A Light on Teaching Magazine 2018-19

Page 1

2018-19 Issue ISSN 2292-0161

Feature Article Why Do We Make the Teaching Choices We Do? Also in this issue Fake News in the Classroom

Writing as Problem Solving

Contents In this issue


News in the Classroom: Re-examinging 2 Fake Our Approaches to Information Literacy

Beginning of a Positive Learning 5 The Environment in Drama Education

Do We Make the Teaching Choices We 7 Why Do? A Walkthrough of the Decision-Making Process

Light on Learning: Teaching from First 9 APrinciples

as Problem Solving: Foundations 14 Writing for Writing Across the Disciplines

Teaching Journey: A Reflective, 20 My Reflexive, and Collaborative Practice

Project Manager Design And Layout Cover Photo

Feature Writers & Contributors

Copy Editor

Brad Reamsbottom Brad Reamsbottom and Glenda Martens Victoria Holec and Sheila McManus Photographer: Glenda Martens Emma Black, Danica Chabot, Sandra Dixon, Victoria Holec, Sheila McManus, John Poulsen, Javid Sadr, David Slomp Victoria Holec

Creative Common License. Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/

Director’s Message by David Hinger


elcome to the 2018 edition of the Teaching Centre’s annual A Light on Teaching Magazine. I am once again inspired by the number of quality submissions for this year’s magazine. I want to thank everyone who took the time to submit an article and express my appreciation to the faculty and staff who took the time to review and select the final articles for this year’s publication. A Light on Teaching Magazine would not be possible without the hard work of many individuals committed to enhancing teaching and learning at the University of Lethbridge. As I look ahead to the 2018-2019 academic year, I am excited about the many opportunities this year will bring. I would like to highlight a few new initiatives the Teaching Centre has been working on to enhance teaching and learning at the U of L. In 2018, the Teaching Centre initiated a new project to promote and support the adoption of Open Educational Resources (OERs) at the U of L. Thanks to one-time funding, we were able to create the Open Access Learning Resource Fund to provide financial support for the creation and/or adoption of OERs. Several faculty members and departments are spearheading this initiative on campus, improving their course materials, while saving our students hundreds of thousands of dollars in textbook costs. Funding for this initiative will continue for the 2018-2019 academic year, and although not a fit for every instructor, we are committed to supporting any faculty member interested in exploring OERs. With the construction of the new Science and Academic Building nearing completion, there is a growing anticipation of teaching in new classrooms and labs, and renewed conversations about Destination Project Phase II. In addition to the new socratic seminar room (D630) that opened in Fall 2017, the Teaching Centre has been working hard over the summer in collaboration with Information Technology Services and Facilities and Campus Planning to complete the evidence-based renovation of two new socratic seminar rooms (W866 & W870). Moodle continues to see a steady increase in utilization to support teaching and learning at the U of L. In Fall 2017, the Teaching Centre supported 989 courses using Moodle, and the Testing Centre facilitated over 25,000 exams. Over the summer we have worked hard to develop new strategies to better meet the growing demand for Moodle support calls. Our Moodleanswers.com website and enhanced support request system have been designed to ensure your support needs are met as quickly and as efficiently as possible. Please drop by the Teaching Centre or visit our website (www.uleth.ca/teachingcentre) to learn more about the exciting things happening this year. We look forward to working with you and supporting all your teaching needs.


Feat ure S


Over 100 false tweets... l? a e r t is a h W


. M P he t y Toda

Contradicting reports state... Who

sa id that ?

Fake News

in the Classroom

Re-examining Our Approaches to Information Literacy 2

by Emma Black Emma Black is the Liaison Librarian for the Sciences at the University of Lethbridge.

What’s the Deal With Fake News?


hat began as a buzzword during the 2016 American election has grown into something verging on a cultural phenomenon. Many of the fears, frustrations, and failings of communicating information in the 21st century were crystallized in the words “fake news.” Collins Dictionary chose fake news as its word of the year for 2017, defining it as “[f]alse, often sensational, information disseminated under the guise of news” (1). This meaning often gets muddled with other definitions or related concepts such as misinformation, yellow journalism, sensationalism, hoaxes, the post-truth era, fabricated news, and news satire. Elements of each are wrapped up in how we frame the problem of fake news. Although the popularity of the term can be traced back to President Trump (it was his sixth-most tweeted phrase during his first 100 days in office) (2), he was not the first to use it. While he often conflates fake news with negative press or any criticism directed at his office or supporters, his ‘Fake News Awards’ and frequent use of the term have kept the popularity of the phrase current. News stories are more frequently being disregarded, especially when they challenge the views of the reader. The sharing of news on social media is also muddying the waters, as the context and authority of stories are more difficult to determine (3). Algorithms on sites such as Facebook create filter bubbles that draw our attention to news stories that appeal to us while suppressing those that may not (4). What do fake news have to do with our students and classrooms? Behind the seemingly novel phenomenon of fake news, a larger issue has been identified for a number of years. Students are dealing with a problem that is larger and older than the recent American election. The ability to find, evaluate, critique, and credit information—also known as information literacy—can be used not only to identify which Facebook stories might be less accurate than they claim to be, but also to invest in a robust research process. These skills seem to be lacking in many students entering higher education. In this article, I will consider the following questions: Who are our students; what are their information needs; what is information literacy; and how can we better address it in our own pedagogy?

Who are Our Students? Consider how you once researched: Where did you go to find reference sources? How long

did you have to spend in front of a library card catalogue? Where did you access news stories and how did you know to trust them? Sources of information were often very distinct in format. Assessing the origin of information seemed more straightforward, as well as determining the authority of an author, the type of resource, and the context of the information. Today, the move from print to electronic media means that different information sources are bundled together and the context surrounding each source gets lost. And this is the environment in which our students are trying to research. Much has been said about students today and their use of technology and social media in the classroom. They are a unique generation, having grown up in a constantly wired environment: “Baby Boomers grew up as television expanded dramatically …. Generation X grew up as the computer revolution was taking hold, and Millennials came of age during the internet explosion” (5). Students born after 1997 are now being referred to as Post-Millennials. They are identified as being too young to have understood 9/11 (or were born after the event), whereas Millennials were born between 19811996 and have experienced the transition from offline to online worlds (5). Not only have Post-Millennials grown up in an always on technology environment; they see content as “ever-changing, individualized and personal” (6). Information is now very often dynamic, not static. No longer one-directional, it exists in an instantly collaborative environment. While it is assumed that these students are tech-savvy and have a great understanding of where to find information, could it be that the more information is available, the less skilled students are at evaluating sources? The Stanford History Education Group released a study in 2016 entitled “Evaluating Information: The Cornerstone of Civic Online Reasoning” (7). In the study, students from middle schools, high schools, and colleges across twelve US states were tested on their ability to judge the credibility of online information. From the 7,804 responses that were analyzed, it was found that as many as 80% of students could not identify the difference between an advertisement and a news story; distinguish between real and fake news stories; identify bias in a tweet; or determine the credibility of a website (7). My University of Lethbridge colleagues Romany Craig and Tara Wiebe, when teaching a class on evaluating information, also observed that many students failed to think critically about the purpose of an article and the authority of the author. A UK study from 2011 concluded that while students are confident users of the internet, they are not necessarily competent users (8). Less than one in ten students, while using information online, asked who made the

website and why (p.165). In their crossgenerational study of information overload, Benselin and Ragsdell (9) observed that the younger generation expressed more concern with the large quantity of information and displayed “the most trust issues regarding quality of information” (p.294). Instant and unlimited access, with little time to absorb or reflect on the information, leads to a feeling of information overload (9). The result of this combination of information overload and technological change is that students do not fully understand the research process, and, although they are comfortable with social media, often lack media literacy skills. Badke (10) comments that this lack of information literacy translates into a poor research process: Many of our students don’t know how to do research. They are going through undergraduate and even graduate studies as outsiders looking in, rarely really being able to participate in the discourse and discovery that their professors find so familiar. These same students do not even understand the expectations found in a standard research assignment and spend most of their ‘researching’ time simply trying to follow professorial instructions while failing to grasp the methodology and never engaging with the subject matter. (10: p.191) He writes further, “[t]hese students fail to appreciate the diversity of information sources available to them and lack the ability to evaluate these sources for quality and relevance” (10). One solution proposed, though neither perfect nor complete by any means, is to refocus our attention on information literacy.

What is Information Literacy? Information literacy considers whether users are able to find appropriate information, evaluate it, access it, and use it. Sales and Pinto (11) describe information literacy as giving “learners the ability to confront contents critically, to become more self-sufficient, and to take more control over their own learning process” (p.xxii). Further points from Sales and Pinto expand on the idea of what an information-literate learner looks like: • Able to determine the extent of information needed; • Access the required information effectively and efficiently;


• Evaluate information and its sources critically; • Incorporate selected information into their knowledge base; • Use information effectively to accomplish a specific purpose; • Understand the economic, legal, and social issues surrounding the use of information; • Access and use information both ethically and legally.

Information literacy considers whether users are able to find appropriate information, evaluate it, access it, and use it. A literate information seeker will not simply pick the first result from a Google search that has enough words in the title to fit a research question. Instead, the searcher will ask if the information is current, relevant, authoritative, accurate, and serves the research purpose. However, handing out a checklist or showing a guide on evaluating information at the beginning of a semester can have little impact on students’ research process. Johannessen (12) found that students learn more about media and information literacy when it is closely connected to and integrated with disciplinary content and assignments (p.93). Furthermore, he suggests that this type of instruction does not have to be initiated by the library, but rather should involve the broader university community.

