Summer Reads

Summer is here. I’m officially off as of tomorrow. But when you love what you do, you’re never really off, and though I absolutely intend to unplug most of the next six weeks, and I have some personal non-work projects to play around with, I also have some reading to do. Darby and Lang, yes, as already discussed. And it would be remiss not to mention how thrilled I am that St Lawrence College’s School of Contemporary Teaching and Learning now has a Book Club, where in addition to books I already own, are a couple of digital downloads just waiting for me!

Reading online hammock Photo by Perfecto Capucine on Unsplash
Photo by Perfecto Capucine on Unsplash

But a few other things too. In no particular order.

Summer Reading List

Engagement will be critical as we start Fall with new students entirely online, and so Engagement Is Not A Drive Through seems like a good place to start, echoing what I have already read about the importance of creating connection.

John Warner already got my attention with his book, The Writer’s Practice, and so when he wrote about resilient pedagogy, I was right there.

Frameworks for learning keep cropping up. In the past I have done a little work on identifying frameworks of teaching and learning, but if you asked me what framework I use, it would be a rather unsatisfactory answer. I sort of take what I like and apply bits and pieces, and while I might be inclined to write about that someday, this summer I decided to make more of a concerted effort to look at different frameworks and what they offer and decided to start with this ACE framework – and not just because I admire Robin DeRosa, CoLab director (although I do).

Looking at different perspectives is also valuable. Just because we think we understand something does not always make it so. And so it is with the terms we toss around casually – like constructivism. What is it, and what is it not? The critical thinker in me wants to read this to get a different perspective and deepen my own understanding.

Asynchronous or Synchronous…that is the question on everyone’s mind as we hear varied perspectives and viewpoints. Myself, I lead towards the former as being more inclusive and flexible, and though I do bring in synchronous elements too, I bookmarked this article on Asynchronous Online Discussions to look at.

And speaking of inclusive, I found this advice guide from The Chronicle of Higher Education, and think its worth a closer look as I remind myself of just how easy it is to NOT be inclusive and how we need to be deliberately mindful of how we approach this in the classroom.

Found this one recently on Creative Assessment,and since that’s pretty much my favourite part of my job, I’m taking a look to see what I can glean and use to build on my own toolkit.

Ever choose a book for the title? I do often and am rarely disappointed. Hoping this one about subversive teaching in a standardized world is just as rewarding. One of the few books on this list and it’s an #OER from e-campus Ontario so warms my zed cred heart.

Finally, I don’t know what this is. But I’m going to find out. I scan a lot online and bookmark to the point where I can’t really keep track well (this list is my attempt to put some sort of order on the scrambled notes inside my head), but this stood out in part because it is about structures which I was already contemplating, and in part because my scan took me to a chart that included an icon for Wicked Questions, and that’s a term I had never heard until March 6, and yes I can pinpoint the day because it was the last normal Friday before the world imploded and we had a coordinator meeting in Kingston and our VP Academic introduced the phrase with a wicked question of her own. I was intrigued…and lets face it, the phrase wicked question invites interest. So I look forward to knowing a bit more about Liberating Structures and wicked questions after this summer.

Most of these are fairly short. Those that are online I might even read using Hypothes.issince I just took a workshop on it so finally after 3 years of having it installed am hoping to do a bit more with it. If you have read them or have great suggestions, let me know here or on Twitter.

Happy, happy reading!

Pedagogy Refresh

I’ve been reading everything I can get my hands on related to teaching online. It is clear to me that you can’t just take classroom content, out it online, and get good results. There’s a skill to it, a revision of practices, a new set of considerations.

It has been equally clear—and is now official—that fall classes at most Ontario institutions will be delivered online. There may be exceptions for labs especially as restrictions get slowly lifted, but they will be limited. So for me that means putting my classes all online.

It doesn’t bother me. In fact I find the challenge exciting. I enjoy the mindful transition of putting material online when I have hybrid classes or when it snows at 830 am and I want students to have options, however, I’ve never taught a class fully online.

This is that opportunity.

Weekend reading

A few years back at the Celebrate Great Teaching retreat I was invited to attend, I got my hands on Small Teaching by James Lang and read it in one go under a tree by a lake. It reinforced a bunch of things I’d been doing right and introduced me to new ideas. It’s on my recommended books for pedagogy.

So having been introduced to Flower Darby, an online educator on Twitter, and upon discovering she collaborated with James Lang, it was an easy decision to buy Small Teaching Online which I’m currently about halfway through.

And when things get tough or answers seem elusive, I retreat to my terrace and immerse myself in these books, reminding myself that no matter what lies ahead, it’s important to stay grounded. This pedagogical refresh is a valuable way to re-center my understanding of what it is to teach students in an uncertain world.

These COVID Times

With the sudden switch to online, I knew I wanted to simplify, simplify simplify, and stripped down what remained of my three courses to the very essence of what still needed to get done.More about that later,

At the heart of this was connection with students to make sure they are all okay. My very first video to them, almost as soon as this happened was to encourage journal writing and creativity as a way to explore feelings and help manage what is a dreadfully stressful time. As the week progressed, students shared their work with me…some privately, others wanting to share more broadly, and so we collectively decided to create a blog to host some of what they are experiencing to share with, first, our classroom community, but then also with the wider public.

