How to design a compact summer course?

Disclaimer: This is my very first summer compact course in my whole teaching career, so read my course design ideas with a grain of salt.

When I knew that I will be teaching a compact summer course MATH2720, the first thing that came to my mind is how to help students stay on track, and have a high retention rate. This post will focus on what I tried in my course design to address this issue. Anecdotally, students tend to drop out of summer courses more often because of its tight schedule. Once a student falls behind, it’s almost impossible to catch up. I made sure the course materials all available to my class way ahead of time.

You can see the daily plan for the course in the Excel titled “2021S MATH2720 Daily Plan”. In a normal semester, I see no need to share such a detailed course map with the class since we have plenty of time to cover the content, and communicate with students. But in a compact course, even a minor miscommunication may lead to a student dropping out/failing the course, with little room to clarify it.

This Daily Plan serves two purposes: for those who do not plan to join me synchronously, they can pace their learning better since the whole course is available one week before the semester starts. It also helps everyone to understand the course structure better, and by making a clear list of all assessments in the last column with their deadlines, everyone can plan for the course better.

Activities and assignments are all hosted on UM Learn, the LMS we use in my home institution. When they are being set up, they are all linked to the course calendar automatically, which shows up on the course homepage once students log in. This also serves as a reminder to students so they know when to submit what on a weekly basis. The criteria for students to earn credit for these assessments is effort: in other words, as long as enough effort in shown in their submission, they get full credit. It’s okay for them to make mistakes. I got this idea from the general practice of ungrading. And I believe this choice also makes it easier for students to keep up. Once the stress of getting everything perfect is eliminated, they can focus more on understanding the topics. Having the space to make mistakes is also crucial because we all learn from our mistakes.

Another idea to help with managing deadlines is having flexibility. Each student has 3 Green cards they can use through out the semester: if they feel they can’t submit an assessment on time, they can simply inform me that they need to use a Green card, then the deadline will be extended. No question’s asked. I have this system in place since 2020 Fall and students really appreciate it. This is something that I will keep even after the pandemic, when we are back to campus.

So the big question is did all these ideas help with retention? It’s too early to tell, and I will come back and update this post once withdrawal deadline is here.

If you are curious about other aspects of my summer course, here’s a copy of the course syllabus.

One complaint I have is about the logistics of setting these up: there is no simple way to “bulk-edit/create” these almost identical assessments. I have to create them one-by-one in D2L, and manually set up the deadlines/submission view/link to gradebook etc. Each assessment involved 5-8 clicks which becomes annoying fast. When my TAs are marking students’ submissions, they run into another logistics nightmare: once they click on one submission, they have to download it to their local computer, read it, then key in a grade. The option of reading the files in D2L is not there, so the extra click->save becomes really tedious when you have a large class.

update (July 2021): the course ended on June 26th, and final grades have been submitted. Looking at student’s grades and comparing them with the past two semesters, I’m happy to share that the summer cohort actually did slightly better (which really surprised me). When I reflected on the possible reasons of why it happened, here’s a list of my speculations:

  1. Many students took only this one course in summer so they can dedicate more time and effort to it.
  2. Certain assessments are graded based on students’ effort, instead of correctness. This helped them learn the topics without stressing out too much.
  3. Having bonus points: students can choose to submit solutions to learning activities on a weekly basis, which will contribute to their final grade as bonus marks. If they choose to not complete these, they still have the opportunity of earning 100% for the course.
  4. Using Teams as our main communication channel: I’m able to answer students’ questions quickly, and having public channels means other students who have the same doubt can see my responses right away. I can also tag students if I think certain posts would help them.

I think I will keep the upgrading portion for future courses, and I will have another post that focuses on mastery-based grading soon.

So Student Evaluations arrived, what next?

My student evaluation forms arrived two weeks ago, and the emotions that accompany with these documents can have so many layers and overwhelming. Over the years, I learned to be at peace with them and here’s how I read the reports.

Usually there are a few sections in Student Feedback/Evaluation, and the first section is always a collection of likert scale questions. They vary from institution to institution (after teaching at 6 universities/colleges, trust me on this :), and here are a few typical examples. On a scale of 1 to 5, 1 = Not at all to 5 = A great deal,

  1. I found the course intellectually stimulating so far.
  2. The course is providing me with a deeper understanding of the subject matter.
  3. The instructor is creating a course atmosphere that was conducive to my learning.
  4. Course projects, assignments, tests, and/or exams are improving my understanding of the course material.
  5. Course projects, assignments, tests, and/or exams are providing an opportunity for me to demonstrate an understanding of the course material.

