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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. ​


Oct 18
Now's the Time: Midterm Feedback

It's that time of the term. For many courses, we're about half way done. If you haven't already done so, we want to encourage you to solicit feedback from your students.

While formal feedback at the end of the term is helpful, it's too late to make any changes in your teaching approach for your current group of learners.

That's why it is important to ask some questions while we still have an opportunity to adapt our plans to better meet the needs of our students.

This is the process I've tried:

  • I tell students in advance that I'll be asking for their feedback so they have some time to think about it
  • On my feedback form, I ask them to consider a range of things such as: pace of the course, my accessibility outside of class, range of teaching methods used in the class, quality of resources, helpfulness of my feedback, etc.
  • I then ask them to answer three questions: What should I continue doing? What should I consider doing? What should I stop doing?
  • I review the feedback after I received it with the students

This last piece is tough, but reporting back:  

  • Demonstrates to students that I have actually read their feedback.
  • Invigorates me to share what's working. 
  • Allows me to ask for clarification on their feedback or allows me to explain why I can't accommodate their feedback.
  • Makes students more open to my feedback as I model effective ways to respond to negative or constructive feedback. (Weimer, 2016)

Do you solicit midterm feedback from students? How do you do it? How do you regulate your response to positive and constructive feedback?  Please click on “Sign In" on the top right. Enter your RRC credentials and join the conversation!

Weimer, M. (2016, June 15). Benefits of Talking with Students about Mid-Course Evaluations. Retrieved from Faculty Focus by Magna Publications.

Oct 11
Thanks to You...

​On the Friday before the Thanksgiving long weekend, Janine and I want to use today's post to give thanks to you, our colleagues, who help make Faculty Fridays a meaningful landing spot for conversations about teaching for learning. pumpkin.jpg

Thank you, sincerely, to every reader and every commenter. We are so grateful for your input and support.

What are you thankful for in your teaching world on this Friday?

Sign in above and post a comment below to join the conversation.


Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash


Oct 04
A Gameful Approach to Project-Based Learning

"Being gameful means bringing the same psychological strengths we naturally display when we play games—such as optimism, creativity, courage, and determination—to real world situations."

Kyle_Geske.jpgThis quote from Jane McGonigal's book SuperBetter: The Power of Living Gamefully was a game-changer for our colleague Kyle Geske.

Back in June the Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education (STLHE) hosted its annual conference in Winnipeg. I had the privilege of taking in Kyle's session titled: “Motivation, Feedback and Epic Failure: A Gameful Approach to Project-Based Learning."

Kyle explained how he converted his IT coding course from lectures + assignments + exams to one that instead used lectures + challenges + a project.

  • The revised lectures are heavy on demonstration of foundational skills, not traditional teacher-led lectures.
  • The challenges are a series of small assessments done in pairs to allow for interim feedback on developing skills.
  • The students then complete an individual project to build an actual ecommerce platform putting their new skills into practice.

With a detailed rubric that outlines competencies, students work individually to meet (or even exceed) the requirements of the project. Project grading and guidance are doled out over four to ten in-person sessions between the learner and the teacher. Students are motivated through a public leaderboard that regularly records where students are at in demonstrating the needed skills. 

Kyle's model of I do, we do, you do leaves lots of room for failure. In fact, he models that by making mistakes in front of his students and rewards their experimentation. He also stresses that building trust between instructor and learner is key to the success of this style of course. Students must see instructors as domain experts and mentors, not simply as assessors or gatekeepers of grades.

Kyle's approach is learner-directed and Instructor-mentored. He ended his presentation with an acronym to rethink the work FAIL: First Attempt in Learning.

Game on.


Please join us in congratulating Kyle on being accepted to speak at the conference and for representing RRC well. He will also be delivering this presentation at the upcoming Science Teachers' Association of Manitoba (STAM) MTS PD Day. Click on the “sign in" button at the top right, enter your RRC credentials, and join the conversation.