It’s a work in progress. Lightly edited for clarity but attempting to maintain the authentic voices and experiences of the students.

If interested, the link is here.


Best Laid Plans…

Nine weeks into the semester and the universe threw down the gauntlet.


To be fair, anyone with an awareness of global affairs saw the signs as first China, then Europe fell victim to the pandemic virus. In fact, I did an inquiry project into COVID-19 in my communications class because it seemed super relevant for the nursing students, and because I wanted to quell some of the conspiracies, and because well, the whole concept of finding credible source material and applying academic evidence to evolving practices falls under the course curriculum, and because I always do a short inquiry project to walk students through the research process before I let them loose on their own.

So we saw it coming. I talked to students about what would happen if–it still felt like an if–Canada ended up closing schools like in Europe, and how there was no need to panic as we could still manage online if necessary.

And here we are.

Big credit to the SLC leadership team who gave us all a week to switch to online emergency delivery. Because it’s not the same. I consider myself well-versed in hybrid and online options, and often use them within the context of a class, but switching an entire delivery to online is a whole different beast.

The first hybrid course I developed (2013?) took me forever. I love it, the planning, the creative process of transferring material to an online delivery effectively and while continuing to engage students. But there is no question that it takes more time, and a different mind set. We don’t have the luxury of time right now. We are just getting it done, and I’m so impressed with the dedication of everyone – staff, management, faculty, and students – to get through to the end of the semester.

Of course I have thoughts. Thoughts about digital pedagogy (always an interest of mine), about Pedagogy of Kindness (which is the way I started this past academic year), about how classrooms are not just classrooms, but are communities as well (and I am thinking of how to continue that community when the semester ends because some students will still need that), and about the innovative, inspired Communities of Practice that we have always had at the college, but which have deepened and expanded in ways I never imagined in the last three weeks.

Thoughts about working from home, the perks and drawbacks. My new officemate, the dog, is quite happy.

Stay safe, all.


Adventures in Coordinating

I was–I AM–delighted to accept the challenge of coordinating the General Arts and Sciences program on the Cornwall campus. With my mentor and friend Julie to guide me (before she retires in June), I have been learning the ins and outs of a program that is both simple and so very complex.

January passed in a blur. I wasn’t sure I could keep up with the constant changing schedules and course changes of so many students. But I did it.

Now I am looking ahead. From what Arts and Sciences currently is, to what I think it could be. I’m working with tri-campus colleagues on a couple of new capstone courses, and as I go through this semester, I’m keeping track of where things are going well and where there may be opportunities for improvement.

It’s a long road. But an exciting one.

Collaborative Assessment

2015. I started to reimagine what the classroom could look like. With input from students, I created this haiku deck and embedded it into my blog (the embed code doesn’t always work so I’ve included a visual below).

Reimagining Classrooms – Created with Haiku Deck, presentation software that inspires;

Clocks, beverages, and snacks aside, I’ve been consistently trying to include many of these elements into my classroom since 2015. Choice, creativity, calm atmosphere—these are all important. Our new Active Learning Space at the Cornwall Campus takes care of some of the other aspects.

The work continues to evolve. From co-created projects to co-creative assignment design; from textbooks to open resources; from grades to feedback.

The challenges in an active learning space are crafting activities that help students meet or exceed learning outcome expectations. It’s getting students to see the benefits of collaborative learning and to embrace messy, non-linear curriculum design. Entering student learning means taking a step back and this is not something all faculty are good at; neither to be frank are students. They resist and crave the lecture and teacher-led fact-based lessons they have been used to.

This week I asked students to highlight what they like or dislike about this space we have been in since September. By and large, feedback was positive. I’ll take that as a win.

Teach-Coordinate-Create #Focus2020

My mind is often spinning. In a good way—brimming with ideas and thoughts and plans and initiatives and imagination and possibility. Never is this more true than at the end of a conference when I’ve engaged with and intersected with people equally as passionate about education as I am.

The challenge is what to do with all that.

At the time, in the midst of it it all, it’s easy to feel like everything is possible. But in the wake of a conference, ie: on time train on the way home, when the excitement of the past few days mingles with mental and physical fatigue, when you try to remember all the conversations and information and people that inspired deeper reflection, that is a little more daunting.

I need to stem the whirlpool of things swirling in my brain (partial list below):

  • Micro-credentials
  • Campus-Community partnerships
  • Program revitalization
  • Creativity
  • Zed-Cred programming
  • Active Learning
  • Faculty tool kit
  • Leadership Program initiatives
  • Arts & Sciences capstone
  • Coordinating
  • Faculty coaching
  • Innovation
  • Student wellness and mental health
  • Ungrading

But you know what? I’m a teacher. I’m in the classroom. I need to focus in on doing the things I can do best in the role that I have right now.

So I’m paring down that list.

Teach. Creative, active learning classrooms. Innovative assessment practices.

