Thank goodness for the slackers! — Marcel Pinheiro

Even in the modern age of STEM-education, a well-informed and considerate professoriate can still let their egos get the better of them. With shifting trends in pedagogy towards student-centric and, gasp, evidence-based decisions in instructional planning, we can easily fall victim to thinking we are leaving no one behind. We can imagine our classrooms full of well-prepared students, ready to fire on all Blooms’ cylinders, each day. It is, of course, midterm season, so we empirically know this is not true. Nonetheless, as we prepare for our next flipped session, scaffolded learning task, or class discussion we set our expectations high and count on eliciting random acts of higher-order thinking in our students. Continue reading Thank goodness for the slackers! — Marcel Pinheiro

Why Assignments Matter — Francis Poulin, Department of Applied Mathematics

Mathematics is axiomatic. It begins with definitions and then builds on these using inductive arguments to see what properties can be deduced. This is not only true for Calculus or Algebra, but virtually all branches of Mathematics. Lectures (or textbooks) in mathematics begin with definitions, derive theories from these definitions, and often have exercises on the material to test one’s understanding. Continue reading Why Assignments Matter — Francis Poulin, Department of Applied Mathematics

A case study of a new approach to a blended course — Meagan Troop, Centre for Extended Learning

Musical scoreI am an Online Learning Consultant (OLC) at the Centre for Extended Learning at the University of Waterloo. As OLCs we pride ourselves on a scholarly approach to course design and, as such, 20% of my time is allotted to research. One of the research projects that I began in Winter 2016 is a case study examination of a blended learning opportunity jointly offered by Wilfrid Laurier University and UOIT. In this case, not only did I have the opportunity to conduct research, but also to teach and contribute design changes to the course being researched. Both the research and teaching dimensions of this experience have been invaluable, greatly enhancing my perspective as an instructional designer. Continue reading A case study of a new approach to a blended course — Meagan Troop, Centre for Extended Learning

Designing for the user experience — Pia Zeni and Matt Justice, Centre for Extended Learning

user-experienceWe’ve all encountered scenes like the one pictured above – you may even be looking at one outside your office window: pedestrians choosing to ignore the nicely-constructed, costly, often very pretty footpaths designed for them, and choosing instead to forge their own path.  But have you ever thought about what scenarios like this say about design?  Why aren’t pedestrians selecting the paths constructed for them? What do their choices say about the paths designers have constructed? What goal(s) motivate them to forge their own?  These are the types of questions user experience (UX) designers ask.

The picture presents a useful allegory for designers of any stripe: the idea being, of course, that if we want to design valuable things, we need to consult the needs, expectations, and yes, even wants, of our users.

Let’s translate that principle to an online learning context:  “If we want to design valuable online learning experiences for students, we need to take their needs, expectations, and yes, even wants into account.” Whether this strikes you as common sense, or fairly radical, it is a design approach that the Centre for Extended Learning (CEL) has recently adopted with our User Experience Design for Learning (UXDL) framework, an adaptation of UX Honeycomb, developed by leading user-experience advocate Peter Morville.

You can learn more about our UXDL framework and how our design process is evolving to put our users – our students – front and centre at This is a new initiative for us, so we welcome your ideas, thoughts, and reflections.

Pia Zeni (

Matt Justice (


[Photo Source: Kalve, S. (2014, September 11). Design vs UX I Nydalen. [Photo]. Retrieved from]

“Learning from Challenge and Failure”: Resources — Julie Timmermans

Michael Starbird
Michael Starbird, keynote speaker at the 2016 Teaching and Learning Conference.

Presenters at CTE’s recent Teaching and Learning conference explored the theme of Learning from Challenge and Failure. As a follow-up to the Conference, we’d like the share the following list of compiled resources:


Articles and Blog Postings

Podcasts and Talks

Growth Mindset Resources


Learning to Leap via Experiential Education — Michelle Gordon

michelle gordonI can’t say enough about experiential learning.  By stepping outside of textbook learning and living the experience, you develop personal connections to the theory. In my experience, this personal connection creates a drive to learn more about a topic, similar to how when you meet a person you like, you want to know more about them. Through experiential learning, I have also found that I develop soft skills that are not replicable in classroom learning, and which stay with me long after the experience is over.

This fall I was fortunate to be one of six student delegates selected from the University of Waterloo to attend the 21st Conference of the Parties under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) which was held in Paris, France. Also known as COP21 for short, this conference resulted in the Paris Agreement — an agreement to limit climate change to well below 2C of warming — being adopted with the consensus of 195 states. This was a historic moment to be a part of, where climate change was front and center on the world stage and it was finally agreed upon that quick and drastic action needs to be taken on a global level. Climate change is one of the global challenges of our century, and I hope that COP21 will be written in history as the turning point towards a cleaner and brighter future without fossil fuels.

Through this experience I learned much more about climate change than I could have in an entire semester in the classroom, but I think the most important thing I learned is confidence in my ability to leap. I believe to leap, or to jump into something new and unfamiliar when the opportunity presents itself instead of waiting until you feel “good enough,” is an essential skill to succeed in what you want in life.

Theoretical Knowledge

When I first applied to be a student delegate for COP21, I was hesitant as I thought I was less knowledgeable than many of my peers who were applying. Because I am in the School of Environment, Resources and Sustainability program, I had a working knowledge of climate change but by no means considered myself anywhere close to an expert! I applied anyway, and was thrilled to be selected. I studied climate change negotiations leading up to COP21, and observed them all around me during the experience. From this I gained a deeper knowledge than I had expected, and I am glad to have made the leap to apply and learn as I went, even if I was hesitant about my experience beforehand!

