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Instructors and students try a new approach to teaching and course evaluation

October 16th, 2013

Teaching and Course Evaluation Project

Last year the Vice-President, Academic, established a Teaching and Course Evaluation Project (TCEP) under the direction of Corinne Pitre-Hayes. The project team was charged with the task of recommending a replacement for the 30-year-old TCE instrument and evaluation process used by many SFU academic units.

This summer, following consultation with faculty members and a review of the extensive research literature on TCE, the project team conducted a proof of concept (PoC) to test an evaluation model incorporating some of its key findings. The PoC involved 14 faculty members and more than 1,300 students in 18 courses (including seminars, lecture courses and distance education courses). It differed from the approach commonly used at SFU in three important ways:

  1. The PoC used an online survey platform rather than paper questionnaires. Students received an email containing a survey link roughly two weeks before the end of their course(s), followed by several reminders. The survey was open for approximately two weeks.
  2. The PoC employed a flexible, customized approach to generate questions tailored to each course. Questions were selected at four levels: institutional (eight questions common to all course evaluations); Faculty (up to four questions common to all evaluations within a Faculty); departmental (up to four questions common to all evaluations within a department or school); and instructor (up to four questions determined by the instructor for an individual course). To ensure consistency, questions that used a rating scale were drawn from a question bank developed by the University of Toronto.
  3. The PoC provided results in the form of tailored online or downloadable reports for specific audiences, including instructors, students and administrators. Responses to instructor questions were seen only by the instructor unless, optionally, the instructor chose to share those responses with students. The online data collection system allowed for the inclusion of some demographic information (for example, gender, age ranges and grade averages of respondents), but the team was very careful to preserve student anonymity.

The student evaluation period ended in early August, and reports were distributed in early October. Among the initial observations:

  • The survey completion rate for all courses, including distance education courses, was 72 percent; for lecture courses and seminars, the completion rate was 82 percent, a result that Pitre-Hayes says is well above typical response rates for online evaluations. One reason for the strong response may have been active promotion of the evaluation process by participating instructors.
  • The PoC collected more data than SFU’s current system and made results available more quickly and in a more contextualized way.

Pitre-Hayes is cautious about drawing detailed conclusions until she completes a review of the PoC and evaluation results with faculty participants in late October. However, she does express satisfaction with the flexibility the PoC model offers for both creation of questions and reporting of results.

The project team hopes to prepare a final report in time for the December Senate meeting.

Fedoras and microfilm: A simulation game brings history to life for Communication students

August 2nd, 2013

The moustaches were fake but the passion was real as students in CMNS 210 Media History re-enacted the debate that surrounded the 1932 parliamentary hearings on radio broadcasting. “I wanted to introduce students to the actual practice of ‘doing history’,” says instructor David Newman, “Investigating primary documents and creating their own interpretations of the events.”

Instructors who teach courses with a historical component face the challenge of making the past meaningful to students firmly rooted in the present.

For David Newman, instructor for CMNS 210 Media History at SFU’s Vancouver campus, the particular challenge this summer was to bring to life the Aird Commission and the 1932 parliamentary hearings on radio broadcasting that led to the creation of the predecessor of the CBC.

Newman’s solution was to adapt a role-playing game pedagogy developed at Barnard College called Reacting to the Past (RTTP). Students worked in groups of three to research the views and actions of a historical figure involved in the hearings. Then, using source materials such as digitized hearing transcripts and microfilm copies of old newspapers, they developed briefs and debated—in character—conflicting visions for the future of the new broadcast medium.

The approach had a significant impact on participants.

“Students were immersed in the research and roles in a way that wouldn’t otherwise have happened,” says Newman, noting that many appeared in costume for the final classroom debate, sporting fedoras, fancy suits and fake moustaches.

Beyond that, they grappled passionately and knowledgeably with issues of public versus private broadcasting that are just as relevant today as they were 80 years ago—and acquired new skills in the process.

“It got them into doing archival research, which is unusual at the second-year level,” says Newman.

He is enthusiastic about the idea of using the RTTP approach again and feels it could be used successfully by other disciplines. For now he is happy that his experiment has had such a positive result.

