One Change Challenge
Teaching is an ever evolving practice of art and science. Even the smallest change can have a positive rippling effect on the learning experience for our students. Trent’s Centre for Teaching and Learning is actively seeking stories of ONE CHANGE you have made in your course design this year. Perhaps you tried a new piece of technology, or stepped around the podium to engage in student focused learning, or developed an innovative assessment practice. We want to hear from you.
Below are submissions from faculty for 2018 (in no particular order).
David Beresford and Tom Hutchinson
SAFS1001H FA 2017
Tom Hutchinson and I took the first year SAFS 1001H FA 2017 class on a field trip to a local beef farm in late fall. The farm is owned and operated by Bernard and Lise Leahy and their son Patrick Leahy. They use an innovative approach of rotational grazing, with a constant supply of fresh water that minimizes waste, and that has the animals spread nutrition in a way that limits compaction of the soil. There were over 100 students in this course and on the field trip, and the farm visit was a highlight of the term. It was beneficial for the students to see firsthand an application of the principles they had been learning in class, and to hear from the Bernard and Patrick Leahy a practical application of the ideas that they had heard discussed in Tom’s and my lectures.
The idea of this farm visit came from the previous year’s student comments, many of whom had asked that there be some practical demonstration of sustainable agriculture beside the theoretical knowledge that they had received in the classroom.
One of the greatest moments came when Bernard Leahy called his cattle, and the whole heard came running over to him and us to enter the new pasture. The cattle are a Simmental and Shorthorn cross. These have been bred by the Leahy family at that farm for hardiness, gentleness, and ease of handling in a rotational system. The students were captivated by the calves playing all around us, and the entire event was an exciting cap on this course
SOCI 2110H: Discovering Social Theory
In the core theory class for Sociology, SOCI 2110H Discovering Social Theory, I introduced a final journal entry worth 10%, that asked students to reflect on how they had achieved or could improve on the specific learning outcomes of the course, listed in the syllabus. This is a difficult class for a lot of students because they are introduced to complex theories which require learning how to think conceptually on a large scale for the first time. Many of them do not do as well as they are used to as a result of this increased demand on them, but I wanted them to reflect upon that and the reasons why. I am not sure about impact overall but certainly a lot of the students thought through their approach to studying and the best reflections identified what they would improve in the future in terms of their reading and asking for clarification from the professor and TA. I added this to their journal assessments on Blackboard, but in future I would make this a separate column, so I could see the statistics. It was also a relatively easy way for them to up their grade, if they did a genuine reflection on their learning approach, which many of them did.
Qualitative Research Methods Course - Psychology
Providing Trent students with experiential learning opportunities is an essential component of helping students challenge the way they think. To support this goal, I embedded three community-based research projects into my Fall 2017 Qualitative Research Methods in Psychology course. Four students worked on each project, with a total of 12 students working on projects that brought them out of the walls of the university and into the surrounding communities. Of these projects, two then extended as stand-alone projects that I taught in the winter as individual Practicum courses. I would like to describe one of these projects.
The ongoing collaboration between Dr. John Marris at the Trent Community Research Centre, myself in Trent’s Department of Psychology, and Dewi Jones and his team at the Abbeyfield House Society of Lakefield has been instrumental in providing four undergraduate students with an experiential learning opportunity. Honours psychology students Amy Smith, Kara Rutherford, Laurel Pirrie, and Natalie Jennings have been diligently working since last September on a project that focuses on Lakefield residents’ views on retirement and retirement accommodations. Our project goal is to examine the feasibility and community desire for an Abbeyfield House. Some of our project participants have completed a survey; others participated in smaller in-person discussion groups. Both offer us an opportunity to hear what local residents are thinking about retiring in Lakefield specifically, and on their retirement housing needs more generally.
This project has provided Trent University psychology students with a wonderful opportunity to put their research skills to the test, and importantly, to see the outcomes of their work used in practice in our community. Amy Smith, an honours student involved in the project and past Lakefield resident, reflected that “because it's my first experience with community based research, it has given me some really valuable, out-of-classroom experience, which has helped me feel more comfortable with my abilities as I look more seriously into graduate school, and what path I want to take once my undergraduate degree is finished.” For honours student Laurel Pirrie, “this project has given me the opportunity to connect with the community in Lakefield, while also helping me achieve academic goals.” Honours student Kara Rutherford noted that “this project has provided me an opportunity to gain experience in field research, the opportunity to collaborate with a community association on an important community initiative, and prompted my involvement with the Trent Centre for Community Research, all whilst working with a great team of Trent students.” We will be taking the next step with this project, presenting it formally in a community report to our partners, and also presenting the results at the International Federation on Aging conference this summer.
