Day One -Collaborative Notes from the Course ReDesign Institute (CrDi) – Interesting thoughts on teaching and learning

What does learner-centredness mean to you?  How would you describe a learner-centred course?

– inclusive design – understanding how different learners learn differently
– active learning
– mindful of other courses the student might be taking in their course of study, being mindful of flow
– aligned and relevant (personal and real-world relevance)
– there has to be responsibility placed on the student for their learning.  They are not just a sponge
– active learning. deep learning.
– creating environments for learning
– One where there is a great deal of chaos. Learner centredness, seems to come in two flavours.

Instructor acts as a facilitator.  Instructor as LEARNER.
One is the ‘webquest’ style of learner centred design. This involves significant front end design work on the part of the facilitator or the instructional designer. Specific outcomes are desired and constrained ‘choices’ offered to the student. The student becomes the centre of those choices, but within a pre-defined rubric

Open education, on the other hand, doesn’t do this. It allows the student to… ack. really have to go… i mean this stuff. It goes to a meeting and comes back later and finishes its thought.

Fink’s 5 Principles of Course Design:

  • Challenges students to HIGHER LEVEL LEARNING.
  • Gives FREQUENT and IMMEDIATE FEEDBACK to students on the quality of their learning.

Constructive Alignment: Biggs, 1996

The benefits of Learning Objectives  (Simon and Taylor, 2009)

  • Improve Communication with students and other faculty
  • Provide Structure and Organization – streamline course, improve assessment
  • Enhance Student Learning – structure learning. focus attention

Natasha’s summary:

Source doc:

THE CARL WIEMAN SCIENCE EDUCATION INITIATIVE – Achieving the most effective, evidence-based science education  (effective science education, backed by evidence)

Learning Objectives – Do they really work?


One of the core foundations of creating or revising a course is to establish a set of learning objectives which clearly define what a student should know or be able to do by the end of a course. So, where is the evidence that this approach actually works?  Simon and Taylor (2009) set out to explore the impact that learning objectives (or course-specific learning goals) had on student learning  in three classes where the instructor had integrated objectives intentionally throughout their course.  Nearly all students agreed that learning objectives were very valuable and helped them approach their learning more effectively.  Specifically, they were seen to guide and direct students in “knowing what they need to know” (p.55).   Students valued the organization and structure established by these objectives, “which allowed them to organize the information more effectively and be more expertlike ”  (p.55).  They appreciated that instructors where explicit and direct in the topics, skills and concepts that were of most importance.  Students in this study stated that these objectives helped to focus and guide their attention in lecture. As one of the most common struggles I hear from instructors is maintaining student attention during the lecture, setting clearly defined learning objective seems like a relatively simple strategy to implement to address this concern!

The course instructors felt that clearly defined learning objectives, improved communication in terms of what was covered/most important in the course, not only with students taking the course, but with other instructors.  This unanticipated outcome was seen as highly valuable when aligning a structured sequence of courses in the curriculum.  The instructors also felt that the objectives improved their assessment practices and helped them in preparing exam questions.   Specifically, they helped to ensure that there was alignment between their objectives with their assessment measures. Noted one instructor, “Your exam writes itself…I can check to see if each question addresses a learning goal and if it doesn’t I will throw it out” (p.56).

There is no question that learning objectives help to provide organization and structure to course design and implementation.  From this study, we can also conclude 3 primary benefits of course learning objectives:

1) they help to guide and enhance student learning

2) they improve communication between students and other instructors

3) they improve assessment practices.

Simon, B. and Taylor, J. (2009) What is the value of course-specific learning goals? Journal of College Science Teaching. Nov/Dec: 53-57.

Facilitating Discussions


“It is one thing to recognize the benefit of engaging students in discussion yet quite another to master the skills necessary to effectively facilitate discussion” (Dallimore et al., 2004, pg. 104).