Questions to Ask While many research articles in librarianship recognize that librarians are poised to play a large role in teaching students information literacy skills, others have expressed reservations, saying that there is a need to gain the support of instructors. Here at the University of Lethbridge, we liaison librarians fulfill a variety of roles. In terms of instruction, we may only see students once a semester, for perhaps no longer than half an hour, or miss groups of students altogether. While librarians are here to equip and engage, the onus of instruction falls primarily on those teaching the classes. I do not expect that this will necessarily involve discussing fake news and social media’s influence on our information environments (though these are interesting conversations to have); rather, students should have the chance to engage in scholarly literature and research in different ways. Critical thinking is a pillar of our liberal education commitment, and having students reflect on materials they gather and what sources they use is invaluable. Sullivan (13) proposes that research into misinformation should move beyond the field of librarianship and engage with other disciplines. We each view this issue from different frameworks, backgrounds, and experiences.

diffused throughout the curriculum so students can build up skills over time.” While visiting classes, I have seen students’ eyes glaze over when I mention the library or research; yet, they consider information more relevant when it relates not only to a one-off assignment but their whole class or program. Though this is a complex issue that will not be solved overnight, one positive point is that we have students who care about being connected, are flexible and adaptable, and are already skeptical of the accuracy of information online. Getting them to ask the right questions can be our next step. In this evolving field, I look forward to new developments in the ways our community grapples with the challenges and opportunities of information literacy.

How does information literacy fit into your own pedagogy? Has the information overload that students are faced with come into play in your assignments or teaching practices? As noted above, a move away from assumptions regarding the digital literacy of our students is necessary in order to re-engage students in this type of critical thinking. Crocco and co-authors (14) point to the need to move beyond labelling evidence as good or bad; rather, we need to help students recognize biases and evaluate evidence based on context, authority, and purpose. However, limiting our information literacy instruction to one class or assignment will not be as effective as a strategically scaffolding information literacy into our curricula. As Najmabadi (15) writes, “while a professor or librarian may initiate information-literacy efforts, the work must be

How to spot fake news: https://www.ifla.org/publications/node/11174 U of L Evaluating Sources Libguide: http://libguides.uleth.ca/evaluatingsources/home

Ideas to get you started in tackling fake news in your classroom. Contact your liaison librarian for more information. 4

The CRAAP test graphic: http://guides.library.utoronto.ca/utmlacadfakenews/evaluate D’Angelo B, Jamieson S, Maid B, Walker JR (eds.) Information literacy: Research and collaboration across disciplines. Colorado: University Press of Colorado; 2016. http://darius.uleth.ca/ record=b2604686~S1 Ingvaldsen S, Oberg D (eds.) Media and information literacy in higher education: Educating the educators. New York: Chandos Publishing; 2017. http://darius.uleth.ca/record=b2604691~S1

The beginning of a

positive learning environment

in Drama education

by John Poulsen John Poulsen is an Associate Professor in the Faculty of Education and a former Teaching Fellow with the Teaching Centre.


wild adventure, tears, laughing till our sides hurt. This is a normal drama education class. Not so normal is trying to examine an idea through drama when the drama class is in the Gaza Strip and the Israeli army is engaging in manoeuvers and there is no way that we can concentrate. Drama seems so trivial at these moments but at least in drama we can do something. We talk, we examine, and we can put it on stage. We engage. Those emotions get to go someplace. They are not ignored; rather they are acknowledged, explored, experienced, examined, and accepted.

But that happened later. Much later. This is a description of the beginning. I was part of a Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) project delivering a University of Calgary Bachelor of Education degree to a group of Palestinian students who could all speak English well. I was to teach the drama education portion. I had taught internationally before and was not unduly worried until the extra security at London’s Heathrow airport. My anxiety increased as I noticed the height of barbed wire at the border between Israel and Gaza and the intense security passing from Israeli to Palestinian territory. Then I started to worry – does drama from the ‘west’ belong in the Middle East?

I entered my classroom early the next morning. My objectives: To prepare the room, get a feel for the space, make the last few tweaks on my lesson plan, and finally, allow myself to breathe. I was living in the same complex as the classroom, so all I had to do was to navigate the honeycomb of alleys and halls that finally open to the teaching space – which was filled with students. They were all there. I stuttered a ‘hello’ and asked when the class was supposed to begin. In an hour they said but they then indicated that they were ready now. It appeared that the students were picked up by vehicles operated by the school in which I was teaching. Those drivers took into account time for being stopped by the military. There were no roadblocks this morning and all arrived early. So we began. All drama education classes that I teach start tentatively, slowly. This one was


more tentative than most as I stumbled over the pronunciation of students’ names. I was not the only nervous one. A month later, I found out some of the questions that were going through students’ minds, such as, “Will we have to make

seconds and confrontation – I search for an alternative. Chairs! I see two stacks of chairs in the corner. I request as calmly as I can, “Grab a chair and sit in a large circle.” Her face relaxes. She can sit in a chair. A chair is not so different from a desk. She moves. Another student offers her a chair. She sits. I breathe.

Education. The project was funded by CIDA and spanned about 4 years. Instructors were flown to Palestine to teach classes in short, intensive modules. The co-operating facility in Gaza was the Society for the Care of the Handicapped in the Gaza Strip, commonly referred to as the Sun Centre.

There is safety in sitting at desks. Students know what to expect when sitting at a desk.

In the circle, we engage in a safe activity – talking. This is acceptable. This sort of academic activity is OK. I place them in groups to chat. I change the groups. Some people move to change seats, to find new partners. Good. The groups change again and everyone moves. Even better. The group is solid again. People report on their group’s conclusions. No problem, this is solid ground. Of course, this is relative terra firma. I’ve been tap-dancing on quicksand.

The Sun Centre was entirely privately funded. It served about 200 children with cognitive and physical impairments in 12 classes. This important facility helped those children who were previously hidden away.

fools of ourselves?” “Is there going to be some semi-illegal activity?” “Will there be drugs involved?” “Is there going to be something western, decadent and foreign?” “Will he make us do those weird touchy-feely things?” There they sit – nervous. There I sit – nervous. But we begin – softly and slowly. I feel my neck stretch forward as I try to mentally connect with the people in front of me. We chat. I give an overview of the course outline. I endeavour to make the assignments clear. I check for understanding. I notice a straggler that needs to be coaxed forward. I sense the group moving too fast for the nervous individual and endeavour to slow the group down slightly. Gently, easy – that is the way. All my students must move forward in an easy, gentle manner that keeps the group intact. I gently reiterate a concept that had been discussed before. The straggler relaxes and speaks in front of the group – a good sign. Moving from sitting and chatting to doing in drama education can be tricky. Getting up out of the desks can be a tense moment. There is safety in sitting at desks. Students know what to expect when sitting at a desk. Removing the desk means that something new is going to be attempted. And fear of that new something can derail a class. We have been talking for 45 minutes and three of the seventeen are getting restless. Ah, at 50 minutes almost half are fidgety. I feel the moment to get up has come. We stand up. Books are put away. Desks are being moved to clear the space for more active engagement. In my peripheral vision there is an anomaly ... stillness. Oh no. Too fast. One student is balking. Just sitting ... watching. The others have put their books away and the desks are being pushed aside. In 30 seconds the rest of the class will see that she is still sitting – then what? A confrontation? No, not now, please. Not a confrontation at the beginning, please. Twenty


My mind races. The lesson plan long forgotten. What tiny step can I take? What infinitesimal movement can I have this group do? I know the general direction I want these precious students to go. The final path will be adapted to suit the students. That is, the assignments are fixed, but how we get to the assignments has yet to be determined. I have an enormous array of activities we could do. After all, I have taught for years. I am no stranger to any age group. But what activity will be the right one – right now? Drama is doing. We must do. We must stand up and move. Some instinct in me demands that the class must do in order to really learn – to really grow. So, I ask them to stand. They all stand at the same time. I ask them to walk. They all walk. I ask them to walk with others. They walk with others. They then move in small groups. They change groups. Then we sit. I am flushed. They are flushed. From the outside, a case could be made that we did little – we just walked. Arguably a very simple-looking activity, but we are flushed. Our faces are red. People remove sweaters. We have done something major. We have moved inside. We can all feel it. We moved as a group on the inside. I smile and quip something. A small group laughs. The rest smile. Ah, we have come a great distance. And the journey is well begun.

Background John and Betty Poulsen co-taught the final course of 17 Palestinian students required to receive a Bachelor of Education from the University of Calgary. John taught during the first two weeks and the last two weeks. Betty taught during the middle two. The ambitious project was originated by Dr. Aldred Neufeldt and Dr. Roy Brown of the Rehabilitation Studies Program – Faculty of

The Palestinian students taking the B.Ed. from the University of Calgary were being trained to work in the Sun Centre. As of March 1997, some of the former students were still working there. Others had moved on to other opportunities but all were still in the Gaza Strip. The Drama 360 class John and Betty taught took place in November and December of 1993. At that time, there was a great deal of tension between the Palestinians and the Israeli security forces.

Why Do We Make the Teaching Choices We Do? a walkthrough of the decision-making process from two perspectives by Victoria Holec & Sheila McManus Victoria Holec is a Ph.D. candidate in Cultural, Social, and Political Thought. Sheila McManus is a former Board of Governors’ Teaching Chair and a Professor in the Department of History.


esigning an effective and enjoyable course involves a lot more decisions than just ‘to lecture or not to lecture.’ How you answer that one question for yourself depends on so many other factors and choices! In this article, we are going to walk you through two different decision-making processes, one from the perspective of someone designing her first course and the other from that of an experienced instructor. As with all great teaching, it is neither meant to be prescriptive nor exhaustive: Each instructor is unique, and we all have different strengths and priorities. We simply want to encourage you to draw on some of these questions as you look at your own pedagogical decision-making processes. What Do You Ask Yourself Before Teaching a Course?

Victoria’s List – Brand-New to Teaching In planning my very first course from scratch, I encountered a plethora of questions about decisions that I needed to make in order to bring this course from concept to paper to potential implementation. Here, I will walk through these

questions, identify the decisions that I have made, and highlight the questions that remain to be answered. You may think that content development is one thing, and planning to actually teach it is another. To an extent, that may be true. But as I am actually scheduled to teach this course, I found that the two are inextricably intertwined. I was unable to think about content development without always already taking into consideration how I would a) teach and b) assess the various topics and components. 1. Which Discipline, and for Whom? While the first part of this question may be obvious to some of you, as a multidisciplinary scholar in an interdisciplinary program with a somewhat arbitrary disciplinary home, this question was at the forefront of my mind. This is most inherently an institutional question. Elsewhere, the course I am designing would fit in childhood and youth studies, and possibly in cultural or media studies. At the U of L, the most appropriate venue for it is liberal education (LBED), due to the course’s fit with the four pillars of LBED and the multidisciplinary nature of the program. The challenge that comes with multi- and interdisciplinarity is one of knowing your audience. Chances are that some students will have taken at least one LBED course. More certain is that many students will not have taken any LBED courses. Not knowing who my potential students would be is a scary feeling that fills me with apprehension. At the same time, it empowers me to address my own assumptions about students and level the playing field for them.

