misconception.
  • Don’t just share good examples.  Share examples with common errors and ask small groups to find the problems and explain why
  • Provide choice and voice anytime you can
  • Learn more about engaging with students and peers in a respectful manner with some tips for managing interaction in class, and use those strategies regularly
  • Ask students to set personal goals for the class, then allot time and marks to those goals
  • Use strategies like cooperative learning strategies or power sharing approaches like a talking circle to give student the opportunity to share the gifts of their identities in relationship with one another.  Seem to far from your disciplinary perspective?  Consider these 4 easy cooperative learning structures that are good across STEM and humanities courses

Learn more:

  • Attend Gwenna Moss Center for Teaching and Learning sessions on leading effective discussions or take our short courses on critical conversation
  • View other Charter Chats.

Building Broad Minds: Active learning strategies for large classrooms

Building broad minds is not about back filling.  Broad minds are the byproduct of encountering diverse ideas, thinking deeply about them, and integrating those ideas into our own worldviews and cognitive frameworks.  In higher education, the opportunity to be exposed to the thinking of a wide variety of disciplines usually happens at the first year level. However, those are also often large courses where the primary method of instruction is listening to your professor speak.  To actually get broad minds, our learning activities have to be active, even in the large classrooms where active learning strategies are limited by the room, and even when students are first encountering the subject mater.

A great simple rule for broad minds is the 10:2 ratio. It basically means that for every 10 minutes of lecture, and student needs 2 minute of social processing to make sense of it. Lots of the time, we think group work in classes is all about assignments.  Actually, it is much more about helping us make sense of what we learning. To encourage broad thinking, consider pausing at least every 10 minutes and doing a short activity that allows student to make sense of what you’ve just tried to teach them.

Use daily active collaboration in increase understanding

  • Having students problem solve in pairs
  • Having students turn and talk to each other about the implications of a new idea you introduced or why it matters
  • Provide opportunities to try something and get feedback from a peer. You don’t have time to provide all that feedback in a large class, but feedback is helpful in both improving and remembering, and there are many other people in the room who can help.  Giving feedback also refines our understanding, so your students are learning when giving and receiving feedback.
  • Have students teach each other something quick (not a big group presentation). Read more from the research about why this is one of the best ways to improve student understanding (Topping and Stewart, 1998).

Have students engage in critical thinking and think from multiple worldviews
Developing broad minds requires encountering the major debates of the discipline early and considering them from multiple perspective.  Although it is hard to have teams of two students debate other teams of two students in a large lecture theater, all students can think and speak simultaneously.  Want to see how it would work?

 

Learn more:

Graduates with perspectives and approaches the world needs

We often talk about the skills our graduates will need for success in their work and within our communities. As we aspire to be the university the world needs, we can’t overlook how essential perspective taking and cross-cultural competence are in our increasingly diverse world.  In this place, we have a collective commitment to improve the situation for the First Nation, Metis, and Inuit peoples, and to truth and reconciliation. And we can also see the impacts of nationalism and nativism on the global stage, A problem that is prompting us to equip our students with the skills they will need to respond.This post is one in a series related to the educator commitments in Our Learning Charter. It focuses on how to help students to explicitly recognize their own position and work to understand, acknowledge, and value perspectives and worldviews different from their own.

What you can model in your teaching:

  1. Start by acknowledging your own position and privilege. Being a role model and ally is essential in supporting students in the process of doing the same thing. Knowing why you would include a land acknowledgement, for example, rather than omitting one or just adding one to your syllabus is part of an acknowledgement. Not quite sure how to approach it in a good way? Join the short course in the fall on Indigenization, decolonization and reconciliation at the Gwenna Moss Center for Teaching and Learning (GMCTL).
  2. Purposefully include content, perspectives, and worldview from local Indigenous communities and international perspectives.  The focus should be on being prepared to support a diverse world and set of different views. Need some support?  Ask for a consultation at GMCTL.
  3. Deliberately offer more than one perspective on the debates of your discipline whenever possible, and explain the value of those discussions to the disciplinary discourse. Provide opportunities for students to engage in facilitated discussions about those debates without taking a position yourself.

What you could do with your students:

  1. Choose to share your own power by using active learning strategies to get students thinking and talking, rather than transmission styles where students mostly listen. Understanding,  acknowledging, and valuing perspectives and worldviews different from their own is requires active learning processes, because it requires students to be in dialogue with the other.  Learn more about the research on active learning or experiment with some active learning strategies in your class.
  2. Provide students with deliberate opportunities to work in culturally diverse groups where they’ll be exposed to a multiplicity of perspectives that they might not encounter, given that we are more likely to self-select groups of people like us.
  3. Proactively plan for how to have challenging conversations with students in class, and how to respond when students struggle to value worldviews and perspectives other than their own.  Not sure how do this? Join the GMCTL for a workshop series on planning for and responding to difficult conversations in the classroom or preview some online resources.

View other posts in the Charter Chat series.

Charter Chats

The University of Saskatchewan has a new Learning Charter.  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

September: All Aligned – Outcomes (3 part series on 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

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