Teaching Practices Inventory – Fast and easy!

Thanks to Rick Reis’s Tomorrow’s Professor newsletter I bumped into an instrument that I think can be a very important addition to or replacement for teaching evaluations and/or student course evaluations. This Teaching Practices Inventory was developed by the Noble Prize winning Physicist Carl Wieman who was hired at the University of British Columbia to change his scientific research focus from Science to the Teaching of Science. UBC established an “initiative” for him at http://www.cwsei.ubc.ca/

He has produced an instrument that allows Faculty to assess their course teaching design through a focus on activities- what the students actually do and resources they have access to. It provides a quantifiable score, only takes 10 minutes, is available for use free and online.

In the 2014 article below he notes the problems with other methods such as student end of course evaluations, peer or Chair observations and assessments and other time consuming and possible threatening assessment tools.
In the shorter article from Change Magazine

Wieman, C. (2015). A Better Way to Evaluate Undergraduate Teaching. Change Magazine, Jan-Feb. http://www.changemag.org/Archives/Back%20Issues/2015/January-February%202015/better-way-full.html.
Or the more scholarly work at
Wieman, C., & Gilbert, S. (2014). The teaching practices inventory: a new tool for characterizing college and university teaching in mathematics and science. CBE-Life Sciences Education, 13(3), 552-569.

Wieman explains the research base for each of the eight categories and the questions used to measure these. The categories are summed using a rubric. These categories are:

I. Course information provided (including learning goals or outcomes)
II. Supporting materials provided
III. In-class features and activities
IV. Assignments
V. Feedback and testing
VI. Other (diagnostics, pre–post testing, new methods with measures, etc.)
VII. Training and guidance of TAs
VIII. Collaboration or sharing in teaching

For each category the inventory asks teachers to list the activities that are components of the class, as for example the following:

  • Assignments with feedback before grading or with opportunity to redo work to improve grade

  • Students see marked assignments

  • List of topics to be covered

  • List of topic-specific competencies (skills, expertise …) students should achieve (what students should be able to do)

  • Assessment given at beginning of course to assess background knowledge

  • Teaching assistants receive one-half day or more of training in teaching (from http://www.lifescied.org/content/13/3/552.full)

The other benefit of this is that teachers who complete the Inventory are exposed to research-based best practices and can reflect on their own teaching practices. This is also much easier to complete than trying to coerce or hire external experts to do a course activity inventory.

All in all I think this is a very useful tool and as importantly, fast and easy to do!


Where are the Women?

This week I am privileged to be a keynote speaker at the 21st International Congress of the Brazilian Association for Distance Education in Bento Goncalves, Brazil. The scholarly stimulation, hospitality, weather and fine Brazilian wine have been great – but something is wrong. Only 1 of the 12 keynote speakers and none of the 10 officials who addressed the opening ceremony are women.

This inequality reminded me of the ICDE World Congress held at Penn State in 1997, when a very brave women marched to the stage during the closing ceremonies, grabbed the mic and demanded to know if it was really possible for a woman to talk from the stage at this event! Seems like not much has changed since then.

In this post, I provide a list for distance and online education conference organizers of female distance education scholars who I have personally heard give high-quality keynote addresses. I approach the task with some trepidation because I am sure that I have omitted more than one very qualified scholar from this list and hope to be able to edit it with the help of the crowd.

But first a rationalization for producing the list.

First, women have always and continue to be in the majority of distance education students in every country in the world from which I have seen comparative data. Given our need to focus on the learners, it is quite likely that female scholars and researchers have greater or least an equal number of relevant insights into learner needs and behaviours.

Second, women scholars have very close to half of the peer-reviewed publications in our field and a disproportional number related to many of the key topics upon which these conferences tend to focus upon. In a 2010 paper titled Gender and collaboration patterns in distance education research. (Open Learning, 25(2), 95-114), my friends Olaf Zawacki-Richter and Christina von Plummer reviewed 695 peer-reviewed articles published between 2000 and 2008. They found that just slightly less than half (48%) of the single author publications were written by women (the gender of multiple authored papers was not provided). Stereotypically, women scholars were more likely to use qualitative methods and significantly more likely to focus on important subjects including student support and interaction.

