Learning from Challenge and Failure – Julie Timmermans

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This year’s University of Waterloo Teaching and Learning Conference theme, Leaning from Challenge and Failure, is an opportunity to open up discussions with our colleagues, our students, and ourselves around the beliefs we hold about challenges, setbacks, and failure in the context of teaching and learning at the University.

How do these beliefs shape the ways in which we teach, learn, and lead? How do we work to cultivate a culture that encourages risk-taking, growth through experimentation, and learning from our earnest attempts that lead to failure? What measures can we put in place to ensure that the members of our community have the opportunity to flounder, perhaps fail, and flourish?

During the Conference, we will explore not only challenges and failures, but the work of learning from these challenges and failures. The difficult cognitive and emotional work of learning from these experiences does not happen automatically or autonomously. It takes time and must be guided by people who care deeply about our development.

Airing our experiences of challenge and failure publically may certainly feel vulnerable and risky. But what might be the risks of not sharing these stories? Engineers Without Borders Canada (EWB) publishes annual ‘Failure Reports’ in which they highlight a dozen or so stories of failure – and learning from failure – in their international development efforts. This is risky in many ways – financially, for an organization that depends on contributions from donors; emotionally, for the people in the field sharing their stories. But EWB has determined that the benefits of disclosing these failures outweigh the costs of hiding them. Because hiding them does not help them, or other organizations, solve the problems which they are hoping to solve – poverty, access to clean water, food security, etc. This approach recognizes that we are involved in a collective endeavour to improve our communities.

As we began to introduce and discuss the Conference theme with others on campus, we discovered that conversations about failure, challenge, and resilience are already going on in residence rooms and in meetings rooms. Often, however, these rooms are behind closed doors. Through the Conference, we hope to bring these conversations out into the public spaces of our University – a learning organization – so that when we share our stories of innovation, experimentation, and publication, they integrate the stories of uncertainty, failed attempts, and rejections. Because the whole story of our successes often include failure. We hope that the Conference will be one space of many in which we can collectively explore our potential to learn and grow from challenge and failure.

For links to resources on learning from challenge and failure, including an excellent blog series from the Faculty of Arts Teaching Fellows and CTE’s Kyle Scholz, please visit the “Resources“section of the Conference website.

Register for the Conference

Julie

Julie

As the Instructional Developer - Consulting and Research, Julie supports research on teaching and learning. She is Chair of the annual teaching and learning conference at uWaterloo: Opportunities and New Directions and manages the Learning Innovation and Teaching Enhancement (LITE) Grant program. She also collaborates on research projects, regularly reviews journal manuscripts, and works on publications. Most recently, Julie has had the opportunity to facilitate a week-long course design workshop in Japan and see first-hand how the questions, frustrations, and joys related to teaching are both similar and different across cultures.

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Keys for a TA to Succeed in the Classroom — Aser Gebreselassie

TutorialAs an undergraduate student currently in my third year of ERS at the University of Waterloo, I have had the chance to interact with various types of Teaching Assistants (TAs) over the course of my studies, whether it be in labs, tutorials, in class, via email, or having assignments marked by them. There are plenty of great stories about TAs whom I have had in the past, and unfortunately, a few stories of some questionable TAs as well. Being a successful TA consists of many different aspects, but the three characteristics that I appreciate in a TA is their ability to relate to students, knowledge of the course content, and an ability to communicate effectively and efficiently.

Relating to your students helps build trust between the TA and the student which helps to manage the classroom effectively, as the students will have respect for the TA. Quick but effective activities which I have personally seen in my classes include icebreakers during the first day of meeting your students, as well as having a sense of humour and giving out a positive vibe. A few new things I learnt during the Building Rapport with Students workshop earlier this week was that maintaining positive body language throughout the session gives the students a positive impression about yourself, and learning the student’s names as soon as possible to help develop trust and understanding between the TA and the student.

Knowledge of course content is also key. Most people think that their TAs are those who have taken the course before and have done fairly well in it. This isn’t always the case. Sometimes the TA may never have taken the course, or sometimes they didn’t complete their undergraduate degree in the same faculty as the course they are TAs for. If this is the case, doing the readings and making detailed notes would help a lot. The students understand that a TA is a student as well, and if you as a TA can’t answer a question but are willing to do some research to find the right answer, students find that extremely helpful and are willing to wait to get a right answer, instead of getting a wrong or incomplete answer immediately.

