New undergraduates are already successful students when they arrive at university. They come with learning habits developed over a decade’s time at school where “work harder” is a commonly followed injunction for improvement or to remedy declining achievement.
But learning at a university is more challenging than high school. Students face increasing rigour combined with more and denser material all at a quicker pace. Can students at university work smarter, making better use of their limited time? Continue reading Learning to Learn – Paul Kates
There might be two fundamental things to know about me to avoid conversational confusion. First, I’m a drag queen: I visually present on an almost day-to-day basis as masculine, but I identify under the transgender banner because my embodied identity oscillates across the gender binary and my proper pronouns are he/him/his, she/her/hers, and they/them/theirs. Second, my partner and I have the same name: each is Tommy (born “Thomas” with a birth certificate to confirm), and together we are the Tommies. I say these two things might be fundamental to know about me to avoid confusion in conversation because while I do not speak about myself in the third person (if you hear me say “Tommy,” you would do well to assume I mean my partner), people do speak about me, and they speak about me with a variety of pronouns that fit me and align with who I am. This has proven to be very puzzling to some folks at several times (my dear 85-year-old grandma has finally got the knack of “the Tommies,” but that plurality for her is my partner and me, not myself and I). I love this perplexity because in life as in teaching, this is an opportunity for learning.
In teaching language studies specifically, a grammar lesson in parts of speech and number agreements would seem to be an appropriate exercise for first-year Undergraduates; it may not, though, seem immediately fitting for first-year non-language courses or even upper-year language courses where the knowledge and understanding are assumed to be established and built upon. But it is. The refresher of a language exercise like the one below not only reaffirms language and communication skills for learners but opens the window to an opportunity for learning that is wider than a grammar primer.
In early June, I had the pleasure of going to the Waterloo Aboriginal Education Centre (WAEC) at St. Paul’s University College with my colleagues from the Centre for Teaching Excellence (CTE). Our Centre went to WAEC for our annual Professional Development Day where we learned more about each other through various activities. One of the activities that stood out for me was indicating on a map where we live, where we are from, and where our roots originate. This activity allowed us to see that we all come from different places around the world, but we come together to make the CTE team. This activity also showed that we all have unique experiences, and we should use those experiences to help the Centre, and each other grow.
We also learned more about Truth and Reconciliation while at the WAEC. We were taken through a blanket activity (an example of a blanket activity can be seen on the left) that acted as a simulation of the history of what aboriginal people had experienced. Our staff started out standing on some blankets that were spread across the floor (to form one large blanket representing Turtle Island), but as the activity went on, the blankets kept getting folded in and shrinking the space we had to stand on (representing the lands that were taken from the aboriginals). In addition, some people were taken from the main group and told to stand on a separate blanket (representing a residential school). Other members of our group were told that they had to leave the blanket because they had become a lawyer or doctor (aboriginals lost their status if they became certain professions), or because they had gotten a deadly disease that was brought by the settlers. By the end of the activity, there were only 3 out of about 26 people still standing on the blankets that had been significantly reduced in size. The activity opened my eyes to some of the hardships that the aboriginal people have been through.
Overall, I thought the day was a success. I was able to learn more about myself and my colleagues, while also learning a bit more about the history and hardships of aboriginal people.
Photo taken by Bernard Clark at Queen’s University, Creative Commons (found on Flickr)
Many of us have likely heard the term wrapper or cognitive wrapper used when discussing ways to help our students in becoming more independent and self-aware learners. In particular, this term comes up when discussing assessment as a learning opportunity. So what exactly is a cognitive wrapper and how can it be used to aid learning?
In brief, a cognitive wrapper is a tool to guide students before, during or after a teaching and learning event to help them identify their own approaches to the teaching and learning event and what aspects of their behavior are productive and which aspects are not. It encourages students to purposefully examine what they can and should change so as to improve the teaching and learning experience. Wrappers are a structured way to guide students through a reflective process that increases their self-awareness and leads to a modification of behavior through self-regulation.
As an academic support unit, we are in the business of helping others. But it goes beyond simply service – we help instructors to help themselves. The reach and scope of our services can feel quite large since teaching and learning are so foundational to the university, and we receive numerous requests for our assistance. Our staff members’ interests and ideas for projects are also quite broad. However, sometimes we have to say no to requests we receive or ideas we generate. Is this ever a good idea? Continue reading The Value of Saying No: An Exercise in Reframing — Donna Ellis
Each year, the Centre for Teaching Excellence and the Graduate Studies Office recognize and celebrate the teaching development efforts of Waterloo graduate students with the Certificate in University Teaching (CUT) Award. I sat down with this year’s winner, Amanda Garcia, PhD candidate in Systems Design Engineering and recent graduate of the CUT program, to get her take on teaching and learning. Amanda has taught Problem-Solving for Development, a second-year International Development course (INDEV 212) and Conflict Resolution (SYDE 533), a Systems Design Engineering course; has completed both the Fundamentals of University Teaching (FUT) and CUT programs, and began her teaching career during her undergraduate years, when she was awarded her first Teaching Assistantship.
Active learning is “anything course-related that all students in a class session are called upon to do other than simply watching, listening, and taking notes” (Felder & Brent, 2009, p. 2). Examples include team debates, think-pair-share, team-based learning, and using clickers or other technology to provide opportunities for discussion (for more on active learning, see our Active Learning Tip Sheet).
But what happens when there are 300 students in your classroom? Many of these techniques scale to larger settings although they require additional planning. To help with designing and running these activities, I think about four design elements. For each element, I ask myself a set of questions to help plan the activity.