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Jan 17
Rock-solid Instructor Wins Award

Congratulations to Brian Gebhardt, RRC masonry instructor, for being named Instructor of the Year by Apprenticeship Manitoba. He received the award at a gala dinner in early December. Brian Gebhardt close up view.jpg

Brian has been teaching the skill of masonry to students at RRC for 30 years – and he still loves what he does. For him, it’s all about the students. 

“It gives me a great deal of satisfaction to take a ‘never before mason’, and give them the skills they need to be an accomplished, competent mason,” he says. “I have many students who have moved from apprentice to journeyperson, some to foreman, to supervisor, and some to masonry business owner.” Many of his students have also won awards at Skills Canada and at World Skills events: “I’m often told that Canadian masons can’t compete with Europeans, but yes we can!” he says.

Brian attributes his success in life to two opportunities that he was given. The first “is having someone believe in me to give me a bricklayer apprenticeship, and the second is that 30 years ago four people at RRC gave me the chance to be the masonry instructor at the College.” He has clearly never looked back – and his students are the fortunate beneficiaries of his skill and dedication.

Way to go, Brian! Your award is well deserved recognition. Thank you for the reminder that the important work of teaching is all about students.

To read more about Brian and his career, follow this link to the story posted on the RRC website: https://www.rrc.ca/news/2019/12/09/masonry-master-named-apprenticeship-manitobas-instructor-of-the-year/


Jan 10
What’s Your Plus One? Inspiration for 2020

Happy New Year! As we enter a New Year of possibilities, we want to inspire you with today's post to step into the influence we have in our role as instructors.

We invite you to kick start your teaching year by watching a video. It's a TED Talk by Aimee Mullins, an athlete, actress and model whose lower legs had to be amputated. In this TED Talk, Aimee reframes the word “disability" into “diversity". The full video is worth a watch, but if you're short on time, fast forward to the 17-minute mark for a direct connection to education and instructors.


When Amanda and I watched this video, we were reminded of a favorite quote about teaching from our own Teresa Menzies: “We don't teach subjects; we teach students," she says. And she is so right. Those faces in front of us in the classroom or the shop or behind the screen in an online course? Each one represents an individual who brings their own life experiences to their learning.

Let's embrace that diversity and strive for inclusive learning environments for all our students this year.

One way to do this is to adopt a “plus one" approach to your teaching practice. In other words, what is one additional thing you could do every time you teach a course to strengthen your inclusion practices? For example, you could:

  • Revisit your videos to ensure they all have closed captioning
  • Become more familiar with Student Supports at the College to be able to refer students more appropriately for the assistance they need to succeed
  • Provide more variety in your instructional techniques to better serve different learning preferences

The options are endless, but adopting a “plus one" attitude makes improving the inclusiveness of our teaching more manageable.


Sign in above, enter your RRC credentials, and join the conversation by sharing your “plus one". How do you commit to being more inclusive in your teaching for learning in 2020?

Dec 13
'Twas the Weeks Before Christmas

'Twas the weeks before Christmas and all through the school

With grading and planning I was losing my cool


Students' final assignments show that some don't want to work

But giving low grades makes me feel like a jerk


I'm tired and cranky - the students have it coming

But I stop and think, what a scrooge I'm becoming


I focus on my work and try to be wise

So I can enjoy the last few weeks with these guys


But good teaching is hard, I remind myself still

It takes relationships, reflection, and loads of skill


Instructors need support - that's where Faculty Fridays come in

Because in the classroom we all want a win


Together we share, debate and discuss

Teaching best practices for all of us


We're focused on students and all that they need

So eventually our students will take the lead


Thanks for your contribution to teaching and learning

You're keeping the fire of skill and knowledge transfer burning


We wish you the happiest and merriest of holidays

From Janine and Amanda of Faculty Fridays


Enjoy your time off and spread some good cheer

In the New Year Faculty Fridays will again reappear


Adapted from: The Nerdy Teacher Blog, Amy Oelschlager

Dec 06
Death, Taxes and Marking

It's been said that the only constant in life is death and taxes. As Instructors, we might add marking to the list!

Carolyn Schmidt - Color.jpgWith many Instructors facing end of term marking, today we wanted to share an innovation from RRC Instructor Carolyn Schmidt that might help. Carolyn teaches Professional Development in Applied Computer Education.

With larger class sizes and many international students, she was struggling with the time required to mark a particular assignment that required students to demonstrate strong writing and formatting skills. Students were expected to submit a draft (worth 50% of the assessment), and then a final version based on her feedback (worth 50% of the assessment).

To improve the process, here is her three-step technique:

  1. Speed Review. In one class, she spent a minute or two with each student looking only at the format of their draft document, and suggested immediate revisions. This ensured students had a good foundation to work from even before submitting the draft.
  2. Peer Review. For this step, she created a specific marking guide and detailed checklist for what students were to review in their classmates' draft. Each student had to review the work of at least two other students. The first pairing was selected by Carolyn so she could match stronger writers with weaker writers. For the second pairing, students could choose someone they know and trust. As students used the tools to suggest improvements for the classmates, they were also discovering things to revise about their own drafts.  
  3. Instructor Feedback Meetings. This is where Carolyn provided individual feedback to small groups of students on their drafts. She then asked the groups to help each other implement the revisions.