Coordinate. Zen-Cred, student coaching, leadership (program, capstone, community)

Create. Guest editing, poetry, writing, SoTL.

That’s it.


My mantra for 2020.

Higher Education Summit 2019

I’m excited for the higher education summit. I’ve been to many conferences but there’s something special about this one. This year marks my third year coming here to Toronto with the St. Lawrence College Board of Governors, and I have to say, I have taken away something of value every single year.

In 2017, it was Daniel Pink who resonated. He spoke about motivation, carving out “islands of autonomy”… both practices which have influenced my teaching since. That year I also took my Good Governance certificate, 1.5 days of digging into the responsibilities of governance, and I continue to be appreciative of having had that opportunity.

Last year, I recall a session on digital skills and the future of education. It was also my first time hearing Chantal Hébert speak…and she blew me away with her brilliant analysis of political events. I wanted to come again this year in large part because she is returning.

And then there’s the Premier’s Awards, and honestly, I’m always #ProudToBeSLC, but seeing the caliber of some of our graduates—and indeed graduates from all of Ontario’s colleges—well, it is an excellent reminder of why we do what we do. I’m honoured to play even the small role I do in the journey of our students.

In addition to all that, there are the people. Getting a chance to connect with colleagues not just from other campuses, but also from various departments and organizational levels is something I truly value. Only Connect is a good motto, and I have made many fabulous connections here, exchanging ideas and thoughts that in my opinion enrich the work we do when we get back to the office.

It’s hard to explain. It’s just a conference. But as with many conferences, I come away feeling uplifted, optimistic, and brimming with ideas.

Looking forward to tomorrow. Ready to dive in.

Sydney Carton – A tale of moral bankruptcy and redemption

This is a multi-modal project embedding video, images and charts to demonstrate potential assignment options.

The character Sydney Carton in Charles’ Dickens’ novel, A Tale of Two Cities—much like Dickens’ novel itself—is a study in opposites. Dissolute, drunken wretch who cares for no man on one hand; Steadfast, loyal friend who makes great sacrifices to uphold moral beliefs and to support those he loves best on the other. The novel and the character are studies in ethics and justice and raise some important questions: Can a man who is morally bankrupt be redeemed by a single act? And who is the real Sydney Carton?

Set in 18th century France during the revolution, a six-minute summary of this complex book can be seen below.

The pertinent facts related to Sydney Carter are as follows. He is an law associate and early on in the novel we meet him when he is asked to stand up in a court to demonstrate that he bears a striking resemblance to the accused. As a result, the accused—a French aristocrat named Charles Darnay—is found innocent. The story then follows Darnay’s involvement with a young lady names Lucy who he marries, and Carton’s journey of drinking and despair as he loves Lucy from afar. It is impossible to like the character of Carton. He plays the worst version of himself at all times, cynical and depressed even when he is trying to be sociable. That he loves Lucy however we can have no doubt. At the end of the novel, the revolution in France is in full swing, and Charles Darnay has been imprisoned and sentenced to the guillotine. Carton finds a way to smuggle Lucy and her family out of France, and is able to get into the Bastille to take Darnay’s place in prison, and ultimately on the guillotine.

What are the ethical considerations here?

Sydney Carton on the Scaffold by Harry Furniss (1910)

Carton is intriguing because of the contrasting ethical approaches he takes to his life. At first glance, he appears to have a teleological outlook: he doesn’t seem to care what he does or how he acts, and instead the consequences of his actions are important – he supports the outcome desired for the defense by demonstrating that the witness who identified Darnay as a traitor might be mistaken; he gives his life so that the outcome for Lucy and Darnay and their family can be positive. At the same time however, this doesn’t right entirely true. After all, one could argue that Carton was only doing his duty by standing up in court to show a witness was unreliable, he was only doing his perceived duty to the family he loved by finding a way for them to go free and live happily ever after. Looked at this way, Darnay had more of a deontological approach.

Infographic (if the embed feature is not working, try linking to it here)

There’s more. From Kant’s perspective, it could be argued that Carton was considering his own best interests by taking Darnay’s place on the guillotine. After all, it was unlikely that Lucy would ever repay his affection or that he would ever  be more to her if he lived and Darnay died. By sacrificing himself, he would live on in Lucy’s memory and have her eternal gratitude. According to Kant, the fact that he would benefit from this action-as far fetched as that might seem to a rational being-is enough for his action to be considered suspect and less than ethical.

Aristotle’s virtue ethics also come into play. Carton has clearly identified his own values, and has prioritized them. His moral values, whilst few, are put ahead of his non-moral values at the end of this story.

Sydney Carton is a complex character. One question that has recurred for me is can a man who is morally bankrupt be redeemed by a single act? I think that for Sydney Carton, the answer is yes. I address that and a couple of other thoughts in the video below (Draft Version…needs Tweaking).

So who is the real Sydney Carton? He’s maybe the perfect ethical figure: A tormented soul who finds redemption doing what he considers to be his duty, and that also results in the greatest good for the greatest number of people.
Duty and consequences. A tale of two ethical systems