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

A Short Reflection of a Graduate Student Fellow


By Ayodele Olagunju, Doctoral Candidate, School of Environment and Sustainability

Ayodele OlagunjuMy time working on a graduate fellowship at the Gwenna Moss Centre for Teaching Effectiveness highlights a most significant period in my graduate program. As a doctoral candidate with a deep longing to be part of a vibrant academic community, I did have a clue of my job description, which was to support some GSR classes, among others, and I was confident it was going to be a two-way opportunity both to equip and to be equipped in the areas of effective teaching. The only fear I had then was that despite a fair amount of exposure to teaching at the university level, teaching about teaching was not a familiar terrain for me. But sometimes in life, to discover what you are good at, you need to get the opportunity to try, sometimes to fail, at other times to surprise yourself, and eventually to succeed.

During my time at the Centre, I had opportunities working with great colleagues—faculty, staff, and students. I explored, engaged, learned, and evolved. In the process, I became much more aware of myself as an instructor through reflective practices and interaction with colleagues. Over time, it became increasingly clear that what stimulated my interest in the fellowship originally was my desire to always be the best I could through openness to learning and willingness to take intelligent risks as an instructor. From my experience teaching as a sessional in the department of geography and planning at the university, I had known at least from student feedback that my teaching strengths include my ability to experiment with different learning activities in order to cater to diverse a student audience, to facilitate an interactive and safe learning environment where students can have poly-logic conversations, and to provide constructive feedback during the learning process. However, it wasn’t until this fellowship that I was able to put these qualities into perspective, as I had to shift my role from learning about teaching to contributing to teaching about teaching. With this opportunity, I developed the confidence to share my stories—successes and failures—with graduate students and colleagues who enrolled in the courses I was part of.

Pondering on my experience at the Centre, there are two key take-aways for me as an instructor. Firstly, my experience reinforces my long-held belief about teaching, particularly that a teacher is a leader—a builder of dreams, a model, a motivator, and a mentor. The teaching team I worked with exemplified these characteristics in the way the classes were facilitated and from the various formative feedbacks obtained from students in the process. Secondly, and more importantly, is that an effective teacher is a life-long learner. Like we say in sustainability parlance, sustainability effectiveness is a journey, not a destination. So also is teaching! It is a journey of learning, of giving and receiving, of reflection, of discovery, and of accomplishment! The experience has been a real challenge as I have entered an unfamiliar territory, but an essentially transformative one. The fellowship has not only enabled me to advance my teaching skills, it has also helped me to re-evaluate my approach to teaching and learning, to observe model teachers, and more importantly, to be inspired to take risk by stepping out of my comfort zone, both at the Centre and in other classes I teach on campus.

And if, in this process, my contributions have enabled graduate teachers enrolled in our classes to become more confident, more aware of their actions and beliefs as teachers, and more effective and engaging teachers, there is no greater sense of fulfillment better than this for anyone with such opportunity. My experience is that what I have learned through this fellowship is both reassuring and transformative, and offers a springboard to future teaching successes. The course on the Philosophy and Practice of University Teaching is definitely one that cannot easily go away; I have learned about teaching and learning in a more practical sense as a member of the teaching team. Many of the questions I had before taking up the fellowship have now been dealt with, and it’s time to move on with those valuable insights with the hope that I can inspire others with them.

I am thankful for the great relationships I have built with students and colleagues across the campus, who repeatedly motivated me through their comments, feedback, and inspiring personal stories about teaching and learning. Thanks to the great team at the Gwenna Moss Center for Teaching Effectiveness, and to Dr. Kim West in particular, for being my guide on the journey, and for the opportunity to contribute my perspectives to the team. Life is a continuum; the end of one phase is the beginning of another. While the interval between the two offers opportunities to explore, to discover, to be challenged, and to adapt, endings are an opportunity to assess, to reflect, and to be motivated for the future ahead. And whatever direction the journey of life takes me; the Center will always be part of me.

Graduate Student Teacher Journey


By Noura Sheikhalzoor, Graduate Student, College of Pharmacy and Nutrition

Teaching has been a rich and rewarding part of my graduate school experience. It added a new flavour to what I have been already doing in my program of courses and research. My teaching experience has taught me a lot on the technical and personal levels. I started my M.Sc. program with teaching responsibilities as part of a scholarship I earned and I was given the opportunity to be a teaching assistant (TA) to be a lab instructor and mark assignments.

Through this post, I would like to take you in a journey with me to one of my classrooms. Are you ready?

Before My Class

Before we enter the class, I need to prepare my lesson plan and materials. I make sure that I have clear learning objectives and a realistic plan for my lesson. I also prepare handouts and teaching materials, if needed, such as slides, markers, flipchart paper that will make my lesson interesting and easy to follow. I use models, visuals, and even stories.

