Category Archives: from the classroom

We teach more than content

Last week I received a beautiful email from a former student. It gives a specific example of how the way in which a teacher responds can impact a student’s well-being into the future. In case it would be helpful to others, I asked the student if I could post their memory, anonymously, and they agreed. (Thanks!)

Although I do not have you as a professor this year, I have been blessed to have you in my first and second year. You taught me 101 as well as 217. As a [peer mentor] this year, I have tried to relay your “this test does not define you” mentality to the first year students I see every day. Now, I always recall your encouraging and reassuring mantra before I bubble in my first multiple choice, or read the first question of an exam.

One particular memory that may have been minuscule to you, but was so impactful for me, was before the 217 final last year. About ten minutes into the final, I heard a very soft ringtone in my vicinity, and was so irritated–so I asked you to address everyone in my area to take out their phones. Little did I know, it was my own phone I had “snoozed” the alarm for. I was so incredibly embarrassed and on the verge of tears– you had every right to firmly humble me, but rather, you calmly said,

“it’s okay, take a deep breath…You are okay.”

And that is what I did. What could have been a terrible final turned into a lesson to always  turn off my phone, but also to reframe my worry. So often the worry I feel is so imperative one moment, will turn into tomorrow’s laughter.

So, thank you. I know you have done work regarding effectively teaching large classes, so as a student from two of your large classes, please know your impact goes beyond your curriculum.  You have taught me how to reframe my worry, take deep breaths, and view learning as something to be excited about, rather than a module I have to master.

I replied,

Wow! I have tears in my eyes! Thank you so very much for reaching out and taking the time to share this story. You’re right — I don’t remember that moment! I am so very relieved that what I said that split second made a positive difference for you. And what a gift for me to hear about it a year later. This story helps me remember to keep deliberately adding these comments because they can really help people!

I’m reminded of a recent commentary I read about A Pedagogy of Kindness (, as well as the beautiful wisdom of Maya Angelou: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

We teach more than content, folks. So much more.

Reflecting on the first Seminar in Applied Psychology of Teaching and Learning

In May-June 2019 (Summer Term 1) I taught a pilot course: Seminar in Applied Psychology of Teaching and Learning. Please see the first syllabus for details on this pilot offering: Syllabus.PSYC417.S2019.Rawn.SeminarApplPsychTeachLearn.V2

Course Overview

This course is designed as an intensive, active seminar to help you apply your understanding of psychological science to help other people learn, while developing professional skills relevant to teaching. You may begin to shift your identity from a student to a member of a teaching team.

If you enjoy this course, you might consider applying to become an Undergraduate Teaching Assistant in the Psychology Department or elsewhere. This course will help you strengthen that application. Yet this course is designed as a springboard for many future work or study endeavours (e.g., course/curriculum design, instructional design, management, teaching at any level, human resources/training, graduate school, group facilitation, academic

What did Students say?

All 10 students from the Pilot course in Summer 2019 provided rich feedback throughout the course as well as in the Student Evaluations of Teaching at the end of the term. Thank you!

Quantitative results are reported here. The qualitative comments, as usual, help to contextualize the numbers. Students reported feeling challenged, in a positive way. The highlights:

Dr. Rawn’s high expectations of us and bid to push us out of our comfort zones made certain parts challenging but it was welcome, given the standing of the course and the objectives it sets out towards. Really well designed for students who might be considering become TAs or instructors themselves in the future.”

I really loved the sand–box elements of the course in which we were given the opportunity to help build elements of the class and muddle through behind–the–scenes challenges.”

The discussions, peer reviews, hands-on activities and presentations (even though I dislike those) are the most effective parts of the course at promoting learning.”

Great course! One of my takeaways that was not an explicit part of the curriculum was actually the structure and planning of a graduate–type seminar (which i will need for my later teaching).”

Overall, this course was interesting and there isn’t anything like it at UBC right now so I think many students would like it and benefit from taking it.

In planning the next offering (coming Summer 2020 Term 2), I made two key changes in response to problems fairly identified by students (plus one more key change). First, I will not be counting marks for the first Reading Reflection (#0). A couple of students reasonably pointed out that it was difficult to know how to write that first Reading Reflection, especially without a rubric (which I hadn’t created yet). So although I’ll still expect a best effort and will “grade it” accordingly, I won’t count those points. This year, I’ll also be able to give more concrete tips in advance because the rubric exists already. These concrete tips will help address a request by a couple of other students for more clarity on assignments.

Second, I have moved the course material on peer review and using rubrics earlier in the term. A couple of students noted that their peer reviews were not as reliable or helpful as they’d hoped, especially early on in the term. Hopefully this earlier discussion will help improve the usefulness and reliability peer reviews. (Note that peer review scores ultimately contribute very little % to each grade, and they are all checked and adjusted if needed by our TA or by me.)

A third change came from my own reflections on the assignments and grading them, along with feedback from my TA Kyle Gooderham (thanks Kyle!). In hindsight, the major project was over-complicated. Asking students to invent a study strategy or learning resource, pilot it, and anchor it in the literature was just too much (especially in a 6 week course). Thus, I have revised the major project to clarify its purpose. In a nutshell, the task is to take an existing strategy or resource, ground it in research evidence, and use that evidence to convince others to use it (or not to use it, if the evidence is weak/contradictory).

In an unprecedented move for me, I actually have next summer’s syllabus prepared. Of course, it’s subject to change at this point. But I wanted to do it now while the course was reasonably fresh, and so I can bring it to the Psychology Department to propose its own course code. If you’re interested, here is next year’s draft: Syllabus.SeminarApplPsychTeachLearn.2020.V1.TOPOST.August.2019. Feedback is welcome!

Conference Follow-Up Questions on Peer Assessment

Someone who attended my conference presentation last month about Peer Assessment (see the blog entry here for slides), sent me some follow-up questions that I thought might be useful to capture here. Thanks for your questions! My responses are signaled by >>.

* How do you train students in the use of a rubric and in effective peer review, particularly in such a large class?

>> we developed the Peer Assessment Training workshop, which can be adapted for anyone to use . If you have access to Canvas there’s a template and a demo in the Commons. If you don’t, stay tuned to our peerassessment website… we’re working on a fully open WordPress version for launch soon.

* How do your students respond to being graded by novice peers like themselves, rather than a more expert instructor or TA?  Does it take some convincing, or do you just present the evidence of the effectiveness of peer assessment and move on?

>> there is a range of opinions… but there’s a range of opinions about every pedagogical decision! I show them the evidence, make sure the assessment isn’t valued too highly, and give people a form to submit to have their grade re-evaluated by me if they want. That takes care of most concerns.

* You mentioned Peter Graf also assesses the quality of the peer assessments as well; do you know how he handles this?  (For instance, does the student being evaluated also reciprocally evaluate their peer reviewer?  Or is it something the TA does?)

>> He and his TAs grade the comments. It moves pretty quickly when they’re exported in a spreadsheet.

* In your slides, you mention two additional challenges: Students don’t trust each other, and comments were poor quality.  How did you address those challenges?  Any recommendations/ideas for how you would do it in the future?

>> The strategies above generally address these concerns.


>> If you’d like to try it out but are nervous about scale, you could always treat it as an opt-in pilot, so a sub-group of students try it out and give feedback. In a class of 440 I’m sure you can find at least a dozen students willing to participate… that’s one nice thing about very large classes!

Student Evaluations of Teaching Feedback: PSYC 217 from Fall 2017

Thank you to all the students who provided their ratings and comments on all my courses last year (and always). I always take care to analyze the data and consider written comments (see this page for mutli-year graphs and averages), and I often write a reflection on my blog while I prepare for the next set of students. Today is that day!

As you can tell from this graph, numerical ratings last year were consistent with  those I have received in recent years, and indicate a generally high level of satisfaction with the course. Notably, students in Section 1 (at 9am) rated the fairness of evaluations as higher than typical–which must be a fluke because I changed them very little from the previous year, and not at all from Section 2.

Reading through the comments was interesting because it also showed a difference between Section 1 and Section 2. For the most part, students in Section 1 wrote about how engaging the classes were and how I showed concern for student well-being throughout the course. A couple of people noted that tests were challenging in both content and timing–but that’s not out of the ordinary. When I moved on to read Section 2, similar positive feedback appeared too, but a much greater proportion of students reported frustrations with the assessments on various dimensions (frequency, wording, difficulty, timing, length, two-stages). The assessments were the same for both Sections. I don’t recall seeing such discrepancy before. A part of me is inclined to chalk this up to randomness, but I also have a nagging sense that it’s time for a thorough review of my exam questions. Although I review the data each year and make small tweaks, I haven’t done a close examination and renovation in this course for a while. I’ve slotted that in my calendar for this fall term!

peerScholar V Canvas Peer Review

If these terms mean anything to you, you might be interested in checking out my short report, where I pit peerScholar and Canvas Peer Review tool head-to-head. Yes, it’s absolutely like Batman V Superman: really we’re all actually friends just trying to  reach a common goal (i.e., facilitate student peer review).* Extra extra thanks to the students who participated and gave feedback, making this report possible.

Finding a Tool to Facilitate Peer Review in Large Classes

*Obviously I’m Wonder Woman in this analogy.