Higher Education Blog

  • How this Western University professor used Mastering and Learning Catalytics to improve student engagement in a large first-year class

    The challenge of engaging 600+ first-year students with different levels of background knowledge

    Assistant professor and course coordinator, Dr. Ayman El Ansary teaches an introductory Engineering Statics course at Western University.

    One of the biggest challenges he faced was balancing the varying levels of prerequisite knowledge. For some, the fall term may be a review for some, while for others it will be all new material.

    Additionally, Ayman found that first-year students tended to be shy about making mistakes and interacting with instructors, making it difficult to engage a class of over 600 students.

    Grading mid-terms and final exams for this large cohort also required hours of commitment from Ayman and his TAs who said this was “incredibly time-consuming and painful.”

    Using Mastering to imitate the tutorial experience with immediate feedback—which ensured students were prepared for upper-level courses

    When Ayman chose to use Mastering Engineering for tutorials and homework assignment, Pearson Canada’s Digital Learning Managers worked closely with him to understand what he needed and how Mastering can support him in these areas:

    Example-Based Learning

    To help students master core concepts outlined in his learning outcomes, Ayman assigned Mastering tutorials interleaved with worked examples which were followed by problem-solving exercises.

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  • How faculty can use etextbooks to encourage students to read

    Why don't students do their assigned readings? Many aren’t motivated to read through dense pages of information. eTextbooks have encouraged more students to read because of its interactivity and convenience.

    But technology alone doesn't improve learning. Instructors play the most important role in encouraging students to read.

    A 2015 Educause study looked at how an instructor’s use of eTexts affects student reading and learning. It found that 70% of students preferred eTexts over paper textbooks because of instructor highlights and annotations. This feature is just as important to them as the eText saving them money.

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  • Teaching about Indigenous Food Security: Q&A with Melissa Hardy and Dr. Lynne Lafave

    In honour of National Indigenous History Month, we spoke with Melissa Hardy, a Mi’kmaw Dietitian, and Dr. Lynne Lafave, associate professor at Mount Royal University, on the importance of teaching about food insecurity in higher education and why they chose to write about Indigenous food security in the latest edition of Nutrition: A Functional Approach.  

    Tell me a little bit about why you chose to write about food security in Indigenous communities. 

    LL: Thinking about nutrition and assessing nutrient adequacy is based on the premise that everyone has access to and can make healthy food choices. We wanted to take a step back and contextualize the food landscape within Indigenous communities.

    Food security is the first step in the process of making healthy food choices, then once food security is addressed, the opportunities and decisions of food choice can be explored.

    Awareness of nutrition experiments conducted shortly after WWII perpetrated on malnourished Aboriginal communities have been brought to the forefront.

    In line with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission #18, we have an obligation to partner with Indigenous communities to create nutrition education opportunities that meaningfully reflect First Nations, the Métis Nation, and Inuit groups.

    Food security is a term that means different things to different people. What does it mean to you and why is it important?

    MH: Food security to me means having access to enough food that is safe, culturally appropriate, and nutrient dense to meet the needs of individuals, families and communities across the lifespan.

    It’s a complex topic that encompasses food systems and food sovereignty, which for Indigenous peoples are significantly impacted by colonization, as we wrote about in Chapter 13.5 of Nutrition: A Functional Approach.

    Food security is important because nutrition is integral in all aspects of health, whether it be physical, mental, spiritual, or emotional. Nutrition plays a role in every major physiological system in the body and having the right balance of essential nutrients will help with optimal human functioning and overall wellness.

    Being fed is essential, but consuming adequate nutrition that supports individual preferences, is optimal. We all deserve to feel our best and reach our potential. We cannot have this without food security.

    Can you shed some light on the importance of education in addressing food insecurity?

    LL: The Truth and Reconciliation Commission Call to Action #18 states that we must acknowledge the state of Indigenous health in Canada. Food security is a key factor in health and we need to know what is happening in all communities if we strive for change and improved health within Indigenous communities.

    MH: In short, I would say, the importance of education in addressing food insecurity would be to ensure efforts to address food insecurity are culturally appropriate and allow for Indigenous self-governance. 

    It’s 2021, and thus way past time for the truth about Canadian history to be taught- at all levels. In university we are taught about high rates of illness and food insecurity in Indigenous populations, but never given the opportunity to learn why.