Related links

David Newman’s website

Reacting to the Past website

Role play and teaching in role can be highly effective for animating and embodying content in a way that facilitates deeper retention. For further information, please contact Kathryn Ricketts, an educational consultant with the Teaching and Learning Centre, at krickett@sfu.ca.

Two Beedie lecturers earn recognition for their teaching excellence

July 12th, 2013

This post is reprinted from the Beedie School of Business News blog. Read the original post here.

Beedie School of Business lecturers Shafik Bhalloo and Anthony Chan have been named as recipients of the 2013 TD Canada Trust Distinguished Teaching Award, the highest teaching honour at SFU’s Beedie School of Business.

The TD Canada Trust Distinguished Teaching Awards are presented each year to the two teachers at Beedie who exemplify qualities such as engagement, organization, discipline, enthusiasm and support in their teaching.

Since 1990, Beedie School of Business students, faculty and alumni have nominated teachers from both undergraduate and post-graduate programs for the prestigious award based upon excellence and distinction in teaching and in teaching-related activities such as course development and teaching materials preparation. The nominations are then scrutinized by the Teaching Effectiveness Committee, who select the award recipients based on the nominations and testimonials from a sample of the nominee’s former students.

Bhalloo, a graduate of Simon Fraser University, teaches business ethics, employment law and commercial law. He joined the Beedie School of Business in 2008 as a sessional lecturer, and since 2000 has been a partner at law firm Kornfeld LLP, where he focuses on corporate commercial litigation, general civil litigation, and labour and employment law.

“I am honoured to have received this award, particularly in the Beedie School of Business which has so many first-rate teachers, many of whom I could only hope to emulate,” says Bhalloo. “I also want to acknowledge and thank the student body who undoubtedly were instrumental in making this award a reality for me. Having such bright and internationally diverse students share their different perspectives leads to a better debate and understanding of the substantive materials I cover in the class.”

Chan, a graduate of SFU’s MBA program, joined the school as a systems consultant in 2002, and currently teaches classes in building business systems and strategy. Prior to joining Beedie, he taught at SFU’s School of Computing Science between 1999 and 2010.

“This award belongs to all the Beedie School of Business teachers, who make the school the academic powerhouse that it is,” says Chan. “Many of the past award recipients are teachers whom I admired and have benefited from as a student, so to be recognized alongside them is a great honour.”

In total, 37 different teachers at the Beedie School of Business have won the TD Canada Trust Distinguished Teaching Award, with winners subsequently asked to assist the Teaching Effectiveness Committee in choosing the award winners for the following year. Previous winners of the award include Anne MacDonald, who this year won the SFU Excellence in Teaching Award, Rick Iverson, Ian McCarthy, Peter Tingling, Andrew Gemino, Beedie school Dean Daniel Shapiro, and three-time award winner Mark Wexler.

Gardens, food and experiential education: Three ways SFU marked World Environment Day

June 18th, 2013

By Helen Luo, Work-Study Student, Teaching and Learning Centre

SFU Learning Garden

SFU’s Learning Garden, shown in March 2013 as it was being developed, is visible from the south walkway along Convocation Mall.

A tour of the garden

SFU’s Learning Garden is an outdoor space established this year by Sustainable SFU near Convocation Mall on the Burnaby campus. It offers student groups a chance to grow their own food on rented plots of land, and on June 5 it was the site of the first event marking UNEP World Environment Day at SFU: a tour led by gardens manager Athenaise Guertin that demonstrated the potential of the space as a location for learning about food, garden management and sustainability.

A dialogue about food

In all, Sustainable SFU and the Teaching and Learning Centre collaborated on three events to address the day’s theme of “think-eat-save.”

The second event was a dialogue titled “Talking about Learning about Food.” Diana Bedoya, an SFU kinesiology instructor, shared her experience with KIN 110 Human Nutrition: Current Issues, in which students are introduced to concepts related to nutrition and food choices. Bedoya noted that the course attracts students from various disciplines with dynamic opinions about food and nutrition issues. She described the Diet Analysis assignment, an important component of the class in which students record their diets for three days and then analyze the nutritional content. Students reported that the course caused them to become more conscientious about their food choices and prompted them to speak with friends and family about the importance of good food choices.