Carolyn has noted many benefits of this multi-step process that uses more formative assessment: “The final versions are so much stronger. While it has taken some of the pressure off me to do it all, students are learning other meaningful skills like how to give, receive and use feedback. The multi-step process is focused not on a grade, but on mastery of the skill."


How do you work smarter, not harder when it comes to grading student work? Click the sign in button on the top right, enter your RRC credentials and join the conversation!

Nov 29
Is a Lecture Ever the Right Teaching Method?

Recently, I heard a student comment in the hallway about lectures. This student said, “Lectures are so boring. The information goes over my head." Yikes, I thought: I sometimes use lectures in my teaching, so her comment touched a nerve for me. 

Since that day, I've done some thinking about how lectures could be acceptable within the context of applied learning that we have at RRC. I'd love your comments and feedback on the guidelines I've drafted:

Effective lectures are actually 2-way conversations: No one likes to be talked at, so the key is to bring the students into the lecture by peppering the talk with questions that encourage them to respond and contribute to the evolving conversation. In addition, I intersperse activities – individual or small group – into the lecture to keep them engaged in the learning. 

Productive lectures are hard work: Lecturing is not just talking; it's planning and practising and revising. It must be designed for the specific group of students in the course, and those students must be taught how to get the most out of the lecture – this can include effective note taking, active listening, and probing questioning.  

Meaningful lectures go beyond the textbook: It's not about “speaking" the textbook; it's about bringing key concepts and ideas alive by talking about them as a first step in the learning journey. The next step is for the students to translate their new knowledge into applied skills and abilities. Animate the teaching with examples, stories and additional sources that expand the students' thinking and their sense of potential. 

Memorable lectures require personality: Every minute of teaching is performance art of one kind or another. Bring your best energy and most dynamic personality to it, and expect the same of the students in their role. Teaching and learning both take energy, focus and commitment.

What do you think? Am I just trying to make myself feel better or can lecturing be good and appropriate teaching sometimes?


Do you use lectures to teach? Have you sworn off them? Tell us about your experience as an instructor or as a student. Sign in above, then comment below to join the conversation. ​

Nov 22
Breaking Out For Learning

Have you ever been to an escape room? Escape rooms are growing in popularity as a unique form of entertainment. Essentially, participants get “locked" in a theme room; for example, a bank, a ship, or a castle. With a 45-60 minute time limit, participants work together to find hidden clues and solve puzzles to “escape".

Educators are using the same principle in the classroom too.

I got a firsthand look at how to create an escape room in the classroom from Instructor Dr. Eva Brown. Eva teaches in the Business/Technology Teacher Education program. Eva and her colleagues are preparing the next generation of business and technology teachers for the public school system in Manitoba right here at Red River College.

Here's how it works:

  • Break Out 1.jpgThe Instructor prepares a series of content-related questions. These questions (or clues for the questions) are hidden around the classroom. As the group of students finds and successfully answers the questions, they are gathering clues for how to unlock a large box (think tool box) that has some kind of prize (think treats!). For example, successfully answering a math question may reveal the first number of a combination lock.
  • Instead of paper problems and clues, you can also set up the questions in a Google Form. That makes it really easy to share with students (and other Instructors).

Break Out 2.jpgThe popular name brand version of this technique is Breakout EDU, but you can also to it with a series of boxes and locks on your own. That's how Eva handles it. She has purchased various locks – a combination lock, a keyed lock, and a directional lock. This provides lots of options for how the content answers can be used to access the box.

I asked Eva about the draw of this approach: “The beauty of this teaching tool is that you are seamlessly integrating content with 21st century skills like collaboration, problem solving, creativity and communication."

Give it a try. See if your students can “break out".

What innovations are you using in your teaching practice? Click the sign in button on the top right, enter your RRC credentials, and join the conversation.

Nov 15
Leaving the Classroom Stimulates Growth

Taking the learning out of the classroom and out of our control can seem intimidating, even scary maybe, but Meagen Chorney, nursing instructor, says that her experience with the College's Step Out of Your Box (SOYB) service-learning program proves it can be worth that feeling of risk.  

M. Chorney.jpgShe incorporated the program into her Gender Studies for Health Professionals course as an alternative assignment to writing a paper. “Incorporating service-learning into my course was easy," she explains, “because I worked with Vera Godavari, the program coordinator, to implement it."  SOYB helps students explore a dimension of diversity different from their own. The program takes students out of the classroom and into the work world, where they complete seven hours of volunteer time at a community organization of their choice. The objective is to coordinate with the organization to plan a project; the students write a reflection on their experience.

