The Grecian Urn Assignment

Listening to one of the podcast’s on teaching that I enjoy, The Cult of Pedagogy, the host was cautioning the audience to ensure value in the assignments they create, and not to fall victim to the Grecian Urn assignment.

The Grecian Urn assignment was from her experience working at grade school level.  In learning about ancient Greece, students are assigned to make their own Grecian Urn using a balloon, paper mache, paint, and their imagination.

While it’s a fun assignment (for most students), it’s extremely time consuming, has very little attachment to the learning outcomes, and there is no grade for the assignment.

The host’s point being that taking a large amount of a student’s time, and the class time, for no grade is not a good use of time.  The issue of not being connected to the learning outcomes is, of course, a concern, but I’ll save that for another post.

As we design activities and assignments in our classes, which are often so compressed, it’s a good concept to keep in mind: is the value of the work connected to the amount of time and effort the students are putting into it?  Is the value of knowing the learning outcome reflected in the amount of effort that is being spent on it?  Is the amount of time being spent justified?

Whether it is an in class activity, or a take home assignment, some thought about the effort and value is worth considering.

NEW A/V Feature

With the upgrades to the AV connections in the PACE classrooms, there is a nice feature added: Freeze.  The Freeze button is located on the wall switch, where you select from laptop or PC.

The freeze button freezes the view being displayed, so that the instructor can do other work on their laptop or the computer.  Basically the system creates a picture of what is currently showing and continues to display that until the freeze feature is turned off.

This allows the instructor to modify a slide, enter a password, change the view, etc..  All done without the class seeing what is happening.


SmartBoard Tip

With the introduction of Smartboards into nearly all of our PACE classrooms, we are providing instructors with the latest generation of interactive projectors.  They serve as an opportunity to enhance the lessons in the classroom and make them more beneficial for students:

– through the use of the SmartBoard app you can share the whiteboard? No app or special device is required by the receiver of the sharing request.  It can then be used interactively by everyone, and students can save a copy of the work to their device for studying later.

-SmartBoard files can be exported to a USB as  PDF file for sharing and later use

-if you don’t want to switch between a PowerPoint presentation and the SmartBoard white board, put in a blank slide.  With the SmartBoard hook up we have you can use the pens to write onto the slide and use it as a whiteboard – you can even save it after!

-the SmartBoards have a built in browser.  You can preset any web pages or videos you want to use during your lesson so that you can access them quickly without having to leave your PowerPoint.

By Monday, we will have finished our upgrades to most of our classrooms.  If you need an orientation to the new AV setup or the SmartBoards, be sure to reach out to the PACE office or the PACE Academic Program Manager.




I was listening to the Teaching in Higher Education Podcast from April 18, “Spaces and Places (and Nudges)”, the guest speaker, Jose Bowen had a lot of great ideas on how teachers can make a difference in the lives and habits of students through small design changes or ‘nudges’.  Nudges cost nothing, but are designed to adjust behaviour so people make better choices.

Amsterdam’s Schipol Airport used nudging in an attempt at improving men’s cleanliness in using urinals.  They placed a target in the urinal, a little plastic fly.  Men would aim at the fly, keeping ‘things’ in the urinal and not on the floor.  A nudge to adjust behaviour to got a positive result.

In the podcast, the suggestion was made that in education, teachers, instructors, and administrators can all use nudges to adjust their student’s behaviour to improve the students’ lives, learning, or future opportunities.

Have you ever noticed the number of students pulling an all-nighter to complete an assignment for 9 a.m.?  And then the students don’t even come to class? Or come to class and sleep on the desk in front of you?  I recently had an assignment due at 9 a.m. which was to be submitted through Nexus. This is a quite standard idea of turning an assignment in at the start of a class.  As I went to start class, I realized that 1/3 of the class was missing, and another 1/3 (or more) were actively sleeping – including a student who had pushed aside his, and his neighbour’s books to lay flat out on the table!

Going forward, if I make the assignment due at 11 p.m. the night before, it forces students to complete their work with enough time to still get a night’s sleep. A small nudge to improve their health and get their work done on time!

If you want to hear the podcast, you can listen to it here:

Nexus Tip of the Month

When uploading content to Nexus for students, it is possible to put a release time on the material so that it is not viewable until a specified date. This can help control student progress and time materials to match in class sessions.

Once you have uploaded the content, click on the toggle next to the name of the file.  Select EDIT PROPERTIES IN PLACE; then select ADD DATES AND RESTRICTIONS.

You can then add a start date, even an end date if you like.