Change One Thing Challenge Recipients

2024 Recipients

Instructional Podcasting in Introductory Biology

Jennifer Van Dommelen, University Teaching Fellow, Faculty of Science, Department of Biology

I am exploring the potential for audio instruction in my online introductory biology courses with episodes of the BioTA Podcast. Students listen to an episode and are guided to use specific notemaking strategies – identifying and categorizing key ideas, concept mapping, and line drawing – to represent the ideas of the episode in ways that make sense to them, and to answer capstone questions that connect the ideas in the podcast to other course material. Using podcast episodes that are relatively short and related to course material that students have already encountered reduces their cognitive load, gives them time to re-listen if necessary, and gives them the opportunity to practice generative learning strategies with bounded instructional material. Students have responded positively to the podcast and supporting activities and I plan to diversify the presentation of course material with more audio content.

Enhancing Affective Connections in Science Education: Bridging the Gap Between Laboratory and Classroom Learning Through Case Studies

Shawn Xiong, PhD, Full-Time Instructor & Undergraduate Teaching Laboratory Coordinator, Department of Biochemistry & Molecular Biology, Faculty of Medicine

Science learning involves three levels: macroscopic observation, microscopic explanations, and symbolic communication. While laboratory training is meant to connect these levels, many students experience a disconnect between laboratory and classroom learning. Factors contributing to this include separate instructors, challenges in content integration between lab and lecture, outdated equipment in the teaching lab, and grade disparities favoring lectures. To address the disconnect, I tested three theme-based case studies in the lab, co-created with students, to enhance content integration between lab and lecture within BIOC3700: Biomolecular Chemistry. Through three-year study, this approach has shown to improve students' affective connections within and across courses, promoting real-life application, interdisciplinarity, and scientific humility. Given the constructivist nature of case study-based learning, we hypothesize that similar practices can effectively be adopted in other scientific fields of training.

Previous Grant Recipients


Tracking Moods via App to Increase Emotional Learning for Conflict Communication and Develop Personal Emotional Literacy

Laurel Schut, College of Sustainability

Working towards sustainability requires collaboration between multiple stakeholders, disciplines, and fields – which can lead us to situations in which disagreement is present. Skilled communication around conflict management is therefore a particularly imperative skillset in the context of sustainability. One approach to developing healthier intrapersonal and interpersonal communication is Social and Emotional Learning (SEL). SEL is a methodology “that helps students of all ages to better comprehend their emotions, to feel those emotions fully, and demonstrate empathy for others. These learned behaviors are then used to help students make positive, responsible decisions … and build positive relationships with others” (National University, 2022). In this project, students enrolled in SUST 3952 used the Mood Meter App to log their emotions every week over three months. Student feedback (anonymous survey responses and learning journal comments) shows that this

Let’s Talk Nuclear Energy: Channeling Dialogue through Healthy Debate in Tutorial

Sandi Stewart, Faculty of Management

The course co-instructors Dr. Christopher Bennett and Dr. Alana Westwood envisioned the tutorial sessions for MGMT 2305 (Ethics & Social Responsibility) as incubators for students’ critical thinking, as well as the development of ‘soft skills’ like empathy and active listening. Sandi Stewart, an Instructor and Teaching Assistant with the School of Information Management led tutorials this term. An ongoing priority was to create safe and inclusive spaces for students to share ideas and work together. Each session was structured with self-directed learning (SDL), collaborative learning (CL), and dialogue-based peer learning (DBPL) in mind and began and ended with reflection. Students were challenged to think critically about course concepts and case studies. The approaches above framed an impactful case study debate on nuclear energy, which prompted inspiring student engagement.


Service Learning on Non-Profit Leadership in Sustainability

San Patten, College of Sustainability

Students who complete SUST 3104 Sustainability and the Non-Profit Sector tell me that what they appreciate most about the course is the applied learning, particularly the opportunity to “do some good” in the community as part of their coursework. In the transition to online teaching due to COVID-19, I changed an applied group research project for one local non-profit organization (NPO), to a two-part individual service learning assignment that could be completed by each student in their own local context:

  • to replace in-class guest speakers from local NPO leaders, students were assigned to conduct and share individual video interviews with an NPO leader of their choosing (with an interview guide collaboratively developed by the students); and
  • rather than a group project for a local NPO, each student asked their NPO leader for a research question that their organization would find useful, and the students conducted evidence reviews accordingly.

