Posts filed under 'Engagement'

Untangling the Web of Teacher-Student Communication

In a recent article in Faculty Focus Jennifer Waldeck discusses research into important aspects of Student-Teacher communication. In particular, she focuses on communication for clarity and communication to build positive relationships.

Communication for Clarity
It seems obvious that teachers need to communicate clearly with students, not just about content but about expectations and learning objectives.

This includes strategically, clearly, and logically organizing material; communicating expectations; explaining concepts; giving examples and feedback; asking questions; and responding to students’ inquiries.

But, is there such a thing as too much clarity? Waldeck comments that two 2015 meta-analyses of the teacher clarity literature concluded that clarity accounts for just a moderate amount of student learning. She also suggests that a degree of strategic ambiguity encourages peer discussion and critical thinking.

In contrast, teachers who unnecessarily repeat points and provide lengthy explanations of simple ideas might annoy students.

Communication to Build Positive Relationships
A second set of communication behaviours relate to building relationships with students. Waldeck points out that research indicates that effective teachers use immediacy behaviors.

They smile, make eye contact, move around the room, avoid standing behind podiums, gesture, call students by name, use personal examples, allow some off-task conversation and small talk, are appropriately funny, and encourage students to talk with them and one another. Further, good teachers confirm students. In many ways, we tell students we value them, their ideas, and their contributions.

As previously discussed in the blog equivalent behaviors are essential in online courses.
While some teachers are resistant to becoming too friendly with their students, and losing students’ respect, Waldeck comments that there are numerous studies that in order to maximize cognitive learning-

we must motivate them, make them feel good about themselves and their abilities, promote their enjoyment of the learning process, and create positive attitudes about our class and the subject matter. The idea that students’ positive feelings and emotions about learning are nice, but an unnecessary aspect of the educational process, has been dispelled by a significant amount of research.

This raises the challenge of: to what degree should teachers maintain appropriate distance as opposed to developing positive, affirmative relationships?

Waldeck concludes:

The role of communication in learning is complex. Research gives us insight into the art and science of effective instructional communication. To become great teachers, we must become great communicators who are aware and adaptive to students and situations. And, we should always question our assumptions about how to best teach our content and socially interact with students.

You can also participate in research into faculty communication with students conducted by the Faculty Communication Research Centre of Chapman University.

2 comments May 20th, 2016

CTL Workshops Feb 2nd to Feb 4th - Register now!

Looking for help designing digital assignments, developing new courses or increasing student engagement in class?
We’re here to help. Check out up-coming workshops from CTL and register now at the CTL Calendar

Tuesday Feb 2 Room A227 – 2pm – 2.45pm
10 Steps for Digital Assignment Success REGISTER

Go green while increasing student flexibility and autonomy. Participants in this workshop will learn how to set-up Dropbox folders in eLearn@Mohawk and discuss different use-cases and best practices of taking assignments online.

Wednesday Feb 3 Room A227 – 10am – 10.45am
Cool Tools to Boost Engagement REGISTER

Your CTL is committed to hunting high and low for the most impactful tools to add to your arsenal. Come explore our latest discoveries to boost students’ interest in content and engagement in class.

Thursday Feb 4 Room A227 – 2pm – 4pm
Course design – From Finish to Start REGISTER

How do you create a course with learning outcomes, learning activities and assessments that align? Using the principles of backwards design and constructive alignment this workshop will explore the stages course development.

Add comment January 28th, 2016

Group Assessment Workshop

CTL presents workshops on Group Assessment

Thursday January 21st 2pm;
Wednesday February 10th 10am.

Collaboration and communication are essential skills for graduates. This workshop will explore how can you create and assess group assignments that encourage and measure group-working skills.

Register now at the CTL Calendar

Add comment January 19th, 2016

Successful Semester Start: Part 1

You CTL is collaborating to share quick tips and information that will jumpstart a successful semester start. Whether it’s a few truths to put you in the proper frame of mind compliments of Beloit College’s annual Mindset List, a short article to share, or a course checklist, these should be posts of interest to new and seasoned instructors. Enjoy!

Beloit College’s Mindset List
We have edited the longer list down to our favourite fifteen, but you can access the list in its entirety here.

New Mohawk students arrive from work, high school, university, and beyond. We remain open to all their experiences and perspectives. However, the majority of students still come from high school directly and the list may assist.

Students heading into their first year of college this year are mostly 18 and were born in 1997.

Among those who have never been alive in their lifetimes are Princess Diana, Notorious B.I.G., Jacques Cousteau, and Mother Teresa.

