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Apr 20
Final Grades: To Bump or Not to Bump?

Janine and I were talking recently about end-of-term duties, and we started discussing how we assign final grades. It didn't take long for the thorny question of bumping up marks arose. I said yes, and Janine said no. In this week's post, we each lay out our best arguments. To bump or not to bump.pngWhere are you on this issue? Have we missed some important considerations?

Janine
I dislike entering final grades. It's the least fulfilling part of my job. I work with these students all semester and in the end, it comes down to just a letter. I'm jealous of my friends who teach in the school system and can, at least, add comments. I want to say so much more than a letter as students leave my class. And then there is the inevitable case of the student whose final grade is 74.4, for example. Should I round up to 75? In my personal practice, I don't do it. I ask Excel to round to the nearest whole number and then the grade is the grade.

I do this for a couple of reasons. First, while I am a slow marker I am a very thorough marker. Every student receives meaningful and defensible feedback on everything they hand in. So, I feel pretty confident in the marks throughout the term. Second, I fundamentally think that marks should be earned, not given. Third, it's a slippery slope. If you could make a case to bump up 74.4 to a B+, what about 74.3? What about 74.2? Is that also "close enough"? Finally, those of us who have completed our CAE probably enjoyed some robust discussion about the college phenomenon of "grade inflation". It's a real issue. The final bumping of marks contributes further to this challenge.

Amanda:
In my early days, I agonized over assigning marks to students' work; I found it uncomfortable to 'judge' their efforts. Fortunately, over the years, I've come to terms with this important part of my responsibility. I teach communication skills, and the assessing of students' ability and learning in this field is equal part art and science. Sure, some assignments are obviously right or wrong. But frequently, my own judgment comes into play – for example when assessing oral presentations: Was their body language worth 8 or 9 points out of 10?  When assessing written assignments: Is the grasp of grammar and punctuation at a 3/5 or a 3.5/5 value? 

My approach to marking throughout the term tends to be more holistic than atomistic; in other words, I don't deduct a 1/4 mark for this or that here and there. I believe my approach is fair and accurate in relation to the learning outcomes associated with communication skills. That is why, at the end of term, I can find myself adjusting a student's mark upward to put them at the next letter grade: I ​round up at X.5 or higher and round down at X.4 or lower. But, in addition to that, I am not opposed to bumping up further.

I have moved at least one student to an A+ whose mark was a very high A but not within that 0.5 margin. I did so because of the overall quality of the term-long work. My rationale is that any one assignment that got a (relatively speaking) lower grade was an exception; that one assignment caused the student to land on a very solid A but robbed them of an A+. Because the overall quality of the work achieved throughout the term was at an A+ standard, I feel my approach is defensible.

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Next month Janine and I are meeting with Dr. Christine Watson, VP Academic, to share the results of our survey on the future of Faculty Fridays. If you haven't already done so, would you please complete this short questionnaire?

Apr 13
BRAVO! For Teaching Excellence

Did you happen to catch Paul's email a few weeks ago announcing this year's BRAVO Award winners?

The BRAVO Awards are the highest level of peer-nominated recognition at RRC. Our sincere congratulations to all 2018 winners. Today, we'd like to introduce you to the winners of the Award for Teaching Excellence – Blanche Kingdon and Roger Fitch.

Blanche Kingdon.jpgBlanche Kingdon is an Instructor at the Language Training Centre. Her career at the college has focused on English as a Second Language (ESL) – particularly for internationally-educated professionals. Blanche says, "It has been a privilege to interact and facilitate learning for students who have taken substantial risk and shown great courage to immigrate and settle in Canada. I have admired their determination to embrace change and undertake the necessary preparatory steps to be able to enter their professions in Canada."

Blanche says that the key to her success in the classroom is the use of self-assessment and self-reflection as an instructor:  "It has been instrumental in helping me to maintain perspective as an educator in a changing world and also helped me to garner insight for developing and facilitating classes and programs relevant to student goals for entering the workplace."

