All aligned – Instruction

In higher education, we have our students do all the hardest learning by themselves.  As academics, our greatest strength is expertise, but we routinely select passive instructional strategies that have our students mostly listening to lectures in our classes and doing their learning later.  Choosing passive listening robs us of the opportunity to provide the nuance and clarification that learners need while they learn. This post focuses on selecting the right type of instructional approaches to have our students actively learning the most important and challenging things they will need.

Relationship to our Learning Charter:There are two learning charter educator commitments related our instructional approaches to learning tasks:

  • Be aware of the range of instructional methods and assessment strategies, and select and utilize teaching methods that are effective in helping students achieve the learning outcome of a course or learning activity
  • Ensure that content is current, accurate, relevant to learning outcomes/objectives, representative of the knowledge and skills being taught and appropriate to the position of the learning experience within a program of study

Aligning the type of learning and your outcome: The type of learning you want your students to do dictates your instructional approach.  If the task is to recall factual information, but not be able to use it is any way, lecture is actually a very effective way to communicate that information.  Student will still need to rehearse it (memorize) by studying in order to learn, and sadly, will often forget much of it six months out.  In addition, the most useful things taught by an expert are rarely basic facts. They are skills, concepts, and refined understandings, which novice students learn most effectively while actively engaging in learning facilitated by an expert. When we intersperse passive teaching with the right type of active learning given our outcomes, students are much more likely to learn the most challenging things we have to teach.

Choosing the right strategy:

  1. Determine the type of learning you want students to do (not just the content you want to cover) by writing or using a good learning outcome.
  2. Select an appropriate active approach, and intermix it with your passive approaches to increase the amount of student learning.
Type of learning Instructional approach
Knowledge: factual information like terms, classifications, and theorists · Passive: Tell student about the knowledge (lecture, video, reading)

· Active: Have student use the facts in meaningful ways to learn them (mind-mapping, listing, drill and practice, sorting/drag and drop)

Conceptual: ideas understood well enough to apply it in new situations to assess or evaluate, like the concept of a successful argument or the concept of balanced · Passive: Read a complex explanation, hear someone describe the concept

·  Active: Classify or sort parts of the concept using criteria, refine an example of the concept, find errors, render judgement, construct an example of the concept, compare personal understanding to an example or rubric, reflect on growth of conceptual understanding over time

Process (cognitive): use a series of mental steps to accomplish a task, like solving for X

Process (psycho-motor or physical): use a series of physical steps with the right degree of acuity, like a neat set of the correct stitches

·Passive: observe someone do the steps

·Active: Try to do the steps, put the steps in order, find errors in someone else doing the steps, predict what will happen if the steps are done wrong, reflect on personal success in completing the steps

Skill: Combing multiple types of learning to accomplish a goal, for example identify the critical parts of a complex problem, choose the order to do it in, and solve the problem correctly · Passive: Hear about or see someone else using the skill

· Active: Try the skill in context (experiential learning) and reflect on success, complete a simulation, generate a decision-making tree or matrix, construct an argument on the implications of the application of the skill by someone else, provide feedback to another person by comparing their use of the skill to criteria

Learn more:

Read the other blogs in this sequence about constructive alignment:

Read the other chats related to Our Learning Charter to learn about other educator commitments.

How do I internationalize my course?

Self-reflection

Step 1: Know my position and privilege. Who am I as a teacher? (This idea isn’t new, check out this article from 1958: Teacher, Know Thyself)

Step 2: Does the way I design my course plan for access and diversity?

Step 3: Do I want to “add-on”, “infuse”, or “transform” my course through internationalization?

Some direction

If you are working on step 3, there is an excellent resource of teaching tips here: Strategies for Course Internationalization. Centre for Teaching Excellence, University of Waterloo.

A simple way to start internationalization is to add assigned readings from international perspectives. This can be a way to start conversations and look for similarities and differences in findings. Even the writing and presentation structure might reflect cultural differences.

Next, take a look at your course outcomes – are students expected to develop or use intercultural competencies? How might the next version of your course highlight internationalized or global community skills?

