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Customizing the Content Module in myCourses

Teaching for learning blog - 13 hours 39 min ago

Have you ever wondered how you might spice up your content modules in myCourses? If you are looking for something new to add to your course content, this post will show you how you can customize a module in myCourses so that it looks more like a web page.

Here is a sample page that you can create within the content tool in myCourses. Once created, the page is displayed when you click on the module. Click on any of the images below to see a larger version.

To start, you create a new module under “Table of Contents”. Once the module is created, open the module and click on “Add a description…” (See image below)

This will open a text box with Word-like formatting functions. You can type in text, change font, colors and style. In addition, by clicking on the “Insert Stuff” button at the top-left of the window, you can add images, embed videos, add documents, as well as modify HTML code for those of you who are more tech-savvy. Clicking on “Insert Stuff” will open a second window where you can choose a variety of formats. In the following image, I’ve decided to insert a YouTube video that I searched for with key words. The search displayed a list of videos from YouTube that I could select by clicking on the item.

To embed the video you simply click on “Next” and then “Insert”. The video will be embedded into your text-editing window.

You can play around with the functions to see what works best for you. Depending on the size of your window, sometimes not all the formatting options will be displayed. If that is the case, just click on the box at the top-right with the three dots; this will display all hidden options.

Don’t forget to change your module from “Published” to “Draft” so that your students will only see the changes once you are satisfied with the final result.

Once you click on update, you can visualize how it will look in your content module. Beneath the description you can upload or add files, as you normally do when adding content to the module. You can come back to the module later and modify this area (called the description area) by simply clicking on the area with your mouse (see image below). This will open the formatting window we saw earlier.

How do you customize your content modules in myCourses? Post your ideas below!


The Body Matters – BODY101x – McGill’s 3rd MOOC has begun

Teaching for learning blog - Fri, 02/27/2015 - 12:21

McGill has just released its third MOOC, The Body Matters (BODY101x) on the edX platform. This course is 10 weeks long and focuses on benefits of physical activity, how to prevent injuries as well as what to do when an injury occurs. Dr. Ian Shrier is the primary instructor (@ianshrier) along with many other guests who are all experts in their field. Over 23,000 students have enrolled from over 180 countries. Have a look at a more detailed description of this MOOC along with the intro video:

Exercise is promoted as a fundamental component of a healthy lifestyle. Ever wonder why? Exercise is more than just an “art of converting big meals and fattening snacks into back strains and pulled muscles by lifting heavy things that don’t need to be moved, or running when no one is chasing you.” Our bodies evolved to move over several millennia.

Did you know that physically active obese individuals live longer than inactive thin individuals? Are you interested in seeing the evidence on the benefits and risks of stretching? What is the best way to treat your ankle, knee, and/or shoulder injury? How does injury affect mood and what are the consequences?

Whether you are a competitive athlete, an aspiring musician or dancer, whether you play for fun or just want to lead an active lifestyle, this course will entertain and challenge you. Topics will include basic and advanced principles of body movement and biological, psychological and social issues related to activity/sport/injury/rehabilitation. The course will include content from leading international experts in multiple fields related to the science of exercise.

Have a look at the introductory video below for a great summary of what the course is about:

The Reporter just recently released an article about the online course with an interview with Dr. Ian Shrier.

This MOOC is free for anyone to register and has no prerequisites. If you are interested, head over to the registration page and register now! See the McGillx page on the Teaching and Learning Services website for more information on McGill’s MOOCs.

Making the Most of Online Discussions in myCourses

Teaching for learning blog - Tue, 02/17/2015 - 09:00

The Discussions feature on myCourses can be an invaluable tool to promote engagement and to extend the classroom beyond its physical location. This post focuses on a number of different features that can help you make the most of your myCourses discussions.

Creating Forums and Topics

By default, your myCourses page does not come with a discussion board enabled. When creating your discussion board, you will be prompted to create both a topic and a forum. A forum is a category of discussion, while a topic is the space where you and the students can post threads and replies. The image below demonstrates the distinction between forums and topics.