Bedoya also spoke about her use of iClickers, an audience response system used to facilitate in-class participation. She found iClickers to be a powerful tool for getting students’ attention, encouraging participation and helping them understand their level of comprehension of course material.

The next speaker was Eric Sannerud, a recent graduate and Udall Scholar from the University of Minnesota. Sannerud shared stories about Cooking on a Student’s Budget, a course offered at the University of Minnesota’s Healthy Foods, Healthy Lives Institute. The course is intended to teach students about food security through the preparation of nutritious meals. The lab component incorporates topics of food safety, basic nutrition, cooking instruction, budgeting, time management, menu design, and food preservation and storage. Students take on a project that will create a resource to benefit the local community. Through weekly assignments (e.g., a blog post about a trip to a local farm) as well as through acquisition of cooking techniques, they obtain hands-on experience with food.

Both Bedoya’s and Sannerud’s courses offered experiential learning opportunities for students, including self-reflection on diet and food choices and activities that improved analytical and problem-solving skills.

Embedding experiential education

The day ended with a workshop for instructors and students interested in planning an experiential education activity within a course. Eric Sannerud was joined by David Zandvliet, an associate professor in SFU’s Faculty of Education, in a presentation that aimed to empower students and challenge faculty members to view education as a dynamic space for student-driven learning and impactful experiences.

The workshop began with a discussion of the pedagogical approaches that underpin, respectively, environmental learning and sustainable agriculture education. Sannerud presented a case study about Cornercopia, a student-run certified organic farm that produces more than 100 varieties of fruits and vegetables and provides students with valuable skills in farming, business management and marketing.

Zandvliet then illustrated Kolb’s experiential learning theory with a short video about a group of elementary students and teachers who tried the “100 miles diet” in Victoria, B.C. (Kolb’s theory proposes a four-stage learning cycle consisting of concrete experience, reflective observation, abstract conceptualization and active experimentation.) Class activities included visits to local farms and meal preparation using ingredients grown within 100 miles of Victoria.

Workshop participants were then put into groups to devise a plan to use experiential learning to make a change at SFU. The activity was designed to simulate the decision-making process of a student-led experiential education session.

Related links

Learning Garden

Sustainable SFU

Teaching and Learning Centre

David Zandvliet’s web page

How a SIAT course in immersive environments exposed students to the real world

June 5th, 2013

The alien head (above) is actually an immersive environment: by blocking external sights and sounds, it deepens the experience delivered by the audiovisual equipment inside (right, below). The head was part of a showcase organized by Bernhard Riecke (right, bottom) and students in his IAT 445 Immersive Environments course.

IAT 445 Immersive Environments has traditionally been a hands-on opportunity to learn about animation software. When Bernhard Riecke took on the course this past spring, he decided to re-invent it in a way that would enable his students to develop abilities like self-management, creativity and motivation in addition to technical expertise. The result was a teaching and learning experience that stretched both instructor and students.

Flipping the classroom

Riecke, an assistant professor in the School of Interactive Arts and Technology (SIAT) at SFU’s Surrey campus, is convinced that instructors need to find new ways of engaging with students.

“I feel like we’re living in the post-lecture world, in a way, because you have all these things online—so we have the gift of physical, face-to-face contact, and I feel that I should really spend it on something that’s useful.”

For Riecke, that meant flipping the classroom: having students learn software skills by watching specified Lynda.com tutorials on their own time, applying those skills to solve a given challenge, and then gathering for interactive activities during class time.

“Our students are tech savvy,” he says. “I mean, they’re happy to watch things online, they’re always connected more than we, so what can we do in the lectures that makes sense, that they really benefit most [from]?”

Now, he notes, “sometimes half of the lecture is spent basically showing them examples and giving them little questionnaires and basically provoking questions where they need to really think and apply what they see.”