Onwards on this journey, it’s time to look at evaluation. Inclusive assessment should include students using a metacognitive process to track their development. If that sentence doesn’t make sense on first reading, try this: a student needs to be able to know what they know and how they know it at any stage of learning. If they are just beginning, they should be able to identify that, recognize when they are building knowledge/skills/attitudes, and ultimately know when they’ve mastered or achieved the outcome of the learning. When students are involved in the assessment process, they are demonstrating choice, responsibility, and reflection. These are all attributes of inclusive learning which is fundamental to internationalization.

Here is another list of tips and tricks to start internationalizing your course.

This post is part of a series in internationalization. You can follow along here.

Come say hi! We’re at the Gwenna Moss Centre for Teaching and Learning. We can help individually or direct you to one of our workshops to meet your needs.

 

Outcomes-based Assessment

Traditional forms of assessment, often norm-referenced, are increasingly mixed with outcomes-based assessment in campuses in Canada.  Often, outcomes-based systems start in professional programs with accreditation standards, where it is important that all graduate have minimal standards of competence, and are not just rated in comparison to their peers.  As the use of outcomes-based teaching and assessment is becoming more common, people are wondering what the difference between traditional and outcomes-based assessment is.

What is outcomes-based assessment?

  • It starts with faculty members articulating what they want students to be able to do when they complete the learning. This is called an outcome and it is different than thinking about what you will teach, because it is focused on the end result for students that you built the course for (learn more about outcomes and how to write them)
  • Outcomes-based assessment is the deliberate collection of evidence of student learning based on outcomes. It yields a mark relative to the outcomes (criterion referenced) rather than other students.

What do you do differently in an outcomes-based system?

  • Planning: You need to clearly know what level of skills and knowledge you will accept as competent or successful performance by students (instead of what mark), then plan the assessments to measure it and the instruction to teach it.
  • Assessment: You make an effort to give more feedback early, and give more attempts.  You pay more attention to most recent evidence. A good way of thinking about this is a driver’s test.  You don’t average in the first time you practiced with your final road test. Even if you fail your road test once, you get the score from your second attempt, not the combined score from your first and second, because the goal is to measure how competent you’ve become, rather than average in all attempts.
  • Calculating grades: In an outcomes-based system, you group and weigh by outcome, not by assessment task.  This means that outcome 1 might be 10% and outcome 2 could be 8% of the final grade. An individual test might have 50% of its marks in outcome 1 and another 50% in outcome 2.  In a syllabus, you’d explain your weighting by outcome, not by how much the assignments and final are worth.

Why would you bother to do this?

  • Students know exactly what you are trying to have them learn, and are more able to take responsibility for learning it.  As a result, they learn more deeply, and they more accurately identify what specifically they need to work harder on.
  • Because students understand more about what you want them to know and be able to do, you mark fewer weak assignments, which saves you time and frustration
  • It allows you to clearly understand how your students are improving over time on each of the outcomes you set.  That makes it easy to modify your course to make it more effective
  • Outcomes-based assessment is helpful for seeing how your course contributes to student success in the program, or gives a clear indication of how well student learn specific pre-requisite knowledge and skills you are trying to teach them

Why might you choose not do this?

Aside from the effort involved in trying something new, even if it might improve student learning, there are two common reasons to be concerned:

  1. The outcomes might be too focused on some government or institutional agenda, limiting your choice
  2. Students might focus on the outcomes instead of the learning

In response to #1, if you set your own outcomes, it is unlikely you would pick something you thought was unworthy or too low level, but there are times where an external body (like in accreditation) may set an outcome you would not have chosen to insure a progression of learning over courses and years. With regards to #2, I think we all want students to focus on the learning, but if they don’t know the outcome, they actually typically focus on the assessments, asking questions like “will this be on the test”, which indicate the are unclear on the learning and just focused on the grade.

What goals of the university is this connected to?

