Observation From A First Time Instructor

Recently, I was meeting with a first time instructor on completion of their course. Talking about how the course went and what observations a newbie to the PACE team had, the instructor shared that the biggest lesson learnt was not to be so quick or so easy to agree with students.

Over the duration of the course, the students had convinced the instructor to change due dates, change assignment requirements, adjust quiz timings, and quiz lengths. All this on the premise that this happens all the time and the instructor should just listen to them.

As many of you likely realize, changes to a course are not made because students ask for it. Changes have to be processed and approved, changing something as simple as a due date can impact other courses because of the compressed nature of our programs. Changing course requirements requires adjustments to the course outline.

It’s great to build a relationship with students, to be friendly, to be supportive, and to be helpful. But instructors are always ‘in charge’. When facing challenges from students on any of these topics, or on grade changes, reach out to the program manager or the PACE Instructor Support Specialist for help on dealing with these issues.

Building Relationships With Your Class

Last week, we held our first in person instructor event since the spring. It was great to see many of our team in person and connect without a screen between us. Building connections fosters sharing information and a team atmosphere to our work at PACE. The same is true of working with our students. Building a relationship with the class can help foster the students’ learning, and make the teaching day better for the instructor.

We discussed this topic at our in person event as a part of building engagement. Students need to be engaged in the class, whether on Zoom, in person, or taking a class asynchronously. Instructors need to foster a connection so students feel connected to the materials, the instructor, and each other.

How to do that in our traditional full time class can be tricky. Most of our classes are offered over six full days, that is not a lot of time to build a relationship. It takes a planned effort on the part of the instructor:

-Before the course begins, post an introductory message on Nexus about yourself. What’s your background, your interests? Are there personal information you can share? Small things that help students to understand who you are and what you are bringing into the classroom. Including ‘we’ statements helps to build a connect here by demonstrating a team approach to the course. For example: “We will be learning….” or “I look forward to what we will be sharing in our course…”.

-Arrive early on teaching days, talk to the students that are there. Not about the course per se, just talking with the students can build a relationship. Learn who your students are, their names, interests, and backgrounds. Remember these points, and even build them into the class if you can. If someone’s background lends itself to an example, ask the student to share. Everyone likes to have their details remembered, and connecting past experience to course materials helps with engagement and application.

-Personalize feedback. When marking assignments and giving comments, use the students’ preferred names to address the comments to them. Connect the feedback to the comments in class and personal details if you can.

-Show an interest in students’ goals and objectives. Knowing where students are going post PACE and striving to give feedback and connecting materials to those goals can help students see the instructor as someone interested in them. That helps to build a connection at a personal level, which translates to engagement with the course.

There is no one single thing that will build a relationship with your class. It is an effort that starts before the course and continues throughout and even after the course. That relationship can foster better engagement with the learning materials, the classroom activities and presentations, and ultimately lead to better student performance.

Nexus Tip of the Month Bonus: Assignment Views

You may have noticed that over the summer that some of the settings in the Nexus Assignment dropboxes changed. 

When looking at the list of submissions in a specific drop box, the view now contains a list of everyone enrolled in a Nexus course, regardless of whether or not they are a student.  This means that PACE staff appear on the list as students with no submissions.  This has no impact on marking or inputting grades, it is just an inconvenient view. 

Where does it come into play is when publishing grades. Having selected all for publish, Nexus will give an error message that not all grading is complete, giving a list of names. The list is referencing the instructors as well as students, so it’s a pain as you cannot easily see if a student was missed. (After publishing, going to the grade page will tell you if anyone was missed.)

If the view bothers you, reach out and instructions can be provided on how to change it.  Note that changing the view has to be done on each entry to a drop box, it is not a setting that can be changed.

Nexus Tip of the Month: Content Dates

Did you know that besides being able to hide and unhide content, it is possible to set dates to control when materials become visible?

In the case of a module or submodule created in Nexus, when the module is clicked on and visible on the right side of the Nexus content page, there is a space just below the name to add dates. Dates can be set to make the material visible or even to remove access. (There is also room to add a description to the material being uploaded).

With an individual content item within a module, click on the drop down menu next to the name. Select “Edit Properties in Place” to add dates to an item.

It is even possible to control assignment drop boxes on when they will become visible too, just ask for help on how to set that up!

Change to Mask Mandate & Access

Effective August 17, 2022, the University will make the wearing of masks optional. Please be respectful of people’s choices; if instructors wish to wear a mask they can certainly do so. Masks will be available in selected locations throughout the university complex.

The University will also return to an open campus on August 17. Passwords will no longer be checked for entry. PACE’s AnX class area continues to be a secure zone, please use the doorbell to ring for entry.

Group Projects: Tips for Instructors

Every term since I’ve started this position an issue comes up in a group project and I get asked for advice on how to handle it.  The most basic thing I can say is this: address issues in group projects when you plan your course!  The more that can be done up front, the less likely you are to encounter issues.

At the outset, when planning a group project for a course, ensure there is a valid reason. What learning outcomes are addressed by the group project that cannot be addressed as individual work? What is the purpose being fulfilled?

Once you have that answered satisfactorily, move into the issues directly related to a group project?