    Many of the health problems faced by Indigenous people today are due to diet and are directly related to Canada’s cultural genocide of Indigenous peoples. The World Health Organization (WHO) recognized colonization as the most significant social determinant of health affecting Indigenous peoples worldwide.

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  • Melissa Hardy, a Mi’kmaw Dietitian, on the importance of teaching Indigenous history and learning from wisdom

    As a Mi’kmaw Dietitian who grew up eating wild game, my style of eating wasn’t talked about in my dietetic training. In fact, during my 4 years of university, the only time I consumed moose meat or rabbit was when I went back home to visit.

    When I talked about eating wild game it was shocking for many of my classmates. During my time in university, I tried to conform, and I deliberately choose to reduce (not eliminate) my meat intake, and became disconnected from my roots.

    It was other Indigenous people, those who carry the knowledge—not dietetics—that re-taught me that traditional food is what’s best for my overall wellness.

    My first job working in Northern Cree First Nations really allowed me to see dietetics from a different view. Many of my clients, coworkers and friends who went through the Residential School system shared their experiences with me and how it has impacted their eating habits today.

    It is because of the resilient survivors’ stories that I learned the truth about chronic, intentional food restriction, unethical nutritional experiments, forced consumption of spoiled food, and deliberate withholding of traditional foods, and the impacts it continues to have generations later.

    Many of the health problems faced by Indigenous people today are due to diet and are directly related to Canada’s cultural genocide of Indigenous peoples. The World Health Organization (WHO) recognized colonization as the most significant social determinant of health effect Indigenous peoples worldwide.

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  • How to spot and support struggling students online

    Black boxes on a video call. Silence after asking a question. An empty discussion board. Teaching online can make it difficult to see when students need extra help.

    85% of students said the pandemic has negatively affected their grades and academic performance [1]. To prevent failing, how can you spot students falling behind and help them succeed online before it’s too late?

    Watch for trends in data

    One of the biggest benefits to using educational technology is the ability to monitor student progress closely. Aside from a gradebook, teaching platforms like Revel give you a detailed look into how students are keeping pace with their readings and their individual performance.

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  • Summer break in the midst of a pandemic

    For those who are students, summer break just might be around the corner for some of you.  For many, this may mean staying in your community instead of taking a road trip or flying out to a distant destination.  With that being said, what can you do to connect and work better online?  Here are a few ideas:

    Develop your contacts and better understand potential career opportunities

    For those of you who are looking to increase your chance of professional success, engage in opportunities that will help you increase your professional network. Sign up for sites like LinkedIn to connect with other professionals online. Collect the presentations and publications you may have already developed and showcase them. If you are working towards a degree in a certain field, take the time to research those that have stood out in that area and send a quick email or a hand-written note asking them to take some time to engage in an informational interview.  While some professionals may not respond to the offer to share their knowledge, others will.  Make a short list of questions that will help you gain the knowledge you need to develop the roadmap for a great start to your career.

    If you are working towards a degree in a certain field, take the time to research those that have stood out in that area and send a quick email or a hand-written note asking them to take some time to engage in an informational interview.

    The virtual interview

    So now that you made the initial connection with professionals in the field, what about the virtual interview?  Whether it be for an informational interview or for a new position, it is important to become familiar with the technology used. If you haven’t yet done a virtual interview, now may be the time to practice as there are a number of organizations that are choosing to conduct these during the pandemic.  If you do have a virtual interview coming up, practice with a friend to ensure that you can do your best. 

    If you haven’t yet done a virtual interview, now may be the time to practice as there are a number of organizations that are choosing to conduct these during the pandemic.

    Improve your virtual work skills

    “Hey, sorry I was on mute...” begins a blog post by Ashley Peterson-DeLuca that focuses on digital soft skills.  She goes on to quote Pearson’s Global Learning Survey which indicated that 77% of respondents believed that teleworking during this time has taught “that working remotely requires different skills than working in an office”.  She goes onto share some tips from two Pearson researchers to “...build more on empathy and keep your soft skills sharp while working at home”.

    With virtual work and education becoming the norm rather than the exception, take some time to sharpen your virtual work and collaboration skills for better results.


