Happy New Year 2021!

We are finally leaving 2020 behind and moving forward to a brand new year. I took a much needed walk this morning, admiring the winter land, listening to Teaching in Higher Ed podcast and making plans for the spring semester. What do I want to focus on?

First of all, community building: I believe building a learning community in and outside classrooms is crucial for students to enjoy their learning experience, and it’s up to us to design a learning environment that supports community building. In 2019 Fall semester we had a very successful experience in my MATH2720 course: we relied on a discussion forum for students to connect with and support each other and here’s some data that comes from it:

132 enrolled out of 120 students;

827 total posts

3482 total contributions

229 instructor’s responses

724 students’ responses

11 min average response time

Students expressed how much they appreciate of having this platform to quickly receive feedback from their peers and me, and meanwhile the number of emails I received from this course is so much lower in general because almost every question they have is being answered or addressed in the forum already. I will definitely continue using a discussion forum in my future teaching.

Secondly, accepting and owning my mistakes: it’s usually hard for us to accept that we make mistakes, let alone owning them. I’m going to work on this aspect in the new year. I often tell my students that it’s only through mistakes that we will learn new things and master new skills and it’s time for me to practice what I preach. I do not wish to not make mistakes in the future, but will try my best to discover them as early as possible, and rectify them as soon as possible. If you are part of my PLN, working with me as a colleague or a student, I welcome you to point out my mistakes when you spot any. I’d be eternally grateful.

Lastly, being kind to myself and others: we are our worst enemies at times and I’ll learn how to support myself better while supporting others. A few of my favorite activities are: eating healthy food, walking my favorite trails, painting, listening to podcasts, connecting with people that I admire, taking naps and sometimes doing nothing. If I feel exhausted, I will allow myself to pause and recharge.

What will you focus on?

OERs and the Vision of Mathematics Education in the Open, presentation at OCMA Virtual Symposium 2020

I recently gave a talk at OCMA Virtual Symposium 2020 titled “OERs and the Vision of Mathematics Education in the Open“, during which I shared my experience with open education resources and open textbooks in my teaching. Since we shifted to emergency online teaching this March, it has been challenging for everyone: students, faculty and staff. We are living in a time during which we experience the loss of family and friends without much emotional support, overworking is the new norm and the future is uncertain.

How are our students doing? Many of them are not sure whether they can continue their education now that they lost their part-time job without enough income to cover school and textbooks; they are not sure whether they can keep their scholarship because they may not be able to keep their perfect GPAs; they are not sure what is the best way to study now that courses are all online with minimal or even no connections with their peers and instructors; their course load is getting too much: all of a sudden every course they take has weekly check-ins and quizzes; they may not even have stable wi-fi because they are financially disadvantaged and/or live in a war zone; they fell terrified when they are watched by proctoring softwares because even the blink of an eye could signal they’re cheating. This list could go on, and this is the situation our students are in.

Is there anything we could do as instructors to help our students on their learning journey? I believe OERs are part of the solution. As Sean Fitzpatrick pointed out on Twitter, we should use OER because they are just as good, sometimes better than commercial textbooks, and our students can use them any time, any where; we instructors can connect with a passionate community of educators which is exactly what I experienced this semester. We are using Active Calculus for MATH2720 Multivariable Calculus at University of Manitoba in fall semester, and I got to connect with the author of the book: Steve Schlicker who are so supportive and shared a ton of resources with me when he learned that I’m teaching using this book. I also connected with Feryal Alayont from the Department of Mathematics at Grand Valley State University because we both teaching the same course using this book. It’s wonderful to connect with and learn from them. And none of this would be possible without this wonderfully written open textbook. My class and I also use Hypothes.is for social annotation and the discussions students have are another proof that using an open textbook is the right choice.

As I said during my presentation, when teachers work together, students win! Let’s try to build a supportive community for each other so everyone’s life is a bit better, easier and brighter. If you are interested in learning about my experience with OERs, feel free to reach out to me via email xinli.wang@umanitoba.ca and on Twitter: xinli_w. I always love a good chat. Take care for now.

How’s 2020Fall semester going?

