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.

Learning Strategies

This is a collection of evidence-based learning strategies I’d like to share with my new incoming students in 2020 spring. If you are aware of anything else that might be helpful, please feel free to share them with me.  

  • Spaced practice: space out your study over time. You can have your own calendar to plan out how you will review chunks of content. Do not wait till the last minute before your quizzes/exams to study.

  • Retrieval Practice: practice bringing information to mind without help. When you do this exercise, you will need to turn off your devices, put all your notes and books away, then write everything you know about a particular term or topic. You can doodle if you’re more comfortable with that.

 

  • Elaboration: explain and describe ideas with as many details as possible. Ask yourself open-ended questions about the topic, answer in as much detail as possible, then check the materials. 

  • Interleaving: switch between different ideas/subjects while study. Mix the topics you are learning at a given time. Do not keep working on the same topic for long stretch. 

  • Concrete examples: use concrete examples when you learn an abstract topic. I often like to use visualization tools for mathematics concepts. Check out GeoGebra if you haven’t already. 

 

  • Dual coding: combine words and visuals. We learn new information better when there are multiple channels available to us. 

                         

The research can be found here: The Learning Scientists Website You can also find the book Understanding How We Learn: A Visual Guide by Yana Weinstein, Megan Sumeracki and Oliver Caviglioli in our library to read the full research behind these ideas.

Presentations at RTL and CMS winter meeting 2019

Dec 2019 turned out to be a good month: I managed to present a few talks at two conferences: Research on Teaching and Learning Conference and CMS winter meeting 2019. RTL focuses on SoTL research where educators share their teaching and learning scholarship experience. I enjoyed it a lot: the crowd is small enough for people to connect and have in-depth discussions. Even an introvert like myself is able to feel comfortable and I enjoyed all the talks that I attended. This is also the first time I learned about Q-Methodology which is a fascinating way to analyze qualitative data such as students’ course evaluations. I can see a lot of potential in using this method for our future work. I gave two talks at this conference and have enjoyed my interactions with the audience. The slides can be found here:

Design of a classroom-based intervention through technology-enhanced activities

Active Learning Design for Calculus II

It’s a perfect opportunity to get some valuable feedback for the education research projects we have been working on in the past year.

CMS winter meeting 2019, on the other hand, has attracted hundreds of mathematicians from Canada and worldwide and can feel overwhelming. There are so many sessions happening at the same time so one is bound to miss a few that he/she plans to attend. I’m glad I caught the Art of Mathematics talks especially the one given by Gerda deVries during which she talks about quilts and mathematics. I have to admit it gave me a lot of ideas of future painting projects I can work on. I gave a talk TECH for teaching during the special session Teaching Strategies for Increasing Diversity in Math moderated by Sarah Mayes-Tang from University of Toronto. What a lovely audience! I enjoyed the conversations and sharing of all the speakers very much but it’s a pity I couldn’t attend all the talks (and the lunch!) due to a final exam in the afternoon. I’ll make sure to come back next year.

Life does have surprises for us: the first time I attended the same meeting was in 2010 while I was a Ph.D. student in Singapore. I still remember the excitement and nervousness of presenting our work the very first time. That’s also my first time visiting Toronto. Who would have thought we will end up living here after this many years.

Book Recommendation: a list of books that I enjoy reading

Here’s a list of books that I enjoy reading and I believe most of my students will benefit from reading as well. A majority of them are math related: they are meant for the general public to enjoy mathematics so it will be fun!

  1. The Joy of x: a guided tour of math, from one to infinity by Steven Strogatz. The topics that are touched by this wonderfully written book include numbers, quadratic equations, functions, geometry, calculus, vector calculus, differential equations, probability and statistics, group theory and prime number distribution. I especially enjoyed all the examples that stem from real life stories. You will learn how Google’s page ranking works, how many people you should date before settling down, how to look at O.J. Simpson trial from the angle of conditional probability, and so much more. You won’t be disappointed.
  2. Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth. It’s a well-researched book and explains why successful people get where they are clearly. I first got to know Angela’s work through one of my favorite Podcast: Freakonomics and I’m in general very interested in learning human behaviors and why we do what we do. In her book she gave perfect explanations of how being gritty is one of the most important factors that lead to success, no matter what field or industry. The good news is grit is not a fixed variable for any individual, so we can all become a little bit more gritty today than yesterday.
  3. Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy by Cathy O’Neil. The first time I heard about this book was on a bus from Montréal-Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport to Sherbrooke. It was from a colleague at the University of Waterloo and she was reading this book while we were both on our way to attend STLHE 2018 conference. What a fantastic book! Anyone who has some kind of online presence should read it; anyone who works with data should read it; anyone who ever wonders why you didn’t get into the college/job you applied for should read it. In fact, we all should read it: it offers an authentic view of what is happening with data that are linked to every one of us; how are various algorithms controlling our daily lives even without us being aware of their existence. Can we fight them? Can we protect our privacies? Can we live in an unbiased society? I don’t know the answers, but we should all be asking these questions, and be conscious of these WMDs.
  4. Messy: the power of disorder to transform our lives by Tim Harford. I enjoy orderliness a lot in my life. If I’m going traveling, I make sure air tickets, hotels, maybe even attraction tickets are all booked well in advance. Not knowing what’s going to happen stresses me out greatly. I also like my house to be in order, and I find it more and more challenging now that I have a five-year-old roaming around all the time. This book offers me a new perspective of looking at messiness in our lives and teaches me to appreciate it just enough to not get annoyed so easily any more. I also found out Tim is hosting this great storytelling podcast Cautionary Tales and is now a devoted listener.
  5. Invisible women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado Perez. This is a book that tells us how much costs we women pay when living our lives, in terms of time, money, health and sometimes, life. I have to admit I felt so angry reading all the true stories that reveal the gender bias that put women all over the world, from all walks of like at such a disadvantaged position. The two chapters that I had the deepest connections are The Myth of Mediocracy and The Plough Hypothesis. I work in academia and I’m aware of the biases existing when it comes to student evaluations: we female professors constantly get lower scores due to our gender. And it’s sadly true that we are at child-bearing age when we are at the most critical moment careerwise. How many of us had to choose one over the other? I went through severe post-natal depression which eventually led me to leave my first teaching job. My career was put on hold for an extended period and I’m still struggling to catch up. No man (or almost none) from academia had to go through it. I grew up in a village and was a farmer myself until I left for university. The story in the plough hypothesis is too close to home: my mum spent significantly more time in the field between the time of planting and harvesting because weeding is considered women’s job; after the crops have been harvested and transported home, she’s the one who has to peel the skin of corns and remove corn kernels so they can be consumed later; she’s the one who spent hours everyone cooking in front of a traditional stove; she’s the one who looked after us. None of her work is paid. I wish it is different for the women who still live in my village today but little has changed.