So why so few keynote speakers? An obvious answer is an underlying sexist selection process since many organizations (including some distance education organizations) are dominated by men. It could also be that women are less able to travel due to heavier childcare and domestic responsibilities. Women might also be less willing to self-promote themselves so as to gain keynote invitations. Because of these and likely other reasons, a vicious circle develops in which women don’t get asked and thus don’t gain either the exposure nor the opportunity, to develop the skills needed to be effective international keynote speakers.

So what’s to be done? As a small contribution, I provide a list below of very competent female scholars and researchers. I have heard each of these persons give one or more keynotes speeches and I can attest that they each did a fine job. If they didn’t they wouldn’t appear on this list! In addition, all of these women have published regularly in peer-reviewed open and online or distance learning journals.

First, a few caveats. All of these women have spoken in English. There are likely many others addressing audiences in other languages. Secondly, I know all of these women personally and count them all as both friends and acquaintances -so the list likely shows my biases. Third, I had some difficulty in condensing the areas of scholarship into one or two words -many have eclectic research agendas. Finally, I am sure the list is incomplete and I welcome readers to nominate themselves or a deserving colleague as a comment to this post.

The list (in no particular order) follows:

Name Nationality/Residence University or employer Area of expertise
Insung Jung Korea/Japan Int. Christian U. Quality Issues
Grainne Conole Ireland/UK U of Bath Ed Tech
Belinda Tynan Australia/UK OU UK Leadership
Elizabeth Murphy Canada Memorial U Learning and Stud. Support
Allison LittleJohn UK Glasgow/Caledonian MOOCs, OERsBlended
Jan Herrington Australia Murdoch Authentic Learning
Elsebeth Sorenson Denmark Aalborg Coop and collab Learning
Darcy Hardy USA Blackboard K12 DE
Lani Gunawardeni Sri Lanka/USA U of New Mexico Cultural issues
Mpine Makoe South Africa UNISA Mobile, Phenomenology
Marti Cleveland- Innes Canada Athabasca COI, Blended
Kumiko Aoki Japan OU Japan Learning, mobiles
Asha Kanwar Canada/India COL OERs, Development



First Week at Riverdale Little Free Library

The Little Free Library has survived its first week- no vandalism, lots of borrowers and depositors, collection growing and 12 new DVDs videos (thanks to Rocky and Eric). The back birdhouse suite is still vacant (I hope I won’t have to remove the No Magpies Need Apply sign) and the building survived its first rain. The children’s collection is a bit sparse but, all in all,  a great week – Thanks to all the patrons.

Two problems to overcome:

First as the Chief Librarian, I get first choice at all deposits. That means I have started 4 books and finished none! It so tempting! The one I’m furthest along is by Heather Robertson and is a biography of Joe Tyrell (think guy who they named the Drumheller dinosaur museum after). He worked for the Geological Survey of Canada and was the first white man to accurately map, survey and prospect the lands east of the Hudson’s Bay in the later part of the 19th Century. One trip he took the train to Edmonton, then down the Athabasca to Ft Chip then through and over a variety of rivers in unexplored tundra to VERY nearly starving, drowning and freezing while paddling 750 miles down Hudson Bay to Ft Churchhill.   The second book is set on a sailboat in False Creek in Vancouver – same place my good friend and sailing buddy Jon moors his boat Whai Wari (Why Worry). Great books but, I must get a handle on this promiscuous reading! (Note: – both books should be available for circulation hopefully sometime in the next few weeks)

Second, every librarian (especially a Chief Librarian) has to be able to organize the collection. I’ve become a bit dissatisfied with the current random disorder. Of course I considered both Library of Congress and Dewey Decimal, but soon realized that I guy who can’t keep his underwear separated from his socks, has little hope of being anywhere near that systematic. I also thought about organizing by height (fits shelves better) or thickness (good for reader time availability) or chronological order of deposit, but discarded these as not being nearly academic enough for 93St! Eventually, I rearranged them into fiction and non-fiction, which seems to work, but I am now have of start a fifth book to ascertain which of the two it is.

Finally a minor miracle at the Library yesterday. Assistant Librarian and Head of Library Aesthetics, Susan spent part of the day trying to figure how she could get a copy of Harper Lee’s new Book – Go Set a Watchman. The book was assigned by her book club. I must say that, like the Chief Librarian, she is quite cheap and tries to avoid buying things if possible. She first checked the Public Library and found they have 97 copies in the system (good) but 587 reserves (bad). She then phoned the Whee Book Inn on Whyte Ave. – no copies in stock. Of course Mr. Amazon would deliver it if but the book club is in less than 2 weeks and she is not a fast reader. So it looked like a trip to Audrey’s Bookstore was required, when miraculously a copy (in excellent collection) appeared that very day in the Little Free Library.

