One of My Best Professional Decisions

Participating in this course has be one of the best professional decisions I have made since coming to Touro…

I am Cathy West, MD, DrPH. I am an assistant professor in the COM and a member of Touro Western Division’s “Cohort A”. We are the TUC/TUN inaugural cohort of the Association of College and University Educators (ACUE)’s year long online course, “Effective Teaching Practices”.

For some background: There are about ten TUC faculty participating in the course, from COP, COM, and the PA program. Our course director and mentor is Jim O’Connor. There are four blocks comprising 25 modules, which are all completed online. Modules cover teaching in both the classroom and in online courses. We met up in person initially for a course launch and also have quarterly face-to-face meetings with Jim and our “classmate” colleagues.

Now to the heart of it: This ACUE course continues to inspire me and has revitalized my teaching. Preparing my learning activities has become a much more creative and informed task for me. The course itself is terrific: well-organized, relevant, and engaging. Since this is a course for educators created by expert educators, the strategies and techniques that are taught are evident in the organization and presentation of the course material itself.

I’ll walk you through one of my recent modules. We are in Block 3: Promoting Higher Order Thinking and Assessing Learning. The topic for this module is Checking for Understanding. The modules all have the same structure, which makes time management much more efficient.

Each module is organized into “chunks”; the first is Engage. It consists of an introductory video of one to two minutes that grabs your attention. Next comes the list of learning objectives. It is introduced with a sentence stating the evidence-based rationale for the module topic. The objectives list clearly introduces the specific techniques we will be learning in the module. Then we are put to work on an opening questionnaire that assesses our current understanding and experience with the techniques.

In the second “chunk”, Listen, Watch & Learn, we see the techniques in action in a classroom demonstration video of six to eight minutes. In the videos, the main points appear in the lower part of the screen as concise phrases in bold lettering. The next video is the Technique Talk, a “cartoon” style moving hand drawing each technique interspersed with faculty giving the evidence for the technique. For this module, the main point of the Technique Talk is “How you know your students are ACTUALLY learning”. Note to self—the use of short videos to introduce new material is key! We all have short attention spans when it comes to listening to a speaker…avoid the pitfall of straight lecturing for an hour! This section wraps up with the Instructor Resources, literally a treasure trove of how-to documents, specific techniques, samples, and links to articles.

In the next chunk, Deepen Thinking, we review Common Challenges and Misconceptions (a single page with succinct drop downs) and, in Observe and Analyze I, we assess (with a short quiz with the answers immediately available) a brief simulation in which an instructor tries out some of the techniques. We then watch another simulation and all address a question posted on a discussion board.

In the Practice and Reflect “chunk” we try out a new technique ourselves and write about our experience: why we chose the specific technique, successes and challenges in its implementation, the impact on student learning and engagement, and how we might modify it the next time around. We also contribute final thoughts in another discussion board and give feedback on what we learned in a brief reflection survey.

Finally, to Close Strong, we watch a one to two minute closing summary and receive a list of the references for the module.

Truth be told, this has been a lot of work. Completing each module takes longer than I expected and I have gotten behind a few times. The course is also designed primarily for university instructors who teach a course themselves, who begin and end the course with the students, and have regular frequent contact with them during the course of the semester. I may be more like those instructors than some of my colleagues because I teach many more large and small group learning activities and am a Course Coordinator. However, like many of my colleagues, because of the nature of teaching in our program, I would often not have a learning activity with students during a particular module and had to make a plan to implement a technique rather than being able to actually try it out.

Despite those few caveats, I am really enjoying the course and how it is making this such a stimulating year for me as an educator. In fact, this past week, I felt almost giddy with success in creating and implementing a new learning activity for the second year COM students. Because of my work in the ACUE course, I have so many new concepts and techniques in my teaching armamentarium and I knew I was using them every step of the way as I put this lab together.