Alternative assessment and applying concepts through projects in a first-year linear algebra course

Dr. Asmita Sodhi, Department of Mathematics and Statistics

Teaching remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic has brought with it many challenges. Among them, for me, are questions of how to engage students in an asynchronous course, and how to fairly evaluate students in a heavily computational class where there are online calculators freely available that can do most of the work for you. Not having much time to prepare my online summer MATH 1030 course, I chose to include a final project to kill both these birds with one stone: a project would get students engaging with the course material in new ways, while also giving me an opportunity to evaluate my students on work an online calculator couldn’t do for them, without completely having to overhaul my usual teaching strategies. The result was a number of wonderfully creative projects, and the sense that many students had a better appreciation of linear algebra than they did before.


The Campus as Classroom for Learning Human Centred Design

Dr. Aaron Newman, Department of Psychology & Neuroscience

SCIE 4701/4702, Science & Technology Innovation, Commercialization, and Entrepreneurship, introduces science students to the processes of design thinking and innovation through a flipped classroom approach that emphasizes team-based, project-centric, experiential learning. Students learn to apply science to real-world problems, improve their leadership and teamworking abilities, and are expose to opportunities outside of academia. Their major term project requires “customer discovery” — getting out of the building and talking to real people who have the needs that a team is trying to solve. Because it can be challenging and intimidating to do this for the first time, this year I introduced a new design thinking exercise, prior to the major project, challenging students to identify on-campus problems to solve. Far beyond my expectations, the students embraced this process, prototyped solutions that have already shown benefits to our campus, and led to three new initiatives to improve the student experience at Dal.

Minimizing High-stakes Examinations and Creating a Multi-skills Fossil Species Account Assignment

Dr. Jennifer L. Frail-Gauthier, Department of Biology

Courses that are evaluating students from 100% testing are not developing self-sufficient learners. We need additional evaluation schemes that allow students to gain professional and transferable skills that not only increase their motivation in the course itself, but give them the attributes for future employment in the STEM field. In the fall of 2019, I changed the evaluation scheme of BIOL 3326 (Vertebrate Design: Evolution and Function) from 100% examinations to a 60-40 testing/assignment rubric. Although future changes are still needed, deciding to Change One Thing in 2019 has shown the positive impact of the Fossil Species Account assignment on student learning, especially in relation to science communication, self-motivation, and reducing student stress and anxiety from lowering the stakes of examinations.


Use Your Time(table) Wisely: Finding a Home for the "Organic Synthesis Workshop"

Gaia Aish, Department of Chemistry, Faculty of Science

Organic chemistry is a challenging subject for students. To teach this subject, interactive learning is imperative to helping students develop adequate problem-solving skills, which are required for success. The requisite problem-solving relies on a deep and interconnected understanding of many aspects of the discipline. With the usual time constraints in the week before any final exam, it is challenging to deliver review sessions for ~350 students that encompass this level of problemsolving. Finding unused time allotted to the course in the academic timetable was instrumental to meeting this challenge. I now offer each student a three hour workshop at a time I know they are available. Happily, the workshop has a student to teacher ratio of 12:1. The “Organic Synthesis
Workshop” uses a strategic worksheet, employing proven teaching and learning pedagogy. The positive impact of this workshop was confirmed by survey feedback.


Active Learning in Introductory Statistics

Sean MacKinnon, Department of Psychology and Neuroscience

Introductory statistics is a challenging class in the curriculum of many university students. Research suggests students in introductory statistics classes greatly benefit from active learning using computerized simulations. This document describes active learning workshops implemented in an introductory statistics class taught to psychology students (PSYO 2501). These workshops were designed to overcome three primary barriers to learning: (a) uneven prior experience; (b) large class sizes, and (c) uneven access to statistical software for use in class. A series of 10 classes were converted from lectures to in-class workshops on applied statistical problems. Students work collaboratively on problems in class, while instructors and teaching assistants roam the classroom to answer questions. Cloud-based statistical software (RShiny) is used, allowing all students to use software in-class with any Internet-ready device. Responses from course evaluations suggest that workshops positively impacted student learning, and the workshops will continue to be used in future years.

