Book Review – Grading for equity: What it is, why it matters, and how it can transform schools and classrooms

Joe Feldman provides a vision for equitable grading with a focus on coherence and mastery learning. Drawing on research and interweaving voices of teachers, researchers, school administrators and students, the author defines grading for equity using three pillars: equitable grading is accurate, bias-resistant, and motivational.  Read More – 

Brown, B. (2019). Book Review. [Review of the book Grading for equity: What it is, why it matters, and how it can transform schools and classrooms, by J. Feldman]. Education Canada, 59(1). Retrieved from



Designing Group Work in Blended Learning Environments

Brown, B. & Vaughan, N. (2018). Designing group work in blended learning environments. In R. J. Harnish, K. R. Bridges, D. N. Sattler, M. L. Signorella, & M. Munson (Eds.). The Use of Technology in Teaching and Learning, pp. 82-97. Retrieved from the Society for the Teaching of Psychology web site:

The purpose of this chapter is to discuss a framework that can guide the development of promising learning designs intended to promote group work and collaborative knowledge building in higher education, specifically in blended learning environments. Today’s learners need newly designed learning experiences leveraging collaboration technologies (Vaughan, 2014). Learners expect to work collaboratively and experience engaging learning experiences (Dunlap & Lowenthal, 2011). Some argue that professors are ill-equipped to shift from conventional styles of teaching to new technology-rich forms (Becker et al., 2017; EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative, 2017). We argue that using the five principles of the teaching effectiveness framework (Friesen, 2009) to design blended learning environments along with collaboration technologies, instructors can provide students with opportunities to work in groups, collaborate with each other, and amplify their learning experiences. The five core principles of the teaching effectiveness framework include: (1) Teachers are designers of learning; (2) Teachers design worthwhile work; (3) Teachers design assessment to improve student learning and guide teaching; (4) Teachers foster a variety of interdependent relationships; and (5) Teachers improve their practice in the company of their peers. The Teaching Effectiveness Framework provides a lens for designing and assessing learning designs (Friesen, 2009).

Should cell phones be banned from classrooms?

I was invited to respond to a school ban on cellphone use in a CTV two Alberta Primetime interview this week.

The interview was prompted by information about a Toronto middle school ban on cellphones in classrooms –

I learned this type of interview is called a double-header interview. In this case, the interviews occurred at the same time but in different locations. I was interviewed at a studio in Calgary and the other participant and host were located in the Edmonton studio.  This meant I was in a broadcast room in Calgary looking at a camera and could not see the host or other participants during the interview.  I could only hear the audio through an earpiece.

As I prepared for the interview, I tried to think of key messages that I wanted to communicate.  Here’s some of the key messages based on research that I have been involved in over many years as well as professional experiences in teaching and leading in K-12 and post-secondary environments:

  • A balanced approach is needed with a focus on learning.
  • Allowing students to use mobile devices and particularly their own mobile devices in schools requires intentional design by the teachers and school administrators.
  • There are benefits for learners of all ages. In research I have been involved in from K-12, we have observed when students are intellectually engaged, they use technology in meaningful ways. Likewise, when students are disengaged in learning, they use technology for non-educational purposes.
  • Learning can be scaffolded where learners are provided with increasing responsibility in using the tools of their day. As educators we have responsibility in designing learning opportunities that are meaningful in a digital age.  We have a responsibility to coach students when they encounter difficulties in learning. We can’t expect students will automatically know how to use technologies responsibly without providing any opportunities for learning WITH technologies in school.
  • When we ban cell phones, we are not promoting balance and we are not promoting learning for today’s students with today’s tools for learning.
  • The fear of managing situations arising from the use of cell phones often moves a school to making decisions such as completely banning these devices instead of dealing with the structural causes or other underlying causes of the misbehaviors and helping youngsters, teachers, school leaders and parents learn from the situations. Banning cell phones avoids the issues.  We can spend time patrolling to make sure the rules are followed or we can spend time designing meaning learning opportunities. Banning cell phones eliminates opportunities for learning and this includes opportunities for learning from our failures.
  • We miss critical learning opportunities both when we ban cell phones and when we allow for unguided and unlimited use. Let’s aim for a balanced approach where we make learning the focus and use the tools in meaningful and ethical ways.


Here’s a link to the video:


One Word Input

Mentimeter can be used to gather input from a group.  When working with pre-service teachers and helping them design units in small groups, I asked the question “What is the most challenging part of this work?”  Students were invited to provide up to three, one-word responses using a link provided by Mentimeter– or by visiting and using the code provided.

Mentimeter also provides users with a link to show others the result to the question.

I was also able to share the results on my course page using the embedded code provided. I believe this is a great way to visually gather input from students and to show the live results. I plan to use this again.

