Reflection: Self-assessment

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Reflections Photo: L.. Schmidt

Objective: “Self-assessment is the act of identifying standards or criteria and applying them to one’s own work, and then making judgment as to whether – or how well – you have met them” (Fenwick & Parsons , 2009, page 111).

Reflection: In one of my previous reflective writing submissions, I identified self-regulation as being the characteristic of adult learners that drives how I design and deliver a course. Taking this course on evaluation got me thinking: Am I ready to walk my talk? Am I ready to ‘allow’ students to self-assess and evaluate their own learning for marks?

Interpretive: Being self-regulated means applying metacognitive strategies – setting goals, self-monitoring, and self-evaluating – to the process of learning (Fact Sheet: Metacognitive Processes, 2012). Self-regulation is vital when it comes to learning effectively (Fact Sheet: Metacognitive Processes, 2012).

Self-assessment is metacognition at work. Self-assessment has been shown to be an effective strategy to influence learning (David-Lang, 2012) and has been shown to have a significant impact on student achievement (The Literacy and Numeracy Secretariat Capacity Building Series Special Edition #4, 2007).

The Literacy and Numeracy Secretariat Capacity Building Series Special Edition #4, (2007) identified critical thinking skills as a necessary part of self-assessment.

Fenwick and Parsons (2009) stated, “ (s)elf-assessment should be balanced with feedback from an external source to provide different perspectives” (page 113).


The evidence to support self-assessment as an effective strategy to support learning is solid. If I value the importance of self-regulation in my students then I need to let them take responsibility for their learning and this means having them participate in the evaluation of their performances.

In the online course I have redesigned, I have included activities like the ‘muddiest point’, personal journal activities and critical thinking activities and have developed rubrics to help students improve their skills of self-reflection and self-assessment by providing clear standards/criteria for them to measure their work. Including self-assessment for marks should integrate well into the curriculum.

In terms of providing an opportunity for self-assessment for marks, four of the assessments in the course: case studies, discussion forum posts, presentation and patient teaching poster/handout are possibilities. While I see potential for all four of these assessments to be self-assessed for marks, I feel that this may be too much additional work for the students in terms of rational reports so I will begin with one assessment. I will reassess this decision after a year to determine if more assessments should be self-assessed for marks.

The assessment that I would like to start with are the discussion forum posts as they are ongoing throughout the course so this will provide an opportunity for students to make changes as they progress through the course. To provide a balanced assessment from an external source, I think that the mark should be split with 10% coming from the student for a personal evaluation of his/her posts (using the discussion forum rubric as a guide) and 5% coming from the teacher for an external evaluation of the student’s rational for their mark (using the rational rubric as a guide).

I am very excited about the prospect of truly engaging and validating the adult learner as a self-regulated learner by incorporating self-assessment for marks into the course.


David-Lang, J. (2012) Summary of Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning By John Hattie (Routledge, 2012) The Main Idea Current Education Book Summaries. Retrieved from

Fact Sheet: Metacognitive Processes (2012) TEAL Teaching Excellence in Adult Learning. Retrieved from: (Paste URL to browser then click the PDF, for some reason it won’t link to the server)

Fenwick, T.J. & Parsons, J. (2009) The Art of Evaluation A Resources for Educators and Trainers Thompson Educational Publishing Inc Toronto, Canada

 The Literacy and Numeracy Secretariat Capacity Building Series Special Edition #4 (2007) Government of Ontario. Retrieved from:

Outcomes Based Education: Advantages and Disadvantages

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What is Outcomes Based Education (OBE)?

Biggs and Tang (as cited in Goff, L., n.d., slide 9) in their Outcomes Based Education (OBE) Version 3 Teaching and Learning, outlined three main features of OBE:

  • state outcomes of teaching;
  • teach to increase the likelihood of most students achieving the outcomes;
  • assess how well outcomes have been achieved using authentic assessment.


With OBE, the focus of outcomes is to integrate student performance with those needed in the workplace (PIDP 3210 Curriculum Development Course Guide August, 2013). McMaster University sees this as a strength as it provides “. . . continuity between undergraduate, postgraduate and continuing education” (Outcomes- Based Education 2010, para 2).

Assessment of outcomes is done using authentic assessment tools. Battersby stated: “Key to the outcomes approach [in BC] is an approach to assessment that emphasizes ‘authentic assessment’ …[i.e.,] creating assignments that stimulate as much as possible the [real-life outside-of-class] situations in which students would make use of the knowledge, skills and values emphasized in the course” (as cited in PIDP 3210 Curriculum Development Course Guide August, 2013, page 47).


Critics state that constructing learning outcomes can be difficult and time consuming (Ellington, H., Earl, S et al., 1996).

While teaching to increase the likelihood of most students achieving the outcomes would appear to be an advantage, it can create challenges for teachers particularly in the K-12 school system where built in redundancy is the method used to manage student variation in knowledge (Lawson & Askell-Williams, 2007).