PLAN THE PROJECT:

The first part of a successful group project is planning.  Plan that there is enough work for each member of the group.  The work should be of roughly equal size and complexity.  You don’t want one student to end up being “the PowerPoint person”, the work should be divided around course topics so students are furthering their learning in a way that relates the course outcomes.

Part of the planning for the projects should also look at how students will share their ideas and knowledge with each member of their group.  Students should not just be learning the one isolated part they covered but should have a good understanding of the work the other team members are doing as well. 

CREATE THE TEAMS:

Next thing to think about is how you will establish the groups and stick to your plan.  If you want the groups to be randomized, the PACE team can assist with this (there is a tool in Nexus for setting this up).  When randomizing groups, be prepared for the push back of “I don’t want to work with that person”.  If you let students pick their own groups, be prepared for the person that ends up without a team, you will have to make the groups of equal size. 

If you let students pick, or you are assigning teams, reach out to the PACE team to have group assignment dropboxes created. 

BUILD IN CLASS TIME:

During the course, after the group project has been introduced, build in time for the groups to meet, discuss, and do some work on their group project each class.  Students should still have work to do independently, having time during the course allows the time members to meet and check on progress.  

CHECK IN WITH GROUPS:

As the instructor use this group work time as your opportunity to check in with the groups.  Each class you MUST meet with the teams and get a briefing. 

I recommend giving the teams a template for that meeting, be explicit on what you want to know.  What work was accomplished so far?  What work is outstanding?  What areas are having difficulty?  What questions are there?  Try to make each group member speak up so that no one can hide out and not speak about their progress.  It would be worth considering having each member chair the meeting in turn; students get an opportunity to practice being the chair and using their oral communications skills. 

PLAN FOR BREAKDOWNS:

A big issue, the one that sees my inbox light up, is what to do when group members do not contribute.  This is a regular problem, one of the team members stops contributing.  Plan how you will handle this, make it clear to the class when the groups should reach out: the night before the due date is not the time to be asking for help! 

In my courses, I have built into the group project instructions wording that the assigned mark may be adjusted up or down based on an individual student’s contributions.  That is only good for after the fact.  When the project is running, tell groups when they should reach out and when the cut off for asking for help from the instructor is.

Group projects can be valuable, but they do require the instructor to think about them in advance and look at how the project will play out in the course.

Nexus Tip of the Month: Content Settings

Did you know instructors can control when content becomes visible? It is possible to hide materials from students until you are ready to reveal it.

When placing items onto the Content page, once the item is created or uploaded, click on the icon beside the name to get the dropdown menu, select HIDE FROM USERS to make the item invisible. When ready, click UNHIDE to make the item visible.

This feature can also be used for submodules (or folders), when the submodule is created, click the icon beside the name for the same choices as content.

New PACE Team Member!

We are very excited to announce that Ivy C. is joining the PACE administrative team in the role of Academic Support Specialist.

In her position, Ivy will be the contact person for academic misconduct.  Ken will continue in his role of working with instructors on teaching and classroom issues.

Log into the Nexus Instructor Communication Portal to see more about Ivy and her contact info on the homepage.

Nexus Tips: Group or Individual Assignment Dropbox? 

Did you know that Nexus has a feature to allow group assignment drop boxes?  These allow for all members of a group to submit work, see each other’s work, and for everyone in the group to be graded at the same time!

When created, group assignments are distinguished in Nexus with a special icon:

The bottom drop box is a group assignment, with the icon that looks like a group showing that it is set for group submissions.

When submitting information for your course outline, assignments should be labeled as group or individual.  This allows students to know what work to expect in the course, and it allows the drop boxes to be set up appropriately.

Nexus even has a feature for creating groups, either randomly or assigned.  The PACE team can work with you to set up groups in a course.  Just reach out and ask, ideally before the course gets going! 

PACE Developed Course

During the pandemic, PACE made a move to standardize a number of courses by supplying assessments, rubrics, and teaching materials.  If you are now using PACE materials, I’d like to offer a few suggestions / tips:

#1 – Own the course!

As an instructor, you are a part of the PACE team.  This is not someone else’s material, this is your material.  In speaking to the class, speak as the owner.

#2 – Know the material

While the materials are developed, instructors should be familiar with all parts of the course.  Read the materials, watch the videos, and know the sequencing of materials. This will allow the classroom delivery to be smooth and well connected to all aspects. Make sure you review and refer back to the Instructor Resource area in the course – it has many critical elements that you will need to know.

#3 – Make it yours

As you look over the material and prep for interactions with the class, think of personal examples to add, how to gain engagement over the topics, and how to manage movement between the topics.  Yes, that goes back to point #1 😉 Give the course a heartbeat!

#4 – Flag any issues

If there are any questions, any issues, or misses, flag us immediately so we can review and if needed adjust the master course template.  This will help prevent issues from being perpetuated across programs.  If something comes up in class, (a personal ask here) don’t throw PACE under the bus.  This has happened a couple of times and to be candid, it gives the students the impression that it is PACE Vs. the instructors; we are a team, we all own the material, we all work for the betterment of the students.

While these courses are developed, it’s a team effort to have them delivered well!