Teaching & Learning in Higher Education Modules

In 2014 I worked as a Research Associate on the collaborative development of Teaching & Learning in Higher Education Modules. The project was a collaboration between Queen’s University, Western University, and the University of Waterloo. The three institutions were funded by eCampusOntario to develop six online modules centring on key concepts of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education. The modules were intended to be adopted and adapted for a variety of contexts, particularly in teaching the foundations of teaching and learning in higher education to graduate students and instructors.

My responsibilities included the design and development of 2 of the 6 modules: (1) Principles of Course Design, and (2) Ethical Principles and Professionalism in University Teaching. I collaborated with the three institutional partners and the Instructional Design team from Desire to Learn (D2L) to produce the modules – integrating resources and expertise from the three centres to design, author, and develop the content and learning activities.



screen-shot-2016-10-06-at-11-50-20-amThis screen shot, from the Principles of Course Design module, shows a learning activity I developed as part of the Learning Outcomes component of the module. At the Centre for Teaching and Learning the Educational Development team regularly asks learners to assess learning outcomes for their quality based on a holistic rubric (i.e. is the outcome assessable? are the verbs too vague?, etc.). Based on our practices, I worked with the D2L team to develop a similar activity for the Teaching and Learning modules. After learning about what makes an effective learning outcome, users are posed with a series of learning outcomes. They are asked to use the checklist provided to assess the outcome posed. Feedback is provided after users complete their assessment so that common misconceptions can be addressed.

ED Philosophy Themes

Conversational: Modules were intended to be interactive and engage learners in activities for learning. The resources and activities I developed were intended to support ongoing conversation and engagement.

Thoughtful Technology: The D2L team offered technical solutions to brainstormed assets and activities. Given this approach, I designed modules by first asking – what actions would serve the intended learning outcomes of this module? I was then able to work with D2L to develop thoughtful technological solutions that engaged learners in ideal activities for learning.

Literature Informed: As with any teaching opportunity, I aim to incorporate best practices informed from the literature. Additionally, I seek to provide students with the skills and resources to interpret the literature for themselves. Module activities and content were both informed by literature in the scholarship for teaching and learning.

Certificate Program in University Teaching & Learning

In 2012, I began work with the Certificate Program in University Teaching & Learning at the Centre for Teaching and Learning, Queen’s University. The certificate program is intended for graduate students who seek one of four certificates to demonstrate advances in teaching development.

Initially, I was responsible for receiving applications, reviewing submitted materials, providing feedback, and awarding certificates. As my work developed, I began orienting other Educational Development Associates to the work. It was at this point that I proposed a review of the program. Programmatic outcomes were made explicit, certificate requirements were adjusted to align with outcomes, and rubrics were developed to support a more standardized process of evaluation and feedback.


ED Philosophy Themes

Conversational: The certificate requirements were designed such that applicants were asked to communicate their reflections, perspectives, and insights on teaching and learning. In feedback, I aimed to engage the recipient in conversation through critical questioning. I always ended my feedback with an invitation for discussion and candidates regularly followed up through consultation in which we shared experiences, discussed resources, and explored future opportunities for development.


Trajectories and Swirls

In these past few months in my new role as an eLearning and Curriculum Specialist at the Teaching Support Centre at Western University, the focus has been on orientation – getting up to speed on the role, the centre, and where I’m headed in this new work.

Some days feel like I’m lost down the rabbit hole as I explore the myriad of eLearning technologies, pursue blogs and articles, as I acquaint myself with all that there is to know and do as someone who is expected to represent Technology on campus.

Reading Malcolm Brown’s EDUCASE article Six Trajectories for Digital Technology in Higher Education this afternoon gave me my first real sense of where I am headed with all of this. That is, at least to borrow his notion of working on a trajectory:

With a trajectory, we know where something is headed, but we cannot say—or we refrain from guessing—where it will end. Working with trajectories is an admission that we cannot foresee the unanticipated factors and developments that might influence the trajectory, accelerating it or perhaps instead derailing it entirely. In this sense, working with trajectories is a more humble and realistic way of facing the future.

In this role, all I can do is work on the trajectory, and this feels a bit like juggling in the dark.
 Erwin Shoonderwaldt, Juggling in the dark CC AT-NC-ND

It’s difficult to see what balls you’re juggling with and where they are going to land once tossed into the air. How do I stay (read: get myself) to the forefront of digital technology in higher education so as best to represent it and work with the Western community to lead change? Brown’s list of six recommended trajectories to watch certainly helps. I will be gentle with myself enough to say that it is both unrealistic and impossible to keep track of every arising trend, and so I will capture a few thoughts on those trajectories I’d like to juggle:

Open Educational Resources (OERs)

If you want to get lost down a rabbit hole, I’d suggest a few days of exploring the internet for OERs. Proponents tout OERs as though they are the next big thing that’s going to transform education. If so, we have a long way to go in terms of entry, ease of use, and applicability. I am also weary and curious as to the hidden agendas lurking behind OERs. How is something considered open and yet there’s clearly a fee structure built into it with CEOs and development teams at the wheel?

Maker and Learning Spaces 

I am curious as to how the concept of makerspaces can be made into cognitive makerspaces of learning. Can we come to see learning as coming into a room with various resources available to us for tinkering and playing for inquiry? What would this sort of space (physical or virtual) look like?

Adaptive Learning Technologies

Brown focuses on the companies at the forefront who are looking to the development of adaptive learning technologies as the next step to learning analytics. From an inquiry-based learning perspective, I’m interested in exploring how a technology might adapt to a student’s changing patterns of inquiry so that student and tool enhance the exploration of ideas.

Just as Brown concludes with talk of Student Swirl, I’ll adopt this concept for myself for I have come to see myself as a swimmer in a large pool of swirling water where my own trajectory is one of navigating the waters to flow with the unanticipated.

Joris Louwes Swirl CC AT-NC-ND

Maybe appropriately so, that swimmer in the water is still holding on to the wall but in the water nonetheless- a swimmer participant-observer. In her suit and in the water, readying herself to push away from the wall and go with the flow

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Trajectories and Swirls by Lauren Anstey is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Blended Interactions

Week 2 of the Becoming a Blended Learning Designer MOOC or #blendkit2015! This week has been about Blended Interactions – designing high impact activities online and face-to-face.

Reading Reflection: A Quick Synopsis and Thoughts

There were many elements of the discussion this week that stuck a tone with me, and I will review them here in an effort to summarize and consolidate what I’ve learned:

Constructing assignments that encourage interaction and expression

Its an interesting and refreshing perspective to think of assignments as an opportunity for interaction and expression for learning. I have come to value assignments that have some greater purpose – assignments that are authentic. Thinking of assignments as an opportunity for interaction and expression helps me focus on this motive. The following questions are worth considering:

  • To whom will students express themselves to? Who is involved in the interaction? Who will be listening? Who will be responding? How will students need to take their audience into account?
  • Through what medium will students express themselves? How will students express themselves? What support will they need in order to make effective use of the medium?
  • For what purpose or value? Why will students want to express themselves? Will they feel motivated? Does the assignment have some larger value than just another assignment for just another course?

The role of an educator in a networked world

Blended learning environments invite us to revisit and possibly redefine our role as an educator. In the readings this week, four potential roles were presented: the notion of studio or atelier learning, the notion of the educator as a network administrator, the notion of the educator as concierge, and the notion of the educator as a curator. Two of these notions stood out to me as being more in line with my teaching philosophy, so I would like to briefly explore each of these:

  • Atelier Learning
    • Envision an art studio as an open space where student artists create their artwork in full view of other artists. Master artists observe the students’ activities and may draw attention to innovative approaches. The space is creative and not bound to the expertise of the instructor alone. Everyone in the room has the potential to be a teacher, a critic, a source of inspiration.
    • An example of this within an online teaching environment: An inquiry learner posts reflections about their progress to a blog. Students can read each others’ work and gain insight from both the facilitator and fellow students.
  • Curatorial Learning
    • “A curator is an expert learner. Instead of dispensing knowledge he creates spaces in which knowledge can be created, explored, and connected”. The freedom of individual learners is balanced with thoughtful interpretation of the subject being explored. Learners are free to explore but as they do, they encounter displays, concepts, and artifacts representative of the discipline being engaged.
    • This seems to resemble inquiry-based learning quite well. Learners have the freedom to explore but do so within an environment created by the facilitator – an environment that curates concepts and artifacts in a way that models the nature of inquiry within the discipline of study. For example,

Wayfinding and environmental cues for achieving balanced scaffolding

Learning, especially inquiry learning, needs appropriate scaffolding or guidance in order to adequately support learners through their experience. Too much guidance and the essence of inquiry-based learning is gone. Too little guidance and students feel so lost that their motivation wains, they become lost and disengaged. All courses need appropriate environmental cues to help students navigate their learning. This is of particular importance in blended and online courses where students must navigate the course more independently. Environmental cues might include a clear, useful syllabus, a schedule of events, and a checklist for work to be completed each week.

