Tag Archives: creative thinking

New Course!

What an exciting term! I haven’t developed a new course in a while, so early last academic year I thought, hey, why not take on a new challenge? Ha! I’m very glad I did! What started as a teeny tiny grain of an idea (“something about social media”) developed into an opportunity to collaborate with colleagues and future students, which then has blossomed into a course that’s captivated my imagination… (and my to-do list, but hey, what’s worthwhile isn’t necessarily easy)! I think my students might be getting hooked too… in the 11 days since the course began we have over 900 contributions on Piazza* and our Twitter hashtag #ubcpsyc325 is on fire!

Check out my syllabus/website: blogs.ubc.ca/psychsocialmedia/. The schedule is in ongoing development. Together, we identified 8 themes we wanted to prioritize over the term, and over the weekend our class is reviewing/vetting articles that the rest of the class should read to help us all learn about the 8 themes. Impact Projects start Tuesday!


*Piazza is our discussion board, which records participation for all of us. See https://piazza.com, or if you’re at UBC, here’s the Connect integration instructions http://lthub.ubc.ca/guides/collaboration-tools/piazza/.

An Excellent TA…

For the past six years, I have asked Psychology’s Teaching Assistants to complete the sentence, “An excellent TA…” both before and after TA Development Day. While completing the program evaluation report for our 2013/2014 TA/TF programming, I pasted the data from almost 200 TAs into Wordle to produce these word clouds. The larger the word, the more frequently it was mentioned. I’m delighted to see student(s) are at the heart of what TAs consider to be excellence!*


The words students/student, course, material, learning, and available jump out to me.

An excellent TA Pretests 2008.2013



The words students, professional, organized, knowledgeable, approachable, learning, course, enthusiastic, and responsible jump out to me. Professional is a quality we try to emphasize very much on TA Day, and it seems like TAs are picking up on that theme.

An excellent TA Posttests 2008.2013

*I’m not trained to interpret qualitative data without converting it to actual numbers. If you are, and see more meaningful themes in here, please feel free to comment below or email me. I’d love to hear your thoughts!

STLHE 2012 Conference Reflections

I recently went to the annual conference for the Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education. This year it was held in Montreal (last year in Saskatoon Saskatchewan, next year in Cape Breton Nova Scotia). It’s my favourite conference of the year because it’s relatively small (about 400 delegates), and everyone there is committed to improving teaching and learning in higher education. Some delegates are faculty like me, but many others are educational developers who work at places like UBC’s CTLT, others are graduate students, administrators, and so on. I always leave with a ton of great ideas ranging from the big picture to day-to-day implementation. If you follow me on twitter, you may have noticed my live tweeting. Like my earlier list, with this post I’m trying to collect and remind myself of the major ideas from this conference:

  • A deliberate method for implementing successful iclicker questions is called “Peer Instruction” out of the physics literature. Includes students reading ahead, then giving a mini-lecture, providing a tough clicker Q, students explaining reasoning to someone else, class discussion going through all options, mini-lecture, tough clicker Q (younger level to converge on answer, upper level to diverge). From Rob Cassidy. Seems similar to what I do normally, but reading about it could give me ideas for implementation.
  • Look up research on peer instruction by Weiman, Eric Mazur (Harvard), Derek Bruff (Vanderbilt), and contact Rob Cassidy (Concordia).
  • Graduate courses on university teaching exist at Guelph, McMaster, Dalhousie, SFU, etc. Fantastic contacts, including Erin Aspenlieder at SFU, Suzanne Sheffield at Dalhousie (for evaluation materials), Cynthia Korpan at UVic (made updated critical incident films, new head of TAGSA), Natasha Kenny at Guelph.
  • Idea gems about grad courses on university teaching (from Natasha Kenny): every moment is a teaching moment, the goal is that students leave the course knowing teaching is about *students* first and foremost, syllabus contained “how this course was changed based on last year’s feedback”
  • Based on Erin Aspenlieder’s lit review on how to train grad students to teach, what works is mentorship, practice with feedback, and portfolio development to promote reflective practice. What doesn’t work is single-event workshops — which is what grad students & faculty say they want!! To improve single-event workshops, need to follow up with participants to find out how they implemented the information. *This gives me impetus for Psych Dept TA Training follow-up.
  • Film the teaching in my Teaching of Psych grad class to facilitate reflection.
  • Make a Western Canada TA training conference! There are loads of us doing this work, and it could be a fantastic opportunity to network and improve.
  • Ways to evaluate impact of my Teaching of Psych class: Approaches to Teaching inventory (pre/post), midterm and end of term feedback, focus groups, course outlines, teaching philosophy statements with coding scheme (see Concordia crew including Rob Cassidy for their draft rubric that considers line-by-line).
  • I’d like to co-design a session for next year’s STLHE on integrating qualitative and quantitative perspectives. A meeting point that’s relevant to many educators is interpreting student evaluations of teaching (including one’s own, guiding others, and the research literature). To do this, I need to find an expert in qualitative research to co-facilitate this!
  • When guiding others to improve their teaching, start with two questions: What is your content? (to get them excited and to define parameters of the course), and What do you want students to know about it? (to guide creation of learning objectives, switch their thinking to learner-centred). — From Cynthia Weston’s lifetime achievement award address
  • Consider “luck-free” written portions of my exams: here are 10 questions, three will be on it, prepare as you wish (teams or individuals)
  • Build regular writing time into my professional life.

