An Outsider Perspective: Deconstructing “Your English is Really Good.”

This piece is a personal, reflective narrative for a future issue on Equity, Diversity and Inclusion at JIBC.


“Your English is really good.” This is one of the compliments I hear quite often, especially from acquaintances, teachers, and peers who noticed me and became curious about my background and experiences. As far as I can recall, people tend to use this compliment as a probe to continue the conversation, followed by casual questions such as “where did you study?”, “where are you from?”, or “why did you move to Canada?”, sometimes over a glass of wine or cheese platter.

Interestingly, in the last couple of years, these compliments or questions are less common, particularly at the workplace. I pondered and reckoned that there may be a reason behind it: either I started sounding more like a Canadian, or people are worried that those questions or compliments can be offensive or even illegal. After all, there are more recommendations, policies, and even prohibitions in place nowadays, which is also a type of progress as people and organizations are becoming more cognizant of the matter of equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI). But policies can often feel onerous and difficult to interpret, and when that happens, people tend to freeze their minds and hide in a reality of “don’t ask, don’t tell”.

Central to the debate about compliments such as “Your English is really good” lies in the ambiguity of its connotation. For example, one may interpret the expression as “I see that you are not one of us, but somehow you managed to speak just like us.” To some extent, it can be an acknowledgement of the diversity in the room, but it can also be interpreted as a statement of exclusion. As a result, many leaders or teachers tend to avoid these topics and resort to something safer, for instance, food or weather. The dilemma is real. But I couldn’t help wondering if we are also ignoring people’s identity and cultural background by avoiding these topics. Yet, if we were to initiate conversations on these seemingly “sensitive” topics, what might be the best approach? And as leaders or teachers, how should we communicate with the increasingly diverse body of students, staff, and faculty?

In a way, I find it difficult to answer these questions succinctly and justly, let alone sharing what might be the best, as the subject of discussion can be relative depending on the context and audience. But perhaps I could l try to collect some personal thoughts through an “outsider” narrative, and hopefully with that, you will find it easier to continue your own analysis or reflection.

As a first-generation immigrant in Canada, I was born and raised in a rustic and underdeveloped county in southern China and, obviously, I hold a typical Asian name and look. Over the years of drifting in this “global village”, I decided not to have an English name for work and study, mostly because I have difficulty finding a sense of belonging with the names available in the English language. In short, my brief background basically tells you two things: 1) it is humbling for someone like me to speak of diversity and inclusion, as I can be ignorant due to my limited understanding and perspective of culture and diversity; 2) my appearance and my name perpetuate a vivid image of an outsider or a foreigner in a country founded by European settlers, regardless of my lived experiences in Canada.

Despite all the current policies or prohibitions at the workplace, unlike what you might have been imagining, I am not offended by questions like “where are you from” or compliments like “Your English is really good”. In fact, I am glad to receive compliments that validate my years of study and effort, and I am also more than happy to speak about my culture, identity, and stories of drifting and navigating in this “global village”. Similarly, when someone shares their unique stories, I often find it fascinating as I always hear things that I am not aware of.

However, as we tread through these muddy swamps, some questions may feel like a double-edged sword that reminds me of my otherness. To be clear, “otherness” is not something embarrassing in my opinion, but simply a part of one’s identity. But conversation could go sideways, especially when a question is asked in a way that is not expected or not respectful.

Looking back into my experiences as an outsider, I find it helpful to be authentic yet tactful, meaning you can display your curiosity or appreciation toward your students or colleagues but it is critical to be mindful about how to frame your questions and decide when and where to have certain conversations.

And if I may, here are some thoughts for discussion for those who are pondering on how to interact with students or colleagues from different backgrounds:

  1. Don’t stop being curious. It is normal to be curious about people’s backgrounds and experiences, and it is important to acknowledge that people are different. So do find the time to get to know people around you.
  2. Instead of asking directly “where are you from?”, you may encourage people in your class or your team to share their stories on certain topics. Information flows through stories and you can connect the dots.
  3. Choose the right occasion to ask personal questions, for example, a coffee shop, especially if there are restrictions or prohibitions in your organization.
  4. If you are concerned about offending people, ask for consent before approaching personal questions. For example, “Do you mind if I ask a question on…” or “please say no if you don’t feel like answering it…”
  5. Lastly, be as genuine, caring, and empathetic as you can when asking “sensitive” questions. People may open up more than you expected if there is a level of trust, empathy, and respect.

