TRU Centre for Excellence in Learning and Teaching

Category: Pedagogy Page 1 of 3

Not Just Supporting Students: Adapting Program Learning Outcomes for the TRU Library

A chair sits by a shelf of books

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

By Amy McLay Paterson, Co-Chair, Library

This year, the library has been asked to complete its first program review since 2007 and the first overall to use the process developed by the Office of Quality Assurance for academic program review at TRU. Being faculty-led, the review process has presented opportunities to have a lot of interesting, and sometimes difficult, conversations about the overall focus and direction of our programs in a changing academic and information landscape. However, with the review process geared toward teaching faculty in degree programs, we’ve had to make a number of adaptations to the process along the way.

Like many departments undergoing program review, we found ourselves in the position of developing learning outcomes (PLOs) for the first time. These learning outcomes needed to account not just for our explicit teaching activities, but for all library resources and services: collections, inter-library loan, research data management services, etc. We decided to base our PLOs on the six frames identified in the ACRL Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education, which is already the basis for much of our teaching and reference services. The PLOs we settled on are the following:

  1. Learners will be able to analyze the politics of information and information infrastructure to critically evaluate claims of authority.
  2. Learners will be able to engage with interconnected knowledge communities and systems, recognizing the differing roles and responsibilities in various stages of the information cycle.
  3. Learners will articulate how TRU Library values (e.g., accessibility, decolonization, sustainability, ethic of care) are enacted through their encounters with Library resources, systems, services, spaces.
  4. Learners will be able to acknowledge the contextual value of information as it pertains to resource impact, cost, ownership, and intellectual effort.
  5. Learners will be able to apply iterative and exploratory methods to formulate increasingly nuanced questions, critically analyze complex subjects, and plan towards achieving a novel research or creative outcome.
  6. Learners will be able to participate in specific knowledge communities by engaging in contextually appropriate practices of acknowledgement, evaluation, sharing, and discourse.
  7. Learners will be able to navigate deliberately chosen information systems, platforms, repositories, databases, tools, services, and spaces in the pursuit of suitable information.
  8. Learners will be able to identify information needs and create strategies to fulfil those needs.

As an example, learners will be able to engage with interconnected knowledge communities and systems… has always been one of the explicit goals of the library instruction program, but when we viewed this goal from the lens of curriculum mapping, we were able to realize that this is also a key goal of our acquisitions policy, our scholarly communications services, and the Makerspace, to give just a few examples.

However, completing the curriculum map left a lot of us feeling like there was something missing. It showed us a piece of our work, but not all of it. My own (and many others’) research into librarian labour has previously discussed the problem that established metrics of library value often traffic in superficial numbers, while much of the essential labour remains invisible. For many, both in libraries and in education generally, the amount of invisible labour increased during the COVID-19 lockdowns, when much of education moved from happening directly in the classroom to creating and maintaining asynchronous learning objects while continuing to support students synchronously. Though classroom teaching has largely returned to in-person, many of the videos and tutorials, as well as support for virtual research consultations has remained, without new staff or funds to help maintain these new services.

When I am called upon to explain the difference between librarians and other faculty members, I generally sum it up as such: librarians support and educate students, but we also support a massive amount of educational infrastructure that is essential to the programs and services we provide. This infrastructure is maintained by our faculty because the choices we make in configuration and support are tied to the learning outcomes we want our students to achieve; they are also tied to our philosophy of service, informed by values, such as promoting access and operating with an ethic of care for our community. Technology alone cannot support learning outcomes, because technology is a tool whose ends are determined by those in control. In response to this gap, I developed an Infrastructure mapping tool, to show that aspect of our work and to demonstrate the ubiquity of the technological infrastructure we provide.

Of course, the tragedy of the library PLOs is that we don’t have a direct way to measure their impact on students. All and none of the TRU community are students of the library, and we rely on our partnerships with other faculties and the relationships we build to see the bulk of our impact.

First Day at a New School: A Reflection on My First Year as a New Faculty Member

A notebook site beside a mug of freshly sharpened pencils

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

by Jessica Allingham, Assistant Teaching Professor, Chemistry

As I look back on my first year as a new faculty member at Thompson Rivers University, I have a mix of emotions and reflections on the journey, including the excitement and eagerness as I embarked on a new chapter; the frustration and sense of overwhelm as I faced challenges and learning curves; and the confusion in navigating new administrated processes, understanding the dynamics of my faculty and department, balancing teaching, service and other responsibilities that overwhelmed me at times. I hope to share my thoughts and reflections with you, a new faculty member, in hopes of letting you know that your feelings and struggles are normal and perhaps even to offer some advice on how to cope; however, I promise nothing, since I am still trying to figure that out for myself.