Check out the Mentimeter site for numerous examples in using this tool to engage audiences and for assessment.

Online Teaching Tip – Instructor-Student Meetings in Adobe Connect

Fostering effective communications with students is critical in online learning environments. One way I create and nurture pedagogical relations with students is through offering flexible communications. Some students prefer to send questions via email or post messages in the discussion forum. However, some students prefer to meet with instructors to discuss assignments. There are many technologies that can facilitate online meetings, such as Skype, Google Hangouts and virtual reality spaces. I prefer to arrange meetings using my virtual office space in Adobe Connect.


A virtual office space link can be created just like you would set up any other Adobe Connect session for your class. Once we arrange a convenient time to meet, I send the student a meeting invitation to make sure the meeting is automatically added to my calendar.  I also provide the student with a link to the meeting.


In Adobe Connect, you can use the “notes” pod to collaboratively maintain the meeting notes.  Participants in the meeting may also using the microphone or chat box to discuss items during the meeting. At the end of the meeting I select the option to email the pod notes to myself and to the other meeting participants. Using a virtual office for meetings with both audio and written communications has proven to be an effective strategy for instructor-student meetings.  The combination of audio and discussion notes is ideal to make sure all discussion and action items are clearly communicated.


Online Teaching Tip – Transparent Feedback Loops


Tip: Use the online discussion forum to incorporate transparent feedback loops into learning tasks to provide students with suggestions for improvement.


Sharing incomplete and draft work can be a regular and repeated process throughout a course. Students can be organized into small peer review groups (3-4) to share draft work using the online discussion forum in Desire2Learn. Draft work can be shared as an attachment or by inserting an external link (i.e. Google document) in the message thread.  It is also helpful for reviewers when students describe the type of feedback requested using the criteria outlined for the learning task.


In these small discussion groups, the feedback process is manageable and students can provide clear and specific feedback to a few peers in the class.  As the instructor, I also review the draft work posted and provide feedback to students.  My feedback might include a brief reply posted in the discussion forum or a more detailed response using track changes Additional feedback may be required using email or arranging a virtual meeting using Adobe Connect.


Overall, this transparent feedback strategy serves to: 1) provide students with peer and instructor feedback when there is still an opportunity to make changes before submitting the assignment for a grade; 2) clarify learning intentions and any misunderstandings about the criteria for the task; and 3) offer students an opportunity to review the type of feedback peers receive from other students and from the instructor. The following quote from one of my former students demonstrates the value in using transparent feedback loops: “Assessment practices supported my learning and showed me what my next steps are. Quick and helpful feedback was inspiring and exactly what I needed to stay engaged in the course.”

Note: This was also posted in the Teaching & Learning Newsletter, Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, November 2015.


What is a Collaboratory?

I am currently teaching online courses in graduate programs (M.Ed. and Ed.D programs) that use the term “collaboratory” in the course title.   The term collaboratory is considered a combination of the terms collaboration and laboratory (Lunsford & Bruce, 2001; Wulf, 1993). The courses use a collaboratory approach and learning spaces to support graduate students examine their practice and learning from engaging in meaningful inquiry in the field.

Students in these courses are generally full-time professionals completing graduate programs and are grouped into cohorts or class groupings based on their specializations.  As such, the Collaboratory of Practice courses were designed to support the application of knowledge in real world settings by graduate students in cohorts who investigate and learn from inquiry in the field and examine problems of practice in their workplace or related to their professional work using various research methods and a collaboratory approach.

The collaboratory approach is also considered a fusion of two important developments in contemporary research: communities of practice and collaboration.  Communities of practice are groups of people (in this case cohorts based on specializations) who deepen their knowledge and expertise in an area by engaging in active inquiry.  A collaboratory can also be considered a learning space or laboratory for learning and collaboration.  In this collaborative virtual environment, scholars work together and learn alongside peers in their cohort.  Since students move through many courses with a similar cohort, they develop relationships with cohort members and can build trusting and collaborative relationships.

One strategy used by instructors to help students accomplish work in the course both individually and in collaboration with peers is to organize small groups (~5 members) within the cohort into studio groups (Grego & Thompson, 2008).  Studio groups provide students with an opportunity to collaborate with peers in a writing and sharing space for collaborative knowledge building and idea improvement.  Various online services can be used to support studio group collaboration including threaded discussion forums, shared documents (i.e. Google Docs, presentations, etc.), virtual meeting spaces (i.e. Adobe Connect, Skype, Hangouts, etc.) and other collaborative online spaces. The collaboratory approach and learning spaces used in the Collaboratory of Practice courses serve as a source of active inquiry and learning, an opportunity to respond to contextually based problems of practice, and an opportunity to take an inquiry stance in the company of peers.

