To gamify, or not to gamify – Kyle Scholz

Gamification seems to be all the rage in higher education – the prospect of transforming the learning experience by amending game-based tools such as points, leaderboards, or badges, all in an effort to help students learn, certainly sounds intriguing. If all it takes to make students come to class and do the work is to give them a badge, then why not?

And yet however alluring the prospect sounds, it’s never that easy. I always go back to the famous words of Mary Poppins – “A spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down”. How are you treating the implementation of gamification into your course? Is it to act as a form of sugar to help the medicine (the course content) go down easily for students? Or is it intended to stand on its own and work in conjunction with the course content as to motivate and engage students?

When gamification is seen as sugar to the course’s medicine, what is likely happening is that course content that is perceived as dry or challenging is ostensibly remedied with gamification so that students are focused on achieving points or badges, instead of actually learning the content that is being taught. While yes, they may do the work more so than before gamification was applied, it’s difficult to say whether or not they are learning more. Continue reading To gamify, or not to gamify – Kyle Scholz

Announcing new Learning Innovation and Teaching Enhancement (LITE) Seed Grant Recipients

Photo of lightbulb with tree insideThe Office of the Associate Vice President, Academic, the Centre for Teaching Excellence, and the Centre for the Advancement of Co-operative Education are pleased to announce that 7 LITE Seed Grant projects have recently been funded. We are pleased to note that LITE Grants involve collaborations across departments/units, faculties, and institutions.

Information about the LITE Grants

The LITE Grants provide support for investigating innovative approaches to enhancing teaching with a focus on fostering deep student learning at the University of Waterloo. Two kinds of grants are available: LITE Seed Grants fund projects up to $5,000, and LITE Full Grants fund projects up to $30,000.

The next LITE grant application deadline on October 1 is for the Full grants.

The annual LITE Seed Grant application deadlines are February 1 and June 1.

For more information about the grants, please visit the LITE Grant website. If you are considering applying for a grant and would like to discuss your project, please contact Crystal Tse or Kristin Brown at the Centre for Teaching Excellence.

Important note: There have been a few changes to the LITE grant application process. Please carefully review the revised application guidelines and contact Crystal or Kristin if you have any questions.

Teaching and Learning Library Research Guide

The Teaching and Learning Library Research Guide (created by the Library, Centre for Teaching Excellence and The Office of Research Ethics) is a step-by-step guide and resource for individuals who are interested in and/or engaged in conducting research on teaching and learning. This guide includes:

    • Refresher on research skills and keywords related to teaching and learning to use in your literature search
    • Resources on getting started on conducting teaching and learning research
    • Relevant journals, organizations, websites, and blogs
    • Learning assessment tools used in the literature
    • Resources on ethical considerations on conducting research with students as participants


Light bulb image provided by Matt Walker under the Creative Commons “Attribution-ShareAlike” license.

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

Gender Identity, Pronouns, and Lifelong Learning – Tommy Mayberry, Instructional Developer

A sign that says, "I am still learning."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.

Continue reading Gender Identity, Pronouns, and Lifelong Learning – Tommy Mayberry, Instructional Developer

A Reflection On The CTE Professional Development Day – Davis Dolan

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)


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

The Value of Saying No: An Exercise in Reframing — Donna Ellis

Crossed hands 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