About Wenona Partridge

This blog is devoted to collecting resources, notes, reflections and dialogues that take place in the context of EDADM 892: Trends and Issues in Educational Administration. I am an Instructional Design Assistant at the Gwenna Moss Centre for Teaching Effectiveness at the University of Saskatchewan. I am currently enrolled as a graduate student in the department of Curriculum Studies and I completed a Masters of Arts in philosophy last year. My interests include reflecting on the purpose of higher education and the impact of austerity economics on access to education.

ePortfolios and the Curious Case of the End-of-Term Journal



Sessions on this topic will be held during the Fall Fortnight:

  • Mahara ePortfolios (Short & Snappy session) (Monday August 22, 2016 from 11- 11:25 AM) – Register here
  • Mahara ePortfolios (Expansion Pack session)  (Tuesday August 23 from 10:30 – 11:50 PM) – Register here

As an undergrad, I took a senior studio art class in which I had to contribute something, anything, daily (well, at least weekly) to a visual journal we would hand in at the end of term. I did nothing with that journal until a stressful and long two days before it was due. My prof loved the hastily complied and craftily “aged” journal I submitted. I even pressed aged-looking coffee cup rings onto some of the pages. However, I would have gained far more from the course had I taken the time to truly focus, reflect, and learn by using the journal as a tool, than by doing nothing until the end of term.

As a masterful procrastinator, the “end-of-term journal problem” is one I think about often. How can a course in which students must produce a sustained and reflective project be structured to best enable their success?

One solution is to require regular check-ins to ensure progress is made. However, if the project is meant to be private and reflective, weekly in-person checks are drastically inefficient for an instructor, even in smaller classes.

There is another way to check progress and provide feedback: move the project online using an eportfolio. eportfolios allow students to retain their privacy while granting the instructor access to check progress and leave comments about their work. Of course, a student might still fall behind, but I would have landed 13 pages closer to completing my visual journal had I known my prof would be checking my journal regularly, prior to the deadline.

The University of Saskatchewan eportfolio tool is our own version of open sourced Mahara. It provides a tool for students to collect, reflect, and share (if they choose) their work from one or more courses. Unlike Blackboard, a student’s eportfolio remains with them between courses and they are able to customize it based on course or even program requirements. It can store and display videos, photos, documents, and text. The layout can be customized, and it has features for planning tasks and writing reflective journal entries.

In the case of my studio course, for instance, I could have used an eportfolio to post articles I was reading in my Art History classes that were informing the art I made in the studio. I could have tracked and reflected on my progress by uploading photos of each piece in different stages of completion. The possibilities are numerous, and the ability for instructors to check-in quickly on students’ work, online and from anywhere at anytime, builds in a layer of accountability and support. This layer can help instructors track students’ learning at more points in time than only due dates and exams, and help students stay engaged with ongoing projects.

Nominating an Outstanding Teacher: Why and How?




There are a number of reasons to reward and recognize outstanding teaching at our university. Teaching awards can encourage the further development of expertise, and validate the energy and hard work that goes into teaching. Teaching awards can also foster a sense of community and help to build collegial relationships. The process of preparing an award nomination is itself heavily reliant on the strength of collegial bonds and community. For instance, a nominator must know something about the teaching style of a nominee and must rely on the nominee’s relationships with colleagues and students to procure authentic and quality letters of support.

In the video below, Dr. Beverley Brenna explains her position on the function of teaching awards on campus, and provides advice to future nominators about time-lines, strategies for presenting the material collected, and key considerations when preparing an award dossier.

If It’s Too Good to Be True: The publishing edition




At the end of June this year, I did something all graduate students look forward to doing: I uploaded the final, defended and amended version of my MA thesis to the University of Saskatchewan’s Electronic Theses and Dissertations site.

Then, only two days later, I received an email from a company offering me the chance to publish my thesis, for free. I suspected that every other grad student who submitted a thesis that month also received such a generous and tempting offer. Grad students often experience pressure to build a publication record, which I assume might be why publishing companies like this spam us.

I found an article written by journalist Joseph Stromberg, who actually went through the process of publishing with one of these companies. He wrote the most thorough story I found online about predatory publishers. I use the term ‘predatory publisher’ because, although the offer I received claimed I could publish my work at no cost, I would be required to sign over my copyright and, as Stromberg experienced, the company then pressures its authors into buying back their own work.