Noura's ClassroomIn My Classroom

Now that I am ready with my plan and materials, I go to my class early to arrange the class set-up to fit my lesson. I then welcome students with a smile and I bring my energy and enthusiasm to the lesson. I use a variety of activities and teaching strategies like think-pair-share, group work, story telling (even in labs), etc. I try to also vary between the use of computer technology and low technology.

After the lesson

When my lesson is done, I sometimes ask students for feedback using a variety of methods. I then reflect on my lesson to see what went well, what needs improvement, and how I could incorporate needed changes in my future teaching. I commit to continuous reflection that will help me develop a teaching development plan and allow me to explore new ways of teaching.

Building Relationships and Seeking Mentors

Along the way as a TA, new relationships are built as you meet people such as students and mentors. Building a good rapport with students is important. It really helps in making teaching more effective and these relationships could last for a lifetime. I always tell my students that we might work together one day!

As a TA, I also work with professors and other graduate students and learn from their experiences.

Continuous Learning and Development of Teaching

Development of teaching knowledge and skills is an essential part of the teaching process. To do that, I completed courses such as GSR 989: Philosophy and Practice of University Teaching, Introduction to Teaching Online and workshops such as Instructional Skills Workshop and many other workshops on learning technologies, assessment, teaching strategies, flipped teaching and other teaching and learning topics through the Gwenna Moss Centre for Teaching Effectiveness (GMCTE).

Teaching PortfolioUnderstanding myself as a Teacher

Finally, understanding myself as a teacher is one part that has developed from learning and reflecting on my teaching. During my university teaching experience, I developed my teaching philosophy statement and my reflective teaching portfolio, both of which I am proud of!

I consider teaching to be my reward in graduate school. I would like to acknowledge all of my students, mentors, and the GMCTE for enriching my graduate school experiences and making days memorable.

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.

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).

Twitter As A Catalyst for Science


By Jorden Cummings, Assistant Professor, Department of Psychology

In May I had the pleasure of participating in a symposium at the annual Association for Psychological Science (APS) conference entitled Social Media as a Catalyst for Psychological Science. (The organizer of that symposium, Cedar Riener, wrote a great summary of our symposium  – including the slides from our talks). My own contribution was specifically about using Twitter as a psychological scientist. In fact, the very reason I was invited to participate in the symposium is because I follow Cedar Riener on Twitter, and responded to his tweet looking for someone to fill in for a symposium speaker who could no longer make the conference.

I started using Twitter more actively in my teaching (which is primarily online) a little over a year ago, as a way to connect with other researchers, and to disseminate the research activities my lab participates in. Even though not many of my colleagues follow me on Twitter, I get asked a lot about it: How does Twitter work? (I’m happy to show anyone). Does it take up a lot of time? (Not really, personally). Is it worth it? (For me, yes). Why should I use it? (More on that in a minute).

I also encourage my graduate students to utilize it as a means of self-promotion, to stay up to date on the research literature as it develops, and to connect with other scientists. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to convince many of them. (For great reasons on why graduate students should be part of Twitter, you should check out this blog post on the Thesis Whisperer).

For me, Twitter is a means of engaging in conversations with other scientists and “meeting” interesting people – many of whom I have since met face to face. Unexpectedly, my Twitter engagement has led to several research opportunities: the conference talk at APS in May, a research study currently under review (which was conducted entirely via Twitter), another manuscript in preparation, and an invitation to speak at A.I. Dupont Children’s Hospital in Wilmington, Delaware later this month.

Approximately 1 in 40 researchers is active on Twitter (Priem et al., 2012). Moreover, Twitter provides increased speed and breadth compared to traditional networking (e.g., local colleagues, conferences, and email; Darling et al., 2013). In fact, Darling and colleagues reported that, on average, a scientist’s Twitter following was 7 times larger than his or her home department. Furthermore, top cited articles can be, according to some data, predicted from tweeting frequency about the article (Eysenbach, 2011).

Why should you, as a researcher, use Twitter? For that I direct you to this excellent post by Hope Jahren: “What I Say When My Colleagues Ask Me If They Should Be On Twitter” as well as the article by Darling and colleagues (full text available online) that outlines how Twitter works and the advantages/disadvantages to using Twitter as a scientist. Twitter doesn’t work for everyone, but I encourage my students and colleagues to at least give it a try. For me, it has opened the door to multiple research opportunities in only a year. But more importantly, it has also offered me a large, personalized, and positive support network – which is well worth the (small) effort, regardless of what Twitter allows me to add to my CV.