I recently learned that a local university is moving towards having all of their programs based on the OBE framework. Given that I was about to embark on revamping an online perinatal course for graduated RNs taking their a rural nurse specialty certification I was very keen to learn about the advantages and disadvantages of using OBE.

In my investigations I learned that several countries, notably Western Australia, the USA and South Africa trialled OBE in their primary and secondary systems but there was a lot of push back from the public about how it failed to deliver basic skills in math and sciences as in the case of South Africa’s experience (Rice, 2010) and challenges with assessments in Australia. Donnelly (2007) noted criticism of OBE in the USA included a loss of vital educational material as a result of focusing so much on the process of education and the huge amount of time required of teachers for assessments.

As I worked my way through the readings detailing the disadvantages about OBE I couldn’t help but feel that these challenges could not be outweighed by advantages of aligning learning outcomes to workplace roles and responsibilities.

The focus of OBE is to ensure continuity for students are they move through the educational system and into the work place. This alignment of education and training is rooted in adult education practices of experiential learning and self-reflection (PIDP 3210 Curriculum Development Course Guide August, 2013). This means that I need to create learning outcomes that would engage the adult learner in such a way as to enable them to integrate the concepts, attitude and skills required for the workplace. The learning outcomes would need to clearly state these.

I will need to build on the skills graduate nurses already help to increase the likelihood of help to increase the likelihood of most students achieving the outcomes.

Assessment practices need to be such that they can produce graduates that “. . . can perform both academically and interpersonally on the job and in the community” PIDP 3210 Curriculum Development Course Guide August, 2013 p 49). Assessments need to be relevant and the marking scheme needs to be clear and accurate.

 After reviewing the advantages and disadvantages of OBE I feel that OBE will be a perfect match for the program I am redesigning. I do, however, need to be very mindful of watching out for the challenges this framework can produce.

Learning Outcomes

  • Need to be clear, relevant and integrate the knowledge, skills and attitudes that the RN will require to work on a perinatal unit
  • Need to be measurable – and while I appreciate that OBE places the focus on the student’s standard and not a universal standard, when it comes to obstetrical care there are established guidelines that must be met. Outcomes will reflect this.

Teach to increase the likelihood of most students achieving the outcomes

  • This course is for graduate nurses. Outcomes will build on existing knowledge and skills.
  • There will be mid term marks for ongoing assignments (discussion forum and case studies) with feedback provided so that students will have an opportunity to build and improve on their skills.

Assess how well outcomes have been achieved using authentic assessment

  • Assessments for the online course need to be authentic, in other words, related to the workplace, (PIDP 3210 Curriculum Development Course Guide August, 2013). They also need to provide an accurate representation of the students’ mastery of the subject (PIDP 3210 Curriculum Development Course Guide August, 2013).

The online course I am redesigning is for post RNs seeking to specialize in maternity care and/or in a rural site where they will be required to be the primary nurse caring for a woman in labour. Nurses work as part of a health care team. Communication with team members is a vital part of the job. Having students engage in an online discussion forum will help develop those skills as they relate to a maternity patient. I will therefore incorporate discussion forum topics with each learning module so that students can learn collaboratively with each other. I will apply an analytical rubric to the formal assessment so that a mark can be determined.

Another skill required by RNs is critical thinking. I will also apply an analytical rubric to the responses received for the case studies. Patient teaching skills will be assessed using an analytical rubric when students present on two topics of choice (with the target audience being the woman and her family). I will encourage students to journal but it will be not for marks.


Donnelly, K. (2007) Australia’s adoption of outcomes based education: A critique Educational Research 17(2) Retrieved from:

Ellington, H., Earl, S et al., (1996) Advantages and disadvantages of the Learning Outcomes Approach Post Graduate Certificate in Tertiary-Level Teaching Module 1 Instructional Planning Robert Gordon University and Napier University. Retrieved from:

Goff, L., (n.d.) Outcomes Based Education Webinar. Centre for Leadership in Learning McMaster University Ontario Universities Council on Quality Assurance. Retrieved from:

Lawson, M.J. & Askell-Williams, H., (2007) OutcomesBased Education Discussion Paper. Association of Independent Schools of SA. Retrieved from:

Outcomes- Based Education (2010) McMaster University. Retrieved from:

Rice, A. (2010) Analysis: RIP outcomes-based education and don’t come back Daily Maverick Retrieved from:

School of Instructor Education. (August 2013). PIDP 3210 Curriculum Development Course Guide. Vancouver, BC: Vancouver Community College.


Think-Pair- Share

What is it?

An instructional strategy where:

  • The instructor poses a question to the class;
  • Students take time to think about the answer or solution to the question on their own (for about 2 minutes);
  • Students pair up to discuss their answers and select the best answer to share with the class (2-5 minutes);
  • Pairs then share their best answer with the entire class. Answers can be written down so that students can once again evaluate and select the best answer.

