Tag Archives: teaching

A FAILFaire in educational development

FAILFares are not about celebrating failures, but rather about providing ‘a space in which people can celebrate taking risks and the open and honest sharing of information …so that we could learn from these things.’  – (Trucano, 2011)

I recently read an interesting blog post, by Michael Trucano (@trucano), that described his experience of organizing and hosting a FAILFaire for the World Bank. It got me thinking about the application of this concept to educational development. 

A FAILFaire, I learned from the post, is an event that recognizes projects, within an organization, that have not worked: “the pilots that never got anywhere, the applications that are not delivering, the projects that are not having any measurable impact on the lives of people, and the cultural or technical problems that arise.”(MobileAction NGO, quoted in blog post). The philosophy driving FAILFaire initiatives is that sharing lessons about what doesn’t work can encourage people to be innovative and entrepreneurial because lack of results if a likely outcome of any innovation.

Trucano cautions that these events are not about celebrating failures, but rather about providing “a space in which people can celebrate taking risks and the open and honest sharing of information (even and especially about what doesn’t work or isn’t working) so that we could learn from these things.” 

He proposes that FAILFaires have two main objectives:

  1. to generate lessons learned from experience and determine how these may be useful to other colleagues working on similar projects;
  2. to encourage open dialogue among colleagues about how to respond to professional challenges, in the hopes of addressing these more productively.

In his blog post, Trucano shares seven ground rules for presenters and also offers other practical suggestions and lessons learned from his own experience.

Possible Applications to Educational Development

Within our educational development community, I see many applications. Keeping the two overall objectives in mind (above), FAILFaire events could include:

  • A FAILFaire within your Centre for centre staff only
  • A FAILFaire at a conference (i.e. lessons learned from educational development lessons or learned in SoTL research design or implementation)
  • Help a receptive department or Faculty organize a FAILFaire in which faculty members and other instructors share lessons learned from their teaching and learning failures (if you manage this, please let me know!)
  • Encourage those you work with to reflect on lessons learned from risks they took in teaching or educational development
  • If you blog or do podcasts, consider sharing an educational development or teaching failure and what you have learnt from it (I’m going to hold myself accountable to doing this in the next few months).
  • And/or, as University of Waterloo’s Centre for Teaching Excellence has done, make it the theme of your annual teaching and learning conference (for 2016, this CTE has made the theme “Learning from Challenge and Failure” — well done Julie Timmermans and colleagues!)

Why bother? Because:

Only if we understand what doesn’t work in this field, can we collectively learn and get better.* 


*FastCo article “How FAILFaire Turns Epic Fails Into Successes”

Thank you to the lovely Dr. Julie Timmermans for the conversations that inspired this post.


Teaching and learning inventories

Photo by inthepotter’shands

I am currently reading the second edition of Maryellen Weimer‘s excellent book titled “Learner-Centered Teaching: Five Key Changes to Practice“.

In it, she refers readers to a number of inventories relevant to post-secondary teaching and learning (many of these I have not heard of and would like to follow up on). Here is a list of all those she has written about up to page 158 (that is as far as I’ve gotten in the book), with links to some further information.

Motivated Strategies for Learning Questionnaire (MSLQ) -self-report instrument designed to measure students’ motivational orientations and their use of different learning strategies. (p.35 in Weimer’s book). See here for more information.  And/or, see here for article by Pintrich & De Groot.

Revised Study Process Questionnaire (R-SPQ-2F) – assesses students’ deep and surface approaches to learning. (p. 32 in Weimer’s book). See here for article by Biggs, Kember, and Leung (scroll to page 19 for questionnaire)

Approaches to Teaching Inventory – provides insight into how academics approach their teaching (p.32 in Weimer’s book). See here (PDF).

Classroom Climate Inventory – gives instructors input on the actual climate within a class in order to evaluate how conducive that atmosphere is to learning. (p.147-148 Weimer’s book). See here (Word version of inventory can be downloaded).

Autonomous Learning Survey – short survey that helps students assess themselves as autonomous (or dependent) learners.  (p.150 Weimer’s book) See here for a Faculty Focus piece with the inventory.


Please email me at isabeau.iqbal(at)ubc.ca or send me a tweet @isabeauiqbal if you have more I can add to this list!


Becoming better listeners

listen to me...

I recently read the textbook Communicating Mindfully by Dr. Dan Huston (@huston_dan) who has written a practical  resource for instructors in post-secondary education.  Though I was drawn to many ideas throughout the book, in this post I consider those from Becoming Better Listeners (Chapter 3) because of their relevance to the work I do with the Formative Peer Review of Teaching Program and in my other educational development work.

Why is active listening so rare in our lives?

Huston suggests that one of the main reasons active listening (sometimes called deep listening) is so rare in our lives is because of our wandering minds, which entertain regularly changing thoughts. Given that we typically function at high speed and on a tight schedule, efficiency is our priority. As such, we often allot a set time to conversations; this does not create the spaciousness needed for active listening. I have only to think about my Outlook calendar and typical work week: all my meetings (which are, in effect, discussions and/or conversations of one sort or another) have pre-determined start and end times.