My first year was hard yet fulfilling. I had some great successes, but I also experienced some huge flops. The year felt like one big oxymoron full of contradictory things all packaged together, but in the best way possible. There were several times throughout the year when I questioned my ability to do this job, or that I felt like moving to Kamloops was a mistake, but there were so many more times when I felt so unbelievably blessed to have landed my dream job, to live in such a beautiful part of the world, and to be surrounded by such amazing people. Throughout your first year, I am sure you will feel such a mix of emotions and you will face a variety of challenges, but remember that this, too, shall pass, so push through the hard stuff and sit in the good stuff. Take the time to enjoy, appreciate. and be grateful for the good parts of your job, because they, too, will pass.

Some of the main takeaways and learning I have from my first year as a new faculty member are these:

1. Build relationships. Build relationships with colleagues, staff and students. You do not need to embark on this journey alone. TRU is a community of amazing individuals ready and willing to support you. Participate in as many social events in your department, faculty, and community as possible. I know that it always feels as though there is never enough time but making time to build relationships will pay dividends in the end.

Build relationships outside of the TRU community as well. I moved to Kamloops from Thunder Bay, Ontario, knowing no one here. It is so important to build a circle of friends separate from your job to help you establish balance in your life. One of the most important things I did during my first year at TRU was to participate in extracurricular activities outside of the university, like joining a slo-pitch team and participating in fitness classes weekly. I have made some amazing friends in both these arenas, which helped to combat the loneliness and isolation I felt throughout my first year. Starting a new job, especially in a new city, is a huge change, and it can be lonely. Taking care of your social and emotional needs by building relationships outside of work is so important, I am not sure I would have made it through my first year as successfully without them.

I can hear you right now saying, “but Jess, I don’t have enough time.” I said the exact same thing, but believe me, taking the time to do things that bring you joy with people who foster your peace will make doing your job so much easier.

2. Balance and boundaries. Find a balance between work and life and set boundaries to maintain it. This was a big struggle for me. This job is very demanding, especially in the first year, when all your courses are new to you. It is hard to take time to yourself or to spend with family and friends when you feel like there is always something to do. But burnout is a very real and prevalent issue, especially in academia. Finding that balance is the best way to combat burnout.

I am sharing this advice to remind myself to find balance as much as I am sharing it with all of you. Schedule time for yourself and your family; block it out in your calendar so people know you are unavailable; don’t respond to emails at all hours; set a reasonable window of time where you will be accessible via email; take your weekends; and plan fun things outside of work. It is so important to set boundaries to protect your peace and maintain your work-life balance. Boundaries are hard for me; I don’t like to say no or to inconvenience other people. I think Brené Brown said it best, though: “Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves, even when we risk disappointing others.”

3. Take it slow. You do not need to do everything in your first year. I have mentioned not having enough time several times already, and it’s true: there is never enough time. We need to use our time as effectively as possible, so pick a few things you would like to implement or goals you would like to achieve in your first year and focus on those. Be realistic. I know I came into this job with so many cool and fun ideas, and I implemented probably two of them this past year, and that’s okay, because I survived my first year and that is accomplishment enough! No one is expecting you to reinvent the wheel or to have spectacular, fully developed new courses in your first year, so neither should you. Implement a few of your ideas at a time, especially if you are in a tenure-track position, as you will have plenty of time to implement all your ideas, so there is no need to do it all at once.

4. Celebrate the small things. Celebrate your achievements no matter how small you may feel they are. A successful quiz with a decent class average is worth celebrating. Putting together a nice slide-deck you are proud of is worth celebrating. A really engaging lecture is worth celebrating. An appreciative student email is worth celebrating. So often we focus on the negative aspects of our jobs and our lives that we simply drift right by the good stuff. Take time to acknowledge the wins just as much as the losses. I am not saying you need to get a cake for each of the events listed above–I mean, you can if you would like and I will gladly come and celebrate with you if you would like the company–but simply taking a moment to say to yourself, wow I did a good job, makes a big difference.

5. You belong here. Imposter syndrome is not just for students: it can carry on into our careers as well. If you are feeling like you don’t deserve this job, or you don’t belong here, trust me when I say you are not alone. I had those thoughts and feelings a lot throughout my first year. I promise you: you do belong, and you are good enough. You wouldn’t have been hired for the job if your department and faculty did not believe in you, so you need to believe in yourself. I know, easier said than done. Celebrating the little things can help you to build confidence in your ability as a faculty member. Reach out to the people you have built relationships with as well. As I said, you are not alone; we have all had these feelings, and we can help each other to work through them.