Best Practices

  • Questions need to be open ended. Having a simple recall question or yes or no question will not engage the students in all of the cognitive processes (Think-Pair-Share, 2015).
  • Allow for enough thinking time for the students to review and share their answers with their partners and select the best answer between them or generate a new answer based on their collaborative problem solving. (Think, Pair, Share Cooperative Learning Strategy, n.d.).
  • Groups for the pair need to be small enough so that all the students can share their ideas with in the time allotted. Smaller groups (maximum 4) lead to increased student accountability – everyone has to participate. (Think-Pair-Share, 2015), (Think, Pair, Share Cooperative Learning Strategy, n.d.).

Role of the Instructor

  • Pose question.
  • Direct students when they need to move from think to pair to share.
  • Listen to the students are they discuss their answers with each other but do not interfere.
  • Write down answers on the board during the class share so students can evaluate for the best answer to the problem (Think, Pair, Share Cooperative Learning Strategy, n.d.).

Role of the Learner

  •  Students take an active part in their learning by explaining their thought processes and by listening and learning with their peers.

Pros of using Think- Pair-Share

  • It doesn’t require much prep work or time (Think-Pair-Share, 2015).
  • It engages the entire class in discussions (Think-Pair-Share, 2015).
  • Increases student motivation as there is personal interaction and peer learning (Think-Pair-Share, 2015).
  • Students are sharing ideas, evaluating them , selecting the best idea or answer or developing new ones. They are engaging in collaborative learning which has been shown to increase learning (David-Lang, J., 2013).
  • Trying out answers in a small group will also help students become more comfortable sharing their ideas (Think, Pair, Share Cooperative Learning Strategy, n.d.).

Cons of using Think-Pair-Share

  • Students need to be motivated to participate (Think-Pair-Share, 2015)

Ideas to motivate students when using Think-Pair-Share

  •  Pose interesting questions, use pictures, news articles, cartoons or quotes (Engagement Triggers and Tasks for Interactive Segments, 2011).
  • Integrate questions that have been generated by the students themselves.
  • Inform the students that some of the Think-Pair-Share questions will be on upcoming exams (Think-Pair-Share, 2015).

There are worksheets here and here available on line that can be used to help the students keep track of their ideas.

Below is my digital project about Think-Pair-Share. I hope you enjoy it.



David-Lang, J. (2013) The Main Idea current education book summaries: Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning, Hattie, J., 2012 retrieved from:

Coffey, H., (n.d.) Bloom’s Taxonomy Learning NC K-12 TEACHING AND LEARNING FROM THE UNC SCHOOL OF EDUCATION Retrieved from:

Engagement Triggers and Tasks for Interactive Segments (2011) Starting Point Teaching Entry Level Geoscience Carleton University Retrieved from

Shen, D., (n.d.) Pair and Share ablconnect Retrieved from:

Think – Pair- Share (2015) Starting Point Teaching Entry Level Geoscience Carleton University Retrieved from:

Think, Pair, Share Cooperative Learning Strategy (n.d.) Teacher Vision Retrieved from

Creative Thinking Strategies

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At the top of Bloom’s Taxonomy is creating. Getting students creating in the classroom involves them in synthesizing information in a novel way and this “ . . process of discovery involved in creating something new appears to be one of the most enjoyable activities any human can be involved in” (Csikszentmihalyi,1996, page 113).

Really , it’s a win-win.

Win # 1 As teachers we need to get students engaging in activities that require the elements of metacognition – planning monitoring and evaluating – and by adding a learning activity that involves an active approach we can achieve the highest impact on learning (David-Lang, J. 2013).

Win #2 Having students engaging in something that makes them feel good “ (taps ) into student’s emotions can inspire them to put forth their greatest potential” (Barkley, 2010, page 35).

Before we examine at the various learning strategies let’s take a moment to see what creative thinking looks like. Here is a table that looks at the differences between critical and creative thinking.

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To facilitate creative thinking in the classroom, it is important that we create a safe learning environment so students will be willing to take risks as they explore multiple possibilities. Let the students know that divergent thinking creates feelings of ambiguity but is a vital part of the process for “. . .when people are open to different views, they will endure an unclear situation for the moment in order to avoid jumping to conclusions and making decisions too soon. In fact, this is beneficial for the quantity and quality of ideation” (Tsai, K., 2015, para 17).

Below is a short video that takes a look at the divergent thinking that is needed when being creative.



Lets take a look at some of the strategies we can use to get students engaged with creative thinking. Here is a wonderful digital presentation done by a previous PDIP student on poster sessions.

Key points for poster sessions are:

  • Work with students to determine topics and design parameters
  • Have a marking rubric

For example, for an online perinatal course for RNs students (either individually or as a group) would work with their instructor to decide which post partum patient teaching subject they would like to make a poster on. The intended audience would be for the woman and her family. Posters would be exhibited on the day of the hands on workshop.

Another great project would be to use a variation of role playing using digital storytelling. In the example of the online perinatal course, students could present a birth story through the woman and her family’s, the nurse’s, or the primary care provider’s eyes. This would provide the opportunity for reflective critical thinking as the students would “ . . . experience the emotional and intellectual responses . . .” (Barkley 2010, page 232) of the people involved with a birth.