As I stated earlier a great week at the Library!

Little Free Library Opens in Riverdale (Edmonton)

This weekend I opened the Little Free Library I have been building for the past few weeks.  It is a great hit and already I’ve had a couple of nice volumes appear (librarian gets 1st pick!).

I managed to use scraps and pieces from the old house we demolished 20 years on this site to construct the library. The only purchased parts are the door hinges.  I also paid the $40  to officially register with the Little Free Library organization – thus the “official sign” and steward number on the picture.

One problem with building a free library is that I already have requests for 2 more (one for our Unitarian Church). But I did learn a few things during construction.

Here is the “spiel” I posted on the door

Welcome to Rivderdale’s first Little Free Library. This is one of over 30,000 Little Free Libraries located around the world.

The Steward of this library is Terry Anderson (terrya@athabascau.ca). The Library was constructed entirely of re-cycled materials, many of which came from the original house on this site.

You are welcome to deposit or withdraw a book or two. Borrowed books may be lent to a friend or returned to any Free Library in the world.

This library also accepts videos, CDs and DVDs. If you wish, you may leave a note in your deposit with recommendations, instructions or any advice you wish to offer to its next reader.

And a couple of pics

Terry installing libraryLibrary2



My Retirement Week

I am just recovering this week from a busy, celebration filled week last that I want to share with my blog friends.

The week started by a quick trip to Barcelona, where besides being able to watch FBT Barcelona win the final Champion League match, I was honoured being made a Senior Fellow in the European Distance & E-Learning Network.  I think I am the first person born outside of Europe to receive this honour, so it was a great way to start the week.

The EDEN conference was good (as usual) and it was fun to revisit Barcelona, after Sue and my two month stay there in 2013. No, the Sagrada Familia is not finished, but wonderful new towers are now in place – no photos as I decided to leave my iphone somewhere in the Barcelona airport :-(

Then back home to do a keynote at our Centre for Distance Education annual conference.  It was a small conference and was I able to mostly re-use themes from previous presentations.  The talk was about the multifaceted topic of Interaction in Distance Education, which I realize has been the major theme of my whole academic career. The picture below shows Mohamed Ally and me with the wonderful painting of the town of Athabasca, that I received as a retirement gift. It was then on to the big event of the
leaf graphicday, the Retirement Party I had organized for myself (with help from many friends)!!

I had watched Jack Nicholson, About Schmidt  as he sat watching the clock on his final day of work, and I wanted to go out with a bigger splash than that! So I invited all the faculty at Athabasca, many friends, my Edmonton relatives, some Unitarians and whomever else I thought might like to come. Now, planning a party with such an open invitation (somehow I forgot the RSVP part!) meant we really didn’t know how many people would come.

We rented the Riverdale House, which is a smallish meeting room above the rink shack at the community league a few houses from where I live.  The idea was to spill out into the park and community gardens, around the House, when we filled up the building. Now, I ordered “no rain” since June in Alberta is the rainiest month – and  we only got a few sprinkles. What I had forgotten to do, was order the outside heat and it was a bit of a chilly evening.

My friend Don brought a sound system, and we heard and laughed at many good stories. Then we did a “jam” with wishot-219hoever brought an instrument. I had my hammer dulcimer, but not having played for a week while in Spain, jet lag and the pressure of the event, meant I was not in top form!  The BBQs made some great food and there was a fair bit left to donate to the Youth Emergency Shelter.

I also dug out a box of what remains of my old toy business and a book case full of books that I had authored or done chapters in, to create a “From wooden toys to online learnin” display.


My main motivation in the party was to bring together the many Alberta friends from far different walks of life and provide them a chance to meet each other. they are all interesting folks- well at least interesting (or boered) enough to come to a party For me!!! – and to a degree I think it succeeded.

Of course, I was asked what next?  As I said in a previous post, I’ve got a number of projects on the go, a couple of keynotes booked for this fall and I hope time for time for bike riding, blogging, skiing, music and developing new hobbies and ways to serve.


