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Alternative Grading Strategies

A page upon which is written the phrase, "Am I good enough?"

Photo by Hello I’m Nik on Unsplash

By Carolyn Ives, CELT

Over the years, I’ve heard many students and faculty alike question the validity and reliability of grades. In addition, some faculty have concerns that learners may seem overly focused on grades, and some students worry that instructors seem to wish for their grades to fall along a specific distribution. It’s no wonder, though, that some students care so much about grades, as in some programs, the university requires high grades for entrance. Once learners are here, how can we then tell them to stop worrying about their grades? This focus on marks is not unique to TRU, nor is it new; in fact, in 2007, Boud and Falchikov suggested that 93% of students value grades more, and only 7% of students value learning more.

While some might argue that there is a relationship between grades and learning, I’m not convinced that performance always demonstrate learning, and it even less frequently demonstrates deep learning. Case in point: according to Rojstaczer and Healy (2012), in 1961, 15% of all grades awarded were “A,” but in 2008, 43% of all grades were “A.” If grades really demonstrated learning accurately and effectively, this would mean that students in 2008 were three times smarter than they were in 1961 or, more likely, that it was three times easier to get an A in 2008 than it was in 1961. However, this begs the question: Is an A even consistent throughout your department or across campus?

So I’d like to suggest that traditional grades can, at the very least, be inconsistent and problematic. If you are finding grades to be unmotivating for learners, here are a few other options that have been proven to facilitate deeper learning:

Contract grading

For this type of grading, the final mark is based on satisfactorily meeting contractual criteria agreed to by instructor and student. Different criteria apply to different grades, but students must achieve a minimum satisfactory level for assignments to earn that grade. Contracts may be individualized for each student, and due dates may or may not be negotiable. As well, contracts may also be renegotiated.

Specifications grading

For a course that uses specifications grading, the instructor creates several bundles of assessments for which completion correspond with different grades. Specifications are created in advance and shared with students. As with contract grading, students must achieve a minimum satisfactory level for assignments within specifications to earn the final mark. While due dates may or may not be negotiable, bundles generally are not individualized.


In an ungrading scenario, students receive no grades on assignments, only feedback for improvement; therefore, the focus is on an iterative feedback cycle through which student work improves. Depending on the instructor, students may or may not have input into what makes assignments satisfactory. While students have opportunities to progress, at the end of the course, the onus is on the student to demonstrate satisfactory achievement of course’s learning outcomes.

However, if the institution requires letter grades, instructors have options. Often, instructors convert feedback to grades based on overall learner achievement (sometimes demonstrated through a portfolio submission with demonstration of learning), or they ask students to submit reflections with descriptions of the grade they think they earned with evidence—and then follow up with a conversation if they don’t match.

What do all these alternative marking strategies have in common?

  • A focus on student autonomy;
  • An increased focus on achieving a minimum standard;
  • Increased use of feedback—and closing the feedback loop—rather than numbers or letters; and
  • Encouragement for students to consider their learning in meaningful ways—and how to demonstrate that learning.

While not everyone is able to transition to alternative grading, anyone can harness the positive impacts of reducing student focus solely on grades. First, consider learner motivation. People feel motivated when they have autonomy to make decisions, mastery over content, and a sense of purpose (Pink, 2011). Therefore, you can foster learner motivation by offering choice when possible, opportunities to master skills and knowledge through many low-stakes practice activities, and real-life scenarios to demonstrate relevance of course content.

Second, consider integrating more opportunities for feedback. This doesn’t always have to come from you, but teaching learners to self-assess can be both empowering and powerful. When appropriate, integrate peer feedback as well, as students hear things from their peers differently than they do from you. CELT can help you develop student self- and peer-assessment tools.

Finally, consider integrating more opportunities for reflection with carefully crafted prompts to invite students to think about their learning. Reflection on learning leads to deeper learning than experience alone (Bain, 2004; Brown et all, 2014; Dewey, 1938; and others).

In conclusion, it’s likely that grades don’t tell us everything about learning. But offering students frequent and iterative feedback can support learning, as can encouraging students to focus on skill and knowledge acquisition instead of performance. If we work to engage learners and help them shape their learning experiences and environment, we will be more likely to see positive outcomes.

I’ll leave you with these thoughts from the late Joe Bower:

“Let’s dive into this. I’ve had some people, when I tell people, that I don’t grade students, there’s no tests or grades in my class. It’s almost like they get the impression that I hate assessment.

“I don’t hate assessment, but I want to reclaim the language. Technocrats have hijacked education. Bureaucrats as well. They’ve stolen our language.

“Assessment has been bastardized into meaning measurement. It’s not the same thing. Assessment is not measurement. I assess my students every single day, but it’s not in what is maybe the conventional sense. Assessment is not a spreadsheet, it’s a conversation.”