Another activity that could be used is the creation of a class book. This is from Barkley (2010) SET 21. Student could volunteer to submit assignments for an online class book.

These are a few ideas I have about integrating creative learning into an online perinatal course. How are you going to incorporate creative thinking in your classroom?


Barkley, E. F. (2010). Student Engagement Techniques – A Handbook for College Faculty. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1996). Creativity: Flow and the psychology of discovery and invention. New York: Harper/Collins Retrieved from:

David-Lang, J. (2013) The Main Idea current education book summaries: Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning, Hattie, J., 2012 retrieved from:

How Does Creative Thought Differ from Critical Thought? (2015) Learning and Teaching Centre at Macquarie University Retrieved from:

Tsai, K., (2015) A Framework of Creative Education e in education exploring our connective educational landscape Vol 21 (1) Retrieved from:

Critical Thinking Revisited

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Photo A. McKenzie

When I last posted about critical thinking I thought I knew what critical thinking was all about: critical thinking = knowing how to think. Now as I think about what I thought I knew about thinking I realize that perhaps I hadn’t thought about it deeply enough.

Definitions of critical thinking, I have discovered, are not clearly defined and are often quite long. This one, for example: “the ability to analyze and evaluate information” (para 1, Duron, Limbach & Waugh, 2006) is brief but doesn’t encompass the full range of the complexity of critical thinking or address how critical thinking is related to problem solving.

Critical thinking requires “. . . reasoning, making judgments and decisions, and problem solving” (Willingham, 2007, page 11). It requires us to have effective metacognitive skills to be able to be able to look honestly at one’s own biases, judgements and assumptions, to be open to new ideas and new perspectives and to be flexible to list a few (Characteristics of Strong Critical Thinkers, 2013). 

It also requires us to have a strong understanding and knowledge base in the area that we are required to critically think. For example, when my laptop starts misbehaving the extent of my critical thinking skills to solve the problem is to turn it off and reboot it. If the problem continues beyond that I am at a loss. When I encounter a problem with a clinical situation in the hospital (provided it is in maternity or another area I have knowledge in) I am able to pull on 25 years of experience and knowledge to help me determine the problem, apply a strategy to solve the problem, reflect on its effectiveness and autocorrect if the problem persists or is not fully resolved. The key here though is that I need to continually monitor that the judgements and assumptions I am making are accurate.

The Pearson’s RED Critical Thinking Model distils critical thinking to 3 key areas. While I like the simplicity of the model, I think it is important to be able to fully appreciate what is involved with each of the three steps.

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So how can I help students to engage in critical thinking? More specifically, how can I help RNs new to perinatal nursing engage in critical thinking?

First, I can teach strategies that that will help students be able to apply critical thinking skills. These would include:

  • having them look at their assumptions and beliefs about the issue;
  • having them look at how they are understanding the issue – are they interpreting the issue based on what they think they know about it or are they trying to understand all of the nuances of the issue;
  • looking at the issue through multiple perspectives;
  • applying their knowledge of what they know about the issue;
  • coming up with solutions and assess them for their potential effectiveness;
  • applying metacognitive strategies throughout the process.

Furthermore, it is important for students “. . . to avoid biases that most of us are prey to when we think, such as settling on the first conclusion that seems reasonable, only seeking evidence that confirms one’s beliefs, ignoring countervailing evidence, overconfidence, and others”(Willingham. D.T. 2007 page 13).

To make this happen, I can use case studies but instead of going through them as a group with me leading the discussion I can have students read through a case study presented on a power point and then have the students break off into pairs to critically think through it on their own. Using this approach increases the success of being able to develop the student’s critical thinking skills (Wardlow, L., n.d)

Here is a link to a wonderful infographic  made by one of my colleagues about how the ‘Chunk and Chew’ instructional strategy can be used for this purpose.

Willingham (2007) stated: “. . . teaching students to think critically probably lies in small part in showing them new ways of thinking, and in large part in enabling them to deploy the right type of thinking at the right time” (page 15).

My job as an instructor is to help RNs new to perinatal nursing have a greater chance of deploying the right type of thinking at the right time by having them understand the principles of critical thinking, ensuring they have a knowledge base in perinatal nursing, presenting case studies using the chunk and chew instructional strategy and having them apply critical thinking to the case studies that the group can then assess for effectiveness.



Characteristics of Strong Critical Thinkers (2013) Insight Assessment Measuring Thinking Worldwide Retrieved from:

 Duron, R., Limbach, B., & Waugh, W., (2006) Critical Thinking Framework For Any Discipline International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education Volume 17, Number 2, 160-166. Retrieved from:

Jones, R., (2013) The Instructor’s Challenge: Moving Students beyond Opinions to Critical Thinking Faculty Focus Higher Ed Teaching Strategies from Magna Publications. Retrieved from

Pearson’s RED Critical Thinking Model (2016) Think Watson Pearson Education, Inc. Retrieved from Retrieved from:

Wardlow, L., (n.d) Insights From Research on How Best to Teach Critical Thinking Skills Teaching in a Digital Age Always Learning Pearson Research and Innovation Network Retrieved from:

Willingham. D.T. (2007) Critical Thinking Why Is It So Hard to Teach? American Educator American Federation of Teachers. Retrieved from:

In Class Lecture or Flip?

