Interested in Funding for your Teaching Innovation? Check out the “Innovative Teaching Showcase”



Sometimes, that example from a peer is just what is needed to help us move from thinking about it to doing it!

As part of GMCTL Celebration Week, check out a wide range of teaching and learning projects undertaken with assistance of funds administered through the Gwenna Moss Centre for Teaching and Learning since 2012. Four showcases, each organized around a theme and set up as a series of faculty panel presentations, are offered:

  • Teaching approaches and open pedagogy, Wednesday, April 26 9:00 – 12:00
  • Indigenization, Wednesday, April 26, 1:00 – 4:00
  • Program and course design, Thursday, April 27 1:00 – 4:00
  • Experiential learning and undergraduate research, Friday, April 28 9:00 – 12:00

All sessions will be held in the Edwards School of Business room 3.

 Why register?

Come out to learn about how projects were conceived, the ways funds and other supports were used, and lessons learned and impacts on student learning and faculty teaching.  Hearing how others found the time and the funds for implementing their new ideas may help spur your own thinking or get you over the hump to pursue that project you’ve had in mind for awhile.

Faculty from across campus who were successful in securing funding of several kinds administered through the GMCTL have volunteered to describe their initiatives. You will leave the showcases with new campus connections and ideas for your teaching. See the list of presenters and register via our GMCTL Celebration Week site.

Funding?

During IP3, the Provost’s Committee for Integrated Planning charged the Vice Provost Teaching and Learning to administer funds in support of Experiential Learning initiatives and Curriculum Innovation, and later government funds to support Open Textbooks were added. Funding processes and assistance have been administered through the GMCTL. For more information click on any of these links or e-mail gmctl@usask.ca or call us. We can provide direct assistance planning projects, writing applications, and accessing a wide variety of campus supports for projects.

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.

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 http://www.usask.ca/gmcfortnight/

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

Historical Biases in Understanding Culture – A Barrier to Indigenization?




Western society has made significant advances in empirically derived truth and scientific inquiry (e.g., anthropology, psychology, linguistics, etc.) since the Age of Enlightenment (e.g., Descartes, Diderot, Montesquieu, Turgot, Vico, Voltaire, etc.). The impact and importance of this epistemological approach to the world and its mass adoption by Western societies can be perceived in many elements of European civilization and culture (Boon, 1972; Goodenough, 1961; Keesing, 1974; Triandis, 1994).

The rise of Europe’s epistemological renaissance occurred during the era of colonial expansion. At the time that Europe was pressing itself onto numerous societies around the world, dominating the global stage, many Western thinkers were using this colonial perspective as the backdrop for their formation of a scientific approach to culture. From their perspective, culture comprised of a society’s knowledge, values, beliefs, arts, technologies, morals, laws, customs, practices and habits (Boon, 1972; Goodenough, 1961; Hofstede, 1984, 2001; Keesing, 1974; Triandis, 1994). While this is a reasonable interpretation, it contained, unfortunately, the value of innovation and technological advancement (see Tylor, 1871; Harris, 1971; Stocking, 1966). This innovation approach to knowledge and culture is a European value rather than a core component of culture. The problem with this misattribution is that it is self-serving; it allows for the imposition of continuum-based view of a society’s culture based on their technological sophistication and advancement. For Europeans, this provided them with the appearance of an unbiased way of judging societies as more or less civilized (or savage). Furthermore, this social evolutionist perspective of culture (Harris, 1971; Long & Chakov, 2009) allowed colonial societies to believe, naively or not, that less civilized societies would eventually evolve toward the same position as Europe, especially if they were given the ‘right’ support and guidance (Boas, 1904).

Fortunately, more modern social scientific thought posits “that cultures be understood in their own right, not as a rung in a hierarchical ladder of evolution, […] but simply as a qualitatively varied entity” (citing Boas; Hogan & Sussner, 2001, p. 22). Despite this more equitable and relativistic approach to culture in social scientific disciplines, it is very difficult for the typical citizen to not use what they know and value as a filter for examining other cultures and ways of knowing. Without the appropriate training and critical reflection, anyone can be forgiven for not recognizing this misattribution bias. From this perspective, I sometimes wonder if remnants of Tylor’s 1871 perspective of culture still exist in our society? How pervasive is the use of one’s own values, beliefs and institutions in trying to understand, and judge, other cultures? Can we find ways to move past these types of biases to build a pluralistic cultured environment at the University of Saskatchewan?

As always, I would appreciate hearing from you about your thoughts, concerns, or suggestions on this blog post. Please contact me to talk (stryker.calvez@usask.ca).

If you would like information about the GMCTE including about the programs and supports we offer, please contact us at gmcte@usask.ca

References
Boas, F. (1904). The history of anthropology. Science, 20, 513-524.
Boon, J. A. (1972). From Symbolism to Structuralism: Levi-Strauss in Literary Tradition. New York, NY: Harper and Row.
Goodenough, W. H. (1961). Comment on cultural evolution. Daedalus, 90, 521-528.
Harris, M. (1971).  The rise of anthropological theory: A history of theories of culture. New York, NY: Thomas Y. Crowell Company, Inc.
Hofstede, G. (1984). Culture’s consequences: Differences in work-related values. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage Publications Inc.
Hofstede, G. (2001). Culture’s consequences: Comparing values, behaviours, institutions and organizations across nations, 2nd Ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications Inc.
Hogan, J. D. & Sussner, B. D. (2001). Cross-cultural psychology in historical perspective. In L. L. Adler & U. P. Gielen (Eds.). Cross-cultural topics in psychology. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers.
Keesing, R. M. (1974). Theories of culture. Annual Review of Anthropology, 3, 73-97.
Long, H., & Chakov, K. (2009). Social Evolutionism. Retrieved on April 30, 2010, from: http://web.as.ua.edu/ant/cultures/cultures.php.
Stocking, G. W. (1966). Franz Boas and the culture concept in historical perspective. American Anthropologist, 68, 867-882.
Triandis HC. 1994. Culture and Social Behaviour. New York: McGraw-Hill
Tylor, E. B. (1871). Primitive Culture. New York, NY: Brentano’s.

Indigenizing Education Series: Getting started …




As an Indigenous educator, researcher, and scholar, academics have asked me more often about ‘how’ we, the collective we, can improve the situation for the First Nation, Metis, and Inuit peoples than ‘why’ we should do this? While I appreciate the recognition that something needs to be done, I am often taken back when I realize that the reasons for this change, the ‘why’, are not well understood. How do you Indigenize an institution, like the University of Saskatchewan, if you don’t now what the issues are that need to be addressed? Therefore, my response is always preceded by a pause as I contemplate where do I start?

I would like to be clear, I am never upset by the ‘how’ question. The fact that people are asking questions is excellent, but we need to understand the reasons for ‘why’ we are Indigenizing so that we are better informed about ‘how’ we should Indigenize. Over the coming months, I intend to write a series of blog posts identifying and exploring some key issues that I hope you will find informative and interesting.

… In the classroom

So why isn’t there an adequate and necessary amount of support for Indigenous students to achieve their academic goals? I believe that it is important to understand that education can be a loaded term for some Indigenous peoples. Educational hostility or ambivalence does exist in some communities and households towards people who pursue educational goals. This lack of support for Western education is a direct result of the residential boarding school program. Community members who went to or have family members who attended residential schools (the last school closed in 1996 in SK; the Gordon Residential School) can perceive education as a negative goal. This means that there can be limited support for community members to attain high school diplomas or to pursue education at University. Western education can be seen as a direct threat to a community’s culture, language, and way of life (Battiste, 2001). This is the legacy that the residential school system instilled in Indigenous people, a lack of trust and value for Western education.

As educators, we should all recognize this lived reality for Indigenous students and try to support those who have worked hard to overcome these types of challenges to be at University. Once they have arrived, it should be our goal, even responsibility, to try to limit and remove the social, personal, and educational barriers that Indigenous students contend with. We must make classrooms safe and nurturing.

