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Updated: 3 hours 47 min ago

Video recording class presentations

Thu, 11/29/2018 - 09:00

Video recording students’ presentations in the classroom can be a good instructional strategy for a number of reasons. For example, recordings can:

  • help students recognize their presentation strengths and weaknesses so they can intentionally demonstrate the former and improve the latter;
  • form part of a student’s professional portfolio; and
  • be a helpful support for the instructor when assessing the presentation after class time.

But when we talk about recording students’ class presentations, how does this actually happen?  

Professor Grant Clark recently shared his experience implementing peer assessment of oral presentations in his bioresource engineering graduate seminar. During that discussion, Grant described a video recording strategy that he has found works well in this course and doubles as a creative way of further inspiring students’ interest in particular topics in bioresource engineering:

Tools and approach 

The best way that I’ve found to record presentations in class is to use Skype for Business, software which is free for all McGill instructors, students and staff, plus a webcam. You’ll need a computer with internet access, a webcam (or a video camera), maybe a large bulldog paperclip, a USB extension cable, and a tripod.

  1. Start a meeting using Skype for Business on the presenter’s computer. “Present” (share) the desktop screen.
  2. Get a little tripod and use a giant bulldog or butterfly clip to attach your webcam to the tripod. Or, if you have a webcam that mounts on a tripod, that’s great.
  3. Set up the tripod about four meters away from the presenter and turn it on. You’ll probably need a USB extension cable to position the tripod well.
  4. In Skype for Business, when you record the meeting session, you can “Start my webcam” to get a little picture-in-picture window that shows the webcam image in the recording, so the people who are watching can see what the presenter is doing. This way, what’s happening on the desktop is recorded, so you don’t have to rely on a recording of the projector screen: Skype actually captures the image right off the computer.
  5. Record that meeting session into an .mp4 file and upload it to YouTube.
  6. That link can be posted on the class’ myCourses website, along with the video title, so the students can then watch it. The YouTube privacy settings can be managed so that only the instructor and students in the course with the direct link can access the video.

An advantage to uploading these videos to YouTube is saving time when grading. Once you upload the videos to YouTube, you can go into the YouTube settings and run the video at double speed so it only takes you two and a half minutes to watch a five minute presentation! If there’s anything you miss while you’re watching, you can slow the video down. It’s a real time saver.

A way to inspire students’ interest in the field 

Since this course includes not only 90 graduate students, but also about 45 undergraduates, we’ve been able to have these recorded presentations serve another purpose, which is to foster undergraduate students’ interest in specific topics in bioresource engineering by exposing them to a large variety of topics via these presentations. While the undergraduates don’t present, they do listen to some of the presentation topics that are of interest to them. Then, they write a short essay reflecting on and analyzing some of the topics, in which they explain how those topics might impact their future career decisions.

A question for blog readers: What ways of recording student presentations have worked well in your courses? Comment below!

Peer assessment of oral presentations

Tue, 11/27/2018 - 09:00

A number of instructors at McGill have been implementing peer assessment (PA) in their courses and have generously shared some of their reflections on the experience.

Professor Grant Clark is one of the coordinators of the Bioresource Engineering graduate seminar in the Faculty of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. In a recent conversation, he shared how he implemented PA in this course of 135 students (approx. 90 graduate students and 45 undergraduate students), reflected on trying new software, and offered advice to other instructors considering implementing PA in their courses.

For what assignment did you implement PA?

Each week of the semester, eight or nine graduate students do individual five-minute oral presentations with PowerPoint or the equivalent. Students have to choose an academic topic to present that is of potential interest to somebody at a university. Since that’s pretty broad, sometimes the topic or the format is more specific, such as saying the presentation cannot be about the student’s thesis topic, or that students should present in a sales pitch format, for example.

At the start of term, I share with students some ideas about how to give a good presentation. In the syllabus or on myCourses, I include links to what I consider to be excellent presentations, as well as links to a document or two about how to give a good scientific presentation.

PA of students’ presentations happens in three stages over the course of the semester:

Stage 1: Outside class time, each graduate student pre-sets the rehearsal timings so the slides advance at a certain pace, practices their presentation in front of a panel of three or four other graduate students, and then the panelists fill out a PA form using Office Forms. The form itself gives suggestions in point form of what to look for when providing feedback. The students video record the presentations and then submit a link to the recordings using this form so that I can look at the presentations and give feedback, too. This way, if one of the panelists isn’t able to be present, they can look at the video and send their feedback, as well. As it is a private link, only the review panelists, the instructor and the presenter can see the practice video. Each student gets feedback from about five people at this stage. The presenting student then has at least a week to make adjustments further to the feedback they’ve received, before presenting to the entire class during Stage 2.

Stage 2: Each graduate student presents in front of the whole class. The undergraduate students are divided into moderating committees of three or four students. Each week, a different moderating committee chairs the presentations during class. Each graduate student presents, and then has three to five minutes to respond to questions. The undergraduate students on that day’s moderating committee evaluate the presentation using a PA form. As well, the same panelists as in Stage 1 fill out a second PA form and describe how well the student presenter improved (or not). Each student gets feedback from nearly 10 people at this stage. The in-class presentations are recorded and links to the recordings are posted on the myCourses website.

Editor’s note: Stay tuned for an upcoming blog post that explains how these presentations are recorded.

Stage 3: The student presenters fill out a PA form after they receive the feedback from their panelists and moderators. On this form, the presenter provides feedback on how useful they found the feedback from their peers. Providing feedback on the feedback that they received (editor’s note: also known as “back-evaluation”) is motivation for peers to provide constructive feedback because there are a few points of their grade attached to that assessment.

Why did you start using Office Forms? What do students think about this software?

Our decision to use Office Forms was in response to past student feedback. Before, we had students in the audience fill out and submit a paper form with their name on it. For the students, it was a bother filling out the paper forms. As an instructor, the paper forms approach was time-consuming as it required collation, scanning and anonymizing.

Students are happy with the switch from paper forms to Office Forms, and creating and using Office Forms is really easy for me! Students access the form via a link I post on myCourses. They sign in with their McGill email and password. Students can fill out the form on their phone or their computer. The nifty thing is that all of that data is then available to download in Excel format. It’s just a matter of copying a column of feedback from Excel – but not copying the column with the submitting students’ names – and pasting it into an email and sending it to the student presenter. So while I know which students submitted which feedback, the student receiving the feedback does not know. The form is also time-stamped so we can make sure that the feedback is submitted on time.