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What is the best way to get students to learn? A rather loaded question I know.

This unedited survey of high school students’ responses to how they learn best, mirrors much of what see in the evaluation forms I collect after the workshops I teach for adults in healthcare; a desire for:

  • hands on learning
  • a respectful and enthusiastic teacher

For the adult learners I teach, an equally common request is for group discussions and problem solving.

Now comes the balancing act. As an instructor I have learning objectives that I want/need students to meet. How instructional material is delivered depends on the learning objectives. Even if students want hands on activities over lecture and discussion, it may not be suitable i.e., students need to know what risk factors may impact maternal and fetal well being at the time of birth and the signs of an imminent birth as well as how to perform an emergency birth.

Identify Appropriate Instructional Strategies from Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence & Educational Innovation, Carnegie Mellon University  (2008, 2015) has a table that outlines what instructional strategy is best suited to the learning objective.The learning objectives for the workshops I teach includes: “Transmit information which supplements or enhances reading; promote understanding via explanations; respond to student misconceptions or difficulties” directly under the “Suitable Objectives” heading. The instructional strategy that links up with it is “Lecture” (Identify Appropriate Instructional Strategies, Table).

So lecture it is.

This video from a past PIDP student gives some great tips on how to give a good lecture.



The lecture as an instructional strategy has been used,  well forever, but how effective is it? In this article by Gibbs (2013) it is stated that:

“More than 700 studies have confirmed that lectures are less effective than a wide range of methods for achieving almost every educational goal you can think of. Even for the straightforward objective of transmitting factual information, they are no better than a host of alternatives, including private reading. Moreover, lectures inspire students less than other methods, and lead to less study afterwards” (para 6).

Looks like if I have any hope of having my students learn anything, I need to pull in the tips from the video – mix it with other instructional strategies, be enthusiastic, limit the length to 30 min with a 15 minute Q&A time and provide opportunities for self-reflection.

To make the lecture work better for my students, I could provide a 30 minute lecture using audio visuals aids like power points mixed with YouTube videos, class discussion and then break out for hands on skills like an emergency birth station. I could also add in case studies and have the group pair up and discuss how they would manage the situation or what they might do differently to change the outcome of the case.

Another option might be for me to have the students watch a tape of the lecture prior to coming to class and then spend the time in class doing skills stations and case studies independently or in small groups. My function during the class would be to “continually observe (the) students, providing them with feedback relevant in the moment, and assessing their work” (Sams et al, 2014 The Four Pillars of F-L-I-P para 4).

This is what is known as a flipped classroom. Here is a definition of flipped learning from Sams et al (2014):

“Flipped Learning is a pedagogical approach in which direct instruction moves from the group learning space to the individual learning space, and the resulting group space is transformed into a dynamic, interactive learning environment where the educator guides students as they apply concepts and engage creatively in the subject matter” (Definition of Flipped Learning).

Here is a short video that explains the flipped classroom.



Research results investigating the impact of the flipped classroom on learning, however, are mixed.

Sigh, looks like the magic bullet for teaching and learning still needs to be discovered. Until that time, I’ll keep mixing as many instructional strategies as I can to meet learning objectives and deliver them with enthusiasm.


Gibbs, G. (2013) Lectures don’t work, but we keep using them. Can a demonstrably ineffective pedagogic form still be put to good use? Times Higher Education. Retrieved from :

Identify Appropriate Instructional Strategies (2008, 2015) Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence & Educational Innovation, Carnegie Mellon University. Retrieved from

Sams, A., Bergmann, J., Daniels, K., Bennett, B., Marshall, H.W., Arfstrom, K.M., (2014) What Is Flipped Learning? FLIP Learning. Retrieved from:

Sams, A., Bergmann, J., Daniels, K., Bennett, B., Marshall, H.W., Arfstrom, K.M., (2014) The Four Pillars of F-L-I-P FLIP Learning. Retrieved from:

Wiggins, G. (2014) Students Learn Best When You Do This teachthought We Grow Teachers. Retrieved from


Problem Based Learning

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Photo: A. Mckenzie

Problem based learning (PBL) is an instructional strategy that uses real life problems and case studies to drive the learning (Woods, 2016).

According to the article Problem Based Learning (PBL) some of unique characteristics that define PBL are (para 5) :

  • Learning is driven by challenging, open-ended problems with no one ‘right’ answer
  • Problems/cases are context specific
  • Students work as self-directed, active investigators and problem –solvers in small collaborative groups (typically about five students)
  • A key problem is identified and a solution is agreed upon and implemented
  • Teachers adopt the role as facilitators of learning, guiding the learning process and promoting an environment of inquiry

 Advantages and Disadvantages of PBL

Some advantages from the article Problem-Based Learning (para 1) are:

  • . . .(L)earners develop skills around finding information;
  • (I)dentifying what information they still need and possible sources of that information;
  • Learners are able to connect what they are learning in class to their own lives and important issues in their world.