Social Media

Before attending COP21 I used social media such as Facebook, but I was shy about voicing my thoughts about social and environmental causes. Leading up to and during COP21, it was our job as student delegates to involve the wider campus community in awareness of the conference and climate change. It felt very uncomfortable at first, but I began posting on Facebook, joined Twitter, and then decided to make the leap by volunteering to be one of the lead students on the delegation’s communications and social media team. I felt out of my element at first, but through working in a team with two other students we created a successful and engaging campaign.

Networking and Meeting Influential People

At the COP21 conference, you are surrounded by people from all around the world, many of whom are very influential and knowledgeable. At first I felt a bit intimidated and timid in approaching people. However, I gained confidence when professor Ian Rowlands arranged for a few students and me to chat with Marlo Raylonds (the Chief of Staff to Catherine McKenna, the Minister of Environment and Climate Change) as well as David Miller (the President and CEO of World Wildlife Fund Canada and former mayor of Toronto). Chatting with these intelligent people help me build confidence in knowing that influential people are just like anyone else, and I will now feel more comfortable approaching leaders in the future.

Bringing Experiential Learning into the Classroom

I understand that not many teachers can simply take their students abroad on a whim.  However, experiential learning opportunities are out there — they just need to be found and acted upon!

I think that classroom and lecture studies are important, and can serve their purpose as theoretical foundations for experiences. However, I strongly urge students to be always searching for opportunities to experience their passions outside of the classroom, be it conferences, volunteering, or through work experience.  Remember, Google is your friend!  For example, an afternoon spent searching can uncover field courses you can take for credit abroad or in Canada, bursary programs, and much more. Teachers can support students by sharing opportunities that they become aware of, and urging students to leap: to apply, follow through, and have the confidence to make it happen.

Michelle Gordon is a third year undergraduate student in the Environment and Resource Studies co-op program. Michelle was part of the delegation of students from UW that attended COP21. Michelle’s other interests include outdoor education, ecological restoration, and illustration.

Open Educational Resources: A Call to Action — Dina Meunier

open signOn February 8th, Dr. Rajiv Jhangiani from Kwantlen Polytechnic University in B.C. presented a strong case for the use of open textbooks in higher education to an interested audience at the University of Waterloo1. Open textbooks, he argues, such as those provided through OpenStax College or BC Campus OpenEd, benefit students, professors and institutions.

What are open textbooks? Open textbooks are “licensed under an open copyright license [such as a Creative Commons license] and made available online to be freely used by students, teachers and members of the public.”2 How do open textbooks differ from electronic versions of traditional textbooks? Some textbook publishers provide students with an online or digital version of a traditional hard copy textbook, but access to this electronic version is not free and it is under a limited license, that is, students loose access to the digital textbook after a period of time, for example, 6 months after purchase. Open textbooks, due to the nature of being openly available also promote lifelong learning, says Jhangiani.

There is no denying that traditional textbooks are expensive. Textbook costs have increased by 82% in the last decade, according to Jhangiani and these costs contribute to crippling student debt.  In Canada, the average student graduates with a debt of over $28,000 and three years after graduation, only about one-third of graduates are debt free, according to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. Jhangiani argues that professors can mitigate this unfortunate situation simply by deciding to use an open textbook or a series of open educational resources to replace their traditional text.

Another advantage of open textbooks, for both students and instructors, lies in their flexibility. Open textbooks, Jhangiani explains, “aren’t just free, they’re free with permissions.” These permissions include the ability not only to retain, reuse and redistribute the resource, but to potentially remix and redistribute it based the instructor’s pedagogical goals for the course.

Universities also benefit from the use of open textbooks. There is a direct relationship, Jhargiani says, between textbook costs and student success and retention. Research shows that students enrolled in courses using OERs, had lower withdrawal rates, had better grades and enrolled in more courses in the current and subsequent semesters3.

So why aren’t more instructors using open textbooks?  Lack of awareness about where to find open textbooks and uncertainty around their quality are two of the main reasons.4 But the quality issue is an issue of perception.  Jhangiani states that quality has improved dramatically in the last 5 years and recent research shows that 75% of faculty who have an opinion about OERs, rate them as equivalent or better than the traditional textbook.5

Want to learn more about open educational resources? March 7 to 11th is Open Education Week so there is no better time to start than right now.

  • Check out how the Faculty of Mathematics is leading the way in Waterloo’s own open courseware initiative: math.uwaterloo and courseware.cemc.uwaterloo;
  • Explore the possibility of incorporating an open textbook in your upcoming course this spring or fall;
  • Are you interested in creating your own set of open educational resources to replace a costly textbook in your large enrollment course? Contact the Centre for Extended Learning (, we may be able to help you!


1To view “Open Educational Practices by Dr. Rajiv Jhangiani,” Centre for Teaching Excellence, (published to YouTube on Feb 12 2016) go to

2Open Textbook FAQ. BCCampus OpenEd.

3 Fischer, L., Hilton, J., Robinson T. J., & Wiley, D. (2015). A multi-institutional study of the impact of open textbook adoption on the learning outcomes of post-secondary students. Journal of Computing in Higher Education, 27(3), 159-172. doi:10.1007/s12528-015-9101-x

4 Green, K. (N.D.). Going Digital: Faculty Perspectives on Digital and OER course materials. Retrieved from The Campus Computing Project.

5 Allen, I.E., & Seaman, J. (Oct 2014). Opening the Curriculum: Open Educational Resources in U.S. Higher Education, 2014, Babson Research. Retrieved from

The author of this post, Dina Meunier, is Associate Director of Online Learning at Waterloo’s Centre for Extended Learning