Early this fall, I spoke with DeDe Dawson of the U of S Library, who said that predatory or disreputable publishers have become a growing concern in academia as the academic world becomes larger and more accessible. The problem is not limited to graduate students, said Dawson, since “some disreputable journals will list you as an editorial board member without your knowledge or consent, just to get associated with your reputation.” Dawson recommends that researchers regularly Google their own names to find out if they are being listed on a site without their knowledge. She also recommends that graduate students first check with their discipline’s liaison librarian about the reputation of any journal that offers to publish work prior to responding to such offers.

What I found most troubling is that, based on the accounts I read, which include Lambert Academic Publishing (or How Not to Publish Your Thesis)and a post from 2009 called Academic Spam, predatory publishers do not appear to be breaking the law.

The moral of the story is that what looks too good to be true generally is, particularly if someone without a specialized background claims to have actually read and assessed an MA thesis (in two days).

Creativity and Innovation: An example with Soil and Art




For the past ten years, Dr. Ken Van Rees has been incorporating visual art as ateaching tool in his soil science field courses SLSC 898 and 480. Van Rees, of the Department of Soil Science, was recognized earlier this year by the Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education and Desire2Learn’s Innovation Award in Teaching and Learning. In the following address, delivered at this year’s Celebration of Teaching, Van Rees speaks about his innovative art and soil science classes and inspiring creativity in his students.

GMCTE To Host Annual Celebration of Teaching



The Gwenna Moss Centre for Teaching Effectiveness will host the annual Celebration of Teaching in recognition of the past academic year’s award-winning teachers on Friday September 12. At this year’s Celebration, the Sylvia Wallace Sessional Lecturer Award and the Provost’s Outstanding Teaching Awards will be presented.

The Celebration will take place at the U of S in Arts 241 from 3:30 to 5:30. If you are planning to attend please RSVP to Sharilyn Lee at the GMCTE at sharilyn.lee@usask.ca.

The award winners are listed below. Click on the individual names to learn more about the recipients.

Sylvia Wallace Sessional Lecturer Award

Rod Johnson and Bert Weichel, Geography and Planning

Provost’s Awards

The recipients of the campus-wide Provost’s Teaching Awards are:

  • Provost’s Award for Excellence in Aboriginal Education: Verna St, Denis
  • Provost’s Award for Outstanding New Teacher: Dionne Pohler
  • Provost’s Award for Outstanding Graduate Teaching: Jan Gelech

The winners of the Provost’s College Awards for Outstanding Teaching (college specific) are:

Master Teacher Award

2014 Spring: Ronald C.C. Cuming

2013 Fall: Debbie Pushor

PhD Reform: A Speedier and Dissertation-Free Degree?




Not long ago, I began the arduous process of applying to PhD programs. I didn’t make it far. What stopped me was not a lack of desire to push learning further, to what most graduate students see as the logical end of journey that began with their first university class. I was stopped by the nagging sense a PhD would simply take more time and resource than I had available.

Because I disliked falling prey to so utilitarian an impulse, I began looking into the PhD itself, to better understand why such a worthy intellectual endeavor appeared unsustainable and to find out if other students felt the same way.  My search led me to numerous blogs and reports about the PhD in today’s world, some of which can be found in my blog post about alt-ac careers. (alternative academic careers).

Wondering what to do with a PhD is, however, not the same as wondering why one would do a PhD at all. The latter question is better answered by examining the process rather than the outcome of earning the degree. The Academica Group’s Top Ten list featured a short round-up of current positions taken on the future of PhD programs, some of which were presented at a round table discussion during the 2014 Congress of the Canadian Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences.

Two of the projects featured were McGill University’s White Paper on the Future of the PhD in the Humanities and the Modern Language Association’s Report of the Task Force on Doctoral Study in Modern Language and Literature. Both of these documents recommend extensive changes to the PhD, as well as investigating career outcomes.

Both documents recommend shortening the time to completion and increasing engagement with the world outside academia. To speed up the process and increase engagement, both explored the possibility of replacing the PhD dissertation with, for instance, “a coherent ensemble of scholarly projects,” recommended by the White Paper.

Simply speeding up the time to completion would certainly reduce the opportunity cost of a PhD program, but is this a realistic goal, even if the traditional dissertation is abandoned? Alicia Peaker, development editor at GradHacker responded in this interview, “what Graduate students need is not more or less time – it’s more support.” The debate continues and is worth following, particularly if you are a student currently looking at PhD programs.

Undergraduate Student Engagement Underpins Success of Indigenous Philosophy Class




How can a European educated, non-Aboriginal philosopher effectively and ethically teach a course on Indigenous philosophy? For Dr. Daniel Regnier, professor and department head of philosophy at St. Thomas More College, the answer to this question was to set aside a traditional approach to teaching in favour of collaboratively designing and teaching Phil 115: Indigenous Philosophy.

Regnier and Lee“There is a big ethical problem in approaching teaching the normal way when there is such a history of injustice. Normally, a professor who has a minimal familiarity with logic or some philosophical tradition would still be qualified to teach, for instance, an introductory logic class,” Regnier said about the challenges he faced designing and teaching a class on Indigenous philosophy.

Instead of following the traditional model, Regnier co-designed and co-taught the 2012-13 offering of Phil 115 with senior undergraduate student of philosophy Erica Lee, who is Nehiyaw (Plains Cree). The collaborative teaching style practiced by Regnier and Lee included inviting members of the on- and off-campus Aboriginal community into the class to share their perspectives and expertise. Lee said she found that “students were interested in the community part of education and in reaching out for support that is obviously lacking elsewhere on campus.” The sense of community created by Lee and Regnier’s collaborative teaching style helped students open up and engage in discussion. That the students responded by becoming engaged was pivotal to the class’ success. Lee said, “good philosophy is discussion. You can’t have philosophy without discussion.”

When asked to talk a bit about what Indigenous philosophy is, Lee said, “Indigenous knowledge is critical thought. It is composed of different traditions yet there is also contemporary Indigenous thought.” Because Indigenous cultures and their systems of thought have evolved and are not static, or located only in a text, Regnier said, “it is important to bring in the community or you’ll be out to lunch on the whole thing.”

“Indigenous philosophy is about community and collaboration,” Lee said about the importance of establishing a collaborative and community-minded classroom. Regnier noted that this way of teaching philosophy – as not only a body of content but as a way of life, can also be found in the ancient Greek understanding of philosophy as a practice and a way of being in the world. A similarly comparative analysis can be made of core, introductory philosophical topics such as personhood, identity and knowledge that would be taught in any class about western philosophy. As such, Phil 115 was not only a collaboration of people, but also of ideas.

“It was such a wonderful experience. To be given that responsibility was empowering and amazing. It is something I’m very lucky to have been involved with,” said Lee. The experience was rewarding for Regnier as well, who said, “you always say, as a teacher, that you learn from your students. This experience was different. It was clear from this case that I truly learned from my students. Teaching in this way meant students felt empowered and engaged.”

Curating your Experience – What an ePortfolio can do for you




I recently spent some time on a project to move a learning log used by a non-profit organization to track the progress of their young participants into an online environment. I have since learned a lot about the various tools available to create and publish such documents online, but I remained curious about the rationale behind creating an online learning log or, as it is commonly called, an ePortfolio.

Luckily, the TOOC (Introduction to Learning Technologies) currently running through the GMCTE covers e-portfolios extensively in week 11.  My goal with this post is to provide a summary of what I have learned about ePortfolios, some of which draws on the resources you can find in week 11.

What is an ePortfolio?

An ePortfolio is a collection of ‘artifacts’, which can be photos or text documents – anything that represents a task or a step in the learning process. The sort of material that composes an e-portfolio can be representative of either educational or professional development.

How is an ePortfolio used?

An ePortfolio is also a map of the learning process and a means of reflecting back on what one has learned or accomplished.  As such, it is a means not only of demonstrating what you have learned or accomplished, but can itself become a means to better identify goals and more intentionally direct one’s path.

How do I put an ePortfolio together?

There are many tools available online to help you build a visually appealing ePortfolio. Before you choose a tool, it is important to remember that, as pointed out in an article by Suzanne Bowness for University Affairs, “Even fans acknowledge it’s not so much the tool as the philosophy that makes e-portfolios compelling.”

If it is the case that the ideas underpinning an ePortfolio are more important than the tool used to build it, then it is with this step that you should ideally begin.  Bowness also claims it is the “dual function of reflection and record keeping that is one of the e-portfolio’s most compelling features.” I believe this dual function applies to both learning and professional ePortfolios.  As such, a portfolio should contain artifacts as well as some context, or reflection on the artifacts.

I also believe that there is no set recipe that needs to be followed when putting together a portfolio, since the ideas underpinning each different portfolio will themselves differ.  That said, if you are having a tough time getting started, do your homework on the topic of ePortfolios first. For instance, you can review the resources in week 11 and the University of Waterloo’s excellent summary of ePortfolios.

GMCTE Resources – Our Staff Picks




Over the years, we at the GMCTE have been collecting resources about all aspects of teaching and learning. The collection includes a library, copies of Bridges newsletter, a blog, social media and a large section of our website. That is a fairly long list of resources and, unless you have a specific idea of what you want, it can be a bit overwhelming. So, I thought it would be useful to ask our staff about the most interesting or useful resource they would recommend:

GMCTE Library

Colleen Charles: I would recommend Magaret Kovach’s Indigenous Methodologies: Characteristics, Conversations, and Contexts, University of Toronto Press, Toronto, 2009, if someone is doing research in an Indigenous sphere.

Sheryl Mills: Research is Ceremony: Indigenous Research Methods, Shawn Wilson, Fernwood Publishing, Halifax & Winnipeg, 2008

Tereigh Ewert-Bauer: For the novice teacher, especially, the book Tools for Teaching: Second Edition by Barbara Gross Davis (2009) is an excellent resource.  As the title suggests, the text offers up many tools to be used in the classroom.  The writing is accessible and the book is well and clearly organized.  Used by the graduate students of the Gwenna Moss courses for graduate teachers, many former students say that they keep this resource on their shelf for easy access, as they use it often.  You can find the book in our library or online, here.

Bridges

Our newsletter is available in print form at the Centre, or as a PDF on our website. Some of the staff favourites include Master Teacher interviews, featured annually, and any one of the several articles written by Brad Wuetherick (former GMCTE Program Director) on the topic of threshold Concepts.

Educatus

Our blog started on August 1, 2012. The posts are written by members of our staff and concern all aspects of teaching and learning. Ryan Banow and I both chose Experiencing and Embracing Controversy in the Classroom by Susan Bens as our current favourite post, which has to do with a teaching strategy Susan has employed in her class called “structured controversy.”

Online Resources

Carolyn Hoessler : action verb sheet, downloadable at the bottom of the Curriculum Alignment tool page.

Ryan Banow: John Kleefeld on Case-based teaching in the College of Law – video:

The Course Design Process



If you have made it through one or more university degrees, it is likely that you have wondered why some courses appeared almost entirely unplanned, while others were highly structured and obviously planned well in advance.  If you have ever been a teaching assistant or an instructor, it is likely that you thought about how to plan a course so that students, like you did in the past, get the most from it.  This can be a daunting thought for a first time instructor, or for an instructor who wants to try something different while planning next term’s courses. Luckily, others have thought about this a great deal, and there is a process that can be followed by instructors to help make designing courses manageable and a bit easier.

The instructional design team at the GMCTE recently developed a series of resource pages on its website for instructors in the process of planning a course. The pages are based on the GMCTE’s Course Design Institute and are divided into four, easy to follow steps.

Each step includes explanatory videos and templates you can download and use to plan your course:

  • Step one looks at the process of analyzing the needs of your students and the context in which they are learning.
  • Step two introduces you to writing effective learning outcomes and setting standards of assessment.
  • Step three takes you through the final design phase, including what is constructive alignment, how best to organize content and choose effective teaching strategies, and information about composing your syllabus.
  • Step four is the implantation of the prior steps. This step includes a link to resources on our site that can help you assess how well your course works for your students.

For more insight into this process, you can view the video below, which presents some ideas about course planning by Jay Wilson from the College of Education and Heather M. Ross from the Gwenna Moss Centre:

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