Back in the classroom? Things to touch on

Last week I was back teaching in the face to face classroom for the first time in two years. Part way through welcoming everyone and laying out our plan for the day, I realized I was missing all those parts that need to be talked about after being on Zoom for so long!

On Zoom we talk about raising hands, using the chat, etc.. Now in person, we need to remind students how we feel about:

cell phones: remind students to put their phones on silent, to avoid texting and phone calls.

-late entry: PACE has a policy of no late entry to rooms, wait for break time. In some classrooms, this has to be strictly followed, students coming late have to walk through the instructor’s work area, over their classmates and into a seat; other rooms have two doors and a student could enter and sit at the back. Tell students what you expect as we adjust to the physical space.

-raising hands: so this is just like Zoom, but to manage a class conversation, students should put up their hands.

-side conversations: this was a big thing for me, the volume and amount of side conversations while I was teaching last week or while students were presenting. Being on Zoom, I think students got used to being able to talk and text with friends, instructors will have to remind students to stop.

-missing class: while attendance is not mandatory, just like being at work, students should notify the ‘boss’ if they are going to miss class; an email to the instructor is appreciated and should be mentioned in class one as a good practice

-masks: unit the policy changes, masks are required by everyone in the University’s buildings. There are times when the mask can be removed, but sitting in class is NOT one of them. Remind students, be polite and ensure they are wearing masks.

-academic integrity: in day one or at the first assignment (or both!) remind students about the expectations on individual work, group assignments, and meeting integrity expectations. Help students to understand what is expected for the assignments to avoid issues later.

Lots of challenges as we return to the class! Many of them are just reminders of what we did before 😉

Do I have to follow the mask mandate?

We are back with in person classes in our full time programs, and with that comes many issues and questions. How to use the audio visual equipment is a common question, and easily overcome. But the most common question from instructors has been “Do I really have to follow the mask mandate?”.

The answer is simple: yes. The mask mandate has been extended until at least June 30, 2022. At that time, the University will reassess the situation and make a further determination. The mandate, like any University policy, needs to be followed; instructors are representatives of the University and should be following all policies and procedures. To ignore, or wink at, the policy is undermines the instructor, the administration, and the University.

No one asks if the no smoking policy has to be followed in the classroom, nor if the respectful workplace policy has to be followed. The mask mandate is part of the operating environment and needs to be followed and respected.

To review the details of the policy, look at the information published by the University here:

Professional Development Opportunity

The Institute for Performance and Learning is a Canadian non profit organization aimed at helping people who work in the learning and performance field. They host several events each year that are free for members. May 18 they have an online session covering how to make your training address the topics of diversity, inclusion, and belonging.

You can find out more about the session by clicking here.

To find out more about the Institute, click here.

O, what a tangled web we weave when first we practise to deceive!

Sir Walter Scott had no idea just how sophisticated tools would become to help people deceive others in the 21st century! Recently I took in a presentation about ‘text spinning’, a tool / term that I had never heard of before, but now realize some of our students must be aware of it and using it to help plagiarize papers.

Text spinners, or article spinners, are online tools used to take written work and make it appear to be new content by replacing words or phrases. This tool was originally developed for marketers, allowing for social media content to be reworked easily and appear to be fresh and new. The tool has been coopted though for plagiarism by taking academic papers and ‘spinning’ them so that they appear to be different papers on the same topic. Currently these text spinners are able to defeat online plagiarism checkers that look for identical content.

Detecting these types of submissions takes reading the paper (no surprise there, we should already be doing that as instructors!), but now reading also to note things like:

  • change in phrasing or key words
    • look for inconsistency in how key words are used, using the term group dynamics one time and team interactions for example. Or changing proper nouns for synonyms, not recognizing there should be no change (Martin Luther King changed to Martin Luther Prince)
  • loss of student’s voice
    • the paper may not match the level of speaking and consistency of the student you have met in class and in other items of work
  • use of British English
    • for some reason the spinner’s default to use of British terms and grammar, this may not be consistent with Canadian writing, and may also vary between sections if the student is only using a spinner on one part of a paper

If you want to know more, one source shared in the presentation was this one:


There is an adage that “good fences make good neighbours”; in the classroom good boundaries make good students.  On the first day of the course, instructors should take the time out to set boundaries around communications and other expectations.

The start of any course should include time to review the course outline.  Reviewing both the course topics, the course assignments and due dates, AND academic integrity expectations.  All of that is built into the course outline and is a good time to review it.

Instructors should then go a little further to talk about expectations around communication:

  • remind students to use the contact information listed on the course outline
  • either of the University supplied email addresses
  • give students an idea of your response time
  • I tell students to give me 24 hours to respond
  • set ‘no response times’: instructors do not work full time for PACE, so let students know when you will be responding: will it be during the day or the evening?  Are there times where you do not do school related work? 
  • I tell students I will respond in the evening and that I do not do any emails on Sunday.
  • is there a wait time before contacting the instructor?  
  • For assignment feedback, I tell students to follow the 24 hour rule: before asking a question or challenging a grade, students have to wait 24 hours after getting their feedback

Small things, but intended to make a better experience for students and instructors alike.

It’s Okay To Say No

One the questions I’m often asked is on dealing with student requests.  Students will ask for extensions, for pre reading of assignment submissions, for a ‘do over’, or for another attempt on a quiz.  It’s okay to say no to these requests.

Each request has to be looked at on its own merits. Why is the student asking for an extension?  Was there something going on that is beyond the norm and prevented the student from doing their work?  If not, the answer to the request should be no.

Requests also have to be considered in terms of how they impact the rest of the class.  A student asking to have their assignment pre read for feedback.  How does that impact others?  Is it giving this student an advantage?  Or will you do that for every student?  Is there some extraordinary reason to provide that feedback to one student but not others? 

Requests also have to be considered in terms of fairness.  If a single student is offered a second attempt at an assignment or a quiz, how is that fair to others?  The student has the benefit of already seeing the quiz, but now gets to do it over again?  How will you manage other requests? How will you blend the marks?  Was this information of second attempts shared in the course outline?  

There may be a reason to grant a student’s request, but it is also okay to say no. 

Free Facilitation Skills Workshop

The Institute for Performance and Learning is offering a free workshop for anyone interested in improving their facilitation skills.

“The Power of Improv” is a one hour session on February 16, 2022 offered through Zoom that will share ideas on improving facilitation skills with lessons from the world of improv.

Learn more about the session, and sign up for it, by looking here: Institute for Performance and Learning Workshop

Writing Assignment Instructions

There are some basic parts that should be in any assignment instructions to ensure that students’ questions are answered:

  • Assignment title
    • Keep this the same as what is used on the course outline and the Nexus drop box so that it is clear which instructions go which item of work
  • Assignment due date
    • Seems straight forward when we are using the Nexus drop box feature but at least one person will come back and ask ‘when is this due?’
  • Assignment value of final grade
    • Makes it clear to students what the value of this item of work is
  • Length of expected submission
    • Students always ask ‘how long should be answer be?’.  A word of caution, if you do not put a maximum page or word count, students will write a multi-volume encyclopedia!  
  • Format for submission
    • What type of electronic file do you want?  Word?  Pages?  Adobe?  If there are multiple parts students will want to know if there should be multiple documents submitted or an ‘all in one’ approach

Some best practices to address:

  • Use PACE templated document
    • PACE has templated pages available in the Nexus Instructor Portal.  Using the templates can help when looking on essay writing sites to locate PACE materials
    • Look in the portal under Content – Getting Started with a Course – PACE Templates
  • Include mention of following citation and referencing
    • While citations and referencing are a requirement at PACE, it is a good habit to remind students so that there is no question later of what the requirements were
  • Post the instructions as an Adobe Acrobat document
  • Follow the PACE Nexus set up
    • Be sure to follow the PACE course design for consistency in posting instructions 

I didn’t know you could that in Zoom…

As we continue to deliver our courses through Zoom this month, there are some small tips or tricks that you may not be aware of:

Waiting room can be turned off: it is possible to turn off the waiting room. This is beneficial as you, the instructor, are no longer distracted trying to manage the entrance of participants while speaking. Particularly at the start of the class or after breaks this can be beneficial when students are joining late.

Chat can be disabled: during a meeting the host can change the chat settings so that participants can not chat at all, or can only chat with the host. This is beneficial where you have a large group and want to better manage the conversation, or where inappropriate chat is going on (let’s hope that doesn’t happen!)

Polls have reports: if you are using a Zoom poll, when you set it up it is possible to change the settings to record who is responding and what answers are recorded. These reports can be downloaded later from the Zoom website to see who participated in the poll and what responses were given.

Share an app, not your screen: Zoom has different options with what you want to share, a whiteboard, an app, or your computer desktop. If you share your computer desktop, be aware that participants are seeing your whole desktop. If a notification pops up, participants will see that. By sharing only an application, like your PowerPoint slides, students are seeing only that item.

Participants can be muted: useful when there is background sound in a participants location, the host has the ability to mute all or just mute an individual.

Self view can be turned off: once you have checked how you appear on screen, you can turn off your self view so that you are not distracted by watching yourself and have more space to see participants – useful in a large class!

Size of the gallery view can be changed: there are different settings to see your participants, and the size of the ‘view’ can be changed when sharing screen to get a better view of your attendees.

Sharing videos needs to share audio: if you are sharing any video that has sound, you need to enable sound sharing as well. If not, no one can hear the audio!