One criticism about PBL is that student ‘don’t know what they don’t know’ about what is important in an area in which they have no prior experience, therefore instructors need to be careful to assess the student’s prior knowledge. (Problem based Learning (PBL) n.d) .

Wood(2016) states that students need to be strong in their critical thinking skills prior to beginning PBL as being in this type of learning environment alone will not develop these skills.

20 years ago, McMaster University (a long time pioneer in the field of PBL) had this to say about PBL and the benefit to their Chemical Engineering graduates (Wood, 1996, Chapter 3 , para 12):

Process skills are valued; they are built explicitly into the program; they are assessed. Our students know the fundamental core knowledge of Chemical Engineering. They know less Chemical Engineering enrichment areas than students graduating from other Chemical Engineering programs (maybe 20% less). They do have the lifetime learning skills, the problem solving, group and self-assessment skills that will allow them to keep up-to-date and continue to learn on their own or to learn cooperatively. Our graduates are different because they possess a completely different set of well-developed process skills. This decision was made in the late 1970s. We have never regretted it. The responses from employers and alumni are that these process skills are the ones needed by the professional in today’s world.

Please take a look at this digital presentation to learn more about PBL.

What I learned from this presentation is:

  • keep groups small
  • keep problems focused (interestingly, the other resources I found explicitly stated to keep problems open ended)
  • ensure that there are ample resources
  • provide feedback

PBL looks like it is a fantastic way to develop process skills in students and increase motivation but it also seems like it would require a lot of work in terms of: assessing student’s knowledge prior to choosing a problem; finding problems that will be complex enough for the student or students to work on solving on their own versus simply analyzing; ensuring the students have the critical thinking skills they need before they start  PBL and making certain the students take an active part in self-reflection activities like journalling so that their learning can be assessed.


Problem-Based Learning (n.d) Queens University Centre for Teaching and Learning Retrieved from

Problem Based Learning (PBL) (n.d) Learning- learning base and webliography. Retrieved from:

Wood, D. (2016) Problem-Based Learning (PBL) McMaster University. Retrieved from:

Woods (1996) “Problem-based Learning: helping your students gain the most from PBL” 3rd edition, Instructor’s Guide for “Problem-based Learning: how to gain the most from PBL” ISBN 0-9698725-0-X Retrieved from

Learning from Mistakes

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The online dictionary on my laptop defines a mistake as: “an action or judgment that is misguided or wrong”. If I even I think I’ve made a mistake I get a horrible sinking feeling in my stomach and I sudden desire to crawl under a rock – forever. Pretty awful stuff and I’m pretty sure how I feel is not unique. So, if making a mistake triggers such a strong reaction how can it be a good thing?

Here is a digital presentation from a previous student about how we can use turn mistakes into a positive learning experience.

Some of the points that resonated with me were:

  • the importance of dealing with mistakes rationally and not emotionally. Getting lost in the emotion will block students from learning;
  • create an environment that is open to students making mistakes. Praise effort, provide feedback, ditch the focus on perfectionism, teach responsibility and forget the whole blame game;
  • encourage a growth mindset with students.

Carol Dweck, in her TED talk ‘ The Power of Yet’ speaks about how a growth mindset can transform students as it opens up the potential for achieving goals based on effort and dedication to learning. In other words, even if a student were to fail at the task provided at the moment, they focus on ways to learn so that they can experience success in the future – the power of yet. This is in contrast to the fixed mind set that is focused on what the student is able to achieve or not achieve at the moment. In the fixed mind set, a student feels compelled to maintain self-esteem by negating the failure present in the now by whatever means possible – like cheating for example.

One of the ways we as teachers can help to create a growth mind set is to focus on learning goals instead of performance goals. From this document Designing Environments to Support a Learning Goal Orientation  comes this quote:

A consistent finding from decades of research is that an environment that emphasizes a performance goal orientation (i.e., a focus on proving your ability) makes people more likely to give up after failure, whereas an environment that emphasizes a learning goal orientation (i.e., a focus on improving your ability) encourages people to persist in problem solving.  (para 1) 

It also goes on to state that responses to mistakes with a learning goal orientation is to “Learn from mistakes” whereas the performance goal orientation has people Avoid mistakes; deny or ruminate on mistakes (table 2).

Orlando (2011) in his article Failure is an Option: Helping Students Learn from Mistakes discusses one instructor’s approach to creating a growth mindset in his students (para 4,5):

“. . .  I asked him about his reputation as both the best and toughest teacher in the school. I made the comment that he must not give many A’s, but he responded by saying that everyone in his class gets an A.

I asked him how this could square with this reputation for toughness. He replied that when a student hands in a paper he is given comments and told to rewrite it, and must rewrite it over and over until it is an A-quality paper. Only then it is accepted.”