2. How Much Content is Too Much? When I sent my syllabus for feedback to a) a youth studies scholar and b) a LBED faculty member, there was one type of unanimous feedback: This is too much reading for a second-year class! I had a premonition that this might be the case and it was readily confirmed. I immediately learned that I had to cut my assignments from four to two and take out about half the readings to make this course manageable for my potential students. After you’ve carefully designed a syllabus, cutting things out can be incredibly difficult! This is no easier than letting go of paragraphs or pages in a manuscript. I learned that going into course development with the knowledge that you will likely have to cut back (both in planning and then also in the actual implementation!) is a smart thing to do. Don’t get too attached. 3. What are Appropriate Assignments and Forms of Assessment? This question is somewhat related to the previous one, because in my view, assessment should be related to content and objectives. It also goes back to making no assumptions about students: The same way that I can’t know what content they’ve learned, I can’t know what skills they’ve learned. Those questions of assignment and those of assessment thus became closely related for me. I ended up asking myself many questions before I could even begin to ask anything of my potential students. And because I don’t have all the answers, I am going to pose these questions to several experienced teachers (possibly including you!) in the next few months:


1) How do I ensure I actually teach what I measure in this assignment? 2) How can I distribute the responsibility for learning among instructor and students? 3) How do I give students a chance to improve or scaffold certain skills over the course of the term? 4) What Meta-Skills Do I Need to Teach Students in Order for Them to be Successful in my Course? Following directly from the previous point, to me, teaching never just includes content. For instance, if I want to assess students on writing, it is my responsibility to teach them something about writing. If I want to assess students on reading, I have to step up and teach them how to read an academic article. If I want to assess presentation skills, it’s up to me to teach them how to present. These will be secondarily related to the particular content in my course, but primarily present a set of skills that I hope students will be able to use going forward in whichever direction they choose. Phrasing these points like this may make many of you nod in obvious agreement, but for me, it required taking a step back and reevaluating my own assumptions about students and my own assessment strategies. 5. Where? Those of you who know me likely know that I have been involved in the evaluation of learning environments to various degrees over the past six years. To me, planning where to teach a course has consequences on how I will be able to teach. I know that as a first-time teacher, I can’t do it all at once. I can’t implement all the group-work strategies, think up all the out-of-class projects, or apply all the digital technologies that I would like to in the same (first) term. So for me the question of where to teach affects how much or how little of anything I can do. For instance: Can I ask students to bring a digital device if there are no accessible plugins in the room? Can I ask students to get into groups quickly for the last 15 minutes of class when there are static rows of desks? Can I ask students to share their ideas easily in class on whiteboards? Can I circulate among groups easily? Will everyone be able to read my slides? You can see how my questions about the whereabouts may easily determine the structure of my course and my assignments.

Sheila’s List – Experienced in Teaching 1. What Level is the Class? First-, second-, third-, and fourth-year courses are each so different for me, and it’s not just the size. First-year classes are big and full of energy and enthusiasm, while third-year courses can sometimes feel like the awkward teenager I just don’t understand. I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about this first question anymore, but it is the starting point for everything else, because


it sets the broad parameters for who most of my students will be, and the skills and experiences they bring to the class.

the course. I never teach a course the same way twice, and this is the stage where I am tweaking all of the different components.

2. What Do I Want Them to Learn?

5. What Room am I Stuck in This Time?

History courses have titles and descriptions that parcel out the past in chronological and geographical pieces, and students who register for my courses make the reasonable assumption that those titles and descriptions will have some correlation to the content they will learn if they take that course. And while I need to keep that assumption in mind, from my perspective, that little package of content is more of a starting point than a destination. What each course lets me do is figure out what else I want my students to learn, what skills I can develop through the vehicle of the course content. There is no hidden curriculum in my classes – I try to spell out as clearly as I can what students will learn in my class and why, but each unique course is suited to a different set of activities and objectives.

There’s no getting around it – most of the classrooms I teach in are designed for more traditional pedagogical approaches, so I have to be ready to plead early and often for a different classroom and make the best of whatever poorquality room I am stuck with. For example, my students can move even when the furniture doesn’t, and I use every excuse to get them out of those lousy little seats and fixed rows. I use the boards a lot and multiple whiteboards are fantastic, but in a short, wide room the boards on either end aren’t readable by students on the other side, so I have to use the space carefully. One tiny screen at the front of a 90-student room means I can’t project highly-detailed images, so I know I will have to find less-detailed images and have the link ready for students to use their own devices. One ancient chalkboard and no whiteboards mean a dramatic decline in how I can use the space at all, so I have to come up with other ways to record my students’ thoughts and arguments. It would be nice to teach in a good room just for once, but in the meantime, I see all the lousy rooms as a personal challenge.

3. What Do I Want to Try This Time? There are lots of great reasons for keeping up with the latest research in teaching and learning, and one of the best reasons is that I always have a running list of fantastic, research-supported strategies I want to try in my classes. Every decision I have made about my teaching in the last few years – from substituting unique written assignments for exams; eliminating lectures in my second- to fourth-year courses, but keeping them at the first year; turning my second-year methodology course into an entirely workshopand discussion-driven ‘lab;’ building a website so my second-year students can post their work publicly; flipping my third-year courses; ensuring my pedagogical choices support students’ mental health, like providing multi-day windows for handing assignments in rather than hard-andfast deadlines; and so on – is backed by solid evidence about better teaching and learning. That research gives me the ideas and the confidence to try new strategies that will help my students learn what I want them to learn. 4. Which Teaching Strategies Will I Use? The decisions I make for questions #2 and #3 determine the choices I make at this stage about everything from how my students and I will spend our time in class to the readings I choose and the assessments I design. Eliminating exams means designing the right written assignments to achieve my learning goals for each unique class. Keeping a blend of lectures and in-class workshops and discussions in my first-year World History class means I make different choices every year about what stories I can tell best in a lecture and which resources are available for 90 students to use in class. Flipping my US West course meant thinking through how a crowdsourced lecture assignment could work, and trusting my awesome teaching assistant Brendan Cummins to dig up hundreds of primary-source documents for the discussion days that were now going to take up two thirds of

Conclusion As we both set out to come up with our lists, we were surprised to see a substantial degree of overlap between them when we came back together. Victoria’s questions bring up further questions: She is figuring out what might work in a particular first-time context on a necessarily more abstract level. Sheila’s questions clearly draw on experience: She has learned from her teaching career about what works and what doesn’t. Questions about the level, learning outcomes, and teaching, as well as assessment strategies have surfaced in both our discussions. This suggest that these questions will persist throughout entire teaching careers: It can be important to refocus and regroup before every course, even if it’s a familiar one that you’ve taught many times. Reflection here is key: What worked for you and your students? What didn’t work? What are you going to retire, what will you introduce? Of course, these lists are not exhaustive, nor meant to be read as standards. These are merely two sets of questions about the decision-making process in teaching. What are yours?

A LIGHT ON LEARNING Teaching from First Principles

by Javid Sadr Javid Sadr is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology and an Associate Member of the Department of Neuroscience.



fter nearly a century and a half of experimental psychology, we know far too much about the human mind to ignore as educators and students. Because there’s so very much in psychology that can improve education, this short paper is meant as the opposite of an exhaustive review of psychology research relevant to teaching and learning: It’s fashioned instead as an introduction to and sampler of a variety of examples and topics in the field, to maximize the odds of your finding something here to spark your interest in what

light psychology can shed on teaching and, more importantly, learning. More than that, the central hope might be to introduce people to the way a psychologist (and neuroscientist) might think about and talk about the very endeavour of teaching and learning – because just this way of recasting the sometimes slippery workings of education can lead to new insights, practices, and further exploration. To begin, for teaching to have the best results, we must distinguish between the relatively peripheral role of the teacher and the central role of the learner, and fundamentally restate questions of better strategies of the former as those which optimize the success of the latter via exploiting established principles of the human mind. In this, we can see that however much a teacher might do, the student is ultimately the agent of learning: Learning can certainly take place without teaching, but no teaching has taken place without learning.

Defining Learning (And Teaching) We also shouldn’t proceed without a crisp idea of what learning is, perhaps adopting a general-psychology sense of its being a long-term change in behaviour as a result of experience - any kind of behaviour: Solving a math problem, performing a dance move, forming a philosophical argument, synthesizing a molecule, diving without a splash, eruditely discussing a poem. What is teaching, then? We might say here that it’s the act of establishing the environment or circumstances—more generally, the stimuli–wherein a learner encounters the experiences that promote this behavioural change, this learning. From this definition of learning, we also see that the learner exhibits, through long-term changes in behaviour, some kind of memory—whether or not conscious, explicit, and articulable–for


what has been experienced. Before moving on, we might also note that psychologists and neuroscientists know as well as anyone that there are many forms of learning and memory and have worked for decades to understand these processes equally well, whether in reading a textbook or throwing a basketball.