The learning environment is in constant flux; what works one class may not constitute success in the next. To promote effective discussion, we must strive to adapt to the ever-changing classroom environment.  Dallimore et al. (2004) suggest students are encouraged to actively participate in classroom discussions when: participation is graded; the learners’ ideas and experiences are incorporated into the discussion; the facilitation is active; effective questions are asked; the classroom environment is supportive; and the instructor provides both positive and constructive feedback.

In reference to their role in classroom discussions, Sautter (2007, pg. 124) states, “The most important role of the instructor  is one of shaping student behavior so that the students learn how to continuously improve in developing critical thought processes and well-constructed arguments.” Based on the recommendations provided by Davis (1993); Dallimore et al. (2004); McKeachie and Svinicki (2006);  Brookfield (2006); and,  Sautter (2007) an effective facilitator:

  • sets shared-expectations for democratic and quality participation and encourages input from all learners during discussions;
  • states a clear goal which outlines the purpose for each discussion;
  • purposefully avoids the temptation to respond to every comment, and encourages the learners to develop confidence in both their own ideas and their ability to respond to each other;
  • provides balanced feedback, by positively acknowledging insightful questions and points of discussion and identifying possible areas for improvement;
  • involves the learner in evaluating the discussion, “How did it go?” “What are some areas for improvement in terms of quality, contribution, participation and facilitation?”
  • varies the complexity of the questions asked to encourage different levels of thinking and that are, “…phrased somewhat broadly to challenge the students to take an active role in identifying concepts relevant to the discussion” (Sautter, 2007, pg. 124);
  • openly acknowledges that differences of opinion enrich discussion, diffuses excessive tension, and suggests points of clarification when needed;
  • is prepared to use a variety of methods of delivery (e.g. open discussion, brainstorming, small focus groups, pairing); and,
  • takes notes of key points and allows time for a collaborative summary such that everyone has time to assess and synthesize the information presented and discussed.

The goal of any good classroom discussion is to increase learning and self-confidence.  To an instructor devoted to the expectation of an inspiring and engaging discussion, silence can be both intimidating and threatening. However, an effective discussion requires time for personal thought. Many authors emphasize the importance of providing time for students to think individually and to record some thoughts after posing a question for discussion (e.g. Davis, 1993; Brookfield, 1995; McKeachie and Svinicki, 2006).  This time can be enormously valuable in developing learners’ confidence and clarity in their knowledge, thoughts and ideas.  In smaller seminar settings, it may be appropriate to pose questions for discussion prior to class via email so that the learners come prepared for conversation. The “think-pair-share” technique, where students record some thoughts, pair up with another student to discuss their thoughts, and then share their collaborative ideas with the rest of the class may also work well.

Instructors are often faced with the challenge of engaging students in the process of learning as well as the content of their learning, “…good education is always more process than product” (Palmer, 1998, pg. 94).  An inclusive and democratic discussion can inspire critical thinking, shared learning, and a deep appreciation and understanding of the course subject matter.

“At the heart of discussion is the open and unpredictable creation of meanings through collaborative inquiry” (Brookfield, 2006, pg. 129).

Brookfield, S.D. 2006. The Skillful Teacher. Jossey-Bass, San Fransisco, CA.

Dallimore, E.J., Hertenstein, J.H., and Platt, M.B. 2004. Classroom participation and discussion effectiveness: student-generated strategies. Communication Education 53(1): 103-115.

Davis, B.G. (1993) Tools for Teaching. Jossey-Bass Inc., US.

McKeachie, W.J. and Svinicki, M. (2006) McKeachie’s Teaching Tips. Houghton Mifflin Company, New York.

Palmer, P.J. 1998. The Courage to Teach. Jossey-Bass. San Fransisco, CA.

Sautter, P. 2007. Designing discussion activities to achieve desired learning outcomes: choices using mode of delivery and structure. Journal of Marketing Education 29(2): 122-131.

Setting the Stage for Effective Discussions


“A good discussion in one that leaves issues open for further inquiry and in which as many questions are raised as are answered” (Brookfield, 2006, pg. 119).

