Digital Pedagogy Lab: Toronto – Radical Assessment & Ungrading

I was part of a 3 day lab in Toronto on Digital Pedagogy with a focus on Radical Assessment & Ungrading.

Unpacking the words:

  • Digital pedagogy is the study and use of contemporary digital technologies in teaching and learning. Digital pedagogy may be applied to online, hybrid, and face-to-face learning environments. (Wikipedia)
  • Critical Pedagogy: Habits of thought, reading, writing, and speaking which go beneath surface meaning, first impressions, dominant myths, official pronouncements, traditional cliches, received wisdom, and mere opinions, to understand the deep meaning, root causes, social context, ideology, and personal consequences of any action, event, object, process, organization, experience, text, subject matter, policy, mass media, or discourse. (Wikiversity)
  • Ungrading: SO this is a tricky one. There are many blog posts, articles, books on how to “Ungrade” and why grading isn’t the best (Jesse Stommel has excellent posts on this) but I am trouble finding a good definition of “ungrading”.

So, what were my takeaways?

Ask Why. Why assess an assignment? Why assign an assignment? Why grade the way you do? Why are things worth the amount they are worth? Why test a concept? Why test so much? Why that question?

By asking why, you are not necessarily deciding NOT to do something, you are critically thinking about how it will benefit a student’s learning and understanding. Will it enhance understanding? Will it allow for a different viewpoint? What else is going on in the student’s life? (I recognize it is not always possible to know the answer). It is also important to examine the effect it will have on your own life. Do you have the time to assess it? How much other work do you have?

Get students involved in their learning. In Adult Education/Higher Education we work with adults. Talk to them about grading. If you have to mark something explain why – is it because it is important? Because the institution requires it? Explain why you are doing/requiring what you are doing/requiring in the class. As an adult, I prefer to know the reason why I need to do something, what benefit it will provide. Why are students any different?

Would I go again?

I am not sure that I would! Unfortunately, because of the name, I thought there would be more doing and practicing. I associate “labs” as hands-on learning. This was more of an unconference. While I have attended unconferences and loved them (IIE does a great one) I was not looking for that for this. I was looking to increase my education and knowledge on a specific topic rather than getting bogged down in definitions and how the university/college system is failing
Here is a Google Doc of what we did:

One fabulous person I met was Rajiv Jhangiani (on Twitter @thatpsychprof. Give him a follow). Truly an inspirational speaker


At the VIU Teaching & Learning Conference 2017 we were summarizing the days work in post-in notes.

My key thoughts from the keynote: Dr. Kimberly Tanner, PhD

  • “Teaching is the neurobiology of lots of brains”
  • “Teaching and learning are fundamentally about changing the human brain”
  • If learning is about brain changing, then students
    • Must be awake, attending, and interested
    • need to activate related knowledge / memories / circuits so that they connect these to new understandings
    • are only then likely ready for constructing new knowledge (circuits)
    • need opportunities to self-assess their understanding and identify confusions

Here I am hard at work:

Transformative Moment

This week I attended the Vancouver Island University Teaching and Learning Conference and had the pleasure in attending many workshops & presentations. Once workshop that I want to focus on in this moment was by Janet Sinclair & Brain Walker called “Telling our Story: Indigenous Portfolio Development” about IRLP 100 (Indigenous Learning and Recognition Portfolio). I was interested in this workshop as I have many students who are taking this, while taking classes with me. Students come out of IRLP 100 transformed. They become confident in self, supportive in others & have a clear vision of their future.

Janet & Brian gave an overview of the course of the course and had the participants do ‘mini’ versions of some of the activities that are in the class. Once in particular stuck with me. They asked us to think of a transformative moment in our life and then determine what we learned from it. I have to admit, I panicked a little at the question, but was quickly able to think of a moment in time. When I was 16, I traveled to Switzerland with my cousin to visit family. The whole trip changed me, moments throughout the trip are etched in to brain & soul but there was one experience that has continued to define me.

At the end of the trip, when it was time to go, my family said “you’ll be fine” and sent me on my way home. Alone I had to catch a tram down the mountain they lived on, caught a train to Paris, walked from the train station to my hotel, overnight-ed at the hotel, caught a cab to the metro, the metro to the airport & flew home all by myself. There were challenges along the way – my bags were heavy, but some kind people at a pub(!) held half my bags for me till I checked in to the hotel – I had lost my plane ticket & my french is poor. Somehow, it all was fine. It did all work out. I took one step at a time, and fixed any problem that I encountered.

