Monthly Archives: May 2016

Critical Thinking – A Short Series (I Think)

What is critical thinking? Why is it important to cultivate it in ourselves and our students?  How do we go about doing so?  Where can you find some resources to help?

Let’s start with a brief snapshot of what critical thinking is.  According to Scriven and Paul (Defining Critical Thinking):

Critical thinking is “self-directed, self-disciplined, self-monitored, and self-corrective thinking. It presupposes assent to rigorous standards of excellence and mindful command of their use. It entails effective communication and problem solving abilities and a commitment to overcome our native egocentrism and sociocentrism.”

options-396266_1920So…what does that look like in practice?  They describe a critical thinker as someone who:

  • raises vital questions and problems, formulating them clearly and precisely;
  • gathers and assesses relevant information, using abstract ideas to interpret it effectively comes to well-reasoned conclusions and solutions, testing them against relevant criteria and standards;
  • thinks open-mindedly within alternative systems of thought, recognizing and assessing, as need be, their assumptions, implications, and practical consequences; and
  • communicates effectively with others in figuring out solutions to complex problems.

As human beings, our brains tend to choose shortcuts to save energy and, as a result, we sometimes pick mental paths which are based on bias and not on well-reasoned information.  (If you’d like to read a fascinating book on this topic and one that provides a more fulsome explanation than the oversimplification above, I’d recommend Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman.)  Critical thinking requires us to push past our inclination for the easy way and dig into our thoughts, gather information (not just data that agrees with our preliminary line of thought), assess it and be willing to change our minds.

So, why does this matter and how do we do it?

Stay tuned….



Together, Alone? Online Learning by Jen


May 25, 2016



Over the past year, I’ve been working my way through the Provincial Instructors Diploma at Vancouver Community College and made the conscious choice to take much of it online.  I’ve had people ask me the pros and cons of taking on such an endeavor – here are a few of my thoughts, based on my experience.


  1. Access to Content – In the PID program, I am given approximately eight weeks online to complete each course.  The contact time per course when offered as a face-to-face module is one week.  My brain is pretty small, so it needs more time to soak up information, sift and sort it and then find a free shelf in which to put it on.  (I’ve mixed metaphors here.  Apparently by writing this blog post I’ve shifted something else up there out of place.)
  2. Convenience – If I have time at 6:30 a.m. to work on an assignment (early morning weirdo), I can do so.  I can still work full-time and schedule other life-related activities (cleaning the bathroom) that need to happen around my homework schedule.
  3. Depth of Content – With all the links, YouTube videos and pdf copies of articles, I have plenty of content to help with my assignments.
  4. On-Line Library – Being able to access articles through the VCC Library has been an amazing resource.  I don’t have to travel to learn.
  5. Colleagues – Just because I’m online doesn’t mean I don’t ever talk to others.  Each course has at least some degree of contact time with other students and I learn at least as much from them as I do from the instructor and the content.  My fellow students are gifted in their own right and give me lots to think about in areas I wouldn’t have otherwise had access to.

Cons (not like prison)

  1. Face time – I’m not talking about the iPad chatting feature, but it is related.  While we have been introduced to software such as Skype, Facetime and oVoo, seeing another person’s face on a screen is not the same as sitting next to them in a room.  I am not particularly bothered by this, but some people are.
  2. Communication – While instructors often make themselves available using these software tools, I tend to be reticent to use them because I feel as though I’m bothering them.  I’m more inclined to send an email, but realistically, it takes three email messages back and forth to do what one quick live chat could do.
  3. Synergy – Sometimes, when in a classroom, a discussion can erupt that changes the points of view of those present.  Ideas, arguments, counter-arguments, illustrations, examples, all fly in a flurry of conversation that is very difficult to reproduce in an on-line environment.
  4. Comraderie – Going for coffee during the break, chatting about ideas you learned in class or about what you did that weekend.  You get to know those in your class in a different way than you do in an online environment.  I’m not saying relationships/friendships can’t form between online students, but it’s a lot tougher.
  5. Motivation – For those who are procrastinators, it’s easier to get behind in an online environment and harder to catch up once you have.

I think it comes down to personal personal preference as well as the quality of the online materials/platform.  A great article on the pros and cons of online learning (as well as face-to-face and hybrid) can be found here –, compliments of my PIDP 3250 colleague, Shawna.

What works for you?



Boredom Fighters – Device Distraction

May 20, 2016


You walk into a classroom/boardroom and are greeted by a sea of faces…or…how about a sea of laptop/iPad/iPhone/Android-obscured faces?  More than ever, we are connected to our devices and both schools and businesses have become more lax in allowing them in education spaces.