Mindfulness Meditation in the Health Promotion Classroom

Rebecca Spencer, School of Health and Human Performance

Following a presentation about mindfulness meditation (MM) in the postsecondary classroom, I was inspired. Since fall 2017, I have started each of my classes with guided meditation, using a variety of methods. My goals were to introduce MM to students, to gain a moment of peace at the beginning of classes, and to become a more mindful instructor. MM is about focusing on the present, and has been shown to reduce stress and enhance attention and empathy, among other things. It has demonstrated benefits in educational settings, though its use in postsecondary environments requires more application and study; As it challenges typical teaching and learning methods, it is rarely adapted. Through informal evaluation, my students discussed how MM facilitated calmness and reduced anxiety, and helped them to be focused and present for class. They also noted it as differing from other teaching styles positively, and several also discussed incorporating it beyond class.


Changing up the Studio

Ren Thomas, School of Planning


Engaging a Large Class With Video Case Studies

Scott Flemming, Academic Advising Coordinator, Faculty of Engineering

Like many very large introductory classes "Engineering Economics" can be a challenging course to teach.  In the past some changes had been made to the lecture material to try and better engage the 350 students such as using the "think-pair-share" framework and facilitating verbal and electronic feedback.  There was no data to suggest such methods significantly improved student experience.  Further exploration into ideas for engaging large classes resulted in experimentation with multimedia breaks midway through each lecture.  Anecdotal and SRI data suggest this change was more effective in improving student experience and engagement.  Specific details of how the idea was executed will be discussed and possible reasons why it was successful will be explored.  Successful elements appear to be interest/passion of the instructor and format contrast to typical class structure (class material is heavily calculation based vs. the videos being case study/story format).

Teaching with environmental case studies to engage students in active learning (ENVS 1100)

Sue Gass, Senior Instructor, Environmental Science

Sue developed and implemented case studies to engage her students in learning about a broad range of environmental issues. The case studies incorporated skills of information literacy and quantitative reasoning, and many scientific concepts relevant to environmental science. The cases covered stories from across Canada including the recovery of the British Columbia sea otter populations, the reintroduction of Bison into Saskatchewan’s Grasslands National Park, and the importance of protecting the quality and quantity of PEI’s groundwater. A class survey showed that the students enjoyed working through the case studies together in small groups. They agreed that learning the scientific concepts through these stories helped them appreciate the real world application of the concepts, and they were able to see the kinds of work professional Environmental Scientists do. The majority of students agreed that the case studies offered enhanced opportunities for critical thinking and that they would like to see case studies incorporated into other science courses.


Living Theory Through Embodied Practices: The Integration of Caring Science into Graduate Education in Nursing Philosophy

Dr. Lisa Goldberg Associate Professor & Caritas Coach School of Nursing Faculty of Health Professions 

The theoretical approach to nursing education in philosophy at the graduate level has often prevented nurses from appreciating its relevance to their clinical practices as nurses. To advance student learning and embodied understanding, Caring Science as a theoretical and experiential framework was applied to a graduate course in nursing philosophy. The integration of this framework facilitated a more experiential understanding of philosophical theories for nursing students at the graduate level (Goldberg, 2014; 2015). This entailed a deeper recognition of how personal and professional practices are inherently lived in the nurse’s world and integrated into their ability to negotiate relational, authentic, and healing environments in clinical care (Goldberg, 2014; 2015). Thus Caring Science offered a way for students to understand the relevance of philosophical theory to the very survival of nursing, not only as an art and a science, but also as an ethic of care. For in attuning nurses to an ethic of care, the profession is returned to its ontological (foundational) beginnings: Health, healing, and holism enacted with embodied intelligence, reflexivity and a moral and compassionate sensibility. It is from this vantage point that I argue this one change to my graduate nursing philosophy course had significant implications, not only for the graduate nursing students in the course, but as the SRIs (2014-2015) indicated, for the patients in their care, and the broader nursing and health care community.

