About Nancy Turner

Programme Director, Gwenna Moss Centre for Teaching Effectiveness

Faculty Fellows Playing Key Roles at GMCTL




The Gwenna Moss Centre for Teaching and Learning (GMCTL) has, for the past 3 academic years, had GMCTL Faculty Fellows. These roles are filled by members of faculty who set aside up to 1/2 day of their time per week to contribute to teaching and learning related work with and through the GMCTL. The Centre and the university benefits hugely from the contribution of these fantastic Fellows whose contribution is planned to align with their particular expertise and experience as well as university priorities. Their work also assists in keeping the GMCTL services informed by and in alignment with the needs and interests of those we serve. Below is a description of each of the Fellows for the 2016/17 academic year and the projects they are leading and contributing to. The names and projects of all Fellows over the past three years can be viewed on our website.

Vince Bruni-Bossio (2016/17)
Vince, an Assistant Professor in the Edwards School of Business, is bringing his wealth of business knowledge and extensive consulting experience to work with the GMCTL on our strategic planning process. Vince has helped us clarify our values, mission and mandate and set strategic priorities for our work in alignment with what the Centre is called to do by the institution. Vince has also been working with us in our team development work.

Jay Wilson (2014/15-2016/17)
Jay, an Associate Professor and Department Head in Curriculum Studies, College of Education, has been contributing to a collaborative institutional research project on faculty use of learning technology. This research has been conducted in partnership with 2 other faculty members and Nancy Turner, the GMCTL Director. This work has informed planning regarding institutional infrastructure and support for learning technology use with outcomes currently being implemented via an action plan governed through the Teaching Learning and Academic Resources Committee of Council. Jay has also contributed to the development of a Teaching Certificate Program to be made available via the GMCTL and the Department of Curriculum Studies in the new year.

Sandra Bassendowski (2015/16-2016/17)
Sandra, a Professor in the College of Nursing, has been contributing to a collaborative institutional research project on faculty use of learning technology. This research has been conducted in partnership with 2 other faculty members and Nancy Turner, the GMCTL Director. This work has informed planning regarding institutional infrastructure and support for learning technology use with outcomes currently being implemented via an action plan governed through the Teaching Learning and Academic Resources Committee of Council.  Sandra has also informed work in the GMCTL on teaching strategies in distributed learning.

John Kleefeld (2017)
John, an Associate Professor in the College of Law, has just begun his Fellowship work with us. John will be focusing on the development of open pedagogies (teaching strategies that use or create open educational resources) at the University of Saskatchewan. John’s particular interest is in utilizing Wikipedia in teaching. He has recently published a scholarship of learning and teaching (SoTL) article on his experience of doing this with his Law students. During his year with the GMCTL John will be working to create a community of faculty interested in open pedagogy as well as developing a series of related institutional events. John will be writing a series of blog posts for us on this work so keep your eyes open for these in the next few weeks! If you are interested in learning more about this work or getting involved in this project please connect with John or Heather Ross.

On behalf of the GMCTL and the institution I would like to thank these amazing faculty members for their contribution as GMCTL Fellows to teaching and learning at the institution. The work of the GMCTL is richer for having your energy, passion and input and we are grateful for your time in collaborating with us and contributing to these important institutional endeavours.

What It Means to Be an Ally




As we have recently come out of a week of sessions at the University aimed at making our campus a safer place for gender and sexual diversity and we enter Aboriginal Achievement week I am reflecting on what it means to me to be an ally.

Use of the term ‘ally’ in relation to marginalized groups is relatively new to me, however, what the term represents is not new.
Being an ally means working in solidarity with a marginalized group that I am not a part of to address systemic inequalities.

I’ve tried to boil down what I feel I have to work at everyday in being an ally (some days more successfully than others!) and have come up with 5 key things I’d like to share:

1)   I have to understand my position of privilege
This privilege is something that I have not earned, but received simply because of my characteristics – the way I was born.

