Post 9: Twitter

This is my final post for 9x9x25, and what fun it’s been. Thank you for engaging, reading, and offering newspaper wrapped fish and chips. The best part is that this is late, and finally, after a semester of driving myself and my students crazy to get things in on time, this one last final paper with find its way to Terry fashionably late. Somehow this restores just a tad of balance and karma to the world.

At the beginning of the semester one of my students asked me why twitter? What’s the point?

At the beginning, I guess I would have to agree. I don’t use social media all that much (one of the hazards of studying it), and I created this account to complete my course. While the course is interesting, connecting with people who are also taking it, or live in the same digital neighborhood has been amazing. I have made some wonderful friends, and connected with a huge number of people in my field and beyond. As of this moment, I am following 2,638 people and have 641 followers. I have tweeted a total of 820 times.

Think about how amazing this in. In the course of one semester I connected with over 3000 people in my field and others. Literally every time I turn on my phone its something new and interesting. The very first day I had twitter I started connecting with people who would give me a lot of feedback and guidance figuring out how to run a brand new program and what direction to take it in.

Thanks to the magic of socioviz, we can actually see what my past week has been like.


in addition to seeing how we connect over the past week, we are also able to look at who are the most active (based on number of tweets sent) and most influential twitterers (is that a word?) during the past week.


While most of these are expected, my brief exchange with @travel2hongkong about visa requirements made the list, along with many of my colleagues that I interact with on a regular basis.

apple applications apps cell phone
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SoTL #2 – Engage with SoTL

This is a rehash of my post on negotiated grading, but perhaps I’ll get into more of the idea behind it and less focused on the technical aspects of how it works in the class.

I think there is an issue with feedback. I had papers that I put a huge amount of work into, and I handed them in on time, and waited for the verdict. I clearly remember getting back a paper and was surprised to see my professor had written more than I had on the paper. Naturally, I flipped to the last page, read my mark, and was much less worried about deciphering every chicken scratch comment in the margins of my masterpiece. I could live with the grade, lets all move on. I think this is just how things work, I hand it in, I get a grade, and probably end up accepting it and moving on.

But what did I learn from that experience? Really take away? This routine changed dramatically when I took a course with a paper that never ends. Meaning, in the first week you hand in a paper, the professor hands is back to you with comments, and you resubmit it again, and again, and again. In fact the entire semester was spent reading the tiny scrawl in red ink all over my paper and trying to integrate, edit, learn and apply something new. More than anything that went on in the class, this process of writing, editing and re-editing helped me become a better writer.

I think this is what motivated me to try a feedback focused grading approach which allows for, and encourages resubmission. Maybe the subject of the assignment is not all that complex or challenging, but will a business analysis in real life be taken seriously if it has grammar, spelling or logical flaws? Probably not. What students take away from this experience is that little is perfect the first time, and it sometimes takes editing, or at least proofreading, before your work is ready for the big show.

With colleagues interested in exploring this idea, we have been thinking about how it can be applied, what the implications are, and discovering what students think of this process. From what I have seen so far this semester, students work is improving with each go around, they are happy with grades that reflect their progress, and are working with an iterative agile approach that reflects how projects are carried out in the real world. As we go forward, it will be interesting to think about the process both from within the program, as well as reflexively, how it impacts my teaching goals.

activity business calculation chart
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SoTL #1 – Three Keys of SoTL

I can imagine that you read the title, and are wondering, as I was, what exactly a SoTL is. Well, it seems you have come to the right place, as SoTL stands for Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. 

I think this is a great activity because while I know alot about the subjects I teach, I do not always know a lot about teaching and it is something I am always trying to learn more about. I am very curious to understand how effective my teaching is, how what I do in the class translates to student outcomes, and try to have a reflexive teaching practice.

I think this unseen layer to what we do everyday is critical to how we deliver content and be the best possible teachers. I always consider that while there are many things I can do pretty well (and have a couple hundred Excel videos showing it), my task is usually not to impress myself (though I do on rare occasion), but to teach skills for the real world. While I am sure some students, years from now, will tell their bosses that they once had a teacher who did something cool, imagine how much more effective they would be at their jobs (and taking over the world), if they knew how to be Excel ninjas too.

It’s probably important to note that I often talk about cowboys and ninjas in my Excel class. Think about it like this: Everyone at every office knows some things, perhaps some people know a lot of things. But if you walk in with a new approach, a new technical skill, or some new talent to not only make you indispensable, but impress the boss, land the new client, get the right answer, and ultimately get the best value for your education, then I probably did a good job teaching the course.