Ever wonder the impact of these devices on our students’/participants’ ability to learn?

A study done at West Point determined that students who were permitted to use their devices while in class “scored 18 percent of a standard deviation lower than students in the section where devices were banned”.  (The link to the study, in case you want to read more –

In another article on the subject, Straumsheim ( points out, “The average student uses those devices for “nonclass purposes” — in other words, texting, emailing and using social media — 11.43 times in class during a typical day.”

As an educator, I think the use of media has a place in the classroom/boardroom, but I do take exception to students/participants incessantly checking their email/Facebook/text messages.

Why are they doing it?  A survey done (also from the Straumsheim article) paints a bit of a dismal picture:


Only 46.46% of the students are using their devices for reasons related to the course.  Ouch.

Implications?  I know some suggest that banning devices would solve our problems, but I wonder if perhaps the solution is a bit more difficult than that?  Could it be that we as educators need to rethink how we teach?  If students are using their devices to stave off boredom or to entertain themselves, perhaps we need to consider what we need to change to reignite engagement in our students.

What might that look like in your teaching environment?

Water Aware – Creating a Culture of Conservation

May 16, 2016

This may appear to be a departure from my typical blog post on educating adults, but it’s not.  If you live in the Lower Mainland, you know we’ve been moved to Stage 1 watering restrictions.  (See here for what that means to you:

Some may be annoyed by being told when they can and can’t water.  Others of us, used to living in a rain forest, have not previously had to deal with water shortages and may not be aware of how our habits are water-wasteful or what we can do to improve.

What if we took responsibility for managing this precious resource by educating ourselves and others on how to be creative in our water conservation efforts?

drop-of-water-166735_1920Here are just a few resources to help us become better stewards of our water:

  1. Water Use it Wisely – 100 Ways to Conserve: A great website that includes plenty of small ways to make a big difference.  It even has ideas for builders such as using porous materials for patios and walkways to prevent runoff and keep water in your yard.  Bonus: Check out the lesson plans, games for kids and suggestions for teachers.
  2. National Geographic – Don’t Be a Drip – This website is worth checking out for the duck in the shower cartoon alone.  (This from someone who embarrassingly admits she should have webbed feet for how much time she spends in the shower…a habit I am committed to adjusting.)
  3. Be Water Wise – I like this website because it tells you how much water you save when you make changes to how you use water. For example, did you know that by watering early in the morning you reduce the amount that evaporates and you can save up to 25 gallons every time you water?

Let’s be proactive, creative, educated.  We all have the privilege and opportunity to make a difference and to be an example to others.  Start today!

Imposter Syndrome

May 14, 2016

I was reading a post on The Toast (yes, it rhymes) by Mallory Ortberg (here’s the link – Everyone Has Imposter Syndrome – Except For You) and found myself laughing out loud.  In my case, this typically means two things:

  1. Someone has taken something that scares me and made it humorous.
  2. I have learned something (often in spite of myself).

She says, “According to Social scientists working on a decades-long population study have recently concluded that every single living resident of the United States suffers from a condition known as imposter syndrome, a psychological phenomenon in which people are unable to internalize their accomplishments, except for you, an actual fraud who is almost certainly on the verge of being found out by the people who only think they love and respect you any day now.” (emphasis mine)

Have you ever stood in front of a classroom, 20/30/40 sets of eyes looking back at you, and think to yourself, “I have NO idea what I’m talking about!  As soon as I open my mouth, everyone is going to know I’m a big fake.  I don’t know enough about this to speak authoritatively on it…They all know more than I do and I will have nothing to contribute.”


I don’t believe you.  I suspect that most of your reading this have had these thoughts at least briefly flit across your mind.  Whether you are an educator, a regulator, a sculptor or a dentist (okay, maybe not a dentist), it is not at all unusual to wrestle with moments of Imposter Syndrome.

Personally, I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing. It keeps me humble and it pushes me to continue to hone my craft.

For those of us who suffer from this more than occasionally, Margie Warrell, author of Stop Playing Safe and Find Your Courage, has a short video interview which gives a few suggestions on how to stop being held hostage by Mr. I.S. (Imposter Syndrome).

I have no illusion that at some point I can stop learning and growing and really, I don’t want to.  Don’t let your thoughts paralyze you, bury you in self-loathing, cause you to cease sharing the gift of the knowledge you do possess.




Grammar Matters

May 11, 2016

Before you read any further, be clear I do not consider myself a grammar expert.   I nearly failed Grade 9 English because of my affinity for dangling participles.  I do, however, cringe when I see an article full of typographical errors or when someone writes something like, “I’d love too!”  Gah!

Of all the people to give us a grammar lesson, welcome Mr. A. Yankovic!