It’s been a hectic start to 2020 Fall. We moved to Winnipeg MB from Mississauga ON in Aug and did self-isolation for two weeks due to COVID-19. Shortly after that I got my teaching assignments for Fall semester: MATH1510 Calculus I, MATH2720 Multivariable Calculus, and MATH2030 Combinatorics. I will coteach MATH1510 with another experienced instructor who has been teaching this course for many years and he took on the coordinator role. I’m on my own for the other two courses, which also means I have more liberty as to how to run the courses. For MATH2720, I decide we are going to make the best use of existing OERs for this course, and the textbook I chose is Active Calculus written by Steven Schlicker. This turns out to be a great choice as students love the interactive visualizations and practice exercises in the end of each section. We also use Hypothes.is for social annotation and Piazza for discussions. To see the details of how this course is structured, you can find my course syllabus here. For the weekly videos, I used Zoom’s recording function, and recorded myself working through examples on OneNote, then added interactive questions in all of them using H5P. A complete list of these interactive videos are available: you’re welcome to reuse them as they are all under CC license. For the other course, the instructor who taught it last semester was very kind and shared all his materials with me so I kept the course structure more or less the same except the assessments. A copy of the syllabus can be found here.

This is our 4th week into the semester, and I did a short survey during the synchronous sessions for all the classes to see whether students are happy with their online experience so far. You can see the responses in the pictures below.

MATH1510 class response to the question: How do you find the weekly video lectures for this course so far?
MATH2720 class response to the question: How do you find the live sessions so far?

Here are a few things that work well so far:

  1. Using Excel to track student’s questions: for every class that I teach, I created an Excel document from day 1. Each worksheet corresponds to one lecture, and there are two columns: Questions, and Comments. Students are encouraged to put their questions in the document, and I will address them during live sessions. This turns out to be working really well. I know it’s hard to track what they asked in Zoom chat window because a) I can’t monitor chats all the time while I’m teaching; b) when there are too many questions, older ones get buried pretty fast. Using Excel would solve both issues; and since it’s a collaborative document, it’s nice to see them typing in real time, which tells me they are present. At the end of each worksheet, the link to the recorded Zoom sessions and my lecture notes are posted so they can always go back to a certain lecture and quickly find what they are looking for.
  2. Using Piazza discussion forum: this is a game changer in terms of me communicating with students. I no longer need to reply to the same question multiple times. In the first two week, I had to “force” students asking questions there even if they first sent me emails; I would say “can you please post this question on Piazza and I will respond there”. They get used to posting on Piazza pretty fast. For my courses that adopted Piazza, I almost never get emails: I visit the discussion forum regularly and if students haven’t already answered each other’s questions, I would chime in and clarify doubts. It’s also very easy to create quick polling questions. My first two weeks’ Student Hour has been really quiet so I created a poll on Piazza and pushed it to students’ reading list to determine an alternative timing that works for them. They responded pretty fast.
  3. Using Zoom sessions as Q&A: whenever we meet online synchronously, I use the time to answer students’ questions. I don’t do formal lecturing at all. This has been working well based on their feedback.
  4. Using Hypothes.is for social annotation: since we are using an open textbook that’s online, it makes sense to offer students the opportunity to annotate online. I can take a glance at their annotations and have a pretty good idea of how much they understand the materials and what I should talk about when we are all online.

One thing that didn’t work well and I’d like to know how to fix it is using Break-out Rooms: I tried to send students to break-out rooms for discussions, but it didn’t work. Some didn’t join, some didn’t participate even when they are in a break-out room. My guess is more structures are needed, and some form of collaborative space should be open to them so they can record their progress (google doc? google slides?). If you have good ideas about how to use Break-out rooms, please do share.

Today is mid-autumn day for Chinese in China and overseas. It’s a time of family reunion. I wish my mum is still around. Even though I don’t usually get to spend holidays with them back in China, it still feels like home when she’s around.

Getting ready for Fall

We recently relocated to Winnipeg so I can start my new teaching job at University of Manitoba. In the past few months I have attended numerous webinars about the best practices to teach online, design assessments, engage students, and build communities. While waiting for my teaching assignments, I’ve thought a lot about how to design fall courses and I’m using this space to record my thoughts and put down some ideas for future reference.

