Manitoba Open Textbook Initiative

Ever thought about the cost of textbooks to students?  The US Bureau of Labor Statistics tracked textbook prices at American universities over the 10 years from 2006 to 2016 and found an 87.5% increase, compared to a 63% rise in tuition.  Canadian prices are likely much the same.

There is an initiative to encourage the use of open licence textbooks, you can learn about it here:

Essentially, this joint operation of the post secondary institutions in Manitoba provides links to open copyright textbooks.  Instructors and students can access these books at no cost for e-versions and a small cost for print versions.

Take a look and see if there is text book suitable for your course.  If you are experiencing issues around text book accessibility, student’s completing readings, or cost issues, this may provide a viable alternative.


Aligning Assessments with Learning Objectives

One of the topics we explored during a professional development session concerned selecting learning assessments.  It is a complex topic that is important for instructors to revisit and reflect upon as they build their courses for the coming sessions.  A failure to link the learning assessment to the course objectives can lead to frustration on the part of students, instructors, and the administration.

All PACE courses have a course description and learning outcomes.  A component of the course outline, this is critical information for a number of people in the education process.  The intent of these two pieces is to provide guidance to instructors on what is to be covered and what level of proficiency is sought in students; provide information to students on expectations for their learning and upcoming work to be performed; provide assurance to the university administration (up to and including the Senate) that students are receiving the same foundational concepts in courses regardless of instructor or session; and provide information to other institutions on what students have learned if they apply for transfer credit.

The course description is a pretty straight forward part of the course outline.  In a narrative form, this paragraph or two describes what the course is about.  These sentences are approved by the university Senate and can only be changed with their permission.

The learning outcomes are set by PACE staff working with the core instructors.  These bullet points detail the expectations of students upon completion of the course.  The statements provide specific instructions on what students should know at the  end of the course and to what level the students need to be considered proficient in that topic or skill.  The expected outcome provides instructors with guidance on what method of assessment to choose and how to construct grading for that assessment.

The learning outcomes may state that students need to be able to ‘recite’, or ‘recognize’ terms or concepts.  This would indicate that the course is aiming to have students tested on their ability to recall information.  While another learning outcome may call for students to be able to ‘analyze’ or ‘apply’ the learning, which is calling for students to be able to demonstrate an ability to use the material.  At the top end of the learning scale, students may be called about to evaluate information, which would look for students to be able to ‘produce’, ‘create’, or ‘develop’ materials.

This scaling to a student’s learning is interpreted in a number of different ways.  I’m a proponent of Bloom’s Taxonomy.  You can get an introduction by reading articles such as this one:

which gives a quick overview; or this article:

which is more in depth, giving historical information on the concepts and connections to the digital world.

Learning outcomes guide instructors by being able to look at the expectation at the end of the course.  If students are expected to ‘recall’ information, giving them an assignment to interpret a story or video wouldn’t fit the expectation.  Similarly, students who are expected to apply course information will not demonstrate this in a quiz testing definitions of terms.  A more appropriate method may be a long answer question on an exam or an assignment to review a situation and analyze it.

Reviewing the learning outcomes provides guidance on how to select a proper method of assessment for the course.  There should be a match between the two, providing assurance to everyone in the education process that students are being tested on the expected outcomes of the course.


Improving Student Engagement

I had the opportunity to take part in a webinar called “Wake Them Up! Engaging Students in the 21st Century Classroom”, presented by Julie Smith, an instructor at Webster University in St. Louis.  The one hour presentation was very good, as Julie presented many great ideas on improving student engagement in the classroom, a concept well worth including in all our classes as students generally learn better when they are engaged in the topic rather than just being spoken to.

Julie presented lots of ideas, some involving technology and some not.  On the ‘non techy’ side, some of the things Julie presented included having related content out in the room before the class starts, re-framing how to ask for questions, and looking for ways to connect with introverts or quiet  students.   Technology ideas included phone polling, using the website Kahoot, and looking for alternative ways to connect with students, along with many other suggestions she had.

Non Tech Ways

  • Setting up the classroom is already something that we all do at PACE: arriving early to connect your laptop to put up your slides.  Julie suggests going beyond that, put out content that relates to the days topic.  As students arrived, they can take in the items out, whether it is posters, drawings, physical items, and students start to wonder about the day’s topic and build interest.
  • A small comment, but the phrasing we use in teaching can have an impact on students.  Instead of asking “Do you have questions”, Julie suggests re-framing this to “What questions do you have”.  This acknowledges that students have questions and they are okay.
  • Students may be quiet in the classroom for a number of reasons: naturally introverted, uncertain of the material, language or cultural barriers etc.  Julie recommends that instructors create methods that can encourage participation and engage these students in their own way: writing questions down and putting them in a hat to randomly draw them later (Julie gives a prize.  Students put their names on the questions, the more questions, and the more chances to win).  Having students email, tweet, or text questions, all ways to get the student who is not comfortable speaking in the class to still have a voice.