When describing this to my six year old daughter, I liken this to recognizing that some of us are playing this game on level 1, while others are on level 5.
There are fewer barriers for me, fewer obstacles in my way and its far easier for me to get to the finish line. This doesn’t mean I haven’t worked hard or that I’ve sailed through life or not met challenges.  It just means there are things I don’t have to worry about ever facing because of who I am.

I don’t have to worry about what bathroom I may use in the mall or at work because they have been designated female and male with me in mind.
I don’t have to worry about a job application I put in being set aside simply because of the way my name sounds. I also don’t have to worry about being watched while browsing in a store simply because I am less likely to be viewed as suspicious because of the colour of my skin.

I’ve never had to get through the game at level 5, but it is my job as an ally to find out what its like as best I can, acknowledge and accept that some things are easier for me, and take what action I can to contribute to levelling the playing field.

2)   I need to listen and learn.
I need to work to listen to concerns raised by marginalized groups.  I need to consider them thoughtfully and recognize that at times my position of privilege can mean experiences sound unbelievable – they are so removed from my reality. Listening receptively can mean a marginalized group and the barrier they face can become more visible.

3)   I need to consider my position in making change.
As someone in the dominant group I should not be at the centre of the solution, I should only be a part of it.  This means dropping my agenda and my way of change. The marginalized community should be at the centre and I should be there to do what I can to contribute to making it happen.

4)   I need to accept that I will mess up and be uncomfortable and that I just have to deal with that.
Being a farm girl, I liken this to crossing a cow filled pasture.  If I focus ahead with my eyes on the horizon, I am going to step in it on occasion.  When it happens I need to apologise, learn from it, bend down, clean off my boots and keep going.

5)   Last but actually most importantly I need to be aware that being an ally is a daily activity I wake up and commit to doing – not a title or certificate I earn.
It is a verb not a noun.

So as I move forward in my work as an ally for the LGBT community, the Aboriginal community, or other marginalized groups I will work:

  1. to recognize my privilege;
  2. to listen;
  3. to find my appropriate place in driving change;
  4. accept I will mess up and I should learn from it; and
  5. keep trying

If you notice me step in something, I welcome you bring it to my attention so I can apologize, clean off my boots and continue to learn.

In writing this I read several sources. I’d recommend this blog post if you would like to read more or if you’re short on time, this 3 minute video is engaging and concise.  It might be a good one to share with students.

Students’ expectations are formed early




I have been enjoying a series of blog posts written by the acclaimed UK based higher education researcher Professor Graham Gibbs (you can start with the first of the series here).  The blogs have been drawn from a comprehensive publication called 53 Powerful Ideas All Teachers Should Know About, with one idea presented on the blog each week.  I was particularly struck by the blog post from a few weeks ago as the ideas presented resonated with the approach of the University of Saskatchewan’s undergraduate research initiative.  A key approach has been embedding such experiences in large first year courses which addresses Professor Gibbs’ key take away message; have students start as you mean them to go on.  I hope you enjoy and perhaps sample some of Professor Gibb’s other thought provoking ideas!

Idea 7- Students’ expectations are formed early

Posted on May 28, 2014 at http://thesedablog.wordpress.com/2014/05/28/53ideas-7-students-expectations-are-formed-early/, reproduced with permission of the Staff and Educational Development Association (SEDA)

Professor Graham Gibbs

What goes on in higher education must appear somewhat strange to a student of 18 who has recently left school, or even to a mature student whose educational experience involved school some while ago and maybe some ‘on the job’ training or evening classes since. Class sizes may have increased from the dozen or so they were used to in 6th form to over 100 (or even over 500). Instead of a small group of friends you got know fairly well from years together, your fellow students will mostly be strangers who you may never get to know, and who may be different every time you start a new module. Instead of you being amongst the high achievers you may feel average or even below average. The teachers you encounter will all be new to you, and may change every semester. You may never get to know them, or in some cases even meet them outside of large classes. Whether you can ask questions, ask for help, be informal or visit their offices may not be clear. Weekly cycles of classes and small, short, tasks at school may be replaced by much longer cycles and much bigger assignments – and in some cases the first required work may not be until week 8 in the first semester. What you are supposed to do in the meantime may not be at all clear, and as the ratio of class time to study time is, at least in theory, much lower than you are used to, what you are supposed to be doing out of class may become quite an issue.

The course documentation may only list what the teacher does, not what you are supposed to do, other than phrases such as ‘background reading’ or ‘independent study’. Instead of being asked to read Chapter 6 of the textbook you might be given extended reading lists of seemingly impossible breadth and depth, some of which will be too expensive to buy, out of the library, or, even if you can get hold of them, opaque or of uncertain relevance. The volume of material ‘covered’ in lectures may appear daunting, and it may be unclear if this is meant to be merely the tip of a hidden, huge and undefined iceberg of content, or the whole iceberg. If you managed to scribble down a comprehensive set of notes, would that be enough? What an essay or a report is supposed to look like and what is good enough to pass or get a top grade may be quite different from what was expected at school, but you may be unclear in what way. Rules about plagiarism or working with other students may seem alarmingly tough yet confusing. It may all feel weird, no matter how routine it feels to teachers, but somehow you have to get used to it.

Most students of course do manage to work out a way of dealing with all this ambiguity and complexity that, if not ideal, is tolerably effective in that they do not usually fail the first assignment or the first module. But once a student has gone through this disorienting and anxiety provoking process of adjustment they are not keen to go through it again anytime soon.

In order to operate at all, new students have to make some quick guesses about what is expected and work out a modus operandi – and this is usually undertaken on their own without discussion with others. It is very easy to get this wrong. In my own first year as an undergraduate I tried to operate on a ‘week by week’ ‘small task’ way as if I was preparing for regular test questions, as I had done at the Naval College where I had crammed for A-levels alongside my naval training – and I failed several of my University first year exams that made much higher level demands than I had anticipated and that would have taken a lot more work of a very different kind than I had managed. My conception of knowledge, and what I was supposed to be doing with it, was well articulated by William Perry’s description of the first stage in his scheme of student development: “Quantitative accretion of discrete rightness”. It was not what my teachers were hoping for from me – but I didn’t understand that and I was too uncertain to do anything else. Students who are driven by fear of failure, rather than hope for success, may become loathe to change the way they study in case it works even less well than what they have tried thus far. It is the high performing students who are more likely to experiment and be flexible.

Many first year courses are dominated by large class lectures, little discussion, little independence and fairly well defined learning activities and tasks (at least compared with later years) and no opportunity to discuss feedback on assignments. By the end of the first year, students may have turned into cabbages in response to this regime, with little development of independence of mind or study habits. In the second year students may be suddenly expected to work collaboratively, undertake peer assessment, undertake much bigger, longer, less well defined learning activities, deal with multiple perspectives and ambiguity, develop their own well argued positions, and so on. They may throw up their hands in despair or resist strongly.

Teachers’ best response to this phenomenon involves getting their own expectations in early and explicitly, and not changing them radically as soon as students have got used to them. If you eventually want students to work collaboratively, require group work in the first week, not the second year. If you want them to read around and pull complex material together, require it in the first week and give them plenty of time and support to do it. If you want them to establish a pattern of putting in a full working week of 40 hours then expect that in the first week, and the second week….and make it clear what those hours might be spent on, and put class time aside to discuss what it was spent on and what proved productive and what did not. If you want students to lift their sights from Chapter 1 to what the entire degree is about, have a look at some really excitingly good final year student project reports in week one, and bring the successful and confident students who wrote them into the classroom to discuss how they managed it, talking about their pattern of studying that led to getting a first and a place to do a Doctorate. In brief, get your clear and high expectations in early, with plenty of opportunity to discuss what they mean.

Students will find this alarming and amazing – but they will get used to it just as they got used to whatever you did before. It will seem equally strange, but no more so than before. The crucial issue is that they will now be getting used to the right thing.

Risk Taking in Teaching




I had the extreme pleasure of attending a panel conversation as part of the 4th Annual SoTL symposium last week.  Panel members were Dr. Murray Drew from Agriculture and Bioresources, Dr. Jay Wilson and Dr. Michelle Prytula from Education, Dr. Daniel Regnier from St. Thomas More, Philosophy, Dr. Tracie Risling from Nursing and Dr. Mike Bradley from Physics/Engineering Physics.

The panel discussion was incredibly thought provoking as would be expected from this line up of faculty from diverse disciplines and different points in their academic careers.   The risks they undertook varied from teaching  a course with an undergraduate to flipping a class, using social media to develop relationships in large classes, (re)creating assessment rubrics with students, taking students off site for experiential learning and changing the traditional laboratory experience to one where students apply their skills through creative problem solving mimicking a professional consulting experience.

The discussion that ensued after the brief presentations by each panelist highlighted the centrality of risk taking to the teaching approach of each of these faculty members, however it was clear that each had unique motivations for risk taking.  Murray Drew noted that risk taking in his teaching was an essential step in moving his students to development of critical thing skills and application of disciplinary knowledge to real life problems.  Mike Bradley noted its importance in helping physics students develop creative problem solving skills.  Michelle Prytula shared that she believed that risk taking was the only way to facilitate real learning and Tracie Risling passionately argued that she took risks as part her commitment to giving her students the best learning experience possible.  The examples provided lead the audience to conclude that, when well managed, taking risks in your teaching can lead to exceptional learning experiences for students.

The panel did not, however, present risk as without issue.  Murray Drew challenged us as an institution to consider how we mitigate potential issues for new (pre-tenure) faculty taking risks, particularly if the risk results in lower student evaluation scores (always a potential risk of trying something new in a course).  Jay Wilson also noted the importance of managing the impact that the additional effort to innovate may have on other areas of work.  Mike Bradly noted that sustainability of any teaching innovation needs to be considered at the outset.

There was consensus in the panel that taking risks in teaching can have big returns for student learning.  They did have some common advice to share with those thinking about doing this in their own teaching:

  • Communication with students in key.  Let them know what you are doing and why.  Be explicit and acknowledge openly that this a new undertaking for you.
  • Invite your students to be partners in the endeavour.  If your approach has some built in flexibility, ask for student input on the approach they would prefer. Solicit student feedback regularly and adjust your approach, as possible, based on what they say.
  • Give the innovation a good amount of time to succeed but don’t cling to it if it isn’t working.  Admit when it has failed and abandon the strategy.
  • Ask for advice in advance from colleagues or others who have expertise in the area.  Draw on the knowledge and experience of others.

It was clear in the discussion and questions that ensued that we all have a responsibility in creating an environment on campus that is conducive to risk taking and is tolerant of some failure along the way.  I would welcome your thoughts via email or comments on this blog as to how you believe we could collectively achieve this.  What are some of the barriers you see and how could they be overcome?

If after reading this you think taking a risk and innovating in your teaching is for you please feel free to get in touch with the GMCTE to discuss your innovation.  We can connect you with other faculty who have done something similar, help you plan, or point you to resources to inform your work.  Whether your risk is large or a small first step we are here to help you achieve your goals.

Thanks to all the panel participants for sharing their experience and insights and providing advice to others considering an innovation in their teaching.

4th Annual SoTL Conference to Be Held at USask




I am extremely pleased to promote and encourage participation in the 4th annual Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) symposium.  The day will be strengthened by a diversity of perspectives so we welcome all who would like to attend, no experience of undertaking SoTL is necessary.

The event will be held on the 1st and 2nd of May on the University of Saskatchewan campus. In addition to plenary presentations, there will be various opportunities to present your SoTL work or ideas. We invite participation from those interested in dipping a toe in the SoTL waters, those part way through a SoTL project, as well as those experienced with and wishing to present results of their SoTL research. We hope the event will be a chance to gather and learn from colleagues interested in improving teaching and learning at the University and beyond.

In an effort to open up the event to individuals at all points in their exploration of SoTL, we have created 4 different types of presentations:

  1. Watercooler chats – these sessions will be appropriate for those wanting to discuss a new area of teaching and learning research. This is an opportunity to share ideas in a more informal way with a small group of colleagues, discuss options, and get feedback from fellow participants.
  2. World Café – these sessions will be appropriate for those with an interest in sharing and discussing approaches or issues with their SoTL work with colleagues at the conference. The World Café begins with a short (5 to 10 minute) presentation on your topic to the whole group followed by table-based small group discussions with colleagues who wish to hear more and discuss your project, approach or issue in more detail.
  3. Poster session – these are appropriate for presentation about a completed SoTL project they would like to share via virtual poster with colleagues. There will be time during the symposium for attendees to view and ask questions about each poster.
  4. Research Presentation – these sessions will be appropriate for sharing completed SoTL projects with results. We would welcome participants presenting research to include a few minutes spent sharing lessons learned in undertaking the research.

This year we have added a writing retreat to the end of the SoTL symposium.  We invite you to join us for this part of the event at Boffins on Friday afternoon.  The retreat will provide some time to share your writing project and aspirations for it with colleagues and, most importantly, give you time to work on your project in a supportive and comfortable environment.

To register or submit a proposal please visit http://fluidsurveys.usask.ca/s/2014_SoTL_Symposium/The submission deadline is 14th April.

I look forward to seeing you and learning with you on May 1 and 2nd.

On Returning to Saskatchewan




Last Wednesday I arrived in Saskatoon, permanently relocating from London, England to take up the post of Program Director at the Gwenna Moss Centre. This is a return to Saskatchewan for me (BSPE 1994) and a new adventure for my British family.

I have been asked several times over the past week how the experience of being back in Saskatchewan has been. Sometimes the question is genuine and sometimes said with a slight tongue in cheek given the minus 30 weather my family and I have been met with alongside the outcomes of the TransformUs report that was made public Monday.

My response, even Monday, was that I am happy to be back. What drew me back to Saskatchewan and to the U of S was not the expectation of an unending summer or an unchanging job for life. What brought me back was the community I was going to become a part of, that of Saskatoon and that of the University. My view from outside the institution was that the U of S was clear in its direction, had backed up its strategy with allocation of resource to support achieving it and, important for me, had made a clear commitment to teaching and learning as a core mission of the institution.

Seeing the response of colleagues and students to the -30 temperature has reminded me and shown my British husband and children the resilience and tenacity of Saskatchewan people. I have been heartened over the past 2 days to see that resilience and tenacity evident in my colleagues in the Gwenna Moss and University Learning Centres.

The TransformUs task force has completed their difficult work and the outcome calls on us to enact our collective agency. We will take the outcome and move constructively forward, continuing to contribute to the life and work of the University and in full support of achieving the vision of the institution. We look forward to participating in the next steps in the TransformUs process and engaging with the opportunities that arise from it.

I am extremely pleased to be back and look forward to working with colleagues across the institution in the months and years to come.

Self-Belief and Student Success




I’m sure we’ve all had the experience of not performing to our potential at given points in our life due to anxiety, illness, the physical environment or just because we were having an off day.  The importance of context on our ability to perform should not be underestimated.

One factor that can greatly impact our ability to perform is our belief that we can achieve what we want to in a given context.  If we believe we can do something we are far more likely to succeed.  It could be argued that believing we can do something is simply a matter of knowing ones own strengths and weaknesses.  Research has demonstrated, however, that direct manipulations of these beliefs can have an impact on performance and behavior.

A simple example from a study done many years ago involved individuals being given randomly positive or negative feedback on their muscular endurance.  These individuals were then tested on different tasks requiring muscular endurance.  Those given positive feedback about their ability did better than those given negative feedback.  Perhaps more importantly in follow-up competitions when these individuals failed, those who had been lead to perceive their ability positively responded with greater effort and those who had negative messages performed worse.

Independent of ability, self-belief can have a significant impact on performance in a given situation (Haidt & Rodin, 1999).  In addition, those who have doubt in their own ability to perform have been shown to give up quickly when faced with difficulty while those who have positive beliefs have been shown to respond to challenge with greater effort.

Why should this matter in higher education?  I believe the key is that in most cases knowledge and skills in a particular area or subject do not translate into good performance on their own.  Skills and understanding in a discipline are most useful if one believes in one’s ability to meaningfully utilize them.  These beliefs can also impact significantly on an individual’s response to challenges and failure in a course.