There is little doubt of the benefits associated with classroom discussion.  In fact, discussion is one of the most touted and applied teaching strategies in higher education (Dallimore et al., 2004).   Effective discussions can:

  • increase the learner’s understanding of the subject matter;
  • promote the development of effective communication, active listening, and presentation skills;
  • encourage a deep appreciation for diverse points of view;  and,
  • enhance each learner’s confidence in their ability to embrace both the subject matter and the learning process.

Discussion Norms

What are the characteristics of an effective discussion, and how can we ensure that these are present within this learning environment?

One of the most productive strategies for encouraging effective group discussion in any classroom setting is to establish group norms.   Brookfield (2006,  pg.124) recommends using a “Critical Incident Approach” where students are asked to establish these norms based on their personal reflections of the characteristics associated with their best and worst past discussion experiences.  The groups are then asked for a list of things that they could do to ensure that the positive characteristics exist, and the negative characteristics are avoided, thus forming a starting point to a set of common ground rules for future class discussions.

Shared Expectations

“Students should feel that you are genuinely interested in what they have to contribute” (McKeachie and Svinicki, 2006, pg. 24).

It is important to set the stage early by ensuring that everyone participates in the first class discussion.  McKeachie and Svinicki (2006, pg.24) encourage instructors to not only carefully review the course objectives with the students at the start of the semester, but to involve them in the process of evaluating these objectives based on their shared expectations, by asking the following questions:

  • What have you heard about this course?
  • What do you hope to learn from this course?
  • What are your expectations for this course?
  • What are your expectations of me as an instructor?
  • What are your expectations of yourself as a learner?

At this time, learners may be most comfortable contributing in small groups (3-5 people) prior to convening in an open class discussion (this strategy also helps encourage some level of participation from everyone in larger classes). The instructor then summarizes and lists common responses.  By having been asked for their contribution, learners become actively engaged in the importance of the syllabus and the purposeful organization and structure of the course.


Brookfield, S.D. 2006. The Skillful Teacher. Jossey-Bass, San Fransisco, CA.

Dallimore, E.J., Hertenstein, J.H., and Platt, M.B. 2004. Classroom participation and discussion effectiveness: student-generated strategies. Communication Education 53(1): 103-115.

McKeachie, W.J. and Svinicki, M. (2006) McKeachie’s Teaching Tips. Houghton Mifflin Company, New York.

Examples of program-level learning outcomes


Examples of program-level learning outcomes

I recently conducted a search for examples of program-level learning outcomes from a variety of institutions and disciplines.  The task turned out to be more challenging than I ever could have imagined, especially from the Canadian context. I firmly believe that every program at every institution should have early articulated and publically accessible learning outcome statements.  No one should be left to interpret the intended program learning outcomes from the compilation of courses in the Institution’s academic calendar – faculty, staff, or students (current, prospective and alumni).  Nor should these learning outcomes be hidden within reports, to be viewed only by internal and external program review committees.   They should inform and bring meaning to our everyday teaching and learning experiences. They should help to create a living curriculum, which is intentional and aligned, as well as continually monitored, reviewed and renewed based on a philosophy of continuous improvement.

Here are a few examples of program-level learning outcomes from a variety of disciplines that I came across in my search.

University of British Columbia, Materials Engineering

Materials Engineers are experts on the entire life cycle of materials, including recovery of materials from minerals, making engineered materials, manufacturing materials into products, understanding and evaluating materials performance, proper disposal and recycling of materials, and evaluating societal and economic benefits. At the end of the program, students will be able to:

1.      Characterize and select materials for design by evaluating the linkages between material properties, microstructures and processing.

2.      Analyze materials engineering problems using a balance of mathematics, physics and chemistry including thermodynamics, mass, momentum and energy transport, kinetics and mechanics of materials.