Darling, E., Shiffman, D., Côté, I., & Drew, J. (2013). The role of Twitter in the life cycle of a scientific publication. Ideas in Ecology and Evolution, 6. 32-43

Eysenbach, G. (2011). Can tweets predict citations? Metrics of social impact based on Twitter and correlation with traditional metrics of scientific impact. Journal of Medical Internet Research, 13, e123.

Priem, J., Piwowar, H. A., & Hemminger, B. M. (2012). Almetrics in the wild: Using social media to explore scholarly impact. arXiV preprint arXiV:1203.4745.





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.

Thanks GSR 984: Thinking Critically


By Colleen George
I am a graduate student.  Like many graduate students, I spend my days in front of my computer writing, editing, analyzing, and checking Facebook. Working to complete a graduate thesis has taught me many things: self-discipline and commitment, organization, and writing skills; but I found that as I moved further through my program I was not exposed to opportunities that would help me advance many of the professional skills that I felt I needed both for my own personal development and to market myself after my degree. Because of this, I began to look for these opportunities on campus.  That is when I found the courses and workshops offered through the Gwenna Moss Centre for Teaching Effectiveness.

I chose to take GSR 984: Thinking Critically.  The course challenges students to deconstruct how we think, how we are taught to think, and how these ways of thinking affect how we perceive and interact with others and the broader world.  Through both personal reflection and collaborative discussions, students and facilitators learn together in a multicultural and interdisciplinary environment.  Using charismatic topics and engaging discussion formats facilitators dare students to reach outside of their comfort zones and begin to think in new ways.  The course engages students in the processes of creative and critical thinking necessary to grapple with and address the complex problems that we are exposed to today.

Through GSR 984, I was able to become better aware of my own standpoint – my biases and assumptions, as well as my personal strengths and limitations.  The well-thought-out curriculum and course design allowed me to learn about thinking while developing and practicing my critical thinking and communication skills. The classes challenged me to reflect on my own skillset and, through taking this course, I have identified a number of professional skills that I would like to improve.  I believe that GSR 984 will help me through my professional career.  Thanks GSR 984: Thinking Critically.

To Be, or Not to Be (an Academic)

Now that I am (finally) nearing the end of my MA in Philosophy, I face the student’s dilemma: What now –  work or more school? Work is certainly an appealing option, since being a broke student sucks. However, meaningful work is hard to find. Pursuing a PhD is worth it intrinsically, and can (actually) open doors to meaningful work. Either way, the future is uncertain, and uncertainty is anxiety inducing.

I blogged last year about the value of acquiring ‘professional skills’ while studying, since current grad students face either fierce competition in a shrinking academic job market or a world outside the academy that might not understand what a student with an advanced humanities degree can offer. The dilemma has been framed in several problematic ways: The humanities are in crisis, grad students are not trained for anything other than a career as tenured faculty and Canada has failed to generate a knowledge economy because resource extraction is just so much easier. I think that the situation is complex and I will not try to fill out all its angles in one blog post. However, I will try to introduce some ideas about how to respond to the pressing question of ‘what now?’

Luckily for all of us who will be coming out of MA or PhD programs now, the ‘crisis’ is not new and many other talented, intelligent and resourceful graduates have done much of the work of answering ‘what now,’ if a tenure-track faculty position is simply not even open, anywhere.  Much of the resources, blogs, articles and even conferences devoted to what has become commonly known as ‘alt-ac’ come from the US, but I could relate to and find useful much of the content on the following sites and I hope you can, too.

So, here is my ‘what now?’, alt-ac primer for those of you who want, if nothing else, to find some optimism out there in MA and PhD land:

Canadian Student Blogs About Finland

If you are curious about the student experience of higher education in Finland, which has been a hot topic in the news lately, I highly recommend you read this blog. It is written by Irene Smith, a Canadian and former undergraduate Peer Mentor from the U of S, who is currently studying at the University of Turku in Finland. Her blog posts cover topics as diverse as hierarchies in education and the integration of undergraduate and graduate degrees, and they all deal directly with the contrast between higher education in Canada and her experience of university in Finland.

Finland is currently regarded as a world leader in education, according to a global report, The Learning Curve, published by Pearson in 2012. Irene reflects on the reasons behind Finland’s top place in this report and others in blog posts about the cost of education, the requirements for entrance to university and the way her classes are assessed.  Education in Finland is free, students must pass a matriculation exam to gain entrance to a university, and many of Irene’s classes do not dish out regular assignments and exams, but require an end-of-term learning diary instead. I do not feel unsatisfied with my Canadian education, but I am a bit envious about Finland’s free universities and I am interested in finding out whether a single learning diary would lead to deeper learning than regular exams and assignments. I will be following Irene’s blog to learn more about her adventures in Finnish higher education as the term progresses.