Memory If, for the interests of a short article, we were to focus here on just one aspect of memory for our educational purposes, it might be that memory is fundamentally associative (1), that we are association-making machines. Nothing that enters our minds stays there in isolation; it’s always connected to something else. It’s through these connections that we not only encode new memories (i.e., convert some new thing currently in short-term/working memory into something that can be held for a lifetime in long-term memory), but also retrieve them (i.e., bring something from long-term memory back into short-term/working memory) through associations with retrieval cues encountered later on. From this, the first thing one might see is that the worst learning strategy for a student would be to figure out what some pared-down, isolated, bare-minimum set of examinable items might be in a course and to (try to) learn only these items, following the mistaken intuition that memory is limited (it’s not) and mustn’t be consumed by ‘irrelevant’ or ‘tangential’ not-strictly-on-theexam material. Students following this strategy not only find themselves overwhelmed by what seems like a giant, disordered pile of unrelated items to encode, they later find themselves unable to retrieve any particular item, because it rests ajumble in long-term memory like a disconnected needle in a haystack, with no path to or from. Instead, as professors, we can prompt students to exploit the associative nature of memory by emphasizing, not eviscerating, the internal associations within and between countless aspects of any given item (e.g., for a theory: Its name, its basic principles, the person who first proposed it, a direct application or instantiation, opposing theories, relative and absolute chronology, etc.) – most of all, if these are causal, sequential, hierarchical, and/or functionally meaningful associations. Later in retrieval, these naturally lead from one to the other: E.g., not only that a certain article discussed learning, memory, and attention, but the functional way in which it began by defining learning, then established the central role of long-term memory, then transitioned naturally to attention in the selection of stimuli for encoding. We can also prompt students to make external associations to common real-world items likely to be found in their long-term memory


(e.g., associating the theory of sunk costs with the obsolescence of interface standards in the computer industry), and, even more effectively, encourage students to make autobiographical associations (e.g., associating the theory of sunk costs with one’s own past/future investments in Apple dongles). The value of these kinds of personal associations is not so different from from the powerful—even essential—practice of recapitulating another’s ideas in one’s own words and examples: It’s only by doing so that one thoroughly connects and integrates new, external ideas with everything else that exists up to that moment in one’s own mind. It’s through such associations that we can retrieve long-term memories at all: When they are cued by some association with the words in a question, or any stimuli around us at any given time, or just our most recent preceding thought. There’s so much more to supporting and enhancing encoding besides talking about associations (e.g., the profound benefits of the testing and production effects (2,3), or the necessity of deep semantic processing versus superficial feature encoding (4)), but for our current purposes, some extreme triage is required: It’s important to not focus only on the encoding of short-term memory into long-term memory, and risk losing sight of the crucial fact that what is to be learned needs to enter the learner’s short-term memory in the first place. This is where, by definition, attention comes in, one of the biggest and most multi-faceted topics in this discussion.

There is an infinite amount of stimulation around us, and [a] very limited amount that finds its way into our mind at a given time. Attention There is an infinite amount of stimulation around us, and the very limited amount that finds its way into our mind at a given time—a phone number, the sound of a particular spoken word, one portion of the broader visual scene, one particular tactile sensation—has gotten through by virtue of selective attention (5). Either an external stimulus is so attention-grabbing on its own (e.g., bright, loud, fast-moving, etc.; think of the eye-harassing advertisements littering almost every web page) that it forces selective attention, in a bottom-up way, to carry it through

to our short-term memory, or we as deliberate, discerning beings choose, in a top-down way, to select some small part of this cacophony to focus on and allow into our minds. You might see immediately how this connects to the popular notion of engagement in education. You might also see, given some familiarity with how attention works, how counter-intuitive and counter-productive it might be to frame the notion of student engagement as a matter of external, bottom-up salience (i.e., teaching styles, strategies, and materials that force engagement to occur, by being un-ignorably attention-grabbing) as opposed to a matter of internally motivated, top-down selection (i.e., learning strategies and practices by which students might develop and train in themselves the ability to attend to what’s important and ignore what’s not). The world’s most engaging, professor-driven external salience will always lose out to the absolute gate of the internally guided, top-down attentional filter of a disinterested student, as can be seen when even the most action-packed summer blockbuster can’t force many audience members to look up from their phones. Unfortunately, contrary to the rose-coloured notion that young people now are better equipped than ever to manage the sensory overload of the digital world, our current generation of students is, in fact, much more likely to struggle with the continuous juggling act of intentionally selecting one particular task or stimulus to attend (6). They’ve received astonishing hours of practice as ‘multi-media multi-tasking consumers’ of entertainment and advertising, in which (for billion-dollar profits) attentional selection is driven externally by the salience of bottom-up cues (pop-up notifications, auto-play videos, flashing lights, unexpected sounds), and not internally-guided by top-down task-relevant choices. Advertising almost by definition requires allowing our attention to be manipulated and diverted in this way, by the extraneous and superfluous. Knowing this, we might want to maintain our focus on encouraging students’ development of their deliberate, top-down attentional capacities, rather than adding ourselves to the arms race of bottom-up external manipulation. For our part, too, we also need to ensure that our teaching strategies and materials don’t get in the way of themselves, producing unintended distractions that interfere with what we intend to accomplish pedagogically at each moment. For example, if in lecture you’re presenting students with written text—on screen, a handout, a book/article you had them bring to class—keep in mind that, by university age, reading isn’t so much an automated skill as an obligatory behaviour (7). (This is how those goofy ‘don’t read this shirt’ shirts work [or don’t work].) This is fine if for the duration of that

text being visible your plan is for the students to do exactly one thing (if you’re lucky)—i.e., to read that text— but didn’t you also want them to listen to what you’re saying? If you’re talking at the same time as they’re obligatorily reading the text you’ve presented, then either listening to your voice is a distraction from reading your text or vice versa. The crucial thing about ‘multi-tasking’ is that it doesn’t exist, not when it comes to the kinds of conscious mental tasks we care about in the classroom (or when driving). People can do only one thing at a time, mentally, and you have to decide whether that’s reading text or listening to speech (or shopping online, or texting a friend). It doesn’t even work well for the professor to read out loud the text the students are also reading at that moment, because you will never be reading at the same rate; instead, a fully self-interfering situation is set up, where your external reading voice is either n words ahead or m words behind the students’ internal ones. This problem explodes with an entire page of text, bulleted or not, particularly as displayed onscreen in a Powerpoint/Keynote presentation. We may not want to do this in the first place, considering that almost everything about “the cognitive style of Powerpoint” (8) is contrary to best practices in teaching and learning (and just plain thinking), but if it must be done, then we can slightly reduce distractions by having only one line visible at a time, completely blankingout all the other points before and after (i.e., the ones you’re not talking about at that precise moment). That’s probably the best you can do, but the psychologist has to point out that you’re still presenting a stimulus that has a doubly-trained response attached to it (besides the obligatory reading, which already disallows your profitably lecturing while that text is visible): If modern students have any high-school training about what’s expected of them in lecture, it’s that their job is to copy down any text displayed onscreen. It’s important to consider in advance that while a student is in the process of doing this verbatim copying of on-screen text, driven by the text’s mere presence in combination with ill-conceived training in their tender years, your lecture itself becomes a distraction from this task of transcription. The student must ignore this distraction to perform the task you’ve initiated by presenting said text. To get a real feeling for how deeply these trained responses run, for one lecture you could create a presentation mostly composed of images and deliver your lecture without any competing text on-screen. Very probably, you’ll see very little note-taking going on. Intersperse in there occasional slides that do have some text. You won’t need to look at your presentation to know when you’ve hit one of those text slides: A roomful of pens will be picked up, the text will

be transcribed into otherwise blank notebooks, and then a roomful of pens will be put back down.

highlighted purple in our notes, something the professor was talking about when there was a kitten on the screen.

The good news is that this problem does go away (eventually) if there’s never any text on the screen and the situation makes it clear that real note-writing needs to take place as opposed to lecture-ignoring transcription. Conversely, if it seems that the right way to get around this is to go the other direction, to create comprehensively text-filled slides and give the students a copy for each lecture (i.e., no transcription required), consider that this now presents the following: (A) it creates a doomed selective-attention task where the instructor will typically be the least-attended-to stimulus in a situation where the students are now (i) reading the text on the classroom screen, (ii) reading a copy of it (plus or minus being a page or two ahead/behind) on their print-outs or devices, and (iii) trying to ignore the distracting sound of the lecturer’s voice. (B) it ensures that a large portion of the students will attend lecture at best sporadically, believing (as also trained in high school) that everything they need to know is there in writing on the distributed slides, and that all the elaborative material coming out of the professor’s mouth (never mind hundreds of pages of assigned textbook readings) is irrelevant and tangential.

An even more intrinsic problem is that Powerpoint/Keynote slides of even simple charts and graphs present the viewer with too large a number of mutually-competing pieces of information in one instant. Imagine a graph with the horizontal and vertical axes labelled with names and units, marked with the axes’ numerical ticks and scales, titled meaningfully, and some number of data points or bars or lines conveying some pattern of results or measurements. After many minutes of inspection, if you were to take the figure away and ask a viewer to try to reproduce it, only a vague cartoon would result.