Outcomes-based assessment is directly connected to 3 key commitments we have as educators on campus, according to our Learning Charter:

  • Ensure that assessments of learning are transparent, applied consistently and are congruent with learning outcomes
  • Design tools to both assess and enable student learning
  • Learn about advances in effective pedagogies/andragogies

Read the other chats related to Our Learning Charter to learn about other educator commitments.

From Modelling to Designing Intercultural Curricula

You now know that you have pretty decent intercultural teaching capacities.

You have continued to develop an awareness of your own identity and are modelling perspective-taking. Students in your course have the opportunity to interact with different worldviews because you know that makes them smarter. You actively create opportunities to build relationships between ‘others’ and can recognize barriers to student participation – you’ve essentially mastered using your intercultural capacity to inform teaching practices. So now you must be wondering, “What’s next? How can I further internationalize in my course?”  No fear, you are not alone. Dimitrov & Haque (2016) have some suggestions for “curriculum design competencies”.

“Effective instructors are able to critically evaluate the curriculum and create learning materials that transcend the limitations of monocultural disciplinary paradigms, scaffold student learning so students have a chance to master intercultural skills relevant to their discipline, and design assessments that allow students to demonstrate learning in a variety of ways.” – Dimitrov, N., & Haque, A. (2016). Intercultural teaching competence: A multi-disciplinary model for instructor reflection. Intercultural Education, 27(5), 437–456. https://doi.org/10.1080/14675986.2016.1240502

Key questions to ask yourself on your internationalization journey:

  • Does my course syllabus have a specific learning outcome where a student is asked to demonstrate specific knowledge, skills, or attitudes of a global or international design?
  • Do all the authors of my selected articles look or sound like me and if so, why – and can I change this?
  • Are students asked to take different perspectives in assessed work (work that is evaluated for marks)?
  • Do students have any choice in their assessment? Are different communication styles encouraged?
  • Does my course allow students the opportunity to develop a more robust disciplinary identity aligned with their cultural or personal identity?

If answering these questions leaves you with more questions, it’s likely a good time for a conversation with the Gwenna Moss Centre for Teaching and Learning. We can help individually or direct you to one of our workshops to meet your needs.

All Aligned – Outcomes

This post is one of a 3 part series on the concept of alignment of what you want students to learn, how you plan to teach them, and what you will assess them on.  Sometimes called constructive alignment, it has three parts:

  • Your learning outcomes
  • Your instructional approach or learning strategies
  • Your assessments

This post focuses on the need for clear learning outcomes for your students, and the next two posts in October and November focus on instruction and assessment respectively.

Why outcomes

Outcomes are statements that describe what our teaching is designed to help students know, do, or be. They start with a verb, then connect that to the key content.  Knowing what they are helps us design instruction that is focused exactly on what we want.

For example, if your goal is to have students

  • Articulate a well-defended argument based on precedent

Then you want to teach them to

  • Use criteria for well-defended to assess and build arguments
  • Find and make sense of relevant precedent

Without a clear outcome about being able to actually make a well-defended argument, you might think your instruction should stop at describing criteria for well-defended, or that a test where students recalled the definition might be better than an assessment where they actually had to make an argument.

Good outcomes help us focus our classes on the knowledge, skills, and values we actually care about our students learning, rather than explaining facts and ideas.  The educator commitments in Our Learning Charter describe being “aware of the range of instructional methods and assessment strategies, and select and utilize teaching methods that are effective in helping students achieve the learning outcome of a course or learning activity” as a key shared commitment of those of us who teach on campus.

More about outcomes

Read the other chats related to Our Learning Charter to learn about other educator commitments.

 

Tips to Start Internationalizing Your Teaching

This week is International Education Week. It’s a great time to be thinking about how to encourage global citizenship among your students and how to make your course welcoming for international students. We can play a key role in providing the type of education the world needs, especially in a time of increased nationalism and political division. Internationalizing your course is not just about having some international course content. It is about the alignment between your beliefs, how you facilitate, and how you instruct so students learn to embrace diversity of perspective and experience.  Once you know you want to help students embrace global diversity, the next step is to consider how to align your course outcomes, content, learning activities, and assessment.