Sep 27
Walking into Knowledge

​Floodlights and walks across campus: These maybe don’t sound like the usual tools an instructor has in their kit, but Kerry Coulter employs both to great effect with her students in the Child & Youth Care program. Kerry Coulter (2).JPG

Floodlights are a concept Kerry learned from Glenn Hammond in the CAE program. “He taught me the importance of keeping the big picture in mind rather than always drilling down into the details – be the floodlight not the spotlight, he would say,” explains Kerry.

And she uses that floodlight approach when she tells her students to get up, leave the classroom and go for a walk – outside if the weather’s nice, inside if it’s not. She calls this activity a “reflective walk” and she wants students to achieve a specific outcome while they’re walking.

“I put them into pairs and give them a question to guide their conversation,” says Kerry. “I want them to realize that they can learn a lot from each other, that learning isn’t always related to marks and that I don’t need to be there for them to be learning.”

Sometimes the question she asks them to focus on relates to course content; sometimes it’s open-ended and designed to foster relationships among the students. Regardless, the big picture here is about getting students to guide their own learning.

Kerry springs this activity on the class partway into the term, once she has a sense of students as a group of learners, and usually catches them by surprise. “You want us to get up and leave the classroom?” they ask. “To learn? Really?” But once they’ve done it once, “they love it,” says Kerry. “And so do I.” ​

Sep 20
Forming Formative Assessment

Last week we profiled Robert Funk - Construction Electrician Instructor and this year's recipient of the Mervin Maxwell Award.

One of the key improvements that Robert identified in his evolving teaching practice is the use of more formative assessment.

Formative assessment is ongoing feedback to the student about progress and to the teacher about the effectiveness of instruction. It is no/low marks, low stakes, and should take place all throughout a lesson.

Consider formative assessment in contrast to summative in this table:

Formative Assessment

Summative Assessment

Assessment FOR LearningAssessment OF Learning
“A Moving Picture"“A Snapshot in Time"
Essential Question: How can I help my students learn more?Essential Question: What have my students learned already?
Purpose: To improve learningPurpose: To prove learning

Essentially we want to be asking ourselves: How will my students and I know if they are taking in new knowledge and skills? How will I give feedback as they practice?

Good questioning is an excellent place to start. Here are a few tools and techniques that I have used to help give feedback to students and gather it for myself: 

How do you incorporate formative assessment into your lessons? Click on the “sign in" button on the top right of the screen. Enter your RRC credentials and then share a comment. Join the conversation!

Sep 13
Award Lights Up Life-long Learner

Robert Funk.jpgRobert Funk, Construction Electrician Instructor, is this year's recipient of RRC's Mervin Maxwell Award. He earned this recognition for completing the Certificate in Adult Education (CAE)  program in a manner that demonstrates a commitment to life-long learning and professional development, and that supports the distinctive ideals of adult learning.

This award was established in February 2009 to honour the memory of Mervin Maxwell, a dedicated long-term Instructor and the first Coordinator in the CAE program at Red River College. 

Mervin was a well-respected adult educator who spent his career educating teachers. His passion for his work stemmed from the belief that knowledge and skills related to teaching and learning are as equally important as subject area expertise.

I asked Rob about the impact the CAE had on his development as a professional educator. Rob pointed to three key changes:

  • “I use more formative assessment now. Regular, low stakes assessment gives students feedback on their progress, and cues to me on the effectiveness of my teaching. This allows me to adjust as necessary.
  • I'm more responsive to the learning needs of the students in my class. I consider their varied needs, backgrounds, learning styles and ensure I plan accordingly.
  • I'm more reflective. I constantly re-evaluate my teaching methods to see how I can better meet the needs of my students".

Well said, Rob. Congratulations!


Please join us in congratulating Rob on this recognition. Click on the “sign in" button at the top right, enter your RRC credentials, and join the conversation. What positive impact has the CAE had on your development as a professional educator?

Photo: Robert Funk (center) with Kurt Proctor, Chair of Teacher Education and Judy McGuirk, CAE Program Coordinator.

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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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