Category Archives: Uncategorized

Yes, You can NAP at Brock

NAPPerhaps it’s a misleading title, but I couldn’t resist . . .

Brock is hosting NAP, a “Night Against Procrastination” event, Nov 12 from 6pm-midnight.

Other Universities across Canada run similar events in November, called The Long Night Against Procrastination. There’s even a Facebook group! Usually these events run into the wee hours, but we’re testing the waters and ending at midnight for our first year.

This type of event fits perfectly with our goal of inspiring students to do more, be more, and surprise themselves. A few years ago, I started my “it vs IT” speech in classes. The message seemed to strike a cord with students, so we made a video. Yes . . . teacher turned movie star. It’s a crazy job. 🙂

it it

We’ve  hosted it on You Tube: Don’t Just Write it, Write IT

More Details on the Brock NAP

During this late night writing and studying event, Brock students can work on assignments, ask questions, fuel up with soup or snacks, and join  mini-workshops or fun relaxation sessions.

Night Against Procrastination: Unite to Write!

• Work stations
• On-demand professional study and writing support
• Soup(er) food
• Relaxation sessions
• Quick and Dirty On the Spot Workshops

When: Thursday, Nov 12th from 6 PM to Midnight

I may be a little sleepier next time I post. Wish us luck!

Margaret Groombridge
A-Z Learning Services, Brock University

Gamification: Making it more than just a good idea

Gamification. Games can stimulate, motivate, and challenge. I remember my own frustration and borderline-obsessive need to conquer Tetras and Phoenix in the 80s.

I failed. I learned. I persisted. I succeeded.


You’re reading this post, so I’m sure that you feel the same way as I do . . . and would LOVE for students to feel this same enthusiasm about their course work. I’ve thought a lot about gamification—and about incorporating gaming elements in teaching and learning. For me, the challenge has been to make the learning authentic (for students) and do-able (for me, the teacher).

A couple of weeks ago, at the CONNECT 2015 conference in Niagara Falls [i], I attended a session by Dina Moati, Professor of Education at Sheridan College: “Level Up! Gamifying the 22 Century Classroom”. Moati presented a program they developed at Sheridan to engage students in personal development: a badging system with a virtual map offering students a variety of “quests”. The program tracks successful completion of these quests, highlighting students’ achievements and motivating them to take on new quests.

A virtual map? A badging system? Sometimes the idea of Gamification is overwhelming. Do I see the potential benefits for students? Yes. Do I feel that I, as an individual teacher, have the skill and time to gamify my lessons? “Yes and No”.

As a member of Brock University’s Academic-Zone team, “Yes”. Academic-Zone provides students with online interactive learning modules to develop their skills in writing, science, and math. Academic-Zone is part of A-Z Learning Services at Brock University and is comprised of a team of professionals. As a team, we can develop amazing things.

As an instructor for Brock’s A-Z Learning Services, however, “No”. Well, maybe not a definite “No,” but I certainly find it more challenging to gamify my one-to-one work with students.

An example of my attempt at in-class gamification: Last week, I led a workshop on Time Management with grade 10 students from DSBN’s Niagara Academy[ii]. I created a time-management game (with input from my colleagues. . . thanks for the red card idea, Sue!). The game is essentially a stack of cue cards, labelled with various activities and time allotments (e.g., 1-hour study cards, sleep cards, entertainment cards, eat cards, class cards, emergency cards etc.)time management game. In groups of four, students plan “two days as a university student”.  As students work, I hand out “red” cards. The red cards are the “stuff just happens” cards (e.g., USB falls in toilet, computer crashes, friend’s birthday, flu etc.). Sometimes good stuff happens, like “you form a study group and save 2 study hours”. I was surprised by the students’ level of engagement. Students were strategic, creative, and collaborative. Also, students became increasingly engaged as they received the red cards. They didn’t want to end the “game” because they wanted to “win”.

I realized that I don’t need to compete with gaming companies and create a course version of Minecraft or World of Warcraft (although that’d be awesome).  What I do need is to stay connected (with other educators, for ideas, and with my students, for authenticity), to be creative, and to keep the following principles in mind: provide low risk of failure, choice, challenges with increasing difficulty, and opportunities for problem solving.

What about gamifying an entire course?

I just read an interesting post in The Chronicle of Higher Education, “Want to Make Your Course Gameful: A Michigan Professor’s Tool Could Help”. In the post, Casey Fabris outlines the work of Professor Barry J. Fishman from University of Michigan who developed a learning management tool, GradeCraft. GameCraft allows instructors to organize their courses in a “gameful” way: Students can explore course concepts and demonstrate their learning in various ways. The tool uses  game “design” rather than superficial gaming elements “like points and leaderboards”.