My learning outcomes: Overtly identity the thinking skills that support internationalization in your course outcomes. Here are some examples:

  1. Discuss the development of ______________ in Canada and ___________.
  2. Defend ___________ using ___________ cultural perspective.
  3. Evaluate the impact of _______ on _______ in three diverse parts of the world.
  4. Analyze international trends in _______________.

My content: Note paces where you might included a more global perspective.

  • Readings
  • Examples and professional practices
  • References
  • Videos

My learning activities: Consider instructional approaches that best facilitate learning of international students and global thinking in local ones.

  • Model effective language skills and visualization (language learning)
  • Create collaborative groups with local and international students (cultural awareness)
  • Use discursive (talking and power sharing) strategies
  • Use inductive strategies (knowledge construction strategies for students)
  • Use technologies that support creation and collaboration

My assessment strategies: Think about what to do to help assessment criteria be clear and focused on a more global perspective.

  • Students know the assessment criteria in advance (i.e. a rubric) and have seen samples
  • Assessment requires students to self-assess development of international perspectives against criteria
  • Assessment requires students to write or speak for different audiences, sometimes local and sometimes international, Indigenous, or cross-cultural

Is Your Instruction Designed to Produce Student Learning?

Lecture is an efficient way to transmit information, especially in large classes. We inevitably feel there is a lot of content to cover, since the gap between what novice students know and expert professors know is large. However, large, uninterrupted blocks of lecture are very inefficient ways to learn, because they are passive. Learners get cognitive overload and stop processing, have trouble paying attention, and remember some ideas that they struggle to apply or connect conceptually.  All of these occur, even with strong learners, and even with instructors who provide exceptionally focused, clear delivery of information. The mind just learns more if it is actively engaged in thinking.

As a method of direct instruction, lecture is focused on a well-organized, clear presentation of information.  Its cousin, explicit instruction, is much better aligned with what we know about how the brain learns, because it is active.

Explicit instruction:

  • students are guided through the learning process with clear statements about the purpose of learning the new skill
  • teachers give clear explanations and demonstrations
  • students engage in supported practice with feedback at intervals throughout the entire class, not just at the end

The key distinction is that while there are periods of telling information, student are asked to demonstrate the skill they are learning and practice it with feedback.  As a result, they are much more likely to remember, make fewer errors, are more focused, and more motivated.  They are also more likely to describe the learning and important and describe how to keep improving. There is clear alignment between the goal of having students understand more deeply, and the activities they are asked to participate in to support their learning.

Why does all this mater?

When we set the goals for what our students will be able to know and do by the end of class (outcomes), we need to think carefully about how remembering information is essential, but not sufficient, learning. We want students to be able to correctly apply the new information in a process, to make decisions and informed judgments, and to use new information for reasoned arguments.  That means our classes need help students develop these competencies and practice them with feedback. Our outcomes, our instruction, and how we assess all need align and work cohesively together to support effective learning processes. If they don’t, we become Professor Dancelot of video fame, with good intentions and little actual learning.

Learn more:

  • Interesting Book: Donald A. Bligh, What’s the Use of Lectures? (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2000), pp. 252, 11.
  • Oft cited scholarly history: C. Bane, “The Lecture vs. the Class-Discussion Method of College Teaching,” School and Society 21 (1925); B.S. Bloom, “Thought-Processes in Lectures and Discussions,” Journal of General Education 7 (1953).

It’s All About Your Outcomes


Structurally, outcomes are obligations. You need outcomes for your course syllabus, and your program as whole has some form of outcomes. From a teaching and learning perspective, however, an outcome is much more than just a hoop.  It’s at heart of why you’d bother to teach the course you do. Each outcome (and you don’t need that many), describes a skill, disposition, or set of complex knowledge that it is essential for your students to demonstrate to be successful in the course.

What does a good outcome look like?