Transferable skills

That approach wasn’t always easy for the 30 students in the class. Some wished for a traditional format in which they could simply sit back and listen. But others indicated that the lessons they learned about things like self-management and finding passion were very useful—and that’s what Riecke thinks is important.

“In a way that’s the only thing that really transfers, hopefully. I mean, I want transferable skills. I don’t care about the fact learning, the rote learning. They forget all about this in a few weeks afterwards, and the question is really what will help them to succeed in the future and what do we need to teach our students.”

Taking ownership of learning

The emphasis on helping students take control of their own learning applied to the way assignments were marked as well. Riecke provided clear and open rubrics and then asked students to demonstrate to him that their work met the requirements.

“One of the visions of the course is really to help them become more proactive and really take full ownership and responsibility of their own learning, their projects, their career. You need to present to me why you did a good project. You need to provide me with the arguments why your project is good or not, and then I either accept the arguments or I challenge you,” he says.

The lesson was reinforced by a final showcase held in early April on the Mezzanine of the Surrey campus. Student groups invited passersby to try out the immersive environments they had built, which ranged from video games played inside curtain-shrouded boxes to a giant wearable head equipped with audio and video signals (see the “Related links” below). The interaction with end users was uncomfortable for some students, but also enabled them to see whether their projects worked as intended in the “real world.”

Continual adaptation

Riecke’s work was supported by an SFU Teaching and Learning Development Grant. He also received “incredible help” from Barbara Berry, an educational consultant in the Teaching and Learning Centre who, he says, challenged him similarly to the way he challenged his students. He hopes to apply some elements of his approach to other courses he teaches and feels that instructors in other disciplines could use parts of the approach.

In particular, he emphasizes the benefits of continually adapting courses in response to feedback from students: “I use … just-in-time teaching approaches sometimes, so I get immediate feedback every week. They really help me to tailor the course for them, and I think they appreciate that they do have an influence.”

Related links

Riecke has showcased the results of his students’ work on the iSPACE website:

Final showcase of projects (photos)

Final projects (videos and e-portfolios)

Bernhard Riecke’s web page

The 2013 Symposium on Teaching and Learning: A focus on practical solutions

May 22nd, 2013

Sophie Lavieri (top right), a senior lecturer in Chemistry, presented a poster at the Symposium along with Dev Sharma (top left), also a senior lecturer in Chemistry. Cheryl Amundsen and Esma Emmioglu (bottom left), a professor and postdoctoral fellow respectively in Education, were also happy to share their research during the poster session. Nienke Van Houten (bottom right), a lecturer in Health Sciences, did double duty as a presenter and member of the Symposium Planning Committee.

The 2013 Symposium on Teaching and Learning took place on May 15 and 16 at SFU’s Burnaby campus. More than 190 SFU faculty, staff, and students registered for the event, which featured 15 concurrent sessions and 13 posters in addition to plenary sessions.

Gloria Rogers, a scholar with the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools and a well-known consultant in the area of quality assurance, learning outcomes, assessment, and accreditation, presented the keynote address. Rogers tackled questions related to the implementation of learning outcomes in a direct and pragmatic way. The title of her presentation—“Satisfying mandates while honouring faculty time: Is it possible?”—demonstrated an awareness of the practical issues that are intertwined with the philosophical questions of learning outcomes and assessment. She emphasized the importance of building the definition and evaluation of learning outcomes into existing curriculum development and review processes rather than creating new (and burdensome) administrative structures. She also noted that learning outcomes should be approached within the context of programs rather than as a means of evaluating individual courses. Her presentation will be made available to the SFU academic community as an archived webcast.

Another plenary session featured a panel discussion on “Embracing, managing, or resisting change.” SFU’s Russell Day, a senior lecturer in Psychology and co-facilitator of SFU’s Certificate Program in University Teaching and Learning, joined three panellists from other universities to facilitate a lively and provocative exchange that drew in audience members.

