All posts by Jennie Ferris

How to find free, interactive resources for your courses


With a nearly limitless, constantly evolving supply of information available on the web, where can instructors find free, interactive resources to complement their courses?

John Shank’s (2014) book Interactive Open Educational Resources offers many resources and starting points for interested instructors. Continue reading How to find free, interactive resources for your courses

Five suggestions for improving students’ writing in your course, regardless of the subject


By Jennie Ferris, Teaching and Learning Services

A recent University Affairs article concisely articulates five key points from John Bean’s book Engaging Ideas: The Professor’s Guide to Integrating Writing, Critical Thinking, and Active Learning in the Classroom, 2nd edition (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2011). Bean encourages instructors to identify assignment genres, inform student of how the writing will be evaluated, provide opportunities for revision, incorporate low-stakes assignments, and inform themselves of services offered by the campus writing centre. To check out the book itself, access the online version; a hard-copy version is also available from the McGill Library [PE1404 B35 2011 [Regular Loan] Humanities and Social Sciences – Education Collection (McLennan Bldg, 2nd floor)]

Readers, what do you think? Have you used some of these approaches, and did they work? What other ways can students’ writing be improved?

McGill Provost reflects on future of the University


By Jennie Ferris, Teaching and Learning Services

What are MOOCs, why are they important, and did you know that the concept was actually developed here in Canada? In his recently published article “Questioning higher education”, McGill Provost Anthony C. Masi reflects upon the disruptive role and possibilities of educational technologies at university, both in physical spaces and (a)synchronous virtual spaces. He identifies three initial challenges for universities brought about by technology-driven changes in learning: “digital natives”’ expectations for technology use in the classroom, helping students develop information literacy competencies, and limitations of existing physical spaces.

The future of universities’ role in education is an open question, with significant change in educational models and institutions anticipated over the upcoming years. There are a number of outstanding questions requiring further exploration with regards to MOOCs, ranging broadly from impact upon alumni relations, to equity for on-campus vs. online students, to support and workload for professors. Noting wryly that the plural of anecdote is not data, the Provost makes the case for the importance of learning analytics in informing conversations on these and other questions.

Back to Dewey


By Jennie Ferris, Teaching and Learning Services.

He is among the key educational philosophers of the late 20th Century, and until recently, I confess that I had only read about John Dewey and his ideas, and had not actually read his work itself. When I finally read Experience and education, I was impressed by how the themes, questions and challenges that he addresses remain relevant today, 75 years after the book was first published.

Dewey is categorical when it comes to the question of experience: “It is not enough to insist upon the necessity of experience, nor even of activity in experience. Much depends upon the quality of the experience which is had” (pp. 27-8). He recommends an organic connection between education and personal experience, but cautions that education and experience cannot be directly equated to one another, as not all experiences are equally educative. After proposing a philosophy of education “of, by, and for experience” (p. 29), he articulates the situated nature of experience – how it relates to the past and impacts the future, and how the environment and its level of authenticity can be expected to impact the nature of the experience and its usefulness.

He advocates for the learners’ involvement in forming the purposes that direct their activities in the learning process, and challenges instructors to “arous[e] in the learner an active quest for information and for production of new ideas” (p. 79). Educators are encouraged to select issues “within the range of existing experience that have the promise and potentiality of presenting new problems which by stimulating new ways of observation and judgment will expand the area of further experience” for students (p. 75). This is consistent with Vygotsky’s idea of the zone of proximal development – a concept introduced just a couple of years before Dewey wrote this book. Dewey goes on to note the importance of building in time for genuine reflection after these experiences.

Finally, I was struck by the simple elegance of one of his concluding thoughts: “The educator should view teaching and learning as a continuous process of reconstruction of experience” (p. 87).

 

Dewey, J. (1938). Experience and education. Toronto: Collier-MacMillan.

New Canadian student blog on higher education


By Jennie Ferris, Teaching and Learning Services.

Readers of the Teaching for Learning blog who are interested in discovering another recently launched effort may be interested in UDaimonia. This combination online magazine / blog is written by Canadian university students, with the aim of providing a space to consider and engage contemporary issues in higher education from a Canadian student perspective. What do you think of this initiative? What are some of the key or defining aspects of a Canadian student perspective on higher education…and how may this perspective differ from the perspectives of students who are studying in other countries?

Student multitasking: Myth or reality?


Jennie Ferris, Teaching and Learning Services, reflects on the article “Impact of Multitasking on Listening Effectiveness in the Learning Environment” originally published in The Canadian Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning.

Multitasking: can it be done? What are the implications for students’ learning? Students multi-task (in part thanks to technological advances) both in physical and virtual course environments. By and large, the research demonstrates that multi-tasking, or rapid switching between task, decreases one’s performance quality or increases the time a given task requires.

This recent article looks at the impact of multi-tasking upon students’ listening and writing performance during in-person and recorded lectures, and considers whether social presence (e.g. in-person versus recorded instructor) impacts task prioritization.

The results of the research clearly demonstrate that students’ completion of both the evaluated listening and writing tasks had a more satisfactory result in terms of student listening (accuracy of remembered information) and writing (quantity) for those who did not multi-task. However, the experimental design was such that multi-tasking students had 15 minutes to complete both tasks, rather than the 25 minutes for task completion accorded to the single-tasking students group. This begs the question of how much time would be needed (between 15 and 25 minutes) such that the quality and quantity measures would have been equivalent for the two groups?

What implications does multi-tasking have for teaching and learning? Are their ways to capitalize on this habit to complement the in-class learning experience with learning-related tasks (such as twitter or back-channeling during class, for example)?