6. Ask for help. If you are stuck or not sure about something, simply ask for help. TRU is full of so many amazing resources and wonderful people who would love to help you succeed. Asking for help can be hard because you are admitting that you don’t know something, but you are not expected to know everything, especially in your first year. Use your resources; consult your colleagues; lean on the relationships you have built. Asking for help is much easier than struggling on your own.

7. Keep growing and learning. Life-long learning is so important for personal and professional growth. It helps us to adapt to change, stay relevant, cultivate curiosity, and foster our creativity. I got my job at TRU around the same time I successfully defended my doctoral research, so I thought my new job meant I was done being a student, but was I ever wrong. I learnt so much in my first year as a faculty member, and I know that my learning will continue. I recommend you take advantage of all the amazing learning opportunities TRU provides its faculty members, especially those offered by the Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching (CELT). I am a chemist by trade, not an educator; however, I found myself in a job that predominantly required me to teach. CELT workshops and programs provided me with so many amazing tools to enhance my teaching. So stay curious; approach this job with an open mind; ask questions; and look for opportunities to learn new things.

8. Have fun. Yes, this is a job, but that does not mean that it cannot be fun. I am grateful every day that I get to do what I love. Keeping the element of fun in this job ensures that I continue to enjoy it. The fun can come from cool activities with your students, enjoyable interactions with colleagues, memes and jokes, trying new things, participating in social events, helping with a club, and so many other things. Don’t forget why you wanted this job and why you love it. Lean into those aspects and enjoy yourself. Don’t take yourself too seriously–at the end of the day, we’re all human.

Remember the first year is just the beginning of your journey as a faculty member. Embrace the challenges, learn from experiences, and remain open to new opportunities for growth and development. You will crush your first year, and the entire TRU community is happy to have you here.

A woman with blonde hair wearing glasses and a pink short smiles in the foreground; Thompson Rivers University campus is in the background.

Photo courtesy of the author

Introducing Dr. Wei Yan, Newest Faculty Member of CELT!

Image of a man with black hair wearing glasses and a button-down shirt

Photo courtesy of the author

By Wei Yan, CELT

My name is Wei, and I am the newest Learning and Faculty Development Coordinator with CELT. When I was a child, I always wanted to become a teacher. The first real step towards my teaching dream was when I started my undergraduate in English Language Teaching in a small multicultural university in China. My passion for teaching then led me to pursue graduate degrees – first in South Korea, expanding my life-long passion for languages and culture, and then in Canada because of my heart for education. I thus have experience studying and working in multiple contexts and in different educational systems across the globe.

These experiences are reflected in my research during my graduate studies at Queen’s University. For my master’s research, I studied the determinants of international students’ academic success, with a focus on their language proficiency. For my PhD work, I studied students’ grades – the most important admission criteria for those who would like to further their education both within and across educational systems.

I have been an educator for more than 18 years. Most of my work experiences involve teaching, research, curriculum design and implementation, and educational administration at postsecondary institutions. I have taught English, Mandarin Chinese, and Korean as a foreign language to various age groups, and trained teacher candidates on practical teaching in China and how to work with English Language Learners in Canada. My recent work also involves using design-thinking for curriculum development and program evaluation and implementing evidence-based decision-making for quality assurance and accreditation.

I am excited to learn with TRU faculty and OLFMs in a Community of Practice during the fall and winter terms. It is my hope that each of us can increase our understanding of international students as a whole learner and better support TRU’s international students’ academic success. As a community of practice, together we will learn, reflect, and refine our practices. If you are interested, you can sign up for the community through the following link: Link to Community of Practice.

Instant feedback and much more: The multifold benefits of class worksheets

Sample worksheet

Photo courtesy of the author

By Mohsin Jat, Assistant Teaching Professor, Bob Gaglardi School of Business and Economics

A fresh Ph.D. graduate walks into a lecture hall to deliver the first 90-minute session of a business statistics course. He had thoroughly prepared for the lecture based on an established outline. The lecture, however, concludes within 60 minutes—this was the first lecture I had delivered in my academic career around eight years ago. Anxious about not filling the allocated lecture time, I started including more content and advanced concepts, confusing and overloading the students. Lecture plans were not working well, so I consulted my experienced colleagues. One suggestion was to solve more examples on the board while taking input from students. The suggestion made sense and covered the lecture time, but I found it disconnected. Solving problems on board interrupted direct contact with students, and only a small number of students gave their input on solutions.