I was encouraged by Fishman’s work because tools like GradeCraft (1) can help support instructors implementing game design approaches in their classes, (2) can help support wide-spread change,  and (3) don’t gamify in a superficial gimmicky way. Just making something into a “game” doesn’t work. Students will call my bluff: “You’re not World of Warcraft, so stop trying to be.”

What are your thoughts on gamification in formal education?


3c94c98Margaret Groombridge
Coordinator Learning Skills Instruction
A-Z Learning Services, Brock University

[i] CONNECT 2015, Canada’s Learning and Technology Conference, K-12 to Higher Ed, May 5-8 2015.

[ii] Article on District School Board of Niagara’s Academy

Ready to Connect at CONNECT 2015?

Several of our Brock University A-Z Learning Services team will be attending the CONNECT conference next week in Niagara Falls, May 5-8. We hope to see you there!

niagara-falls-205380_1280Niagara Falls, Ontario

 CONNECT is a Canadian learning and technology conference that connects education professionals from kindergarten to higher education, drawing “passionate educators, leaders, chief information officers, directors of education, IT experts, business managers and government sector institutions . . . [to gather] once a year to learn, debate and exchange ideas, network and be inspired through a smorgasbord of world class speakers, presenters, exhibits and seminars. It is the only event in Canada that brings together the complete life-cycle of learning, from kindergarten to Higher Education, libraries and workplace learning” (Connect, 2015).

A-Z Learning Services is offering a poster session, Thursday May 7 from 10-10:50am: Breaking Boundaries with Technology: Creating a Safe and Independent Student Experience . Stop by to explore the Academic-Zone modules and learn about Academic-Zone—Our story of development, our challenges and triumphs, and our strategy to increase student engagement and success through service and faculty partnerships.

Feel free to stop by and chat or just say, “Hi” :).


3c94c98Margaret Groombridge
Coordinator Learning Skills Instruction
A-Z Learning Services, Brock University

Writing Woes and Maintaining Perspective

Write about what you know. . .

Good advice. Right now, I feel the familiar tug of despair, but I have hope! Working with first-year university students in our transition program has its joys and challenges.  At the moment, I’m reviewing their writing (challenge) and I’m planning the editing sessions for January (oh, the joy).

First steps? We’ll be tearing through the writing methodically: identifying claims, evidence, analysis and transitions. Rip it up and then glue it back together. We use the acronym PERT to identify points, evidence, relevance (how the evidence supports the point) and transitions (words and phrases that make connections). The Where’s Waldo of academic research writing. The answers to “what is the point?” and “how do you know?” and “how do these ideas relate?” that are often missing in student writing.

The approach may be mechanical, but I find that it increases students’ awareness of their role in the academic writing process. It’s not about sounding smart and throwing some fancy terms and long sentences together. It’s about communicating their thinking clearly, synthesizing existing research, presenting well-researched arguments, creating meaning from existing research and questioning current understanding.

In our Essay-Zone module, we’ve placed an emphasis on analysis so that students can analyze their own writing–to see what they’re doing well and what they can do better. It’s about empowerment.

(Writing this post inspired me.  I needed a little inspiration!)


Image meLead Designer, Academic-Zone and Coordinator Skills Instruction, A-Z Learning Services, Brock University

Feeling Unable to Learn

I highly recommend reading Maryellen Weimer’s “Feeling Unable to Learn” addition in Teaching Professor Blog.

Weimer shares her difficulty with technology and frustration when trying to learn a new email system–her frustration,  sense of isolation, embarrassment and lack of control.

Weimer’s experience speaks to my own personal experience as a mature student who returned to university in my 30s. I felt frustration, isolation, and insecurity, but I persevered. Why? Deep down, I  knew I would be successful. I believed that I could learn.

Day after day, I see students struggling to believe. Some have never been challenged. When they eventually are challenged, which often happens in first-year university, they may feel excited or devastated. They may avoid the challenge and stick with what they know. Students may be on the other end of the spectrum, never having experienced success. Many students, when they are successful, may not acknowledge the success and only focus on what they haven’t done or on others who are more successful.

Instilling or strengthening students’ belief that they can learn, that being uncomfortable means that they’re growing, and that learning may involve risk drives my teaching. I strive to help students acknowledge their successes, see learning as a courageous endeavour, and feel empowered in the process.

As one of the content developers of our online Academic-Zone modules, I wanted students to feel empowered by using the modules. I wanted students who were struggling with essay writing to have the language to talk about their strengths and weaknesses and to not be embarrassed to seek next steps (and hopefully to actually show someone their writing!). How often have we wanted to hide our essay at the bottom of the pile?

