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Before you read this post, start with  part 1 and part 2 of this post first and check out Tyson Seburn’s series as well.


As I explained in the previous two posts, the goal of the Lecture Notes & Response Assignment was to give students an opportunity to combine materials presented in lecture and in their assigned reading and collaborate in understanding the main point of the lecture.  As I mentioned in part 1, Students worked in a group of about 3 students on each given lecture and collaborated in writing a summary of the lecture, and then individually wrote three other parts: one in which they have to come up with keywords and define and explain the significance of the the term, another finding passages from the reading and connecting it to the lecture, and a last section in which they sourced images and explained the connection with the lecture. In general, I would say students did well in the sections of the assignment that most closely resembled what they had done in Tyson’s assignment – identifying key terms and explaining their significance; sources images that connect to the text… The parts that were a bit more different – choosing an actual passage from the text, for example – needed a bit more scaffolding. We did give students the chance to improve their notes based on our comments to get their marks raised.

One area that both Tyson and I agree needs to improving is how to teach students to write collaboratively. He has a bit more time in class and can get students to work together in class but I don’t have that luxury. It is entirely possible that most of the summaries of the lectures – the section that was meant to be written collaboratively – was written by one student in agreement with the rest of the group. I need to think a bit more on that.

Benefits of cross-disciplinary collaboration

Tyson Seburn and I relaxing after a full day of conference at BALEAP 2017, in Bristol, UK.

It is no secret that I am a big proponent of collaboration in everything: research, writing, teaching, administration. I am currently preparing a paper for the next AHA on collaborative research. Dana and I have always informally collaborated in our teaching – we design assignments and lectures together even if we are teaching individually in two different institutions. We are both historians trained in the same institution and what I have been advocating in this series of posts, however, is the value of cross-disciplinary collaboration in teaching. I think it is a good thing that our universities are becoming more and more diverse, attracting students from around the world. These students bring different perspectives and ways of thinking but they also bring new challenges. They force us to articulate more clearly our assumptions and expectations. When I started working in the International Foundation Program I thought I would be able to anticipate the needs of my ELL students since I myself was not raised in an English-speaking country and have gone through the experience of adapting to a English-speaking university as a student. While my experience allowed me to have some empathy for my students, by far what has helped the most was collaboration with the ESL instructors in the program. This particular assignment is not the only way Tyson Seburn and I collaborate in order to improve student learning in our program. Over the years we have discussed my lectures, planned our respective essay assignments so that they scaffold one another, and selected readings together. His training and expertise means he can spot what elements of my lecture or assignment instructions will present the most problems. This does not mean I tone everything down – I can still use the same instructions or vocabulary but it does mean that I can make them more of a learning opportunity and a chance to interact with my students by asking them “what do I mean by x?” and going over explicitly that concept.

Of course, not everyone teaches in programs like the International Foundation Program. Yet most of us teach at university that have student success centres, writing centres, ELL support services, all of which are filled with teaching and learning professionals that would be happy to collaborate with faculty planning a new assignment or syllabus. I believe that time invested in building those bridges saves a lot of time (and frustration) later on!