Thinking through such problems, we might arrive at avoiding text altogether – but then, why use slide presentations at all? Hm. Well, being a visual medium, their value in presenting visual material such as complex images (e.g., data graphs, flow-charts, taxonomies), photographs, videos, etc., comes to mind. We’re still talking here, though, about how humans’ very restrictive attentional systems work, and there are a number of ways the purely visual can backfire, too. For one thing, while (externally) ‘engaged’ with/ by attention-grabbing imagery, there’s no reason to think that the student will necessarily form long-term memories associating this imagery with the actual course material being presented at that moment. Instead, it’s quite possible this imagery may well be attended to and encoded all by itself—and later retrieved all by itself— and will never serve as a meaningful associative cue for the intended lecture material. The latter may well have been discarded at the crucial moment of potential encoding as a distraction competing with the attentional selection of the image. All of us have had the experience of successfully retrieving some salient, associated hook with which we hoped to pull a desired item from memory, but if the desired item itself was never successfully encoded into memory, there’s nothing there to hook and pull out. We might remember only that what would’ve been the answer to a question was at the end of a particular chapter in the book, in an article just below the top-right figure on the third page,

Working from real empirical research toward best practices in education, we can avoid personal feelings pro and con such technologies and instead develop strategies from principles known to work or a human mind. Worse, the first things to go are often the most important: What were the axes? What was being measured? What were the units? We have no idea what was being plotted, only a shape. Considering our limited attention and working memory and our need to build meaningful, sequential, hierarchical mental structures, whether using a carefully-animated slideshow or a dusty blackboard the right thing is to build such a figure, piece by piece, from the axes on up. Doing so results in no attentional competition but a meaningful progression and combination of elements, no matter how complex the final product. It’s natural, maybe even morally unavoidable, in discussing attention, distraction, and wellconsidered use of technology to find our way to the current deadly crisis of cell phones – and how, in no small way, their unremitting distractions are as real a concern for our students’ well-being in the classroom as they are on the road. Here, again, there’s no lack of research


now, whether from experimental psychology or raw traffic-collision statistics, demonstrating the devastating effects of cell-phone distractions (9,10,11) – or, more generally, of ‘multi-media multi-tasking,’ regardless of the device used. Working from empirical research toward best practices in education, we can avoid personal feelings pro and con such technologies and instead develop strategies from principles known to work for a human mind. Were students arriving to class drunk or drugged, it seems obvious that the professor or some other administrative university branch would be expected to intervene for the student’s own benefit. What if the culprit compromising the student’s mental ability, learning, and performance had, with millions of dollars of advertising and lobbying behind it, quickly and quietly become the norm? From the accumulated research feverishly done in response to this crisis, particularly in response to traffic collisions, but now extending well into the education domain, we no longer need to nibble at the edges of the non-debate of cell phones’ influence on learning and cognitive function. Again, this is not a matter of personal intuition or preference or hopes or fears, but draws on an established empirical foundation. Skipping all but one of these research findings, I wonder if it might suffice just to point out that the problem is so bad, even the mere presence of your cell phone is sufficient to impair your mental capacity (12). Knowing this from experimental psychology, why wouldn’t we warn our students? When students sit down in the classroom for a lecture or settle down somewhere to study, almost universally the first movement now is to remove their cell phones from their pockets or bags and to place them right on the desktop – precisely as a psychologist would do as an experimental manipulation to reduce their mental ability. Some do this with the phone faceup, explicitly inviting the minute-by-minute distractions it will present (notice that modern phones ‘push’ these notifications directly to the screen); some put their phones face down, and it’s doubtful they realize they’ve set up something


to ensure that they won’t be able to think or learn to their full potential. If we’re to encourage, support, and guide successful learning from first principles, we would intervene, just as we would be required to if students were drinking alcohol in lecture or in an exam. It’s crucial to immediately point out a whole other finding, a common case of well-intended technology use—without internet distractions, texting, ‘multi-tasking,’ etc.—counter-intuitively impairing learning in the classroom (13). Assuming you can touch-type, your intuition is probably that taking notes with a laptop is more efficient than by hand. You’d be right, but we’re talking here about best practices in learning. It turns out that efficient typing is better described as automated (i.e., necessarily thoughtless) dictation and transcription; in contrast, it’s those who do the often-unnoticed mental work required in writing notes by hand who best learn the material.

Learning Proper ... The impairing effect of the mere presence of one’s cell phone brings into the conversation what experimental psychology knows to be the simple, universal mechanisms of learning that serve as the machinery behind all manner of addictions (14), specifically classical conditioning as well as operant/instrumental conditioning. In turn, well beyond cell-phone addiction specifically, looking at these generalpurpose, associative-learning mechanisms leads us to some deeply valuable insights–or perhaps reminders–regarding the sorts of academic learning and performance that concern us more generally. For one thing, our most powerful and universal learning mechanisms operate by creating associations between stimuli, and/or between stimuli and behaviours, usually on a sub-second time-scale. If nothing else, then, in the most mundane and generic sense, it must simply be said that to have the optimal promoting or correcting effect, students must receive

feedback (or ‘knowledge of results’) immediately. More basic than that, and perhaps even more surprisingly discarded in some educational practices, for someone to learn at all requires feedback as to successful versus unsuccessful attempts. Here, the word ‘feedback’ is not meant at all as generic praise or personal affirmation, but quite simply as the mere item-specific information indicating whether to repeat or not repeat a past behaviour to achieve a desired result.

... And Reinforcement And Motivation Also from learning theory in psychology comes a whole host of other knowledge about structuring and scheduling not just this kind of informational feedback, but also ancillary reinforcements of behaviour. To show how far these effects can reach—from what might seem low-level classical or operant/instrumental ‘conditioning’ all the way up to what we think of as sophisticated human learning and behaviour —as just one example in the education realm it appears, oddly enough, that even our exams can serve as positive reinforcement of (i.e., rewards for) students’ learning (15): Students will naturally study more effectively and consistently as a consequence of certain schedules of exams/ quizzes (i.e., schedules of reinforcement) rather than others. Likewise, it’s through this same domain of learning theory that we can see, for example, the ‘reinforcement of alternate behaviours’ playing out as students ignore lecture in favour of electronic entertainment or avoid studying and procrastinate (i.e., engaging in other tasks that more easily or habitually provide reinforcement/reward). As someone said, no one procrastinates doing what they love. Learning theory also connects directly to what some might otherwise think of the domain of motivation. In terms of reinforcement and reward, for example, in education, one of the most immediately relevant concerns for us as professors might be the overjustification effect (16,17): The (external) reinforcements many of us benevolently bestow to elicit and encourage

desirable behaviours (e.g., praise and social rewards, prizes, and all manner of stars and smiley-faces and other signs and trappings of good grades and high rankings) ultimately serve to replace and erode the students’ own personal, internal rewards for good work done well for its own sake, for the sake of learning. This loss of internal satisfaction is often so complete that once the situation no longer promises the possibility of external reward, the learner no longer engages in the behaviours we thought we were promoting. What percentage of our students spend their winter holidays studying for the fun of it? Yet, when they were children, you could not stop their curiosity, their questions and crazy experiments. It’s something to think about if we think we’re in the business of creating ‘life-long learners.’

Social Psychology And Beyond The natural transition from learning theory to motivation in turn brings up a wide array of research likewise applicable to better teaching and learning - such as social facilitation (18), the ‘inverted U’ of arousal and performance (19,20), and more. From the sub-field of social psychology alone it would be crucial to meticulously discuss not only the self-fulfilling pygmalion effect (21), but how its reverse must certainly play out in our larger classrooms - and on to the pernicious effects of self-handicapping more generally (22), also bringing into the discussion elements of locus-of-control/self-efficacy (23) and learned helplessness (24), especially now with

the prevalence of childhood labelling of innate strengths and weaknesses.

Circling Back, And Moving Forward ... but this was never intended to be an exhaustive review of all the knowledge we can take from psychology to help people learn. Instead, hopefully a certain mindset or viewpoint, not just psychological but scientifically-principled and empirical, has come through, one that might be infectious Last year at our university’s Spark Teaching Symposium, my colleagues and I presented a few central thoughts from our ‘Evaluating Evaluation’ research funded by the Teaching Centre, and I have conveyed some of the flavour of this here. Most of all I would hope it to be that we might think of teaching not as separate from our research but as both an application of it and as inspiration for further research – and that we can think of teaching and learning in much more scientific and empirical terms. Why don’t we do more meaningful, inferential statistics on our evaluation measures, besides descriptive stats such as means and ranges? Why don’t we use simple aspects of item response theory to identify which of the questions we ask are ‘working’ and which generate noise? Why do we do exams only at the end of the semester, with no pre-tests at the start to have a real measure of improvement – of learning?

If there were particular examples or topics that jumped out at you, your next step could be to read some of the references cited. Still, only a tiny fraction of what psychology has to offer is included here, so a better recommendation might be to pick up a simple intro psych textbook (25) and start to go through it with the eye of a professor – or better yet, of a student. I’m sure that on almost every page there will be some wildly counter-intuitive insight that would translate wonderfully into better teaching and learning. It would probably take entire lifetimes to apply everything you’d learn from one good intro psych book, and it would be well worth it. If you get done faster than that, though, I can recommend some journals that publish decent reviews on memory, attention, social psych – and one or two good books on ‘learning’ (26,27).


Writing as



by Danica Chabot & David Slomp Danica is a recent gradute with a combined Bachelor of Science Education and Biological Sciences degree. David Slomp is a former Board of Governors’ Teaching Chair and Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Education.



ver the past several years, the staff at the Teaching Centre and the members of the Teaching Centre Advisory Council have reported increasing concern by university faculty about the quality of student writing at the University of Lethbridge. This concern, of course, is not unique to our university. The quality and effectiveness of student writing ability has long been a topic of concern (1). The issue underlying this concern is that traditional approaches to writing instruction and curriculum have been designed to teach localized skills and understandings about writing (2). As a consequence, students in both the K-12 and the post-secondary systems learn how to be successful in completing a narrow set of writing tasks that focus on mastering a limited set of genres (3,4). When those students move across contexts, for example from grade 12 to university or from first-year writing to second-year sociology, what they learned about writing in the preceding context rarely applies or transfers to the new context. Sommers and Saltz’s (5) landmark study, for example, found that the most important thing students learned about writing in their first year at Harvard was that what worked for them in high school did not work for them in college. Similar findings have been reported about the limitations of traditional first-year writing courses for preparing students for writing in the disciplines. Danica’s experience as an undergraduate student at the University of Lethbridge, first in science and then later in education, reflects this problem: Personally, I have been a student for more years than I would like to admit. Overall, I am a well-rounded student. I’ll admit that I owe my general tendency for success to a personality trait that continues to serve me well beyond the challenges in education; that trait involves the belief that every problem has a solution. Writing is one of those ‘things’ that I was never really great at, but I got by being good enough, because I was always capable of finding a fitting solution to whatever writing problem came my way. However, a criticism that I often encountered in English-Language-Arts (ELA) writing was that my assignments were well structured

and clearly communicated, but my content lacked substance; it was often redundant and borderline shallow. My struggle was rooted in the way that I was taught to write: I was given outlines to follow that conveniently instructed me where to put what. I became very efficient at filling in the blanks, and all I had to do was rely on feedback to tell me what I missed and what needed to be fixed to get it “right.” Although this method brought me success in meeting academic standards, I failed to develop a sense for understanding the purpose of writing beyond obtaining a praise-worthy grade. But hey – I am a science major. Why should I be concerned with developing a deeper sense of understanding for writing? All I have to write are lab reports, and those are pretty straightforward, are they not? Just write down what happens in an experiment and call it a job well done. It is mostly true that lab reports are the most complex writing tasks in science (as they can go on to become publishable research papers), and I have been able to get by using the fill-in-blanks-of-an-outline method; but it took me several experiences before I figured out the purpose of all the blanks that I was filling in. This goes to show that practice does make perfect, and repetition of a task eventually should lead to understanding. But, is it reasonable to make students wait until a fifth attempt before expecting them to develop an understanding of their task? I can imagine that a frustrating failed first attempt would be enough to guarantee that a student loses the motivation to even consider a second attempt wholeheartedly; it’s likely easier to accept defeat and move on to a different skillset. Danica’s experiences are all too common. Many students who drop out of university or college in their first year do so because of lack of preparedness in writing and reading skills needed at the post-secondary level (6). Successful students eventually figure out what is required of them, but this journey of discovery is too often haphazard, marked by happenstance and inefficiency. A decade ago, writing researchers began to rethink how writing is taught in post-secondary environments (7). The question they focussed on was: How do we teach for transfer; that is, how do we help students develop the capacity to apply knowledge about writing developed in one context to tasks and rhetorical situations found in other contexts? The key to answering that question is understanding what knowledge and skills expert writers draw on when they approach writing tasks that are new to them, and then building a writing pedagogy that cultivates that set of knowledge and skills. In 2007, Anne Beaufort (8) synthesized decades of research on this question and identified five domains of knowledge that expert writers draw on when

approaching new writing tasks, which are explained in detail below. These five domains are: Discourse community knowledge, rhetorical knowledge, genre knowledge, subject matter knowledge, and writing process knowledge. Expert writers recognize that discourse communities are groups that share a common purpose or interest and that these communities use specific types of texts to communicate amongst themselves as they work to achieve the purpose of the group. Expert writers are able to analyze discourse communities, to determine what values they share, what texts or genres they use to communicate amongst themselves, and how those texts are designed to reflect those purposes and values. They recognize, for example, that a successful history paper is necessarily different from a philosophy paper, because the discourse communities of historians and philosophers bring different values and expectations to the texts that are valued within their communities, differences that are manifested in the features and structures of the texts themselves. Genre knowledge involves the capacity to understand that genres are tools used by discourse communities to achieve the purposes of those communities and that they are both context specific and complex. Recognizing this, expert writers can identify how the genres used by discourse communities reflect the values and purposes of those communities and how they are able to apply those understandings to their writing. When drawing on rhetorical knowledge, expert writers also recognize that each text they are crafting is designed to achieve a specific purpose. They know that there are multiple ways that they can achieve that purpose in each text, and they recognize that effectiveness of rhetorical choices or tools they employ is mediated by the values and beliefs of the discourse community for whom they are writing. Expert writers draw on writing process knowledge when they recognize that they have a range of processes and strategies available to them as they complete the writing task. They understand that the effectiveness of these processes and strategies varies based on the contexts in which they are writing. Subject matter knowledge involves the ability to gather and use information needed to achieve the intention of a text. Expert writers recognize that discourse communities may understand content differently from one another, and so the task of the writer is to employ that information in a manner that reflects the perspectives and understandings of the community one is writing for.


Writing for Life In 2008, when David was Special Advisor on the Writing Initiative to the Deans of Arts and Education at the University of Alberta, he worked with the University of Alberta’s Writing Task Force to develop a vision for writing program development and support that would help students develop the transferrable knowledge about writing that seemed to be lacking. An important piece of this puzzle was the development of a new first-year writing course, Exploring Writing, designed to help students develop awareness of and capacity for each of the five knowledge domains described above. In 2014, the Conference on College Composition and Communication recognized this course with a writing program certificate of excellence, making it one of only three Canadian programs to have received this distinction. This same year, David began working with high school teachers in Southern Alberta to develop a writing-as-problemsolving pedagogy, focussed on helping students learn to independently analyze and complete new writing tasks. The goal of this approach is to help students develop and apply the knowledge on which expert writers draw when creating text, thereby positioning students for greater success when faced with new writing tasks in post-secondary or workplace writing contexts. In 2017, David adapted this writingas-problem-solving pedagogy for the postsecondary context, creating an applied studies course titled Writing for Life. The goal of Writing for Life was to help students learn how to analyze writing tasks that are new to them so that they can independently and successfully complete these tasks. The course was structured around students developing strategies for acquiring and applying knowledge and skills related to each of the five knowledge domains discussed above. The core activity in this course was for students to write a grant proposal for a community agency with which they were partnered. Students conducted an analysis of both the grant agency and the community group, examined sample grant proposals, deconstructed the rhetorical structure of grant proposals, and crafted their own proposal for submission to the granting agency.

Writing for Life: A Student’s Experience Admittedly, I enrolled in the Writing for Life course to meet elective requirements for my undergraduate degrees, and I was intrigued by the hands-on nature of an applied study. Initially, I saw it as an opportunity to gain competency in teaching writing should I ever have to teach an ELA class in my future career. I was especially drawn to the proposed


critical-thinking approach, because I strongly believe in the power of enhancing student engagement and quality of learning through critical-thinking skills. Little did I know that I was going to be just as much of a student in this course as I was a student-teacher. The objective was clear: Learn how to analyze and successfully complete writing tasks neverbefore encountered, specifically grant writing. A unique twist to this course involved linking the task to a community organization, which enabled me to quickly forget that the purpose of completing this course was to gain credit. My motivation for completion instead became driven by a desire to succeed on behalf of the organization. This real-life application provided the kind of purpose to the task that I think students (myself included) are often searching for when learning, but it is not often met with much discovery. I chose to be paired with Kids Help Phone (KHP). Kids Help Phone provides a free 24hour counselling service to children. Children can access KHP either by phone or online through a chat feature. Because I believe in the value of the KHP, and because I wanted to see them get the funding, I was given meaningful motivation for successful completion of my writing task. That’s not to say that the writing I did in school and university wasn’t meaningful. I was very conscious of my academic standing; however, I was just as happy with a grade of 80% as I was with a grade of 90%, so my effort level relied on which grade I was more in the mood for. More often than not, I just wanted to meet the deadline and get it over with. In other words, the meaningfulness in many of my writing assignments was not deep enough to truly motivate me. When we finally do get to writing outside the confines of our institutional walls, meaningful writing is what we are faced with: Our tasks are no longer linked to a summative grade but to an outcome that affects our personal lives. At that point, we likely find ourselves questioning whether or not we actually have the skills to successfully complete the writing task: Who is going to confirm our uncertainties? How will we determine criteria for success? And: How will we enact a plan to meet those criteria? It seems that as students, we get so used to being told what to do and how to do it that we seldom learn to ask why it should be done a certain way. The ‘why’ matters, though, because it guides our understanding of purpose in the things we learn.

A Student’s Experience: The Process What surprised me most about the Writing for Life course was the magnitude of the

preliminary writing process through which we were guided. Its stages were paramount to my developing an in-depth understanding of a task that I had never encountered before. The pre-writing process was metacognitive, and through it I learned to think about the task even before attempting to complete it. It involved four key stages: 1) Discourse Analysis – determine the values of my community group and the agency I would be applying to, and consider how those values were reflected in the way they used language; 2) Genre Analysis – identify how grant applications are structured; 3) Rhetorical Analysis – determine what the purpose of a grant application is, and how authors of grant applications achieve those purposes in the way they shape their proposals; 4) Core Content Outline – identify the core content of a grant proposal through a review of the previous three analyses. For me, this was a very different approach to learning a new writing style. Rather than being handed an outline, much of the preliminary work involved the analysis of sample grant applications. The focus of the analyses was discourse, structure, and content of grant proposals. Deconstructing these facets of the task made it possible to identify the key elements of the content, and how the they could be structurally organized to best serve the intention of the writing task.

Discourse Analysis As an athlete, I was taught to learn the rules, terminologies, and acceptable behaviour of a sport just as much as I was taught to develop the sport-specific skills; therefore, as a writer, learning the values and expectations embedded in a writing task was just as important as learning how to put the words together to complete it. And so, the first step in grant writing involved the analysis of two discourse communities: The community organization itself and the targeted granting agency. It was crucial for me to sufficiently familiarize myself with my partner organization so that I could appropriately represent it through writing. Therefore, I analyzed all available information associated with the organization to get to know KHP in terms of its purpose, its history, and its values and ambitions. I also had to familiarize myself with the granting agency to which I was applying. Both of these analyses involved identifying the types of language each party used, the types of information they provided, and the values each one held. The purpose of this was to ensure alignment

Big Argument: You should fund KHP so we can help kids’ needs.

Says-Does Analysis Says


1. KHP is there for kids who are suffering.

1. Establishes need. Established that KHP helps these kids.

2. ONLY professional counselling support lines.

2. Establishes who organization is, how they address the need, what makes them unique.

3. 24/7 connects kids to community. 4. Only 1/2 kids in Canada know what KHP is.

between the organization and the granting agency; it was about making the shoe fit the foot, not the foot fit the shoe. Furthermore, it served to identify the foundation on which to build the argument that ‘this agency should fund this community organization.’

Genre Analysis The next step was to understand how to develop the above-mentioned argument in the context of a grant application; to do this, samples of successful grant applications were analyzed. As I mentioned earlier, instead of being given a specific outline to follow, I was taught how to create one myself, which was paramount to my overall understanding of the task’s intent. It is one thing to be told that the purpose of writing a grant proposal is to try to convince the agency to fund you, but it is so much more to have to figure out for yourself how a grant proposal functions. Understanding the ‘how’ set the foundation for the confident development of my own request. By way of genre analysis, I identified which elements were commonly present, and how those elements were strategically organized within the application. The content of each sample grant was deconstructed paragraph by paragraph, and each paragraph was summarized in a simple phrase or sentence. Analysis of the paragraph summaries provided a visualization of what kind of content was present and how it was structured. This portion of the writing process concluded with the production of a core content analysis. In collaboration with my cohort members, we deduced that the core content of a grant application was guided by five major questions: 1) Why the project? 2) Why the organization? 3) What is the project?

3. Establishes the problem related to the need that the funding will address.

4) How is it feasible? 5) What is the value to the donor? The answers to these five questions provided the premise for the arguments that the grant applications were making: ‘X granting agency should fund Y organization for Z project.’

Rhetorical Analysis Analysis of the rhetorical features was necessary for determining how the elements of the core content were strategically organized to produce a compelling argument. A says-does-analysis of each section was conducted. Paragraph by paragraph, I summarized what the content ‘said’ prima facie and then thought critically about what purpose the content served (i.e., how it was propagating the argument). Conducting a rhetorical analysis allowed me to formulate an outline to guide the writing of my own grant application. At this point, I discovered what I needed to include and how to best present it, which lent itself to organizing the application so that it was conducive to producing a compelling argument.

Core Content Outline The final preliminary stage involved outlining my own core content based on the previous three analyses. By knowing beforehand what I needed for the content, I found direction for examining my KHP documents. The first time I looked through all the provided documents, I felt overwhelmed by all the information. Going through them the second time, knowing what I needed made it easy to identify both purposeful and expendable information. The core content outline also helped me determine if any important information was missing. Although KHP willingly provided me with a plethora of material, my outline

determined that I was still missing key information, which I was able to obtain for the benefit of the application. This was better to discover in the pre-writing process rather than after the funding request was possibly declined!

Drafting and Revising By the time I got to actually writing the grant application, I was not stressed about having less time to write than I had to prepare. The key was that I already knew what was going to constitute the first draft, so the first draft became a process of organizing, editing, and enhancing content rather than generating content. This also meant fewer drafts between the first one and the final product. Moreover, edits were much more minor, and they mostly included spell checking, improving organization, and enrichment via vocabulary and/or rhetorical details. In summary, the work in the preliminary process gave me the confidence to put together a quality first draft of something I had never written before.

Writing For Life – Implications for Writing in the Disciplines I have this vague memory of a conversation I had with my organic chemistry professor back in college; he commented on how I preferred to work with problems that involved determining the reactants from the products rather than vice versa. My response was that I found it easier to work backwards once I knew where I needed to end up. Beginning with the end in mind is a philosophy and a strategy that we are highly encouraged to incorporate into our teaching methods. For me, it won’t be a hard philosophy to adopt, and the problem-solving writing approach is very conducive to fulfilling this philosophy in terms of writing. Gretzky said ‘We miss 100% of the shots we don’t take.’ In other words, it’s best to take a shot in the right direction than to not shoot at all. Generally, it’s a healthy philosophy to live by, but a masterful coach won’t just train their players to shoot the puck in the right direction in hopes of getting it in the net. Instead, players will be taught to find the sweet spots of the target; this is where the goalie will have a harder time cutting off the angle to block the shot. With this knowledge, players can shoot with a comprehensive intent to score rather than with blind hope. Similarly, students need to understand the sweet spots of their writing targets, but just like the hockey player must work at developing the ability to judge the best shooting angle. The student too needs to develop the ability to judge the best approach to a writing task depending on its nature. It isn’t enough for students to simply see the target to aim for; students need to understand the target as well.


Core Content Analysis Information on the organization seeing funding


Need for the organization • Reason for the project that is in need of funding • Social or community issue/population organization addresses

KHP only national porfessional counselling service (FREE) • 3:1 Live Chat Drop Rate due to lack of counsellour resources (2015) - (need to confirm a more recent numbers) • Youth mental health issues *suicide* & Youth awareness of available resources

Organization’s impact • How it addresses the issue/need population • Specific evidence detailing impact (stats or narratives about the successes/services the organization provides)

*2017 Stats and summary of long term significant impact (especially number of crisis interventions) • Provides 24hr, Free one-one-one, ANONYMOUS, professional counselling services; maintains up-to-date communications platforms for youth to access • Evidence: 2017 Alberta Stats AND Narratives (pre-made from KHP)

History and credibility • Past projects (ties to impact) • when/why organization was established • purpose/vision/mandate/values or the organization • recognition received/awards recieved • Future plans/directions linked to purpose/vision/mission/mandate

http://kidshelphone.ca/about-us • Evolution of community role • Focus on content from Fulfilling our Promise • ACCESS - What other methods has KHP evolved to keep in touch with youth? • Is there a measurable outcome in terms of DROP RATE that is trying to be acheived for next year’s evaluation?

In science, students encounter writing mostly in the form of lab reports; yet, they don’t appear to be taught how to properly write one formally until 30-level courses in preparation for postsecondary endeavours. However, when students get to the post-secondary stage, professors don’t spend time teaching how to write a lab report as a writing task. It is expected of us to already know which components are included in a lab report, and the professor’s job is to help you enhance each component to achieve postsecondary-quality end products. Personally, in high school, I wasn’t made to understand the components of a lab report; I was just expected fill them in as instructed to make sure I got a point for each component present. And I was only expected to understand the experiment insofar as it confirmed the claims made in the textbook. So, when I got to the post-secondary stage, there was a huge gap between my lab report writing experience and the new lab report expectations. I don’t think it unreasonable to be expected to have an in-depth understanding of lab report writing coming out of high school: The science curriculum includes the development of inquiry skills that involve planning, datarecording and analysis, and communication within the scientific community; all of which can be accomplished through formal lab reports.

This presents a cross-curricular opportunity! If the problem-solving writing approach was taught as an English skill, it could then be put into practice as students complete specific writing tasks in their other subjects. As a result, students are given meaningful opportunities to apply a learned writing skill, and their subjectspecific writing tasks can be confidently completed at higher levels of quality. As an ideal consequence, literacy in all other subjects could be improved. From my experiences, students struggle to make connections between the sections of their lab reports; specifically, the results and analysis sections. This prevents them from contemplating the implications of the experimental inquiry beyond the purpose of confirming what they are told by a textbook. Students fail to engage in critical thinking, which diminishes the quality of learning that is meant to result from experimental inquiry. By gaining a comprehensive understanding of each lab report component, students should be able to find purpose in each step of their experimental procedure. For example, rather than just documenting observations to fill in the section, they can be prepared to make observations with the intent of applying them later on in an analysis. Additionally, by understanding that reporting on an experiment is not meant to simply confirm proposed theory,

but to test it, students can learn to appreciate the value of scientific experimentation to scientific knowledge. We should remember that language is fundamental to all subjects in (western) education systems. Science could take time to teach students its language so that they can feel comfortable applying it. Having students go through the process of conducting discourse analysis, genre analysis, and rhetorical analysis of lab reports could provide them with opportunities to develop the necessary understanding of the scientific language. The more opportunities students are provided with, the more experience they will gain with the language; likewise, the sooner the opportunities are presented, the more opportunities they experience and the better prepared they are for post-secondary transfer.

those requirements reflect the values and expectations of the disciplines in which they are writing, and to construct and execute a plan to successfully meet those requirements. The writing-as-problem-solving pedagogy developed and implemented in the Writing for Life course is designed to teach students how to understand the rhetorical problems they face in new writing tasks and teaches them the skills required to independently analyze and complete these new tasks. As such, it is a pedagogical model designed to provide the foundation for students’ writing across the disciplines; enabling them to be successful in writing tasks faced not only across their university programs, but also throughout their writing lives.

Implications for Writing Across the Disciplines and Beyond Reviewing decades of research into the cognitive process of student writers, Hayes (9) observed that many weak writers assign themselves the wrong rhetorical problem when faced with a writing task that is new to them. Often, this struggle is perpetuated, because rarely are students taught how to deconstruct a writing task, to determine what is being required of them, to understand how





by Sandra Dixon Dr. Dixon is an Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Education, Master of Counselling and Master of Education (Counselling Psychology) programs.


n September 2016, I joined the University of Lethbridge’s Faculty of Education as an Assistant Professor with much excitement about the unforeseen possibilities that laid ahead of me. I also had feelings of trepidation not knowing what to expect in the new culture of academia. Embracing my personal mantra that I should always have an attitude of gratitude, I adopted a positive attitude, a spirit of humility, and an open quest for advanced knowledge and collaborative teaching and learning. As I have embarked on this new journey with an open mind, I have been committed to be the best version of myself that I could possibly be; not only for myself and my students, but also for my colleagues who welcomed me with open arms. Within the past two years, I have endured many challenges, experienced some frustrations, shared many laughs, as well as invited and received constructive feedback, all of which have stirred my growth both personally and professionally. I have to admit that time flies when you are in academia. Now that I am no longer a doctoral student, but have moved into the role of an instructor and a researcher at a reputable institution, I have even deeper respect, empathy, and admiration for my past instructors, as well as research and clinical supervisors. These individuals have collectively set very high academic and clinical standards for me to achieve excellence in the areas of theory, research, and practice. It is with great honour and humility that I aim to do the same for my students. The kindness and support of many individuals within the Faculty of Education as well as the larger university community have helped me to grow my skillset in an enriched environment in my first two years as a new instructor. Now, as I venture into my third year, I have had some time to revisit some of the lessons I have learned along the way. I thought, what better way to grow than to share these lessons with you, hoping that my subjective experiences might resonate especially with those among you who, like me, are as passionate about teaching and learning. Speaking to my growth, this article will present you with the learning edges and vulnerable experiences that have shaped my reflective, reflexive, and collaborative teaching practice so far.

Reflective Practice To start, I define reflective practice as the ability to develop a good understanding of myself and my professional identity in order to become aware of how I engage with others both on a personal and a professional level. As a multicultural

counsellor, I find a parallel between teaching and counselling practices in that reflection invites me to think about both areas of my competencies. Similar to counselling, I see the value in reflective self-awareness and critical reflectivity in my role as an instructor who draws from the critical pedagogical framework of Paulo Freire (1,2), which is informed by a social constructivist school of thought to guide my teaching practice. I embrace Freire’s teaching philosophy that human beings are the co-creators of knowledge (3). Therefore, I argue that a safe space should be created within the educational context to allow both instructors and students to (re)construct and co-create their knowledge and become active agents of their own learning and critical thinking. Increased self-awareness allows me to reexamine myself on a deeper level and become more cognizant of how my own personal biases, assumptions, and values might impact the interactive process of the students that I teach. Such self-awareness often discloses feelings of vulnerability about my humanness as an instructor to me. Therefore, I have made an effort to engage in self-compassion around my learning edges to enhance my teaching. For me, this means to accept my competencies with the realization that there is always room for growth in our profession. For example, I am careful to remind myself that all of my students are unique in their own way with their own subjective lived realities. I believe that my students’ experiences should be respected and honoured irrespective of their salient cultural dimensions like ethnicity, gender, faith, political views, sexual orientation, and learning preferences. In challenging my own biases, I make an intentional effort to generate open dialogues with students in all my learning environments–online, blended, and in the classroom–that invite socially just and culturally responsive thinking and application. In so doing, I have noticed that students are apt to become active participants in their own learning. Further, in my reflection of my interactions with students, I have discovered how much they value and benefit from a bottom-up approach to teaching and learning. Acknowledging the importance of bottom-up student involvement, I reject the idea to position myself as the primary expert for the learning of my students with little or no regards for their own knowledge base. Instead, I rather want to focus on clarifying my role, which helps them understand that I am there to work with them and not for them. In this role as an accountability partner with my students, I am able to set firm boundaries that are necessary for us to work together to the best possible outcome. I find that students who are gaining independent learning and critical thinking skills tend to appreciate the opportunity to increase the depth and breadth of their own learning out of their own initiative, but with my guidance. As an instructor who continuously reflects on her teaching practice,

I endeavour to draw from the repertoire of teaching strategies that stimulate students to take responsibility for and enhance their own learning instead of enabling them to be passive consumers. An example of an activity I employ that enables students’ independence in learning is a group discussion in which they build their leadership and collaboration skills, in addition to gaining subject matter knowledge.

Reflexive Practice For the purpose of this paper, I use the term reflexivity to mean the ability to take a critical stance that involves analyzing one’s teaching practice and asking if knowledge is being fully used, if actions are consistent with values, and if any learning and development are generated in the teaching and learning process (4). As an instructor, I take pride in the quality of my teaching and often draw from the expertise of other seasoned instructors to augment my own personal development and knowledge-base. I find truth in Freire’s words that “I cannot be a[n] [instructor] without exposing who I am” (2: p.87). So, at this juncture, I take the time to make transparent the discomfort I have felt in relation to students’ course evaluations. Maybe it’s the word evaluation that invites this feeling of discomfort for me, because, in my mind, I perceive the word to be an evaluation of myself more than my teaching. Being mindful of my humanness as an instructor puts me in a very vulnerable place where I sometimes cannot help but equate student evaluations with personal judgement or scrutiny. There have been moments when I had to consciously reframe my thinking after students had picked apart a course, or even ripped to shreds specific aspects of it. When reframing, I now ask myself what motivated students’ criticisms knowing that it could stem from dissatisfaction with the course grade or an inability to provide constructive feedback. Objectively, I am aware that this is not the intent, but subjectively, I had constructed a reality for student evaluations to represent a period of doom in my teaching practice instead of a time of bloom. I must admit that compared to when I just started a few years ago, my attitude about those evaluations has now shifted. Taking a reflexive stance as well as engaging in honest exchange with my colleagues, who shared their evaluation experiences with me, has helped me to see through the negativity I formerly associated with student evaluations. In addition, I have started to construct a new reality for myself, in which I can be proactive in finding and implementing ways to probe student satisfaction at more frequent intervals without having to rely on end-of-term student evaluations as the only source of student input for the courses that I teach. As part of my reflexive teaching practice, I now also use informal surveys that assess the impact of my instruction on the learning of my students at specific points throughout my


courses to allow for adjustments and changes if needed. The pairing of the informal formative assessment with the final student evaluation helps me develop a strong professional teaching portfolio and be the best instructor I can be for myself as well as my students. Having gone through two years of anxiety of reading my course evaluations, I am pleased to say that my discomfort has lessened at this stage of my professional development. Now, I am mindful not to take the course evaluations at mere face value but to think about what lies beneath the surface of these comments and how they fit into the bigger picture assembled with student feedback that I align with current research findings.

(9). Arguably, the aforementioned concerns can result in grave disservice to some students who might garner an A grade that they don’t deserve. My thorough scope of the literature has made me realize that instead of relying on final student evaluations, I need ongoing reflexivity to ensure that the quality of my teaching has the highest possible impact on the learning of my students. I now understand that reflexivity in my practice is critical to being an ethical, responsive, and responsible instructor (10) whose unique experiences have been shaped through collaborative practice

Owing to the fact that research findings on student evaluations have been so debatable and mixed over the years, I have learned to reframe my perception of them. Spurgeon (5), for instance, has made the valid argument that student evaluations are “becoming more and more important as American universities veer toward private-enterprise models of educational management” (5: para.1). However, there has also been great controversy as to how they would need to be designed to provide valid and reliable results for faculty and university management to work with. In contrast, student evaluations in Europe are generally given less weight “where universities are mostly free (though increasingly less so) and very difficult to get into, students are regarded not as consumers but as subjects needing either training or enlightenment” (5: para.8). Further, in many North American universities, grades tend to be grossly inflated by instructors who appease students, avoid appeals, obtain an ego-boosting evaluation, or give cookie rewards (5,6).

Within the context of teaching, I view the concept of collaboration as my capability and efficacy to work in tandem with other educators and teaching support staff to instruct, facilitate, and stimulate students’ learning across various socio-cultural and educational contexts. At this stage of my professional development, I can humbly say that I would not have made it this far in academia had it not been for the ongoing support, empathy, and compassion that I have received from my colleagues within as well as outside of the Faculty of Education. With the gentle reminder from my former practicum supervisor at the Calgary Family Centre, Karl Thomm, that I should always be ‘grounded in groundlessness,’ I am always eager to seek out the expertise, advice, and feedback from others in order to enhance my teaching competencies and hone my skillset as an instructor. For instance, on many occasions, I have invited other instructors to assess my face-to-face teaching practice. I strongly believe in the power of peer feedback and think that, similarly to students, colleagues should observe each other in order to create a collaborative environment in which trust, humanity, honesty, intellectual growth, and improved institutional values” are fostered (5). I would also add that collaborative practice is beneficial to the critical and constructive learning strategies of both instructors and students.

More so, within the North American context, research (6-9) shows that quite often anonymous student evaluations of instructors may serve as vehicles for transmitting popular misconceptions and prejudices to the disadvantage of women and visible minorities (6). In many cases, white males are given better overall ratings than their white female counterparts (6). Not surprisingly, visible minorities are rated less favourably than their white male and female counterparts (7). Such skewed findings make one wonder about the reliability and validity of student evaluation measures. Also, strong consideration needs to be given to the influence of other salient variables like accent, race, ethnicity, and gender in the student evaluation process and outcomes (8). According to Stroebe (9), who commented on most recent findings in The National Student Survey, instructors who require their students to engage in active learning, critical thinking and do a lot of demanding coursework are at risk of receiving poor ratings. To mitigate poor ratings, many instructors might decide to lower their course requirements and grade expectations as a subtle and passive way to accommodate students


Collaborative Practice

In addition to requesting peer feedback from my colleagues, I make an intentional effort to visit other instructors’ classrooms whenever possible. I also invite colleagues to my courses as guest lecturers because this form of collaboration allows me to observe various teaching styles and incorporate them into my own teaching practice. Classroom visits are especially useful if combined with debriefing sessions with the other instructors, as this allow me to explore their strategies for using certain teaching approaches and techniques. By so doing, I get a clearer understanding of my colleagues’ rationales and can thus reflect on whether or not these strategies might be a good fit for the courses that I teach. In addition to the inspiring exchange with my colleagues, I have worked closely with the

Teaching Centre since the commencement of my position at the University of Lethbridge. Among other services, the Teaching Centre offers pedagogical assistance in all matters related to teaching. Requesting feedback on my course planning and teaching has enabled me to quickly diversify my teaching repertoire to now include a greater number of appropriate instruction and assessment methods for all of the modalities that I teach in. Personally, I find my interaction with the Teaching Centre very meaningful. I will continue to request constructive feedback and look forward to more discussions relating to my teaching practice in the authentic and nonjudgemental environment that the Teaching Centre provides.

Concluding Thoughts In conclusion, I am extremely grateful that my journey as an instructor has given me the opportunity to impact the lives of my students and peers in compassionate and meaningful ways. I now feel that I have an ethical responsibility to continuously engage in reflective and reflexive practices to ensure that my biases, values, and assumptions are kept in check to avoid any form of misunderstanding or misinterpretation with my students and colleagues. Equipped with the outlined tools of reflectivity, reflexivity, and collaborative practice, I trust that I can take on future challenges in my teaching with enthusiasm and openness. Without the support network that I have established within the last three years, I wouldn’t feel as confident, comfortable, and competent to answer the call for cultural consciousness, social change, inclusive language, and cultural sensitivity in the teaching profession and beyond. A special thanks to Joerdis Weilandt, Educational Consultant at the Teaching Centre, for her relentless guidance in my professional development and editorial support with this article.

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We want your submissions. We accept submissions of articles throughout the year and publish in September. All submissions are due by June 21, 2019. Here are some ideas for submissions: • Analysis and reflection of teaching practices • Teaching and learning environments • Exploring your teaching philosophy • Technology use in your classroom • Assessment or engagement techniques • Teacher self-assessment techniques • Ways to inspire your students

Submit your articles, ideas and questions to teachingcentre@uleth.ca

Teaching Centre University of Lethbridge 4401 University Drive W. Lethbridge, AB, Canada T1K 3M4 Phone: 403.380.1856 Fax: 403.317.5052 Email: teachingcentre@uleth.ca Website: www.uleth.ca/teachingcentre

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