You can read more about definitions of outcomes (what a student will do) and objectives (what an educator will teach) in another post from Gwenna Moss, but sometimes good examples can help clarify a definition.  A good outcome satisfies key criteria, including:

  • It starts with a specific, rigorous verb that reflects the type of thinking, attitude, or understanding you need students to demonstrate
  • Each outcome is worthy enough that you’ll spend a good chunk of the course returning to it and building your students’ strength with it
  • The outcome is written in language students understand and can explain in their own words

A bad outcome: Understand the definition of a just society

This outcomes is not good because there are too many ways the word “understand” could be interpreted. What would be good evidence of an outcome should be easy for students to understand the same way.  Also, this outcome might be able to be satisfied with a definition from the professor’s PowerPoint, so it isn’t worthy and long lasting enough. It is easy to make the mistake of basically describing content in your outcome, rather than what your students will demonstrate.

A much better outcome: Justify arguments about social justice using precise, accurate examples.

This is better because it specifies the type of thinking and skills student will need to do (justify an argument) and at how (using precise, accurate examples).  Social justice is a complex concept that the course will spend a long time on, deepening student conceptual knowledge overtime. Also, the skill of building an argument about social justice will built upon many multiple times in the course, sometimes in class discussions, sometime in an essay, and sometimes in an examination.  A student reads the outcome and knows the course will help you refine your skills in building arguments, and that the content will relate to social justice.

How do I write good outcomes?

  1. List the key concepts, skills, and dispositions/attitudes you’ll want in the course.  Check to ensure you aren’t just listing content.
  2. Group related things together until you have a smaller number of bigger things.
  3. Try writing statements describing things you’d accept as evidence that a student actually had the understanding, skill, or disposition you are trying to teach
  4. Look at the statements you’ve written, and ensure they each start with an active, specific verb.  Try using this list to ensure you are asking for rigorous thinking, not something students can just memorize and forget.
  5. Get someone who is not an expert to read each outcome and tell you what it says, just to make sure it is clear enough
  6. Double check that each outcome represents something you’ll want to see from students multiple times in the class. If you wouldn’t want to grade things related to it more than once, it is not important enough to be an outcome.

 

Building Relationships With Students Before They Arrive at the University of Saskatchewan



By Murray Drew, Professor, Department of Animal and Poultry Science

I am a member of a committee which is exploring whether there are teaching practices that support student mental wellbeing in the classroom. You are probably thinking that this means talking about mental health directly with students. That’s not what we are interested in. Instead, we want to find out how instructors can create a classroom environment that is more conducive to student mental wellbeing.

There has been some research in this area but it is a relatively new approach. In the few studies that have been published, several teaching strategies have been reported to improve student mental health. One of these factors is creating a sense of belonging and connectedness in students by promoting the development of positive relationships with fellow classmates, instructors and the university as a whole. I would like to tell you about something that I am trying this term to accomplish this.

This idea originated with Glorie Tebbutt who is a sessional lecture, teaching first year classes in English and Women’s and Gender Studies. I sat down with her one afternoon to discuss her take on effective teaching practices for student mental wellbeing. She gave me some amazing ideas that she has used in her own classes, including the one I am trying out. She contacts her students several weeks before the start of class and requests a selfie plus something they would like to share about themselves. She also asks two questions: 1) What do you need from me to be successful in class and 2) What do you need from each other to be successful in class. I thought this would be a great way of achieving the goal of building connectedness, even before students arrive at the U of S so I decided to try it in my own first year class.

I teach ANBI 110: Introduction to Animal Bioscience. The class has 67 students this year; over 90% are female and most of them are interested in becoming veterinarians. They know they will need excellent grades to be accepted into the vet med program so they are already under a great amount of self-imposed stress. It is also the only course they take that is delivered by our department in the first term. It is our one opportunity to connect students with our department and make them feel that they have an academic home. With these things in mind, I emailed this to the ANBI 110 students.

Hi everyone 

I am Murray Drew and I will be one of your instructors for ANBI 110: Introductory Animal Bioscience. I teach the laboratory component of the course and this is my favourite teaching activity. My main goal in sending you this email, before classes even start, is to find out more about you and what you need to be successful in my course, and at the U of S. I also want to build a community and help you feel connected to your classmates and instructors. One of the best things that you can do to be successful and happy at the U of S is to develop relationships with your classmates and professors. I want to start that before you even get here. 