Since they have been on the planet:

1. Hybrid automobiles have always been mass produced.

2. Google has always been there, in its founding words, “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible.”

3. They have never licked a postage stamp.

4. Email has become the new “formal” communication, while texts and tweets remain enclaves for the casual.

6. Hong Kong has always been under Chinese rule.

7. They have grown up treating Wi-Fi as an entitlement.

9. The announcement of someone being the “first woman” to hold a position has only impressed their parents.

10. Charlton Heston is recognized for waving a rifle over his head as much as for waving his staff over the Red Sea.

14. Cell phones have become so ubiquitous in class that teachers don’t know which students are using them to take notes and which ones are planning a party.

17. If you say “around the turn of the century,” they may well ask you, “which one?”

18. They have avidly joined Harry Potter, Ron, and Hermione as they built their reading skills through all seven volumes.

27. Teachers have always had to insist that term papers employ sources in addition to those found online.

30. Surgeons have always used “super glue” in the operating room.

43. Humans have always had implanted radio frequency ID chips—slightly larger than a grain of rice.

44. TV has always been in such high definition that they could see the pores of actors and the grimaces of quarterbacks.

Add comment August 30th, 2015

GIFT Conference Online


Did you miss the GIFT conference in February? Would like to see the sessions you attended again? Maybe there were sessions you really wanted to attend happening at the same time?

The GIFT Conference is now Online.

Videos and notes from the conference are now available in a GIFT eLearn course available for self-registration.

To register for the GIFT eLearn course: click on “Self Registration” in the navbar; click on “GIFT (Great Ideas for Teaching)” in the list of courses; then click on the “Register“ button.
The GIFT course will appear in you “Employee” Tab under “My Courses”.

Add comment March 24th, 2015

Musings on the Myths and the Marvels of the Flipped Classroom

Flipping the classroom is gaining momentum for a variety of reasons. In K-12, teachers’ desire to facilitate and ignite students through the more challenging application and analysis phases motivates the flip. Traditionally, teachers provided the foundation or introduction in class and then assigned the practice and extension activities as homework.  The flip allows them to be present for the more challenging aspects of learning (and teaching!).

In higher education, an additional catalyst for the flip is hybrid or blended learning. As higher ed institutions work to increase students’ responsibility for their own learning, provide more flexibility, and grapple with space issues, flipping the classroom is a popular re-design for blended or hybrid delivery.

For the purposes of the blog, I’ll provide a few musings on the myths and marvels that I believe will benefit Mohawk faculty and students. We will start off with one myth buster and one marvel that assists the bust…..

Myth #1: So, I just have to record myself doing my 2 hour lecture and post it?

For student engagement and retention, you will still want to package the information in to manageable chunks. Likely, in your lectures, you take breaks to confirm understanding every 7-10 minutes. This should be replicated online.

If you are concerned about the best way to build your facilitation of course foundational or introductory information, Richard E. Mayer, an educational psychologist, and Ruth Colvin Clark, an instructional designer, have done some wonderful exploration into the science of eLearning. Their cognitive load and design principles research provides recommendations on combining formats (text, audio, video, animation) to optimize processing and knowledge acquisition by students. Get the book at Mohawk Library! If you had to place a hold on the book, this article will whet your appetite.

Marvel #1: With the omni-patient computer it is actually easier to provide appropriate reinforcement of concepts for all learning styles and preferences in the online learning environment. There are many, free educational technologies that can assist. Let’s highlight one of my favourites - Quizlet.

Have terms and definitions or pictures and definitions that would normally have students creating flashcards to commit them to memory? This tool allows you or students to enter the terms | pictures and definitions once and create not only interactive flashcards, but simultaneously other, scaffolded games | challenges.

Take a look at the Quizlet below. I have entered the names of your CTL frontline staff and their titles | areas of responsibilities. I have chosen the Scatter mode. This mode assumes some level of knowledge. If you are new to Mohawk, you may choose the flashcard mode. If you are a regular user, try the harder, Space Race mode.

Your frontline CTL staff

[Note: CTL staff also includes Anna Johnston (Director), Nadine Ogborn (Manager), and Kelly Riley-Dunbavin (Promotions and Events). But we wanted to keep the game manageable and 8 is the magic number!]

Track your time and challenge your colleagues!

Stay tuned for more myths and marvels of the flipped classroom. In the meantime, if you want to continue the conversation or start a collaboration, contact Peggy French.

Wordle of flipped classroom terms

Add comment January 21st, 2015

Space Design Pedagogy

Constructivist Learning Spaces
There has been a shift in learning pedagogy for teaching practices to follow student-centred, constructivist methods (Long,& Ehrmann 2005). Constructivist methods, and more specifically, social constructivist methods advocate that knowledge is constructed through the active participation of individuals and crowds. If we compare what we know now about learning to our current institutional infrastructure, one can recognize that they often do not parallel each other; the infrastructure we have now is a legacy of what we didn’t know about teaching.