Being able to communicate successfully can make or break the trust and respect that students have for a TA. Setting basic rules on the first day can help a TA significantly. I have had TAs in the past tell us a couple of ground rules: for example, they only will respond to emails during business hours (9 am to 5pm), and that students should not email questions about a majoTutorial 2r assignment the night before it is due as it will be too late to get a response of any value. Prompt responses and setting ground rules can help alleviate pressure from students, and can significantly help boost a TA and student’s relationship. Sometimes TAs respond weeks, even months after receiving an email and it destroys any rapport that they have built with the student.

Lastly, my pet peeve: it is frustrating when students compare grades after an evaluation, and have written two very similar things on their paper, but get two completely different marks. The TA has now lost a lot of the positive feelings that they may have gained over the semester by being inconsistent. Both students are now alienated and concerned, and will go through every little detail of their evaluation to make sure nothing else was missed. Both students will come to the TA with many concerns about their marks. Being consistent, whether it be giving both those students an 85% or a 55%, will save a TA a massive headache.

 

An Invitation to be Still – Veronica Brown

After many years at Waterloo, you would think I would be ready for September. Yet every year, I feel a bit walloped. The end of August, that rare time on campus when things are quiet, is such a contrast to the energy of the first few weeks of September. But by Thanksgiving, I am ready for a rest.

So, rather than sharing some ideas through this week’s blog post, I am inviting you to take five minutes to be still. I realize for some, the idea of sitting quietly for five minutes is unbearable. For others, it is a welcome respite from the busyness of our academic life. Even if you last only a minute or two, don’t discount the value of this quietness.

If it helps, consider listening to this song (https://soundcloud.com/timothy-corlis/silent-dawn). It is by one of my favourite composers, Timothy Corlis, who studied physics at Waterloo as well as music, theology and peace and conflict studies at Conrad Grebel. The song is performed by the Da Capo Chamber Choir. Another option is to simply reflect on the images at the end of this blog. They are from places where I have enjoyed moments of calm solitude.

Or perhaps, take a few minutes to walk around campus and notice the changing leaves, the crispness of the air. Whatever you do, just take a moment to catch your breath.

 

Red rock and sand with blue sky and a few clouds at Valley of Fire
Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada
Farmer's field of dandelions with a grey sky
Near St. Jacob’s, Ontario
Sunset over water with small islands and pine trees
Georgian Bay, Ontario
Veronica Brown

Veronica Brown

As Senior Instructional Developer, Curriculum & Quality Enhancement, Veronica Brown provides oversight and facilitative support for departmental and Faculty-wide curriculum planning initiatives. She also leads the development and implementation of the Centre’s assessment plan for understanding the impact and quality of our work.

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Gamification and game-based learning: What role does it have in the classroom?

Applying game principles to the classroom
Applying game principles to the classroom

Gamification is a term that has been thrown around recently in the realm of not only pedagogy, but training and marketing as well. This topic will be the focus of a workshop during the Centre for Teaching Excellence’s Focus on Teaching Week being held next week, and thus propelled me to spend a bit of time discussing its relevance to teaching, education, and pedagogy in general. The question then initially arises: what does gamification entail? It is often understood as the intentional incorporation of game elements in otherwise mundane content in order to encourage engagement or motivation.

Gamification is however nothing really innovative. Indeed, marketers have been doing this forever, with opportunities to win prizes by purchasing fast food or, in some cases, making digital games based around the actual product that is being sold. Businesses have begun gamifying training processes so that employees are more inclined to participate and pay attention to the materials due to the possibility of earning badges or other rewards for completing training.

As can be seen in these examples, gamifying certain tasks or activities can encourage individuals to do things that they otherwise would not, simply because they are now rewarded with prizes, badges, points, or some form of extrinsic recognition of their accomplishments to share with others.

But is this act of gamifying actually helping individuals participate and learn, or is it merely masking the issue and instead focusing on misleading tasks that incentivize busy work rather than actual comprehension and ability to critically engage with the content or concepts? I would suggest that what we traditionally think of as gamification – indeed, the badges, points, and rudimentary level of competition that has been thrown around in higher education – does not result in a positive learning experience and ultimately tries to make up for a style of teaching that is not entirely conducive to learning.

Paul Driver, an educational technology specialist in Oxford, relates this idea to the famous lines sung by Mary Poppins:

“In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun

You find the fun and snap, the job’s a game

And every task you undertake becomes a piece of cake

A lark, a spree, it’s very clear to see”

The notion that the task itself remains unchanged, and only the individual’s (or in our case, learner’s) disposition towards the task must change is in fact misleading; rather, it is the task that should be changed to become more conducive to learning. We should ultimately not try to necessarily gamify the content or learner then, but rather, incorporate game elements into the task whereby students want to understand and learn due to the engaging and motivating aspects of the activity.