I tend to focus on median results of these questions instead of mean, as we know mean value offers little information to the data when there are outliers, and I almost always see a response of 1 here or there. I learned to not feel personal, and at times I do question whether these questions are vague for students. Intellectually stimulating can mean totally different things for two students, and I’m not even sure how do you define a conducive course atmosphere.

Then comes the real gem: open ended questions. You may see “please comment on the overall quality of the instruction in this course”, “What did this instructor do to facilitate my learning within this course?”, or ” How might this instructor improve this course? “. These are the comments that I read really carefully and put a lot of thoughts on. It’s great to know what my students liked about my teaching, and what I can do differently next time. Again don’t take it personally, and I think we’ve all experienced reading two completely contradicting comments on the same copy of evaluation form. To entertain you, I’m sharing some comments that I received for the same class:

  • “The instructor’s explanation was not that much understandable.”
  • “It was well done. The prof used various methods such as powerpoints, the chalkboard, a live feed of a paper at the front of the room, as well as online modules to teach concepts.”
  • Professor Wang was an excellent instructor. Her teaching methods were very clear and concise. Outside the classroom, she was also very approachable and friendly.

You get the idea. Usually before I open my student evaluations, I find a quiet and comfortable place, get myself a hot cup of tea, and take a deep breath to embrace what’s coming.

however, I do have to admit that this year’s evaluation makes me tear up a little: students are so overwhelmingly supportive, understanding and appreciative. I have never received such detailed comments like

  • “The decision to have 2 tests every two weeks instead of midterms and a final exam was monumentally beneficial to my mental health. I felt like the pace at which the material was given was very good, and allowed me time to learn the material and practice at a steady pace. Out of all my online classes this semester, I feel like this course had the best transition to online learning. The video lectures were short and very instructive, furthermore, replacing the lecture times with Q and A sessions was a great idea. I could ask the instructor questions about course material without having to wait until the end of the week for student hours. Overall, I had an excellent experience in this class.”

or

  • ” The instructor had a creative combination of asynchronous and synchronous learning that balanced out the difficulties of online learning. She did many practice problems and had multiple fair assessments to take the pressure off of online testing. She provided many resources and did not fill up our important study time with meaningless assignments. She shows great skill at adapting to online learning and I think more professors should take a note out of her book. She was very kind and compassionate throughout the course and it was a pleasure learning from her. I envy those who will take her class in person in the future as she is an excellent instructor and as well seems to be a wonderful individual. One of the UofM’s best math profs!

before, and they may just be enough for me to power through another challenging year ahead.

I have a folder titled “treasure” which is the collection of nice things students shared with me about my teaching. And these comments are definitely going there. It really helps me feel better at difficult times and you should start collecting if you haven’t done so.

Reflection on my 2020 fall course design

Reading Week is finally here. I can take a deep breath and slow down a bit.

I’d like to take this opportunity to reflect on and share what works from my 2020 fall semester teaching, and what improvements are needed. My focus has shifted to building a learning community since the pandemic started in 2020 March. I believe being able to connect with students and offering them the space and opportunity to work with each other is more important than content covered for a course. At this point I think almost all of us have realized it’s not realistic to cover as much as what we used to do. The challenges that come with online teaching are not trivial to overcome, and I’d like to invite everyone to ponder on the question of what matters the most to you when it comes to student’s learning experience. For me it’s community: an inclusive community where I can reach everyone and offer multiple ways for students to engage with each other and with the course content.

About a week before 2020 fall semester started, I posted a welcome message to my class and shared the course syllabus, textbook information and how to join the online discussion forum and the social annotation tool hypothes.is. The message included a short survey form which helps me understand my students’ learning needs. Granted it’s a lot of information for students to take on. To make it more inclusive, I also made an interactive H5P presentation.