Copy of slides from the session “What is a Collaboratory” for EdD graduate students on July 9, 2015 presented with Dr. Brenda Spencer – EdD Collab Lunch Session_Slides

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Advice for Online Learners

I recently asked for contributions to my answer garden to help collect ideas about online learning and to build a word cloud.  The question: What advice would you provide online learners in order to experience success?  Using Twitter and Remind, I invited colleagues to add their ideas to this collaborative answer garden. You can view the contributions at – http:

Similar to other word cloud applications, repeating words or phrases increases the font size. You are invited to add more words keeping within the 40 character limit or go ahead and create your own answer garden.


Facilitating Online Courses

The Teaching Assistantship Preparation Program (TAPP) is designed to provide educational development for graduate students about the role and responsibilities of the work as a graduate assistant in teaching.

I was invited by the Office of Teaching and Learning to lead a session for TAPP on Wednesday, February 25th from 11 a.m. to noon. The session will focus on how to facilitate online courses. Topics in the session include instructional design, synchronous and asynchronous communications, tools for student interactivity, cultivating a scholarly community of inquiry, organizing online spaces, developing instructor presence, and formative assessment strategies.

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Understanding Plagiarism and Intellectual Honesty

Writers are expected to cite sources and provide accurate references when taking ideas, information or words from other sources including their own work developed during other course work. In simple terms, presenting others’ work as your own or resubmitting an entire work that you previously created for another course is considered plagiarism and this is a serious academic offence.  

An important habit in academic writing is to write using your own words and to provide proper attribution for all sources used. Published or unpublished sources (i.e. letters, email or memos, course papers – including your own previous papers), in print, online or other communication form (i.e. online reports, news media, blogs, forums, dialogue) all require proper attribution. Belcher (2009) lists the following basic rules to avoid plagiarism of ideas, information or words:

  • Never take another’s entire article (published or unpublished) and represent it as your own.
  • Never take an entire article and vary every fourth or fifth word and claim it as your own.
  • Never take an entire article and follow the structure and argument of the piece, exactly paralleling the author’s train of thought but not quite in his or her language.
  • Never take an article, translate it into another language, and claim it as your own.
  • Never lift a page or section word for word from another’s piece and place it in your own.
  • Never lift various paragraphs word for word from another piece and sprinkle them throughout your own.
  • Never lift a paragraph or a sentence word for word from another’s piece and place it in your own unless you put quote marks around it and add a citation to the original. (p. 161)

    Other academic writing tips I recommend to students:

    • Paragraphs should generally begin and end with sentences composed with your own words providing the argument or summary of ideas. In other words, it is important to make your point (i.e. topic sentences) using your own words and not using direct quotes from other sources.
    • Use sources to support your point in the middle parts of a paragraph.
    • In some cases it is meaningful to add a direct quote – the exact words used by an author in quotation marks. In this case, it is advised to follow the American Psychological Association (APA) suggestions for a maximum length for the number of words from a single text extract.  According to APA you can use fewer than 400 words from one text or article or a series of text extracts fewer than 800 words (2010, p. 173). However, a general rule of thumb is to use direct quotations sparingly and only when the wording is really strong and the meaning would be lost if you paraphrase it into your own words.  As much as possible, try to summarize what the author is saying in your own words, and then cite the source including the page number to help you locate the text if needed at a later time.
    • Check that all your sources are cited and quotation marks surround the borrowed words.
    • Avoid following the original text too closely when paraphrasing as this might be considered parallel structure.
    • Borrowed words generally stand out to the reader and seem inconsistent with the writer’s style or may seem incoherent when lifted and placed in your work.   So, continually review and revise your work to improve clarity and make sure you are using your own voice.
    • Use secondary sources sparingly. If an author references another source, it is important you locate and review the original source if needed for a citation. Do not rely on other authors’ citations, as there could be an error in the citation or reference. If the original text is not retrievable then cite as a secondary source (as cited in) only if the citation is critical to your work and another appropriate source is not available.
    • Appropriately cite any work you (individually or in a group) wrote in another course to avoid self-plagiarism. The APA suggests, “author’s words that are cited should be located in a single paragraph or a few paragraphs, with a citation at the end of each. Opening such paragraphs with a phrase like, ‘as I have previously discussed’ will also alert readers to the status of the upcoming material” (APA, 2010, p. 16). In other words, you could start a particular section by stating, “the following content was previously written for a paper for …course work” or “ideas from a previously written paper [give title of work] have been incorporated in the following section.”  Also include the reference to your work in the reference section of your paper. If using more than a few paragraphs from a previous paper, then consult with your instructor.
    • Crosscheck all your in-text citations with your reference list for accuracy.

      Let me know if you have additional sources or tips that you recommend.


      American Psychological Association. (2010). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association (6th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.

      Belcher, W. L. (2009). Writing your journal article in 12 weeks: A guide to academic publishing success. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc.