Reflections on participating and facilitating

I had the opportunity over the past two years, thanks to BCcampus, to participate in two online book club events. I was excited to see whether I could sustain my interest and participation over the 7 or more weeks of each event. I was looking forward to learning from the responses and ideas shared.

The first BCcampus Online Book Club in 2018 focused on How Learning Works: 7 Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching. I was attracted by the easy-to-access WordPress site and the openness and friendliness of the initial launch post: Welcome to the BCcampus Online Book Club! The terms of engagement seemed clear: read each week’s facilitated blog post regarding a chapter in the book, register to receive updates and to post comments on the site and participate in a one hour synchronous session each week – optional and not recorded – with the facilitator and other participants. I recognized most of the facilitators so I was looking forward to their in-depth look at some of the research-based learning principles the book included.

Unfortunately, life got in the way and I didn’t register and post an intro comment until early October but I reviewed the weekly posts and shared questions or experiences or comments through the Comments on the site as often as I could. I hoped to participate in the weekly synchronous sessions but the timing never worked out and I found that I felt quite disconnected from the facilitators and other participants after a while as visible conversational currents (Comments and Twitter) began to drop off.

Chapter Topic#Participants#CommentsFacilitator(s)#Posts
Prior Knowledge1116115
Student Organization of Knowledge7927
Practice & Feedback51026
Student Development and Course
Self-Directed Learners2222

But the weekly blog posts were very helpful and I did gain some further insight into the research-based principles under discussion. And, Leva Lee’s evaluation report provided some thoughtful insights and suggestions for the next offering.

image of book Small Teachings

The 2nd BCcampus Online Book Club in 2019 focused on Small Teaching: Everyday Lessons from the Science of Learning by James M. Lang BCcampus’ Leva Lee had worked her magic and found a facilitator for each chapter of the book (9) and, with BCcampus’ open education experts had moved the WordPress site to a new server and set up an open licensed chat client called Mattermost. Synchronous sessions were still hosted with BigBlue Button.

I noticed an immediate difference in my engagement as I had volunteered as one of the chapter facilitators. I thought if I had more “skin in the game” I would participate more consistently and gain more understanding and ideas than in the past. I managed to participate each week in Mattermost (where some really rich discussions took place) and even managed to take part in about half of the synchronous Friday sessions. It’s amazing how feeling part of a community or a group of educators enhanced my ability to re-arrange my schedule to keep up with the reading and conversation. Which, of course, as every educator knows, resulted in broader, deeper learning and greater satisfaction with the learning experience.

Sadly, it seemed that we had very little outside participation in our weekly conversations. While the chat tool Mattermost did support a consistent flow of conversation, I believe that the need to complete two registrations – one on the WordPress site and another separate account to see and participate in Mattermost, was a barrier. And you could only participate in the weekly synchronous BigBlueButton sessions if you were logged into the Mattermost site.

Although I felt my learning experience was very successful, I think some work is needed to make participation easier for future book clubs. To anyone who is curious what occurred within Mattermost, I thought I’d end my reflections by sharing some of the topics we discussed, things we found useful and the resources and ideas that were shared each week by a great team of online facilitators. And, if you want to delve into each facilitator’s analysis and explanation of each week’s chapter, you can always check back on the BCcampus Online Book Club blog. If you signed up for a Mattermost account, you can access each week’s topic threads from the Schedule page.

Gleanings from 2nd Online Book Club

Chapter 1: Retrieving – facilitated by Laura Mackay – Mattermost chatter highlights: we talked about different ways we had used retrieval strategies, the concerns about ensuring that new information is coded accurately by learners as mistakes are so difficult to correct and proper encoding makes retrieval more likely. We talked about the need for learners to be active and engaged and that learning requires effort to be successful. We talked about the hypercorrection effect – the less confidence you have in your response, the harder it is to correct your miscoding.

Chapter 2: Predicting – facilitated by Keith Webster – Mattermost chatter highlights: we talked about the unexpected power of taking time to ask students what they know (or think they know) about the subject of a lesson. We talked about different ways we asked students to predict – mostly pre-tests – either oral or written, sometimes individually completed, sometimes in groups and then shared (or not). We shared various strategies for pre-testing including clickers. We talked about the emphasis on pre-testing in the Instructional Skills Workshop BOPPPS model. We enjoyed Keiths blog statement “Making predictions lets us have a mental play-date with a fact before seeing how it interacts with the new kids.” Thx to Asif we segued to Collaborative Syllabus Design and limitations of learning outcomes.