At risk of using this blog more than I usually do to ‘blow my own horn’ I want to end this post with two of the many very kind (and often too generous) emails and cards (thanks) that I received. My first Doctor student, Stuart Berry wrote on his blog:

I understand that you are officially retiring from Athabasca University and I am sorry I cannot be at your farewell party. I would, however, like to pass on my best wishes as well as some thoughts with regards to the impact you have had upon my life and career, and through a similar lens, what impact I know you have had on the lives on many students throughout your academic career.

I was your first doctoral student. We met for the first time at Athabasca in August of 2008 during the cohort weeklong residency. You had earlier written to me and proposed you and I might be a good fit for my proposed research interests. I was over-the-moon as I knew you by reputation and the thought of having the Canada Research Chair in Distance Education as my potential dissertation supervisor was, I thought, a dream come true. In retrospect, this was a dream come true, but for many reasons that at the time I did not nor could not appreciate or imagine.

In our six years together as mentor and student I was frustrated yet continuously encouraged by you to find the limits of my academic capacity. I was nurtured and supported in the opening of doors, the ramifications of which neither you nor I fully appreciated at the time, yet you did not blink. You continued to be excited with and for me in this journey. You were always present. You taught me about the whole idea of presence, not just through your daily academic work with students and your prolific publishing record but most of all by you being everything and more you talk about and tell us in your very public writings: You live as you speak and write. I never once felt anything other than your continual presence throughout my doctoral journey.

I saw impenetrable walls. You waited patiently for me to see these obstacles through different eyes knowing when I understood what was needed to be known, the walls would become new knowledge and understanding and would cease to be perceived barriers. I know at times I resisted your shaping and your gentle nudgings. Maybe that is just part of the journey but as I have had the time and space to revisit and re-examine my six year journey with you I feel what stands out most is your gentle, open, and unhurried approach to dealing with the challenges we all face everyday.

Your list of accomplishments is quite legendary. If I have learned anything from you it is this: we are all working together for a common purpose; our hearts and minds need to be ever open; the work we do in education is for everyone and not a select few; and, most of all, the journey is the gift. I thank you for allowing me to be part of that journey.

It has been an honour and a pleasure and I wish you a long, healthy, and happy next phase of your life, especially sharing it with your wonderful Susan.


Comments like Stu’s make me really appreciate the opportunity to be a teacher.

I’ll end with the email from Athabasca Medieval Studies professor Marc Cels.  Marc didn’t realize this, but Susan and I are great admires if Hildegard of Bingen. In fact in 2003 we made a special stop in Bingen on a driving trip through Germany.  He wrote and attached the picture of one of Hidegard’s visions below:

I regret that I won’t be able to attend your shing-ding this evening as I’m feeling under the weather. I really wanted to come to give you a proper send-off and to express my gratitude for all that you’ve done for AU, your sage advice, your example the you have given us, and your particular assistance to me and our colleagues at the Centre for Humanities. I wish you well with your next projects and hope that retirement will allow you to focus on what you enjoy and to put aside what distracts!

You’ve acted as a sort of DE Guardian Angel or Patron Saint at AU, so I offer you an electronic icon of the woman who I think should be the official patron saint of D.E. (I just haven’t gotten around to writing the Vatican): Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179). I assign students of my medieval history course a sample of her writings and book illustrations. This German abbess is famous for receiving divine revelations (the ultimate form of DE!) and sharing them broadly, having founded several monasteries or convents with busy scriptoria. Though a woman and a nun barred from the cathedral schools and nascent universities, she provided herself with a good education, excelling as a composer of music, writer of plays, poet, mystic, philosopher/scientist, preacher and a critical commentator on the affairs of her day (by a copious correspondence). Her advice was sought out by popes and emperors. The image is from her book of visions, the Liber Scivias, and I believe the manuscript was illustrated by the “Visual Designers” under her direction, so this is close to a self-portrait. It shows the mystic receiving a divine vision and recording it on her tablet with the help of her discrete clerical secretary.

So, you see, the perfect model for a DE scholar! Thanks again for being our flesh-and-blood model, Terry.


Providing audio feedback to students: Review of a review

I’ve always been interested in studies that help us differentiate both pedagogies and educational technology use, based upon time requirements. These studies of course should include all the actors – too often student time is taken as a free given.

Thus, a recent publication by Gusman Edouard tweaked my interest.