Goldberg, L. (2014). Re-imagining graduate education in nursing philosophy: A caring science framework. Poster presentation, Caritas Coach Education Program, Final Retreat and Workshop, Boulder, CO, (October 24-26).

Goldberg, L. (Forthcoming). Transforming graduate nursing education in philosophy with Caring Science. Podium presentation, 36th International Association of Human Caring (IAHC), New Orleans, LO, (May 20-23, 2015).

Dr. Goldberg is an Associate Professor in the School of Nursing, Dalhousie University, Nova Scotia, Canada. Her passion for teaching spans both undergraduate and graduate classrooms and clinical settings. Dr. Goldberg’s pedagogical approach to teaching and research scholarship has been grounded in feminist phenomenology and informed by her clinical expertise as a perinatal nurse with a background in the discipline of philosophy. More recently, she completed a 6-month program in Caring Science to become a Caritas Coach (Boulder, CO), broadening her research and educational scholarship. In so doing, Caring Science offers an innovative framework for deepening nursing curricula, returning nursing to its foundational beginnings of health, healing and holism. This further offers a new ontology, epistemology, and ethic for nursing practice, research, and education.


Bridging a Geographical Gap for Rural and Northern Nursing Students: Online Nursing Research Journal Club

Shelley Cobbett, School of Nursing, Yarmouth Campus

Evidence-informed nursing practice is a requirement for the registered nurse practicing in the 21st century. There is a plethora of research critique and integration experiences available to nursing students in an urban area, however rural and northern nursing students have limited opportunity for professional networking to participate in formal research critique discussions, and subsequently, make decisions related to translation of the best available evidence into practice. To help bridge this gap, an online Student Nursing Research Journal Club, using BbLearn as the platform, was developed to enable rural and northern nursing students to engage in group discussions, moderated by a faculty member, related to critiquing research-based nursing articles.

In addition to this being a required activity for Nursing Research Course, other benefits included increased professional socialization activities for students, appreciation of cultural health care practices, increased technological competency, and peer discovery-based learning.

The Online Nursing Journal Club was first implemented in Winter 2013. Student evaluations informed the revisions that were made for the second cycle in the Winter of 2014, for second and third year nursing students at the Yarmouth Campus, and third year nursing students at the Nunavut campus. In addition, three journal articles will be critiqued during the winter 2014 term, rather than two.

Feedback from students indicated that their learning was greatly enhanced by the ability to work together to practice their critiquing skills, and to read other students’ perspectives that may differ from their own.

Please and Thank-you, with a Smile

Dr. Alison Thompson, Department of Chemistry, Faculty of Science

CHEM2401, Introductory Organic Chemistry, has >330 registrants and is a “high stakes” class, scheduled at 8:30 am. Many students approach the class with the desire to attain an exceptional grade as they prepare applications for professional schools.

Over the years, I have built a variety of learning and teaching aids, including extensive multi-media online resources, and a database of problems via which students learn to become comfortable using the new material to solve problems. Despite using innovative methods, the class is quite intense and this is not lessened by the fact that I do not use pre-prepared slides, but draw and write chemical starting materials and their reaction products using my tabletPC; students are expected to do likewise. This active aspect of lectures means that students may see the material as something that can be figured out, not memorized or regurgitated.

In the fall of 2013 I planned to introduce more in-class activities: short opportunities for students to use and apply the new knowledge. I believed that the trick to creating a more engaged learning environment was to build trust and to encourage risk-taking. What better way to build trust than to consistently use good manners? Therefore, I implemented a strategy to smile, and to say “yes, please” and “thank-you” more often during our lectures.

In class my smiles would be directed at anyone and everyone looking like they needed encouragement, my “yes, please” would be directed to those with raised hands, and my “thank-you’s” would naturally follow.

My smiles, please’s and thank-you’s were, perhaps, small things but I found that they made a massive difference to class dynamics, and that it turn made a difference to both the well-being of our lecture environment and the learning that ultimately happened inside and outside of class.


