Irene learns about teaching – Part 1b

Successful students get involved - photo of staff and students at Chatham Campus for Bee Positive Day.

So, how do I know if I am connecting and motivating my students. THRIVES, the course I am using as a focus for these reflections, is a course in our LMS designed to introduce students to the culture of the college and present a model of successful student skills, behaviours and attitudes that new student can follow. Given that THRIVES is a non-mandatory course and, unfortunately at the moment, has little opportunity for student to instructor communication and no opportunity for student to student interaction, I have had to turn to other indicators to judge rates of engagement.

First, a little background on how we set up the course. In order to ensure the materials and design were learner-focused, we used Fink’s Intergrated Course Design model. In particular, examining the situational factors of the course lead to design changes. Considering the context of our teaching and learning situation and the nature of our subject along with the characteristics of our learner and of our teacher forced us to debate how to address the challenges we knew would be part of this project. This lead to a careful consideration on how we would introduce the course to students and how we would communicate with students during the course, the adaptation of an OER textbook, the use of video lectures and the addition of H5P interactive learning elements. I use we for the development as I still had collegues to work with by the time the pilot began, I was alone in the implementation with the exception of my Director.

During the Spring 2019 semester, I piloted THRIVES with approximately 1,000 1st semester students. I planned two emails to introduce and explain THRIVES and designated Thursdays for THRIVES for weekly announcements. In addition to the instructor email within the course, I mentioned our THRIVES email in every communication. One way I could check student reaction was to monitor these emails. Based on the questions received, I did two more emails to all students to clarify our purpose for enrolling students into THRIVES and clear common confusion.

Using Blackboard Course Activity reports, I was able to check the activity rates of my students and the amount of time students were engaging with the THRIVES material. At the end of the pilot, 80% of students had logged into and viewed something in THRIVES. I also used the Gradebook to determine the last date students had access THRIVES and the number of quizzes they attempted. Early in the semester, student activity rates were high but quiz completion was almost non-existant. I added an icon to all the quizzes and emailed directions with the icon to the students. I had included interactive self-check learning objects using H5P and I believe that some students thought those activites were the quizzes for the modules. After this email, quiz completion increased. At the end of the semester, 22% of active students had completed quizzes.

Using the course reports, I was also able to track the day and time that students were access the modules. My Thursday for THRIVES announcements were driving activity as Thurdsay and Friday became the most common days for THRIVES activity. These announcements highlighted part of THRIVES and also used messaging that promoted our expectations of students. These expectations included go to class, get involved, take responsibility, learn independently and embrace diversity. My thought was that even if all students saw of THRIVES were the announcements, they would receive reenforcement our college values.

For the Fall 2019 semester, I also moved all the THRIVES videos to a YouTube channel that I monitor and that allows for tracking of views. This is another way I can track how student are using the different elements of the course. I also set up individual page tracking within the modules and other course content areas for college polices and guides so check their usage.

While the lack of student to instructor and student to student interaction is not idea, it is the best I can do at this time. I am running nine sections of THRIVES with over 6,000 enrolled students for the Fall semester. I would not be able to cope without a lot more support. I may be techically running my very own MOOC.


Fink, L. D. (2005). IDEA Paper #42: Intergrated Course Design. Manhattan, KS: The IDEA Centre. Retrieved from

For more on using Fink’s Intergrated Course Design, see Integrated Course Design to Improve Student Learning from Northern Illinois University.

Featured image: St. Clair College, 2019

Irene learns about teaching: Part 1a

Two old men chatting while standing against a wall.

Who’s your model?

Think back to a teacher you admire and consider their motivational, interpersonal and intellectual skills. I know what I am supposed to say – good teachers motivate their learners, have highly rated interpersonal skills and are content experts. This question is leading to a recognition that teaching is more than just an expert who imparts facts and walks out of the room. However, my favorite teachers were a pair of kinda grumpy old men.

My favorite teachers were not what you would call “highly motivational” in a cheerleader or coach kind of way. They had high expectations of their students and were enthusiastic about their subjects. You could tell that they thought what they had to teach was important and were able to articulate why I, as a student, would want to know this. And at the same time, there was an expectation that I would either choose to motivate myself to do the work to learn it, or I wouldn’t. If I did, they would be there to help me when I stumbled; if I didn’t, well good luck with that.

My favorite teachers were not what you would call “highly personable” and perhaps even a bit unapproachable. They were not kind, grandfatherly figures ready with a sympathetic ear. They were more no nonsense, tell me what you need and please, no tears dudes who would respond to a rational explanation but were not going to feel sorry for you or let you waste their time.

My favorite teachers were content experts and the courses they taught were tough ones. They were certainly intelligent and had a dry sense of humor that many of my fellow students did not get. But I do see a difference from the “sage on the stage” model in that they also cared about their ability to teach; to make their content understandable with out watering it down; to be fair, clear and reasonable in their application of grades and class rules; and to provide authentic opportunities for students to demonstrate their knowledge and skills.

It is worth reviewing what motivational, interpersonal and intellectual skills you bring to your teaching beyond your content expertise because simply being an expert or even someone who learned at a high content level does not make you an effective teacher. I am glad I had my grumpy old man teachers and while I don’t have to be one, I can still learn from their example.

Featured image: Photo by Cristina Gottardi on Unsplash

Learning about teaching – THRIVES

Successful students go to class. Find out more about THRIVES on Bb or email

I will be taking a course over the next three months about Learning Theories and assessing your own teaching. Although I have taught in the classroom in the past, my work in the past 12 years in student services has been in the area of creating/sustaining the Tutoring System we have at the college and retention projects. Yes, I meant to capitalize Tutoring and System. One of our goals has been to make Tutoring Services a credible and responsive system of academic supports for students. One of the roles, I have as a Retention Coordinator is to train and supervise tutors in their practice of tutoring. So there is teaching there. I work with groups and individual students primarily in the area of English, Writing and Communications, check check, more teaching. And finally, I do in-class workshops mostly on the Writing Process, Citation Skills and Study Strategies. I like to think that involves teaching as well. But for, at least the first part, of this course, I want to focus on a Retention Project – THRIVES.

THRIVES is a set of modules developed in Blackboard, our LMS, for 1st semester students at St. Clair College. I am the lead faculty for this project. While I can’t give you access to the modules as they exist in our LMS, you can follow along by reading the OER textbook online and viewing the videos created for THRIVES on Youtube.

All 1st semester students at the college are enrolled in THRIVES. This means, I currently have over 6,000 students. Thankfully, they have not all emailed me at the same time. There are a number of questions that I want to ponder – how do we improve participation, how do we judge effectiveness, and how do we improve the learning environment.

One of the challenges is that the “course” is not mandatory, it does not appear on students’ class schedules and we haven’t figured out a good way to introduce THRIVES to students. Another issue is that, presently, there is no student to student communication options and the instructor/student communication is primarily through announcements and email.

I don’t know if the course I am taking on Learning Theories will help answer my question, but I believe using THRIVES as my focus may spark some new ideas. I hope to document some of my thoughts here over the next few weeks. You are welcome to follow along.

A Guide for Successful Students, Stewart & Maisonville (2019) is hosted on eCampus Ontario’s Open Library.