Providing and sharing feedback is so painless and easy now, for the students and for me. In fact, I’ve seen that students tend to write more thorough comments on the electronic forms than they did on the paper forms in previous semesters. The online form works well and saves us loads of time compared to the hard-copy alternative.

To what extent does the students’ assessment of one another impact their grade?

That has changed over the years. The students are asked to give a numerical score and then justify it with text. I used to have a really complicated formula which included the average score assigned by the audience, and then it was weighted by my score, and so forth. Recently, it’s become simpler: now approximately 15% of their final assignment grade is based on the score assigned by the panelists and the audience. So it has a small impact on their grade.

What has a larger impact on their grade is whether they submit the forms on time. To motivate students to submit on time, a grade is attached to each form submission. So if it’s 5% for every form, and the student fills out all four forms, that adds up quickly.

What advice do you have for an instructor interested in trying PA for the first time?

Overall, be very organized. For instance:

  • Think the PA assignment through carefully and figure out how you’re going to manage the administrative overhead.
  • Make the instructions clear from the outset so you don’t have to change things mid-semester.
  • Get feedback from the class when you’re done to see what they liked and didn’t like about the assignment.
Reflection questions for readers: 
  1. How has technology facilitated the implementation of PA in your courses?
  2. Could you imagine using Office Forms to facilitate PA among your students?

One student’s role in improving university assessment and feedback practices

Thu, 11/22/2018 - 10:00

Teaching and Learning Services (TLS) is McGill University’s teaching support unit. TLS hires students from within the university to contribute to the success of various projects. In the Fall of 2017, I responded to a job posting for a Graduate Student Assistant position. Experience running and/or organizing large scale events was required, as were strong computer-literacy and communication skills. My experience and skills seemed suitable for the position: I’m a former business student and high school teacher, and I have a passion for learning. I applied for the position because it seemed like a good opportunity to utilize my skills and strengths, follow my passion, and find a place for myself in my new university. My interviewers clearly saw the same strong fit for me with this position, and I was hired.

I’ll be honest … until my first day of work at TLS, and maybe even until my second or third week, I really didn’t know what my job was going to be. One of the first responsibilities I was given was taking notes at monthly Assessment and Feedback Group (AFG) meetings. I had never heard of the AFG, so I decided to research the group before attending my first meeting. I read on the web that the AFG “engages the McGill community in considering effective methods for assessing student work and strategies for providing feedback to students, particularly in large classes.” AFG members come from many departments and faculties, and have a variety of roles within the McGill community. There are students, librarians, professors, staff and academic associates. I was excited to engage with this group that could make me think more critically about the relationship between assessment/feedback—as part of teaching—and learning.

Image courtesy of McGill University

As with many life experiences, I was eager to learn through being a member of the AFG and was pleasantly surprised at the opportunities I was given to not just learn, but also to share my opinions and add value to the conversations. In fact, I soon realized that my role was to represent the student voice, to contribute the student perspective to the conversation and even be an advocate for students. I was able to do this because I’m an active student in the McGill community. That provided me with a unique opportunity to share a different perspective on the topics discussed. I immediately noticed the credibility and weight my voice had at the meetings. I was treated as a participant with an equal voice. I particularly remember a conversation that exemplified my unique perspective. We were discussing students’ engagement with course material. Some profs felt that students weren’t doing everything they could to engage with course material. I felt compelled to provide my opinion: students are often overworked in a system that is not necessarily built to truly support our learning. Instead, it’s built more for us to achieve a grade so that we fulfill institutional requirements to obtain a degree. Very often, we can get the grades with surface learning, like memorizing for an exam, but what we want is deep learning.

My comments were taken seriously and we had a meaningful discussion about how to support students’ learning by offering students opportunities to engage in deep learning with course material while taking into account that they are often overworked.

While I feel I was able to advocate for students at these meetings, I also feel I’ve learned an incredible amount about the McGill community, the role of the professor, and the different needs and strategies for teaching and learning within the different faculties. It had never occurred to me that students in the extremely large first year science classes probably have to be assessed with different methods from students in smaller classes or that practical application assignments in engineering classes, where students might build things, are different from practical application assignments in music, where students might give a performance.

This is the first time in my post-secondary studies that I am aware of a group of professors and other university members getting together to try to improve assessment and feedback methods in order to benefit both students and professors. It has been enlightening for me to sit among this group who work hard to give students meaningful learning opportunities and enriching for me to work with them towards something I truly believe in: learning and knowledge creation, not just grades and performance evaluation. It truly makes me hopeful for the future of the student learning experience.

Simone Tissenbaum is a second-year grad student in the Department of Integrated Studies in Education at McGill University and a current Graduate Student Assistant with Teaching and Learning Services. Outside of the world of academia, Simone is a dancer. She has blended these two worlds together in her research, which uses dance to explore the topic of safe and healthy relationships with youth.

Strategy Bites: One minute paper

Tue, 11/20/2018 - 09:00

At Teaching and Learning Services, we regularly receive questions from instructors asking for ideas to enhance their teaching and improve students’ engagement in class. So, we’ve recorded 2-3 minute video bites that describe how to implement some strategies we’ve chosen based on relative ease of implementation, suitability for different class sizes, and their representation of a variety of interaction types. We’ll be sharing these strategies in the Teaching for Learning @McGill University blog over the coming weeks. Stay tuned!

Strategy: One Minute Paper

Sometimes, students need time to digest new information. The One Minute Paper offers them the opportunity to reflect on what they’re learning.

Why use this strategy?

In my experience, attending a lecture usually involved showing up, listening and going home to independently study. I can’t remember a time where I was asked to reflect on the course content other than while writing a paper or an exam. I remember using clickers to demonstrate our comprehension of the material, however, through this, our voice was never heard. Are there more effective ways to incorporate more depth reflections of the content? Yes. An effective teaching strategy you may consider is the One Minute Paper. It’s a short, in-class—or online—writing activity that students do in response to an instructor prompt. While often used to assess learning at the end of a class, the strategy can also be an opportunity for instructional feedback, as well as student reflection on learning.

Give students a prompt. Allow them a minute or two to think about what they would like to write. Then give students a minute to write down their response. Their writing may be submitted anonymously or not, depending on what type of feedback you would like to provide after reading it. The writing can also be submitted electronically. It’s worth noting that it might not be necessary to provide feedback on everything students write. Part of the value is simply getting students to reflect. You can sample the submissions and decide what to comment on.