It’s Now: Designing and Using Immersive Simulations for Learning

Virtual reality or immersive simulations for learning is no longer something to be imagined or planned in the future. If you have not done a project like this yet, the best time to start is now. 

About two years ago, I had the chance to present “Virtual Reality for Public Safety Training” at JIBC Open Symposium. After introducing relevant pedagogical significance, examples, research on effectiveness, and future opportunities, I landed on a question for the audience, “What would be the problem you want to solve with emerging technology like VR?”

The responses were fueled with enthusiasm and revealed a wide range of applications and practices that JIBC could benefit from. Just to name a few:

  • “simulate a patrolling scenario in downtown eastside”
  • “access correction centers and walk around the buildings”
  • “build empathy by living and acting like someone else”

As we can see, common to these scenarios are things that we feel difficult to design or simulate effectively in the classroom. Johnson-Glenberg (2018) pointed out that high fidelity 3D environments like virtual reality have the capability to simulate scenarios that are:

  • Impossible: you cannot change skin colour easily, but in VR you can inhabit avatars with different skin colours with profound results.​
  • Expensive: you cannot easily fly your whole school to Machu Picchu.​
  • Dangerous: you would not want to want to train emergency landings by crashing real airplanes.​
  • Counterproductive: you should not cut down an entire forest to instruct on the problems of deforestation.

The primary differentiator for high-fidelity immersive simulation technologies is that it creates a strong sense of presence and enables embodiment.

  • The concept of Presence has a  long history in psychology, Witmer and Singer (1998) defined it as “the subjective experience of being in one place or environment even when physically situated in another”.
  • Embodiment, on the other hand, means “our process of learning and understanding are shaped by the actions by our body, such as gestures”. (Johnson-Glenberg, 2018)

While presence manipulates or alters how our brains perceive the world around us, embodiment allows us to physically rewire our learning from a behavioural level. Scholars suggest that well-designed 3D simulations address some critical pieces in learning from a pedagogical perspective. Dalgarno and Lee (2010) listed five major affordances of 3D virtual learning environments:

  • Spatial knowledge representation: facilitate learning tasks that lead to the development of enhanced spatial knowledge representation of the explored domain.
  • Experiential learning: facilitate experiential learning tasks that would be impractical or impossible to undertake in the real world
  • Motivation and engagement: facilitate learning tasks that lead to increased intrinsic motivation and engagement
  • Improved transfer of knowledge and skills: facilitate learning tasks that lead to improved transfer of knowledge and skills to real situations through the contextualization of learning.
  • Collaborative learning: facilitate tasks that lead to richer and/or more effective collaborative learning than is possible with 2‐D alternatives.

Learning these theories provided us with a foundation of how we may move forward with high-fidelity simulations. But designing and customizing simulations for specialized areas in public safety remains a challenge as it requires a wide range of expertise such as content knowledge, programming, 2D/3D modelling, animation, user experience design, and user interface design. A collaborative, interdisciplinary team is the key to the development of accessible and usable immersive virtual learning environments. 

Fortunately, over the last two years, we were able to identify some internal partners at JIBC who are interested in developing simulations, and also had the opportunity to collaborate with a few highly skilled teams from the Centre for Digital Media.


Here are some video demonstrations for these award-winning projects:

Produced by LifesaVR team at the Centre for Digital Media


Produced by FlashoVR team at the Centre for Digital Media


Produced by Team Caramel at the Centre for Digital Media


Reference

Dalgarno, B., & Lee, M. J. (2010). What are the learning affordances of 3‐D virtual environments?. British Journal of Educational Technology41(1) https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/j.1467-8535.2009.01038.x

Johnson Glenberg, M. (2018). Immersive VR and Education: Embodied Design Principles that Include Gesture and Hand Controls. Frontiers in Robotics and AI, 81. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/frobt.2018.00081/full

Witmer, B. G., & Singer, M. J. (1998). Measuring presence in virtual environments: A presence questionnaire. Presence7(3), 225-240.

Assessment Design: Perspectives and Examples Informed by UDL

Many of you are probably aware that I have been working with my colleagues on a series of UDL workbooks and workshops over the past year and a half, and finally June 2021 witnesses the completion of our last workbook that focuses on assessment design.

I have to admit that this journey is very much like finishing a marathon that I never imagined myself embarking on, yet there we are. We made it, with all the great ideas and relentless revisions from Seanna, Lynn, Dave, Helen, and myself!

So here is a brief introduction to the workbook from Dave:

“In this workbook, we consider how we, as educators, can design assessments to be more inclusive, accessible, and engaging for our students. We also include several examples from JIBC courses and consider what features and characteristics can help us recognize and design UDL assessments in our own courses.”

To access this workbook, click on the image below:

LifesaVR: Immersive Learning Experience for Paramedics

Looking into the Context and the Problem

Shortly after I joined one of the curriculum committees at the Justice Institute of British Columbia, I learned that the paramedicine program has a 100-page practical simulation book, detailing how instructors should describe each scenario for simulation practice. The students, wearing their uniforms, carrying emergency cases, often stand in the middle of the classroom and try to imagine the physical environments where they are supposed to save lives.

In school, students rely on verbal explanations from the instructors to assess hazards and determine their next steps, whereas they are expected to observe the environment, identify risks, and save lives independently in the field. It is clear that there is a gap between what is learned in the classroom and what is required in the field.

As an instructional designer, I hope to fill the gap by designing and developing user-centred immersive experiences that could potentially shift the way we learn and teach in formal and informal environments.

Setting up Achievable Goals

Working with a team from the Centre for Digital Media, our goal is to develop a working VR prototype that simulates immersive learning environments for paramedics. The prototype will provide both experiential and reflective learning opportunities for trainees to apply critical assessment and decision-making skills, leading to better response when real events occur.

In addition to the realism of the learning environment, our design includes: 1) functionalities to track, analyze, and review how trainees made their decisions during the simulation; 2) non-intrusive user interface and exemplary user experience for reflective learning; 3) and a final package that can be easily installed and used in different physical settings.

Building, Testing, and Iterating the Prototype

Through iterative design, rapid prototyping, and user testing, we created a simulation in which a young adult is struck by a vehicle and becomes unresponsive. In the simulation, the patient is found lying supine on the pavement, with obvious bleeding; there are broken glasses on the ground near the patient, and the gas is leaking; police have stopped the traffic and firefighters are at the scene to assist.

Students are required to identify all the hazards, and then use three dressings, in the correct order, from the emergency case to stop the bleeding. In order to analyze students’ decision-making processes, we also designed a dashboard that collects two sets of data: attention and reaction time. Attention, tracked through head movement, measures how long students look at an object, while reaction time measures how long it takes a student to complete a task. The dashboard is cloud-based so instructors can read the analysis and provide feedback from anywhere.

Presenting a Mid-Project Video Demonstration

Halfway through the project, we were asked to present this project to JIBC donors, faculty, and staff. Although the final prototype has evolved from this iteration, this video provides a succinct introduction to our design. I personally adore this video for its energy and simplicity. 

Designing and Redesigning the Dashboard

The team conceptualized, prototyped, and iterated the dashboard in two or three weeks. Click the image to view the final interface of the dashboard. 

Installing the Final Prototype and Putting on the Backpack Devices

Walking Through the Final Prototype

And Finally Meeting the Team

Centre for Digital Media

  • Eris Lam, Developer
  • Kyle Liu, 3D Artist | Unity programmer
  • Julia Read, Product Manager | UI Lead
  • Farbod Tabaei, Concept Artist | Game Designer
  • Sooq Won, UX Researcher | Graphic Designer
  • Yuan Zhang, 3D Artist | Game Designer
  • Robyn Sussel, Faculty Advisor

Justice Institute of British Columbia

  • Junsong Zhang, Instructional Designer, CTLI
  • Robert Walker, Director, CTLI
  • Svetlana Larson, Regional Training Coordinator, PCP
  • Eric McConaghy, Regional Training Coordinator, PCP

And a big thank you to people who participated in the user testings and provided valuable feedback.

UDL Strategies for Blended and Online Learning

Blended and online learning has become a prominent feature of our educational landscape because of COVID-19. The drastic shift in the learning environments has created challenges and opportunities for teaching and learning.

Collaborating with Dr. Seanna Tacks and Helen Lee, we developed a guide that explains how UDL principles can support both instructors and students. This guide is rich with practical tips, strategies, and examples whether you are new to UDL or a seasoned practitioner.

If you are interested in learning more about it, click on the image below to assess the guide. 

Five Practices for Rapid Course Design and Development

Start with Backward Course Design Approach

If you start your course design with content selection, you are likely to spend a lot of time but making little progress. Backward course design approach is outcome-based and therefore efficient. It also helps us to align assessment plans to learning outcomes, and align content and activities to assessment plans.

Here are the simplified steps for backward course design:

    • Step 1 Learning outcomes: identify what students should get out of the course
    • Step 2 Assessment: determine how to assess learning outcomes
    • Step 3 Activity and Content: select content and design activities around assessment

Here is a Course Plan Template that supports backward design.

Design a Proper Syllabus

Even with tight deadlines, a syllabus should at least contain 1) Instructor information, 2) Course description, 3) Course learning outcomes, 4) Required texts and materials, 5) Course schedule, 6) Assessment plan, 7) Assignment descriptions and expectation, and 8) Course policies. A good syllabus helps everyone (SME, Instructional Designers, and Program Managers) to imagine how the final product will look like.

From a backward design perspective, it is critical to be clear on the assessment plans and assignment descriptions. For example, if you are asking students to post threads in discussion forums, you should elaborate on your expectations in the syllabus such as the length of the post, whether or not they should reply to other students, and when they should complete the tasks.

Build an Effective Process for Content Development

Course design and development usually requires strong collaboration between multiple parties. Here is what makes the process effective based on my experience and observation.

  • Use cloud tools such as OneDrive and Google Drive where possible (please check your organizational privacy policy first).
  • Adopt a clear and consistent structure for content and asset organization. Assets could include images, videos, documents, and any other files for course design and development.
  • Design your content document purposefully. The more your content document resembles the final product, the more efficient everyone could be.

Be the Product Manager

Put on your Product Manager’s hat and be clear on the requirements! Your final product is most likely a course that lives in a learning management system (LMS). To avoid surprises, here are some of the questions for you to think:

  • Is the design for a new course or integration into an existing course? A new course design usually starts from scratch while integration is a redesign based on what is already in the course. This is particularly important for online courses because the design process and the final product could look very different.
  • How will the course menu look like in the learning management system (LMS)? Is there a particular structure that everyone needs to know?
  • How is everything named in the LMS? Will your students and instructors be able to understand and tell the difference? Do the naming of your assignments align with what is in the syllabus?
  • How are your learning modules built? Simple file upload into LMS, customized HTML and CSS pages, or designed in e-authoring tools such as Articulate Storyline and Rise 360? 
  • How do learning modules open in your course? Pop-up in a new window or opens within the LMS? Open within LMS often means less on-screen space for content presentation. This may look minor but it could have a huge impact on student learning experience, especially for those who use mobile devices or tablets.
  • How do your courses move into LMS? Are they in a test environment before they go live? Are there any components that need to be imported as SCROM packages or HTML pages into your LMS? How are other departments such as IT and Scheduling involved?
  • Can you be agile? Do you have to wait for the SME to develop everything and then design the course? Think about the modules that you can design already.

Some of these questions may sound technical but it is what makes a good product manager great.

Make Technology Work for You and Students

There are multiples ways to success in life and at work. The same to technology.

  • For video recordings, Kaltura is recommended at many institutions, but if it doesn’t work for you, use your phone, your webcam, or any tool that works for you.
  • For synchronous online learning, Collaborate or Zoom is commonly used but it doesn’t mean that you or your students have to be in synchronous sessions all the time. Why not blend asynchronous and synchronous learning?
  • For courses delivered through LMS, is there any flexibility for course completion? For example, do students have to complete everything within the day if it is a 1-day course? Can the course be available for a longer period, particularly the asynchronous components? Maybe you just opened this course to more students who couldn’t register previously by doing that.
  • And lastly, always ask for help when it comes to technology.

Universal Design for Learning: A Practical Guide

In the past months, I have been working with Dr. Seanna Takacs on a project that aims to mobilize Universal Design for Learning (UDL) for faculty and staff at the Justice Institute of British Columbia.