3.      Solve materials engineering problems. Identify and formulate problems, develop and apply analytical and experimental methods of investigation, identify contributing factors and generate, validate, and evaluate alternative solutions.

4.      Design processes for the extraction, synthesis and processing of materials to meet technical, economic, environmental and ethical needs and constraints.

5.      Communicate effectively in a professional environment through technical reports and presentations. Articulate and justify technical solutions to diverse audiences.

6.      Recognize and evaluate the societal benefits of materials engineering. Appreciate and evaluate the environmental and societal impact of materials. Recognize the importance of professional and ethical responsibilities, the evolving nature of materials engineering and the importance of lifelong learning. (accessed, Feb. 11, 2011)

Qatar University, Department of Architecture and Urban Planning

The objectives of the Bachelor of Architecture program are translated into a number of learning outcomes. These outcomes are directly related to the profession of architecture, the way in which it is practiced, and the knowledge components necessary for such a practice. The following list of outcomes represent the minimum learning outputs expected and therefore they are not exclusive. Specific exercises and individual and group projects may achieve additional learning outcomes:

1.      An ability to conceptualize and coordinate designs, addressing social, cultural, environmental and technological aspects of architecture

2.      An ability to recognize the dialectic relationship between people and the built environment in the GCC/Arab region

3.      An ability to apply and integrate computer technology in design processes and products

4.      An ability to utilize cutting edge building technology in design

5.      An ability to apply visual and verbal communication skills at various stages of architectural design and project delivery processes

6.      An ability to critically analyze building designs and conduct post occupancy evaluation studies

7.      An ability to employ architectural research methods including data collection and analysis to assess and propose improvements in existing built environments

8.      An ability to work collaboratively with teams of architects and various interdisciplinary design teams involved in the building industry

9.      An ability to recognize diversity of needs, values, behavioral norms, social patterns as they relate to the creation of the built environment (accessed Feb. 11, 2011)

Academy of Art University, San Fransisco, Master of Fine Arts

Graduates of the Academy of Art University will demonstrate the ability to:

  1. Produce a body of work suitable for seeking professional opportunities in their chosen field of art and design.
  2. Solve creative problems within their field of art and design, including research and synthesis of technical, aesthetic, and conceptual knowledge.
  3. Communicate their ideas professionally and connect with their intended audience using visual, oral, and written presentation skills relevant to their field.
  4. Execute technical, aesthetic, and conceptual decisions based on an understanding of art and design principles.
  5. Evaluate work in their field, including their own work, using professional terminology.
  6. Recognize the influence of major cultural and aesthetic trends, both historical and contemporary, on art and design products.
  7. Learn the professional skills and behaviors necessary to compete in the global marketplace for art and design. (accessed Feb. 11, 2011)

Indiana University – Purdue University Fort Wayne, Bachelor of Arts, Sociology

The student learning outcomes for the degree are as follows:

1.      Theoretical: Graduates will be able to analyze and evaluate major theoretical perspectives in sociology.

a.      Graduates should be able to identify the general theoretical orientation.

b.      Graduates should be able to apply theoretical analyses of social structure and social processes.

c.       Graduates should be able to interpret social issues in terms of the major theoretical perspectives.

2.      Methodological: Graduates will be able to utilize and evaluate research methods and data analysis used in sociology.

a.      Graduates should be able to demonstrate appropriate use of both quantitative and qualitative methodologies.

b.      Graduates should be able to evaluate different research methods.

c.       Graduates should be able to interpret the results of data gathering.

d.      Graduates should be able to demonstrate appropriate use of statistical techniques.

e.      Graduates should be able to demonstrate competent use of statistical software.

3.      Critical Thinking: Graduates will be able to evaluate critically arguments and situations.

a.      Graduates should be able to critically evaluate theoretical arguments.

b.      Graduates should be able to develop evidence-based arguments.

c.       Graduates should be able to critically evaluate published research.

4.      Communication Skills:  Graduates will be able to communicate effectively in both written and oral form.

a.      Graduates should be able to write a research report.

b.      Graduates should be able to develop an oral research report.