Getting back on track, I think there are some skills that come naturally to those who communicate for a living. Now some of us struggle with some aspects of teaching while others have it easier, for example when connecting with the class in a lecture or engaging in activities that help students meet their goals. But I think everyone can learn about teaching and how to do it better.

I recently observed one of my colleagues teach a class and made lists and lists of mental notes about her teaching style. While it was completely different than what I was doing, she is a fantastic teacher, and I can see how there are many things I can learn to integrate in my classes to make the learning environment better. In fact, hanging out at the Hub and talking teaching theory and practice, even when it relates to something small like what type of buttons do students prefer when interacting with an LMS, really help me think about new ways to do my job better.

This is the duality, as a student, I am constantly learning. As a teacher I am both teaching and learning, and around it goes.

So what are my keys? I have many, Ill list a few:

  1. Go to the hub. I learn something new and exciting every time I go. In fact, one of the most valuable tips I learned, and a huge daily timesaver, was from the “wrong” person, it was totally not their job, but you never know what people know until you ask. This also includes the library. We have so many resources, there is no reason why not to take advantage.
  2. Be an engaged student and teacher. I read up on what I am doing and think of things that could improve my practice, like my previous post on negotiated grading.
  3. Participate in a CoP. There are so many amazing and engaged communities around SoTL, I literally learn something new and interesting every time I turn on twitter. I think about the post about the final project as a storybook, or how someone applied real life challenges to a project. There are so many people constantly reaching out about teaching and trying new things, it’s really amazing to have so much support.

Post 8: Given a second chance

This post, the next in my series of 9 x 9 x 25, is about negotiated grading. I am currently involved in a project that uses negotiated grading and feedback for assignments. Essentially, the student hands in the homework and gets back detailed feedback without a grade. They then have the option to improve the paper and hand it back in, or request a grade, a process that involves meeting (in person or virtually) to review the assignment, reflect on their effort, and negotiate for a grade. I think this process mirrors real life (like asking your boss to evaluate your work) and allows the students to utilize the feedback to improve.

There are many examples where a student gets another chance (which is another parameter built into come of the courses), so they are able to improve using an agile design and improvement cycle, instead of each assignment being a high stakes, all or nothing proposition. Perhaps one student has some issues with APA formatting, syntax and grammar. If they have detailed feedback and can access the right resources (in my case this is usually the library or the Learning Center), they are able to refine their work, resubmit it, and learn from their mistakes.

This semester, I am using negotiated grading in two of my courses:

In the first, students work on weekly group project and present them at the beginning of each weekly class. During the presentation, two of the other groups, their peers, fill out a peer assessment form providing the presenting group with feedback. Following the presentation there is a general discussion with participation from the class, on highlights, issues, things to think about. The discussion does not usually focus on specific presentations, rather on the overall issues being discussed and ideas about what worked and stood out and what did not.  To receive a grade, the group must then fill out a second form, request for grades, and bring the three pages to a meeting where the work in reviewed in detail, formulas are checked, and an in depth discussion, which would not otherwise be possible is held. At this meeting, and on paper, the group requests a grade and provides a rationale, and a compromise is (usually) made. Students tend to put a lot of work into these projects and that is reflected in the quality of their work and grades. On the rare occasions where the projects are less than what is expected, this is reflected in their grades using the same process. It is important to note that If an assignment is not handed in on time and presented, the group fails the assignment.

This approach allows for two levels of evaluation, the general overview in class focusing on the ideas and presentation (which is not itself graded), and a later meeting with a more in-depth discussion of the formulas and approach used.

In the second class with a negotiated grading element,  the negotiated grading process works slightly differently. In this course, students submit an assignment, receive detailed feedback, but do not receive a grade (which is ultimately based on a rubric). When students get feedback on an assignment, they have the option to resubmit, or negotiate for a grade. Students use the same grade request form as the first course, and arrange a meeting to review one, or several, assignments. Since this is a course that focuses on essay writing skills, many of the issues are around word choice, phrasing, use of APA formatting and citations. By allowing multiple submissions per assignments (if the students opt for this route), students are able to learn how to write a better essay, and often visit the Learning Center or library to get help with each submission. At any time, students are also able to stop re-submitting and choose to meet to review the assignments and negotiate a grade. In this review, a rubric is used, 75% of the mark is subject related, while 25% is technical (such as grammar and spelling). In this course students can come for a meeting after each assignment (or iteration), or do several at once if they so choose).

This approach allows for students to improve their assignments if they continue to submit revised and improved work, and takes an iterative approach to fundamental skills in essay writing and written communication. If a student submits an essay with multiple revisions, they are able to improve, and this shows on their next assignment. Given that we do not have an English course in the program, this allows students to learn critical writing and communication skills in a manner that allows for improvement.

I am sure we are all familiar with the traditional way this process plays out. The student submits a paper, the teacher writes more than the student does in comments, the student gets the paper back, flips to the last page and sees their grade, and promptly deposits the paper in the trash. The second change is how we all learn, and gives an opportunity for the students to improve their work. Perhaps they did not understand APA or writing mechanics, and now have a chance to sit down with the material and figure out the best way forward.

people looking at laptop computer
Photo by Fox on

Post 7: Open Education Ontario Summit

I suppose my next post for 9x9x25 should be about the Open Education Summit I am attending today in Toronto. I think it’s interesting to think about the tension between students and textbooks.

When planning our analytics program, we purposefully decided to choose textbooks that were accessible. We could have chosen expensive and fancy books, which of course meant that for one reason or another students probably would not purchase the book. I find this tension about requiring expensive books on top of the course tuition means that if some students don’t have the book, and it really is required, it can be detrimental to both learning and delivering the course material. So, we tried to find open resources that could be adapted for the courses.

This effort was met with mixed success. For some courses we were able to find resources which exactly matched what we were looking for. For others it was a little more complicated to find just the right text (and that’s a whole story on its own). But what I want to focus on is balancing the cost of resources per course (we asked ourselves do we really need the most expensive textbook in the subject area, or can we find something cheaper or open that works just as well) with meeting our objectives. This can require a lot of research to find exactly the right fit.

While this process is not always simple or easy, I was quite happy that our total budget was very low compared to other programs, and this is something that we can improve on over time. I think it’s important to think about how important the textbook really is to the course, is it absolutely critical to success, or is it something nice to have? If its the latter, is the cost justified, or is it a barrier to participation? I actually see this both ways, in some courses you really, really need the book. In others it may be part of my job to find the very best (and accessible) resources to deliver the material.

It may not always be possible to find open resources, particularly in some of the fast changing courses I teach, but you can try. I think this is the critical distinction, if you start from a place of trying to find the best resources, take the needs of the students into account, and try to balance what ultimately comes out of the course, this opens a lot of new and exciting possibilities.

Post 6: Sir

This is my next post for 9x9x25.

This may be a little disjointed, but that’s how it happened in real life. When I first started teaching, I taught five classes a week and had a mixture of domestic and international students. Things went really well, I enjoyed teaching, and was having a lot of fun. The only thing that drove me crazy was when people called me Sir.

I mean, how old did they think I was?

Who did I call Sir? Veterans of WWII?

This first semester, I made it a point, every single time (which was usually several times per class) to say, please call me Sidney. I felt this made me more approachable and more comfortable. I felt that as an impostor (see my last several posts on that), I had to worry less about being “the professor” and could work on teaching and learning. I think this is a feeling everyone has at the beginning, but over time, you gain confidence in your teaching, communication, and feel OK not knowing an answer.

Let’s take a moment and focus on that particular aspect. When you walk into the class are you expected to be an all-knowing oracle? The arbiter of all and the person who has all of the answers? I think the first day I walked in to class, I wanted to share what I know (and I do know a lot about some things) but was terrified someone would ask me something I knew nothing about (literally everything else). Sometimes there is a lot of power in saying “I don’t know, but I will look into it”, and being OK that you are also human, learning and teaching at the same time.

From what I observed, instructors varied in what students called them. As time went on, I began to let it go. Now, a while in, students can call me whatever they like, and I am OK with it as long as I know they are trying to get my attention. After all, it’s important that they are comfortable and able to communicate in class.

Looking at it from the other side, most of this issue is probably in my head. My self-reflection and how much I see myself as an authority figure in the class, even if that sometimes means I can manage the classroom and be comfortable googling terms when I don’t know, because realistically, I am learning too.



Post 5: Being the Nice Guy

This is my fifth post for 9x9x25.

This is something I struggle with. I think a lot of other people do as well. The utopian version of what I imagine my teaching practice should be sometimes runs into the unfortunate reality of real life.

The reason I like to teach is that I like to share interesting things. I like to be a communicator. I want to come to work and tell my students things that are new, interesting, exciting, and will be building blocks of their adventures in education, their careers, and beyond. I want them to be happy and excited, I usually am.