Mohawk is leading the way in space design pedagogy. Yes, there are classrooms that still need to be updated, but that takes time. If we consider our collaboratory, student learning commons, and alternative gathering spaces, our students, faculty, and staff are fortunate to have access to such spaces.

The Mohawk Collaboratory

Mohawk Collaboratory Source Mohawk College 2014

Mohawk Collaboratory: Source Mohawk College 2014

Lomas & Johnson (2005) have offered an alternative design method to the traditional approach to space design. They have propose the CDIO process (conceive, design, implement, operate), in which the learning environment is not viewed as space that needs to be redesigned but rather a “product” which needs to be developed. Following this CDIO process, we can ask the questions, “What kind of a space will produce creative and innovate thinking? What kind of space will support social constructivist learning pedagogy?”

Our learning collaboratory is just that. The traditional library has gone through a transformative change as students are less likely to browse the stacks for books when research and articles can be accessed digitally. Conversely, the modern library “speaks not of books, but of information: pellets of useable data, as smooth, precise, and indistinguishable as the screens themselves”. Yes, books still play an important role and will always have a space in our institutions. However, the modern idea of individual and collaborative learning space is considered to be just as critical. Bennett (2005, as cited in Bailin, 2011) notes that “flexible and responsive space
among students”. This idea is reflected in our learning Collaboratory as the space accommodates a variety of uses and learning styles.

The Mansueto Library, Chicago

Mansueto Library, University of Chicago: Source University of Chicago

Mansueto Library, University of Chicago: Source University of Chicago

Mohawk College is not alone in their thinking. The Mansueto Library at the University of Chicago is a state-of-the-art facility that epitomizes the modern library. It combines learning space and print resources on site. The learning space, which holds up to 180 users, is designed for quiet study and consists of fifteen four-person tables, four long rows of reading tables, and seven interconnected four-person tables. The books are housed in an underground storage facility; students make a digital request, the automated book retrieval system locates the book, and the user is notified that the book is ready for pickup. The process is designed to take less than five minutes. A video explaining the process can be found here.

Considering all of this, Mohawk is in fairly exalted company and is at the forefront of space design pedagogy. We are putting students first and are on our way from moving from good to great.

Lauren Soluk - CTL


  • Bennett, S. (2007). First questions for designing higher education learning spaces. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 33(1), 14-26.
  • Mohawk College. (2014). Collaboratory. Retrieved from
  • Doorley, S. & Witthoft, S. (2012). Make space. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
  • Lomas, C.P. & Johnson, C. (2005). Design of the learning space: Learning design and Principles. EDUCAUSE Review, 40 (4), 16-28. Retrieved from
  • Long, P. D., & Ehrmann, S. C. (2005). Future of the learning space, breaking out of the box. EDUCAUSE Review, 40(4), 42-58. Retrieved from

For further reading:

  • Doorley, S. & Witthoft, S. (2012). Make space. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
  • OWP/P Architects, VS Furniture and Bruce Mau Design. (2010). The third teacher. China:Abrams.
  • Moore, A.H., Watson, E. & Fowler, S.B (2007) Active learning and technology: Designing change for faculty, students and institutions. EDUCAUSE Review, 42 (5), 42-61. Retrieved from
  • Lomas, C.P. & Johnson, C. (2005). Design of the learning space: Learning design and Principles. EDUCAUSE Review, 40 (4), 16-28. Retrieved from

Add comment January 13th, 2015

Creating a Blend: Enabling Virtual Learners by Design pt 4

It’s been a while since we started this series, but we’ve come back to it.
In the fourth of her blog posts on Enabling Virtual Learners by Design Jennifer Hofmann discusses getting the right blend in blended learning.

We have many options available to us when creating blended training programs. We can build self-paced programs using learning portals, websites, and e-learning. We can develop moderated discussions using social media, discussion boards and email. Finally, we can create real time events using traditional classrooms, videoconferencing, and virtual classrooms. The trick is learning what technologies to use and how to facilitate the blend.

Hoffman points out that while everyone is talking about building the right blend, achieving it requires work; specifically instructional design work; and time to facilitate successful blended learning experiences.

With traditionally delivered courses we often short-cut Instructional design because we feel familiar enough with the medium that we can anticipate how exercises will go, how the audience will respond and what instructional strategies to use; and how to adapt rapidly if the unanticipated occurs.

The online environment doesn’t allow for that.

Instructional Design Basics
Hoffman says designing online learning starts with the basics of Learning Outcomes and assessment techniques.

Once you’ve identified the performance objectives and assessment techniques, think about how you would assess that objective in the online environment. A multiple-choice test? Written essay? Oral feedback? Group application? If the assessment technique is individualized and objective in nature, such as a graded test, then that objective may be effectively delivered asynchronously. If performance is best assessed in an oral or group situation, such as giving effective feedback to a peer, a synchronous delivery method might be most effective for that part of your program.

Keep to the point
A really interesting point she makes is that it is tempting to put background, historical “nice to know” information into the online content. This is a bad idea; if you’re not going to test it, don’t teach it is the rule for online. Why? Maintaining motivation and engagement is a major challenge online. Students need to feel that what they are doing online is directly relevant to what they are trying to achieve or they will lose interest.

There’s a lot more to her challenging and thought provoking article so check it out at this link

Add comment January 5th, 2015

The Educational Support Program: FutureReady at Mohawk

People often talk about the difference between college and university, mainly discussing the difference in hands-on learning. After years of student and work experience at the university level, I have had the opportunity as an Instructional Designer in the CTL to see firsthand what Mohawk is doing right. This doesn’t mean that universities aren’t doing great things because they are! It’s just exciting to see these principles executed in the college environment with a high degree of competency.

You Learn We Grow

You Learn We Grow

Authentic Learning Experiences
Authentic experience is dynamic and engages multiple senses as it “aims to demonstrate the knowledge and skill within a real setting and allow the learner to make connections between the school setting and the demands of the broader communities” (Mantei & Kervin, 2009, p. 4). The balance between applied theoretical and applied learning varies from program to program with some having significantly more ‘hands-on’ and other more ‘theory.’ While theory plays an integral role in student learning, the combination of theory and authentic learning experiences provides a unique opportunity for learning, understanding, and application.

The Educational Support Program
The Educational Support Program (ESP) here at Mohawk is a prime example of the perfect blending of theory and authentic learning. Years ago, the program was mainly theory based, as are a lot of institutional programs. For example, my undergraduate teaching and education program was mainly theory based with placements until the later years. While theory and in-class learning still play a critical role in student learning, in the ESP, the students are carefully and methodically scaffolded into community placements starting in semester one. Karen Falls, a professor for the ESP, shares that students in semester one are paired with CICE students (great co-blending of programs if I might add) to experience educational support in an authentic, yet secure environment. This provides instructors with the ability to able to pop in and out and provide guidance along the way. In the next three semesters, the students experience three different types of placements in the community. They must work in an elementary school classroom, a high-school classroom, and a specialized classroom, which all offer unique experiences to develop their ES skill-set.

A Rich Student Experience
This opportunity aligns well with Jonassen, Mayes, and McAleese (1992) learning continuum where students’ experience unique introductory, advanced and expert learning phases (as cited in Keppell et al., 2002, p. 2). The students in ESP experience introductory learning through classroom learning, advanced learning through first semester CICE preparatory placement, and expert learning through authentic community placements. Combined, the theory matched with the authentic learning opportunities provide for a rich student experience that equally prepares them for the workforce.

Here are Mohawk, we strive to be great and FutureReady. The ESP, and many other programs here, do just that as our graduates are ripe with experience when they leave the college doors.

Alp, A. (2013). How to successful integrate technology into the 21st century classroom – part 1: Web tools. Retrieved from

Keppell, M., Kan, K., Messer, L. B., & Bione, H. (2002). Proceedings from ASCILITE 2002: Authentic learning interactions: Myth or reality? Auckland: New Zealand.

Mantei, J. & Kervin, L. K. (2009). Proceedings from National Conference for Teachers of English and Literacy: “Authentic” learning experiences: what does this mean and where is the literacy learning? Hobart, Tasmania: Australia.

Lauren Soluk - Centre for Teaching and Learning

Add comment September 25th, 2014

Make the Most of The First Day of Class

Another September and a new academic year begins. A good time to revisit some ways to make that first class effective.
Incorporating the objectives listed in this article from  Carnegie Melon University are a sure way to start the class off on the right foot. 

The first class meeting should serve at least two basic purposes:
• To clarify all reasonable questions students might have relative to the course objectives, as well as your expectations for their performance in class. As students leave the first meeting, they should believe in your competence to teach the course, be able to predict the nature of your instruction, and know what you will require of them.
• To give you an understanding of who is taking your course and what their expectations are.
These two basic purposes expand into a set of eight concrete objectives:
1. Orchestrate positive first impressions
2. Introduce yourself effectively
3. Clarify learning objectives and expectations
4. Help students learn about each other
5. Set the tone for the course
6. Collect baseline data on students’ knowledge and motivation
7. Whet students’ appetite for course content
8. Inform students of course requirements

To read more about each of the eight concrete objectives, click here.

What are your strategies for that first day?

Add comment September 2nd, 2014

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