  1. LMS: I’m not sure what LMS system is being used for UofM, but do realize the choice of LMS affects course design to certain extent. I plan to continue using the ideas of having a clean layout on the homepage, with icons and texts to guide students where they should go base on what information they are looking for, and on top of the homepage the two most recent announcements populate automatically. I’m debating whether I should include a calendar at the bottom of the page as well.
  2. Weekly structure: I plan to run my courses mostly asynchronously. Every week students will access reading materials and pre-recorded videos, followed by an online quiz before they join me for a synchronous session which serves as Q&A. Discussion forums will be available for them from the start of the course and they will learn how to build a community via posting on discussion forums, and annotating the lecture notes online. I plan to give certain weightage for their community building effort with the following question “Does what I do benefit the community knowledge building?” If the answer is Yes, then students will receive a point. These points can be accumulated and will translate to final grade. As to how they can earn these points, the choices are plenty: they can answer their peers’ questions on discussion forum, share resources that help with understanding a certain topic, share learning strategies, develop review questions and solutions for the cohort, answer questions that are posted on Hypothes.is which is the social annotation tool I plan to use, organize synchronous review sessions etc. Hopefully community building will become a part of the course by the end of the semester. By the end of each week, there will be a set of quiz questions so students know whether they get the main ideas or not. There will be regular written homework assignments which require students to think deeper and write down their ideas in a clear manner.
  3. For student engagement piece, it should be a continuous effort: I will start the semester with a letter to all students to introduce myself and my teaching philosophy, and a general survey about what situation people are in and whether they have what’s necessary to complete an online course. Then they will practice using Hypothis.is by annotating on the course syllabus. They will work together to build a community conduct codes and share their thoughts with me about the syllabus. If most people have strong opinions about certain things there, I’m open to suggestions and happy to make changes.
  4. There will be interactive questions embedded in the pre-recorded videos using H5P to engage students and these questions will help them perform better when they work on pre-lecture quizzes.
  5. As to formative assessments, I’m not sure what’s the common practice in the department. If timed tests/exams are the norm, then we can certainly do that. I won’t rule out oral exams, especially if someone missed a scheduled test due to personal reasons, the make-up test will most likely be an oral exam.

Inquiry Based Learning Virtual workshop

We are in the second day of IBL virtual workshop with The Academy of Inquiry Based Learning, and we started off building a list of community norm elements. This is a great idea that I will definitely borrow for my future classes. As workshop participant, I feel my opinions are valued and am more willing to conform to the final rulebook. There was some discussions about whether people should keep their video on during the talks; even though majority believe the answer is yes, we settled on “having video on if possible; turn it off when needed” because people may need to have privacy due to various reasons or maybe someone has bad internet connection (talking about myself here).

During the small group meeting, Kyle shared with us his experience with IBL when he started. We don’t have to revamp the whole course at one go. We can start with a few short activities every week, and continue lecturing the rest of the lecture time. Just like any new teaching skills/techniques we want to include in our practice, incremental change is usually how we approach them. Try a bit, see how it goes, reflect, revise then start another round.

What should we instructors do when students make mistakes while presenting? In general we have three choices:

  1. in the moment: take immediate action at that moment when it happens
  2. forward thinking: take actions in the future lesson to remediate
  3. preventative: how the mistake could have been avoided

There isn’t a rule book we can refer to; we can’t really categorize these mistakes either. There might be multiple ways to address one mistake; there usually isn’t one best way to address it either. It comes down to our student body, to the community we built together with all of them, and our own teaching styles.

Plus we had Happy Hour via Spatial.chat and I have to admit it’s quite fun. Never though online happy hours could work.

Instructional Design Portfolio

For over eight years, I have been lecturing mathematics courses in higher educational institutions in Singapore and Canada and perfecting my skills of assessment and course design, engaging students, and education research. I’m a firm believer in adopting evidence-based teaching strategies to improve student’s learning experience and inclusive teaching. I’ve conducted a few Scholarships of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) projects such as using student’s feedback to improve teaching, improving student’s engagement using education technology and designing a calculus course using active learning pedagogy. I’m also passionate about Open Education Resources and Open Education Practices. In this portfolio I will share a few projects I did in the past to demonstrate my skills in instructional technology and remote pedagogy.