Sometimes instructors find that online discussions can get overwhelming. Keeping your discussions organized – when forums and topics are clearly labeled with their purpose – will make it easier for your students to participate and for you to manage your online discussions.

Some ways to categorize your discussions might be: by class topic, by week, by conference/lab/tutorial sections, and by assignment/project.


myCourses allows you to “subscribe” to topics and/or forums. This means that you will receive a notification in your minibar (see example) whenever sometime posts in that topic and/or forum. For instance, you may be interested in subscribing to your discussions if you have a dedicated “Questions for the Instructor” section.

You can also sign up for instant notifications so that you receive an email whenever someone posts in a discussion forum or topic to which you have subscribed. Don’t worry – you won’t get any emails unless you sign up for them!

Modifying your View Settings

Adjusting your view settings can make it easier to see everything going on in your discussion board at-a-glance. Enabling the “Discussion List pane” in your personal settings will allow you to toggle quickly between different topics and forums. The numbers in the right column indicate the number of unread posts.

While the view settings have changed recently, we are hopeful that the previous “grid view” will be restored soon. We will keep you posted on any developments.

Types of Content

Participants are not limited to simply posting text in discussions. You and your students can include pictures, embed Youtube videos, attach files, link to external content, and more! The text editor also allows you to include tables and mathematical formulas through the Equation Editor. If you wish to get creative, you can also play with fonts, sizes, colours, and more.

Group Discussions and Individual Journals

The Groups tool allows you to create groups of students – manually, automatically, or student-selected. When creating the groups, you also have the option to create group discussions. Group members will only have access to their own group’s journal, while you and any Teaching Assistants with sufficient permissions will be able to access all groups’ journals.

You can similarly use this tool to create groups of one and thus create individual student journals.

Rating Schemes

myCourses has an option to allow students to rate posts—either with a five-star rating scheme, up and down vote, or up vote only. While I encourage you to exercise caution with this tool, it certainly is one way to energize discussions. You can enable this for your entire discussion board or for individual topics.

Assessed Discussions

Have you considered including participation in online discussions as a component of your class participation grade? myCourses allows you to assess discussions and even connect your assessed discussions to your gradebook, so that the marks transfer automatically. You can either assess a student’s participation in the overall topic or assess each individual message.

Anonymous Posts & Moderation

You can enable anonymous discussion posts—by forum and/or by topic. Similarly, you can require a moderator to approve posts. Using these tools can be a great way to receive mid-course evaluation feedback.


Want to see at-a-glance which of your students are participating in online discussions? You are able to view (and download) statistics that include the number of posts that students have read, authored, and replied to. You can also view which forums and topics are the most active.

Discussions can be a valuable tool to promote student interaction and engagement, especially in large classes. The index of documentation for instructors using myCourses is available here. If you are interested in learning more about myCourses, you can either request a consultation here or send us an email at tls@mcgill.ca.

Muddling with Intention: On Moving from the Academy to the Academy

Teaching for learning blog - Thu, 12/04/2014 - 09:00

As the end of my PhD was drawing near, I started to worry, like many grad students do, about what would come next? How would I transition from being a doctoral student in the academy to the world of full-time work? As a grad student at McGill, in addition to my PhD work, I was teaching, editing, organizing workshops on writing and publishing, and raising two young children. I was developing skills, knowledge, and networks that would support a transition from the academy to whatever came next. And, what came next was a new way of being a part of the academy. Now, I am writing from my desk in the James building, wearing my fairly new hat as Academic Projects Officer in GPS.   This position in university administration comes on the heels of almost a decade of graduate studies at McGill (MA and PhD, Faculty of Education), which included a year “off” between degrees to teach in Cegeps, and 2 yearlong maternity leaves during the PhD.

I will admit that when I started my PhD, this was not where I imagined being post-PhD. I entered my doctoral program with the same idea most of my peers had – that the degree would lead me to an academic position. Naïve, I know. But, there I was, knowing that not all of us could possibly get academic positions (simple math explains this, not to mention job markets and tight financial times – see the White Paper on the Future of the PhD in the Humanities), yet somehow thinking I’d be one of the “lucky” ones. (Why do we think that only the ones who land those jobs are the lucky ones?)