But my students, like everyone else, are real people. They sometimes stay up too late (I often do as well), don’t hand things in on time, prioritize other things above their homework, and so on. I don’t like it, but I understand it. They are real people who sometimes have a host of real problems. I suppose if everything always ran perfectly, no one would have a dozen dying grandmothers, have voracious dogs hungry for homework, and always mysteriously have alarm clock batteries that inexplicably fail (or perhaps phones that get unplugged).

I am focusing on behaviours because these are problems I share, and completely understand. There are consequences, and this is really the essential point. That while students are able to have agency, the flexibility to thrive and fail on their own terms, I am not the final arbiter of their success. Understanding that students can fail, should be allowed, given opportunity and tools to succeed, can in itself be a learning experience that will be a valuable lesson the next week.

But much as in real life, I often say that when you arrive late to the airport, the plane tends to take off without you. When you miss deadlines, don’t come to class, read the book, etc. at some point there are consequences. Now here is the rub: it’s my job to ensure the system works. Things get handed in on time, the material is delivered, the course runs smoothly, and papers get graded on time, among a dozen others. But when students don’t deliver on their end of the deal, it’s my job to deliver the bad news. Or at least make an impression that the student needs to take some remedial steps to make this work.

On a personal level, I really don’t want to be that person. I want to be everyone’s favourite teacher, and never have a negative interaction where I point out that something has not been done as it should be. This is the key point: It’s hard work to acknowledge that the interaction is not negative, rather it’s instructive and an important pedagogical step. Sometimes your job is not to be the nice guy, but do the mature and responsible thing. Because sometimes doing what seems emotionally hard at the time, pays off in huge dividends later on when the student, now in the workforce, has a work ethic to get things done on time and under budget (we can only hope).

So my new approach is to take a step back. Think about what I should say right now about the late/lost homework, and consider the long term impact of this conversation on next week, next semester, and far beyond. Sometimes being the bad guy is actually the best thing for the student.

So here is the bottom line: sometimes doing the right thing is the hard thing. In the end hopefully is better off for it.

man in black and white polo shirt beside writing board
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Post 4: Drawing the impossible

In this next 9x9x25 post, I am going to share my thoughts on the impossible. Well, perhaps a more specific example, and how thinking outside the box and encourage students creativity. In a recent class we discussed a high dimensional problem (if you’re interested, you can read more about it here). Since we can only visualize three dimensions, and the four dimensional video we showed in class made some students queasy, we decided to settle on something fun for our in-class activity.

The class, working on four bristol boards with a set of markers each, set out to draw what multidimensional space is in the netflix context. Now since this is actually impossible, they each chose a different representation of how the data is stored in database, the flow of information, or the way in which it is connected. The drawings were all interested, and while one did use an idea we talked about in class (star or snowflake schematics as a representation) the others were interesting interpretations. As we walked out of class, one of the students remarked that this was a lot like drawing a scene from the movie Inception. I think this was a great learning experience for the students and was an interesting way to think outside the box.

This leads to the bigger question: How else can we instill a culture of thinking outside the box? In my program, the answer is not always obvious. In fact, as analysts, there may not even be an answer, but their job is to find the best data, perform an analysis, and recommend a course of action based on their judgement. Sometimes this is very difficult and may be motivated by many things. In a recent class project, students gave a wide variety of explanations as to why they decided to invest a particular way. From social investment to bucking the trend, each team came up with interesting ways to think outside of the box and consider the unexpected. I think this is a reflection of what real life is like. When there is no single right answer, interesting things start happening with the right tools and a creative imagination.

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Lab Report

For this module, I experimented with a number of new technologies. I created an animated GIF without using photoshop (which was fun and easy, I will probably use these for my course material development in the future) and I also played around with which seems like a really neat idea. As a huge fan of the geography guessing game I can see how using maps and stories can create a really amazing learning object that has real world application. I think it really helps form your ideas around things if you can actually, or perhaps objectively see what is happening. Its easy to imagine, but sometimes you need that concrete reference point to get everyone on the same page an establish a baseline.

For the GIF I used (you can see my animated GIF by following the link). I appreciated the detailed instruction on extend, which helped me get started. I think went to Pexels and downloaded images that I thought expressed the stages I was trying to explain, and then put them in sequence, uploaded them, added a title, and within minutes, a shiny new animated GIF. I had thought it would be a lot more complicated than it was. Now that I know how simple it is, I will be playing around more with creating custom animated images.


Photo credits:

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