SWRK 3103 Social Work and Families’
Portfolio development and application are becoming more popular in the Social Work field. Many employers have moved to requiring portfolios as part of job application processes. The advantage of the portfolio is that it expands the traditional cover letter and cv model so that applicants can demonstrate a variety of skills as well as innovative projects/products. In terms of teaching, portfolios encourage students to demonstrate that they understand and can apply core course concepts across a broad spectrum of learning modalities including conventional critical analysis and essay writing as well as non-traditional pieces such as genograms, art work, self- reflection pieces, reports, pamphlets, dvds, booklets, and so on. This also takes advantage of differences in teaching and learning styles and preferences.
With this in mind, I decided to have students complete a Family Learning Portfolio in my SWRK 3103 Social Work and Families’ course. Students purchased binders to hold all of their course work and assignments. The portfolio was divided into 3 sections. Each week, students were asked to complete specific readings, classroom and homework activities, self- reflection and critical thinking questions, practical counselling and roleplay skills, and content/process/case study analyses. The classroom activities and home work exercises were built to assist students to develop a professional social work identity, expand critical thinking, self- reflection, theoretical knowledge, and interviewing abilities, and apply social work engagement, assessment, intervention, and evaluation practice skills. Although most activities were completed individually, some portfolio activities were done in pairs and in groups. One of the interesting aspects of this particular course was that they not only analyzed case studies and readings but they also had the opportunity to assess themselves and their own families. Students were responsible for completing all required exercises and readings and documenting their reflections, critical thinking, responses, projects, and work in the appropriate dated section of their portfolios. After their assigned portfolio sections were evaluated, graded, and returned, students were asked to review their feedback and ensure that they did not repeat the same writing, research, and analytical errors in their next submission. To double check that they accomplished this, students were asked to submit their previously graded sections with their next assignment section.
It is too early to assess the results of this teaching change as I have not yet received Student Course Evaluations. However, students have reacted very positively to this assignment. They say that, although in some ways the portfolios require more time and work (as there were no limits on length), they found the work to be more interesting as well as a refreshing change from the usual essay format. They also commented that assessing themselves and their families as scholarly work added an exciting dimension. Additionally, they enjoyed demonstrating their learning through different types of scholarly work including art pieces, genograms, short essays, self- reflection pieces, projects, booklets, and so on.
Vreugdenhil, Parnis and Chibba
In first year Chemistry this year we, Professors Vreugdenhil, Parnis and Chibba, adopted a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) in-class student engagement platform in place of our use of a dedicated i-Clicker system that had been used for a decade. I value in-class engagement tools for education and was an early adopter many years ago when the technology became available. It allows students to participate individually in large classes in a way that is often lost as class sizes grow and students begin to feel more anonymous and passive in their learning environments. By breaking up the lecture and posing quantitative or qualitative questions for the students to answer individually or in small groups, we foster a learning environment in which students use lecture content in-situ and learn to revise or advocate for their responses. I-Clicker was a good start at this technology but it was limited to multiple choice responses and increased students costs as an independent third-party component of the course.
In 2017-18, we chose to adopt Learning Catalytics, an online in-class technology where students use their own devices to participate. There are several distinct advantages with this move. As the Learning Catalytics access is included as apart of their textbook purchase, students saved money which is a significant advantage considering the very high costs of textbooks and supplies already required in the course. Secondly, because Learning Catalytics is provided by the textbook publisher, it is the same online environment as their out of class assignments so student performance throughout the term is readily available to them. Thirdly, because it is provided to students through smart devices and computers, the Learning Catalytics environment provides a much broader range of student assessment tools including text and numerical input, interaction with graphically presented data and even sketching tools. Although we have only just begun to use some of these features of Learning Catalytics, in making this one change we have moved into the next generation of in-class assessment tools and look forward to expanding our student engagement repertoire.