The versatility of the strategy actually allows for it to be used at the beginning, middle or end of a class. At the beginning, just before you start your lecture, you can ignite the thought process with a prompt such as: What comes to mind when I say the word _____. In the middle of the class, you might ask: What connections can you make between this new concept and the ideas we talked about last class? At the end of the class, you might ask: What was the most important concept of this lecture? or What concepts remain unclear at the end of this lecture? You might also pose questions that stimulate deeper thinking – Do you agree/disagree with this statement? Why? or What connections can you make with what was discussed in today’s class and other courses you are taking?

An outcome of this strategy that I appreciate the most is that it places importance on involvement and moving beyond that task of just having to show up for class. By asking each student to share with you their thoughts, you are giving them a louder voice in their learning experience and a greater drive to be fully present – in mind and body.

Would you like to know more? Check out the other posts in the Strategy Bites series:

How do you get students to reflect on their learning? To think about what they don’t know? Share your ideas!

Jasmine Parent is an M. Sc. graduate from the program of Global and Community Nutrition in the Department of Dietetics at McGill University. She is currently enrolled in the M. Ed. Technology Program at the University of British Columbia and works as an Assistant Online Course Developer at McGill’s Teaching and Learning Services. Her greatest passions include cooking and exploring healthy recipes, practicing yoga, and spending time in nature.  

Featured Image photo credit: Victor Tangerman

Assessment for learning: Putting the pieces together with real-world assignments

Thu, 11/15/2018 - 09:00

This is the seventh post in our Assessment for Learning (AfL) series as we anticipate Beyond Grading: Effective Assessment Strategies for Better Learning, a McGill University symposium taking place on December 7, 2018. 

Reflecting on my time as a philosophy student at McGill, I initially found it quite difficult to recall an assignment that was “real-world” or “hands-on” in the way that those terms are typically understood: I never journeyed to Greece to work at a school for moral education or sculpted a bust of Plato. However, when I took those terms less literally, it became quite clear to me that I was constantly asked to make connections between theory and the “real world” in my assignments. These real-world connections made my studies much more meaningful and increased my understanding of often dense texts. I have the suspicion that many students in other disciplines would feel the same way.

Fellow grad student Simone Tissenbaum accompanied me on an expedition through McGill University’s downtown and Macdonald campuses to ask students about the types of assignments that have really helped them learn. Two students, one from the Faculty of Engineering and another from the Faculty of Education, shared with us their experiences with assignments that allowed them to apply their learning to real-world scenarios.

This student recalls a project in which they were tasked with designing an amplifier for a microphone. They found that they needed to implement a variety of concepts that they had used to solve practice problems in class, exclaiming, “It was cool to see how they all fit together.”

The other student describes an assignment for which they attended a cultural event. They note how they particularly appreciated being able to “actually use” what they were learning and “put it into practice.”

 

Assessment for Learning (AfL) strategy:

Read about why instructors might want to involve students in “hands-on” projects and how they can implement such activities.

Need ideas for creating authentic writing assignments? Check out some examples.

Beyond Grading: Effective Assessment Strategies for Better Learning – December 7, 2018

Do you teach at McGill University? You’re invited to a symposium where we will engage our community of instructors in learning about creative and effective assessment strategies to help improve students’ learning and motivation to learn, and inform teaching practices. View the symposium program and register to attend.

Check out the other posts in the Assessment for Learning series:

Kira Smith is an MA student in the Department of Integrated Studies in Education at McGill University. She received her BA in English and Philosophy from McGill in 2017 and has been working as a project assistant at Teaching and Learning Services (TLS) since. An avid unicyclist and voracious reader of pretty much anything, Kira enjoys good chats about student affairs and TLS coffee.

Strategy bites: think-pair-share

Tue, 11/13/2018 - 11:00

At Teaching and Learning Services, we regularly receive questions from instructors asking for ideas to enhance their teaching and improve students’ engagement in class. So, we’ve recorded 2-3 minute video bites that describe how to implement some strategies we’ve chosen based on relative ease of implementation, suitability for different class sizes, and their representation of a variety of interaction types. We’ll be sharing these strategies in the Teaching for Learning @McGill University blog over the coming weeks. Stay tuned!

 Strategy: Think-Pair-Share 

Allow students some thinking and discussion time before calling on them to respond to questions.

 Why use this strategy?

I’m a student with an introverted personality type, so being called on by instructors to answer questions in front of the whole class was quite daunting. Usually, I would sit there with an answer on the tip of my tongue, too shy to share it. I let the more confident students speak up. This often led to the same students answering and asking questions lecture after lecture. How might this scenario be changed so that more students engage with you and each other in the classroom?

The think-pair-share teaching strategy is an effective way to involve more students in class discussion and give the quieter students a voice. The strategy involves posing a critical question to your class and having them take a moment to think about it—and maybe even write down their thoughts. They are then asked to pair up with a neighbour (or two) to share their ideas. Finally, students are asked to share their responses with the whole class.

This strategy—which works in large and small classes—gives students the opportunity to prepare their thoughts before speaking in front of the whole class. If you have students prepare a short written response, they may feel even more confident when speaking to the whole class. Furthermore, and what I feel to be most valuable, this strategy enables the quieter, more introverted students, like me, to share their thoughts with the rest of the class and contribute to collective learning in a far less intimidating way. After all, there is much to be gained when all students contribute in the classroom.

 Would you like to know more?

Ideas for having students participate in class discussion

  • Students might not participate in class discussions for a number of reasons. Awareness of these different reasons may influence your teaching strategies. Read more.
Check out the other posts in the Strategy Bites series:

How do you get students to participate in class discussions? Share your ideas!

Jasmine Parent is an M. Sc. graduate from the program of Global and Community Nutrition in the Department of Dietetics at McGillUniversity. She is currently enrolled in the M. Ed. Technology Program at the University of British Columbia and works as an Assistant Online Course Developer at McGill’s Teaching and Learning Services. Her greatest passions include cooking and exploring healthy recipes, practicing yoga, and spending time in nature. 

Featured Image photo credit: Victor Tangerman

 

Assessment for learning: The art of asking good questions

Thu, 11/08/2018 - 10:00

This is the sixth post in our Assessment for Learning (AfL) series as we anticipate Beyond Grading: Effective Assessment Strategies for Better Learning, a McGill University symposium taking place on December 7, 2018.