Implementing the UDL framework can be challenging because it requires us to contextualize UDL principles, develop actionable ideas, and foster a mindset of (re)design. Considering those challenges, we created a UDL guide that integrates Design Thinking and offers actionable ideas.


Universal Design for Learning: A Practical Guide 


This guide is perfect for those who want to explore the what, why, and how of UDL. Feel free to share with your colleagues. Your feedback is certainly welcomed!

Photo from the UDL Workshop

The Implicit Rule of Working from Home

When COVID-19 hit Vancouver, I was in the middle of renovating my place. Obviously, the renovation has to stop to keep everyone safe, but the question is how should I work from home with such a big mess.

In order to create some space to work from home, we cleaned up the living room which was filled with boxes and dust. It really helped because now I have an option: dress up in my bedroom in the morning and walk to work downstairs.

But that is not enough. An implicit rule of working from home is that you need a room that is quiet enough for important conversations. My living room obviously does not live up to that expectation, so I find myself crawling back my bedroom for important work such as facilitating online workshops for faculty and staff.

Here is my setup for online workshops: one laptop on the bed frame and one on the bed. It is not perfect but surprisingly creates an appealing hierarchy, if you ignore the background.

This setup requires some creativity and physical flexibility. Everyone in my team had a good laugh when they realized how I set up everything. Isn’t it exactly what we need during a difficult time?

So how do I sit? I sit on my knees, just like when you are on a tatami or on a yoga mat. If you are a yogi or a dancer, this is a perfect opportunity for pancake split or middle split.

In case you are wondering why I use two laptops, it is because one is logged in as the moderator, and the other joined as a student. This is just to make sure I see what participants see particularly when I share screens or PPTs. It helps with the pace of speech as well because there is usually a 2 or 3 seconds delay between the facilitator’s view and the students’ view.

Also, participants won’t see my face from their webcams until almost the end of the workshop. For the record, I do dress up properly and the background is just a plain white wall. But it is unnecessary to turn on the video function while presenting your content. It eats up your bandwidth and also competes with your presentation, and I am sure it is backed up by research on cognitive load somewhere.

Luckily everything went well. I mean, the internet didn’t die and my middle split proved to be advantageous for this job.

So I guess the ultimate implicit rule of working from home is: keep everyone happy and remember to stretch!

[The graffiti created by the participants when they were trying out the whiteboard function]

What You Should Know about Creative Learning

Nine months ago, Dr. Sandrine Han suggested that I should check out Learning Creative Learning created by Lifelong Kindergarten at MIT Media Lab.

I hesitated for a moment because I was not sure if I would be able to complete this open online course. After all, the average completion rate of MOOC courses is about 15%. To my surprise, not only did I finish the entire course, but also go back and review some of the articles and resources provided by Mitchel Resnick and his lab team.

Learning Creative Learning is now officially a source of inspiration for me. The course materials are fun to read, the course structure is well-designed with 6 easily digestible modules, and the principles and strategies can be applied to any discipline at any school or university. I would recommend every educator to take the course if time allows.

However, if you do not have the time to finish the entire course, these are the things I would like to share with you:

  • The spiral process of creative learning
  • The core concepts of 4P’s: Project, Passion, Peers, and Play
  • Strategies to foster creativity

1. The Spiral Process of Creative Learning 

In the first chapter of his most recent book Lifelong Kindergarten: Cultivating Creativity through Projects, Passions, Peers, and Play, Mitchel illustrates the spiral process of creative learning: an iterative process when someone engages in a creative activity.

Creative Learning Spiral (Courtesy of Mitchel Resnick)

According to Mitchel, IMAGINE is usually the first step, followed by actions to CREATE things. PLAY refers to a stage where people experiment or tinker. SHARE create spaces for collaboration and peer feedback. Reflect basically means “how might we improve,” typically guided by a teacher or facilitator.

As a spiral process, the creative learning cycle is iterative in its nature. That means students need to try out different ideas and approaches to solve problems and improve their solutions. In order to support the creative learning process, Mitchel introduced 4P’s: Projects,  Passion, Peers, and Play. 


2. Projects, Passion, Peers, and Play

Projects

In chapter 2, Mitchel suggests that project-based learning is critical because it is the key to fluency, a similar concept to mastery.

“… When you learn to write, it’s not enough to learn spelling, grammar, and punctuation. It’s important to learn to tell stories and communicate your ideas…  Imagine trying to learn to write just by working on crossword puzzles. It could improve your spelling and vocabulary, and it could be fun, but would you become a good writer, able to tell stories and express your ideas fluently? I don’t think so. A project-based approach is the best path to fluency, whether for writing or coding.”

Mitchel also argues that learning by doing is not enough. Students should engage in  learning by making, which is the process of designing, building, and creating something:

“in the culture of the Maker Movement, it’s not enough to do something: You need to make something. According to the maker ethic, the most valuable learning experiences come when you’re actively engaged in designing, building, or creating something—when you’re learning-through-making.”

The idea of learning by making can be challenging to many of us. If you are wondering where to start, I would suggest thinking about these questions:   

  • How do your current activities, feedback, and assignments support or do not support the “making” process?
  • How can you create authentic projects that support the acquisition of 21st-century skills?
  • And more importantly, are you willing to try out new approaches?

Passion

In chapter 3, Mitchel introduces the idea of “wide walls” building on Seymour Papert’s concepts of low floor” and high ceiling.” “Low floors” means technology should provide easy ways for novices to get started. “High ceiling” means technology should also provide ways for people to work on increasingly sophisticated projects over time.

According to Mitchel, “wide wall” adds that technology should support a wide range of different types of projects because people have different passions. He also suggests that passion leads to a phase of immersion in learning.

“Developmental psychologist Edith Ackermann described the process in terms of diving in and stepping back. When people work on projects they’re passionate about, they’re eager to dive in and immerse themselves. They’re willing to work for hours, or longer, and hardly notice that time is passing… But it’s also important for people to step back and reflect on their experiences. Through reflection, people make connections among ideas, develop a deeper understanding of which strategies are the most productive, and become better prepared to transfer what they’ve learned to new situations in the future. Immersion without reflection can be satisfying, but not fulfilling.”

He points out that we need to encourage “hard fun” instead of believing the misconception that students want learning to be easy.

“Too often, teachers and educational publishers try to make lessons easier, believing that children want things to be easy. But that’s not the case. Most children are willing to work hard—eager to work hard—so long as they’re excited about the things they’re working on.”

Although it is obvious that people learn the best when they are led by passion, it is not easy to implement when students just need certain courses in order to complete their degrees. However, whenever possible, it is our job to create space for flexibility and agency that ignite passion.  

If there is not much you can change in your course content, how about giving students choices to decide the format of their assignments? If they enjoy creating videos, can they submit a video instead of a writing assignment? And even before that, do your students know that they can talk to you about their interests or preferred ways of learning?  

Peers 

Mitchel suggests that we need to shift from think-it-yourself to make-it-together.

“This approach is more aligned with the needs of today’s society, where almost all jobs require collaborative effort, and the most important social issues require collective action.”

With peers, students collaborate with and learn from each other to create prototypes and artifacts. They seek for team members offline and online and develop communities by themselves. These meta-cognitive strategies enable them to become more self-sufficient.

But how should we support this? In chapter 4, Mitchel addresses it by discussing the shifting role of teachers:

  • Catalyst: The best way for a teacher to provide a spark is to ask questions. By asking the right types of questions, a teacher or mentor can catalyze exploration and reflection, but the learner remains that active agent, in charge of the activity.
  • Consultant: The goal is not to “deliver instruction” or “provide answers,” but to understand what people are trying to do and figure out the best way to support them.
  • Connector: An important part of teachers’ job is to connect learners with other people who they might work with, learn with, and learn from.
  • Collaborator: Teachers or mentors don’t simply provide support or advice. They work on their own projects and invite people to join in.

Play

Why is play even relevant or essential? In chapter 5, Mitchel explains that play helps students to explore the unknown and the uncertainty.

However, not all types of play are equally valuable. Citing work from Marina Bers, he agrees that there is a difference between playpen and playground.

“The playground promotes, while the playpen hinders, a sense of mastery, creativity, self-confidence, and open exploration.”

“Playpen” indicates limitations and restrictions, whereas “Playground” is open and encourages social interactions. With that, he suggests that the tinkering process combines the value of “playing” and “making.”

“The tinkering process is messier. Tinkerers take a bottom-up approach: They start small, try out simple ideas, react to what happens, make adjustments, and refine their plans. They often take a meandering, circuitous path to get to a solution. But what they lose in efficiency they gain in creativity and agility. When unexpected things happen and when new opportunities arise, tinkerers are better positioned to take advantage.”

Tinkering is inherently an iterative process, similar to the process of design thinking.

“Tinkerers believe in rapid prototyping and iteration. When working on a design project, they build something quickly, try it out, get reactions from other people, then make a new version— over and over.”

In order to cultivate creative thinkers, he cautions that teachers need to understand that step-by-step instructions should be a stepping stone, not a final destination. Teachers also need to encourage students to try out different approaches and styles so that they can switch strategies as situation warrants.


3. Strategies to foster creativity

In chapter 6, Mitchel lists 10 tips for parents and teachers to support the development of creativity based on the spiral process of creative learning. You may also find the 10 Tips here.

Contextualizing Learning Creative Learning for learning design in general, I think there are a few things we could implement effectively with some reasonable efforts:

  • Low floor: A course should be designed in a way that is fun and provides a strong sense of achievement at the beginning. For example, you could gamify your first class by introducing a trivial game with a leader board, and everyone wins something.
  • High ceiling: When possible, learning tasks should be designed with a gradual increase in difficulty.  A simple way to increase difficulty is to provide less support or aids. For example, your students may be provided step-by-step instruction at first. As the course progresses, students are asked to perform a task with less or no instructional aids. Sometimes it just means you talk less. 
  • Wide wall: Consider the needs and interests of your students. Give students chances to choose projects or assignments. Empower them to figure out a topic they are interested in within the subject. An example I provided previously is to think about the format of your assignments, can students submit video assignments rather than writing assignments? Are they given the opportunities to discuss with you about their preferred ways of learning?
  • Allow play and mistakes: High-stake assessments do not usually afford mistakes. Consider “drop the lowest grade” if you have multiple projects in one course so your students could experiment different approaches, or consider allowing students to submit assignments a few more times to make improvements (iterations) based on formative feedback they receive.
  • Room for unknown: Use worked-out examples with purpose. Depending on your objectives, you may provide step-by-step instruction first, or you could give students opportunities to imagine and explore the possibilities of solving problems first. The key is that students need to understand that unknown is constant in the real world and the only way to deal with it is to try different approaches
  • Build the habit of reflection: Establish a process for reflection. Provide opportunities and tools for your students to reflect as an individual and as groups. A simple tool like KFC (keep, fix, change) will make the reflection process much easier for new students. Also, encourage your students to document their process and iterations for reflection.

So, how about some creativity with your course design and teaching practices?  

Facilitating Synchronous Online Learning

A few weeks ago I developed and facilitated a workshop around facilitating synchronous online learning for the Learning Center at Kwantlen Polytechnic University. Initial assessment showed that the main challenges of teaching synchronous online classes are:

  • Communicating with each student during the session
  • Converting face-to-face activities to online sessions
  • Audio or video technical issues
  • Using interactive tools

At first glance, these challenges seem to be technical. However, it may be a combination of beliefs and skill gaps. For example, I wonder why instructors need to engage with “each” student in a synchronous online session. Is it a need derived from learning objectives or a perception driven by the fear of losing sight to each student?

In order to address these beliefs and skill gaps, the workshop is designed and delivered to cover these learning outcomes:

  • Identify elements that influence synchronous online learning experience
  • Recognize the affordances and constraints of synchronous online learning platforms
  • List different phases and best practices in a synchronous online session
  • Apply multimedia learning principles in the selection and use of tools for interaction and assessment

A Sneak Peek of the Workshop Activity

What are the best practices for synchronous online learning?

It is obvious that best practices in teaching and learning largely depend on the learning objectives and the tool you selected within the platform.

We will go through the first page of Suggestions for Using Synchronous and Asynchronous Communication from the University of Calgary, Werklund School of Education, and work in groups to adapt it based on your synchronous online learning classes.


At the end of this workshop, not only participants learned the technical side of using synchronous online learning tools for content delivery and assessment but also formed a better understanding of relevant strategies to engage and interact with students.