A challenge with delivering quantitative courses in business schools is the wide variation in the quantitative competency of students (Kaighobadi & Allen, 2008). Business school intake is generally made up of students with diverse academic backgrounds. Pitching a quantitative course at an average level can result in difficulties for half of the class. Make the content shallower, and a significant proportion of students find it dull. A colleague with whom I discussed this introduced a worksheet approach to me in which students are asked to complete one or two lecture-related problems in the last 15 minutes of the session.

The worksheet approach worked surprisingly well, and I continually adopted and adapted it in various operations and supply chain management courses. My current approach is summarised as follows: Most sessions, depending on the nature of the course, are split into a lecture and a lecture-related problem-solving part. In the 15 to 20-minute problem-solving part, students are asked to perform problems, short case discussions, or computer exercises in groups of 3 to 4. Each group member must complete the task and consult with the group members about the solution approach and the final answer. I can help with any confusion, but not on an individual basis; the query should come from the group. This way, I assist 8 or 9 groups rather than 35 individuals. If confusion is common, I brief the whole class using the board. Participation credit is granted once all group members have completed the tasks satisfactorily. The worksheet participation credit typically accounts for 8 – 10% of the total grade.

Over time, with various teaching and learning trainings, I realized that the seemingly simple worksheet approach aligns with several pedagogical philosophies and objectives. I have highlighted some below:

A visual depiction of how worksheets increase student engagement

Image provided by the author

Instant feedback for students and instructors:

Students can immediately test and reinforce their understanding of the concepts covered in the lecture. They can receive help from their peers and instructor if their understanding needs to be improved. Instructors can use the performance on worksheets to gauge the learning outcomes. Performance observations can enable instructors to timely modify their teaching if needed.

Enhanced engagement and participation:

Seeking help from peers and instructors in small group settings can be easier. In my observation, even the quieter students participate in groups, and, in general, students actively assist their group members. Students can polish their concepts by explaining the solutions to their peers. Instructors can closely interact with students.

Better than homework assignments:

Traditional lecturing and demonstration approach is generally based on unidirectional content delivery. Written documents or videos can replace it. Critically speaking, the physical presence of an instructor is not necessary if the instructor is just a narrator. In other words, lectured content can be delivered through different media without any significant intervention from instructors. It is when students perform tasks that they may need assistance, confirmation, or reinforcement from instructors. Worksheets serve this purpose, while homework assignments don’t. That is, homework assignments create a situation in which the instructor is unavailable when needed the most.

Worksheets and the flipped classroom model:

Much has been written about the advantages of flipped classrooms (Akçayır & Akçayır, 2018). A challenge in implementing this model is ensuring that students are prepared in advance for live problem-solving exercises. The model doesn’t work if students are unprepared. The worksheet approach can be considered a modified version of flipped classrooms. Through worksheets, an instructor can flip the classroom in the last 15 minutes after discussing the required concepts.

Worksheet as an alternative grading tool:

Worksheets offer an alternative grading mechanism in which participation points are granted for demonstrating a minimum level of understanding of the desired concepts and skills. (Please read the “Alternative Grading Strategies” piece by Carolyn Ives, CELT). The participation score for completing a worksheet can be seen as a proxy for attendance, but it is not a credit for mere attendance; the score is for demonstrating the learning attained by attending the session.

Flexibility to pitch courses at a higher level:

Instructors can avoid overexplaining the concepts and mellowing down the lectures to ensure learning at the lower tail. The learning gaps can be covered during the worksheet phase.

Worksheets and the concept of mastery learning:

Mastery learning is a key theme in my teaching philosophy. The mastery learning concept is based on the understanding that students have different learning trajectories. A standard teaching approach with a large student group can result in learning gaps for some students. These gaps, if unaddressed, can hinder the understanding of the subsequent concepts and create further gaps. Hence, providing every student an opportunity to master each concept is desirable. I believe worksheets can facilitate mastery learning by providing opportunities to fill learning gaps in class.


So, what are the pitfalls and limitations? Worksheet tasks must be clearly stated, not lengthy, and not too challenging; otherwise, time management can be an issue. The student experience and confidence can be compromised if tasks are unclear or need longer than the designated time. I suggest starting with small tasks and then making them lengthier and more challenging if necessary. Regardless, be prepared to see many hands raised and walk swiftly—Have comfy footwear!

[This piece is based on my experience in courses having quantitative or computational components.]

Photo of Moshin Jat, a man wearing a black sweater over a blue collared shirt

Author Mohsin Jat



Kaighobadi, M, & Allen, M.T. (2008, July). Investigating academic success factors for undergraduate business students. Decision Sciences Journal of Innovative Education, 6(2), 427-36.

Akçayır, G., & Akçayır, M. (2018, November). The flipped classroom: A review of its advantages and challenges. Computers & Education, 1(126), 334-45.

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.

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