That is a rather odd collection, but they’re the ideas I want to make sure I keep. Many are related to teaching graduate students to teach, which I think is going to be a big part of my upcoming year.


Networking, Celebrating, and New Ideas

This week has been a busy one, in a good way! Here are some highlights:

Accomplished a Goal: the Instructor’s Manual

On Monday I was relieved to finish the instructor’s manual to accompany my research methods textbook. Not every textbook has one, and from my own experiences I’ve noticed they vary in usefulness. The point of an instructor’s manual is to give instructors ideas for ways to engage their learners in the material. The prompts most often include demonstrations, in-class and out-of-class activities, discussion starters, and sometimes include assignments and references to other resources. It was fun to go back through my own lessons and add my teaching techniques, along with ideas for assignments and grading keys, course sequencing, and other tips. I hope instructors find it useful for engaging students in learning research methods!

Networking and Socializing Events

Members of our Instructor Network gathered on Tuesday afternoon for an informal meet-and-greet. In addition to reconnecting with colleagues I know well, it was fun to get to know some new (to me) teaching-focused people from across campus, including fellow long-distance runner and chair of Critical Studies in Sexuality Janice Stewart, and Computer Engineer Paul Davies. Also, I learned more about the Coordinated Arts Program from newly tenure-tracked Instructors Laurie McNeil and Kathryn Grafton. I had known about the program before, but hadn’t heard about the instructor’s perspective. It sounds like a creative opportunity to engage in collaborative teaching while thinking about the different perspectives one’s own and others’ disciplines offer on a particular topic. Sounds wonderful!

Friday morning was one of my favourite events of the entire year: Graduation! In addition to cheering on all of the psychology bachelor’s degree graduates, I had the pleasure of welcoming two friends to PhD status. It was wonderful catching up with each of them; I was honoured to be able to share in their achievements. Lara Aknin is heading across the city to Simon Fraser University to start an Assistant Professorship this fall, and Jen St. Onge has moved back to her hometown of Regina to work in making industry-research partnerships, including training industry folks in research methods. After the graduate ceremonies and coffee, the faculty who attended all went out for lunch with our Department Head, Alan Kingstone. I had a lovely informal afternoon catching up with colleagues/friends.

Saturday morning I had the pleasure of participating in the Alumni Weekend 15 Minute Degree. Along with some friendly colleagues from across campus, I met with alumni, their precocious children and friends, as well as some current UBC students, to chat informally about what’s new in psychology and teaching it. I enjoyed some delightful conversations including how I use clickers to engage my learners in the classrooms of 100-500 students, how memory works, theories of self-control, what makes modern psychology a science, and how to evaluate therapists when seeking help. And I have to add the weather was amazing!

Professional Development Activities

One of the many things I love about my career is the opportunity to collaborate with other people. This week, I met with the amazing Negin Mirriahi, the Manager of the Arts Learning Centre at Arts ISIT. We met to start analyzing our data from a scholarship of teaching and learning project we started last year. We’re exploring the relationships among students’ attitudes and beliefs about Team Based Learning (specifically the Readiness Assurance Process) and their team project and course grades. We still have a long way to go on that project, but we’re having fun getting there!

On Thursday I led a workshop for the Teaching Assistant Training Community of Practice (through CTLT). Our CoP is a group of people from way across campus (think physics, biology, psych, land and food, french/hispanic/italian studies, english, geography, math, statistics…) who meet monthly with the goal of improving the TA training we offer within our departments (funded by the Provost). Over the past two years we’ve really grown into a supportive community; it’s really a pleasure to make time for this group in my schedule. Anyway, it was my turn to lead a session, this time on cross-discipline/department Standards for TA training. This sounds like an impossible task, but over the course of an hour and a half we discovered that Eison and Vanderford (1993) is a really useful tool for reflecting (and helping each other reflect) on whether we are offering comprehensive programs. Of course, not every item is relevant for every department/discipline. Moreover, the way I address an item can look very different from the way someone else does. We considered the idea that perhaps rather than a common set of standard elements, what might be the best standard would be asking a common set of questions, and having thoughtful answers to them (whatever those may be). Rich discussions throughout!