Aaron Slepkov, Physics & Astronomy
First-Year Physics: A two-stage group quiz administered with scratch cards
In our first-year physics courses we routinely deploy a short bi-weekly quiz in tutorial sessions. In the past, we’d assign a problem set and have the students complete it (offline) for marks, but with the recent growth of the first year course enrolment we’ve moved to a structure where we assign the problem sets for online completion, but then hold a closed-book TA-proctored half-hour quiz comprising one or two questions selected from the problem set. This quiz then acts as a sort of check on the expected learning outcomes of the problem set. As expected, there is a wide disparity in achievement on these in-tutorial follow-up quizzes. This year I wanted to add a formative aspect to these tutorial quizzes. The problem sets themselves are naturally meant to be formative, and since the quizzes are just meant to be stand-ins for the problem sets, it makes most sense for the quizzes to also be a learning opportunity. I’ve been following the recent research on “two-stage tests” and have been looking for an opportunity to deploy them in my own courses. In a typical two-stage test operates as follows: A student completes a test in the traditional manner, where they are working independently in a proctored environment, and then in the second stage they are partnered with one or more people on a follow-up set of questions. The follow-up question(s) are often a verbatim repeat of something from the individual test section, or can be something that originates in the first section but is then taken further and expanded upon in the group stage. The test mark is then some weighing of the two sections, where best practices dictate that the group mark can’t lower the individual mark of any given student. This way there is little incentive for the top students to monopolize the group work time, but rather, they find the incentive for peer-teaching in the second stage. For the weaker students, the first stage is an opportunity for active engagement with a problem, immediately followed by peer learning and feedback on the same material in the second stage. This is the first year in which I attempted two-stage quizzes in tutorials. In my unique implementation (perhaps the first globally), the individual portion of the quiz comprises one constructed response problem (thus requiring significant synthesis on the part of the students) and the second stage comprises a multiple-choice integrated testlet, modelled from the same exact question. The group uses a single scratch card (that also provides partial credit and immediate confirmatory/corrective feedback) to submit the group answers. This card does many things, but my favourite part is that it reduces the problem of a dominant “leader” or “secretary” member of a written group response; no one person’s “fingerprints” are on the answer. Student response has been overwhelmingly positive thus far, and the TAs are excited about how much learning and engagement is taking place in the group portion of the quiz.
Business: A Baking Rotation in Methods Class
I have been discouraged by the feel of large classes in recent years. Something has been lost in the feel and the tone of our gatherings. I try to help them be engaged and alive, but we still don’t engage with the kind of human-ness that we would in smaller groups.
This term, I had an 8 a.m. class on Research Methods. Sixty pale students, slumped over their desks in the beginning of January.
I had to catalyse some life. I thought about food. On Week 2, I assigned a Brekkie Baking Rotation for the whole class. Each week, 5 people are assigned to make ‘about a dozen somethings’. There was solid uptake, probably 2/3. I challenged guys who claimed to have never cooked anything before, I challenged everyone to try something.
The results have been really good. (The food itself has been pretty good.) But the students, as they have arrived to an early class are actually more alert and alive. They look around at what is there, and at what is coming. I get students to announce what they have brought. We have had seed bars and scones and Tim Hortons and warm chocolate chip cookies and a vegan homemade cream pie with a cashew crust. We have had some nice loaf that a guy's mom made. We have had students who have never baked anything before bake something. A few times, we got pre-mix muffins. Whatever. (I baked on the first week - yummy flax/apple/carrot muffins.)
We have food, we have anticipation, we have something different at 8 a.m. We have some more energy. We talk and laugh about something. We have a more human and alive feel.
Food is a good community builder. And a great thing for 20 year olds on wintery 8 a.m. classes. I am going to do this again.
IDST 1002H (Department of International Development Studies)
Usually, the course instructor releases a weekly list of discussion questions on BlackBoard, which we use for the seminar discussions. Last year, during each seminar, I divided up the students into small groups, where each group would discuss a question together for about 10 minutes after which we would take up the answers in plenary. This year, I decided to use a different method for reviewing not only the discussion questions posted on BlackBoard, but also the lecture material from that same week. I started preparing Jeopardy-like games using a website called Play Factile (www.playfactile.com). I created an account where I can save weekly games that I would play with the students every week. There is a buzzer feature (for an extra $5/month), which has proven to be worthwhile because the students enjoy "buzzing in" to answer the questions, and they also get to pick a mascot to represent them on screen. They are still divided up into small groups, but this way we are able to cover a lot more questions in a short period of time. The questions and answers are downloadable in PDF so that they can also access these when reviewing for their tests/exam. Engagement levels have gone up, and my sense is students enjoy coming to seminars because it's a little more fun.
In SOCI3250, Sociological Perspectives on Homelessness, I encourage students to move beyond an individual view to one that contextualizes homelessness in broader social and structural factors. An important component of this work is to discuss the experiences of sub-populations who are particularly at-risk of homelessness, including youth, families, seniors, Indigenous persons, and veterans. Previously I have asked students to organize group presentations but this term I made one change that proved to be quite effective. Rather than group work, I asked students to self-select a population and then I assigned them each a journal article on their sub-population that is not open-source and only available through journal subscription. The students each created a 1-page plain language summary of their article, which were all compiled into a book and distributed to community members working in the homelessness sector. Instead of group presentations, I scheduled 2 days for panels organized by sub-population theme. The members of the sup-population had 3 minutes to talk about their article while their summary was projected overhead. After each panelist spoke, there was an opportunity for class questions and discussion. In this course, I ask students to write post-lecture reflections and these are some excerpts I received following the first panel:
- “I really enjoyed today’s class as the panels were different to what we normally do. This was a good way to discuss the issues among homelessness.”