Roger Fitch.JPGRoger Fitch is an Instructor in the School of Continuing Education, who is guided by the following principles in his teaching:

  • Remember what it was like to be a student, and design engaging classes that would have resonated with that younger self
  • Make the material as easy and relevant as possible for the students
  • Incorporate humour whenever possible

Roger and Blanche – on behalf of your teaching colleagues, congratulations on this well-deserved recognition!

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Next month Amanda and I are meeting with Dr. Christine Watson, VP Academic to share the results of our survey on the future of Faculty Fridays. If you haven't already done so, would you please complete this short questionnaire?

Apr 06
Crowdsourcing Solutions to Classroom Challenge – Part 2

Did you happen to catch last week's Faculty Fridays post? We crowdsourced some excellent suggestions for how to reinvigorate in-class discussions. Amanda and I felt so inspired, we decided to park our planned post for this week and crowdsource another one.

Here is a constant challenge in my classroom: effectively facilitating group work.

  • Do you assign the groups or do you let students make up the groups? Why?
  • If you assign the groups, what criteria are important to you? If you let students make the groups, what type of advice do you provide to choose well?
  • How much do you intercede to sort out group conflict? Do you teach preventative techniques to decrease the amount of conflict? Do you require that students assign each other marks for their participation in the group?
  • Or do you never use groups in your teaching? If so, why not?


I sincerely welcome your suggestions. Please click "sign in" on the top right, and then offer your suggestions through the comment box below the post.

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Next week we'll meet the 2018 recipients of the 2018 BRAVO Award for Teaching Excellence – Roger Fitch and Blanche Kingdon. Stay tuned!

Also, if you haven't done so already, please complete our short questionnaire on the future of Faculty Fridays. It will take no more than five minutes. Thank you in advance!

Mar 29
Crowdsourcing Solutions to Classroom Challenge

Since Faculty Fridays began last fall, Amanda and I have had a weekly call. Each Tuesday we touch base to edit draft posts, discuss future posts, and so on. 

Recently Amanda also shared a classroom challenge. She's concerned about the quality of classroom discussions she is able to generate. She feels the discussions are falling flat and she's finding it difficult to engage students in more than a few basic contributions. She was curious if her skills as a facilitator could use a little tune up.

That got us thinking - why not crowd source some options through this week's blog?

So, today's post is a little different. What suggestions do you have for how Amanda could engage students in more meaningful and sustained classroom discussions? I have the same challenge so I can't wait to see the collective perspective of our readers. Please click "sign in" on the top right, and then offer your suggestions through the comment box below the post.

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Do you have a classroom challenge that you'd like advice on? Please share below or email us directly at alerougetel@rrc.ca or jacarmichael@rrc.ca.  

Also, if you haven't done so already, please complete our short questionnaire on the future of Faculty Fridays. It will take no more than five minutes. Thank you in advance!

Mar 23
The PR of Teaching
Amanda Mar 23.jpg

You likely think quite a lot about what you teach and how you're going to teach it, but have you ever considered who you are as a teacher in the classroom, workshop or lab? I think of this as the 'persona' or 'presence' of the instructor.

My persona is informed by what I call the "PR of Teaching", the Principles and Responsibilities of an instructor.

My principles include:

  • No student is a blank slate. I try to tie new knowledge and skills to their existing experience through reflective activities and assignments.
  • Contact time is the 'performance'. Prep time is the 'rehearsal'. Without enough rehearsal, I cannot perform successfully and, for sure, I'll never be asked for an encore!
  • Learning is not a spectator sport. I strive to make my classroom 'messy' with group activities and student-led teaching. Obviously, I must know the learning objectives of the module and plan the lesson, but students should have the room to discover the meaning of the learning.

My responsibilities are to:

  • Be an effective instructor by combining teaching skills with subject matter expertise.
  • Model the behavior of a leader: Have a plan. Share the plan. Execute the plan. Along the way, make the tough decisions for the benefit of the larger group.
  • Hold the students to account: Set the expectations. Give effective feedback. Assess learning fairly.