References and Resources

Here are several sites to check out from faculty who use alternative grading strategies:

And this one from Boston University that contains a useful bibliography:

These other sites may also be of interest:

Ambrose, S. A., Bridges, M. W., DiPietro, M., Lovett, M. C., Norman, M. K., & Mayer, R. E. (2010). How learning works: Seven research-based principles for smart teaching (1st edition). Jossey-Bass.  

Bain, K. (2011). What the best college teachers do. Harvard University Press.  

Blum, S. D. (2020). Ungrading: Why rating students undermines learning (and what to do instead). West Virigina Press.

Boud, D., & Falchikov, N. (2007). Rethinking assessment in higher education: Learning for the longer term. 1st edition. Routledge.

Bower, J. (2017). For the love of learning.

Brown, P. C., Roediger, H. L., & McDaniel, M. A. (2014). Make it stick: The science of successful learning. Belknap Press.  

Bowen, J. A. (2012). Teaching naked: How moving technology out of your college classroom will improve student learning (1st edition). Jossey-Bass.  

Dewey, J. (1938). Experience & education. New York, NY: Collier Macmillan. 

Doyle, T., & Zakrajsek, T. (2011). Learner-centered teaching: Putting the research on learning into practice. Stylus Publishing.  

Fink, L. D. (2013). Creating significant learning experiences: An integrated approach to designing college courses. John Wiley & Sons. 

Nilson, L. B. (2015). Specifications grading: Restoring rigor, motivating students, and saving faculty time. Stylus.

Pink, D.H. (2011). Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us. Riverhead Books.

Rojstaczer, S., & Healy, C. (2012). Where A is ordinary: The evolution of American college and university grading, 1940-2009, Teachers College Record, 114(7), 1-23.

On Barbara Oakley and Uncommon Sense

By Elizabeth Templeman, Supplemental Learning Coordinator, FSD

During the year we worked remotely, one of the many things I learned was that webinars provide incredible potential for encountering specialists and learning from their expertise and ideas. (Why it took a pandemic for me to realize that I don’t quite know. Likely because I’m not so comfortable with, or naturally drawn to, technology.) But lucky for me, and thanks to the Learning Specialists of Canada, I participated in some outstanding webinars, two of them with this woman who is both an engineer and a learning specialist, Barbara Oakley.

I’d like to share a bit about her, and some of what she’s taught me. The webinars opened my eyes to perspectives I had been vaguely aware of, and deepened the understanding I had of learning strategically, most of that having been learned from The Learning Scientists ( I’ll start by expressing my gratitude to them.

I should mention that learning about learning is central to my role, coordinating Supplemental Learning, and to guiding my amazing team of student leaders so that they can, in turn, guide hundreds of students, through their SL sessions, to learn more strategically and effectively. I only wish I’d known even a fraction of this when I was a student myself, many years ago, but it’s never too late to learn more about ourselves and how we perceive and process the world around us. Oakley is my latest guru in this pursuit: my newfound superhero of learning science.

Her webinars left me thirsting for more, and I purchased two of her books—Uncommon Sense Teaching: Practical Insights in Brain Science to Help Students Learn (Oakley, Rogowsky, Sejnowksi, 2021) and a Learn Like a Pro: Science-Based Tools to Become Better at Anything (Oakley, Schewe, 2021)—devouring both over the past winter. What I’d assumed would feel like work was mostly a great pleasure, punctuated by bouts of enthusiasm mostly suffered by my husband. I finished determined to retain what I’d absorbed, and then to spread the word: sharing insights that have deepened my own understanding and appreciation for the complexities of the learning process, and for—despite how much is known—how very little we really understand about our brains.

Among other things, I love how Oakley, in both her lecturing and writing, relies on metaphors to conceptualize teaching and learning. Introducing and expounding on working memory, for example, she uses octopuses, and sure, they all have eight tentacles, but she uses one with more working arms, deftly juggling 4-6 of those bits of information, to represent a strong working memory, while the other, more limited type, has trouble keeping more than 3 of those balls in the air. This capacity of working memory is thought to be fixed, and leads to quite distinct capacities and needs from learner to learner.

As we learn, our neurons link and strengthen, a process Oakley refers to as “learn it, link it.” Yet as learners, we often think, as we juggle a new fact in working memory, that we’ve got it. Yet neurons, according to Oakley, begin to function “like a well-practiced choir,” only as the new information gets pulled in and connected and contextualized—and learned!

I’m hardly doing the ideas justice here, but will share another great metaphor: the race car brain versus the hiker brain. While we might be inclined to think the racer brain is superior, as with most aspects of neurodiversity, the book uncovers powerful strengths and benefits of each kind, and different teaching techniques to support both kinds of learners.