Technological Ways

  • Phone polling is becoming a common concept.  This was mentioned in a recent professional development session hosted by Stevi Dram here at PACE; the slides from that presentation our on the PACE Instructor Communication Portal on Nexus if you are interested.  One recent article I read said that 90% of college students admitted using their phones in the classroom; using phone polling is designed to make use of that tendency for students to be on their phones.  Julie commented that by including this she found that students were less likely to text while she was talking.
  • Kahoot is website that Julie recommends, along with others, for building reviews that everyone can access in the room on their phone.  I haven’t looked at it yet, but I intend to try it out in my next course.
  • Julie also presented a number of ideas for communicating and connecting with students using a number of different technology related platforms.  For her, this includes using Voxer, a walkie talkie like program, Flip Grid, sharing 90 second videos accessed only by select users, QR codes, Twitter, etc..  Julie teaches courses related to digital media, so many of these work well for her and may not for our courses, but it does present ideas to reflect on.

As part of the instructor’s role, improving student engagement is an essential component to content delivery.  Students who are engaged are more likely to succeed in the course, and then the program.  At the end of the day though, Julie noted that “Nothing beats enthusiasm”.

If you get the opportunity, I encourage you to take in her presentation or her work:


Deferred Final Exams, Missed Mid-terms Quizzes and Assignments: What to do?

From time to time, questions arise about students missing assignments, quizzes, or exams, or students seeking to defer exams.  A guide for these student issues can be found in the PACE Student Handbook, linked from this page:

As an instructor, answering these questions can be tricky. As a source of support, you can always contact the Academic Advisor for full-time programs: Kelly Carpick (

When a student misses an assignment, quiz, or midterm

Based on PACE policy, no make-up session will be scheduled for a missed test, quiz and mid-term exam. If the student’s absence is legitimate, it is the instructor’s decision whether to add the weight of this item of work to another individual item of work (i.e., final exam). Instructors can ask students for documentation (doctors note, incident report) when determining the legitimacy of a student’s absence. If you are unsure of whether or not to add the value of a missed item of work to another, please contact the academic advisor. Students who do not have a legitimate absence will receive a grade of zero for this item of work.

In some cases, the missed assignment, quiz, or mid-term, may contain material that is considered crucial or integral to the course.  If that is the case, the student may be provided with an opportunity to complete the work, provided that the reason for missing the original date is legitimate.  This is a recent evolution of the PACE policy on the topic and will shortly be reflected in an updated version of the Student Handbook. Please note that it would be up to the instructor to invigilate another time for the student to write the missed item of work.

When a student misses a final exam

The easiest question to answer is around student requests to defer an exam.  In this case, ‘exam’ is referring to a final exam, since PACE does not defer mid-term exams. If a student misses a final exam, please notify the academic advisor. At that point, the academic advisor can reach out to the student and request documentation as well as a deferral examination request form. This must occur within 2 days of the original examination date. The student will be required to provide documentation (medical note, accident report, obituary etc.), as well as pay an administrative fee of $75. Ingrid Krenn who is the exam coordinator at PACE will contact the instructor to provide an alternate exam for the student to write within 10 days of the original exam date. If you have questions or concerns regarding the alternate exam, please contact the program manager and/or myself.

Academic Integrity Inter-Institution Meeting

Kelly, PACE’s Academic Advisor, and I had the opportunity to attend the first Academic Integrity Inter-Institution Meeting last week.  It was well attended, with representatives of every post-secondary institution in the province coming to the University of Manitoba to take in the day.  The group included faculty, administration, and instructors, including one of our own PACE instructors!

Two poignant questions were asked right at the outset: why do students cheat and what do instructors do that allows cheating to occur.   Both are interesting questions that should give pause to any instructor involved in teaching in a graded environment.

When learning to be a manager, one of the lessons around people and mistakes is to learn to adjust your thinking and not assume the staff person deliberately did something wrong.  The same goes for teaching, few, if any students, set out in their academic careers to cheat or plagiarize.  Why then does it happen?  We may never know the definitive answer; there is lots of speculation that it may be due to the pressures of school, a desire to succeed, a failure to learn the material, or many other reasons.

This relates to the second issue: what do instructors do to that encourages cheating? Instructors need to consider why it would occur in their particular course and take steps to address the ‘why’, help students overcome obstacles to learning or a desire to take a shortcut.  Instructors can look at the course load, how it is laid out, the work expectations, how the material is being presented, and, in our full time programs, how that relates to other course loads.

As instructors, we can prevent academic misconduct by regularly changing questions or assignments.  This helps prevent papers from being reused between course offerings, or papers being obtained from those with access to publisher databases.

Equally important, instructors cannot turn a blind eye.  Instructors need to be engaged in preventing academic misconduct within their classroom to prevent it happening.  It is a preventative strategy about not only that one course, but the whole program, as students learn that cheating or plagiarism is not allowed in the program, and is not just one or two instructors, but that academic integrity is a program wide expectation.

On the first day of class, instructors should address academic integrity by referencing and summarizing the University of Winnipeg’s academic policy, and revisit this when the first assignment is given.  This constant reinforcement of the message provides an opportunity for students to hear the message repeatedly – and repetition is a key component in learning theory.

The University’s academic integrity policies are available through Nexus, or here:

When academic misconduct does occur, instructors need to immediately address it.  Plagiarism or cheating cannot be ignored.   To ignore it is to condone it.

If anyone instructor needs assistance with the process or understanding the policy, they can always reach out to me.