The concurrent sessions and posters covered a variety of areas, but many focused on new instructional approaches within the classroom. Among the approaches covered:

  • Evidence-based teaching (Nienke van Houten, Kathleen Fitzpatrick, Cindy Xin)
  • Integrated, interdisciplinary, and project-based teaching in science (Uwe Kreis)
  • Experiential learning and student-directed courses (Dan Burns, David Zandvliet, John Clague, Vance Williams)
  • Active learning (David Kaufman)
  • Team-based learning in science (Laura Hilton, Lynne Quarmby, Cindy Xin)

Many of the presentations and posters were developed with the help of Teaching and Learning Development Grants, which are administered by the Teaching and Learning Centre and the Institute for the Study of Teaching and Learning in the Disciplines (ISTLD). PDF versions of some posters will be made available on the ISTLD website and on SFU’s institutional Teaching and Learning website.

Related links

Institute for the Study of Teaching and Learning in the Disciplines

Teaching and Learning Centre

Symposium on Teaching and Learning

Moving to Canvas: Nicky Didicher, English – Part 2

April 22nd, 2013

Nicky Didicher

In November 2012 we spoke with Nicky Didicher, a senior lecturer in the Department of English, about her plan to teach a pilot course in Canvas in January 2013. Recently we checked back to see how she was finding the new learning management system (LMS).

Perhaps not surprisingly for someone who has used and felt at home in WebCT for a number of years, she admits to a certain amount of ambivalence. For now, she’s prepared to say that Canvas is “slightly better” than WebCT. “It just has different pluses and minuses.”

What she likes about Canvas

The “pluses” Didicher lists reflect Canvas’s simplicity and ease of use. Among her likes:

- The clean look of the user interface
- The ability to open and work in multiple courses simultaneously
- The ease of linking to files and external resources

Her students have also commented positively on the look of Canvas and the ability it gives them to view all courses in one place and to see their marks as a cumulative percentage.

The challenges she is facing

The “minuses,” for Didicher, tend to be connected to cases in which Canvas requires her to modify practices that she developed and used in WebCT. For example, unlike WebCT, Canvas provides only a single discussion board. That restricts Didicher’s ability to create multiple discussion groups as she has in the past. Another example is the peer review function in Canvas. Didicher likes the function, which allows students to give feedback on one another’s assignments. However, the tool works only with completed assignments, and she would like her students to be able to comment on draft versions.

For SFU’s Canvas implementation team, the feedback from Didicher and other instructors involved in the pilot project has been valuable in determining priorities for system development. The team recently identified options that will allow instructors and students to organize their discussions in more sophisticated ways, and other capabilities are being added on a regular basis.

The conversion process

What about the process of moving her course content from WebCT to Canvas? Didicher’s PowerPoint files transferred smoothly, but a glitch caused the apostrophes in her HTML content to disappear. More significantly, a glossary she created in WebCT to provide definitions of highlighted words in her course material couldn’t be converted. Fortunately, she says she has received excellent support from the learning technology specialists in the Teaching and Learning Centre.

The implementation team will be hiring additional support staff during the summer semester to help instructors who plan to use Canvas for their courses in fall 2013.

Final thoughts

Given the adjustments that she has had to make, Didicher is glad that she had the chance to test Canvas in a class of 11 students before moving her large courses of 250+ students over in the fall semester.

“I’m by no means technology-friendly,” says Didicher, despite her experience with learning management systems. “I use technology for pedagogical reasons, not personal reasons. [But] if I have to do a slight amount of learning in order to make the classroom experience better, that’s okay.”

Related links

One-on-one Canvas help for instructors: Contact Learn Tech in the Teaching and Learning Centre

Canvas support website for instructors and students: www.sfu.ca/canvas

2012 Excellence in Teaching award recipient Natalia Kouzniak: Triumphing over “not good enough”

February 28th, 2013

This post is reprinted from the SFU News blog. Read the original post here.

Natalia Kouzniak, 2012 Excellence in Teaching award recipient

With mid-terms over, Natalia Kouzniak is again holding “crying sessions” in her office with students taking first- and second-year calculus courses who complain that they can’t do math.

“I spend 15-20 hours a week in my office explaining to students why math is useful, how to study it, what was insufficient in their studying,” says the SFU Surrey senior math lecturer.