OE4BW: Open Education for a Better World 2019

First off, if you are interested in doing OER work and impact a bigger community besides your own institution, do pay attention to their call of new participants for next round.

https://unesco.ijs.si/project/open-education-for-a-better-world/

I had the pleasure of working with Jenni Heyman as the Hub Coordinator and Nkaepe Olaniyi as my Mentor while participating in this project. It’s great to work with these ladies and I’ve learned a lot while I work on the open textbook. You can find my presentation online: OE4BW: open and interactive Linear Algebra textbook for all

If you also happen to work with open textbook on Pressbooks and H5P, I’d love to connect with you. You can find me @xinli_w on Twitter.

Open Linear Algebra Textbook

I have been working on a project since the end of last year: adapting an existing open linear algebra textbook: Linear Algebra with Applications by W. Keith Nicholson to make it more interactive.

You can read or download the adapted version here: https://ecampusontario.pressbooks.pub/linearalgebrautm/

To see the H5P elements, it’s best to view the book using your web browser. Once you download it as a PDF file, you won’t be able to see those H5P interactive elements. Enjoy!

CEEA 2019, Ottawa

We just arrived at Ottawa at 6pm today, ready to attend CEEA 2019. I am impressed by the app Guidebook ( https://guidebook.com/ ) that the organizer chose to use. As long as the app is downloaded to my phone, I can see everything about the conference: speakers, sessions and talks, locations, and I can make my own timetable base on which talk(s) I plan to go. It’s very intuitive to use and such an environmentally friendly idea. I’ll come back to this post after tomorrow. Stay tuned!

First workshop: it’s interesting to hear what challenges people have regarding use of OER: it’s free for users, but how about developers? Who’s going to fund all these projects? Is it possible to find resources other than textbooks? How about projects, free softwares, workshop materials?

http://diy.open.ubc.ca/ and http://www.learncheme.com/ offer a variety of open-licensing materials; the latter focuses on chemical engineering, including videos, interactive simulations, and interactive self-study modules.

Afternoon sessions start with a workshop about active learning. I’m here because I want to know whether it’s possible to use this pedagogy in my large first-year calculus class, especially when I don’t have any TA’s help.

Part I Exploring active learning: flipped classroom; think-pair-share; co-operative learning; reflections; discussion questions; concept mapping; peer instruction. We need to think critically and reflectively about our teaching practice.

What is “active” in active learning? It’s about the level of engagement among learners, and whether learning and progress is happening. We were also given the chance to talk about challenges we face in my teaching, learning or mentorship: personally for me the main challenge is lack of interaction with colleagues, and lack of autonomy when it comes to course design. There seems to be little opportunity built-in the college system that actively promote interactions between course instructors. It could happen that a team of instructors teaching the same course never meet till the moment of final exam. I would love to get to know people better, to learn what people are doing for their teaching and to exchange ideas but I have yet to find an efficient way to achieve that goal. Right now almost all the conversations that happened are point-to-point. It’s challenging for someone new like me who just joined the department and who’s not on a continuous appointment stream. Another point that was brought up is when active learning was implemented through team-based work, there are always students who do not participate and engage in the activities. How to motivate them to be more engaging?

Part II Thinking about care and our role:

Part III Generation of new frames:

Frame 1: create environments and conditions that support learners to construct meaningful……

Frame 2: Think about content, instructional activities, and assessment- and the alignment of all three.

Frame 3: Be intentional about how the active learning exercise can support students in making meaning.

I’ve learned to ask questions about why we do what we do, and always try to learn students’ perspective in their learning journey.

I’m back home from this exciting event and I’m so glad that I made it. The best part of it is all the conversations that I was part of and all the connections that happened in-between talks. People are so generous sharing their own teaching practices with me, including their favorite books for active learning in large classes! Even though I was surrounded by engineers and engineering educators, we have a lot in common when it comes to teaching. Look forward to CEEA2020!

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