Behaviours that interfere with active listening

In contexts where we do not create spaciousness for conversations, we may behave in ways that interfere with active listening. Such behaviours include:

  • denying how the other person is feeling
  • interrogating (e.g., “didn’t I tell you not to…?”)
  • giving unwanted advice and/or psychological opinions
  • asking questions that pull the speaker away from what they are trying to stay (i.e., steering the conversation in the direction we want)
  • blaming the person (‘x happened because you left things to the last minute’)

Huston notes that the above list has been adapted from Rebecca Shafir’s book The Zen of Listening: Mindful Communication in the Age of Distraction (p.123-129.)

Self-awareness improves deep listening

Though Huston recognizes that some of the behaviours above may be appropriate in specific conditions (e.g., asking questions to get someone back on a topic), he points out that it is our impatience which often leads to the interfering behaviours. This resonated with me. Huston suggests that when we feel strong emotions, such as impatience, as we are listening, we can learn to observe the emotions in our brains and body. Though it seems paradoxical, we can become better listeners when we are more self-aware. This sort of mindfulness recognizes that we cannot predict or necessarily choose how we are going to feel in a conversation, yet it can help us be more attentive to the present moment. By making “empathy a higher priority than getting things done quickly” (p.64), we can become better listeners. That empathy needs to be directed towards the conversation partner and towards ourselves when we experience emotions, as listeners, that make us potentially less skillful listeners.

Interested in practicing mindfulness and/or using it in your teaching or educational development practice?

Huston provides many do-able mindfulness exercises throughout his book (and he counters the fear that practicing mindfulness means having to do everything at “a snail’s pace”). These exercises can be applied in teaching and/or in non-teaching contexts.  The web also has countless sites with suggestions, and recordings, etc. See, for example:


The Peer Review of Teaching: Pre-Observation Meeting

Padlock 1 & Key 5

Much of my work and scholarship revolves around the peer review of teaching.  This morning I spent my time revising a resource on the formative peer review of teaching section of CTLT’s website. The resource is useful for any reviewer or reviewee  as it highlights many considerations and process-related questions; it also provides sample wording that a reviewer might use in a pre-observation meeting.

The 3-page PDF can be found here.  I encourage you to use it and adapt it for your own purposes.

My goal over the next few months is to update the formative peer review section of the site and share out these resources.


Photo credit: Brenda Clark. Flickr.Padlock 1 & Key 5. Creative Commons (Attribution 2.0 Generic)



Silent Socratic Dialogue


Anyone who teaches knows that, in a given class, there are students who talk readily and others who don’t.

As a way to “hear” the thoughts of those who don’t normally speak out loud, and as a means to find out what students were thinking about a topic/concept that I had introduced the class before, I decided to try an activity called the “Silent Socratic Dialogue”, which is based, of course on the Socratic Method.

In many resources on teaching and learning in higher education, you will find reference to The Socratic Method. Variously defined, this description works well for me:

“In the Socratic method, the classroom experience is a shared dialogue between teacher and students in which both are responsible for pushing the dialogue forward through questioning. The “teacher,” or leader of the dialogue, asks probing questions in an effort to expose the values and beliefs which frame and support the thoughts and statements of the participants in the inquiry. The students ask questions as well, both of the teacher and each other.” (Stanford’s “Speaking of Teaching” Newsletter, 2003. Theme issue on Socratic Method)

Silent Socratic Dialogue is a variation of the Socratic Method (also called Socratic Dialogue) in that the activity happens in silence (surprise, surprise!).  In my teaching, I used this activity because I wanted to:

(1) ‘Hear’ what students were thinking/wondering about a topic that had been introduced the previous class and which I thought might have spurred curiousity, frustration, doubt….or??

(2) Give students the chance to express their thoughts individually;  and

(3)  Provide the opportunity for some dialogue, but not in the forum of a large or small group discussion.

I conducted this activity as  follows:

  • I introduced the activity and explained the process. See here.
  • I asked each student to spend 3-4 minutes reflecting on a topic that had been introduced last class. Students hand-wrote their reflections on a piece of paper and also wrote their name on their paper.
  • Students switched papers and read their partner’s reflections. Then, each ‘reader’ posed a question that asked the writer to clarify or expand on their response.  The idea here was to probe in ways that would help both students gain further understanding of their assumptions, beliefs or values with respect to the topic. Responders also wrote their names on the paper.
  • Repeat for a few cycles.
  • Papers with responses were turned into me.

I found the reflections and responses illuminating  because they gave me a sense of what students were thinking/feeling/wondering in regards to the concept that had been introduced the previous class. The written dialogue showed me the variations of interpretations and also the remaining questions.  I was able to address several of these (without making reference to any particular student) in future classes.

Additional references on Silent Socratic Dialogue:

Silent Socratic Dialog (Teaching Strategies for Learner-Centered Classroom) (PDF)

The Silent Socratic Dialogue by “On Course Workshop”

Using Socratic Dialogue in online teaching (YouTube video)

Photo Credit, Flickr Creative Commons: Marc Wathieu  https: //flickr/p/5uiaEu