One of the most novel assignments I’ve encountered was within the context of an English conference. Each of the students was responsible for leading one conference, presenting our analysis of a text and then facilitating discussion. Besides the usual apprehension towards presenting, I found it particularly challenging to develop good questions for discussion. I wanted questions to prompt my peers to synthesize what we’d learned and generate new ideas. Questions also had to be crafted so that they allowed adequate time to be explored within the allotted time. To pose an interesting question, I really had to take the time to thoughtfully engage with the content. Through developing my question for the conference, I explored my own responses to questions and critically reflected on my own knowledge. This assignment was particularly well- suited for conferences, but student-generated questions can be used in a variety of settings.

Fellow grad student Simone Tissenbaum accompanied me on an expedition through McGill University’s downtown and Macdonald campuses to ask students about the types of assignments that have really helped them learn. One student shared with us their experience with student-generated questions. For each assignment, the instructor required that students answer one instructor-generated question and one student-generated question. The student commented that the assignment meant they had to thoroughly review their notes, which made them “think of things [they] wouldn’t have thought of.” Listen to what the student says.

Assessment for Learning (AfL) strategy: Having students create questions can afford insight into how well students understand course content, but creating stimulating and meaningful questions can be a challenge for students, as well as instructors. Read about creating questions designed to promote “thinking, understanding, and learning” in The Art of Asking Questions and get ideas for integrating questions into teaching in How to Use Questions to Promote Student Learning.

Beyond Grading: Effective Assessment Strategies for Better Learning – December 7, 2018

Do you teach at McGill University? You’re invited to a symposium where we will engage our community of instructors in learning about creative and effective assessment strategies to help improve students’ learning and motivation to learn, and inform teaching practices. View the symposium program and register to attend.

Check out the other posts in the Assessment for Learning series:

Kira Smith is an MA student in the Department of Integrated Studies in Education at McGill University. She received her BA in English and Philosophy from McGill in 2017 and has been working as a project assistant at Teaching and Learning Services (TLS) since. An avid unicyclist and voracious reader of pretty much anything, Kira enjoys good chats about student affairs and TLS coffee.

Strategy Bites: Jigsaw

Tue, 11/06/2018 - 11:00

At Teaching and Learning Services, we regularly receive questions from instructors asking for ideas to enhance their teaching and improve students’ engagement in class. So, we’ve recorded 2-3 minute video bites that describe how to implement some strategies we’ve chosen based on relative ease of implementation, suitability for different class sizes, and their representation of a variety of interaction types. We’ll be sharing these strategies in the Teaching for Learning @McGill University blog over the coming weeks. Stay tuned!

Strategy: Jigsaw

The jigsaw is a cooperative learning strategy. It works best when knowledge needs to be pooled to address a problem.

Why use this strategy?

A professor once told our class that the best way to learn the course material was to become expert enough that you are able to teach it to a beginner. This advice resonated with me throughout my years as a university student and became an integral part of my personal study strategies. When I read about the Jigsaw Teaching Strategy, I immediately associated it with this advice as it heavily relies on students teaching the course content to each other.

 The jigsaw strategy begins with dividing students into groups of 4-5 students and giving each group a topic to discuss and become “experts” on.

Once groups have developed their expertise with that topic, the students are regrouped so that each new group contains one person from the “expert” groups. Students then teach the material they learned to their peers in their new group. This way, everyone is exposed to all the topics that were assigned.

At a group level, this strategy, which is a cooperative learning strategy, calls upon students to rely on each other for their learning, and for promoting interactions and collaboration to succeed. Students are given a greater sense of responsibility and they have the opportunity to draw on a more diverse range of perspectives than if the content had been presented solely by an instructor lecture. Having students work this way also taps into the value of different teaching approaches: sometimes, peers know how to convey information to peers in ways that instructors don’t think of. Ultimately, what I appreciate most about this teaching strategy is that by involving each student in the teaching and learning process, every individual becomes a truly valuable asset in the classroom.

Would you like to know more?

4 Things You Don’t Know About the Jigsaw Method

Check out the other posts in the Strategy Bites series:

What opportunities do you give students to engage in group learning? Share your ideas!

Jasmine Parent is an M. Sc. graduate from the program of Global and Community Nutrition in the Department of Dietetics at McGill University. She is currently enrolled in the M. Ed. Technology Program at the University of British Columbia and works as an Assistant Online Course Developer at McGill’s Teaching and Learning Services. Her greatest passions include cooking and exploring healthy recipes, practicing yoga, and spending time in nature. 

Featured Image photo credit: Victor Tangerman

Building community among science instructors

Mon, 11/05/2018 - 09:00

At a research-intensive university like McGill University, profs talking to profs about teaching is not a given. Profs are busy and many are accustomed to working in isolation. Even teaching is experienced by many profs as an isolating endeavour.

Dr. Anita Parmar, Associate Director at B21 and Senior Advisor, Innovative Collaboration, is seeking to change this. Anita has a role within the Faculty of Science to look for gaps in programming and then address these gaps with programming that inspires positive changes to teaching and learning in the Faculty. One of Anita’s most recent projects is to transform the teaching-in-isolation environment into a community environment where profs can discover they are among like-minded colleagues—like-minded in terms of having a common interest in expanding their repertoire of teaching strategies and in sharing ideas about teaching. Sounds like a great idea, but building community among faculty members can be a challenging undertaking. Anita had a vision, though. She wanted profs talking to profs about hard questions related to teaching science, like, how can you support student learning in really large classes? How do you teach classes where students have radically different levels of background knowledge? How can you illustrate—not just give theoretical explanations about—challenging concepts?

Anita, in collaboration with Ingrid Berker, who works at the Redpath Museum and is associated with the science outreach and public program, and 4th year Cultural Studies student Ellie Martin, came up with the idea for a speaker series entitled Breakfast Reboot: Sharing Stories of Academic Innovation in Science Education. The goal of the series is to provide a forum for sharing stories and discussing issues with the hope of inspiring new ideas. These informal breakfast talks feature members of the McGill academic community, as well as colleagues from other universities.

 

Dr. Laura Pavelka (Department of Chemistry) kicked off the series with a talk entitled: Tools for “shrinking” the large classroom. Prof. Ken Ragan (Department of Physics) was the second guest speaker, and he offered Strategies to improve engagement and feedback in large classes.