    Written by Sophia Guevara, MLIS, MPA. Sophia is a columnist for Information Today and a member of the Special Libraries Association and the Nonprofit Technology Network. 

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  • Teaching Organic Chemistry: Q&A with award-winning professor Richard Mullins

    Organic chemistry is considered one of the more difficult subjects to teach and learn. Even award-winning professor and author, Richard Mullins struggled with the course during his undergraduate.

    We caught up with Rick to learn about his experience with organic chemistry as a student, why he chose to author a textbook, and his approach to help students tackle one of the toughest science courses.

    Organic chemistry is notoriously one of the toughest courses for students. Tell me a little bit about your organic chemistry experience as an undergraduate.

    Yes, organic chemistry is known for being a “weed out” course. Students have to take it if they want to go to medical school. When was in college, that was my plan: I was going to be doctor; nothing could change my mind.

    As a student, I had felt really good about my ability to study and learn. But when I took my first exam, I got a C. I was devastated.

    But being a hard worker, I thought: “It's OK. I'm going to double down. I'll do what I always do for biology, for high school, for general chemistry.” I studied the same way, even harder. My reward was a D. I went from a C to a D from exam one to exam two.

    Oh wow. How did you go from a struggling organic chemistry student to an award-winning organic chemistry professor?

    After getting my grade back from that exam, I went to the professor and asked for help. Through that conversation and the hundreds afterwards, he helped me to learn organic chemistry.

    Since I was never great at memorizing, he taught me to understand the logic, to connect concepts, and to look for trends. In some ways, I was weeded into organic chemistry because, at that point, I fell in love with the subject.

    If I look back on my life, my organic chemistry professor changed my direction. I really idolized him and wanted to have the effect he had on me with students in my own class. Eventually, I decided to go to graduate school. Fast forward and here I am as an organic chemistry professor.

    "I really idolized my organic chemistry professor and wanted to have the effect he had on me with students in my own class."

    What eventually prompted you to write an organic chemistry textbook?

    Over the course of my time as a professor at Xavier University, I pledged to see organic chemistry through the eyes of the students. I wanted to try and encounter organic chemistry as they would, as I did as a pre-med, biology major.

    However, I still encountered some challenges teaching organic chemistry.

    When I started teaching, one thing students often said on Rate My Professor and teaching evaluations was to not read the book and just go to lecture. The question came to mind: why is the lecture so much better for the students than the book?

    "I pledged to see organic chemistry through the eyes of the students."

    This made me think that maybe there’s a need for a better book—one that is more like lecture. In lectures, I can form relationships with students. I can get to know them. They can ask me questions. We can work on problems together.

    Think about when you last studied a book that can do those things too. So I began thinking:Can we write a book that takes the best of lecture and puts it into a textbook?

    Can we establish a relationship with students through an organic chemistry book? We all read novels and develop relationships with the story or characters. But can an organic chemistry book establish a rapport with the students?

    Can it meet them where they are? Can it anticipate questions? Can it ask questions for them? Can the book have a personality?

    That was kind of the beginning of the idea for this project. Personality can engage students—that’s what we do in the classroom. If we can do that in a textbook, we can engage them in the same way.

    "Can we write an organic chemistry book that takes the best of lecture and puts it into a textbook?"

    We’ve heard students say that reading your textbook felt like having a friend in the course. How did you manage to build this rapport with students through a textbook?

    That’s lovely to hear. The book’s introduction starts with me telling my personal story and sharing advice on how to best succeed in organic chemistry with tips like having a growth mindset, grit, and study strategies.

    I think this does two things:

    1. It shows students that learning and being successful in organic chemistry has value beyond passing this course when they head into medical and graduate school.
    2. It acknowledges that students are fully capable and competent to learn even the most difficult material with the right toolkit.

    Throughout the textbook, there is a cartoon called Rick. That’s another thing the book does to lighten the mood.

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  • 4 Study Tips for Students Who Left Studying to the Last Minute

    Whether you’ve fallen behind because you’re a master procrastinator or missed a lot of classes, not all is lost. In university and college, cramming is unhealthy and unsustainable.

    However, if last-minute studying is your last resort right now, you can still use whatever time you have left to your advantage and learn better time management next time.

