Tag Archives: writing

STLHE 2024

A happy update… We won the SoTL Canada Poster Award for this work! Many thanks to the adjudicators at SoTL Canada, as well as to UBC’s Institute for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL Seed Fund), and the UBC Office of the Provost and VP Academic (SoTL Dissemination Fund) for supporting this work. 

I’ll be presenting the following poster at the STLHE 2024 conference.

How can a Longstanding Norm-Referenced Grading Policy Impact Teaching and Learning? Leveraging Qualitative Research for Culture Change in a Quantitative Department

Authors: Catherine D. Rawn (Psychology), Martin Dammert (Dept of Human Development, Learning, & Culture), & Jeanie Woo (Cognitive Systems Program)

STLHE 2024 Poster Rawn Dammert Woo (pdf)


Grading student work is required at most universities. Literature has promoted criterion-referenced approaches for decades. Recent innovations in ungrading have centred student self-evaluation based on criteria. Yet norm-referenced grading approaches can persist in some departmental microcultures experiencing pressures of large, under-resourced, multi-section courses, and concerns about preventing grade inflation (c.f., Schinske & Tanner, 2014). Efforts promoting equity, inclusion, and Indigeneity create an imperative to question the use of norm-referenced approaches, even under these pressures (Hogan & Sathy, 2022). How do members of a large quantitative psychology department perceive a longstanding norm-referenced grading policy, and its impact on their teaching and learning?

This poster invites viewers to choose any of three ways to engage with this topic: SoTL, Educational Leadership, or professional growth. 1) The first column summarizes a mixed-methods study designed to answer the question above. Qualitative interview data, analyzed collaboratively using Reflexive Thematic Analysis, highlighted positive and negative lived experiences of faculty, graduate Teaching Assistants, and undergraduates in relation to this policy, offering a clear a mandate for reform.  2) The second column outlines the ongoing process of departmental change, as informed by scholarship on departmental teaching cultures (Roxå & Mårtensson, 2015) and Students as Partners (Felten et al., 2019). The goal of this change is to create a policy where, in theory, for every student can succeed—while facilitating high standards, cross-section equity, and support for course instructors under limited resources. 3) The third column highlights the process of personal and professional development experienced by the lead author, including epistemological growth. Aligning with scholarly analysis of SoTL as boundary crossing transformation (Kensington-Miller et al., 2021), engaging in this project changed this quantitative psychologist’s perspective on her own discipline. Viewers are invited to steer our conversation to learn about this grading policy research, department change, and/or growth.


Kensington-Miller, B., Webb, A. S., Gansemer-Topf, A., Lewis, H., Luu, J., Maheux-Pelletier, G., & Hofmann, A. K. (2021). Brokering boundary crossings through the SoTL landscape of practice.Teaching & Learning Inquiry, 9(1), 365-380. Retrieved from https://www.proquest.com/scholarly-journals/brokering-boundary-crossings-through-sotl/docview/2538450692/se-2

Roxå, T., & Mårtensson, K. (2015). Microcultures and informal learning: A heuristic guiding analysis of conditions for informal learning in local higher education workplaces. International Journal for Academic Development, 20, 193-205. DOI: 10.1080/1360144X.2015.1029929

Schinske, J., & Tanner, K. (2014). Teaching more by grading less (or differently). CBE—Life Sciences Education, 13, 159-166. DOI: 10.1187/cbe.cbe-14-03-0054

See also

Lok, B., McNaught, C., & Young, K. (2016). Criterion-referenced and norm-referenced assessments: Compatibility and complementarity. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 41, 450-465. DOI: 10.1080/02602938.2015.1022136

Felten, P., Abbot, S., Kirkwood, J., Long, A., Lubicz-Nawrocka, T., Mercer-Mapstone, L., & Verwoord, R. (2019). Reimagining the place of students in academic development. International Journal for Academic Development, 24, 192-203. DOI: 10.1080/1360144X.2019.1594235

Hogan, K.A., & Sathy, V. (2022). Inclusive TeachingStrategies for Promoting Equity in the College Classroom. Morgantown: West Virginia University Press.

Presenting on Peer Assessment at the STP Conference

I’m delighted to be presenting on Saturday morning at the Society for the Teaching of Psychology’s Annual Conference on Teaching in Phoenix, Arizona (https://teachpsych.org/conferences/act.php). The title of my talk is “Peer Assessment of writing in large classes: Reliability, validity, and improving student attitudes.” Here’s a copy of my slides:  RawnTalk_STP_2018. Here is the rubric/assignment handout I give to students that I reference in this talk: Writing to Learn Instructions for Students 2017.

Are you here at ACT? The talk is 10:30am, Saturday Oct 20, Room Crescent3. I’ve prepared more than I expect to discuss. Come with questions if you like so we can spend more time on what the group is most interested in discussing.