I was able to set the students up for success in this new lab first by giving them the opportunity to choose a topic in advance of the lab (one of six sensitive/difficult conversation situations), then read an article about it and come to lab prepared to discuss that topic. I had chosen a jigsaw format to increase their engagement through student-student teaching, so to make use of the time efficiently with a lot of moving parts, I had to develop clear instructions.

Each of the six different Doctoring Groups contributed a student to each of the topic groups. The six topic groups met separately and each created a concept map and action plan, each of those on a giant Post-It that was stuck to the walls of the lecture hall. Doctoring Groups then reformed and rotated around the lecture hall together, spending ten minutes with each concept map and action plan, which was explained by their very own “expert” on the topic.

One other facilitator and I moved around the lecture hall during both parts of the lab, asking questions to help groups that were stuck and answering questions as needed. I handed out index cards to each Doctoring Group and asked students to give me feedback that would be both anonymous and voluntary. I mentioned examples such as whether they felt more confident about having these conversations on the rotations they will soon begin, whether they felt the structure of the lab was effective, and if nothing else, at least whether they thought we needed more faculty facilitators.

One third of the class did this activity each day over three days (about 45 students per session). The really good news was that I had those three tries to succeed with the lab, and I needed them!

My feedback?

Day 1: Nine index cards returned, helpful feedback about instructions (which I used to amend them for Day 2), and several very positive comments such as “The split group combining into one group was excellent”, “This was a great lab! My favorite part was the active learning aspect”.

Day 2: Nine index cards returned, mixed responses about having more preceptors, and more positive comments such as “Marvelous exercise with great topics”, “Lab was enjoyable and informative”.

Day 3: By the third day I had it right. I got back 29 index cards! A few students commented only that they preferred having only a few preceptors so that it could be student-led but nearly all the cards were very positive about what they learned (even “I liked having the opportunity to work on my public speaking skills”) and the structure of the lab (“great” and “loved it” with specific details appeared on many cards).

To finish up, If I hadn’t already been convinced of the value of the ACUE course, after this week, I can state unequivocally that participating in this course has be one of the best professional decisions I have made since coming to Touro. I am a better educator and hope to be a resource for others. I highly recommend this course to any faculty who are looking to improve the learning experiences of their students, and to increase their own sense of satisfaction and engagement in this wonderful profession of teaching.

A Case for Email Abatement?

Dear Colleagues,

Are you overwhelmed by all of the emails that you have to navigate each day?

“When email first spread to campuses in the late 1970s, it simplified crucial tasks like communicating with distant collaborators, but as its ubiquity grew, it became a public portal through which the world beyond close colleagues could make increasing demands on a professor’s time and attention, making email into a kind of digital water torture for the scholar struggling to think without interruption.

Another factor driving the professoriate’s drift into middle management is a significant increase in administrative demands. In part, this is due to the growth of university bureaucracy, which, once established, inevitably consumes the time and attention of its subjects to justify its existence. ” writes Cal Newport, an associate professor of computer science at Georgetown University, in a recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Go to this link for the entire article.

Maybe doing two simple things would be a good start to email abatement?

1. No emails between 2 pm Friday and 8 am Monday?

2. When you receive an announcement via email, don’t hit “respond all”, only reply to the sender, or to the person being congratulated?

Any thoughts/comments?

Jim O’Connor Ph.D.
Director – Center for Innovative Learning and Teaching, Western Division

Canvas Tip of the Week – Time Zones

Over the past few weeks, we’ve been informally reviewing different courses in Canvas – often when you, the faculty, have asked questions about why X is happening in your course or how to do Y in your course. One of the things that we have noticed is that many of the courses, and many individual users, are still set to the Eastern time zone. One of the nice features of Canvas is that we have the ability to finally set our accounts and our courses to the Pacific time zone. So…

First, before you add any deadlines or due dates into your course, be sure that you have changed the time zone in your own account to be on the Pacific time zone. To do this, simply follow the steps in this video:

Or click to view this video.

Once you have changed your account’s time zone, be sure that your course is also set to the Pacific time zone. You can check this, and change it if necessary, by following the steps in this video:

Or click to view this video.

Note that if you added any deadlines or due dates to your course before you undertook these steps, those deadlines or due dates will be based on the Eastern time zone and you will need to revise them once you have followed the steps in these two videos.

As always, if you have any questions about Canvas, feel free to contact Jim O’Connor or myself.

Michael K. Barbour

Webinar: Demonstrating Student Mastery with Digital Badges and Portfolios

One of the trends that is beginning to creep into higher education is the use of badges as a way to measure competency, as opposed to the use of discrete grades.  Badges represent that a learner has demonstrated mastery of specific, granular skills and competencies that are expected to improve future performance. The demonstration of mastery can be measured in a variety of ways, for example, through scenario-based assessment items that represent real-world experiences. Badges can represent incremental learning and progress, and they can also represent larger, more comprehensive capstone achievements. As such, badges are becoming an increasingly popular way for higher education to more fully document the breadth and depth of a learner’s achievements.  And Canvas has its own internal badge feature already built into the system.

If you are interested in general overview of how badges can be used to measure student competency, there is a webinar (see information below) in early February that may be of interest to you.

In case you’d like to explore the use of badges in professional education more, this article may be an interesting read:

As always, if you have any questions please feel free to reach out to Jim or myself.

Michael K. Barbour


Title: Demonstrating Student Mastery with Digital Badges and Portfolios

Date: Tuesday, February 05, 2019

Time: 03:00 PM Eastern Standard Time

Duration: 1 hour

Register Now


Demonstrating Student Mastery with Digital Badges and Portfolios

Demonstrating Student Mastery with Digital Badges and Portfolios - ASCDEducators are being pulled in two different directions: We want every student to achieve high standards; at the same time, we also want all students to be prepared for their own individual paths. How can we possibly do both? Digital badges offer an exciting strategy for bringing these initiatives together so that your school can work toward mastery-based teaching and personalize each student’s learning. Badges offer an opportunity for students to demonstrate the skills and knowledge that fulfill state requirements and also to pursue their personal pathways and interests. In this webinar, David Niguidula will discuss the essential questions from his new book Demonstrating Student Mastery with Digital Badges and Portfolios, including

  • Setting the Vision: What do we want our students to know and be able to do?
  • Defining Badges: How do we define the badges that are required for all students? How can students create personal badges that reflect their interests?
  • Portfolio-Worthy Tasks and Projects: How do students earn those badges?
  • Culture: How do digital badges support initiatives that are already occurring at your school?

Niguidula will also take your questions and discuss how digital badges can fit best at your school.

David Niguidula
Ideas Consulting

David Niguidula is founder of Ideas Consulting, based in Providence, Rhode Island. He is best known for his work on digital portfolios in K–12 schools; in the 1990s, Niguidula led the first research project on the topic while at Brown University’s Coalition of Essential Schools. Through his development of the Richer Picture platform, Niguidula has assisted schools and districts across the country and around the world as they create proficiency-based requirements and implement new assessment practices. He is the author of the new ASCD book, Demonstrating Student Mastery with Digital Badges and Portfolios.

TUWD Canvas Corner – January 2019

 TUWD Canvas Corner 

Check out this tutorial video that describes the variety of ways that you can seek help with figuring out how to do something in Canvas. Visit

Spring 2019 Workshop Offerings

Please note these Canvas training sessions that are scheduled for the Spring semester from Holly Owens (the Instructional Designer for the School of Health Sciences in New York). To see what sessions are being offered and to sign up, visit

You can see a complete list of all of the Canvas webinars being offered by TCUS at

Allow option to not sync course start/end dates on blueprint associated courses

As you may have noticed, the application of the TUC blueprint included specific start and end dates for both the course and the section. Instructors can edit the course dates, but not the section dates. This is a design problem with Canvas, and not anything that was done at TUC or TCUS. There is currently suggestion to correct this problem in the Canvas Community, and with the company’s continuous development model it could be fixed at any time and the popularity of these suggestions are often how Canvas prioritizes what gets developed.