5.      Professional Ethics: Graduates will be knowledgeable of appropriate ethics concerning both professional conduct and the use of human subjects.

a.      Graduates should demonstrate a mastery of the ethical standards for conducting research with human subjects.

b.      Graduates should demonstrate an understanding of the ethical standards of the American Sociological Association. (accessed Feb. 11, 2011)

How do you write a program-level learning outcome?


One of the most critical and challenging steps in curriculum development is developing a list of learning outcomes that bring life, coherence, meaning and intentionality to the collection of courses which make up a curriculum. Learning outcomes are broad, yet direct statements that describe the competences that students should possess (i.e. what students should know and be able to demonstrate) upon completion of a course or program (Harden, 2002; Kennedy et al., 2006).  They focus on broadly defined complex abilities that can be both demonstrated and observed (Harden, 2002). Learning outcomes may be presented separately to represent the cognitive, psychomotor and affective domains, but often cover a range of interacting knowledge, skills and attitudes that reflect the complexities inherent to the process of learning, and represent the essential, enduring and integrated learning that a graduate of a course or programme should possess (Harden, 2002; Soulsby, 2009).

Note: for further details and examples related to the domains of learning see Marzano and Kendall, 2007; Kennedy et al., 2006; Anderson and Krathwohl, 2001; Bloom et. al., 1956; 1964.

How DO you write a learning outcome?

Learning outcomes should state the specific knowledge, skills and attitudes that an ideal graduate of the program should demonstrate, and the depth of learning that is expected.   Preparing 8-12 well-written and representative program-level learning outcomes (Harden, 2002) is usually one of the most challenging, yet important tasks a curriculum committee can undertake.  It is very important to develop learning outcomes that align directly with program, college and university-level mission statements.  Collaboratively reflecting upon and discussing these mission statements is often a valuable first step when developing and/or revising your program’s learning outcomes.

Kennedy et al (2006, p.18) and Soulsby (2009) provide the following advice for preparing a LO:

  • The LO should complete a phrase describing what students should know and/or be able to do by the end of the program (e.g. “By the end of this program successful students will be able to…”).
  • The LO should start with an action verb, followed by a statement specifying the learning to be demonstrated, and finally a statement (or statements) to give it context and to identify a standard for acceptable performance.
  • The LO should be unambiguous. Terms such as know, understand, learn, and to be aware of should be avoided, and the specific level of achievement should be clearly identified.  Whereas undergraduates may be required to recognize, apply and analyze disciplinary knowledge, graduate students are required to demonstrate a deeper level of understanding, by evaluating and creating disciplinary knowledge.
  • The LO should be measurable, observable, and capable of being accessed.
  • The LO should be balanced. If the LO is too broad it will be difficult to assess, on the other hand if the list of learning outcomes is long and detailed, they are likely too specific and may limit flexibility and adaptability in the curriculum.
  • The LO should be concise and clearly stated.
  • The LO should be realistic given the time and resources available to both learners and instructors.
  • The LO should help to bring the curriculum to life, and to define and describe what makes the program unique and innovative


Anderson, L.W. and Brathwohl, D. 2001. A Taxonomy for Learning, Teaching and Assessing: A Revision of Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives.  Longman, New York.

Bloom, B.S., Engelhart, M.D., Furst, E.J., Hill, W. And Drathwohl, D. 1956.  Taxonomy of Educational Objectives.   Volume 1: The Cognitive Domain. MacKay, New York.

Bloom, B.S., Masia, B.B. and Krathwohl, D.R.  1964. Taxonomy of Educational Objectives.  Volume II: The affective domain. MacKay, New York.

Harden, R.M. 2002. Learning outcomes and instructional objectives: is there a difference? Medical Teacher 24(2):151-155.

Kennedy, D. Hyland, A., and Ryan, N. 2006. Writing and Using Learning Outcomes: a Practical Guide.  In the Bologna Handbook.  Accessed Online: Feb. 9, 2011.