What characteristics then make up good games?  Many researchers have hypothesized the elements of good game design that can be applied to learning scenarios. Prensky (2001) is perhaps most notable in his classification of good game characteristics, listing various elements that can be found in good games that can also be applied to classroom environments, such as:

  • Fun
  • Play
  • Rules
  • Goals
  • Interactivity
  • Outcomes and feedback
  • Adaptability and win states
  • Conflict and competition
  • Problem solving
  • Representation and story

For those of you who do play games somewhat regularly, you may look at this list and agree that many of these features are prominent components of good, compelling games. At the same time, however, those of you who teach active, engaging classes may look at this list and see just as many similarities to your own teaching style and classroom dynamics.

Indeed – it is not so much that the content itself therefore needs to be gamified so that it is no longer seen as a hassle to read or digest, but rather, ensuring that the means by which learners engage with content (through tasks, discussions, case studies, debates, activities, etc.) incorporates as many of these elements as possible will lead to better, more engaging classroom environments.

Some of these elements still can incorporate more traditional elements of gamification, however. Conflict and competition, although not a natural component of many courses, can be instituted with well-designed leaderboards that are tied to critical and well-thought out discussion posts or quiz attempts, for example. Some sort of story or narrative for learners to follow and be engaged with may not necessarily be well-aligned with the course content, but an underlying story that helps tie otherwise unconnected content together may motivate students to pay particular attention to the material and better remember concepts when tested.

Above all, however, it is important to not just embed gamification elements into a course with the intention to eliminate what is perceived as uninteresting or mundane content. Instead, consider thoughtful implementation of game-based design elements into the tasks you already utilize, or should you be looking at new activities to engage students, consider some of these elements as the foundation of the task that you design.

If you’re further interested in this topic, you may wish to attend the Gamification and Learning workshop during our Focus on Teaching Week.

Kyle Scholz

Faculty of Arts and University Colleges Liaison

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September Welcoming Events for New Faculty 2015 – Monica Vesely

ivy on brickYesterday, Wednesday, September 9th, nearly 50 new faculty gathered at Federation Hall to attend this year’s New Faculty Welcome Event. The program for this annual half-day orientation event features a series of information sessions designed to acclimatize our new faculty to the University of Waterloo and to provide opportunities to meet one another and members of the larger University of Waterloo community.

After a brief welcome from Ian Orchard (Vice-President, Academic and Provost), the day got underway with a presentation entitled Navigating Your Roles at UWaterloo which provided an overview of the roles new faculty will have to assume in their academic careers. Donna Ellis (Director of the Centre for Teaching Excellence), John Thompson (Associate Vice-President, University Research) and Tim Kenyon (Arts Associate Dean, Research) addressed the faculty triumvirate of teaching, research and service.

Next came the Getting to Know Waterloo session which provided a big-picture overview of our institution and what defines the Waterloo Way. Logan Atkinson (University Secretary & General Counsel) spoke about the university’s structure and governance and made extensive reference to the Secretariat and Office of General Counsel website particularly when referring to some the key university policies. Sue Grant (Assistant Director, Organizational and Human Development) discussed the culture at Waterloo and highlighted our Basic Principles. The FAUW (Faculty Association of the University of Waterloo) President, Sally Gunz, talked about the organization of the faculty association and the support services available through their office. Scott Davis (Faculty Relations Manager for Arts, Environment, and Accounting) rounded out the session with a presentation about co-operative education and how it interfaces with all aspects of university activity.

The morning concluded with the Adjusting to Waterloo panel discussion where peers spoke openly about their own experiences as new faculty members and shared thoughts and insights with the audience. This year we were joined by Joanna Garcia (School of Accounting and Finance), Simron Singh (School of Environment, Enterprise & Development) and Mark Smucker (Management Sciences). The post-session Q & A period allowed new faculty to seek answers to a variety of questions ranging from academic (What types of tenure and promotions considerations do I need to be aware of?) to broader community interest inquiries (Where do I find the best craft beer?).

Incorporated into the program were opportunities for new faculty to explore the Academic Support Units Resource Fair showcasing services and resources available across campus. There were 21 academic support units represented this year and such a gathering of resource material represented a unique opportunity for new faculty to pose those questions that were in need of answers to the very people that could provide those answers.