So, based on my PR of teaching, who am I in the classroom? What is my persona? Generally, I try to be…

  • a friendly but firm presence in the classroom
  • well prepared with content, industry stories, and activities to bring the learning alive
  • timely in grading of assignments  
  • supportive of every student no matter their challenges  

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Obviously, my track record to achieve all this isn't perfect (some days, I'm far from it!), but these are the standards I aim for. How about you? What is your PR of teaching? Please join the conversation by commenting below.

Also, if you haven't already done so, please participate in our ongoing survey about the future of Faculty Fridays: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/HKMFQ9Q

Mar 16
Apps as Teaching and Learning Tools

There's an app for that!

In 2018, that's often the answer to a question about how to do something more efficiently or effectively. And teaching is no different – many apps exist these days that can enhance the teaching and the learning experience in our classrooms, labs and workshops. The only question, really, is: Which app to use?

I recently put out the call to some of my peers to share their favourite apps, and I got some interesting leads – the SAM app helps students manage anxiety, ShadowPuppet helps them document their learning, while Dropbox facilitates file sharing, and Slack helps with group communication.

MichaMichael Whalen cropped Mar 16.jpgel Whalen, instructor in Math & Science, had a lot to say about apps, including a warning!

"I regularly use apps in my teaching. For example, Socrative is a great review tool. Nearpod helps me deliver a lesson with quizzes embedded. Photomath can solve an algebraic equation and MyScript Calculator is the coolest calculator app you will ever find."

But, says Michael, it's important to know what you're trying to achieve by using an app. "Do you want to punch up your presentations? Help students explore your subject matter? Add in some serious Wow! factor to the learning process? Or enhance the interaction and connection between you and your learners? Whatever your objective is, you will need to invest some upfront time to learn how to use the app, to input or create new material and then to practice with it. The result can definitely be worth your investment; it's just a matter of being prepared for that upfront commitment on your part!"

Also – and here's the real warning: "Many apps listed as free give only partial functionality; to get the real advantage you have to pay. It's also worthwhile to ask yourself how the app compares to the functionality and features available in LEARN -- know what you're getting into before dedicating too much of your time."

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Apps can definitely help bring some tech glamour to our teaching, so what are you using? What's working well? What app wasn't worth the effort, in the end? Please join the conversation by commenting below.

Also, if you haven't already done so, please participate in our ongoing survey about the future of Faculty Fridays: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/HKMFQ9Q

Mar 09
Shaping the Future of Faculty Fridays

Colleagues,

Today's Faculty Fridays post is a little different. Instead of sharing with you, we are going to ask you to share with us.

As we all begin preparations for another academic year in the fall, we are seeking your feedback if Faculty Fridays should continue and if so, what changes could be incorporated to better support you in developing your craft as an adult educator.

Would you please take 5 minutes to complete this questionnaire? Your responses will be kept strictly confidential and only used in aggregate to make strategic decisions about the future of the blog.

https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/HKMFQ9Q

Thank you,

Amanda Le Rougetel and Janine Carmichael

Mar 02
A Personal Invitation to the Great Teacher Seminar

From Teresa Menzies, President and Union Officer, Local 73 and a long-time Instructor!

Dear RRC faculty,

I attended the National Great Teacher Seminar in Banff, Alberta in 1998. I was a committed disciple of the international movement immediately and in 2000, our Prairie Region Seminar in Riding Mountain National Park became a new offering of Great Teacher Seminars offered all over North American and beyond.

This original “un-conference” began in Illinois in 1969 and follows the same unusual format today. We believe strongly that teachers learn to teach from other teachers through discussion and exploration of teaching strategies, innovations, and problem solving. The goal is to identify the characteristics of the “Great Teacher”. This seminar is not limited to those who are already great, but open to anyone who is committed to becoming a great teacher.  Oh…and it’s a whole lot of fun.