I was left with a feeling that I could do anything that needed to be done. While I happily accepted help from others (the kindness of strangers can be a wonderful thing) I was fine on my own. I could and did survive & succeed.

Digital Learning Conference

digital footprintI recently had the pleasure of attending the 2015 Digital Learning Conference ()put on by Randy LaBonte (@rlabonte).

Charlene Stewart (a colleague & OLTD cohort member) attended with me. We were also fortunate enough to see two other instructors Mary O’Neill (@maryjoneill) and Avi Luxenburg (@aluxenburg) and several other OLTD students. It was wonderful to meet so many people that I had only connected with online. It definitely felt like meeting with old friends.

The keynote speaker Dave Cormier (@davecormier) spoke to us of Rhizomatic learning. Learning like Rhizome plants, does not come from nothing but is rather part of a large, complex, underground root system that is the sum of our being. It is a new way to look at the idea that student are not empty vessels but have experience & knowledge and are linked to a wide community. Curriculum is not the content of the course but is other people and your connection to them. My favourite Quotes: Learning for uncertainty in the age of abundance & Divergent thinking is much more important than convergent thinking.

My theme for the conference was community building. So I attended a fabulous lecture by Avi and another by Avi and Mary on building community. For all the details, check out this site: Some key thoughts (in images):

4D learning wordleJo Axe & Samantha Wood from Royal Roads presented all about tools for student engagement. They shared this wonderful resource with a list of terrific digital tools: (really, check it out).

The presentation that Charlene and I did went fabulously well. I am very proud of us that we presented at a conference FOR THE FIRST TIME. Our topic was Mind Mapping – Harnessing the power of student collaboration (link below)

Other Links:

UBC – Okanagan Conference

PictureLast weekend I attended the UBC Okagagan  Learning conference on Reflecting on Scholarly Approaches. The conference was well organized, well attended and an excellent opportunity for learning. Overall themes were collaboration, innovation, reflection and engagement. I thought that I would take some time and reflect on some of the sessions I attended, and what key ideas I will take away. Thus modeling some of what I was shown. Plus, if I record them here, I will know where to find them again!

PictureKeynote: Dr. Marsha Lovett on ‘How Learning Works: Knowledge and Application‘ (the link is a link to a similar talk as ours was not recorded). She spoke from her book. She sees teaching as both an art and a science. The three principles: 1. Prior Knowledge helps or hinders learning. 2. How students organize knowledge influences how they learn. 3. How development of mastery works.

PictureOne very thought that I will take away is the importance of linking knowledge. Interconnections between concept nodes increase the ability for deep learning and retention. When students have few connections, they often cannot see the ‘point’ of what they are learning. Educators need to help with this. A course concept map can be developed. A basic framework given for topics, getting them to fill in the connections and concepts. I will have to think about how to do this online.


Khan Academy badge

Session: LOOC’s
I have to admit, I am apprehensive about MOOC‘s (Massive Open Online Courses). I have not tried one. I am resistant to it currently but, as I am studying about online learning right now, I thought I would check out LOOC’s. LOOC means Local Open Online Learning. UBC has had a few LOOC’s. They are billed as place based education with local content and global relevance. Badges (gamification) are awarded.  While most students came from the local area, there were learners from all over the world. Here is a link to their video: LOOC: Adventures in Applied Sustainability. I think I would participate in a LOOC.


Session: Address the needs of today’s learner: A ‘modified’ flipped    approach

 In  class, students frantically write down the words of wisdom from the professor or PowerPoint. The problem? In classes that require a practical demonstration of knowledge like in nursing, math or physics, students do not get to practice. As the presenters said, it doesn’t make sense for the coach to run the plays, the players need practice. Why not put the theory and learning before class so time can be spent practicing.
For success need: Faculty development, Goals & objectives, Tools, IT support.
Suggestions: Have as much ready ahead of time as possible. Make sure anything mandatory, especially pre-class learning, is worth marks. Worksheets to guide learning can be helpful and encourage students to use the book they bought!
This is something I am slooowly working on doing. I am attempting this in a lesson in two week. Hopefully it works!