 

I attended both events. Judging by attendance and the animated Q&A sessions that continued past the scheduled time, a thirst clearly exists for the exchange of practical teaching ideas among colleagues. Comments that Anita received by email from attendees afterward attest to the success of the series to date, and suggest that community building may well be happening in the Faculty: “Great initiative!” and “I like best about the talk that it had a lot of audience feedback and discussion.” And community extended to other important members of the Faculty: “As a faculty advisor, I appreciate that I can contribute my comments, opinions at these talks. The talk was very informative.”

I asked Anita what her most important take-away was from the two events. She said she feels full of hope. She explained: “Trying to affect behavioural change on a broad scale in higher education can feel like you’re pushing against a mountain. Teaching large classes of hundreds of students is a complex challenge. After listening to the two presenters and the exchanges among colleagues, I believe it’s possible for teaching throughout the faculty to improve as a result of profs sharing teaching ideas with each other. There’s really something to be said for peers hearing from peers despite diversity among disciplines within the sciences. I was inspired by hearing honest and straightforward views from the profs and the techniques they’re using to overcome challenges.”

Laura Pavelka’s comments capture everything Anita had hoped the Breakfast Reboot series would achieve: “It is all too rare that we are able to get together and discuss teaching initiatives and ideas. We all know that the best ideas come from discussion and collaboration. So, I’m excited to participate as an audience member in the future.”

 

Breakfast Reboot is back on November 7, 2018 with Cognitive Science Honours student Pierre Theo Klein talking about Tutoring in the Age of Technology. Read more. Email Anita if you would like to be notified of upcoming events and if you have suggestions for guest speakers.

Assessment for learning: Designing meaningful group (team) work experiences

Thu, 11/01/2018 - 09:00

This is the fifth post in our Assessment for Learning (AfL) series as we anticipate Beyond Grading: Effective Assessment Strategies for Better Learning, a McGill University symposium taking place on December 7, 2018.

Throughout my undergraduate degree, I rarely had opportunities to engage in group work or even interact with my peers, besides the occasional in-class discussion. However, friends of mine in other fields of study did have such opportunities … and I frequently heard complaints from them about the assessment of group work. They sometimes described the experience as purposeless – there was nothing about the assignment that made group work seem necessary. Often, one or two of the group members ended up doing all the work. One way to avoid this situation might be to design group work so that members are accountable to peers for their performance in the group. In addition, it would be motivating for students if group work assignments had a clear and meaningful connection to applications in the discipline and emphasized skills development.

Fellow grad student Simone Tissenbaum accompanied me on an expedition through McGill University’s downtown and Macdonald campuses to ask students about the types of assignments that have really helped them learn. Two students from two different faculties shared with us their experiences with group work.

This student describes their experience learning discipline-specific techniques with their peers in the context of a lab, expressing the value they saw in developing teamwork skills.

In this student’s experience, the groups were tasked with making a decision about how to navigate an ethical dilemma. The student highlighted the value of the experience to them: “Working in groups gave me a real-world perspective on how working in a real environment would be.”

Assessment for Learning (AfL) strategy: Consider designing teamwork so that students assess peers’ contributions to completing the assignment. Not sure how to do that? Check out Using Peer Assessment to Make Teamwork Work.

Beyond Grading: Effective Assessment Strategies for Better Learning – December 7, 2018

Do you teach at McGill University? You’re invited to a symposium where we will engage our community of instructors in learning about creative and effective assessment strategies to help improve students’ learning and motivation to learn, and inform teaching practices. View the symposium program and register to attend.

Check out the other posts in the Assessment for Learning series:

Kira Smith is an MA student in the Department of Integrated Studies in Education at McGill University. She received her BA in English and Philosophy from McGill in 2017 and has been working as a project assistant at Teaching and Learning Services (TLS) since. An avid unicyclist and voracious reader of pretty much anything, Kira enjoys good chats about student affairs and TLS coffee.

Skills for Effective Study: A new SKILLS21 workshop for students

Tue, 10/30/2018 - 09:00

McGill’s Teaching and Learning Services (TLS) recently launched a new workshop as a part of SKILLS21, the University-wide skills development program for undergraduates. The goal of the workshop is to build student capacity for identifying specific study strategies to achieve learning goals, both in a course and in a specific study session. Called Skills for Effective Study, this workshop draws from TLS’ years of experience providing support to instructors through the Course Design Workshop and was developed from a workshop previously offered by McGill’s Counselling Services.

Through a one-and-a-half-hour interactive session, Skills for Effective Study covers topics like learning outcomes, the basics of time management, and other tips and techniques, but the primary emphasis is on the notion of self-regulated learning. In brief, this approach encourages students to reinforce their existing study habits by setting goals for study sessions.

By setting goals, a student can reflect on whether or not they’ve achieved them and adapt by making changes for the future, if needed. To support this capacity, the largest part of the workshop is devoted to an activity where students are challenged to work together to match specific study tactics, like concept mapping or keyword mnemonics, with learning outcomes, such as those they would find on a course outline. So far, the feedback from students is positive. They’re finding that incorporating planning into their studying behaviors and using creative study activities are novel and valuable.

All in all, this workshop contributes to helping students find and situate themselves in the learning process. Learning is a process, but not an aimless one. In courses, instructors and students know their goals because they’re clearly articulated in the course outline – as the saying goes, “it’s on the syllabus”. Since these goals are guides in courses, purposeful studying will be better, more effective studying, especially when the goals and tactics to achieve them are aligned. Goal-setting is a generally important life skill, but it’s also a key part of effective studying, i.e., studying to learn.

McGill instructors interested in recommending this workshop to their students can encourage them to get started by registering for SKILLS21.

Assessment for learning: Building an academic community through peer review

Thu, 10/25/2018 - 09:00

This is the fourth post in our Assessment for Learning (AfL) series as we anticipate Beyond Grading: Effective Assessment Strategies for Better Learning, a McGill University symposium taking place on December 7, 2018.