The focus in health care is about performance. Not surprisingly, clinicians are inclined to hide mistakes and are reluctant to admit errors. This not only creates distrust with patients it prevents learning from happening. Interestingly, when I run simulations and recreate the same events staff deal with in real life, and shift the focus to that of learning instead of performing, people readily share mistakes. Opening up creates a feelings trust, support and bonding between team members. It also creates a desire to keep learning until the team gets it right.

What about you? How have you been able to learn from mistakes either as a teacher or as a student?

As for me, I still have a lot of work to do so that I am able to move past my visceral response to making mistakes but I know that I will get there, I’m just not there yet.


Barber, N., (2013) On the Benefits of Failure Failure is nothing to be ashamed of! Psychology Today Retrieved from:

Designing Environments to Support a Learning Goal Orientation (n.d.) LCL 2013: Session 8 – Motivation Retrieved from

Dweck, C. (2014) The Power of Yet TEDxNorrköping Retrieved from

Orlando, J. (2011) Failure is an Option: Helping Students Learn from Mistakes Faculty Focus Higher Ed Teaching Strategies from Magna Publications Retrieved from:

Asking the Right Questions


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It was noted by Tofade, T., Elsner, J., & Haines, S.T. (2013) that : “Teachers most often ask lower-order, convergent questions that rely on students’ factual recall of prior knowledge rather than asking higher-order, divergent questions that promote deep thinking, requiring students to analyze and evaluate concepts” (abstract).

This got me wondering – am I asking the right questions? I ask my students a lot of questions in class hoping that these questions will promote a deep understanding of the material, which will in turn translate to better outcomes for labouring and post partum women and their infants. After looking at the data Tofade, T., Elsner, J., & Haines, S.T.(2013) presented in their article about nursing instructors I wasn’t so sure anymore:

During classroom-based instruction, researchers observed 91 faculty members asking 3,407 questions, and categorized the type and level of each question posed.11 The majority of the questions asked were lower-level questions (68.9%). In a similarly designed study, Sellappah and colleagues found that during practice-based experiences, clinical instructors asked lower-level questions 91.2% of the time.” (para 9).

So where do my questions fit in? Do I spend most of my time asking questions that are, according to Bloom’s Taxonomy (revised) focused on the students’ recall and comprehension of the subject matter instead of higher order thinking like applying, analysing, evaluating and creating?

I decided to challenge myself to see if I could use different questioning techniques to engage all levels of the cognitive domains during a 6 hour workshop that I facilitate. To prepare for the workshop I took a look at my material. The purpose of the workshop was to present basic perinatal concepts to LPNs and non-maternity RNs. In order to be appropriate for this group of students I needed to keep some of the learning outcomes at the basic levels of recall and comprehension. For example:

The students will understand theory & demonstrate novice level skill in the following practice stations:

  • Leopold’s maneuvers
  • Labour support
  • Nurse assisted birth
  • Shoulder dystocia
  • Prolapse cord
  • Post partum haemorrhage

To integrate higher levels of cognitive thinking of applying, analysing, evaluating and creating, case studies for the obstetrical emergencies listed above as well as for an uncomplicated birth were created.

To start the day, I decided to have the students write down their responses to the question “ What I know about maternity nursing” and “What I want to learn about maternity nursing.” This is questioning technique is known as the K-W- L strategy.I found it to be very useful to start the day with self-reflection and to determine if what I thought the class needed to learn was what they actually wanted to learn. I think that starting out with a discussion about what the students wanted to learn helped to create a safe environment for learning and sharing as they felt that their opinions mattered.

As I took in the responses and wrote them up on the board I had the students go over the antenatal record for the case study we were going to look at. I encouraged the students to do this individually first, then as pairs. I instructed them to circle information they thought was important or had questions about and to discuss this with their partners. It was wonderful to hear the discussions that were taking place! Without me even asking any questions, students were recalling and sharing what they knew about maternity nursing and were analyzing and evaluating the data for potential maternal and fetal risks and even went to far as to determine topics for patient teaching for this client!

Next we dove into the learning and case studies. I had a copy of Blooms Taxonomy beside me as I had planned to work my way up from recall to evaluation in a progressive manner. What has happened to me before is that there is a lot of movement between the domains. In reflecting whether this was effective or not I found this statement from Tofade, T., Elsner, J., & Haines, S. T. (2013:  “It is appropriate to ask questions to address all cognitive domains as long as the desired learning outcome is kept in mind and a good mix of questions is used during each teaching session” (para 2). When this happened again during the workshop I decided to let it flow, disregarded my plan for an orderly progression through the domains and focused on the quality of my questions.

To keep a good mix of questions one of the pitfalls I was mindful of was to keep the Initiate- Response- Evaluation model of questioning to a minimum or not use it at all. This is where the teacher asks a question gets a response from the student then evaluates the response without engaging other students (Corley, M.A W. Rauscher, C.,n.d.). This is a teacher lead questioning model that while it“. . . can be an effective way to check for factual knowledge or recall, it typically does not encourage higher-order thinking” Corley, M.A W. Rauscher, C.. (n.d.) page 1.