To get there, I had to learn about how the declarative learning pathway differs from the procedural pathway. I’ll admit my grasp of this is far from strong, and a couple months past finishing the books, I’m less clear about this. My sense of it is that declarative is the conscious learning phase, with facts and events we’re consciously recalling (as I try to do here). The procedural pathway seems more mysterious, beyond our conscious control and, in many ways, our understanding. It’s a back-up system that sifts and shifts information in such a way that we no longer have to consciously process it. For example, while we once struggled to learn our multiplication tables or how to tie our shoes or log onto a computer, those things come naturally to us now. Procedural learning is gradual, and slower, but ultimately will save us so much time. Yet if learners take no “brain breaks,” the procedural learning can’t happen. We need to facilitate both the declarative and the procedural in our teaching, and tap both in our learning.

Other fascinating parts I won’t do justice to here include the “curse of specificity,” and schemas—or “neural shelves”—that organize and consolidate new information and ideas. There are great sections and insights on procrastination and motivation, and the power of habit. Later chapters delve into virtual teaching, and also collaborative teaching. But I’ll stop here and hope that I’ve shared enough to convey my own enthusiasm and gratitude for Oakley and her co-writers.

Photo of a woman, Elizabeth Templeman, smiling and leaning against a wall

Photo provided by author Elizabeth Templeman

Decolonize This!

University building with text "Decolonize This" overlaying it

UC Berkeley Sather Clock Tower Tony Webster, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

By John Churchley, Education

Long ago I was an international student. I was a Canadian doing my doctorate at a university in the UK – an English speaker studying in England. I was one of only a couple English-first-language speakers in my program. Just like my multi-lingual classmates, I struggled to read the primary source literature in our philosophy of research course and worked hard to write erudite papers. I was impressed and humbled by their skill in reading/writing in an additional language. Years later I became a graduate instructor working with international students and marking their written work. It seemed to me that their English wasn’t as good as my UK classmates and I spent a lot of time critiquing, editing, and basically micromanaging their writing so that it looked like my writing. I thought I was doing them a favour by coaching them in the right way to write English. I now realize that I wasn’t – I was continuing the unworthy tradition of linguistic imperialism.

Linguistic imperialism is a type of colonization where a language (usually English, but others as well) is used to establish power and control over another people (Phillipson, 1998). This is not just a 19th century phenomenon in the far-flung British Empire. It is recent and ongoing. It happened in my lifetime in my city with Indigenous children being forced to go to residential schools and use English – being punished for using their traditional languages. It happens in our classes every day, as folks mock and belittle apparent English language errors or unfamiliar accents, and mispronounce non-English names.

Academic publishing, the ultimate goal of academics, can also be an extension of linguistic imperialism as it requires a very specific type of English which typically reflects a North American/UK origin and a significant level of academic privilege (Trahar et al., 2019). This disenfranchises several groups of people: those that learned English as an additional language and haven’t the experience in this type of English (I call it IELTS level 99); those that learned English as a first language, but in a cultural context other than entitled white UK/North America which includes different versions/dialects/accents of English; and those that didn’t grow up in a situation where privileged academic English was used. Think of Susan in Educating Rita or Eliza Doolittle in Pygmalion as a couple of genteel examples from fiction – but it’s a much more serious issue for first-generation university students trying to find a place to belong, thrive, and succeed.

Decolonizing academic writing means not privileging academic North American/UK English above other Englishes. It means focusing on the depth of intellectual connections and the support of those connections with evidence, not on language usage or grammar.

I grew up as a Faculty child in the third generation of a family where both parents had a minimum of one university degree. On top of that, my home and school were in a high-income community that claimed to be “more English than England”. …And then I did my doctorate in England. I was a little upset that EU students got a better tuition deal than I did as a Commonwealth national, who even shared the same Queen! These opportunities and colonial attitude were part of my unearned privilege. I acknowledge that privilege and attitude. I am committed to shifting my thinking, to decolonize courses that I teach and to respect equity, diversity, and inclusion so that all my students have the opportunity to learn and succeed.

This is my goal: to ensure the students I teach are doing graduate level work while still honouring their English(es). They are smart people and my responsibility is to provide them with learning opportunities and assessment according to the course learning outcomes – not to judge and micromanage their English usage. I expect from them a depth of thought (application, analysis and higher levels of Bloom’s taxonomy). I also expect evidence to support their statements and claims. Students as writers have a responsibility to communicate the depth and sources of their learning to an audience. As a reader of their work I also have a responsibility – to understand what they are saying and the voice they are using to express it. Understanding is a two-way street.

This song is my letter to these students to express my commitment to decolonizing academic writing in our classroom:



Phillipson, Robert (1992), Linguistic Imperialism, Oxford University Press.

Trahar, S., Juntrasook, A., Burford, J., von Kotze, A., & Wildemeersch, D. (2019). Hovering on the periphery? ‘Decolonising’ writing for academic journals. Compare: A Journal of Comparative & International Education49(1), 149–167.

“Be kind, be calm, be safe.” –Dr. Bonnie Henry, ‘20

Statement "Be kind, be calm, be safe" painted on the wall

Photo provided by author

A woman wearing a mask

Photo provided by the author

By Jacqueline Kampman, Associate Teaching Professor, Psychology

Walking down the hallway of the first floor in Old Main, this quotation on the wall catches my eye as I pass by. I can’t help but reflect:  How am I being kind, calm and safe? What leadership do I provide my students as they each navigate their own COVID-19 circumstances? How does my teaching promote their kindness, calmness and safety as well as their understanding of and concern for others with differing levels of safety and calmness from themselves?

Coming back to in-person classes in September 2021 was both exciting and anxiety-provoking. There were varying degrees of eagerness to get back to in-person classes for both students and teaching faculty. We expressed varying degrees of uncertainty and hesitancy as well. How would I navigate and accommodate these differences in perceived levels of safety, calmness and even kindness? How would I help students navigate the different expectations for in-person vs. on-line attendance and assessments that they would potentially experience as their teachers were not all “on the same page” with respect to perceptions of safe learning practices for themselves and their students?

As I planned and navigated my return to in-person classes, safety became my primary focus – both physical and mental health safety. My definition of safety included considerations of the kindness and calmness that Bonnie Henry had advised. A consideration of physical safety was perhaps the easiest in my mind to convey. I reviewed safety mandates both in-person and on-line: I aimed to be respectful, calm and kind and in turn expected the same from my students. However, dilemmas inevitably arose: Do I remove my own mask to speak or not? I do have the physical distancing to do so; it will help my students to more clearly hear me. But how might students’ sense of comfort and safety be impacted? Ultimately, I decided to remove my mask when I was in a physically safe zone to do so. I clarified that I would keep my mask on if even one person expressed discomfort. Students could do this anonymously. Rules were easily established regarding closer contact and mandatory mask-wearing.

A more time-consuming consideration was how to best promote mental health safety. Prior to the pandemic, I did not use Moodle. Returning to campus in September 2021, my initial motivation to continue using Moodle alongside in-person teaching had more to do with the perceived uncertainties regarding class attendance. Not only would students be more comfortable in navigating this on-line space should cancellation of classes be necessary, but individual students who missed classes would be supported. All lecture outlines and resources were posted; classroom participation was assessed in on-line forums; and assignments completed using various Moodle tools. This resulted in a level of calmness amongst my students as they were assured that they would have on-going access to class participation via Moodle if necessary for themselves and they were being acquainted with the types of Moodle tools that would be essential if a complete return to on-line classes were necessary. I assured my students that we were in this together: we could make this work even if circumstances were to suddenly change. We would protect and support each other. Our learning would continue.

Continuing to use the available Moodle resources has supported my students’ well-being in a variety of additional ways. For instance, I have observed an increased preparation for and participation in my in-person classroom. Student confidence in expressing ideas in-person has been enhanced by requiring completion of on-line forums: Students are receiving a greater exposure to differences in their thought and perspectives; they can see other students’ perspectives in written form as well as hear these in oral form. They encounter good (and poor) models of forum answers; they can self-correct through their reading of on-line comments as well as their in-class participation; they are able to learn from their errors in a “low stake” way. Overall, they feel (and are) more prepared for class; their anxiety regarding class participation is reduced. Some students have commented that they had “forgotten” how to have in-person discussions due to their past year of being isolated. They value the regained opportunity to have such discussions with the support of the required online forum preparation.

In my reflections on mental health safety, I have come to realize that my needs as a teacher in addition to those of my students should be considered. Being kind, calm, and safe should extend to myself as well. I am teaching on campus: There is a limit to the amount of time I should spend preparing on-line resources in addition to in-class course delivery and teaching. My mental well-being is important and is supported by a healthy work-home life balance.

As new challenges have arisen along with the Omicron variant and its impact on our current Winter 2022 term, I continue to reflect on how to best “immunize” my students. The needs of our students (and ourselves) as we “survive” this pandemic are extensive and varied.  What will be the new reality of teaching and learning as we “recover”? How can we best prepare?

Even though some restrictions have been lifted and others will be soon, I encourage you all to continue to “Be kind, be calm, be safe” as you continue to navigate this changing reality for yourselves and your students.

Classroom Time Management #2: A Mea Culpa and a Neat Spreadsheet

Sample lesson timing spreadsheet

Sample lesson timing spreadsheet

By John Churchly

I have been an educator for a combined 38 years at School District #73 (Kamloops/Thompson) and at TRU. I have taught teachers in the B.Ed. and M.Ed. programs as well as in workshops as an educational developer (K-16). Yet, when I read Dr. Mahtab Nazemi’s CELT blog a few weeks ago, “Classroom Time Management: Strategies in Response to Over/Under Planning,” I had to face my own instructional shortcomings. You see, occasionally during a lesson I run out of material early and scramble to add in a small group discussion… or I give the class an extra-long break to go to Common Grounds Coffee during my evening class. Much more frequently I over plan and then find myself making drastic cuts on the fly during a lesson. Sometimes I talk too much; sometimes I’m too much of a Captain Video (like my grade 9 Social Studies teacher – although they were actually filmstrips not videos then); and sometimes I shortchange students on think time and discussion time to make up for my excesses. I have to admit that I’m aware of it – I’ve just chosen not to change my behaviour as my content and ideas are just too brilliant to skip any of them(?!). However, in the spirit of self-improvement and explicitly modeling what I teach to teachers about instructional practices, and after reading the blog, I am changing my ways.

This blog post is not an extension of Dr. Nazemi’s thoughtful and thorough description of how to manage instructional time. Rather, it is an example of time management in action with an accompanying resource I built along the way.

I have always estimated how much time things will take in my classes, but it’s never been more than a rough guess. Sometimes it works perfectly, and sometimes I can be off by an hour or more. To rectify this, especially teaching synchronous online classes due to the pandemic, I have built a spreadsheet to help calculate the exact amount of time for each activity and to identify the time on the clock at various points during my lesson as suggested by Dr. Nazemi.

The spreadsheet is based on PowerPoint slides as the building blocks of the class. This is not to say PowerPoint is and should be the basis of all (or any) lessons. It is simply an organizing structure for what I want to cover, and the slides conveniently provide something for students to look at other than my messy hair and office on BigBlueButton (or even worse – live in a classroom).

I start with by entering the class start time (in 24hour format). Then I assign each PowerPoint slide a number of minutes for my talk time. This is still an estimate but given that I’m estimating at the granular slide level, my estimates are far more accurate than guessing the amount of time for a whole lecture. I can also rehearse them to make sure I’m accurate. As I integrate student activities and video clips during various points in the presentation, I include time estimates for them in separate columns. While in the past I’ve used back-of-the-envelope guesses of how much time to use for student activities, I’m now moving to more structured activities that have set (granular) times. An example is 1-2-4-All from Liberating Structures (the version known to K-12 educators is Think-Pair-Share). The total time for 1-2-4-All is 12 minutes. I use a timer on my watch (or phone) to ensure I follow the exact times. Of course, I’m flexible to take more or less time as needed, but I do it thoughtfully and strategically rather than throwing away my timing with great abandon.

All the times for each slide (my talk time, student activity time, and video time) are automatically summed and added to the clock time to indicate the actual time for each slide to occur. The spreadsheet also sums the total number of minutes of teacher talk time, student activity time, and video time as well as giving relative proportions for each (here’s a sample filled-in spreadsheet). Usually when I start the planning process, I’m well over the amount of class time available, and I’m forced to adjust my activities, the number of slides, and how much I want to talk. Once I’m happy with the total amount of time and the proportions of teacher-talk to student activity and videos, I highlight key slides and their times on the spreadsheet that I use as reference points during the lesson. Of course, this is to avoid looking at the spreadsheet every two minutes for each slide. When I check the highlighted times during my lesson, I’m looking at them as targets and I can adjust the rest of my lesson if I’m over/under by too much.

The spreadsheet is as much a planning tool as an in-the-moment guide for my lessons. However, the spreadsheet has an additional benefit. It provides me with documentation of my teaching practice, including the relative proportion of teacher talk time to student activity time. When writing my APAR (or tenure/promotion dossier), I can analyse this documentation (alongside student evaluations) to consider if there are enough student activities (and whether they are efficacious or just busy work to fill time).  Using the spreadsheets for a whole term, I can show over time that I’ve adjusted my teaching to respond to students’ comments and my own analysis.

It is certainly acceptable and sometimes wise to drop a planned lesson timing and go with a teachable moment or abandon a lesson component that is just not working. But day in, day out, I want to come to my classes well-prepared, and I also want to be able to answer the questions: Do I talk too much? Do I give inadequate think time? Am I Captain Video?  If yes, mea culpa!

Community of Curious Educators: Open Educational Resources (OER) for the Curiosity-driven, Inquiry-based Learning Project

Community of Inquiry Framework

Community of Inquiry Framework

By Naowarat (Ann) Cheeptham and Carol Rees

We were thrilled to be asked to share the outcome of our curiosity-driven inquiry-based learning research project that was led by Dr. Carol Rees. Though Dr. Rees lives now in Ireland and is retired from teaching at TRU, she continues to be active in research and is still leading our team. Our team shares a passion for life-long learning community and creating curiosity culture between K-16 educators. In 2020, Drs. Carol Rees (Principal Investigator), Michelle Harrison, and Ann Cheeptham collaborated with Christine Miller (TRU), Morgan Whitehouse, Elizabeth deVries, and Grady Sjokvist from SD73 to apply for a Partnership Engage Grant (PEG). We were awarded $24,662 from Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) for our project entitled “Supporting curiosity-driven inquiry-based science education online through a community-of-inquiry partnership: rethinking pedagogical approaches during the Covid-19 pandemic.” Our team has also included Lorri Weaver and Hannah Allen as research assistants.

Fourteen science teachers K-12 from the Kamloops Thompson School District (SD#73)–Melody Steffenson, Hilary Villeneuve, Serena Reves, Amanda Straker, Jenn Filek, Laura Syms, Brandy Turner, Kim Lavigne, Chris Spanis, Sharmane Baerg, Courtney Bruin, Monica Bergeron and Lisa Galloway–and four TRU faculty members–Drs. Lyn Baldwin, Nancy Flood, Tory Anchikoski, and Crystal Huscroft–participated in the project.

To achieve our goal, we created a Community of Inquiry (COI) from middle and high school teachers and university instructors dedicated to sharing knowledge of their experiences and from the literature to support curiosity-driven inquiry-based science education online, face-to-face with social distancing, and a hybrid of the two (Garrison, Anderson, & Archer, 2000). The COI was established as an online space, founded on the principle of three shared presences: social, cognitive, and teaching, established for participants by facilitators to create conditions to promote collaborative discovery and the co-creation of knowledge. In this one-year PEG supported project, the participants in the COI worked with facilitators from our research group through cycles of discussion, planning, trial in their own school and university classrooms, and reflection. Our research study was integrated into the COI so that findings from each cycle were brought back to the participants for the next cycle. In this way, knowledge was generated and built upon over the year.

Besides a conference presentation and a manuscript-in-preparation, a successful open learning resource (OER) was created and is now live for all interested teachers and faculty to access at this link: The OER takes the form of blog posts from participating teachers and faculty members.

Garrison, D. R., Anderson, T., & Archer, W. (2000). Critical inquiry in a text-based environment: Computer conferencing in higher education model. The Internet and Higher Education, 2(2-3), 87-105.

Classroom Time Management: Strategies in Response to Over/Under Planning

A mug that says Keep Calm and Carry on Teaching sits on a desk in front of a notebook and a pair of glasses.

Photo by Seema Miah on Unsplash

by Mahtab Nazemi, Education

Over 15 years of teaching experience in K-12 and Post-Secondary combined have taught me a few useful things, to say the least. In my current role, working with Teacher Candidates (otherwise called Pre-Service Teachers), I have been very lucky to make my teaching practice visible as it contributes to my students’ and my own learning and improvement. It’s such a relief to be able to stop myself in the middle of something and exclaim: “Please don’t do what I just did! That could have gone more smoothly – any ideas of what I could have done differently?”

Recently when grading student lesson plans, I remembered a couple of important strategies that I would like to get back to consistently implementing. Like many conscientious teachers, I over-plan. I do this time and time again, even if it’s the fifth year in a row that I’m teaching the course. I know better. Every time I teach a course I have already taught, it still feels like a new prep. I re-plan because I want to do things differently all the time, and I want to bring in new materials, readings, and activities that I didn’t get a chance to use in prior iterations of the course. Because this is blog post and not a full-length paper, I will focus on only two strategies that have helped me, and I hope that they can help you with your time management.

I take notes on my lesson, right in Moodle. We all have an idea of how long something will take, or at least how long we hope it will take, so what about when it’s all done? So, here’s what I do in Moodle to help me with time management in the classroom. I will add a few lines about how the lesson went that day (and keep it hidden from students). I will write something like this:

  • “This lesson was too long. Would be best to happen over the course of two
  • “Cut this part of the lesson because they didn’t need this much introduction
    and background knowledge. (First make sure that future groups of
    students also already learned about this in prerequisite class)”
  • “Next time, do a jigsaw activity for this reading. It’s super dense and long,
    but luckily something that can be broken into smaller chunks.”

If you’ve never done a jigsaw activity, but would like to try, here are a few more words about it. Oh, and by the way, it can work well in Mathematics class too!!! Assign this reading as 5 sections, assigning each random group of 5 students one of the sections. In class, have section-groups meet to discuss the specific part they read and feel ‘as expert as possible’ on that section. (If the reading or mathematics problems, etc., were not assigned in advance of this class, then this would be time for them to first read/solve the problems, then have a discussion about being an expert on the section.) Then arrange students in new groups made up of one person from each section – so that all 5 parts are represented in each new group. This second group arrangement will meet for longer than the first one did, to discuss the whole reading, part by part, now with expertise from each section.

With the above notes captured in your Moodle site, when you import this course shell next time you teach the course, you now have some self-assessments that will help you do a version of the same lesson, but so much better!

The second piece I’d like to mention, in regard to time management in the classroom, has to do with the “ordre du jour,” or the agenda for the day. If my class runs from 8:30am to 9:20am, for example, rather than having estimates for time in minutes, I include the actual time, like this:

Instead of: Try this:
Attendance                                             5 mins

Group Discussion                                15 mins

Lecture & Notes                                    20 mins

Questions & Next Lesson               10 mins

Attendance                                  8:30-8:35

Group Discussion                       8:35-8:50

Lecture & Notes                          8:50-9:10

Questions & Next Lesson          9:10-9:20

Having the actual time, rather than the expected minutes, makes it much easier to glance at the clock or your watch and know that you’re on track for finishing all the things in your lesson within the allotted time. I know this might seem simple, but it’s super helpful! Even as a Mathematics teacher, it takes me too long to see 20 minutes in my lesson, and then figure out what time that corresponds to, and then decide if I’ve being yapping too long or if I’ve left enough time for the rest of the activities that day. Now relatedly, this is something you can adjust for future lessons, based on making a note (in Moodle or elsewhere) if something took more or less time than you had originally planned.