Marzano, R.J. and Kendall, J.S. 2007. The New Taxonomy of Educational Objectives. Corwin Press, CA.

Soulsby, E. (2009) How to write program objectives/outcomes. Accessed online at:, Feb. 9, 2011

How can we improve student engagement?

Resolution lists are common at this time of year, so I think that I will add a piece to the 2011 pie by summarizing Zepke and Leach’s  (2010) 10 calls to action for improving student engagement.  They examined four specific perspectives on student engagement (p. 169):

1. Motivation and agency (engaged students are intrinsically motivated and want to exercise their agency [to engage])

2. Transactional engagement (students and instructors engage with each other)

3. Institutional support (institutions provide an environment conducive to learning)

4. Active citizenship (students and institutions work together to enable challenges to social beliefs and practices)

In support of these four perspectives, the authors present 10 proposed calls for action:

1.  Enhance students’ self-belief.  Learning is about self-confidence, and learners must first believe that they are capable, and have the resources necessary to successfully meet the intended learning objectives/outcomes.

2.  Provide opportunities for students to learn autonomously and with others.

3.  Recognize that instructors can have an enormous impact on student engagement by being supportive and approachable, by enhancing student-faculty interaction, and by effectively establishing a ‘classroom’ environment that encourages an active, collaborative and deep approach to learning.

4.  Enhance opportunities for peer interaction and collaborative learning.

5.  Create challenging and enriching educational experiences that, “challenge students’ ideas and stretch them as far as they can go” (p.171).

6.  Ensure an inclusive and adaptable academic culture that welcomes diversity.

7.  Provide a variety of support services that help students succeed (e.g. transitioning to academic life; career development; connecting with peers and mentors; improving writing, research and communication skills; childcare services).

8.  Adapt to student expectations by developing an understanding of and responding to the challenges facing students.

9.  Enable students to be active citizens, such that students become increasingly aware of their ability to influence and affect societal change. “What is needed is a democratic-critical conception of engagement that goes beyond strategies, techniques or behaviours, a conception in which engagement is participatory, dialogic and leads not only to academic achievement but to success as an active citizen” (p.173).

10.  Provide opportunities for students to develop the ‘social and cultural capital’ necessary to succeed in and beyond the classroom.

Although broadly stated, these 10 principles can be used by institutions and instructors to inform change, increase student engagement, and to improve our educational practices.  They provide an effective framework to guide positive change in higher education.


Zepke, N. and Leach, L. 2010.  Improving student engagement: ten proposals for action.  Active Learning in Higher Education 11(3): 167-177.

Simple Principles to Follow for Effective Lectures

The prevalence of lectures within the academic community has changed little since the inception of the university.  Despite their bad reputation, can lectures actually facilitate active and deep learning?  In a recent article published in the Journal of Geography in Higher Education, Revel and Wainwright (2009) examined both students’ and lecturers’ views of what constitutes an effective lecture, and what lecture conditions best promote deep learning.

The researchers collected qualitative data through face-to-face interviews from 10 lecturers and 24 second-year students at the Brunel University (UK), Centre for Human Geography.   The results suggested that both lecturers and students agreed on three key aspects of an effective lecture: a high-level of student engagement, participation and interaction; clear structure and organization; and a passionate and enthusiastic lecturer who brought the subject to life.

Student stated that effective lectures included regular breaks for them to be able to apply and think critically about the material.  With in-class attention spans generally limited to 15 minutes, interactive techniques such as discussion, group activities, problem solving, and opportunities to actively explore relevant and current issues and cases studies were cited as providing important opportunities to stimulate individual thought and to promote a deeper understanding of the subject matter.  Students greatly valued a structured lesson plan that enabled them to organize and prioritize information, and to see linkages between lectures and to other parts of the course.  Students greatly valued an instructor who demonstrated passion and enthusiasm for the subject matter – someone who was able to get students excited about the course content. They also appreciated an instructor who was approachable and was able to create a positive rapport with students , such that they were not intimidated in the classroom.