The morning was capped off by a luncheon with the Chairs, Directors and Deans accompanied by more conversation and an informal information exchange.

What’s next on the new faculty calendar? Later this week, on Friday, September 11th, new faculty and their families have been attended to attend a BBQ at Steckle Farm in Kitchener. This annual event is co-sponsored by the Faculty Association of the University of Waterloo (FAUW) and the Centre for Teaching Excellence (CTE) and will be hosted by University President, Feridun Hamdullahpur, and FAUW President, Sally Gunz.

These welcoming activities were intended as a brief introduction to faculty life at the University of Waterloo and to provide a forum for our incoming class of 2014-2015 new faculty to share experiences and start making connections with their colleagues and the broader University of Waterloo community. These two marque events were planned and hosted by the New Faculty Committee which is composed of representatives from the Centre for Teaching Excellence, the Faculty Association and Human Resources.

Monica Vesely

Monica Vesely

Monica Vesely is an Instructional Developer with the Centre for Teaching Excellence where she conducts teaching observations, facilitates the Instructional Skills Workshop (ISW), coordinates the Teaching Squares Program, and assists new faculty with their teaching professional development. In her focus on new faculty, she chairs the New Faculty Welcoming Committee, supports new faculty initiatives across campus, consults with new faculty to assist them with the preparation of individualized Learning About Teaching Plans (LATPs), facilitates workshops and builds community through various communications and social events. Prior to joining the Centre for Teaching Excellence, Monica worked with the NSERC Chair in Water Treatment in Civil and Environmental Engineering, taught in the Department of Chemistry, and designed learning experiences with Waterloo's Professional Development Program (WatPD).

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Increasing your Confidence in Teaching – Marcie Chaudet

Confidence in the classroom is a quality in teaching that some people may struggle with as an instructor. Despite having a high level of knowledge and experience, new instructors can battle this perception of ability. This is a quality that I personally have struggled with for a number of years during my time as a graduate student. The thought of having to speak in front of a group of people was always something that terrified me and as result influenced my confidence. When I began graduate school it was clear that public speaking was not a task I could avoid and this fear was something I would have to face.
Naturally, my uneasiness of public speaking crept into my confidence in the classroom as a teaching assistant. I found that during my teaching assistantship I would be nervous talking in front of the class and interacting with students. In order to improve my confidence in my teaching I sought out support from the Centre of Teaching and enrolled in the Fundamentals of Teaching certificate program and began my journey into improving my teaching skills.

Upon attending my first few workshops I was amazed at how confident the facilitators were while standing up speaking at the front of the room. I was impressed with their communication skills and how at ease they were with presenting and I wondered to myself if this was something I was also capable of. A component of the fundamentals program is the completion of three microteaching sessions. A microteaching session consists of giving a short 15 min talk delivered to your peers, followed by immediate constructive feedback. Following my short talk I was pleasantly surprised by the positive feedback I received from my small audience. It turned out I actually was not terrible at pubic speaking and my peers found my presentation quite engaging. This validation of my efforts was remarkable and I immediately could sense a difference in my self-confidence. It felt as though a switch had been turned on in my brain, all of sudden I felt little more confident in my abilities at speaking in front a group of people. By the time I completed my third microteaching session I wasn’t fearful of public speaking and felt confident to present a talk. I also found that during my teaching assistantship I was feeling more comfortable talking in front of the class and providing instructions.

Overall, I found the fundamentals program to be a positive experience and I was encouraged to begin the next certificate program, Certificate in Undergraduate Teaching. Participants of this program are expected to complete two guest lectures within their discipline. In the past, the thought of giving a guest lecture to a 100 undergraduate students would have been terribly frightening, but I found that I was actually excited to complete this task. By the time I competed my two guest lectures I was very confident in my teaching abilities and was looking forward to the future of new teaching endeavours and speaking opportunities.

Confronting my fear of public speaking has allowed me to gain significant confidence in my communication skills. By exploring the teaching programs at the Centre for Teaching I have not only increased my knowledge of post-secondary education but also learned specific strategies that allow me to feel comfortable in front of a class and confident with presenting. The feedback I gained from these experiences was greatly constructive and allowed me to reflect on my performance and gain insight into my communication skills.

Based on my experiences at the Centre for Teaching of Excellence I learned three main things about confidence in the classroom:

1. Expand your Pedagogy Knowledge
The greater understanding you have of teaching and the learning environment will translate into demonstrated confidence in your knowledge of the classroom. Also, by exploring new teaching ideas and methods you will find you are inspired and this will give you a sense of courage in the classroom.