Chapter 3: Interleaving – facilitated by Gina Bennett – Mattermost chatter highlights: we talked about the importance of frequency and spacing of practice and allowing time to rest in between. We discussed the importance of humour and emotion in making learning stick. Jennifer K. riffed off that with a quote “Emotion has a substantial influence on the cognitive processes in humans, including perception, attention, learning, memory, reasoning, and problem solving. Emotion has a particularly strong influence on attention, especially modulating the selectivity of attention as well as motivating action and behaviour. ” from a Frontiers of Psychology article. The concern about the potential of misconceptions was discussed again. Gina shared an article comparing the benefits of retrieval practice or pretending to explain the material to someone else – turns out explaining to someone else works better (Learning Scientists article Explain It to Me).

Chapter 4: Connecting – facilitated by Asif Devji – Mattermost chatter highlights: We explored some of Asifs blog post ideas around complex cognitive skills and flipped classrooms and what neuroscience tells us about how the brain forms connections. We explored elaboration and elaborative interrogation in terms of studying – see Learning Scientists blog post. We went beyond the practical ideas in Small Teachings to Jennifer Ks explanation about the value of open textbooks and OER videos like Active Learning Overview to teach more effectively. We discussed the value of providing printed notes with spaces that require the learner to listen and create their own study notes. A good question from Asif – if we value the process of making connections to learn, should or could it be a learning outcome

Chapter 5: Practicing – facilitated by Sylvia Riessner (me!) – Mattermost chatter highlights: I shared a Coggle mind map of the main ideas in Chapter 5 to see if an overview would assist readers (Lang recommended providing a framework.) Feedback from others indicated it would have worked better if I had left gaps that encouraged readers to “fill in the blanks” as they reviewed the actual chapter reading. Lang focused on various types of cognitive skills; we discussed the confusion in identifying which skills are most important. That led us to ideas around transfer of learning (thanks Gina for summary of research. We reflected back on Asifs course on cognitive skills and a new Apple app to train cognitive flexibility.

Chapter 6: Self-explaining – facilitated by Isabeau Iqbal – Mattermost chatter highlights: Isabeau posed a question – how to distinguish between reflection and self-explaining. We discussed ideas around the focused, intentional approach of self-explaining. Self-explaining was seen as a process of reiterating or re-phrasing what you’ve learned, with the intention of remembering through practicing recall and using the think-aloud protocol. Reflection was seen as more open-ended and more likely to enable transfer of learning or discovery. We reviewed a recent research article by SFU researchers about the value of self-explanation as a learning technique.

Chapter 7: Motivating – facilitated by Lucas Wright – Mattermost chatter highlights: Lucas asked us how we infused our teaching and design practice with purpose? We shared stories of finding our passion in teaching and developing our practice from that point. Asif pointed out that motivation for learning can be primarily extrinsic (due to work or certification requirements) but that there are still ways to allow learners to find their passion. Gina shared the power of Appreciative Inquiry

Chapter 8: Growing and Chapter 9: Expanding – facilitated by Peter Arthur – Mattermost chatter highlights: We talked about the value of encouraging a growth mindset in students but recognizing that the success of this approach can be limited by circumstances beyond the student’s control. We discussed strategies to provide the maximum opportunity for success for each student. Gina shared a recent Science Digest article “Learning is optimized when we fail 15% of the time. Peter had the challenging task of drawing the OBC discussions to a close with Chapter 9. Many of us had been pulled away by work or other obligations.

If you have any questions or comments about my gleanings, feel free to comment or email me at sylviar at educomm dot ca


Ambrose, S. A., Bridges, M. W., DiPietro, M., Lovett, M. C., & Norman, M. K. (2010). The Jossey-Bass higher and adult education series. How learning works: Seven research-based principles for smart teaching. Jossey-Bass.

Lang, J. M. (2016). Small teaching: Everyday lessons from the science of learning. Jossey-Bass Retrieved from

Topic-based references


Effect of misperceptions

Growing and Expanding







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