The authors contend that,

“…formal lectures can still be considered a useful method of teaching provided that the following principles are applied:

  • Lectures should be designed to provide structure and framework so that students are better able to see the ‘big picture’.  Lecturers should synthesize information, highlight intended outcomes, and repeat key points so that integrative links are more easily made….
  • Lectures should be used to bring a subject matter to life for students by lecturers conveying their enthusiasm and passion for the topic…
  • Lectures should be used as a means for academics to communicate the findings of their research, and as an excellent medium for providing the most current information on a topic…
  • Most importantly, lectures—even large-group ones – should generally be interactive ” (p. 221).

Sometimes simple advice is the best advice. This research project supports many of the best practices recommended by teaching and learning centres around the globe, and supports recommendations made by past researchers (eg. DeWinstaney and Bjork, 2002).  Structure and organization, student interaction and participation, repetition of key information,  and personal and real-world relevance can go a long way to improving the traditional lecture. By no means are these earth-shattering changes, but they are simple practices that we can all embrace and implement to promote effective instruction in higher education.


deWinstanley, P. and Bjork, R.A. 2002.  Successful lecturing: Presenting information in ways that engage effective processing.  New Directions for Teaching and Learning 89: 19-31.

Revell, A. and Wainwright, E. 2009.  What makes lectures ‘umissable’? Insights into teaching excellence and active learning.  Journal of Geography in Higher Education 33(2): 209-233.

What makes feedback “good”?

In higher education, we hope that by providing effective feedback, students will feel empowered to improve as learners.    However, if we are simply ‘transmitting’ our comments regarding the strengths and weeknesses of their academic work, will students actually decode our feedback, and translate them into actionable change?

Nicol and Macfarlane-Dick (2006) provide seven key recommendations for providing learner-centred feedback that encourages self-regulation:

1.  Clarify what good performance actually is (e.g. goals, criteria):

  • Explicitly provide the goals, learning objectives, and criteria related to each assessment
  • Provide performance exemplars, and engage in in-class discussions to, “make explicit what is required, and…define a valid standard against which to students can compare their work” (p. 207).
  • Collaborate with the students to determine the assessment criteria

2. Facilitate self-assessment and reflection

  • Provide intentional opportunities to enhance the students’ ability to  reflect upon, self-monitor and assess their learning progress
  • Provide opportunities for students to evaluate and provide feedback on each other’s work
  • Have the student request specific areas for feedback and/or evaluate their work in relation to the assessment criteria at the time of submission
  • Compile and reflect upon their progress in a portfolio

3. Deliver high quality information to students regarding their learning

  • Provide feedback that is balanced, timely and that helps students self-assess and self-correct
  • Ensure that feedback is directly related to the pre-defined goals and assessment criteria
  • Provide opportunities for students to get feedback prior to final submission
  • Actively involve students in the feedback process (e.g. have them evaluate their performance on submission)

4. Encourage teacher and peer dialogue

  • See feedback as an active dialogue, by provide opportunities for the students to decode and develop their own understanding of the feedback that they receive
  • Structure small group discussions, and other opportunities for peer/teacher dialogue that allow students to discuss the feedback that they receive
  • Have students identify specific feedback comments that they found particularly useful

5. Promote positive motivational beliefs and self-esteem, “…teachers can have a positive or negative effect on motivation and self-esteem” (p. 212)

  • Ensure that students understand that feedback is an evaluation of their performance in context, not of themselves as a person
  • Integrate consistently-distributed low-stake assessments, rather than a few high-stake assessments, over the course of the semester
  • Provide opportunities for drafts and resubmissions