This is not a post about luck, however, but how muddling with intention[1] as a graduate student allowed me to look beyond the singular academic post-PhD path. You might think that muddling suggests lack of focus and direction. Perhaps. But muddling with intention is a strategic and explicit approach to developing and exploring a breadth of educational opportunities, such as those mentioned above, while working towards an end goal (completing my PhD). And this involved a great deal of focus, planning, organization, and setting clear expectations with my supervisor. Let me give an example. At the beginning of my PhD, I met with my supervisor and sketched out a backwards timeline for my doctoral program. Working backwards from when I aimed to graduate (which coincided with when my funding ran out – as a grad student with children, I was determined not be an unfunded student), we blocked off chunks of time for the different phases and milestones of my program. I deliberately worked in some wiggle room to allow for life happenings. By muddling with intention throughout my PhD, I honed skills that are highly valued both in and out of the academy: refined research and analytical skills; time, task, and project management skills; leadership skills; and the ability to be self-directed as well as collaborate with others. This approach has landed me a job in the academy, and rather than cutting me off the academic world, I find I have a foot firmly planted in both camps. I continue to teach, publish, and engage with my research community, and this informs how I approach my role as an administrator for grad studies.

Is the post-PhD path a singular one? Not at all.   Graduate students need to be encouraged to take a step back from their muddling, and cast their skills and knowledge into a wide pool of future possibilities, either within or beyond the academy, or, as in my case, to transition from the academy to the academy.

[1] I would like to acknowledge the late Professor Ellen Aitken, who used this expression in a workshop on Women in Academia to describe her experiences of moving through the academy.

How to find free, interactive resources for your courses

Teaching for learning blog - Tue, 12/02/2014 - 09:00

With a nearly limitless, constantly evolving supply of information available on the web, where can instructors find free, interactive resources to complement their courses?

John Shank’s (2014) book Interactive Open Educational Resources offers many resources and starting points for interested instructors. It provides background on the ways in which Interactive Learning Materials (ILMs for short) can be used to support course learning outcomes, ultimately fostering students’ learning. ILMs take multiple forms (e.g. interactive multimedia modules, exercises and simulations), and are developed to ensure that students engage actively with the subject matter.

This book guides instructors in finding, incorporating and assessing ILMs and students’ learning, given their existing teaching approaches and course materials. Major online materials repositories are shared (see pp. 37-8 for starters), including MerlotWisconsin Online, the Open Educational Resources Commons, and the National Science Digital Library, among many others. Further, helpful search strategies (chapter 3) and selection strategies (chapter 8) are provided to help instructors locate the materials that are most relevant to their course and topic. The last chapters look at ways of integrating such resources within the university’s Learning Management System (myCourses at McGill), and explore the ways in which ILMs can support Chickering and Gamson’s Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education.

This e-book is available through the McGill library. The online format and detailed, hyperlinked table of contents make for efficient perusing.

Have you ever used ILMs in your courses? If so, what worked well, and what advice would you have for other instructors? If not, would you be interested in trying to incorporate some? What questions would you have?

10 Ways to Encourage Course Evaluation Participation

Teaching for learning blog - Tue, 11/18/2014 - 12:08

Mercury Course Evaluations are now open to students until December 21 (default period) or until December 7 (for units following the condensed evaluation period). Course evaluations are an important source of feedback to help you learn what is working well in your courses and how you can improve them. They are also a component of the teaching dossier, and are reviewed for the annual merit process.

Professors often express concern about response rates, and so we wanted to share some strategies that you can implement to encourage your students to complete their evaluations. Teaching and Learning Services undertakes numerous University-wide strategies, but encouragement that comes directly from professors has been very effective. Here are 10 things that you can do to encourage student participation in this important process:

  1. Talk to your students about the value you place on course evaluations. Describing concrete changes that you have made to your course in response to previous course evaluation results empowers students to provide constructive and thoughtful feedback.
  1. Let students know if you have granted permission to disseminate your numerical course evaluation results. Students are more likely to complete the evaluations if they know that they and future students will have access to the results at a later date, provided that enough students respond. Instructions to grant or deny permission are available here.
  1. Add a slide to your PowerPoint slideshows during the evaluation period to remind students about course evaluations being open. A sample slide is available here.
  1. Add the Course Evaluations widget to your myCourses homepage. It includes important facts about course evaluations and provides a direct link to complete them. Instructions to add this widget are available here.

