Learning to Learn – Paul Kates

person studyingNew 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

Wrapping to Uncover Learning – Monica Vesely

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.

Continue reading Wrapping to Uncover Learning – Monica Vesely

A Day of Cultivating Curiosity in Teaching and Learning

What drives curiosity in our classrooms? Can curiosity be fostered or taught? These were just a few of the questions on the table at the University of Waterloo Teaching and Learning Conference on April 27. Our ninth annual conference, this year’s event brought together over 320 participants from across all Faculties at Waterloo and neighbouring universities to explore the role curiosity plays in teaching and learning. University of Waterloo’s President and Vice-Chancellor, Feridun Hamdullahpur, opened the conference with a territory acknowledgment and shared personal reflections on teaching and learning that highlighted the connections between this year’s conference theme, Cultivating Curiosity in Teaching and Learning, and last year’s conference, Learning from Challenge and Failure.

Curiosity is at the heart of inquiry and exploration and is a powerful motivator for learning. It speaks to our innate interest in seeking out novel ideas, and applies well to the learning process our students engage in every day. Curiosity also has real-life consequences—psychological research demonstrates that curiosity is linked to greater well-being (e.g., life satisfaction and expressing gratitude) and can also serve as positive motivation—studies show that curiosity can lead people to ask more questions, explore novel stimuli, and persevere when faced with difficult tasks. Continue reading A Day of Cultivating Curiosity in Teaching and Learning

From crisis to crisis: teaching in challenging times

A stressed out figure with head on desk surrounded by books
Bonhomme Stressed

I don’t know if it’s some kind of confirmation bias as I think about all the people around me, but this past term has seemed much more stressful for many staff, faculty, and students on campus. Including me! Burnout among students and instructors seems more prevalent than in prior terms.

I suspect that it may have something to do with uncertainties and the erosion of rights on every front as we all live through the (very real) simulacrum that is the 45th U.S. President right now, coupled with the ways in which media outlets and social media amplify certain kinds of story.

There are things that happen in the world over which we have no control, but that are part of an increasingly invasive news cycle. Even the weather network seems in constant panic mode with “Alerts” and “Special Statements” that, when opened, say little more than that typical seasonal weather is about to happen.

In the face of events that make the news ticker and get amplified by friends and family, it is often difficult to know what and what not to do in the classroom. Faculty have expressed to me a deep sense of care about how they themselves, and how their students, can best handle daily news of crises. One of the most cited web-based resources out there is a Vanderbilt University guide called Teaching in Times of Crisis. Originally written in 2001, after 9-11, it was updated by Nancy Chick in 2013.

The gist of this well-researched piece is that we should say *something* about a crisis event in class, but we should say it while also referring students (and ourselves I think!) to available resources. I strongly encourage people to spend some time reading this piece; it’s helped a lot of us to address things head-on in classes rather than ignoring the “elephant in the room.” These crises may be local or global — everything from bombings to stories about sexual assault, from school shootings to the removal of same-sex marriage rights.

I wonder, too, whether this is something that is mainly a question for people in social science, environmental or health studies, or arts disciplines, or whether colleagues teaching large first year classes in, say, Engineering or Physics or Math also think about this stuff? In my experience, yes, but it’s not as directly relevant to the topic of the week (as it may well be in my Women’s Studies first-year lecture).

Graduate and Postdoctoral Programming Updates – Jessica Jordao

Fundamenals Microteaching Session
Fundamentals Microteaching Session

During my short time as a Graduate & Postdoctoral Programs at CTE, I have come to realize how outstanding CTE’s graduate and postdoctoral programs really are. Our programs support UWaterloo graduate students and postdocs in their knowledge and skill development as university TAs and current and future instructors. The three programs offered, at no cost to the student, include the Fundamentals of University Teaching and the Certificate of University Teaching for graduate students and the Teaching Development Series for postdoctoral fellows. Continue reading Graduate and Postdoctoral Programming Updates – Jessica Jordao

Course Design Broke my Brain – Crystal Tse

Aaron Silvers Attribution

I took Course Design Fundamentals a few weeks ago, and it broke my brain – in a good way! I have taught before, but this was a great opportunity for me to revisit the course that I’ve been teaching for the past few years from a fresh perspective.