6. Provide opportunities to close the gap between current and desired performances

  • Scaffold learning to provide students with opportunities to act upon the feedback that they receive (e.g. “stage” assignments where each assignment provides an opportunity to act upon the feedback received in the previous stage)
  • Build opportunities for regular teacher and peer feedback (e.g. feedback on drafts, outlines, and opportunities for resubmission)
  • Provide examples of and opportunities for students to clearly identify “actionable” steps for improvement after they have reviewed the feedback received

7. Provide information to teachers that can be used to help improve teaching

  • Use the feedback provided to continually enhance your teaching, and to gather important information about students’ learning successes and challenges related to the subject matter
  • Use one-minute papers at the end of classes (e.g. what was the most important points discussed in today’s session?  What question remains uppermost in your mind?)
  • Provide students with individual and collaborative opportunities to identify challenging components of the course content/processes

Nicol and Macfarlane-Dick (2006) present a great balance between theory and practice in discussing their model of self-regulated learning and their 7 principles of “good” feedback practice.  Their initial discussion regarding providing opportunities for learners to construct their own understanding of feedback such that they can develop a personal plan of action for improvement, opened my eyes to the danger of simply transmitting instructor feedback directly onto the students.

It is extraordinarily challenging to provide feedback that students can decode and act upon to continually improve their learning. There is a certainly a balance to be struck through experience and context, and these 7 principles provide a great set of guidelines for practice.


Nicol, D.J. and Macfarlane-Dick, D. 2006.  Formative assessment and self-regulated learning: a model and seven principles of good feedback practice.  Studies in Higher Education 31(2): 199-218

What do students really think about group experiences, and what can we do about it?

With increased emphasis on providing active and collaborative learning opportunities in higher education, administrators, instructors, and academic staff have drawn much attention to the benefits of using small group experiences as an integral course design strategy.  Group work can enhance depth of learning and student engagement, and students also experience the added benefit of improving their communication, leadership, and team work skills. However, group work can pose challenges for students as they strive to enhance their own understanding of the subject matter, while negotiating the complexities of working collaboratively with others.

Hillyard et al. (2010) recently assessed students’ perceptions of learning in small groups, within an interdisciplinary arts and science program in the US. Their findings encouragingly suggest that all students (n=208) had engaged in at least one small group learning experience, and that the majority had participated in a substantive group experience, varying in duration from 2 weeks to an entire semester.

Students generally agreed that group work provided them with a chance to experience diverse opinions and ideas, to deepen their understanding of the course material, and to enhance their leadership and communication skills.  However, findings also suggested that students felt that group experiences rarely involved equal participation between group members, and that in the majority of cases, a few members did most of the work.   The authors also found that the students’ perceptions of the overall effectiveness of group work and the ability of group experiences to enhance learning were most strongly correlated with the academic preparation of peers, and the instructor’s ability to explain why they were using small groups.   Perhaps the most interesting study finding was that, “If students had bad experiences in group experiences in institutions prior to enrolling in the program, their attitudes remained negative, regardless of their experiences in the program” (p.17).

The findings of this study draw important attention to establishing a shared learning environment, where both the instructors and students:

  • clearly discuss the course learning objectives related to activities and assessment strategies that involve group work (i.e. why they are doing what they doing);
  • establish a safe environment for students to critically reflect upon their past group experiences, and to identify and assess the characteristics of positive/effective groups,  and of successful group members;
  • provide intentional opportunities for students to develop the skills and resources necessary to successfully negotiate group processes and to equitably delegate tasks among group members (e.g. developing group contracts, establishing a shared vision and clear goals/objectives, scheduling regular group meetings,  providing formative feedback,  and participating in a critical analysis of group processes).

There is little doubt that group work can enhance student learning and contribute to the development of transferrable teamwork, leadership and communication skills.  We must consistently strive to instill the importance of collaboration in higher education, by providing intentional opportunities for students to develop the skills and resources necessary to succeed in group environments.


Hillyard, C., Gillespie, D., and Littig, P.  University students’ attitudes about learning in small groups after frequent participation.  Active Learning in Higher Education 11(1):9-20.