Case 1: Flipped Classroom Design

In 2014, my department at Singapore Polytechnic decided to revamp the common engineering mathematics courses. All in-coming students from the Engineering Department need to take these foundation math courses in order to move on with their studies. We used Flipped Classroom pedagogy for course design because of the proven benefit from various research. Typically, in a weekly lesson package that we developed, there were a few short videos with embedded quizzes that students can watch before contact time with the instructor. They are motivated to watch the videos and try the embedded questions, partially due to the weekly quiz they need to take in the beginning of the face-to-face lectures. During lecture time, we instructors play the role of facilitators to guide them through a series of activities. You can see a sample of a weekly lesson package here: there is a lesson plan, three videos, one in-class quiz and a set of in-class activities. This new model proved to be effective after we interviewed instructors and students. We also compared the student’s academic results with those that were from previous semesters and saw some improvement. Flipped classes allow students to consume lecture materials at their own pace and allow instructors to make better use of contact time to cover more challenging topics.

Case 2: Open Textbook in Linear Algebra

From September 2019 to April 2020, I worked on a funded project  adapting an open textbook for Linear Algebra. You can find the book online: Linear Algebra with Applications Subtitle:An adaptation for MAT223 UTM

The importance of open educational resources (OERs) has been widely documented and demonstrated. OER provides new opportunities for access to educational resources, many also see in OER an opportunity for students and schools to save substantial amounts of money by eliminating the need to purchase expensive textbooks. There are many high-quality open textbooks in the field of mathematics and they have played an important role in lowering the cost that students pay for their education while maintaining the same educational benefits as traditional textbooks. The benefit of using open textbooks in higher education goes beyond cost saving. High quality OERs address social responsibility: providing education for all and sharing best practice internationally while raising the quality standards for educational resources by gathering more contributors . I believe sharing is the sole means by which education is affected. Sharing is also a foundation of OER—whether it be the mentored problem-solving approach of Khan Academy or the free-of-charge visualisation tools like Geo-Gebra. Students today have access to a great many high-quality textbooks in mathematics that can be easily found at websites such as OpenStax, BCcampus, and eCampusOntario. I personally believe this is the direction where future textbooks are going: free and open. I joined eCampusOntario to become one of the Open Education Fellows from 2019 to 2020. We learned about Open Education practices and CC licenses systematically and provided OE-focused professional development opportunities in partnership with post-secondary educators and learners. All the open education resources that I created are accessible and compliant with AODA (Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act).

Case 3: Interactive formative assessment

Formative assessments play an important role in facilitating student’s learning and fostering a growth mindset. Educators receive critical feedback about what their students have learnt throughout their learning process by using formative assessments. These assessments help students stay focused towards the learning objectives of the course, increase their engagement with the course materials continually, and take responsibilities of their own learning. I’ve designed many interactive formative assessments using H5P. H5P, also called HTML5 Package, is a plugin for existing publishing systems that enables the system to create interactive content like Interactive Videos, Presentations, Games, Quizzes and more. It is a completely free and open technology that aims to be community driven. H5P content can be embedded in any platform that supports embedded content (iframes) which makes it an ideal candidate for developing formative assessments. You can find more than 100 of H5P elements in the open textbook that I adopted and on eCampusOntario H5PStudio website. A few examples that I developed include Optimization in Calculus and Matrix Operations using Course Presentation content format; Optimization Examples and More Optimization Examples using Interactive Video format and Similar Matrix using Multiple Choice format.

Case 4: Course Design

A well-structured course is crucial to support student’s learning. The moment a student logs in the LMS, she/he should be clear about the structure of the course and should be able to navigate without difficulty. When I had the opportunity to coordinate MAT202 Discrete Mathematics, I redesigned the course website and restructured the assessment components of the course.

You can see a screenshot of the homepage:

This is a screenshot of the homepage for the course; on top you can see two most recent announcements. Then a table of 6 categories: learning strategies, syllabus, course schedule, assignments, test information and lecture notes that students can navigate through.
MAT202 Homepage

There are 6 categories which students can browse through to get different information and they can access these pages by either clicking the icons or the texts.

Under Learning Strategies:

This is a screenshot of Learning Strategies page which includes three embedded YouTube videos and hyperlinks to PDF documents that explain these strategies: spaced practice, retrieval practice, elaboration.
Learning Strategies Page Screenshot

students can learn a few important strategies (in the form of texts and videos) to help them learn more efficiently.

