Exploring and learning at ETUG’s 2017 Spring Jam

Education by Design Spring Jam 2017Just back (actually it’s been nearly two weeks!) from a challenging, fun exploration of ideas, innovations, edtech stories and design practices at UBC Okanagan (a sunny, stormy beautiful campus in Kelowna). Another ETUG event that introduced me to new people and projects and left me with lots to think about and new ideas of my own to try for the future. A great way to start a summer break.

1.  How People Learn Plenary (Dr. Peter Newbury)

Dr. Newbury’s fast-paced, humorous and interactive exploration of three key findbeginner to expertings from the well-known National Academy of Science book “How People Learn.” was a great introduction to the Spring Jam. While I was familiar with the National Academies book, I appreciated his efforts to engage us in different ways we could help students “move from ignorance to expertise.” I chuckled at his explanation of how students move from “unconscious incompetence” to “conscious, competence” as I remembered my first university classes.

Further learning:

2.  Wikipedia Edit-a-thon   (Will Engle, and Christina Hendriks, UBC)

An “Edit-a-thon” is “ organized event where editors of online communities such as Wikipedia edit and improve a specific topic or type of content, typically including basic editing training for new editors.” Will and Christina shared their experiences working with students to edit Wikipedia articles and got us all to dig in and try some simple editing tasks.

I attended to see how UBC had approached Wikipedia assignments as we’d tried something like this at Yukon College in 2003 or 2004 (without success). I’m not sure it’s much easier because of all the resources and supports available from Wikipedia; it seems as though the rules have grown (even though Wikipedia says it has no rules!) and the process has become more complex. But Christina and Will provided compelling evidence of transformational learning possibilities and shared a handout to follow if you’re interested.

Steps for planning Wikipedia student learning sessions:

  • familiarize yourself with the rules – remember the 5 pillars
  • provide introductory “easy” editing activities for students
  • determine whether writing articles or simply contributing editing “muscle” is the learning you’re looking for? Design your students’ assignment
  • Allow time to acquaint students with Wikipedia policies, explore “good” article structure, practice how to use the wiki, learn how to interact with Wikipedia community editors!
  • Connect with UBC Centre for Teaching, Learning & Technology for assessment structures

Further learning:

3.  Student-driven OER, 3D modeling and virtual reality tours – the next wave of OER creation and adaptation in BC  Rosario Passos, BCIT

Rosario spent the last year with BCcampus to work on open projects.  During her session, she shared some outstanding examples of co-creation of open resources with students and faculty at UBC and Camosun (funded by the BCcampus Open Education grant funding). Professor Christina Hendriks was in the audience and shared her experiences working on the development of the Open Case Studies Project at UBC.

The final portion of Rosario’s presentation focused on the upcoming BCcampus OER deadline – June 16th – new funding for ancillary resource creation, OER creation, Zed-Cred degrees

4.  Open Pedagogy: Making Learning Visible through Live, Reflective and Co-created Experiences   (Liesel Knaack, and Michael Paskevicius, VIU)

Open-LiesslMichaelIt’s not about open textbooks, or open pedagogy, or OERs! It’s about “…making of learning visible through community engagement and the design of authentic and lived learning experiences.” Liesel Knaack challenged the audience to move beyond definitions of “open” to focus on ways to make learning more meaningful, relevant and useful to students. Michael Paskevicius supported our understanding through the session by sharing useful models of openness – Attributes of Open Pedagogy B. Hegarty 2015 and Degrees of Openness, C. Hodgkinson-Williams and E. Gray 2009. Hopefully he’ll share his slides soon – keep an eye on his Slideshare channel!

Some examples of visible learning at VIU:

5.  Applying Design Principles and Collaborative, Visual Techniques to “Modules”  (Barbara Berry, Educational Consultant, SFU TLC Team)

Jumpstart presentation SFUJumpstart is an initiative between the Teaching and Learning Centre at SFU and the Faculty of Health Sciences aimed at supporting tenure track faculty to create “shareable” educational resources. They shared developing examples of design thinking approaches using storyboards, visual mapping, diagrams and templates

SFU TLC Team: John Born, Christina Drabik, Kar On Lee, David Rubeli, Robyn Schell, Jason Toal, Sarah Turner, Duane Woods, Gabe Wong. 

I don’t have much to share from this session as it was more about collecting our feedback and involving us in the story than about sharing actual outcomes – the project is in the early stages.

