Gearing Up With Fall Fortnight 2016


Fall Fortnight Postcard - Front“Happy New Year!!” That is how I think of September and the new school year. This often coincides with a strong pull to stationary stores, tidying my office, organizing my supplies, reading new books, and pulling out sweaters and warm socks.

Gearing up for the Fall Term is exciting. There’s often anticipation, hope, renewed energy for trying new things and looking forward to tweaking things I tried last year. I think about taking a class. There are new “school” clothes, crisp mornings, and longer shadows when I head for home. All of that is bundled together as the new term starts. I think about the new faculty, staff, and students joining the community of University of Saskatchewan in the most beautiful city in Saskatoon. And meeting new people and renewing connections with colleagues after the summer is fun.

The Fall Fortnight 2016 tugs on all these feelings of fresh starts, new ideas, learning that leads to change, connecting and reconnecting into the campus community, and gearing up for the 2016-2017 teaching and learning adventure. With over twenty sessions on a wide variety of topics in a variety of formats you will no doubt find something that intrigues you or answers a question you might have. There are Just-for-YOU sessions for new faculty, grad students, and post-docs in addition to all the other sessions on offer. New this year are sessions on the ADKAR change model and strengths-based approaches to setting up groups for success. For more highlights and a description of the sessions types take a look at this short video:

And it’s easy to register too. Check out

If you don’t see what you are looking for, drop us a line and let us know what you would like to see on the schedule next time around. And you can also request a tailored session—we work with you to design a session on the topic of your choice specific to your unit’s needs.

Looking forward to seeing at you at the Fall Fortnight (or in the Bowl or at a stationary store).

Fortnight Postcard - Back

Using Reflective Practice to Become the Teacher You Want to Be


With Wenona Partridge, GMCTE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Teaching Goals, the Learning Charter, and the Fall Fortnight


It’s hard to believe, as we sit on a 30+ day, that the fall term is coming up fast! It is even warm in my office today as I write. (And for those of you who have stopped by on other days and needed to put on a jacket, you know how hot it must be out there to warm it up in here!!) At the Centre we have been busy planning for the start of the fall turn and, as always, our guiding star is the University of Saskatchewan’s Learning Charter.

It reminds us of our responsibilities and commitments to the university community. There are specific commitments and responsibilities for instructors. We use these to guide the support we offer to instructors.

One of the ways we cluster opportunities are the seasonal fortnights—two weeks of an eclectic mix of sessions offered in a variety of formats. The next Fortnight runs from August 17th through to the 28t. Information for instructors is here: and for graduate students and post-docs is here:

We look forward to getting together again soon! For more information on any of these sessions, or to suggest sessions, please contact GMCTE.

Just a reminder—the commitments and responsibilities for instructors are:

  1. Exemplify Learning: Create a learning context which values and facilitates active learning and broad thinking; Act according to ethical principles; Create a learning environment where all participants engage respectfully.
  1. Teach Effectively: Be aware of the range of appropriate instructional strategies for teaching the course content; Select & utilize effective methods of instruction. Provide graduate teaching assistants with the proper guidance and supervision.
  1. Assess Fairly: Clearly communicate & uphold academic expectations and standards; Ensure that assessment of student learning is transparent, consistent and congruent with course outcomes; Regularly provide prompt & constructive feedback to students.
  1. Solicit Feedback: Provide opportunities for students to give candid feedback on their learning experience without fear of repercussions; Solicit feedback on teaching effectiveness from other areas; Reflect on feedback and continually strive to improve.

Authentic Assessment


I think of authentic assessments as ways for students to demonstrate knowledge and understanding in a public way. What makes assessment authentic for me is that students do something to show what they know in a public way that benefits a wider community than the one person assigning a grade.

The posters that students did in their first year College of Agriculture and Bioresources (AgBio) classes this past term are, in my way of defining authentic assessment, stellar examples.

Working in teams, students prepared a research poster as part of their undergraduate research experience. On the afternoon of December 3rd there were 99 posters on display up and down hallways in AgBio. What an impressive and exciting initiative!

I spent the afternoon asking students about their research and reading posters. I spent time with about 30 of the 99 teams. All students were articulate, knowledgeable, engaged, and prepared. In comparing notes with the other judges, this was the rule—without exception.

It was a great afternoon—and example authentic assessment—students got direct feedback through their interaction with their peers, instructors, and people walking through AgBio. They received feedback from their instructors throughout the research process that culminated in the poster afternoon.

It was a big undertaking for the students, instructors, TAs, and research coaches involved but the impact, the connections, the sharing of ideas and information, the chance to discuss and explain…It was powerful. And I think it created memories that will not be forgotten for a long time—if ever.

So the students could have handed in an individual report on a question they were interested in and the instructors could have been the only people who benefitted from reading what the students wrote, but this was an event.

If you have an example of when you have implemented an authentic assessment strategy in your class or you are interested in brainstorming and planning ways to integrate authentic assessment in your class please contact us at the Gwenna Moss Centre.