Under Course Schedule:

This is a screenshot of the course schedule category: it's a table with 4 columns: week, section, topics, important info. Each row in the table corresponds to one week in the semester.
Course Schedule Screenshot

they can see the course over the span of the whole semester and have access to all essential course materials here.

Under Assignment:

This is a screenshot of the category Assignment. There is a table on top which lists all assignments and their solutions with hyperlinks to the documents; it's followed by Crowdmark Instructions which is an online platform that's used for assignment submission.
Assignment Page Screenshot

they can see the list of all assignments and their solutions, instructions of how to use Crowdmark and policy of re-grading on the same page.

I introduced in-class activities during tutorials so students can collaborate and work together. Fostering a learning community is important to enable students to share results and learn from each other.  These in-class activities give them the chance to connect with each other and form a community that’s beneficial to everyone. I made sure students have some flexibility when it comes to graded assignments based on UDL principles: the best 3 out of 4 in-class activities and the best 4 out 5 assignment will count toward their final result. I also offer office hours in two ways: face-to-face and online using Zoom. Students who may not be able to travel to campus often choose to have discussions with me over Zoom. This turns out to be especially valuable once we shifted to emergency remote teaching: my students are used to seeing me on Zoom which made the whole transition smoother.

Case 5: Education Technology

Education technology tools have been around for decades and research has shown the effective use of them can enhance learners’ experience and deepen their conceptual understandings. I’m always interested in learning emerging technologies that could enhance my own teaching practice. In fact, I recently gave a talk at Canadian Mathematical Society 2019 Winter Meeting to share my experience of using education technology with the math community. You can find the conference program here: CMS 2019 Winter Meeting : Teaching Strategies for Increasing Diversity in Math and my presentation slides here: CMS 2019 Winter Meeting: TECH for teaching.

In this presentation, I shared four Education technological tools that I have used in my teaching. They serve different purposes: GeoGebra was introduced to my Linear Algebra class to improve student’s engagement. A list of activities that we did in class can be found here: GeoGebra in class activities; Padlet is used to collect student’s feedback and track their progress, which allows me to clarify their misunderstandings on a more timely manner; I also use Zoom online meetings to conduct my virtual office hours so students can save on commute in terms of time and money and still get their doubts clarified; an in-class polling tool called Mentimeter was also discussed: this is a great tool if you want to find out students’ conceptual understanding of a core concept in class. A few sample polling questions can be found here: MAT135 Calculus Clicker Questions.

Case 6: Active Learning Education Research

In order to help fresh university students develop deep conceptual understandings of mathematics topics in Calculus and keep them engaged, we redesigned a first-year Calculus course at a public teachers’ university in central China. We applied Knowledge, Community and Inquiry (KCI) model in which individual student serves as a knowledge source in our design. We focused on a few patterns for in-class activities: CSW (Community Supported Worksheets), CPC (Community Problem Creation) and PPP (Participatory Problems or Patterns). 308 students participated in this project during two semesters in which they learned differential calculus and integral calculus.  The curriculum was designed for a unique setting that includes 7 interconnected “smart classrooms”, with a single professor and a TA for each room.  The professor switches to a new room each day and our patterns are designed to engage the entire community of students (i.e., all 7 classrooms) in coherent activities that benefit from their collective participation.

I presented our work at The Research on Teaching and Learning Conference in December, 2019. You can find the slides here: Active Learning designs for calculus: A learning community approach for seven-interconnected classrooms.

We found that students’ epistemological beliefs are significantly impacted by an active learning approach. The learning community pedagogy deepens students’ commitment to mathematics learning, and student’s interactions with peers and TAs after classes become an important part of student’s learning which strengthens the whole learning community.

Case 7: Collecting Student Feedback

There is so much we can learn from our students. Student feedback of teaching is an important tool for course instructors to improve their teaching and students’ learning experience. In most colleges and universities, students are asked to provide their course feedback for the instructors at the end of the semester. However, waiting till the end of the semester is not enough because it’s only going to help instructors the next time when they teach the course. If instructors want to get student feedback and improve their teaching in a timely manner, they will have to start early. It could be formal, anonymous surveys early on, or talking to students after class, or regular lunches with students. They can provide very valuable information. I often do “Start, Stop and Continue” in my teaching in the middle of every semester: students are each given a piece of index card and asked to answer the following 3 questions anonymously:

1.         What am I doing in our class that isn’t working? (Something I should STOP doing)

2.         What should I put in place to improve your learning experience? (Something I should START doing)

3.         What is working well? (Something I should continue doing)

The results are shared with the whole class in the next week and I usually am able to adjust my teaching based on the feedback received.

We presented our work at Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education 2018 conference The slides can be found here: Start, Stop, Continue and Ticket Out of the Door: Collecting and using student feedback to improve teaching in a large first-year math class.

Case 8: Emergency Remote Teaching

On Friday March 13th, our campus closed due to COVID-19. I had a Linear Algebra lecture that’s scheduled between 1pm and 3pm and I arrived at my classroom at 12:55pm. One of my TAs was waiting for me and a few students had arrived as well. The TA informed me that this lecture, as well as all future ones are cancelled; and I checked the Slack channel for instructors of that course immediately. There I found the class cancellation message sent to all of us from the coordinator around 12:30pm. I had little idea of what’s to come back then. I informed the students who were in the room to pack up and go home, and wait for further notice, and stayed a bit just in case any other students came to the room. Eventually I left a message on the blackboard to tell people that the lecture on that day won’t happen and started walking to my car. Then reality hit me: we are not only cancelling Friday afternoon’s lectures, we are cancelling ALL lectures, probably for the rest of the semester knowing what happened in China. For the course that I coordinated, I decided to provide all the remaining course materials in text format. I have been sharing my (unfilled) lecture slides with students on LMS since the beginning of the semester. Students received the full slides with annotations from me since school closure. I used synchronous sessions to meet students and answer their questions. We meet twice every week and these non-mandatory sessions are fairly informal. Attendance usually is between 10-30 students and we were able to work on problems together, and talk about concerns they have regarding what’s going to happen to the course. These conversations helped me understand my students better and allowed us to stay connected. The community we built before school closure survived. In fact I did a survey to ask them about their learning experience of our course before semester ended and the 96 responses are mostly very positive. The questions I asked include: How are you doing? How’s your family doing? What are the main challenges for you when teaching and learning switched to online mode? What could be done differently to improve your learning experience given the current circumstances? Students’ main concern is about how to stay motivated which I believe is an important issue we should address for all the online courses we provide. They are very appreciative for our effort in moving the course online and supporting their learning over such a short period of time. Some concrete plans I have for my future online courses to help students stay engaged include building a community from the very beginning of the semester by using Discussion Forum; having a clear course map that shows what’s happening each week and what work (reading, video lessons, assignment, polling questions, discussions online etc.) students are expected to do and when to have them done; making sure students know how to get support from us instructors and from the university; letting them know how long they can expect to get a response from us (for example: they should be informed that it’s unrealistic to expect instant replies but their emails/posts will be answered in 24-48 hours) and having accessible course materials available.

Rethink of assessment in a pandemic

The whole teaching and learning community has been talking about assessments among other things: should quizzes/tests/final exams still exist? What about third-party proctoring services? Personally I do not think using proctoring service and watching students via a camera is the solution. It comes with very high cost, and there are serious ethical issues that come with this practice. Can we redesign course assessments so that we can give the trust back to students?

I believe the answer is yes, and a few simple things instructors can do is to first take a close look at your syllabus and ask yourself why the assessments are there at the first place. Most of the time the goal is to actually help students consolidate what they have learned, and a by-product is a number, i.e. grade. If that’s the case, shifting to summative assessments is one way to help with the current situation. We can also provide assessments more frequently so students can receive more timely feedback.

I’ve been experimenting with H5P since last year when I started working on the open textbook. These are excellent tools that instructors can leverage on to engage students and monitor their progress in a nonstressful manner.

You can find many well-designed examples on H5P.org https://h5p.org/ and eCampusOntario H5P studio: https://h5pstudio.ecampusontario.ca/.

Below is a recent example I made using course presentation format. These interactive presentation slides allow instructors to incorporate course content, assessment, and students reflection all at one place.

A summer that will never be forgotten

As we are three months into self-isolation and social distancing, I feel it’s time for me to write something to remind the future me what this time period is like, and for anyone who’s in the similar situation with me, this is for you as well.

First of all, it is not easy. I’m having a difficult time due to many reasons: I lost a close family member in May, and we are still mourning. The grief will never truly go away. It’s more like tidal waves and I’m learning to live with it after losing my mum last year. It dawns on me that adult life is not getting easier, quite the opposite to what I believed growing up. Then it’s my job situation: it’s uncertain to me whether I will have my current teaching job when September starts so I have been applying for teaching jobs, as well as education developing jobs, and some other seemingly interesting admin jobs. As anyone who’s experienced job hunting, it can be soul-crushing: I usually spend hours on one job application, and sometimes I don’t even get a rejection email. I learned recently that 75% of resumes never landed in a real person’s hands thanks to AI so I’m learning how to beat the machine and trying to match the key words in job descriptions. But I more or less accept that the whole job hunting is more about luck: knowing the right person, applying for a job at the right timing is more important than what I’m actually capable of doing. That somehow helps me cope with the frustration and move forward. Then it’s home-schooling my little one. She just turned six a few days ago and it’s getting almost impossible to get my work done and keep her entertained/cared for on a daily basis. We have agreed on a daily routine which helps to certain extent: every morning she reads 3 books on Tumblebooks: https://www.tumblebooklibrary.com/TumbleSearch.aspx followed by piano practice. Then she listens to audio books on Audible stories: https://stories.audible.com/discovery?ref=adbl_ent_anon_ds_ds_vn We usually go for walks in the afternoon, either in the neighborhood or drive to Oakville/Halton conservation parks. Then more stories for her before bed time. I also need to cook, clean, do laundry in the middle of all these. The arrangement is not the best if I want to get more work/reading/meetings done. She pops up more often in my Zoom meetings and please do not be surprised if she becomes a regular soon.

So any good news? What am I doing these days? Well I still manage to get a few things done. We(Ann, TJ and I) are writing a paper for OTESSA 2020 conference now that our presentation won’t happen due to COVID-19 and it feels good to put our ideas down in written form. I’m taking an online course now: Inclusive Teaching: Supporting All Students in the College Classroom on edX from Columbia Univerity and thoroughly enjoy the course. I’m at the last module and you can see my notes and reflections on this google doc: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1N9d8lCSVd4dx_gLu2xxV-Ntl99XAHFg-456-9vITJvk/edit?usp=sharing I appreciate the opportunity to reflect on my own teaching practices and plan for future. If you teach in higher education and are new to the idea of UDL, inclusive teaching, equity and accessibility, this course is for you. You won’t regret the time spent. I’m also organizing a reading club MEdJoC with Sarah Mayes Tang from UofT: we want to read education research papers and learn how to do proper ER in mathematics. So far we’ve met twice and had great discussions. If you are interested, you can find more information in this google doc: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1wd3p_YLECruhAd3WRTNpsytdL2CjPw_qOYlSwRyMmRk/edit?usp=sharing I’m constantly attending Zoom webinars to learn about teaching online, how to engage students, how to design assessments, and best practices shared by colleagues from other institutions. Learning new things is always exciting to me, and this is one of the best part of my job besides having wonderful students to teach. I’ve been brushing up on my H5P skills. You can find a lot of wonderful examples at eCampusOntario’s own H5P studio: https://h5pstudio.ecampusontario.ca/ I also put together a list of OER for online teaching purpose: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1JEzG-iQo0M6rda1uirTXGAlY-3DWCZtgEzk-Fz051sU/copy I’m about to start another reading group with colleagues from UTM and we will be talking about Small Teaching Online. I’ve always enjoyed these reading clubs and I’m sure this one will be just as good.

Do you see a silver lining in your life during this challenging time?

Inclusive Teaching: Supporting All Students in the College Classroom

I’m taking Inclusive Teaching: Supporting All Students in the College Classroom offered by Columbia University on edX. I would like to record my learning journey here to share with the community. This course discusses the following five principles of inclusive teaching:

  1. Establishing and supporting an inclusive course climate
  2. Setting explicit expectations
  3. Promoting diversity and inclusion through course content
  4. Designing all course elements for accessibility
  5. Cultivating critical self-reflection

I’m using this opportunity to reflect my own teaching practices and learn about techniques and skills of conducting inclusive teaching for my future courses.

You can view my learning journey here; here’s the google doc link you can click: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1N9d8lCSVd4dx_gLu2xxV-Ntl99XAHFg-456-9vITJvk/edit?usp=sharing

Edit: After almost a month, I finally completed this course. You can see my certificate here:

https://courses.edx.org/certificates/6e696d9cacfc4fd6877f4ad17a552ee2

I really enjoyed taking this course: it not only taught me basic knowledge and best practices about inclusive teaching, it also allows us to hear from different people who are experts in this area and learn about their personal stories of how to promote inclusive teaching. I’ve never been doing so much self-reflection till this course. It’s something I should do more regularly.

Reflection of my experience moving teaching online

It’s been crazy in the last three weeks when every college and university in Ontario suddenly moved teaching and learning online due to COVID-19. I remember my last face-to-face lecture (which only lasted for less than 3 minutes): it was Friday, March 13th and I have Linear Algebra from 1-3pm. I arrived at my lecture theatre before 1pm and the TA who has been working with me for this semester told me all lectures will be cancelled from that afternoon on. I had a few students who were already in the room and I had to tell them to go home. I stayed on for a few more minutes, just in case anyone who came in late and didn’t know all classes are going to be cancelled till further notice. Back then I didn’t know that would be the last time I talked to my students in person till I don’t know when.

I didn’t even have the opportunity to go back to my office. I headed home right after. I thought grocery shopping might be a good idea so I went to a nearby supermarket. I was utterly shocked by how packed the place was so I left without leaving my car. That’s the starting point of self-isolation and social distancing.

We had the weekend to come up with a plan to move things online. There are still two weeks of teaching before final exam kicks in. I remember frantically emailing colleagues, talking with them on Slack and just refreshing university website to get a vague idea of how to carry one. Eventually here’s what I did for the courses I taught.

  1. MAT223: we have a team of 4 who teach this semester and we eventually divided up the content. This course has already been using a flipped classroom model so content wise it’s relatively easy to shift to remote teaching. However I feel the chemistry we were able to build when students come together and work on in-class activities is lost. For the week that I worked on, I provided PDF worksheet and solutions. I did not make videos, and ran online sessions as Q&A asynchronously. I’m aware how few students were there with me compared with in-person sessions.
  2. MAT202: we almost finished delivering lecture content so that’s good news in this situation. There are two of us who are teaching this course and we both run our online sessions more like drop-in office hours and did not require students’ attendance. Recordings were made and shared later on.
  3. MAT135: the course coordinator made video lectures for the rest of the semester and I helped with the subtitle. It took a lot of time for me to edit the auto generated subtitles from YouTube ( and I’m sure for him to make the videos as well) but we all knew it’s necessary work for accessibility reason. I would not recommend sudden shift from in-person lectures to video lectures if you don’t have sufficient time.
  4. Office hours: I have been running my office hours in two ways since a year ago: in person and online using Zoom. I simply shifted those in-person sessions to online. I’m glad I have experience holding office hours with Zoom and attendance didn’t vary much.

I also ran a survey with my class asking the following questions when we are two weeks into this “new model”:

  1. How are you? How is your family doing?
  2. What are the main challenges for you when teaching and learning switched to online mode?
  3. What could be done differently to improve your learning experience given the current circumstances?

Majority of my students are doing well, and they have been extremely understanding of the work we are doing. I also received so much encouragement and thank you’s which really warm my heart. The main challenge students have in common is staying motivated. It’s hard for them to stay motivated when they are in isolation, with no interaction with us and their peers. Going forward this will be my main focus when redesigning my courses (I assume school won’t be able to open doors till a long time from now).

UofT has been offering ongoing support for faculty members and instructors. I find the drop-in sessions organized by TLC really helpful: they helped me stay connected with colleagues and having the opportunity to talk to a few fellow instructors really made a difference for my mood, thus my teaching. Everyone is anxious, not knowing what’s coming and I came to peace with the fact that I can’t stay as productive as I used to be. If you’re reading this post, hope you and your loved one are doing well. If you are a student of mine, you know I’m only an email away; if you are a colleague from HE, feel free to reach out to me on Twitter @xinli_w: I’m always happy to talk.

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