Change One Thing Challenge Recipients

Previous Recipients


Rebecca Spencer
School of Health and Human Performance


Sean MacKinnon
Department of Psychology and Neuroscience


Changing up the Studio

Ren Thomas, Assistant Professor, School of Planning

Experiential learning has become a popular method in many disciplines, and has been a core of the urban planning curriculum for many years. While the studio courses required by the professional accreditation organization often teach students the hard and soft skills they will need in the workplace, designing studio courses can be difficult. The tensions between providing too much structure versus too little; real-world constraints versus a purely conceptual environment for learning; technical knowledge versus collaboration and consensus-building skills can be challenges for instructors. This activity sought to introduce students gradually to the studio experience by starting out with content delivery and adding in unstructured work time, and by slowly introducing group work so that students had time to build collaboration and consensus-building skills. The outcomes show that students produced a viable end product for a client and gained new skills that they felt they could apply in the workplace.



Scott Flemming, Academic Advising Coordinator, Faculty of Engineering

Engaging a Large Class With Video Case Studies

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).

Sue Gass, Senior Instructor, Environmental Science

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

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.


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

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

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.


Shelley Cobbett, School of Nursing, Yarmouth Campus

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

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.

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

Please and Thank-you, with a Smile

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.


Richard Devlin, Schulich School of Law

Art, Reflection and Ethics

“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.

Mindy McCarville, Biology Co-op Academic Advisor

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

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.