How can opportunities for peer feedback create an academic community in your classroom? Early in my English and philosophy majors, I often felt that the work I was doing existed in a vacuum – it was never critically thought about by anyone besides the instructor and only seemed relevant to the course I was taking. In my final year, one of my instructors asked the class for feedback on a paper she was developing, framing the discussion as one that she typically had with colleagues in her discipline. After that, she asked each of us to share prospectuses we had written and do a feedback exchange with a peer. Having seen how my instructor engaged us in providing her with feedback, as she engaged in peer review with her colleagues, the experience of peer feedback became more meaningful to me. Instead of doing an exercise for the purpose of a course, we were working with one another as colleagues in an academic community and we held ourselves to a certain standard, putting significant effort into the feedback we gave.

Fellow grad student Simone Tissenbaum accompanied me on an expedition through McGill University’s downtown and Macdonald campuses to ask students about the types of assignments that have really helped them learn. One student shared with us their experience in an English seminar. Each student drafted a short research paper, presented it to the class and then received feedback from peers and the instructor. Through numerous stages of revision, students expanded first drafts into potentially publishable final papers. Listen to what the student says.

Assessment for Learning (AfL) strategy: Asking students to write for “real” audiences can be motivating for them. Read about a “realistic” writing assignment.

Beyond Grading: Effective Assessment Strategies for Better Learning – December 7, 2018

Do you teach at McGill University? You’re invited to a symposium where we will engage our community of instructors in learning about creative and effective assessment strategies to help improve students’ learning and motivation to learn, and inform teaching practices. View the symposium program and register to attend.

Check out the other posts in the Assessment for Learning series:

Kira Smith is an MA student in the Department of Integrated Studies in Education at McGill University. She received her BA in English and Philosophy from McGill in 2017 and has been working as a project assistant at Teaching and Learning Services (TLS) since. An avid unicyclist and voracious reader of pretty much anything, Kira enjoys good chats about student affairs and TLS coffee.

Strategy Bites: Critical debate

Tue, 10/23/2018 - 09:00

At Teaching and Learning Services, we regularly receive questions from instructors asking for ideas to enhance their teaching and improve students’ engagement in class. So, we’ve recorded 2-3 minute video bites that describe how to implement some strategies we’ve chosen based on relative ease of implementation, suitability for different class sizes, and their representation of a variety of interaction types. We’ll be sharing these strategies in the Teaching for Learning @McGill University blog over the coming weeks. Stay tuned!

Strategy: Critical Debate 

The Critical Debate strategy involves assigning students a reading (or a problem or a question) on a given topic and having them write two reflections—one arguing “for” and one arguing “against.” In a following class, students are randomly assigned to argue either “for” or “against” in a formal debate with their peers.

Why use it?

The ubiquity of social media has made it easy for people to get caught up in echo chambers—to be less analytical and to quickly argue for or against a topic. We may therefore be in a time when it’s especially important for students to develop their ability to think critically. But teaching students how to do this must involve more than students listening to a lecture on the topic. Students learn through the experience of thinking through different perspectives and then arguing a position. The skill develops from practical application. This is something I really like about the Critical Debate teaching strategy: it must be done through active learning.

The ability to think critically is a skill that students can put into practice both in and out of the classroom. Students can apply knowledge learned in class to real life circumstances. Actually, students can gain a rich appreciation for the complexity of existing real-world debates. This strategy also pushes students to prepare for class, engage with the material, and interact with peers. What I like most about this strategy is that rather than teaching students what to think, it teaches them how to think. Knowing how to think may very well be how we extricate ourselves from the echo chambers.

Would you like to know more?  Check out the other posts in the Strategy Bites series:

How do you get students to apply knowledge to real-world situations? Share your ideas!

Jasmine Parent is an M. Sc. graduate from the program of Global and Community Nutrition in the Department of Dietetics at McGill University. She is currently enrolled in the M. Ed. Technology Program at the University of British Columbia and works as an Assistant Online Course Developer at McGill’s Teaching and Learning Services. Her greatest passions include cooking and exploring healthy recipes, practicing yoga, and spending time in nature.  

Featured Image photo credit: Victor Tangerman

Assessment for learning: Learning from peers with two-stage quizzes

Thu, 10/18/2018 - 09:00

This is the third post in our Assessment for Learning (AfL) series, as we anticipate Beyond Grading: Effective Assessment Strategies for Better Learning, a McGill University symposium taking place on December 7, 2018.

Whenever I completed a quiz for a course during my undergraduate degree, the learning seemed prematurely curtailed: I did the quiz, received a grade on myCourses, and then wondered about the questions I had answered incorrectly. When we got our quiz results, my peers and I sometimes ended up helping one another understand where we had gone wrong – just because we were curious about the answers. We were actually engaging in an informal peer feedback activity. In retrospect, I can’t help but think that we could have learned from our incorrect responses through structured peer feedback activities that were organized, and maybe even assessed, by the instructor.

Fellow grad student Simone Tissenbaum accompanied me on an expedition through McGill University’s downtown and Macdonald campuses to ask students about the types of assignments that have really helped them learn. One student described how their instructor used a two-stage quiz – where students first completed the quiz individually and then completed the same quiz with a group. As the student described, the first stage gave students the opportunity to demonstrate their own understanding of the content and the second stage allowed each student to pick up on the things they’d missed thanks to peers’ input. Listen to what the student says.

Assessment for Learning (AfL) strategy: Learn more about two-stage exams (or quizzes): implementation, benefits and challenges.

Beyond Grading: Effective Assessment Strategies for Better Learning – December 7, 2018

Do you teach at McGill University? You’re invited to a symposium where we will engage our community of instructors in learning about creative and effective assessment strategies to help improve students’ learning and motivation to learn, and inform teaching practices. View the symposium program and register to attend.

Check out the other posts in the Assessment for Learning series:

Kira Smith is an MA student in the Department of Integrated Studies in Education at McGill University. She received her BA in English and Philosophy from McGill in 2017 and has been working as a project assistant at Teaching and Learning Services (TLS) since. An avid unicyclist and voracious reader of pretty much anything, Kira enjoys good chats about student affairs and TLS coffee.

Assessing teaching effectiveness: More than student evaluations

Tue, 10/16/2018 - 09:00

Do students’ opinions of teaching effectiveness have merit? Students don’t necessarily know about teaching methodology, or the affordances and constraints that play into course design and in-class teaching. So, should their course evaluation feedback be taken into consideration when evaluating teaching effectiveness, and if so, what weight should it have?

