Higher Education Blog

  • 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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  • 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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  • Educators celebrate their remote teaching wins of 2020

    2020 proved to be a challenging year for educators, to say the least. Many instructors, however, rose to the challenge by bringing creative and collaborative teaching ideas into their online classrooms.

    To celebrate all the good things that happened in a tough year, we asked instructors to share their successes from the fall 2020 semester.

    Here are 4 trends describing what worked well for instructors:

    1. Keeping it short

    For a generation of students growing up on social media, instructors found that bite-sized activities kept them most engaged and attentive.

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