Are you *not* here at ACT? Check out the action on Twitter! #stp18act

Officially on Sabbatical!

As of 1 July 2016 I’m officially on Sabbatical! Instead of heading to the classroom this Fall, I’ll be on an extended summer until September 2017. Sabbatical is an amazing opportunity to spend a year working on big picture projects and deep thinking that don’t fit well in the hectic pace of the regular teaching terms. It’s also a chance to catch up on sleep, well-being, time with family and friends, and some travel.

Some projects I’ll be working on include a few papers to submit for publication to journals (3 of which already partially exist but need deep work), the International Program for the Scholarship of Educational Leadership: UBC Certificate on Curriculum and Pedagogy in Higher Education (http://international.educ.ubc.ca/soel/), overhauling my Psyc 101 and 102 courses, continuing to work on curriculum renewal for the BA Psychology degree, and a few other things here and there. I’m working on developing habits to keep me productive enough on these projects while also spending lots of time resting and re-energizing.

If you’re trying to reach me during this time, I’m generally going to be pretty terrible on email. I really hate email. It saps my life energy, which means it cannot be a priority for me during this sabbatical time. If you really need to reach me urgently, try a Tweet (@cdrawn) to grab my attention.

Letter to the Prime Minister and Cabinet

For the first time in my life, I wrote to the Prime Minister and Cabinet. Thanks to the Honourable and tremendous Elizabeth May for inspiration today. Here’s what I sent (obviously not as a rep of UBC).



Please act on climate change: A letter from a citizen you inspired to care


Over the past few weeks I have been inspired by Prime Minister Trudeau’s leadership, the whole Liberal team’s energy, and the hopeful positive messaging your team has spread throughout Our Nation. The only other swearing in ceremony I have ever watched was Barack Obama’s inauguration—until this month when I was glued to CBC.ca’s live broadcast of yours. I was deeply moved not only by the diverse social groups represented in Cabinet, but also by their exceptional resumes: a rich collection of doctors, scientists, and other specialists. I believe that you, Mr. Trudeau, and this whole Cabinet team, are capable of leading Our Canada to greatness.

When your team announced on day two to reinstate the long form census, tears of relief came to my eyes. My country is back. I can be proud of Canada once again.

You see, I am a social scientist by training—I have a PhD in Social Psychology from the University of British Columbia, where I now teach hundreds of undergraduate students each year in my tenured faculty appointment. It has enraged and saddened me through the years to teach my Research Methods students about why the Long Form Census was so important and why the National Household Survey just could not produce acceptable substitute data. Yet despite my years of rage about this and many other issues, I have never felt empowered enough or hopeful enough to speak up to the government. It is because of my faith in your team that I write this letter now.

The Climate Summit in Paris is happening December 7-8, 2015, less than three weeks from today. I am no climate expert, and I’ll admit that I have not spent much time thinking about international affairs. However, I was ashamed and horrified as a Canadian that our government pulled out of the Kyoto Agreement. The Climate Summit is an opportunity to re-establish Canada as a world leader in confronting Climate Change. In a talk today at UBC-Vancouver’s Liu Institute for Global Issues, Green Party Leader Ms. Elizabeth May eloquently linked climate change to issues of social justice and equity. Climate change is a problem of social equity. We in the developed world have created this disaster by our constantly consumptive lifestyle. And yet it is not us but the most disadvantaged people of the world who are already bearing the costs of our whims: flooding and tsunamis and droughts and ensuing famines and death. Canadians are a people of compassion. We do not harm our neighbours. We lift them up. We must restore our culture as Canadians by taking global leadership on climate change. Like having a gender balanced cabinet, it’s 2015. It’s just the right thing to do.

Climate change is also a problem of intergenerational equity—and as a social psychologist I have seen enough evidence to know that people are typically terrible at making decisions that serve the future, let alone two or four or seven generations hence. If Canada does not emerge as a proactive leader on Climate Change at the Climate Summit in Paris, Canada will be complicit in an atrocity of social justice that you and I may or may not have to bear, but other people including future generations will. As I scanned the list, all Cabinet positions seemed to me to have a climate change imperative, some more obviously than others. As Minister of Youth, Mr. Trudeau appointed himself a particular obligation to act in their best interests.

I don’t know what the answers are. Maybe it’s strict taxation for oil so people will care enough to conserve. Maybe it’s providing incentives for companies and citizens to recruit renewable sources of energy rather than rely on “the grid” (thanks to Ms. May for that idea). Maybe it’s crowd funding solar panels for people or companies in disadvantaged countries. It’s probably all of those and more. It’s not my job to figure out the answer to this tough question. But it’s yours. And you have the power to do it.