“My teaching philosophy and goal is to help students unlock their potential – to get students who say ‘I’m not good enough at math’ to become good enough.”

Her students would agree the 2012 SFU Excellence in Teaching award winner meets that goal.

They are effusive in their praise of her teaching and encouragement, often noting high grades in courses such as calculus and differential equations they struggled with or failed in the past.

“First-year math requires perseverance and good teaching,” she says. “I’m a very strict instructor, but I always give students a second chance.”

Kouzniak takes her passion for math far beyond the classroom. She coordinates work at the Surrey campus Mathematics Open Lab drop-in centre for first- and second-year math students and participates in a number of outreach activities.

She organizes a popular math camp each summer as well, and helped found a Surrey math meet-and-greet for high school students to visit first-year math classes on campus.

She also visits local high schools to promote math at SFU and discuss the transition to university.

“Natalia believes in her students, which makes them believe in themselves,” says a nominator. “Her dedication and commitment to her students is phenomenal.”

2012 Excellence in Teaching award recipient Anne Macdonald: Making accounting relevant

February 28th, 2013

This post is reprinted from the SFU News blog. Read the original post here.

Anne Macdonald, 2012 Excellence in Teaching award recipient

“I thought this course was going to be boring, but it was a lot more interesting than I expected it to be.”

That’s a comment Beedie School of Business senior lecturer Anne Macdonald has heard many times in the past, and it illustrates why she’s been named an SFU 2012 Excellence in Teaching award winner.

Macdonald continually strives to engage her students, using stories in the news as examples to help them relate to the subject material.

She is so passionate about accounting she believes the subject should be compulsory for all students, regardless of their concentration.

“It gives students such a wonderful grounding in the language of business and really helps them understand issues they may face in all walks of life,” she says.

“They may not end up as accountants, they may not even be in a business role, but accounting develops important skills they can use in the future.”

An SFU alumna, Macdonald arrived late to teaching as a profession. Upon switching careers, she quickly found her way back to SFU when she began teaching at the Beedie School of Business in 1998. It is an affiliation that is more than just a job to her.

“I first came to SFU as an undergraduate and actually had my wedding reception at the Diamond Alumni Centre at the Burnaby Mountain campus. When I returned to SFU to teach it felt like coming home.”

Macdonald concentrates on making her classes interesting. But does she ever find herself bored teaching the same thing over and over again?

“Every semester there is something new, with new students bringing a fresh perspective,” she says.

“Just when I think I have heard it all, a student will surprise me with a new outlook and I think to myself, ‘I’ve never looked at it that way before, but yes, you are correct.’ ”

2012 Excellence in Teaching award recipient Carl Schwarz: A passion for students – and stats

February 28th, 2013

This post is reprinted from the SFU News blog. Read the original post here.

Carl Schwarz, Teaching Excellence award recipient

Carl Schwarz shows up for class year-round in a Hawaiian shirt and shorts.

The relaxed dress code suits the popular statistics professor, who spends much of his time examining peculiar problems and using numbers to explain them.

But it belies his passion for convincing students that statistics are interesting, even exciting – a goal that is central to Schwarz’s teaching philosophy.

And his enthusiasm for that goal, combined with his devotion to involving students in real-life research, helped earn him a 2012 SFU Excellence in Teaching award.

Teaching is not about standing in front of the class and lecturing, says Schwarz; it’s about introducing students to realistic problems.

“Some students say my assignments are long and hard, but students have to get their hands dirty,” he says, adding long hours of study and practice are the only route to success.

Schwarz’s office door is open most weekdays from 9 am to 5 pm, and students know they are always welcome.

“If the same student comes to my office very day, it doesn’t bother me,” he says. “It shows they’re interested in the material.”

What frustrates him are the students who don’t come for help until the end of the semester, when it’s too late.

Over the past 10 years, Schwarz has been posting his course notes online to allay his irritation over the lack of texts covering the topics he wants to study and teach.

The site is a boon to students in many disciplines who use the information to study, create and model experiments, solve problems, and prepare journal articles.

“Schwarz does what many instructors are never able to do,” says a nominator. “He transforms knowledge and inspires students.”