Yes, they should. An analogy I once read highlights the relevance of student input: “Saying that students can’t evaluate teaching is kind of like saying that diners can’t evaluate their meals.” Think about it: We can assess certain qualities of the meals we’re served in restaurants because we’ve had a lot of experience eating restaurant meals, not because we’re necessarily schooled chefs. University students can assess facets of classroom teaching because they’ve had years of experience being taught in classrooms, not because they’re schooled in teaching methodology. Indeed, if I reflect on comments students have written in my course evaluations, only students could have provided me with certain types of feedback. Who else could have weighed in with first-hand experience to let me know that I sometimes let discussions run too long or that allowing students a couple of minutes to think about their answers to my questions gave them more confidence to respond?

Given that teaching is a multi-faceted endeavour, course evaluation data should be viewed as one data source among several for assessing teaching effectiveness. Data from multiple sources can illustrate a more complete picture of teaching effectiveness. (Again, I’m not the first to make this point.)

You might be wondering how McGill University addresses the matter. Actually, McGill is explicit in its acknowledgement that teaching effectiveness can and should be demonstrated through multiple sources:

  • McGill’s course evaluation site states: “The feedback you obtain from your students through MERCURY course evaluations is one input to an ongoing reflective process that you should engage in to improve your teaching and future offerings of courses.”
  • The University’s guidelines for preparing teaching portfolios for tenure or reappointment list a number of types of evidence that can speak to teaching effectiveness, among them comments from peer observers and invitations to teach due to reputation; (pp. 20-21).
  • The University’s Guidelines for search committees: Assessing prospective colleagues’ potential teaching ability describes various ways that McGill values teaching.

If you’re looking for more ideas about how to document the effectiveness of your teaching practice, take a look at the University of Calgary’s Guide for Providing Evidence of Teaching (pdf or Word doc available toward the bottom of the page) – a hot-off-the-press publication which offers ways to illustrate the impact of a wide range of teaching activities.

What ideas do you have for illustrating teaching effectiveness?

Assessment for learning: questions – a feedback practice we learned from Socrates

Thu, 10/11/2018 - 09:00

This is the second post in our Assessment for Learning (AfL) series, as we anticipate Beyond Grading: Effective Assessment Strategies for Better Learning, a McGill University symposium taking place on December 7, 2018. Read about AfL in the initial series post.

Can providing feedback in the form of questions be an effective method of assessment? As an undergraduate student, I received feedback on my papers in the form of direct suggestions or compliments. For example, one instructor encouraged me to further situate my argument in theory and another praised the clarity of my introduction. However, I often wondered if instructors’ comments could somehow have been written so as to help me develop my own understanding of my papers’ strengths and areas for improvement, rather than giving me solutions or praise. Maybe giving students feedback in the form of questions rather than comments would inspire us to think more deeply about our work. What if my instructor had written: “How might Hume’s paper, a work you didn’t examine, either strengthen or undermine your argument?” A question like that would have made me go back to my writing to look at a theory I hadn’t considered and I would have made significant improvements to my paper! Maybe Socrates was onto something with his elenctic method …

Fellow grad student Simone Tissenbaum accompanied me on an expedition through McGill University’s downtown and Macdonald campuses to ask students about the types of assignments that have really helped them learn. One student described how their instructor had given them a novel type of feedback on a research paper assignment – the feedback was in the form of questions that called upon them to explore the paper’s potential areas for development. This method of providing feedback initiated a dialogue between the student and instructor; it also prompted the student to critically reflect on their work and encouraged them to engage in revision through self-assessment. Listen to what they say.

Assessment for Learning (AfL) strategy: Feedback in the form of dialogue can also entail students asking the questions. Read about an interactive cover sheet strategy where instructor comments are guided by student questions.

Beyond Grading: Effective Assessment Strategies for Better Learning – December 7, 2018

Do you teach at McGill University? You’re invited to a symposium where we will engage our community of instructors in learning about creative and effective assessment strategies to help improve students’ learning and motivation to learn, and inform teaching practices. View the symposium program and register to attend.

Check out the other posts in the Assessment for Learning series:

Kira Smith is an MA student in the Department of Integrated Studies in Education at McGill University. She received her BA in English and Philosophy from McGill in 2017 and has been working as a project assistant at Teaching and Learning Services (TLS) since. An avid unicyclist and voracious reader of pretty much anything, Kira enjoys good chats about student affairs and TLS coffee.

Strategy bites: Advice letter

Tue, 10/09/2018 - 09:00

At Teaching and Learning Services, we regularly receive questions from instructors asking for ideas to enhance their teaching and improve students’ engagement in class. So, we’ve recorded 2-3 minute video bites that describe how to implement some strategies we’ve chosen based on relative ease of implementation, suitability for different class sizes, and their representation of a variety of interaction types. We’ll be sharing these strategies in the Teaching for Learning @McGill University blog over the coming weeks. Stay tuned!

 Strategy: The Advice Letter 

This reflection strategy can serve current students, future students, and instructors.

Why use this strategy?

I sometimes think: “If I’d only known then what I know now.” Unfortunately, it’s not possible to go back in time and give myself advice in order to change a future outcome. However, it is possible to give others who are about to embark on a similar journey as me that kind of advice. What if current students were able to improve future student success by offering advice based on their personal experience in a given course?

The Advice Letter is an opportunity for students to reflect on and consolidate their learning experience. It is also an opportunity to share insights with students who will take the course in the future. Reflections can be personal responses to questions such as: What do you wish you had known at the beginning of the semester? What were the most challenging parts of the course? What assignments really helped you learn? When the next semester begins, these reflections might prepare the new students for what’s to come. It’s a collegial way for students to “pay it forward.”

In a way, the Advice Letter can be viewed as a type of course evaluation as it also gives the instructor the chance to see what students perceived to be most successful and what may need improvement in the course. Ultimately, establishing this bridge of communication between present and future courses encourages continuous improvement of the learning experience for both the student and the instructor.

 Would you like to know more?  Check out the other posts in the Strategy Bites series:

How do you get students to reflect on their learning? Share your ideas!

Jasmine Parent is an M. Sc. graduate from the program of Global and Community Nutrition in the Department of Dietetics at McGillUniversity. She is currently enrolled in the M. Ed. Technology Program at the University of British Columbia and works as an Assistant Online Course Developer at McGill’s Teaching and Learning Services. Her greatest passions include cooking and exploring healthy recipes, practicing yoga, and spending time in nature. 