Another tip I learned was to frame questions using a 3 parts (Asking Effective Questions, 2011, page 8) :

  • an invitation to think
  • a cognitive process
  • a specific topic.

For example: Upon reviewing this case study how might the severity of this post partum haemorrhage been reduced?

Allowing time for a response is something I need to continue to work on. In the article Asking Effective Questions it is recommended to wait 3 seconds or more for a response. I cannot believe how long 3 seconds feels when you are the one up front asking the questions!

Asking the right questions is something I will continue to work on. Who knew it there could so much to asking the right question?

Mmm, the rhetorical question. . . I didn’t even touch on that!


Asking Effective Questions Capacity Building Series Special Edition #2 (2011) Student Achievement Division retrieved from:

Corley, M.A W. Rauscher, C.. (n.d.) Deeper Learning through Questioning TEAL Center Fact Sheet No. 12: Deeper Learning through Questioning TEAL Teaching Excellence in Adult Literacy retrieved from:

Tofade, T., Elsner, J., & Haines, S. T. (2013). Best Practice Strategies for Effective Use of Questions as a Teaching Tool. American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education77(7), 155. retrieved from:



Reflections:Making room for introverts

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Reflections Photo: L.. Schmidt

Watching Susan Cain’s TED talk (Feb, 2012): The power of introverts had me reflecting upon my experiences as someone who sits on the fence as I have a few extroverted tendencies as well as a lot of introverted ones. While my extroverted self can usually get me through a day of busyness, loud environments and group activities, I need to retreat for a walk alone outside during breaks to recharge, and a need a few more days of alone time before I can engage again. But what about those who find it difficult to get through a high stimulation environment in the first place? This TED talk highlights to me the importance of building an inclusive and balanced classroom environment.

Thompson (2012) explained the differences between introverts and extroverts this way: “Introverts thrive in the inner world of thought and ideas and in close, intimate relationships. Extroverts thrive in the outer world of interaction and large, constant social exchange ” (para 9). Cain (2012) and Thompson (2012) both described classrooms as being heavily influenced by Western society where extraverted behaviours are both valued and seen as the cultural norm. This, Thompson (2012) argued is compounded by the fact that extraverted people are skilled with “ . . . dominating socially” ( para 13).

In the classroom, this preference to extraversion translates to activities and lecture formats that are active, diverse (Issacs, 2009) and value “. . . quick decision-making, outspokenness, and social confidence among others” (Higgin, 2016 para 1). Extraverted students are rewarded for their active participation, while introverted students “ . . . are encouraged to participate more” (Higgin, 2016 para 2). This can be challenging for the introvert who needs more time to construct complex associations from ideas stored in his long term memory (Isaac, 2009). Applicable to both introverts and extraverts is the concern Cain (2012) expressed about the increasing departure from independent work as she felt creative works are best done in isolation, for in a group, people will mimic others’ opinions and not express their own unique perspectives.

To build an inclusive and balanced classroom environment for both introverts and extroverts lets examine how I can incorporate the following strategies offered by Thompson (2012) and Higgin (2016) to an online perinatal course for registered nurses:

Allow for choice

Giving students the choice of which learning activities and assignments they wish to participate in will allow for students to select the one that best matches their needs. For example, I could offer the students the choice of participating in an online discussion forum reviewing a case study or schedule a couple of skype or teleconference times where students could call in to discuss the case. I could also offer students the opportunity to work either in a group or individually to develop a patient teaching sheet about a post partum topic of the students’ choice.

Allow for alternative expressions of participation

Students could be given the choice of they wish to participate in open discussion forums on various perinatal topics or submit their own reflections about topics of their choice. If they decide to reflect on their own topic they could choose to go out into the community and visit a prenatal class for example to hear how and what parents to be are being taught about the topic.

Allow a platform for students to be able to communicate and share information on their own.

Providing a student lead Q and A platform promotes the principles of peeragogy by providing students the opportunity to learn from each other. There are several products available free online like Piazza that can be used to meet this need.

Create flow between social and reflective activities (Higgins, 2016)

Higgins (2016) stated, “(e)xtroverts and introverts depend on each other to do great things” (para 3). Cain (2012) also recognized the importance of having a balance for both sides. To do this Higgins (2016) suggests following up a social activity “ . . . with  more thoughtful solo or small-group reflection, distillation, and synthesis” (para 11). In the online perinatal course, students could as a group problem solve through a case study and then self-reflect on their own learning privately through journaling.


Cain, S., (Feb, 2012). TED Talk: The power of introverts. Retrieved from

Higgin, T. (2016) BLOG 5 Classroom Strategies That Help Introverts and Extroverts Do Their Best Work Key ways teachers and schools can foster a more personality-inclusive environment. Common Sense Graphite. Retrieved from

Isaacs, T. (2009) Introverted Students in the Classroom: How to Bring Out Their Best Faculty Focus. Retrieved from

Thompson, S., (2012). Introvert? Extrovert?  Tips for a Balanced Classroom Jan/Feb Canadian Teacher Magazine. Retrieved from canadianteacher.archives