Category Archives: General

Strategy Bites: A new blog series with ideas for getting students active in their learning


At the 2018 SALTISE conference held at McGill University in Montreal, keynote speakers Richard Felder and Rebecca Brent spoke on the topic of Understanding and Minimizing Resistance to Learner-centered Teaching. They pointed out that many students are accustomed to and comfortable taking notes while listening to instructors lecture. But being more active in class doesn’t necessarily appeal to students.

Strategies exist for addressing student resistance, such as:

  • being explicit with students about why you’re asking them to do active learning tasks and
  • varying your teaching methods so that students benefit from different types of learning opportunities. Read more.

Another point raised was that active learning strategies often take little classroom time. Over the coming weeks, this blog series will present “Strategy Bites”—a series of 2-3 minute videos produced by Teaching and Learning Services that describe how to implement a number of strategies we’re featuring based on relative ease of implementation, suitability for different class sizes, and their representation of a variety of interaction types. These blog posts will also address students’ perceptions of these strategies and offer links to additional resources. Stay tuned for some practical ideas!

Check out the other posts in the Strategy Bites series:

Seeking help deciding which strategies to implement and how they’ll fit with your teaching? If you’re a McGill University instructor, contact Teaching and Learning Services for a one-on-one-consultation.

Featured Image photo credit: Victor Tangerman

I pledge to be a better teacher


A great summary of the closing plenary from Andrew Hendry of our Learn to Teach Day. Thanks Ethan for the great summary!

Educational Sociolinguistics

Ethan’s 3rd post:

In the closing plenary of yesterday’s Learning to Teach workshop, Doctor Andrew Hendry, professor of Evolutionary Ecology at McGill, demonstrated a terrific example of what he called an ‘inspirational class’.

According to him, since information is easy to access nowadays, what distinguishes a good teacher from a mediocre one is whether he or she is able to inspire the students and make them feel sad when the class is over. He surely can do that. In his lecture, he demonstrated how to pass on hands-on learning, how to use social media to inspire students and how to ‘perform’ in front of the class. At the end of his lecture, I could literally sense the energy in every audience and feel that the spirit of the entire hall was lifted up. A picture says a thousand words, and here is a youtube link of how he teaches evolution:

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Linking Theory to Practice – A little more action, please


This post is part of the Aspirations to Action series created as a follow-up to the Teaching What’s Important Symposium.

Linking theory to practice is an important learning aspiration. Let’s be honest: how many times have you heard the one about the undergrad who steps out of his/her cap and gown into the real world to realize a split second later that they know so much but know so little. You’ve heard it, right? (Perhaps even experienced that feeling yourself). It is the shared responsibility of lecturers and instructors to try to mitigate that moment — to work together so students are prepared for life after graduation, equipped with enough theory to understand the world, and enough practical experience to challenge that same understanding. So how do we create opportunities that inspire students to seek out links between theory and practice? Here are some ideas already put into practice by McGill professors…. Continue reading Linking Theory to Practice – A little more action, please

Teaching in an Active Learning Classroom: Pros and Cons


Professor Chris Buddle provides some very thoughtful reflections in his blog post on the benefits and challenges of teaching in one of McGill’s Active Learning Classrooms. Do you have any thoughts to add? Post them in the comments below.

Arthropod Ecology

Earlier this term I wrote about my excitement with teaching in an active learning classroom: as a quick refresher, my course had just over 80 students, and is an introductory ecology class. The course has a strong focus on quantitative approaches to population and community ecology, from equations to modelling. I gave up doing traditional PowerPoint slides for this class a long time ago, but until this term, I was still teaching in a theatre-style lecture hall. With continuing to push the “active learning” agenda, it was great to have an opportunity to teach in a classroom specifically designed for active learning!

The Active Learning classroom The Active Learning classroom So, here are some perspectives and thoughts about teaching in an active learning classroom now that term is over.

Pros:

1. I found the tables (with rolling chairs!) were especially great when I did in-class quizzes, especially with group-based problems…

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Why Flipped Classrooms Fail


Julie Shell (@julieschell) from peerinstruction.net provides some interesting insight into flipped classrooms and the #1 reason why they don’t work (and how to ensure that they do). Have a read a let us know what you think in the comments!

Turn to Your Neighbor: The Official Peer Instruction Blog

“I tried Peer Instruction and it didn’t work.”

As a champion of the popular flipped learning method developed by Eric Mazur, this phrase always hits me hard when I hear it from fellow educators. And I do hear it.

Over the years, I’ve run into many different accounts of experiments in innovative teaching and flipped classrooms, not just Peer Instruction, gone awry.  I have heard many refrains about clickers, “I tried clickers and it was a disaster.” About flipped learning with videos, “I tried it but my students didn’t watch the videos.” And even about the student engagement all-star, project-based learning: “I gave it a shot but my students perform better when I lecture.”

Of course, there are sundry reasons why one venture toward innovative teaching succeeds and another stumbles. I don’t claim to have the one answer or a lock on the perfect explanation. In this 3-part series, I…

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How to flip your class with quizzes in 5 steps


A great read from Julie Schell from peerinstruction.net (a great resource for ideas on peer instruction) on how you can flip your class using quizzes.

Turn to Your Neighbor: The Official Peer Instruction Blog

quizgooglenoncommuse Measuring a student’s knowledge state is the typical purpose of quizzes in education. Can these short tests do more?

Quizzes have long been used as a “stick” in education. Did you ever scramble at the warning from your own teachers during class,  “y’all better do your work…or else.. I am going to give you a quiz!”

Of course, most educators use quizzes for a more evolved reason. Rather than quiz as punishment, we use the mini-tests to check in on our students before a more substantial, high stakes exam or assessment. Indeed, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, a quiz is by definition a test of knowledge.

Recent research in cognitive science tells us that the power of quizzing students extends far beyond simply measuring a learner’s knowledge state at a given moment in time. Quizzing, it turns out, provides a robust learning effect in and of itself.

Memory researchers Roediger and Butler (2011) note:…

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Goodbye chalkboard! The opportunities and challenges of teaching in an active learning classroom


Professor Chris Buddle writes an very interesting article on some of his experiences with one of our Active Learning Classrooms at Macdonald Campus. These innovative classrooms were designed to support exactly the type of teaching and learning Professor Buddle is implementing: interactive and engaging inquiry. We look forward to more reflections as the term progresses…

Arthropod Ecology

This year I have the pleasure of teaching my Population and Community Ecology class in one of McGill’s Active Learning Classrooms – this one is touted as been quite exceptional, and I’m keen to put it to the test. Over the past 4-5 years, I have been teaching my quantitative ecology course almost entirely with chalk. In fact, I have actively argued about the value of teaching with chalk, and about a move away from technology can be beneficial to student learning, to my own teaching, and overall a very positive experience for all. Now I’ll be faced with this kind of environment when teaching my class:

Screen Shot 2016-01-10 at 11.14.36 AM A view of two of the group tables in the Macdonald Campus active learning classroom; each “pod” seats 12 students (in three wings), and each is colour coded, and linked and adjacent to a screen and whiteboard So why change?

One problem…

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