Featured Image photo credit: Victor Tangerman

Students are strategic (Part 3/3): A prof reconsiders course assignments

Thu, 10/04/2018 - 09:07

Have you ever wondered what students look for when they read a course outline? What do they think about the assignments they’ll be asked to do? This 3-part blog series describes one student’s reaction when reading a course outline for the first time and their subsequent conversation with the prof about concerns regarding the outline. In this third and final post in the series, we learn how Prof. Lambert addresses Dominique’s concerns about the group work assignment and the overwhelming reading list.

If you missed the earlier posts in this series, you can read them now:

Students are strategic: A student has concerns about assignments

Students are strategic: A student talks to a prof about assignments

A couple of days after our conversation, my prof sent an email to the whole class:

So, the conversation made a difference! It feels great that student feedback was taken into consideration and validated by the prof. A three-hour block of in-class time to work on the project will make it much easier to work together because we won’t have to spend time coordinating schedules. I’m not sure how much of a time-saver the shortened reading list will be given that we now have to submit a take-away and a question about the readings, but at least we have a clear purpose for reading and understand exactly how we can earn participation marks. These changes will help me focus my studying and manage my time so that I can do well in the course. Looks like the semester is off to a better start than I’d originally thought!

Simone Tissenbaum is a second-year grad student in the Department of Integrated Studies in Education at McGill University and a current Graduate Student Assistant with Teaching and Learning Services. Outside of the world of academia, Simone is a dancer. She has blended these two worlds together in her research, which uses dance to explore the topic of safe and healthy relationships with youth. 

Beyond grading: Ever heard of “assessment for learning”? Let me explain …

Wed, 10/03/2018 - 09:00

What words or images come to mind when you hear the word “assessment”? As a teacher? As a student?

Twice a year, McGill University’s Teaching and Learning Services (TLS) offers a two-day Course Design Workshop that includes an exploration of assessment practices. As a lead-in to discussion, TLS puts that question to the instructors who attend the workshop. The responses show a wide variety of associations that reflect the complexity of assessment considered from both instructor and student perspectives. Words such as fairness, clarity, judgment, stress, workload, and anxiety are frequently associated with assessment.

Many of the negative associations come from equating assessment with judging or grading student performance at the end of a course. End-of-course grading is one important purpose of assessment, and there’s another one. What if we think about assessment as a way to let students know how they’re progressing with their learning? As an opportunity to guide students’ learning and motivate students to learn? What if we think about assessment for learning?

Assessment for learning (AfL) provides students with opportunities to:

  • learn through frequent informal and low-stakes feedback, such as peer review of draft assignments
  • learn through formal feedback, such as instructor comments on assignments
  • practice and build confidence
  • engage in challenging, authentic tasks
  • develop their ability to assess their own learning
  • receive a balance of formative and summative assessment

(Sambell, McDowell, & Montgomery, 2013, p. 5)

AfL suggest that assessment goes beyond assigning a grade to students’ work. AfL describes assessment as an activity rich in practice opportunities and informal feedback, and one that can involve the individual student and peers, as well as the instructor. Thinking about assessment in this way may represent a marked shift in conceptions of purpose and implementation of assessment. Indeed, assessment can be a most opportune moment to bolster students’ learning!

Do students believe they can learn from the way they are assessed? We asked them. TLS randomly stopped students on campus to ask them for examples of assignments that helped them learn, along with explanations of what, in particular, was helpful. Their responses speak to AfL, and they afford us insight into how instructors can intentionally design assessments to foster students’ learning. Listen to excerpts of what some students had to say:

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be sharing more video clips with you where McGill students describe assignments that have helped them learn. You might also be interested in reading student perspectives on AfL in Assessment for Learning: A student survival guide: for students by students.

McGill symposium on assessment

Do you teach at McGill? McGill instructors are invited to attend Beyond Grading: Effective Assessment Strategies for Better Learning, a university-wide symposium taking place on December 7, 2018. The event, organized by TLS and McGill’s Assessment and Feedback Group, a long-standing faculty learning community, will offer you opportunities to learn about creative and effective assessment strategies to help improve students’ learning and motivation to learn, and inform your teaching practices. Through panel and round-table discussions, and informal networking, participants will share a wide range of strategies relevant across disciplines and applicable in both large and small classes. There will also be opportunities to reflect on the application of strategies to one’s own teaching context.

If you teach at McGill, register now, mark the date in your calendar, and join us for what promises to be a stimulating and informative exchange!

Check out the other posts in the Assessment for Learning series: References

Sambell, K., McDowell, L., & Montgomery, C. (2013). Assessment for learning in higher education. Abingdon and New York: Routledge.

Ebook available from the McGill Library.

Featured image: “My Life Without a Red Pen” by Rebeca Zuñiga under CC BY 2.0

Customize your course evaluations: Writing meaningful questions

Tue, 10/02/2018 - 09:00

If you teach at McGill University, you might be interested to know that you can add up to three questions to your course evaluation questionnaires. McGill’s Teaching and Learning Services (TLS) recommends that you take advantage of this opportunity to gather student feedback that might not emerge in response to the unit’s default questions, such as feedback on new teaching strategies and technologies you’ve tried; new classrooms or other teaching environments you’re in; and changes you made to your teaching as a result of previous course evaluation feedback. You can add multiple choice questions or questions that call for comments only.

Creating meaningful course evaluation questions can be challenging, though. In a 45-minute webinar for McGill instructors entitled Customize your Course Evaluations: Writing Meaningful Questions, (McGill sign-in required), TLS shared several guidelines through a Q & A format. For example:

Check out the webinar recording to see more examples and guidelines, as well as a guidelines checklist for question writing.

Looking for question ideas? See TLSBank of Recommended Questions. Questions about course evaluations? Check McGill’s Mercury website or contact mercury.info@mcgill.ca.

What questions have you added to your course evaluation questionnaire?

 

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McGill University is on land which has long served as a site of meeting and exchange amongst Indigenous peoples, including the Haudenosaunee and Anishinabeg nations. We acknowledge and thank the diverse Indigenous people whose footsteps have marked this territory on which peoples of the world now gather.

L'Université McGill est sur un emplacement qui a longtemps servi de lieu de rencontre et d'échange entre les peuples autochtones, y compris les nations Haudenosaunee et Anishinabeg. Nous reconnaissons et remercions les divers peuples autochtones dont les pas ont marqué ce territoire sur lequel les peuples du monde entier se réunissent maintenant.