I do dream of #SunnyWays for all Canadians, and for all people of the world now and yet to be. Please act on climate change now in time for COP21.


Your Fellow Canadian,

Catherine D. Rawn, PhD

Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

2013/2014 Student Evaluations Response Part 1/4: Intro Psych

Thank you to each of my students who took the time to complete a student evaluation of teaching this year. I value hearing from each of you, and every year your feedback helps me to become a better teacher. As I explained here, I’m writing reflections on the qualitative and quantitative feedback I received from each of my courses.


After teaching students intro psych as a 6-credit full-year course for the past three years, in 2013/2014 I was required to transform it into 101 and 102. Broadly speaking, the Term1/Term2 division from the 6-credit course stays the same, but turning Term 2 of Psyc 100 into a semi-standalone Psyc 102 proved more challenging than converting Term 1 into 101. Because these two courses really still form one unit in my mind, and I structure the courses extremely similarly, I will discuss them in tandem.

Across both courses, quantitative feedback was similar (albeit a bit higher in 101 than 102). Students rated the textbook equally high (4.2 & 4.3/5), which makes sense because I use the same text for both, and many students have told me informally that they enjoy reading the book (some qualify this endorsement with “for a textbook”). Check out my overall UMI scores from this year and all previous years here (click to enlarge, and click here for further discussion of UMIs):



In the qualitative feedback, many of the same positive and helpful features were highlighted by students in both courses. Overall, students report enjoying and finding valuable the clickers, classroom discussions (often tied to clicker questions), films, opportunities to apply what is being learned, the 3-midterm format that helps stay on top of things even if it’s slightly annoying to be so frequently tested, music before class, the organization of class periods, my enthusiasm and energy, my effort to learn many students’ names, and the Invitational Office Hours. Capturing many of these commonly-mentioned features, one student from Psyc 102 wrote,

It was incredibly impressive how she tried to learn the name of every single student that she interacted with, despite the size of the class. The IOH were also a surprisingly fun experience. The class was very interactive, which definitely helped me learn, and even though I was unhappy about having three midterms at first I think I have to conclude it made studying for each one much easier and less stressful.”

One new element I added to both courses this year were five mini-papers which I called “Writing to Learn” (W2L) assignments (replacing a single 500 word paper I used to assign to be marked by TAs; see last year’s reflection for rationale). Students picked a topic from each of the two chapters about to be tested, wrote a paragraph explaining and applying the concept to their lives, then read 5 peers’ papers and gave feedback to them using peerScholar software. Students received feedback from their peers, and were able to choose any two topics to improve and reproduce on the final exam (no notes!). Overall, students reported finding the Writing to Learn assignments helpful for learning, and some mentioned that reading others’ work was helpful as well (both of these results are consistent with past research on similar writing assignments and peer review). My TAs have reported being able to grasp whether students knew what they were talking about from the writing section on the exams – and my test scores were higher than in previous years, so the goal of increasing learning seems to have been met! However, of the students who mentioned the W2L assignments, many noted that quality of peer feedback received was low. Dr. Peter Graf and I are just starting a project to deal with this very issue of enhancing peer feedback. It may take a couple of years to figure it out in a way that’s scalable to 300-400 students at a time, but we’re working on it.

Interestingly, a couple of students in each course noted my responses to student incivility. In one case it was failing to follow instructions to complete the bubbles during the exam time given, and another case (mentioned a few times in 102, actually), was my response to students talking in class. Side chatter is really only a problem in my first year courses – and it’s a consistent one that varies in severity year-to-year with different cohorts. Interestingly, Gillian Sandstrom and I have a paper about to come out in Teaching of Psychology showing that some chatter is a good thing: it can build a sense of community in a large class. But it can feel disrespectful and distracting to me. Perhaps I should consider building in even more opportunities for structured conversation, because clearly it’s going to happen anyway.

In 102 this year, rather than devoting a whole week to Chapter 2 Research Methods – which I do in 101 in the same place I did back when I taught the 6-credit version – I decided to split it up and cover topics as they came up throughout the term. For example, I used intelligence testing as a chance to discuss measurement and survey designs, and social psychology (specifically Milgram’s studies) as a chance to address the ethics of deception in research designs. Although I think this was a solid solution in theory, in practice there were definitely times when I felt like I was awkwardly wedging topics in to 102. Indeed, a few students mentioned this flow problem too – and it seems to be students who took both 101 and 102 with me who noticed the difference. Hopefully next year I’ll be able to smooth topics out a bit more effectively, perhaps cutting even more material to make more room for these new topics and ensuing discussions.

Although I still would prefer to teach intro psych as a unified whole with the same students over the whole year, apparently that’s not an option any longer. I have begun the process of converting this course into two halves effectively, and given the feedback above, I think I’m heading in that direction.