Art, Reflection and Ethics

Richard Devlin, Schulich School of Law

“The Legal Profession and Professional Responsibility” is a mandatory third year course at the Schulich School of Law. It is the only mandatory course in third year and, as a result, encounters some resistance from students.

I have been teaching one section of this course (approximately fifty-five students) for more than a decade. The objectives of this course are radically different from every other course in the law school which tend to focus on either substantive law or lawyering skills. The central message of this course to the students is that the practice of law, if they choose that career, will require them to develop an ethical identity. This is heavy stuff!
As a result, in the last few years, I have developed a very brief exercise for the first class that is designed to encourage students to immediately think about what it means to have an ethical identity. The exercise requires students to draw two images: “My Picture of a Lawyer” and “The Lawyer as Perceived by the General Public.” The exercise has 2 purposes.

  • The students have a little bit of fun – there is a good deal of laughter as they are drawing the pictures.
  • On the serious side it provides an immediate introduction to the idea of an ethical identity and the disturbing disjunction between how we lawyers and law students tend to see ourselves and how the public tends to see us.

After this exercise I then proceed to introduce the course objectives and then relate a number of these objectives to the pictures that the students have drawn.

Introduction of a Term-long Inquiry-based Project in the 2nd Year Cell Biology Lab

Mindy McCarville, Biology Co-op Academic Advisor

As the laboratory instructor for our large second year Cell Biology class (BIOL 2020), I deliver ten lab sections of 24 students in both the Fall and Winter terms.  I have always endeavoured to keep the labs relevant, interesting and well organised, however, I had several concerns with the current model.  I started to worry that our students were simply going through the motions with no meaningful interaction with the material, and therefore developed no long term retention or deep understanding of the matter.  Therefore, a lab overhaul was in order! My goal was to introduce an overarching theme to the labs, as well as an investigative approach, so that students would become more engaged in their lab work, develop a greater understanding of why they are doing what they are doing, and to gain a more realistic idea of what it means to be a scientist.  I also wanted to bring in the opportunity for students to do some original research as part of their lab work.

I worked with Ms. Allison King, a Biology PhD student over the summer of 2012 to work out the technical details and brain-storm pedagogical implications of how such a curriculum renovation could be feasible in a class of this size.  There were several major aspects involved in the lab overhaul.  First, 40% of the existing lab content was removed.  This difficult process meant critical reflection as to what we really wanted the students to take from the lab experience. Once an overarching theme was clarified, substance and depth was added to the remaining content, and it was linked together in a more cohesive, meaningful way.  The labs were revised so that the students worked on a project that was continuous throughout the term.  Rather than doing independent, unrelated lab exercises, the lab activities were designed such that each experiment lead directly into the next, with each lab using slightly different, but related, techniques, and a single model organism.  This approach mimics the workflow that is found in a real laboratory environment, where it is expected that researchers will approach problems from multiple directions.  Finally, I have chosen an inquiry-based approach where (within constraints) students picked their own experimental question.  The techniques, model organism, and potential project choices and limitations were outlined and demonstrated in the first lab. At that time, students submitted a Study Proposal that included their experimental question, their hypothesis, and most importantly, how they were going to use the lab techniques to test their question. Some of the experiments that were designed meant that students were testing for proteins in our model organism that had never been documented previously!  Students worked on their project throughout the term and wrote a single capstone report.  

I implemented this new lab approach in the Fall of 2012, and was delighted with the impact on student learning, and the positive feedback from the students. My team of teaching assistants found that the formal lab reports were more cohesive and showed increased understanding than in previous years.  The idea of an inquiry-based lab experience is not novel, but I feel that it is unique to undertake this type of project with a group of 240 inexperienced second year undergraduates.  Now that I have gone through the entire sequence of the labs twice (Fall and Winter), I see where students require a bit more of a framework, and where some aspects require remodeling.  However, this type of investigative project is indeed possible with a large group of undergraduates. It may be slightly more demanding in terms of preparation, but certainly worth the effort!

I would like acknowledge the contributions of Allison King in the development of the lab exercises.  Her expertise in Artemia biology and interest in undergraduate education helped to bring this project to fruition.  The technical expertise of Laura Grogono, Connie de Sousa, and Leona Chu is also deeply appreciated.