I have two requests.

First, please send me: 1) your name and a picture of yourself (with an animal if possible), 2) one interesting thing about yourself, 3) what you want to achieve at the U of S and 4) what you need from me to be successful. My email address is (address provided). Here’s an example of what I’m looking for.

Murray Drew

Murray Drew and a horseThis summer I went to Iceland and rode an Icelandic horse on a tour through a lava field. I am the world’s 2nd worst rider. 

I want inspire students to love animal science and get them involved with animal research.

This is what I need from you. I need you to participate in class. Ask questions, challenge me, interact with your classmates. Take control of your education.

Second, please join the class Facebook page that I have set up. I hope to use this to stimulate a few conversations about the course. The group’s name is Animal Bioscience 110 for 2018.

Thanks for doing this. I look forward to seeing you next month.

In the week since I sent this, I have had 32 responses. Very thoughtful responses. Most students said that making myself available if they were having trouble with course material was very important to them. Some mentioned that they had ADHD or suffered from anxiety and that they hoped I would be understanding if they were having difficulty. Virtually all of them ended their email thanking me for contacting them and said it helped them feel a little less stressed about starting classes. I also have a class Facebook group and most students have joined it. I have posted a few questions and hope this will start some discussions and get students interacting with each other.

Of course, I know that doing this isn’t always going to be feasible. It would be almost impossible to do in classes with hundreds of students. ANBI 110, however, is a special case where this practice is workable. But, it remains to be seen if this will have a significantly beneficial effect on students. I’ll have to see what happens once the students get here.

 

 

 

 

Promoting Academic Integrity: Some design questions for instructors

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Here are some propositions about students’ academic integrity that I’ve been working with:

  1. Students are more likely to do their work honestly when they see the personal value in what is to be learned.
  2. Students are more likely to do their work honestly when they believe the assessment produces actual evidence of what they have learned.
  3. Students are more likely to do their work honestly when they’ve had the chance for practice and feedback.
  4. Students are more likely to do their work honestly when they know the rules and expect them to be enforced.

Designing assessments for academic integrity is much more than tight invigilation processes and tools like Turnitin and SafeAssign (thankfully). There is much that instructors can do to set students on honest learning paths when they design and teach their courses.   Below, I offer some prompting questions instructors can ask themselves when designing course materials, assessments, and learning activities that relate to the four propositions above.

“See-the-Value” Questions for Instructors:

  • How can I convey/demonstrate the value of what students learn in my course?
  • How can I share my enthusiasm for learning this and the value I place on it?
  • How can I connect students to the benefits this learning brings for them individually, for their families or communities, for society or the world?
  • How can I provide opportunities for students to follow their individual interests and values in the context of this course?

“Evidence” Questions for Instructors:

  • What kind of evidence does this assessment provide that students have learned what I wanted them to learn?
  • What other forms of evidence could I use to determine this?
  • What alternatives could I offer students to show me what they have learned?
  • How can I make explicit to students that an assessment is transferrable to other contexts?

“Practice and Feedback” Questions for Instructors:

  • What do students need to be able self-assess their progress before grades are at stake?
  • How can I provide early feedback so that students still have the opportunity to improve?
  • How can I stage larger assignments with feedback so that students have time to improve (and avoid last minute temptations)?
  • How could I best equip students to provide feedback to each other?

“Rules” Questions for Instructors:

  • What are my rules for my assessments within the academic integrity policy framework?
  • How can I clearly explain both the assessments and the rules so that students know how to best proceed?
  • What are some common misconceptions/errors that I can address early on?
  • How can I help students learn how to follow the rules, especially when it involves technical components like a new citation or referencing protocol?
  • How can I show students that I am committed to enforce my own rules?

We have a workshop coming up at the GMCTL on November 14 that will explore assessment practices that promote academic integrity. Please consider registering.