2. Push Yourself to New Heights
Even though there may be certain elements of the teaching environment that are new and may make you feel unsure of your abilities, be sure to push past those fears. By taking risks and pushing forward you will find over time these fears will disappear and your confidence will increase.

3. Explore Alternative Opportunities
Exploring new opportunities that fall outside your teaching assistantships or sessional teaching will allow you to expand your knowledge and ultimately increase your confidence in the classroom. Focusing on new challenges and opportunities, such as speaking at an academic conference, will allow you to build your self-confidence and gain valuable perspective that your fears can be conquered.

Simulating a National Security Crisis: Learning Security in the Classroom — Zainab Ramahi and Amy Wood

soldiersOn the centennial anniversary of the First World War, high school students from across Waterloo Region gathered at the Centre for International Governance Innovation’s (CIGI) sixth annual Global Youth Forum to commemorate WWI and to place its composite events in historical and global context. Students from the University of Waterloo’s Political Science department led 120 participants through three role-playing simulations to learn about the decision-making processes and major players involved in difficult situations.[1] In this post we explore the potential of simulations to support high school students in understanding complex security themes.

In each of three simulations—the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in 1914, the Easter Rising in Ireland in 1916, and the detention of Omar Khadr in 2002—students were faced with the reality of making difficult choices in time-sensitive scenarios in which they had incomplete information. The simulation characters had diverse roles—a soldier, a civilian, a Central Intelligence Agency operative etc.—and each choice a participant made would have consequences for themselves, their community and their country’s security. Students grappled with questions of ethics and national security (who is considered a terrorist? what is the role of civilians turned militants in a conflict? what is an appropriate state response to a security threat?) and became more keenly aware of the inter-play of interests, behaviours and decisions.

By including both historical and contemporary scenarios, the simulation worked to show students the weight, magnitude and complexity of security decisions. The simulation presented challenging ideas to students in a way that they were able to concretize. This bridge between ideas and understanding was empathy. One tool to encourage empathetic reasoning this was the use of profile cards which provided a narrative of each simulation character. This prompted participants to think about their decisions through a particular lens—whether ideological, normative or through their character’s personality traits—particularly when they did not have complete information or intelligence. As the simulation progressed, students became increasingly invested in achieving their character’s objectives and ultimately in their character’s outcome.

There were, however, limitations to students’ ability to conceptualize the scenario. In the case of Omar Khadr, students found it challenging to consider the real or perceived conflict between security and civil liberties. Decisions were often based on consequences for an individual character, rather than on their mandate, an ethical code, or the population they represented.

Through two years of creating and running simulations with high school students, we have learned several lessons. Inclusion of the following elements can increase the relevance and success of the simulation:

  • Multiple facilitators with a strong grasp of the simulation’s characters, decisions and outcomes, and who can guide or challenge students and their decisions when necessary;
  • Commensurate educational materials that give greater historical context for the simulations and a foundational knowledge of key themes that can be taught before or after the simulation;
  • An incentive—such as a participation grade—to encourage students to treat the simulation as realistically as possible, and to invest in their character; and
  • Post-simulation discussion questions with adequate time to allow students to reflect on their experience. This is an opportunity for students to consider their decisions, help develop their own thought processes, and apply the simulation’s learnings to present day socio-political phenomena.

By commemorating the anniversary of WWI using simulation, students realized in more concrete terms the decisions that catalyzed the war. The simulation encouraged students to empathize with their character, make decisions based on the supplied information, and allowed to students to understand challenging concepts perhaps more quickly or fully than in the classroom alone. The simulation was also a valuable recruiting tool as it provided students an opportunity to reason through complex issues with the University of Waterloo students at the facilities of the Balsillie School. A coordinator’s package—based on the Guidelines for Ontario High School Curriculum—is available to high school teachers interested in using these simulation exercises. For more information about security simulations and for additional resources, please contact Dr. Veronica Kitchen.

About the authors: Zainab Ramahi recently graduated with her Bachelor of Knowledge Integration from the University of Waterloo. Amy Wood has a Master of Arts in Global Governance from the Balsillie School of International Affairs. Together with Dr. Veronica Kitchen, they developed the security simulations discussed here. A CTE Teaching Story on Dr. Kitchen is available here.

[1] The simulation is also suitable for undergraduate classrooms and it was first conducted in a second year World Politics course taught by Dr. Veronica Kitchen.