    Here are 4 tips and tools you can use to make the most out of studying last minute:

    1. Focus only on topics you’re struggling or unfamiliar with

    When studying last minute, you may not have time to review all your class materials and study notes. Focus on what you don’t know yet.

    To identify what you don’t know, take a practice test. It may not be fun to realize how much you have to study for, but this preliminary assessment will let you clearly see where you need to spend time studying.

    After you’re finished, review all the questions you got wrong and see if there are any trends. Maybe they are all from the same chapter or involve the same concept.

    If you’re using MyLab or Mastering in your course, use Dynamic Study Modules to save time. It will not only learn what topics you’re struggling with but also adapt its questions to give you get extra practice on topics you’re not familiar with.

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  • 7 common student procrastination excuses and how to overcome them

    “Nothing is so fatiguing,” famous 19th century philosopher William James explains, “as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task.” This fatigue of procrastination is a university and college student’s worst enemy. When we asked what your biggest struggle is as a student on Instagram, most of you said procrastination and motivation.

    Here are 7 of the most common procrastination excuses we hear from university and college students and how you can overcome each one:

    1. I’m too tired, lazy and stressed.

    Tell yourself you only have to do 10 minutes of work today. Find an easy task (i.e. read over your assignment, write one paragraph) and just start. When you finish, you can put it away guilt-free.

    Chances are, starting will create a momentum for you to do more. Even if you don’t, doing a little every day is better than not starting at all.

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  • Healthy Eating: The COVID Contradiction

    By: Lynn Lafave

    From education to eating, the pandemic has impacted every aspect of society. We asked Dr. Lynne Lafave, the co-author of Nutrition: A Functional Approach, how COVID-19 has affected our nutrition and how students can learn to build healthier eating habits during these stressful times.

    How has COVID-19 affected nutrition habits?

    A great deal of research world-wide has investigated predictors of healthy and unhealthy eating habits. Food prepared and eaten at home has been generally found to be healthier with higher nutrient density (more nutrients per calorie eaten) and lower energy overall. As a result, preparing and eating food at home is considered an eating habit associated with improved health and nutrient sufficiency.

    In contrast, what we know is that adults, adolescents, and children are more likely to eat nutrient-poor energy-dense foods when the food is eaten away from home, school, or work. Examples of these nutrient-poor energy-dense foods include pastries, chips, soft drinks, and confections (candies and chocolate). The connecting characteristic is the ultra-processed nature of these foods and consuming larger proportions of these foods is a strong predictor of lower dietary quality and weight gain. Therefore, frequent eating food away from home is considered an unhealthy eating habit.

    So, when various physical distancing restrictions were implemented to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and people spent more time at home, it seemed a reasonable hypothesis that this could lead to improved healthy eating. But nothing could have been further from the truth.

    It seemed a reasonable hypothesis that spending more time at home during the pandemic could lead to improved healthy eating

    Researchers quickly began to investigate the effects of COVID on eating habits and found some surprising results.  In Italy, one of the first countries to institute lockdown measures, there was a significant increase in chips, sugary drinks, and red meat consumption among children and adolescents.

    Evidence continues to trickle in demonstrating that poor dietary choices and increased drinking behaviours have increased world-wide as a result of the pandemic. In fact, Canada's Chief Public Health Officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, used her year-end 2020 address to caution Canadians about their higher alcohol consumption and encourage non-alcoholic options.

    Why is the pandemic having a negative effect on eating habits?

    To understand the impact of the pandemic on eating habits, we first have to understand factors that influence them.

    Food choices are driven by a whole host of factors such as physiological aspects (hunger and appetite), cultural and social pressures, dietary components, familial and genetic factors, and cognitive-affective factors. Cognitive-affective factors such as perceived stress, anxiety, and depression may influence food choices which may help us to understand pandemic eating patterns.

    Research has linked anxiety and stress to unhealthy lifestyle choices including the desire to eat and drink to feel better. This type of eating as a coping mechanism represents a stress-avoidance strategy of emotional eating to manage negative emotional experiences.

    Popular culture addresses these ideas in media and comedy. Just think of a cartoon story about someone who has just broken up with their significant other, diving into a container of ice cream to drown their sorrows. Research evidence demonstrates that being in a state of sadness predisposes individuals to increased consumption of unhealthy foods.

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