I welcome your comments! 🙂

Margaret Groombridge BA, BEd, MEd

Lead Designer, Academic-Zone

Assistant Manager, Brock Learning Services, Student Development Centre

Pic me


Tips to Increase Your Final Exam Performance

The end to another academic term is quickly approaching… along with the stress of writing final exams. If you have to write exams and are feeling nervous, overwhelmed, and exhausted from studying, these are some useful tips from examtime to perform at your best on exam day.

The Night Before
You want to have your exam day planned out beforehand so you can focus on remembering the important information you studied.

  • Check the time and location of your exam
  • Set an alarm to wake up early
  • Collect materials you will need to bring to your exam tomorrow
  • Get a full nights rest (8 hours is recommended)

Exam Day
Make sure you start your day off right. If you’re feeling confident and refreshed before you write your exam, chances are you’ll perform better.

  • Wake up early and prepare for your day (taking a shower can help your body wake up)
  • Have a balanced breakfast (try to eat some fruit, for example, a banana)
  • Grab your exam materials (remember to bring your ID, translators, etc. if required/permitted)
  • Leave early (unexpected events happen all the time; you don’t want to be late)

Starting Your Exam
You have prepared for this moment. Focus your mind and get yourself prepared to ace this exam.

  • Write your name on the exam paper and make sure you have all pages of the exam
  • Read through the exam to get an idea of the content and length of each section
  • Plan your time and focus the majority of your time on the heaviest weighted questions
  • Start answering questions you feel most confident about (leave the challenging questions for last)

Finishing Your Exam
You’re almost done! Just a few more questions and you can leave feeling great.

  • Ask for clarification or assistance if you don’t understand a section/question
  • Pay attention to the time and pace yourself
  • Review your work to ensure you answered all questions correctly
  • Stay to the end of your exam period (review your work multiple times to catch silly mistakes)
  • Hand in your exam feeling confident that you did your best work

You just finished your exam and can now move on with your day and enjoy the rest of the spring/summer!

I hope these tips were helpful and reduced your fear of writing exams. If you still have any concerns, feel free to post them in the comments or contact your institution’s help centre. Best of luck with your exams and the end of your semester!

Teaching students to write, not ‘fill-in-the-blanks’

Jeremy Shermak, an Assistant Professor of Communications at a community college in Chicago, writes an inspirational story about academic writing and consultations with students. Shermak shares his perspective of using education to “light a fire” instead of “filling a bucket” when advising students.

The Single Most Important Factor for Success

Have you ever wondered what determines if an individual is academically and/or professionally successful? One would assume intelligence, time management skills, or wealth are all possible factors… but surprisingly those don’t take the top spot. Angela Lee Duckworth, a psychologist from the University of Pennsylvania, just might have the answer. Check out this 6-minute TED Talk to hear her story.

What are your thoughts?

  • Do you think passion and perseverance are crucial for success?
  • Do you think there is a more important factor for success?
  • Can you think of anyone who embodies this factor?

Spending more on Prisoners than on Students

Spending more on Prisoners than on Students

I wanted to share an alarming report from California’s Department of Finance that suggests “over the past two decades spending per prisoner in California has increased nearly three times faster than spending per K-12 student.”

The first question that comes to mind after reading this report is “Why are we prioritizing the care of law-breakers over the education of our youth?” If more K-12 students received high-quality education one could assume they would be less likely to commit crime, and more likely to propose crime preventative measures later in their life.

After reading 6 Reasons America Spends More on Prisons Than on Higher Education it has become apparent politics plays an important role in this budget decision. It is easier to get elected, from a politician’s perspective, if you persuade society with crime-related initiatives. In addition, politicians can move more of the cost of higher education on students while the same cannot be said for prisons and prisoners.

Creative Design of Online Learning

I came across a great 10-minute video featured on Standford+Connects from Tina Seelig, a professor from Stanford University. Seelig talks about “A Crash Course on Creativity” she taught in an online course. If you’re looking for advice administering an online course and insight into potential obstacles, this video is for you!

One great point Seeling makes halfway through the video is in regards to individual assignments. “You need to do an individual assignment first to see who is actively involved.” As a student who has taken online courses, this is very true. Some students are simply observing or in the backline during an online class while others are actively engaged. This activity will help segregate the class into those 2 groups.

Towards the end of the video, Seelig talks about an interesting project she assigned to her students and the entertaining and surprising results she collected. This is a great example of creative design that has been successfully implemented into an online course.

What are your experiences?

  • Have you taken a memorable online course that was very engaging?
  • Do you prefer learning online or offline?
  • Should educators incorporate technology into curriculum?

I would love to hear from you!
Thanks for reading.