Equally important is thinking of self-belief as able to be impacted by context or direct intervention (as in the muscular endurance example above) and not a stable trait that is inherent to an individual.

So what might this mean for teachers in higher education?  What can we do to influence our student’s belief in their ability and how can we create environments that grow rather than diminish it?

Drawing on the work of Bandura (1997) I would suggest the following ideas as a starting point:

  1. Make students aware of role models they may relate to who succeeded in similar circumstances.  This is important particularly for those groups where role models may not be as visible such as women in subject areas typically dominated by males or vice versa, or in programs that have not had great student ethnic diversity.
  2. Provide students with genuine positive messages about their capacity to improve their grade on a course through effort.
  3. Provide students with opportunities to take on tasks that are appropriately challenging for their current ability level so they can experience success through effort.
  4. Design courses so that students feel they have control of their own success (i.e. if they apply effort in appropriate ways they can succeed).  This may involve things like ensuring expectations are clear and discussed at the start of a course (assignments, due dates, etc.) and making the process of assessment and grading as transparent and understood as possible through things like grading rubrics, peer and self assessment and lower stakes assessment early in a course so feedback can be used to improve their final outcome.

These items are also known to improve student learning so are not additional things that need to be done but rather actions that can improve not only knowledge and skills but also a student’s belief that they can apply those to achieve their goals and succeed.

Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efficacy: The exercise of control. New York: W.H. Freeman and Company.

Haidt, J. & Rodin, J. (1999).  Control and Efficacy as Interdisciplinary Bridges. Review of General Psychology, 3(4), 317-4337.

Assessment For Learning



“Students can, with difficulty, escape from the effects of poor teaching, they cannot (by definition if they want to graduate) escape the effects of poor assessment.” (Boud, 1998)

Think back to your experience as an undergraduate.  How did you decide what to focus on in the hours outside the classroom?  What drove your priorities in selecting what work to dedicate time to?

If you were anything like me your decisions were driven by what you thought would get you a good grade.  Don’t get me wrong, I was there to learn and was passionate about the subject I was studying.  But I was also practical.  I had limited time to expend and I had to figure out what was important and how to focus my effort to achieve my end goal – to graduate with ‘good marks’.

Research evidence conclusively demonstrates that the most powerful way to direct student ‘time on task’ is through assessment.  Students are motivated by and will expend energy on what they think will help them achieve a good outcome in the course.  The assessment tasks set in a course also send clear messages to students about what is important, both in terms of priority content areas but also the skills that are important in the discipline being studied.

I have found it valuable to spend time thinking about what I would like students to accomplish through completion of the assessment tasks I set.  Do I wish to develop student abilities in memorization, analysis, complex problem solving, creativity, written or verbal communication skills or a combination of the above?  How does the assessment I set match my aspirations?

In my first experience of teaching many years ago I designed the course assessment in the way that I had been assessed as an undergraduate.  Indeed, many of us start our teaching careers emulating what we have experienced as students.  I now know that the assessment method I selected did not match the objectives I had set for the course.

Thankfully I taught the course for over a decade, and in that time shifted the assessment frequency, method and focus with support and input from my institution’s learning and teaching centre.  I also introduced peer and self assessment to develop my student’s skills in evaluating their own and others work, key skills to equip students for successful life long learning.  Each year my incremental evidence based improvements had an impact.  The work my students produced demonstrated a greater mastery of the subject and higher order thinking skills.

This was accomplished with only minor changes to the way I taught the course.  I would contend that this is a small example of the power of assessment in action.

If you would like to learn more about shifting from assessment OF learning to assessment FOR learning I would suggest the Principles of Assessment document produced by the TESTA Assessment project in the United Kingdom. You may also want to check out one of the GMCTE events on assessment in the next academic year.

Boud, D. (1998). Assessment and learning – unlearning bad habits of assessment. Presentation to the Conference ‘Effective Assessment at University’, University of Queensland, 4-5 November 1998 available at http://damianeducationresearchlinks.wikispaces.com/file/view/unlearningassessment_Boud.pdf.

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