  1. Add a link to Course Evaluations to your Navigation Bar in myCourses. This provides an easy access point for students. Instructions to do this are available here.

  1. Monitor response rates and post weekly updates during the evaluation period in the News tool on myCourses.
  • If you have granted permission to disseminate your results, let students know how many responses are needed for the numerical results to be made available to students.
  • If you have multiple sections of a course, encourage friendly competition among the sections for the highest response rate!

See a video example of one instructor’s experience.

  1. If you use social media in your class, consider posting a tweet or Facebook message to encourage students to complete their course evaluations. Click here to learn more about social media usage in the classroom.
  1. Include the evaluation period dates in future course syllabi. In the meantime, consider adding the evaluation period dates to your course calendar in myCourses. Instructions are available here.
  2. Consider doing a mid-course evaluation in future classes. Options include an anonymous survey or discussion in myCourses, a one-minute paper, and a student-led discussion. More information is available here. Students are more likely to complete the end-of-course evaluation when they see changes made to the course following the mid-course evaluation.
  1. Ask students to bring their laptops, smartphones, or tablets to class and allow time to complete the evaluations during class. It is most effective to do this at the beginning of the class, or during conferences, tutorials, or labs. If you have a small class, you could also try to book a computer lab. Note that you and any Teaching Assistants must leave the room during this process.

Have you used another effective strategy to promote course evaluations? Let us know! Send an email to mercury.info@mcgill.ca.

Your course evaluation results will be available as soon as your grades have been submitted and approved. We have developed resources to help you interpret your course evaluation results, including tables for numerical results and a comment analysis worksheet.

Thank you for your collaboration in this important process! If you have any questions, please contact us at mercury.info@mcgill.ca.

Is Supervision about Teaching or Research?

Teaching for learning blog - Wed, 11/12/2014 - 15:46

In fact, it’s both!

Studies in supervision practice have found a connection between a mentor-model of supervision and better research outcomes.  On the surface, the investment in time and energy into new supervisees may seem like a one-directional cost for many supervisors.  However, some supervision research has shown that the original investment into teaching students about good research techniques pays off in the end.

Considering that most masters student-supervisor relationships is 2 years, and doctoral student-supervisor relationships can be up to 6 or 7 years; by tackling the skills and knowledge required to do quality research from the get-go, supervisors optimize the time that they have with their supervisees, and supervisees in return, learn important skills that will help their own research progress.  They learn from the starting gate how to balance the multiple needs of being a student (research assistant, teaching assistant and life/research balance) from the only person who is in a position to do so most effectively – and the person who stands to benefit the most (besides the student, of course).

Supervision in many ways is under-estimated by both supervisor and supervisee which often leads to unrealistic expectations and disappointments.  Supervision research has shown that the lack  of explicit expectations can cause long term problems for both parties, which can be avoided by implementing some strategies to clarify expectations. The University has been working to build more resources to facilitate this discussion and successful relationships. Training for Graduate Program Directors and Department Chairs is one good example. The Graduate Supervision website is another. For an interesting look into the relationship between success and clarifying expectations, supervisors can find and read the resources here.

For more information on the one-on-one experience, Teaching and Learning Services is offering the workshop: Clarifying Expectations in Graduate Supervision (GPS 409) on November 13, at 10:00am.  Imagine preventing common mistakes and avoiding confusion when taking on new graduate students. Clarifying Expectations is about articulating roles and responsibilities in supervisory relationships before problems or miscommunications occur. In this workshop, we will discuss existing supervisory agreements, work together to set the goals and outcomes, and focus on writing an agreement that suits everyone’s needs.

This session is part of a series designed to look closely into the supervision relationship and provide knowledge and support to supervisors, both new and experienced. We look forward to seeing you there!

(Lisa Travis and David Syncox contributed to this post.)