Classroom challenges for Indigenous students are sometimes related to their different ways of knowing, learning, and communicating course content. These students can have different perspectives or present ideas in the classroom that may not be perceived objectively by others in the classroom as the expected and appropriate response. In fact, differences in worldviews can often be treated as less-than-positive by instructors or other students, sometimes even coming across as hostile or prejudicial. We are talking about comments that are stereotype-based or discriminatory about Indigenous culture, history, and worldviews. For a great example of what I am talking about, take a few minutes to view the University of British Columbia’s short 20-minute video where Indigenous and non-Indigenous students provide examples of some of the difficulties that Indigenous students encounter in the classroom. These examples candidly and provocatively highlight moments when students did not feeling safe or supported and the repercussions that these experiences had on the students.

The University of British Columbia has developed a number of resources to help those who are interested in thinking through issues around classroom climate. Five modules have been developed as a useful starting point for your consideration.


Battiste, M. (2001). Aboriginal knowing: First voices. The U of S Pointer, 4, 1- 3.

 

What is the science behind your course design madness?



By Fred Phillips, Professor, Baxter Scholar, Edwards School of Business

As we begin another year, students are encountering some of the course design decisions made by their instructors. Some will be introduced to “flipped classrooms”, where students prepare by reading/viewing/responding to a learning prompt before it is formally taken up in class. Others will encounter new learning tools, such as adaptive reading systems that embed interactive questions within reading materials with the goal of assessing each student’s comprehension so that new topics can be delivered the moment he or she is ready to comprehend them.

Just as instructors have questions about these approaches and tools, students are likely to be curious about whether there is a method to our course design madness. To help explain the underlying learning science, I have made a few videos that describe relevant (and fun) studies that lend support to these pedagogies. Each video focuses on a particular question that students (and possibly instructors) are likely to have about elements of their courses. Each video describes two or three relevant studies in just enough depth to convey the gist of how they were designed and what they discovered. And, in the spirit of a TED Talk, they are each less than 10 minutes in length.

My thought with these videos is that instructors can send each link to students at the moment they expect their students will be asking the particular question, or they can provide them en masse. My hope is that the videos will help students appreciate why our courses might be designed as they are. And, if we’re really lucky, the videos will inspire our campus community to learn more about the scholarship of teaching and learning. Enjoy!

1. Why do we have so many tests? (7 min 24 sec)

  • Students often wonder why I plan frequent quizzes and exams throughout the term.

2. Why attempt to answer questions before “being taught”? (7 min 22 sec)

  • Students often think that there isn’t benefit in attempting to answer questions before they are formally taught content.

3. Is easier and more convenient learning better? (8 min 54 sec)

  • Is it more effective for students to have a cramming study session or to study throughout the term? When practicing, should students group questions of similar type or mix different question types? Does use of analogies help or hinder student learning?

How to Jump Start You Curriculum Innovation




Curriculum and teaching innovation are rarely held back, ultimately, by money alone. But, if getting a bit of money could get your initiative moving ahead, you might like some help from the Curriculum Innovation Fund.

What is the Curriculum Innovation Fund?
The CI Fund is intended to provide financial support to curriculum innovation and renewal projects at the University of Saskatchewan that specifically change or develop content or methods of a collection of courses.   The fund can support initiatives focused on a single course that pilot an innovation or show potential to contribute to program-level change.

Why was the Curriculum Innovation Fund established?
The fund was established by the Provost’s Committee on Integrated Planning (PCIP) to implement the priorities of IP3 and specifically to support innovation in academic programs and services. The fund is allocated $250K annually, beginning in 2012-2013 and ending in 2016-2017. For a list of projects and recipients to date, see: http://www.usask.ca/gmcte/awards/curriculum_recipients.

What is the application process?
The application is in the form of a 4-page word document with word limits suggested, point form accepted, and a budget table provided. Drafting assistance is available from the staff at the GMCTE. Applications are accepted at any time and response usually occurs within 1-3 weeks.

http://www.usask.ca/gmcte/awards/curriculumfund

How to start?
Contact us at the GMCTE, check out our comprehensive website, and consider coming to a workshop for hands on drafting assistance on Feburary 4 or March 4. Click here for more information and to register. http://www.usask.ca/gmcte/events

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.

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.