Foundations of Teaching and Learning Part 3: Format of the Sessions

In collaboration with colleagues at the University of British Columbia’s Okanagan campus, I designed and facilitated, again and again, a series of discipline-specific workshops called “Foundations of Teaching and Learning in X” where X is Health and Exercise Sciences, Digital Literacy, Nursing, Engineering, and others. In this series of blog posts, I describe the motivation, how the content was made discipline-specific, the format of the sessions, the process for organizing the series, and the outcomes. This post has more details about the format of the sessions. Spoiler: it’s all about modelling.

One of features of the Foundations series, recall, is being at times and in places that are convenient for the participants. This means running the series within one academic term, when course instructors’ schedules are consistent. The sessions typically run every second week, giving people time to prepare between sessions. In this post I’ll run through the typical structure and format around one of the biweekly, 90-minute sessions.

I always create a course in the LMS – I’ve used Canvas and D2L/Brightspace – to support the series. This give me a chance to demonstrate and model some of the features of the LMS that support students. The course has a main landing page with information about the series, kind of like the course syllabus page, and then pages or modules for each session.

Spoiler: Even more important as the content, I feel, is how I teach it. These precious face-to-face sessions are all about modelling. It might not look like it to the participants – in fact, the less obvious and more natural the better – but I’m working hard, pushing my teaching abilities to the max.

T – 1 week

I meet with my co-facilitator in the Department, School, or Faculty. We go over my “skeleton” presentation and find discipline-specific content, concepts, resources, etc. to plug into my presentation. We talk about the active learning components of the session to identify alternatives that are more familiar or relevant to the cohort. In my series with the UBC Okanagan Library, for example, we didn’t discuss peer instruction with clickers because the librarians “parachute” into courses to give 1-off lessons and they can’t rely on the students having clickers. Instead, we adapted my resources and discussed how to create good think-pair-share questions and effective choreography for running think-pair-share.

T – 1 week (after my meeting with my co-facilitator)

Following the flipped learning model, I post a new page for the session in the LMS. It contains

  • an overview of the topic
  • learning outcomes for the session
  • detailed guidance about preparing for the session, including links to readings, videos, or podcasts , instructions for what parts of the resources to read, pay extra attention to, or skip.
  • I do my best to follow the recommended practices for accessing these resources, like linking doi’s not PDFs and sometimes, deliberately choosing resources that are copyright protected and only available using institutional credentials – this is what the students will experience when their instructors link to journals that aren’t open access.
  • a “reading quiz” with questions about facts and concepts in the resource. I try to go beyond multiple-choice to demonstrate that the LMS has select-all-that-apply, short answer, ranking/sorting, upload,… question types
  • I like to include open ended questions in the reading quiz, like “What did you find most interesting [or confusing] about the reading?”
  • sometimes I use the Discussion board to draw out their knowledge and experiences related to the session. This might be asking them to share a resource or a describe scenario they’ve encountered. If I ask, it’s my challenge and responsibility to integrate those contributions into the session.

When the page or module is published, I send an announcement through the LMS to the “class”. The announcement usually looks something like this:

Hi everyone,

In Session 3, on Wednesday, October 28 at 11:00 am – 12:30 pm in Room B104, we’ll dig deeper in the evidence behind the benefits of effective active learning. My goal is that you’ll be familiar enough with a key 2014 paper (Freeman et al.) that you’ll be able to translate the results and inclusive teaching practices into your own discipline and your own courses.

Before our session, I’d like you to read a couple of short articles, listen to a podcast, and also share a story in a Discussion post. All the details, as usual, are in the Session 3 module [a direct link to the page  or module in the LMS]

See you next week,


T – 1 day

If I asked people to share resources or post to the Discussion board, I review their input, leave myself notes at the right points in my presentation at to invite participants to share their stories and resources, and update my resources. My active learning strategies often have handouts (worksheets, cards for sorting) and technologies (portable whiteboards, clickers,…) so I ensure everything is prepared.

T-30 minutes

We try to meet in the Department’s conference room rather than a classroom, so there’s usually plenty of time to get into the space early. My goal is to have everything ready so that as participants begin arriving, I can give them my full attention. I put up a slide to catch their fleeting attention and spark their curiosity, usually with the prompts, “What do you notice? What do you wonder?” Here are a few:

In Leo Lionni’s “Fish is Fish” (1970), Fish imagines a cow described by his friend, Frog. This leads to our discussion about drawing out and working with students’ pre-existing knowledge.
At the beginning of the session on learning outcomes, we notice the checklists and wonder why they’re useful.
Archery targets instantly tell you your level of mastery and how to improve. Perfect for a session on formative feedback!

T – 0 Launch

The sessions last 80 minutes. They follow a familiar lesson plan:

  • welcome
  • discuss Notice/Wonder and segue to the session topic
  • session outcomes (usually distinguishing concepts and skills)
  • mini-lecture (10-15 minutes)
  • one or more episodes of active learning, including peer instruction with clickers, group work on portable whiteboards, and jigsaw discussions
  • report out from group work
  • preview and reminder about next session

T + 80 minutes

Some participants have to get to the next meeting so I try very hard to finish on time. For anyone who stay later, I usually plan for another 15 – 30 minutes to follow up on the session, consult with them about they can integrate the series outcomes into their course, and talk about any other teaching and learning challenges they’re having.

T + 1 day

I return to the module created in the LMS to add resources from the session: PDFs of my slides and any handouts/worksheets, links to articles and other resources mentioned in the session, and session recordings when running the session online. The goal is to have everything about the session in one place in the LMS so that if a participant returns looking for something, they don’t have to search through multiple modules or folders.

If this looks like a typical flipped class, rather than a workshop, that’s exactly the point. I want my “students” to witness and experience all the components so they’ll be more successful when it’s their turn to design a course, a class, or even just a 15-minute lesson.

In the next post in this series, I’ll describe the discussions and planning that go into organizing a series in a Department, School, or Faculty.

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