Last but not least, I had the pleasure of meeting with one of the many graduate students on this campus who inspire me, Natasha Holmes from physics. I met her through the TA Training CoP (above), and she sat in on my Psyc 218 class last term to brush up on her small sample statistics for behavioural sciences (she’s conducting scholarship of teaching and learning for her PhD). Two exciting opportunities came from our meeting: (1) it looks like I’ll be offering a couple of workshops for the STLFs who are doing similar work, and (2) we may be collaborating in her new capacity, as co-director of the Let’s Talk Science program. In LTS, Graduate students go into elementary school classes to lead demonstrations of scientific phenomena. Psychology is science. Let’s get psychology (e.g., understanding of the brain, memory, social influence) into elementary schools! Just an idea at this point, but exciting!

Wow, that was a way longer entry than I expected it to be! Hope you’ve gathered some insights into what I’ve been up to, as an example of what some professors do in their off-season (i.e., often it’s lots!).

Review Session Success!

Today’s Psyc 208 class was, by far, the most successful review session I’ve ever held. For the past two years I’ve tried to hold review sessions in this course. Each year, most people get up and leave. I have to admit that one way I’ve interpreted this behavioural feedback is students’ lack of willingness to participate and engage. This year, inspired by an Observer article by Gurung & Bond (2011), I decided to give the review session one more shot. And it was fantastic!

Here’s what I did differently: I forced myself to re-evaluate what I was asking the students to do, in terms of real usefulness, specificity of directions, and pacing to maintain engagement. Instead of something like “choose to make a concept map or elaborate on a learning objective” for an indeterminate amount of time, I planned a series of four specific “learning opportunities” which I timed and moved students through quickly. I made sure they were able to be completed by people who hadn’t studied yet as well as those who had, and I emailed everyone yesterday to ask them to bring their texts and notes if possible.

Now for a brief overview of the “learning opportunities.” Students  (N=105; 77 present today) are already divided into teams in this course, which at this point in the term made natural  groupings. #1 “Mapping the Territory” involved picking one broad topic/unit from a list I’d prepared and working with 2-4 others to develop a map of definitions, related concepts and studies, ways to apply the concepts, and so on. #2 “Pass your questions” invited everyone to write a question – or even just a key term – at the top of a blank page, and then pass it to the left. The next 2-3 minutes involved writing down whatever they could recall/find to address their neighbour’s question. We did this “passing” three times before returning the sheet back to its original owner. #3 “Application Challenge!” divided the teams into 2 subteams. Pick a topic/concept/theory to challenge the other subteam. Switch papers, and write a thorough scenario that accurately applies the topic/concept/theory. Then switch back and evaluate how well the other team did at generating an application. #4 “Study Plan” involved setting out the specifics of their studying between now and the test on Thursday, including what/when/where/how/with whom.

During this 80 minute period, students got about 15 minutes for each of the four learning opportunities, although the earlier ones spilled over that and the last one was reduced to about 6 minutes (which was all it really needed). I milled about, answering specific questions about the content as they arose, handing out paper, timekeeping and generally being impressed by the strong efforts my students were putting forth.

What I think worked really well about this process was that it moved everyone along, keeping the energy up. Students knew there were four learning opportunities coming, and I stated up front that they were going to be different, so if one wasn’t working for them I asked them to play along and hope the next one spoke to them. All but two people stayed the whole period (a new record!), and the vast majority of spirited conversations I overheard were spot on task.

I asked for feedback at the end. Although I haven’t formally entered it yet, I have quickly read it all. On a 1-5 scale (1 being “not useful for helping me learn” and 5 being “very useful for helping me learn”), the vast majority of responses were 4s and 5s, with only a few 3s and nothing below that. People reported enjoying the activities, feeling more motivated to study now, being able to better tell what they know and what they don’t (yay for metacognition!), and feeling like they covered a lot of ground (although not much in depth). Some spontaneously reported that they’d use some of these techniques when studying, and all activities were nominated by some students as their favourite. The one consistent recommendation for next year that came through was adding more of a warning. Some students reported wishing they’d prepared more ahead of time so they could get more out of this session.

Thanks to all my students who participated today! You have inspired me to keep on taking risks to build increasingly meaningful learning opportunities!