“Students were not only learning about the communities they were volunteering with, they were also learning about themselves," says Meagen. “As an instructor, I can give my students readings, lectures, and discussions. With the help of SOYB, I can also give my students that 'a-ha' moment when theory comes to life. As one student put it, “I finished this experience not learning what I wanted, but learning what I needed."

The first time Meagen offered SOYB as an alternative assignment, most of her students chose it. Since then, every student has chosen service-learning over writing a paper. From the comments in their reflections, students see the value of this experience, she says. “For me, it has been a shift in my perspective of my role as an instructor. I had to let go of control over what and how exactly a student will learn."


How do you feel about taking risks with your teaching tools? How might you incorporate service-learning into your courses? Sign in above, then comment below to join the conversation.

Nov 08
What Could I Do With This?

Since I became an Instructor, I often consider how I can use everyday items in the classroom.

  • A deck of cards? Perhaps a fun way to get students into groups?
  • My daughters' Halloween smarties? A tasty way to teach sampling?
  • My daughters' game HeadBanz? An effective way to review terms?

Ikea Spinner.JPGSo, when I noticed this spinner at IKEA, I knew I could use it in the classroom too. I used it as part of an ice breaker this fall. I wrote 24 unique questions and then numbered them. As students entered they were invited to spin the wheel to receive their question. This gave them a little time to think about their answer before class officially began.

I know there's more I could do with it for teaching. Any ideas? Or, anything from your world that you've repurposed for teaching?

Click the sign in button on the top right, enter your RRC credentials, and join the conversation.

P.S. Let me know if you'd like to borrow it for your class!

Nov 01
Is it Worth the Effort?

Question Mark.pngAbout a month ago, Amanda and I received an interesting question from a Faculty Fridays reader.

Our colleague asked, “Does reaching one student make it all worth it? For example, if you try something new in class and it really resonates with one student, and you're not sure whether it impacted anyone else, is that a “win"?

Amanda and I each have a slightly different take on this.

Janine: I'm a yes… but! I think the broader range of teaching tools we use to facilitate learning the more likely we are to support more students. We may not be able to meet each students' learning preferences every day, but we should strive to support each student's success on balance. And remember, what is best for students is not necessarily what is most convenient for Instructors. That may feel a bit uncomfortable, but good teaching definitely takes effort. I'm certainly not suggesting I get it right every day, but student learning is worth the effort to try. Having said that, as part of a continually reflective practice, we should ask our students how activities support their learning. Then we can make informed decisions. 

Amanda: I'm a yes… but! Trying new things in the classroom keeps me interested in my work and inspires me to continually up my teaching game. I think about the individual students and their individual needs within the larger group, but I want my effort to meet the needs of more students rather than fewer. If I try something new and it doesn't work for most of the students in the class, I don't think I could call that a win. There's always risk involved in trying something new and, if it doesn't work out superbly, it can feel pretty crummy. That said, the beauty of teaching is that one “bad" class isn't the end of the story for us as instructors – the next class with those same students is a second chance to start fresh!    

What do you think? Asking for a friend!?!

Click the sign in button on the top right, enter your RRC credentials, and join the conversation.

Oct 25
From High-Stakes Failure to Low-Stakes Success

Clayton Lorraine, an instructor at the Language Training Centre, spent many an hour teaching his ESL students the finer points of PowerPoint to prepare them for their first live presentation in his language class. And he spent many an hour being disappointed in the results.

“I could teach all the tips and tricks, font size and style, not too much text on slides, etc., but then often the students would make those mistakes anyway," he explained. So, he decided to take a different approach.

Clayton Lorraine LTC profile.jpgInstead of doing all the teaching up front to prepare the students for the high-stakes experience of a live presentation in front of their peers, Clayton put the students into learning groups, assigned topics and set them free to learn about presenting with PowerPoint by exploring for themselves.

“Each week, one group would present, and then the class brainstormed what was good and what could be improved," said Clayton. “We used a shared document in Word 365 (via a link posted to LEARN) in which everyone entered their ideas and suggestions. They covered design, delivery and content with their comments."

The students came to their own realizations about best practices with PowerPoint; for example, images are important, weird fonts are terrible, etc.

Clayton transformed a high-stakes graded assignment into an experiential learning activity with the focus on learning rather than marks. “Taking the pressure off the presenting part of the activity made it possible for the students to focus more on their delivery, the structure of the presentation, and the dynamics of their group," said Clayton. “Flipping the responsibility onto them to notice what's effective and what isn't draws the information out of them. The other way is too directive, and they don't explore."

Clayton has been teaching presentations this way for over two years and is transferring this learner-centered approach to other topics, including email writing. “Knowing something doesn't necessarily lead to application of that knowledge," he said. “Nudging them to notice what could be improved translates to meaningful learning for them."


Are you using learner-centered approaches in your teaching? Do you have questions about how you could adapt a topic to this approach? Sign in above, then comment below to join the conversation. ​


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Faculty Fridays is a blog to celebrate and nurture good teaching. Together, we'll put a face on teaching for learning at RRC. ​

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