PictureSession: Using Technology & Innovation: Making assignments matter

  • Distance Ed is twice as much work as regular.
  • Teach how to be a good consumer of information.
  • Turn assignments around so students create something useful as they will see the value in creating it. The instructor can be immersed as a participant in a whole class project – easier to evaluate.
MERLOT was recommended as a peer reviewed site to get interesting assignments and lessons. After the conference, I took a look. I really struggled with the search engine. I liked how detailed it was but I was constantly getting too many or too few results. While the material is peer reviewed, it wasn’t always helpful or suitable. I am not sure that I would use it.


Session: Creating Video Resources to Support Teaching & Learning in a Flexible Learning Environment
This topic goes hand in hand with flipping a classroom. I discovered that there is quite a large learning curve to doing this. Thankfully the Centre at VIU can support me in this. There is also an initial large time commitment.  Video lectures are effective both for students who know a topic (and can skip material) and those who need a slower pace or additional time (as they can watch as much as they need). The easiest way to start is to start is to create a PowerPoint with a voice recording. It a good idea to give questions or a worksheet for use during the presentation.
Session: Strategies to Empower & Engage Adult Learners

  1. Increase interaction during class. Brains need to process every 10 – 15 minutes. “Chunk & Chew
  2. Include Individual exploration opportunities. What is the student’s passion? What topic will they engage in? This allows them to be in the ‘flow’
  3. Build collaborative and real world assignments
  4. Let students choose how to demonstrate their understanding
  5. Invite students to provide input into the course design. Perhaps have a ‘loose outline’ where collaboratively they determine how much each aspect is worth.
Session: Engaging & Empowering Students

  1. Engage students in learning
  2. Teach students how to learn. For example: Reflection on a test. “How did I study? What worked & didn’t work?” Metacognition
  3. Encourage student reflection
  4. Motivate students by sharing power. Get students to do the work themselves
  5. Encourage Collaboration.


Session: Transforming Learning Through Experiential Learning
“If we teach today’s students as we taught yesterday’s, we rob them of tomorrow” John Dewey. This quote resonates with me as the environment that we are living in now, is very different from before. We need to teach differently than we ourselves learned.
The presenters of this session focused on Kolb’s Cycle of Experiential Learning. Reflection is an important piece to the model. For online learning, which is changing so much, reflection is a very important aspect.

Global Education Conference 2013

I have never been to a fully on-line conference before. As part of an assignment through my OLTD 502 class, I had to attend one and blog about it. The conference I choose was the Global Education Conference 2013. The platform was collaborate.

Initially I was very apprehensive about attending. I have participated in many face-to-face conferences and quite enjoy them. Really, I was only attending this one because I had to! I decided to start my journey with a keynote session. The topic was “How to go Global – Lead, Learn, League” by Julie Lindsay.

I found myself missing seeing the presenter’s face and expressions. As the hour progressed and we delved in to the topic, I missed the video less. The slides were interesting and informative. There were a lot of ideas that I could pick and choose from, just like at a face-to-face conference. One difficulty I faced was becoming distracted easily. Not only was my home life calling to me, but there were many links posted throughout the talk that I could click on and search through. A few times I was paying more attention to the internet than to the presenter. My verdict at the end of the hour? Try another and see how it goes.

What I found, just like in an in-person conference, is the skill of the presenter makes all the difference. The presentation that really resonated with me and sold me on e-conferences was Frédéric Kastner’s (@grenouillelibre) session on “The OER movement: Inspiring global Teacher & Student Participation and Creation”.

In his presentation, the lack of video was never an issue as the slides were informative and interesting. Because of the pace, I would write down or bookmark links so I would not miss the next one. I managed to make one tweet about a resource I wanted to share (, a learner’s search engine) but I was too busy to be distracted. I am excited about what I discovered.

Each time a session is presented, it is unique as the presenter has the ability to respond to their audience in a way that wasn’t possible before. Questions can be responded to without breaking up the flow, as they can be typed or tweeted directly. This also allows for other individuals to participate in a meaningful way, rather than passively listening. Stevens and Dudeney (2009) noted that each one is unique, conferences cannot be repeated because of the way they are created. Also they noted that e-conferences, while having room for improvement, do away with some of the difficulties associated with in-person conferences such as travel and expense.

Overall, I would attend another e-conference.

Stevens, V., & Dudeney, G. (2009). Online conferences and teacher professional development: SLanguages and WiAOC 2009. TESL-EJ, 13(1).