Important questions for anatomy education 

Two questions were posed to me that I find particularly important to ask of anatomy studies:

  • Is there value in student-to-student and student-to-instructor interaction in all courses regardless of discipline?
  • What role does interaction play in courses in which the emphasis is on declarative knowledge (e.g., introductory “survey” courses at the lower-division undergraduate level)? 

While I have been witness to assumptions that interaction, engagement, and discussion has no value in anatomy studies, I have also been witness to the rich learning made possible by doing so.

Putting this Thinking to Work: Exploring Anatomy Through Inquiry Course

Applying all this to my imaginary course of Exploring Anatomy Through Inquiry Learning:

  • the course might include assignments that get students:
    • articulating their experiences of engaging in inquiry through blog posts that the facilitator or classmates can read and respond to
    • sharing their findings with peers through a presentation – either in person or though supported digital technologies (such as slideshare, video, etc.)
    • communicating their discoveries to an academic or public audience – either through written communicate or through supported technologies
  • As educator, I could take on the role of curator
    • course content would be structured from materials that develop inquiry skills with this content being curated by me in a way that helps students make sense of the material in light of their learning tasks
  • students would be assisted in finding their way through environmental cues such as:
    • a clear course syllabus
    • a weekly schedule
    • a weekly checklist

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Blended Interactions by Lauren Anstey is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Photo Credit: Van Gogh by Lauren Anstey

Understanding Blended Learning

This week, I started into a MOOC titled Becoming a Blended Learning Designer being put on by Educase and the University of Central Florida. Over the coming weeks, this blog will serve as a platform for reflecting on my course work, so I hope you enjoy!

Reading Reflection

Quick Synopsis: 

  • Blended learning (also known as hybrid or mixed-mode courses) refer to courses having some combination of on-campus face-to-face meeting and online activities, where roughly 30-70% of the course instruction is delivered online
  • Blended learning can have many benefits, including flexibility, increased time for active learning, and new engagement opportunities. However, to achieve these benefits blended learning courses must be thoughtfully and carefully designed. In not doing so, instructors run the dangerous risk of consuming far more time of their students and themselves.
  • Course objectives and outcomes are particularly important in blended learning course design as they inform content delivery mechanism and pedagogy – where and how learning events will occur
  • Identify the ideal learning experience in meeting course objectives then analyze which elements can be delivered online without compromising learning effectiveness
  •  As a rule of thumb, students should be able to perform online tasks with little to no prompting by the instructor
  • Overall, blended learning courses can be designed to meet an increasingly important attitude towards teaching and learning; that less emphasis be placed on presenting information and more emphasis be placed on building the learner’s ability to navigate the wide array of information available in this digital age. “Learners can be provided with a rich array of tools and information sources to use in creating their own learning pathways. The instructor or institution can still ensure that critical learning elements are achieved by focusing instead on the creation of the knowledge ecology”


When blended learning first came across my radar, the Faculty of Arts and Science at Queen’s had just started spearheading a Blended Learning Task Force that sought to position a range of courses toward a blended learning approach. At the time, we spoke of differing definitions. Was blended learning a mix of face-to-face and online? or was it broader than that – simply any form of mixed modality teaching? Thinking the later to be an outdated way of thinking about teaching and learning (I would like to think, maybe naively, that we have moved beyond the days of uni-modal instruction), I embraced the definition of blended learning as a combination of face-to-face and online engagement.

Given my limited exposure to blended courses, it’s concerning to me that I should be so well aware of the bad reputation they’ve developed. I know them as overwhelming for all involved. I’ve heard horror stories of the courses doubling, even tripling the amount of work expected of students. I’ve heard of how hard they are to put together and sustain, swamping and overwhelming instructors.

All of this seems to indicate an issue with design. Blended learning is not simply the addition of online components to an already overwhelming course of ridiculous expectations. Its about getting at the heart of course objectives, setting realistic intended learning outcomes for students, then selecting the best mechanism and modality for facilitating their achievement.

I’m relived to see #BlendKit2015 start with an emphasis on course design. This week I have learned how to think about the design process with a blended learning structure in mind. How to start with the course objectives and outcomes then translate this into effective decisions about what interactions are best left face-to-face and which might be put online.

For this MOOC, I will be playing around with my “dream course”- the course I wish to one-day have the opportunity to teach. #BlendKit2015 asked us to first put together a course blueprint then a Mix Map of pedagogies intended for face-to-face and online environments:

The course blueprint outlines the general course description, course objectives (what instructor aims to accomplish in facilitating the course), course outcomes (the intended learning outcomes, or what the learner can expect to be able to do by the end of the course) and the evidence (the assignments and assessments that will demonstrate ability in each respected area)

The Mix Map organizes pedagogies and learning activities into those conducted face-to-face, online, and a combination of the two. Notice the alignment between the above blueprint and the mix map.

Next week we are on to Blended Interactions where we will consider how to plan for instructionally relevant interactions and how to effectively communicate expectations around blended interactions to students!

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Understanding Blended Learning by Lauren Anstey is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Photo Credit: Few Understand Solitude by Michelle Robinson, Flickr


Digital Curation

Digital curation is the organization and sharing of digital artifacts such as webpages, journal articles, images, blog posts, infographics, etc. It is quickly becoming a popular approach to organizing and sharing course- or academic-related material with students and colleagues.

There are many examples of curation tools. Pinterest allows for the collection of visual bookmarks that are ‘pinned’ in a board. Storify enables the creation of stories by collecting updates from social networks like Facebook and Twitter. Scoop.it allows for the production of a

newspaper-style feed of collected digital artifacts. These are just three examples of the many and diverse tools currently available on the web. With such a variety, the possibilities for serving pedagogical and academic purpose are broad.

To test this all out for myself, I recently used Scoop.it  to establish an “Ideas for Teaching and Learning” page. Through this page, readers can explore the artifacts posted here by scrolling though newspaper-style posts or by using the filter option to see artifacts by a particular tag. You can learn more about these artifacts by reading the brief headline and excerpt, by reading the poster’s comments, or by clicking on the artifact to go directly to the source.

I wonder, in what creative ways might digital curation continue to meet my teaching and learning needs? Here are some musings:

  • a reading list could be shared with students on particular course-related topics
  • students could be tasked with using a particular tool for collecting, interpreting, and sharing their research process for an inquiry-based assignment. Student-generated pages could be shared with facilitators and classmates alike.
  • Pinterest could be used to collect visual bookmarks of anatomy diagrams, images, online study tools, and other resources.

I am excited at the possibilities made available through the exploration of digital curation for teaching and learning.

Photo Credit: Simson Petrol, Unsplash

Goal, Objective, Outcome

Semantics matter a great deal. Especially when communities share words that may be interpreted and used in very different ways. This is very true of the words goal, objective, and outcome in context of higher education. Each are often used interchangeably. Institutions and authors will set definitions only to have them contradicted numerous times over in a dozen new publications. Finding myself in the middle of this conversation, I am feeling lost at an attempts to shape understandings of these three words even for myself. So here I play.

I always like returning to the dictionary when struggling with a word, so lets start out there:

  • goal (n)the result or achievement toward which effort is directed; aim; end.
  • objective (n)a thing aimed at or sought; a goal.
  • outcome (n): a final product or end result; consequence; issue.

Right off the bat, there is clear overlap: 

An outcome and a goal are explicitly focused on the same target: the end. However the outcome is the final product in and of itself while a goal is the final product yet to be obtained. An objective is essentially a goal, and therefore also focused on the end target. Yet the definition places slightly more emphasis on an intentionality (aiming at) and/or a pursuit (something sought) of the goal. 

The goal then is the intended product yet to be obtained, the objective is the intentional pursuit of the goal, and the outcome is the final product once obtained!… Or so it seems through my interpretive lens.

I start back at basic dictionary definitions because application of these words in context of education seems to get things muddled up, as though the dictionary can say one thing but in practice the words can mean quite another.

Lets pick apart The Council of Ontario Universities definitions then to see how they match up. They say:

  • Goals provide an overview for students, instructors, program/course evaluators of what the program or course aid to accomplish.
  • Learning objectives are an expression of what the instructor intends that the student should have learned or achieved by the end of the program or course.
  • Learning outcomes are what the student has actually learned or achieved in the program or course”

Is the goal the intended product yet to be obtained? Sure. My interpretation of the COU definition is that goals summarize what the program or course sets out to accomplish. 

Is the objective is the intentional pursuit of the goal? From the instructors perspective it is. Here objective has been interpreted as more of an instructor thing – it is an expression of the instructor’s intentions towards pursuit of the final product. What they will do or are currently doing in pursuit of seeing the final product within the classroom.

Is the outcome is the final product once obtained? Yes! What students have actually learned is the consequence of the educational experience.

Lets try another example, this time from McMaster University where it is stated that:

learning objective is a statement of what students will be able to do when they have completed the learning. Learning objectives aid you as the instructor to determine the appropriate learning experience and method of assessment for your students.

Here, the word objective is used repeatedly to describe what the students will be able to do (the intended product yet to be obtained) as well as the appropriate strategies (i.e. methods/experiences) for obtaining them (the intentional pursuit of the goal). There is no mention of the final product once obtained, and no use of the words outcome or goal

Ok, one more just for fun, this time from Guelph University

Learning objectives (sometimes referred to as intended learning outcomes or course-specific goals) are clear statements that describe the competences that students should possess upon completion of a course (Simon and Taylor, 2009; Anderson et al., 2001; Harder, 2002; Kennedy et al., 2006). Effective learning objectives state what students should know and be able to demonstrate, as well as the depth of learning that is expected. 

This is an example of all three words being used synonymously. Here the emphasis is placed more upon the final product once obtained (after a course has been completed). 

All three examples above may do little for clarity and do much more to reemphasize, once again, the difficulty arising from the muddled use of these three words. I am interested though in how the dictionary definitions might be a helpful starting point for clarifying these differences further. The goal as the intended product yet to be obtained, the objective as the intentional pursuit of the goal, and the outcome as final product actually obtained seems to make sense to me. 

If anything, the dictionary definitions offer a starting point for discussion – What is the difference between a goal, an objective, and an outcome to you? Does it align more with the dictionary definitions or with some of the examples of words in practice? 


Photo Credit: Naphtali Marshall, Unsplash

First Post: Forging a Path

My initial motivation for creating this blog and website, was to publicly share my grapplings with issues of teaching and learning with the intention of growth and learning. As a doctoral student, and as someone who is forging a career for herself in the scholarship of and critical participation in the teaching and learning of higher education, I’ve increasingly recognized the value of reflection, discussion, critique, and evaluation upon those matters that are of importance to us.

To deny this pursuit, and perhaps sluff it off as one of those great many ideas that could have come to fruition if only [insert any common excuse here], would be violating one of the most damaging assumptions that continues to plague teaching and learning in higher education today – that is, assuming teaching to be tacit in nature: without open expression, without dialogue, unvoiced, unspoken.

This assumption reveals itself in many ways; it comes through when we believe that great teachers simply develop over time without too much conscious effort or discussion; or when institutions, through their hiring and tenureship practices, promote the belief that the ability and right to teach others develops in tandem with the attainment of expert level knowledge within one’s discipline of study.

In discussions regarding the composition of learning outcomes for a given course, it is often encouraged that educators reflect on what they are expecting of students so they can explicit the more tacit skills and abilities they are assuming of their learners. For example, in a 200-level undergraduate course with an essay component an instructor might mistakenly assume that her students already have the research and writing skills for composing the quality essay she expects. Acknowledging the necessity of these skills for success in her course, the instructor might compose a learning outcome that states “by the end of the course, students will be able to investigate an issue and communicate their findings through scholarly writing”. In other words, bringing attention to that which was once assumed or implicit.

The very same logic applies to each of us as lifelong learners of our chosen profession – as we engage in our pursuit, what skills are being assumed to be tacitly developing within us? What learning outcomes would we compose for ourselves and others if we were to sit back and reflect upon what we really expect of our performance?

A recent commentary published in the Chronicle of Higher Education, titled We Must Prepare PhD Students for the Complicated Art of Teaching, highlights the damaging impact that results when graduate students (the presumed post-secondary educators of tomorrow) are not actively facilitated through the process of growing as critical educators. Questions regarding Bok’s slant upon on poor graduate training as main plausible reason for the sluggish pace of reform aside, the article as a whole calls attention to the perpetuating problem of failing to place adequate attention on teaching and learning.

So here I am. Explicit and exposed as ever in one small step towards making teaching and learning more forthright as I engage in a journey towards those learning outcomes I have set for my professional career and, ultimately, my life.

By the end of this [life] course, may the learner have critiqued and grappled with those issues and challenges most important in her development as a educator, may she have conversed with others in discursive dialogue, and may she have justified the messy trajectory of her growth through the very act of making explicit.

Photo credit: Jan Erik Waider, Unsplash