Hope these tips are helpful for you! If you would like to chat about this post, or any other thing related to teaching, please reach out.

SAILing Forth! Faculty-Led Assessment of TRU’s Institutional Learning Outcomes

Three sailboats representing different institutional learning outcomes and different disciplines from TRU

Image courtesy of the SAIL team

By Lorry-Ann Austin, Faculty of Education and Social Work
Jamie Noakes and Tara Bond, Career and Experiential Learning
Oleksandr (Sasha) Kondrashov, Faculty of Education and Social Work
Lian Dumouchel, Faculty of Adventure, Culinary Arts, and Tourism
Carolyn Hoessler, Centre for Excellence in Learning and Teaching
Alana Hoare, Office of Quality Assurance 

We set SAIL! Specifically, we launched and collaborated on the 2021 SAIL, the Strategic Assessment of Institutional Learning, pilot of TRU.  

Through SAIL we aimed to pilot a faculty-led approach to assessing student achievement of TRU’s institutional learning outcomes (ILO). In Winter 2021, we chose an ILO and joined faculty colleagues in a small group that we called an ILO Pod. Together, we co-created a shared rubric for the ILO. After the end of the term, we assessed student assignments from each others’ courses to provide ratings and a report to each other for reflection. This first pilot focused on Lifelong Learning, Social Responsibility, and Critical Thinking and Investigation, which are the ILOs that we taught. We will continue with these ILOs in Winter 2022. Later SAIL-ings (pilots) will focus on the remaining ILOs.

Through our cross-disciplinary collaboration via SAIL ILO Pods, we valued the opportunity to deepen our understanding about the ILO of focus. Our colleagues provided a fresh set of eyes on our assignments, and the discussions about how we assessed the ILOs prompted great insight and revisiting of our courses. The collaboration offered new conceptualizations of ILO application and inspiration for assessment. We also valued the opportunity to share our exciting work on campus and at an international conference. SAIL additionally confirmed student learning around the ILO and increased student understanding of the benefits of general education. 

We built on the work of colleagues across TRU including the ILOs created by the General Education Taskforce, and the Principles for learning outcomes and assessment from the Learning Outcomes and Assessment Taskforce. 

Our discussions and post-report debrief provided insights that informed the SAIL report, the recommendations being consulted on across campus, an Assessment Institute presentation, and a recent CELTalk. Our adventures can be found on the SAIL websiteWe look forward to continuing with the ILO Pods that we enjoyed, trying a new consent process and platform, and selecting assignments in late fall for a winter term SAIL-ing. Carolyn and Alana are also gathering feedback on the SAIL Recommendations and the Learning Outcomes and Assessment Principles. 

Recommendations & Next Steps – Come SAIL with us! 

Two recommendations arose from the research findings of our pilots, which the Learning Outcome and Assessment Task force is actively seeking feedback on through Faculty Council and curriculum committee presentations, as well as engaging with TRUSU Student Caucus this Fall. We are recommending the continuation of the SAIL research pilot, which includes the establishment of ILO Pods for TRU’s eight ILOs. The ILO Pods will be coordinated through the Centre for Excellence in Learning and Teaching (CELT) and supported by faculty learning and development coordinators. We will continue to explore the value of interdisciplinary rubrics to provide ratings of a subset of student assignments in ILO courses. For more details about the recommendations see the SAIL 2021 Pilot report and Fall 2021 feedback survey. 

We are about to start Season 2 of SAIL with the ILO rubrics for Lifelong Learning, Social Responsibility, and Critical Thinking and Investigation. If you are teaching an ILO course, come SAIL with us! 

Navigating Late Fall with Radical Acts of Caring-Listening

A woman holds up a compass on a foggy landscape

Photo by Denise Jans on Unsplash

By Carolyn Ives, Coordinator, Learning and Faculty Development, CELT

We are nearly two-thirds through the fall term, and I’m wondering how you all are doing: Has the fall term been energizing for you? Has it been challenging? Or has it been a bit of both?

If you’re happy to be back on campus but still struggling sometimes with the transition, you are not alone. For many, this has been a challenging fall term: just as we all had to learn to work remotely, and students had to learn to study remotely, we have all had to re-learn how to work together in person, sometimes while still integrating virtual interactions. For students who in previous terms could leave cameras off and listen anonymously, this semester of being visible in the classroom context may leave some feeling exposed and vulnerable. For faculty who spent many hours creating and delivering online content, some are now wondering if those hours were lost as they are considering whether the materials they created are still useful and useable. The ground is still shifting for some.