Here are a couple of my take-aways from this workshop that lays out the best practices for course design:

  • Alignment, alignment, alignment – between the intended learning outcomes for your students in the course, the course activities, and the assessment of students’ learning. It was great to have this connection made explicit. However, it was also a jarring experience as some of the concepts I wanted my students to learn were not made explicit in the activities the students engaged in. Time to remedy that!
  • Concept maps for your course are tough to make! I had never created one before for my course and was at a loss at first of how to structure it and what the main concepts I wanted my students to get out of my course. A bit of brainstorming and lots of sticky notes later, I finally fleshed out the main concepts. Two of them were actually not about course content. One was about helping first year students transition to university life (e.g., coping with stress effectively, how to study and take tests). I spend my first lecture telling students about my own experiences as a first year student – that it’s difficult and stressful, but that this stress was temporary and would soon be overcome. I revisit this point by telling stories of my own failures and successes, talking about healthy living, and checking in with students throughout the term. Another way to help with students’ transition is to build community in your classroom so students have support networks they can draw on in times of stress and uncertainty.
  • The other concept was to encourage metacognitive skills (i.e., how to encourage students to reflect and think about their own learning). I do different lecture wrappers (e.g., one minute summaries where students spend a minute writing about the main take-away from the class and what questions they still have that can be addressed in the next class). CTE has a great tipsheet on strategies you can use to encourage self-regulation in students’ learning that can be quick and don’t require a complete overhaul of your course. There are also many evidence-based strategies based on psychological research that can help students study more effectively and engage in more critical thinking.
  • Thinking more about incorporating students’ own experiences into the course in addition to my own perspective. Students come with a wealth of prior knowledge and life experiences that can be drawn on. In the past I have solicited students’ anonymous comments about a topic in the course (especially one that can be particularly controversial or sensitive) prior to class so they are ready for discussion. I’m excited to do this more!


Image provided by Aaron Silvers under the Creative Commons “Attribution” license.

Crowdmark – Online grading for large courses

This Fall 2016, the University of Waterloo will have 25 courses with stockvault-pile-of-paper117595a class size of between 500 and 1000 students and 10 courses of  between 1000 and 2000 students.

The amount of paper handling to administer the potential 33,000 final exam papers from these large courses will be monumental. (For fun, guestimate the volume of paper this amounts to.)

The Mathematics Faculty has been  successfully experimenting for a year with a online grading system called Crowdmark, a company founded by Professor James Colliander of the Mathematics Department of the University of Toronto.

Professor Colliander was faced with a similar problem: grading 5000  Canadian Open Mathematics Competition (COMC) papers each year with  100 volunteers.  As with final exams, each paper is typically graded by a number of markers so keeping track of which questions are graded on which papers and when the papers are free to be passed to another marker is a time consuming and error prone business.

Crowdmark (CM) attempts to eliminate some of the time and trouble spent managing the grading process.   We are not talking about a quiz system with automatic grading. Crowdmark is hand-marking done online.  Skilled people still grade, and tests and assignments are still created for printing on paper so there is nothing new in this part of an instructor’s routine.

So, what is it that makes the marking process more efficient when done online?

  • Markers are able to grade the same paper at the  same time.  No more locating and waiting for a paper that someone else is grading.  Or waiting for a batch of papers to arrive at your location to begin your stage of grading.  Grading can be done concurrently at multiple locations and times.
  • Grades can be automatically summed, collected, summarized, distributed and recorded in a Learning Management System without needing to check for arithmetic or transcription errors.
  • No time needs to be spent returning piles of exam papers.

There is a time and money cost to using online grading.  The physical papers have to be scanned into digital format (PDF file) before grading can start. High speed scanners (500 pages per minute) can process 1000 10-page exams  in 20-30 minutes once delivered to the scanning machine.

Here I’ll briefly discuss how instructors and students use CM.

Steps for an instructor:

  • upload one test or exam pdf file into CM (leave 2 inches blank on the top of each page for CM ID info and set 1 question per page)
    • CM duplicates the test pdf for each student and adds a paper and page ID to each page
  • download from CM the pdf file of student tests and print it
  • after the test scan all written test papers into a pdf file and upload the file into CM
    • CM arranges the pdf file pages into a grid pattern: each row holds a student’s test pages
  • each marker clicks on a page in the grid to read, comment, and grade it
    • when grading is complete page grades are summed for each test paper by CM
  • match each test paper cover page student ID with a student name in your CM course (assigned seating at UW can eliminate this step)
  • you choose whether CM sends each student their grade and a CM link to their graded test paper or to keep the grades and graded papers private and just download the grades for inclusion into a course grade

Steps for a student:

  • write the test paper by hand as usual
  • may receive an email from CM with a link to a CM page showing their test results

The links at the end of this post provide further details about Crowdmark.  In addition, 2 live sessions demonstrating Crowdmark are coming up at the end of August and the beginning of September.   The first is an introduction to Crowdmark on Wednesday August 31 and  the second follows up a week later on Wednesday September 7 (1:30-3 PM) with details about a University of Waterloo system named Odyssey that works with Crowdmark.  Odyssey organizes test papers, students and exam room seating providing relief from some time-consuming management overhead.

Crowdmark is not a free service, but the University of Waterloo has a licence so there is no charge to individuals (instructors or students) at the university.

If you are interested in learning more about online grading for your course please get in touch with me.

Paul Kates
Mathematics Faculty CTE Liaison
pkates@uwaterloo.ca, x37047, MC 6473

Intro to Online Marking using Crowdmark: Wednesday, August 31, 2016 – 10:30 AM to 11:30 AM EDT
Crowdmark home page,   help pages and  youtube channel.
UW Odyssey Examination Management