Edouard, G. (2015). Effectiveness of audio feedback in distance education. INSTRUCTIONAL TECHNOLOGY, 45 http://itdl.org/Journal/Apr_15/Apr15.pdf#page=49

I should note, right away, that I am a big fan of audio feedback and have been more or less exclusively using audio to mark graduate students essays for the past 5 years. I get very positive feedback from students and I am sure the feedback I give is much more extensive than that produced when I use using text comments or summary assessment of their work. Finally, I am convinced that it also saves me time, as I not a very fast typist.

The article asserts thatthe proponents of audio feedback claim that it is superior to written comments in many ways.” They then take a critical look at this claim. The key questions in this paper are:

  1. Is there enough research to support the claim?
  2. Does audio feedback improve learning?
  3. Can it help to save time?

The article provides no original data but does cover some of the research that I am familiar with on this type of technology use. Also note that the aim seems to have a critical edge, asking if there really is evidence to support claims about audio feedback in distance education. As you will see, I think this attempt to be critical underlies quite sloppy research.

You’ll note the first question is really a non-question in that there are many claims not “the claim” and that the two most important (to me at least) are the later two questions. I’ll skip over comments on improvement of learning as Edouard’s conclusions are widely supported however, in education, students and teacher perceptions are often used and mostly cited as evidence in this study.

However the time questions really peeked my interest. Continue reading


This month I turn 65 and of course had to try out the Howoldbot to confirm it.

Much to my amazement, it got my age correct (minus 10 days). Well, the picture was taken a couple of years ago, so I guess I am an early maturer!  ishot-211

Reaching this milestone has triggered my long standing expectation that I would retire at what used to be the compulsory age for retirement by University faculty and public servants.  Those days are past and it is quite easy for academics to stay on- a few far past their “best before date”.

I’m retiring in August, not because I don’t like my job (I do) nor that I dislike Athabasca University (though I am very deeply concerned with its viability and sustainability). I also don’t have a great desire to move from Edmonton, though the winters can be brutal!


What does inspire my upcoming retirement is:

1. An ever continuing desire for change. The past 14 years at Athabasca is twice as long as my stay at any other job.

2. A desire to open the door for another, younger academic to get a chance at a tenured position. It saddens me to see the number of  qualified academics who apply whenever we have an opening at Athabasca, and saddens me even more to counsel PhD students that their possibility for employment in the academy is very limited given the large excesses of graduates compared to available positions in universities or colleges.

3. A desire for more time for music. I try to play my hammer dulcimer daily and will be joining a choir this fall. I may even dust off my old guitar or fiddle.

4. The opportunity to give back a bit more. My significant earnings,  good pension plan plus a moderately frugal lifestyle, has made it possible for me to retire (with less than a full pension), but enough for Susan and I to live comfortably. Thus, I will be free to devote more time to a variety of volunteer and nonprofit organizations, that I have only had time to support marginally over my career and family raising eras.

5. The chance to focus my time on projects that I find of particular interest. I don’t plan on “hanging up the keyboard”. I think I  have at least one more book to write,  2 more keynotes (Brazil and Denmark this fall) and who knows what other opportunities may arise.

6. Finally, I like biking, travelling, camping, skiing and many other outdoor activities, which I realize as my body ages, may become less possible if I don’t get out there and “do it” now.

So I’m throwing a retirement party (with help from some friends) on June 12, 2015 at the Riverdale House near my home in Edmonton.  If you are in town, please drop by anytime after 7:00! I’d love to see any colleagues, ex-students and old friends!




Another attempt at Flexible Provision of courses

Our friends from the Open University of the Netherlands (OUNL) have just had published a very interesting article that seems to be a first step towards helping education and training institutions re purpose their content for multiple audiences.  This is an important, yet very challenging task that requires that courses be created without a single audience in mind. Besides the targeting and language challenges of multiple audiences, the technical challenges are also many and this paper presents a possible  solution.

Just to back up a bit, you may remember the excitement of educational Modeling Languages which evolved into IMS Learning Design. The promise of these efforts was to provide specifications and tools that allowed instructional sequences to be formally described and tagged, thus setting the stage for repurposing, search filter etc.  I was particularly enamoured with the idea that Learning Design would do for education what standard notation from the 11 century did for music. I experimented with some hand coding of content. But the standard had too major problems, notably  lack of markup tools and runtime engines and a very fine level of granularity that required far too much effort to code.  This effort was led by Rob Koper from UNL. Continue reading