This presentation covers all the information in the course syllabus, with a few short built-in videos: my self-introduction, video of how to annotate on the open textbook we use, and an overview of Piazza, the discussion forum that we will be using. Hyperlinks in this presentation will lead them to the sign-up pages so once they go over all the slides, they are ready to start the semester. I also posted a thread of “introducing yourself” on Piazza. I started the thread by introducing myself, and ended my post by asking a question so the next person who responds will start by answering that question. Everyone follows this format and within a few days, a majority of the class have introduced themselves. It is the very first post students post which gives them the opportunity to get used to posting, and to get to know each other.

Once semester started, students slowly took control of the discussion forum and hypothes.is: they are answering each other’s questions in a timely manner so all I need to do is to clarify some common misunderstandings. Part of my course assessment structure is called “community building action (CBA)”: whenever students contribute to the community’s learning, they earn a CBA point. The contribution mostly comes in the form of posts, questions and answers on the discussion forum and Hypothes.is. They earn CBA points while helping each other learn. By the end of the semester, all 120 students enrolled in Piazza and there are 827 total posts, 3482 total contributions, 229 instructor’s responses, 724 students’ responses and response time is 11 min in average. There are also many fantastic discussions happening on Hypothes.is. Making these platforms available for students not only help them learn, it also helps them gain a sense of belonging. Students can post anonymously so they don’ t need to feel embarrassed if they are asking a trivial question. The number of emails I received from this course is minimal thanks to the discussion forum which is a happy side-effect that I’m keen to keep.

Another element I introduced to my course is oral exam. We have 3 scheduled term tests, and if a student is not feeling well on the test day, or missed a test due to any personal reasons which they do not need to disclose to me, they can opt for an oral test instead. This option is also offered to those who took the test but felt they did not do as well as they expected. In total I ran 35 oral tests, for a class of 120 students. Having this option in place reduced students’ anxiety of test taking and makes the course more inclusive.

The last piece I want to mention is offering a variety of assessments in the course. For multivariable calculus, we have CBA, weekly check point (a set of MCQ/TF questions that students complete before each week’s synchronous lessons), assignments and tests. In the end-of-semester survey I conducted, students expressed the gratitude of having a variety of assessments in this course. In my other course, MATH 2030 Combinatorics, we have weekly quizzes and presentation. A student could make a short video of any topic that was covered in our course and post it on the discussion forum to earn some bonus points. 20 out of 46 students submitted videos and the whole class benefited from watching and learning from them.  

 To summarize, in order to build an inclusive learning community, start early to reach out to students, and be present, both during and after synchronous sessions, listen to students and offer multiple ways for them to demonstrate their learning.

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.

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.

my OER journey

Hello everyone! This is Xinli saying hi to you by Lake Ontario, one of my favorite spots since we moved to Canada three years ago. Thanks for giving me the opportunity to share a small part of my life and my journey with open education resources with you all. I look forward to connecting with many of you and continuing my OER journey along with all the wonderful people in this lovely community.

I was born in a small village in the northern part of China; I’m a proud first-generation university graduate and ph.d. I’m very fortunate that I graduated debt-free thanks to the low cost of public universities in China and generous scholarship in Singapore. My first encounter with OER happened in 2009 when I was preparing to become a doctoral candidate in mathematics. We were asked to pass an oral exam consisting of three courses in mathematics. One of the courses I chose was Fourier Transform because it’s closely related to my Ph.D research topic but the course was not offered by the university so I had to study on my own. I found Stanford University Professor Brad Osgood’s course on YouTube: The Fourier Transform and its applications and got myself ready for the exam, and subsequently for my future research thanks to his generosity in sharing his lecture notes, teaching and wisdom. It’s only years later that I realized I benefited from open education resources. I took Jenni Heyman’s Making Sense of Open Education in 2018 which is the starting point for me to become a member of the family of OER advocates. Our students today face many challenges while completing their post-secondary education: the financial burden is a reality for many of them. Can we do something to help them? Open Education Textbooks and Resources might be the answer many people are looking for.

I became an OE Fellow with eCampusOntario in 2019 and have been working on adopting OERs in my daily teaching practice: I introduced GeoGebra, an open math visualization tool to my linear algebra class in order to help students understand math concepts better, and adapted an open linear algebra textbook with built-in H5P elements. These interactive problems can help anyone who’s reading the book self-assess whether they have understood the topics in the book.

You can find it here: https://ecampusontario.pressbooks.pub/linearalgebrautm/

I’m grateful that I had the opportunity of working on this project, with the wonderful team from Pressbooks and look forward to more collaborations in the future.