Note: AgBio is one of the three pilot sites and the instructors of the first year courses took up the initiative in a big way! Their goal was for every AgBio student to have an undergraduate research experience in the first term of their first year. (For more on this initiative check out a couple of Murray Drew’s blog posts:




This past term, the day after the Dean of the College of Arts and Science Peter Stoicheff”s acoustic guitar noon-hour concert, I got two recommends for new and up-coming recording artists.

Stella Swanson is my second cousin. Her grandmother sent me a link to the interview she did with CBC radio and one of Stella’s songs. I listened and was blown away! Stella and her mom and sister had done “in-house concerts” when I visited them this past spring and it was awesome. Talk about taking it to the next level with the CD release and website. Her CD is “I’m not a Bunny.” I bought her CD on iTunes and it is what she described in her interview: she thought music for kids could be written and recorded by a kid.

Dean Peter Stoicheff and Jim Cuddy 2

Peter Stoicheff with Jim Cuddy in 2012

Stella is 8 years old.

Later that same day, I got a text from a friend recommending, out of the blue, Sam Smith’s debut CD. I listened to several songs on YouTube and then bought the CD, on iTunes once again. This is one you may have heard.

Sam Smith is 22 years old.

Stella is home-schooled. Sam started his music career, by-passing college, after leaving home and schooling at 18.

There are a couple of reasons for sharing this with you…

Stella and Sam are doing what they love and sharing it with the world. Stella’s school for these past six months has been writing lyrics and music and recording the cd with a Juno winning artist. Sam is traveling and sharing his music all over the world. I am excited to see where their paths take them! It may or may not involve universities…

Heather Ross, my colleague at the GMCTE recently briefed me on “personal learning networks” (PLN) and this was a huge validation of that concept for me. Through my PLN I got the heads up on this music. I don’t watch television or listen to the radio so music has to find me in other ways and in one day it was through my PLN which I didn’t even know about as a concept two weeks earlier.

I invite you to think about your personal learning networks and what they bring to you and how you contribute back. As for me, I wrote a blog post. 😉

Crafting Artful Teaching


I’ve been a teacher since I was 6 years old and I still absolutely grin when I see a class that is well-structured and flows with lots of student and instructor excitement and enthusiasm that is “on purpose.” When the class time flies by, things are “accomplished,” there’s action, and “learning” is palpable, that is what we strive for, and to me it’s as beautiful as a great movie, a heart-felt song, or a painting that claims your attention.

I saw these qualities in a 50-minute class taught by Leah Ferguson, a new faculty member in Kinesiology. I was absolutely grinning by the end of the class so I asked Leah if I could interview her to find out more about how she planned for it…Just so you know, this was an 08:30 class that started at 08:31 with all seats full and only one student coming in very shortly after things got underway.

Where Do You Get Your Examples?


I recently interviewed Leah Ferguson, faculty member in Kinesiology, about how she chooses the examples she uses to illustrate concepts in her first year KIN class…

This might surprise you at first but then it’s an “of course!!” What a way to make research real, build a sense of collegiality, highlight what’s going on in the college, and let students know about the research of their other professors. The real examples from the college make the concepts come alive!

The interview is about five minutes…let us know what you think.

Who’s in Charge? You or the Room?


ISSoTL 2014 was held this past October in Quebec City. I was attracted to the conference not just because of the theme (“Nurturing Passion and Creativity in Teaching and Learning”) but also because of the location—I had not been to Quebec City before.

Quebec City WallI walked from the Hotel Claredon, reputedly the oldest hotel in Canada, to the conference centre through the gates going from the old city to the “new” city each morning. I couldn’t help but notice how different it felt from one side of the wall to the other. The transition zone was well marked and prominent.

On the winding narrow streets of the Old City, every bend held a surprise. Roadways and sidewalks were suggestions rather than rules and the pace was different—the chance of being mowed down by speeding cars was minimal. In the new city, however, traffic was whizzing by several lanes deep and the wide streets had none of the Narrow streets of the Lower Town of Quebec Cityfriendliness of the narrow winding ones. I found that I behaved one way as a pedestrian in the old city and in another way in the new city. Thank goodness for the demarcation of the gates! They were my cue for when to change my behavior.

In the conference sessions I also found that stepping across the threshold into the space cued my expectations, and subsequent behavior, depending on the furniture arrangement and size. In the large auditorium with all 500 chairs facing “the front” I had no expectation of interacting with others. I was there to listen politely to the person at the podium. In the space with round tables and different areas of focus, I knew I would be meeting people and discussing ideas. The space arrangements cued my expectations regarding what I would be doing and what would be expected of me in that space.

Two of the sessions I attended at the conference were specifically about learning spaces. I was fascinated about how changing spaces was changing how instructors were teaching and how obvious it was that a traditional lecture space commanded and conformed “all that enter here” to be in “listening-to-expert” mode. It would, of course, take great energy and effort to counteract the norms cultivated and conveyed by the space itself in order to integrate active learning! No wonder students are shocked when they are asked to do “work” in the lecture environment—the room arrangement has cued them differently.

The two sessions I attended were about the University of Lethbridge’s LEE (Learning Environment Evaluation) project and Queen’s three specially designed active learning classrooms up and running in Ellis Hall. The 4-minute video on Ellis Hall is well-worth the time to get a quick overview.

To think about: How you interact with the spaces you inhabit? Does it shape your behavior or do you make it work for you?

We would love to know how you have taken command of the space you teach in to use strategies you know are most effective rather than letting the space dictate how you teach.

The picture of the city gates is courtesy of Smudge 9000, while the one of the narrow streets of Quebec City is courtesy of GK tramrunner229. Both pictures carry Creative Commons licenses. Details are available by clicking on the pictures.

Creativity? Teamwork? Tips for Effective Creative Collaborating


At a recent Leadership Conversation we focused on creativity as it pertains to collaborative projects. We based our discussion on ideas from the book Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull who was one of the founders and is the current President of Pixar Animation. (For those of us who didn’t read the book, we got the Coles Notes version from a short video of Ed Catmull speaking about some of what he later wrote in this book. It’s well worth the time to watch!)

Heather Ross, who facilitated this conversation, focused our conversation around the following three questions:

1. What was one thing that you took away from what Catmull said in his talk?

2. How do you encourage people to show off their failures or works-in-progress to get better? How do you get yourself to do this?

3. How do you as a leader do those “deep assessments” even when your unit is piling up successes (so that little things don’t become nightmares)? If you’re not currently in a leadership role, or even if you are, how do you do this on a personally professional level?

From our discussion we came to a half dozen key takeaways for fostering effective creativity in collaborative situations:

  • Take care of yourself (“regular maintenance of self”). Creativity is like any kind of exercise—eat right, get enough sleep, know your limits, take time for yourself to keep at your best. Come to the creative team ready to roll and with the energy to do so.
  • Be candid in your dealings with yourself and with others. If we don’t share our ideas openly with the groups we are working in, those ideas—that may seem crazy to our internal critics—may be exactly the spark that takes the group to the next level. If you are afraid to speak up with your ideas you are doing you and your group a great disservice. Having confidence makes a person better able to contribute.
  • Do not place yourself above or below anyone else. Regardless of positional power differentials, realize that everyone has something to contribute and all ideas are worthy of respect. See yourself as equal to all other group members.
  • What you view as success needs to be embedded in a larger context. Clearly define what the most desirable outcomes are for your time together and for the project. “Success” is a very slippery concept. In fact, according to one group member, the word “success” does not even exist in the Cree language!
  • On the flip side, “failure” is simply failing to meet the established criteria at given time. Criteria and timing both shift making what might have been a “failure” at one time, a great leap forward at another. Find your way through “mistakes” [miss-takes] and keep going as you clarify and refine.
  • Watch your language! It speaks volumes! Watch your language for judgmental and victim statements. Keep focused on the shared goal and direct all energies towards the achievement of that goal. Clear and neutral language, asking for clarification, and assuming you didn’t understand before thinking that you did are all helpful for constructively working together on creative projects.

If you are interested in other Leadership Conversation topics, more on creativity, or on effective creative teamwork, please get in touch with us at the Gwenna Moss Centre.


Tamarind, Teaching and Undergraduate Research


For the first time today, I tasted tamarind. I felt like I had discovered something so surprisingly delicious and interesting that I wondered why I had gone this long without knowing about it. This fruit’s benefits are wide-ranging and well known apparently—they just hadn’t been to me. I wasn’t introduced to it through family or friends, but I found information about it as I was searching for ways to reduce fluoride accumulations in the body—I was trying to solve a problem and it was one of the possible solutions to the problem.

New teaching strategies—or new-to-you teaching strategies—can be similar to discovering the tamarind fruit. Billions of people over the past 4000 years have been familiar with it, but it wasn’t within my realm of experience due to the limits of my family and social groups. With a problem to solve and Google, set off to find this fruit.

Now the leap to teaching and research…

Research I carried out on the integration of active learning into undergraduate classes, found that faculty integrated new strategies in response to problems they were trying to solve. They “found” a new strategy at a conference, workshop, or through journal articles and then used it to see if this new strategy or approach solved the problem. If it made a difference, the method was embedded in the course and if it didn’t make a difference it was dropped. Instructors used informal cycles of action research and reflective practice to renovate their teaching practices.

So here’s the thing…whether we recognize it or not we are doing “research” all the time in response to the problems we want to solve or to satisfy our curiosity. Research is learning, and learning is changing how we interact with the world. (You may have recognized this as a subtle plug for undergraduate research if you are a member of the pilot group 😉

The teaching problem: You might want to have students more engaged in their own learning because you know they learn better if they are engaged. You heard about cooperative learning being one of the most engaging teaching strategies. You find out how to implement cooperative learning and you give it a try. If you see students more engaged, you will use it again. If not, well, it was worth a try. Think tamarind fruit and be curious. And remember that just because a teaching strategy might be new to you, there are others who are very familiar with it because they have grown up in a culture where it is common practice. They can help you integrate a new strategy into your class. A good number of people who know about a variety of effective teaching strategies happen to be in the Gwenna Moss Centre. Give us a call if you are interested in more information about a wide variety of teaching approaches—including cooperative learning and undergraduate research

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