The nature of face-to-face work has changed, also. For example, even though I’m back on campus, my days are a mix of interacting and connecting with colleagues in person and online—and still mostly online. The transition back to face-to-face may never fully happen, as we now realize the value and convenience of online meetings, especially for including colleagues who might otherwise not be able to engage. There are definitely both pros and cons to our new reality.

One thing that hasn’t changed, though, is the value of extending grace to each other and to students as we continue to navigate this new context together. I was reminded this weekend about the importance of what Valerie Palmer-Mehta (2016) refers to as “radical acts of caring-listening”—acts of humanity that bring us closer to professional humility, authenticity, curiosity, and collaboration. I was thinking about this in reference to a conference proposal that examines the work of educational developers and how they can work more effectively with other faculty members on both individual and institutional levels in light of shifting power dynamics. It occurred to me, too, that this kind of approach also works for faculty-student interactions. What would happen if we approached all our interactions with students and with each other in this fashion? What if we listened more and didn’t jump to conclusions or make assumptions about what our colleagues and students wanted, needed, or intended? This kind of work takes more time, and communication is often challenging at the best of times, but the result is absolutely worth the time and effort.

Writing the proposal reminded me that I can be more intentional about applying radical acts of caring-listening in my interactions. I appreciated this reminder, especially in the busy moments of a rapidly moving fall term.

Palmer-Mehta, V. (2016). Theorizing listening as a tool for social change: Andrea Dworkin’s discourses on listening. International Journal of Communication 10. pp. 4176-4192.

The Art of Story Telling Through Songs

Indigenous woman in red regalia

Photo credit: Maggi Woo

By Laura Grizzlypaws
Educational Developer, Indigenous Education CELT
St’át’imc | Ecw7úcwalmicw


Throughout Indigenous histories, since time immemorial, our ancestors’ lives were based on an oral cultural way of life and still is to this present day. Our Indigenous histories, lessons, life, and knowledge was passed down orally for countless generations to sustain cultures and our unique authentic identities. One of the greatest gifts that I believe I mastered was the art of storytelling through songs. The ability to sing, and to ability to compose songs that articulate and reflect the values and beliefs and even current issues we face as Indigenous peoples.

To me, singing, is a powerful tool and skill in the lives of Indigenous peoples. Singing songs is a strong part of a cultural heritage of people, family, and individuals. It embodies the spiritual relationship of the songs to the animate, inanimate, and natural phenomenon.  For example, when a child was born a song was sung; when a new day came, a song was sung symbolizing the relationship of a person to the star world. When a person passed onto the spirit world, a song was sung; when a couple united in marriage, a song was sung; when the people harvested, a song was sung; and, when the people danced a song was sung. There are so many songs sung by Indigenous peoples, happy songs, love songs, wailing songs, grieving songs, ceremonial songs, prayer songs, appreciation songs, and songs sung even for the land, the earth, the air, and the water. Within Indigenous cultures, being an oral culture, songs played and continue to play a huge role influencing others of storing and sharing information knowledge and wisdom.

Around campus, in and out of the community you will hear Indigenous peoples sing songs and share the role of their songs sung. These songs shared, are shared to reinforce the collective identities of Indigenous peoples. Many songs are sung and shared by a people and even between nations. Songs sung are ways of empowering, educating, bringing people together creating awareness of Indigenous wisdom through voice.  Singing songs was a way of transferring knowledge, providing support, and sharing information. Songs sung at events provide support and uplift the energy and spirit of the people and its purpose to honor past, present, and future generations.

Songs sung are sung with lyrics combined with a chant in a way that affect both emotional, social, and intellectual aspects of a listener. Indigenous people’s epistemologies are a way of honoring their connections to seven generations into the past (ancestral), current generations and seven generations into the future (including the ones not yet born).  Songs appeal to a people’s minds, hearts and spirits combining all four aspects of a human’s ability mentally, physically, spiritually, and emotionally. All songs that are sung, are and or were created are based on the intellectual, emotional, and spiritual processes one’s experiences. Many songs sung using a hand drum, are old songs, that have been passed down orally for countless generations symbolizing community, family, and social responsibility to ensure the songs continue to be passed on to future generations.

However, Indigenous music continues to grow through the art of contemporary music. Most importantly the contemporary oral art of music still celebrates and honor the values and principles of sharing important knowledge, information, and education of Indigenous issues.

The song titled “Come Home,” sung by Grizzlypaws at the Indigenous Music Awards Festival recorded by, is sung through Indigenous Languages of Canada and the United States (English, Carrier – Dakelh, Cree, Sahaptin, Nlha7kapmecw, Dine-Navajo, and St’at’imc). This is an example in which Indigenous peoples have used music to become a part of social movements based on the values and principles of their identities as Indigenous communities.  This song was created and dedicated to the Missing Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) Come Home, Come on Home, This is the Land You Call Home, Come Home, Come on Home, This is the Land, You Should have Known Laura Grizzlypaws – 2019 Indigenous Music Awards – YouTube.

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