Here’s what some of last year’s participants from RRC had to say:

Jeff McMaster.jpg“The GTS experience gave me permission to think of new possibilities in my classroom, and took me far beyond lectures and Power Point presentations.”

~ Jeff McMaster, Business Administration Instructor

Janet Townsend.jpg"The opportunity to attend the GTS and collaborate about innovative teaching engagement strategies, interesting assessment tools and how to work smarter, not harder were valuable takeaways that I am now using every day in my teaching practice."

~ Janet Townsend, Hospitality Instructor

Research shows, the teachers who most want to go to the Great Teacher Seminar are those who have already been! Come and discover what past participants already know!

Teresa Menzies

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For more information about the seminar or how to apply, click here.​

Feb 23
Teaching is Vulnerable Work

A few months ago Amanda and I were chatting about our most embarrassing moments in the classroom.

Amanda shared a story about when she was a relatively new Instructor. On that particular day, she had a two-hour class with her students. While she thought she was fully prepared for the class, they got through the content and activities much faster than expected. When dismissing the students for a break half way through, she advised, "That will be all for today." A student in the front row replied, "But this is a two-hour class, that was only an hour." Amanda politely responded, "I'm sorry. That is everything I have planned for today."

Brene Brown Quote.pngShe described to me how she felt "both embarrassed as a person and inadequate as an Instructor. I felt like I had let down the class on a whole bunch of levels." She told me that she went out for a walk to regather her composure.

My most embarrassing moment is a little different. When I tell this story, I still laugh so hard that I cry. You might not believe it, but this really happened to me…

It had been a particularly busy day. I hadn't had a break until about 2:00 in the afternoon. When I went to the washroom, I saw that the seam up the seat of my pants had ripped. Oh my. Yes, it's really true. I have no idea when it happened. No students ever mentioned it to me. Perhaps they were too embarrassed for me. With the help of a colleague's long sweater, I continued to teach for the rest of the day.

Indeed, teaching is vulnerable work.

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Do you have an embarrassing moment from your classroom, shop or lab? Is it just a funny story, or does being authentic and vulnerable make you a better Instructor?

Feb 16
Jobs, Jobs, Jobs

94%. That's an important number at Red River. It's the employment rate for our graduates. And, it's impressive.

Accomplishing that rate is a shared responsibility among administration, faculty, support services and students.

Specifically, a key partner is Student Employment Services (SES). SES offers a wide range of employment supports and services to current students, recent graduates, and employers. Examples include:

  • Assistance with job search strategies
  • Cover letter and resume writing
  • Interview preparation
  • Employment application forms
  • Current labour market information
  • Job Central (a hub for current positions from industry)

And here's a key piece for faculty – they also provide much of this through classroom presentations.

Trevor Bailey 2.jpgI recently had the pleasure to chat with Trevor Bailey, Coop Coordinator for the Culinary Arts program, as well as Angeline Boekweit, Coordinator for the Hospitality and Tourism program. Both explained about the positive collaboration they have with Student Employment Services (SES).

Both Trevor and Angeline teach co-op preparation classes for students. Having SES join them in the classroom to deliver mock interviews, give feedback and provide additional training makes all the difference.

Angeline Boekweit.jpgAngeline adds, "Without the help of SES, we would not have been able to offer each student a mock interview in class, as well as the personalized follow up. SES is easy to work with because they are flexible and accommodating, as well as super friendly."

Trevor explains, "SES is also a vital link between businesses and students, even alumni. When I go out and talk to alumni they often say that they found their job on RRC's Job Central."

We all want our students to be successful once they leave our classroom. SES is a key partner in helping make that happen.

Find out more on their blog, or Job Central .

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Thank you for joining Amanda and me on this series on support services at RRC. We hope the series will be helpful in delivering good teaching – what we define as "teaching for learning." Stay tuned for next week: our most embarrassing moments as Instructors.

As always, get in touch with Amanda or me to share what is working in your classroom, lab or shop. We'd love to profile you in an upcoming post!

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