Keep an eye out for my next post. This year was the first time I’d stepped forward to lead an ETUG session, and, in the spirit of “if it’s worth doing…”, I was a co-facilitator of three different sessions with Beth Cougler Blom and Sylvia Currie.  I’ll do a separate post to share what I learned about different facilitation techniques (design thinking methods and a few ideas from Gamestorming) plus some of the creative ideas that participants shared with us about our “big” questions!



How to learn more effectively

There’s been a lot of interest in recent neuro-scientific research, particularly research related to different aspects of learning and memory. As educators, we’re always trying to find better ways to help our students learn (and ourselves as well). While popular science articles have highlighted many of the significant changes in our understanding of how the brain works, reading some of the details of research and ongoing debates about our interpretation of fMRI data left me wanting to learn more.

A colleague of mine, Beth Cougler Blom, suggested I take part in a Coursera MOOC “Learning How to Learn” last year (she had just completed an earlier offering). She found the University of California (San Diego) course enlightening and mentioned several insights she’d gleaned. So I signed up and was introduced to Dr. Barbara Oakley, Professor of Engineering, Oakland University, and Dr. Terence Sejnowski, Francis Crick Professor at Salk Institute for Biological Studies.

So what “stood out for me” that might be useful to share with other educators?

  1.  Behaviorist theories of learning are still important and applicable, particularly when interpreted in light of neuro-science research and application in various studies grounded in higher education environments.
  2. We learn best (deeper, broader) and retain more when use the study / work techniques redefined through recent investigations. Surprisingly, practising recall without prompts was still one of the powerful tools we can apply to improve our learning. No more relying on my Google-brain when tackling new subjects. And recall trumped mind/concept-mapping for some types of learning (see references)
  3. We need to take care of our physical well-being to ensure that our brain functions well – aerobic activity is an increasingly important factor, along with getting sufficient sleep. Note:  I’ll never forget the mental image of my brain cells shrinking as I sleep so all the effluent can be drained away and my cells can be ready and clean for the next day. And, fMRI brain imaging showed multiple new synapses can form after learning and sleep.
  4. We can “rewire” our brains. Research has shown (and Dr. Oakley is a living example) that the brain retains it’s flexibility (neuro-plasticity) and we can continue to generate new brain cells and neural connections.

What could you do to improve your student’s learning right now?

You can jump right to Dr. Oakley’s 10 Rules of Good Studying (extracted from her 2014 book, A Mind for Numbers: How to Excel in Math and Science (Even if You Flunked Algebra). The 10 rules are far easier to read than to apply – I’m still trying to integrate them in my reading and note-taking although I’ve noticed some improvement fairly quickly.

Some of the interesting ideas I learned from the Learning How to Learn MOOC:

  1.  Practicing something for 10,000 hours is not the best way to master your subject. Mixing up your techniques for practice, spacing your practices, and challenging yourself to recall without supports (or to try teaching what you’re learning to someone else) combine to form a more efficient way of learning.
  2. Eating your lima beans before your baked apple pie with ice cream – is still a good strategy.
  3. The power of linking learning to visual images or memories is powerful across cultures. I’ve worked with indigenous instructors who used metaphors and stories as is traditional in their cultures. Surprisingly, metaphoric zombies (invoked by Dr. Oakley) do stick in my brain to help me remember.
  4. Self management techniques like Cirillos’ “pomodoro Technique” can be very effective when they link goal setting, focused-rest-focused cycles of work, small rewards and setting up the best conditions for learning you can.
  5. Not really new but re-affirmed – passion and persistence underly most success in learning (and life?)


Example? Her recent, thought-provoking and clearly written article for Nautilus – a science magazine aimed at non-scientists –


Cirillo, Francesco, The Pomodoro Technique Retrieved from

Karpicke, Jeffrey D. and Janell R. Blunt. (11 February 2011) Retrieval Practice Produces More Learning than Elaborative Studying with Concept Mapping  Science New Series, Vol. 331, No. 6018, pp. 772-775  Published by: American Association for the Advancement of Science   

Hamilton, John. (October 17, 2013). “Brains Sweep Themselves Clean of Toxins During Sleep.” NPR All Things Considered.

Oakley, Barbara (October 2, 2014). How I Rewired My Brain to Become Fluent in Math, Nautilus, Issue 017, Retrieved from

Pan, Steven C. “The Interleaving Effect: Mixing It Up Boosts Learning,” Scientific American, August 4, 2015.