- “I did not realize the level of depth of the research that has already taken place. When thinking of the topic before hearing everyone’s summaries of their articles I viewed it as a one-dimensional topic. I now realize how many different layers and factors that go into youth being homeless; whether their family was previously homeless, the location in which they are homeless, and their sexual orientation. It was interesting to hear the different experiences of the youth within the articles and how they share common struggles.”
- “Something that I had not considered before this course and is becoming more and more evident to me, particularly in this class was the wide variety of needs that different homeless populations have.”
- “I really enjoyed today’s presentation panels. I think it is a really unique was of sharing research and information. I feel like although my presentation day was not today, fellow students really enjoyed doing them and felt comfortable once they were sitting in front of the class. I think it was very easy to grasp key information whilst listening to students’ panels and how we could visually see their research summary on the board. I also really enjoyed seeing everyone’s different research summaries and how they perpetuate creativity and colour to portray research information.”
- “I am very interested to see what kind of findings will be presented surrounding the other panels that we have in the upcoming weeks.”
Given the students’ support of this approach and positive feedback, this is one change that I will strongly consider using in future sessions of this – and other – courses.
Anna Rooke & Jenilee Gobin
This year, our ONE CHANGE came about rather spontaneously. During the first in-class quiz, most of the class finished early with about 5 minutes to spare. To keep them occupied while other students finished writing, I suggested they draw a fish! A couple students did, and some of these drawings were pretty great, so we decided to feature them in the following class's lecture slides (with permission from the students of course). Thus began the weekly stream of fisheries-related doodles submitted by our students.
On any given week, 30-40% of the class voluntarily submit a drawing along with their quiz or participation activity. We have received drawings of individual fish, schools of fish, fish jokes, "guess the species" challenges, and even a poem. Encouraging students to draw on their quiz makes the test less intimidating: we've actually had students ask for more time just so they could finish their drawings! Incorporating drawings into our lecture slides not only improved the quality of our in-class presentations, but also improved student engagement. Students really enjoyed seeing their drawings on the big screen, and it gave shier students an alternative means to actively participate in the lecture.
By soliciting drawings, we encouraged students to think creatively and interact with the lecture material on a more personal level. Incorporating student drawings into the margins of our in-class presentations was an easy and fun way to engage the students, and allow them to bring a part of themselves into our lectures. As the Trent Center for Teaching & Learning says: teaching is an ever evolving practice of art and science. This year, with the help of our students, we added a little more art to our science.
I led my first community-based research project this year. It was embedded in a course, and we worked as a research team (along with the Region of Durham) to determine the best storm water fee and credit program. I hope it helped students acquire and develop durable and transferable skills -- collaboration, communication, critical thinking -- that I know will be valuable once they graduate.
Political Studies Courses
One change I made was to develop a Critical Wikipedia Creation assignment, in an upper year course POST 3350H Politics and Creativity, where students contributed a paragraph to an existing Wikipedia article, using scholarly sources. The goal of this assignment is to bridge scholarly knowledge with the public. In the first class of the year, students were very excited to hear that they would be contributing to Wikipedia in a way that connects their study to the most publicly accessed information source and also learning how to navigate the Wikipedia interface. Most did not know who created or contributed to Wikipedia articles, or that contributors to articles formed Wikipedia communities. They were enthusiastic to find out that they themselves would become Wikipedians. Learning about the Wikipedia assignment, students were also very excited that their individual efforts would be noted since all Wikipedians’ edits are logged by their Wiki usernames for each article.
The assignment was collaborative in that learning how to navigate and use the Wikipedia interface became a participatory and collective learning engagement in the classroom. This brought students and myself into more conversation during class time, compared to courses that focus on individual or group assignments done mostly outside class. Increased interactions in the classroom related to developing Wikipedia content and edits led to deeper understanding of the power relations shaping, and at play in mass media more broadly, enriching understanding of the politics of media and within Wikipedia itself. This also deepened appreciation the knowledge brought to Wikipedia articles from scholarly research, providing important perspectives created using rigorous methods. While students felt rewarded by their work and proud for their contributions being accepted by the Wikipedia community specific to their article, there was also appreciation for the rigour and iterative process a contribution to a Wikipedia article entails. For an edit of a few sentences or paragraph, students researched several scholarly articles, created a short paper, and submitted their work for review by their peers and myself. Students noted it was a more labour intensive and communication intensive process compared to writing papers independently outside the classroom and that the quality at each step had to be at a higher level than anticipated. They were also appreciative of the high efforts and quality required to create accurate and knowledgeable contributions that connect academia and the public.