Considering Body Language

A few weeks ago I had an interesting conversation with a faculty member who had recently attended a conference where the keynote speaker spoke about body language and how our mind interprets body language. Mark Bowden was the presenter and, fortunately for us, he also did a presentation at a TEDx Talks in Toronto where his presentation was recorded. In his speech called “The Importance of Being Inauthentic,” Bowden talks about how strangers we meet categorize us in their minds based on their first impressions. The interesting point he discusses is how, due to population, we are more likely to feel indifferently about a person we have just met. This idea has interesting implications for the classroom. For example, is there something we can do upon first meeting our students to ensure that they don’t think of us with indifference? According to Bowden there  is. Check out his talk!


The Thaw

File:Evelyn Nesbit Thaw by Bain News Service, 1913.jpg

Evelyn Nesbit Thaw by Bain News Service, 1913

With a name like “Thaw,” how could I not include this image.

As many of us are battling our way toward the end of the semester after an impossibly cold winter, the looming thaw and the hope of spring is finally in the air. I could tell last week in class when the energy level of the students was higher than usual, and not in a productive way. It was like a frenzy of energy that I was trying unsuccessfully to manage. The kind of energy that sets in when the longer days have returned and the students can sense that the end is near.

At this time of year, trying to maintain one’s enthusiasm can become more and more challenging, so I appreciated this blog by Dr. Hal Urban, a professor, in which he attempts to spell out enthusiasm, as it relates to teaching, one letter at time. In particular, I like his comment that teaching is tough: “Teaching is not for sissies,” he claims and I agree! This is particularly true for teachers in Ontario teaching in the winter. I also enjoyed his comment about having a sense of humour in the class: “You will die in the classroom without one.” A moment’s chuckle with students during class has saved me more times than I can name.

If you’re a little lacking in the enthusiasm department and want to read more, click here: If you’re too tired to try, hold fast. Spring is almost here. I swear. Really.

Online Discussions and How to Evaluate Them

If you are starting to dig a bit deeper into the Blackboard realm and its tools, you may be using the discussion feature. In a strictly online course, the ability to have students interact with each other in a discussion becomes all the more important, but the tool can still be useful for in-class courses.

Some of the challenges, however, with discussions are with organization and evaluation. It can be challenging to come up with discussion topics that students will actually want to engage with, not just because they have to. This is why a few of the recommendations in a recent Faculty Focus article on discussion boards were particularly helpful. For example, one great suggestion is to limit the group size. Apparently, smaller group discussions are more effective than larger groups. The suggestion in this case is to limit the group size to about ten people.

Developing rubrics for online discussions can also be a challenge, so I was really pleased to see that Gloria P. Craig, the generous author of the article, was kind enough to share the rubrics she uses for both undergraduate and graduate students. You can see the undergraduate example here:

And should you want to read the article in its entirety to see what other great tips you can pick up, you’ll find it here:

For a more comprehensive look at the idea of online discussions, should you be considering adding them to your courses, check out Cornell University’s page on the topic:

And closer to home, don’t forget about our talented and knowledgeable E-Learning specialists: Jamie Edwards and Carolle Boudreau.

The Why and How of Assessments

As of late, I have had various conversations about assessments: types of assessments, usefulness of assessment, etc. One question that I found interesting to consider was about where learning actually occurs and whether or not we are organizing assessments for reporting or learning. This question was proposed during a webinar that also focused heavily on the idea of assessments being useful. Instead of thinking about what types of assessment to create, the participants in the webinar were encouraged to reflect on how the assessment will be used.

The University of Connecticut has an interesting page on the subject entitled “Why Assessment?”. In particular, they include an interesting quote from Kevin Bain’s (2004) What the Best College Teachers Do about how one learns best:

“People tend to learn most effectively (in ways that make a sustained, substantial, and positive influence on the way they think, act, or feel) when

  • they are trying to solve problems (intellectual, physical, artistic, practical, abstract, etc.) or create something new that they find intriguing, beautiful, and/or important;
  • they are able to do so in a challenging yet supportive environment in which they can feel a sense of control over their own education;
  • they can work collaboratively with other learners to grapple with the problems;
  • they believe that their work will be considered fairly and honestly; and
  • they can try, fail, and receive feedback from expert learners in advance of and separate from any summative judgment of their efforts.”

To read more about the purpose of assessments, as well as review other great resources about the development of assessments, follow this link:

And to read more about Kevin Bain’s book, click here:

Cell Phones in the Classroom

Before wading into this debate, I confess to having a cell phone that I’m glad to have and use daily. That being said, the use of cell phones in the classroom by students, without permission, drives me bananas! I guess I’m just old school, but I feel like there is a time and a place. I fail to see how one can really focus on classroom content when they are otherwise engaged, but maybe I’m just not that good at multitasking.

This week, Spark’s blog is also about the use of cell phones in class. The difference in this case is that the subject is addressed from a student’s perspective, which is why it’s interesting that Becca Cadue, the blog’s author, refers to cell phones as “our other appendage.” The statistics Cadue was able to dig up are nothing short of staggering: students spending ten hours a day on their cell phones, for example. To read more, you can find the post here:

Another article on the subject can be found on the Faculty Focus blog: “Cell Phones in the Classroom: What’s Your Policy?”. In this post the author shares the results of one study in which researchers established a reduction in grades based on cell phone usage in the classroom. Furthermore, students apparently underestimate how often they actually use their phones. But what was most interesting to me is the assertion that other students are distracted by another individual’s cell phone usage when in the classroom.

There are plenty of other articles on this topic. For example, one interesting article from 2013 explores the link between cell phone usage and social anxiety. You can find it here:

I have yet to find a truly effective solution to the problem. Let me know if you have any suggestions!

The Importance of Shop Class

bike picture for blog

Toward the end of December, I was busy looking into professional development opportunities that would be of interest to those teaching in the trades. In my conversations with others, I was encouraged to read an essay by Matthew B. Crawford entitled “Shop Class as Soulcraft.” The essay was later expanded into a book: Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work.

The essay is so interesting, and Crawford makes a compelling argument for the value inherent in being able to make something by yourself, not to mention the joy we get from being able to say, “I made that!”. The essay is a great read, even if you don’t teach in the trades. You can find a copy of it online here:

Using Pinterest for Student Assignments

Carolle Boudreau, E-Learning Specialist for Brockville and Cornwall, was kind enough to pass on information about a project she did with the students in her Introduction to Nutrition class this semester that included Pinterest. As you may recall, Spark wrote a blog post about how to use Pinterest in the classroom back in September. If you missed the post, you can find it here:

Carolle asked her students to create a Nutrition Board using information they were able to find on Pinterest. As Carolle admits, not everything on Pinterest is of educational value, but the assignment required students to find information that is useful in terms of better understanding health and nutrition.

If you are interested in reading more about Carolle’s assignment, reviewing her rubric, or seeing a student example, check out the following: Pinterest LAST.