As such, we would ask that you visit and “Up Vote” this suggestion.

At the annual Canvas conference almost all of the sessions are recorded. Many of the sessions are focused on how to use Canvas to design better online content or how to use Canvas to supplement classroom teaching. You can access the videos from each of the last three conferences at

For faculty at Touro University California, if you haven’t updated your standard blueprint yet be sure to check out this tutorial video describing the three specific items that instructors need to revise in the Spring 2019 version of the blueprint that has been applied to your course (i.e., the Home page; the Syllabus page; and the Instructor page). Visit

As always, if you have any questions, please reach out to Jim O’Connor ( or Michael Barbour (

Tips on the first day of class

Dear Colleagues,

Recently the Chronicle of Higher Education published an extensive article focusing on tips for a successful first day of class. This is a very comprehensive article addressing numerous topics, ideas, strategies and tactics for starting class off on the “right foot”.

If you are interested in reading this article, here is the link:

Best wishes for a great semester. How can we assist you?

Questions or comments?

Happy New Year.

Jim O’Connor Ph.D.

Spring 2019 Canvas Workshops From Touro’s SHS

Please note these Canvas training sessions that are scheduled for the Spring semester from Holly Owens (the Instructional Designer for the School of Health Sciences in New York). I have added in red behind each sessions our local time.

Michael K Barbour

Spring 2019 Workshop Offerings

Registration Instructions: Please click on the date and time for the webinar(s) for which you would like to register, and then complete the registration form. You will be sent a confirmation link following completion of the registration form. All webinars will take place using Zoom, unless otherwise noted. If you have any questions or concerns, please email Holly Owens at

5 Quick, and Easy, Things to Do in Canvas to Get Your Course(s) Ready for Launch

Description: The start of any semester is such a busy time for everyone, especially faculty. In this session, participants will learn FIVE quick and easy tasks they can implement to get their Canvas course(s) ready for the start of the semester. Start your semester off right and reserve your seat for this session by registering today! Note: Those planning to participate in this session should have a basic understanding of canvas tools and how to use them.

Dates/Times Offered:


Winter is Coming: Using Zoom to Stay on Schedule When Snow Days, and Other Emergencies, Happen

Description: Save instruction time by leveraging Zoom, Touro’s web conferencing solution, to stay on schedule in your courses when snow days and other emergencies happen. In this session, participants will learn how to set up Zoom meetings using Outlook and the Canvas integration, invite students to sessions, and record and share sessions with students on Canvas. Best practices will also be discussed. Note: Those planning to participate in this session should gain access to Zoom prior to attending. If you need to set up and/or verify that you have a Zoom account, please contact the TouroOne Helpdesk at

Dates/Times Offered


Everything You Need to Know About Grading in Canvas

Description: Your course is published, you content has been uploaded, and students are submitted assignments, so now what? During this session, participants will learn how to use the features of the Canvas gradebook, including SpeedGrader, providing feedback, and messaging students about an assignment. If you are interested in learning more about using the Canvas gradebook to streamline your grading workflow, please join us for this engaging session.

Dates/Times Offered:

8 Things You Probably Didn’t Know You Can Do in Canvas

Description: In this session, participants will learn about some of the “hidden gems” in Canvas that can help you streamline workflow and enhance your Canvas abilities. Be the first to learn about lesser known Canvas tools and features and reserve your seat by registering today!

Dates/Times Offered:

Improving Lectures

Dear Colleagues,

Here is an excellent reference from ACUE (Association of College and University Educators), which focuses on improving your lectures from a student’s perspective.

This includes several videos you can view as well as a blog at the end with comments.

Delivering an Effective College Lecture Through a Student’s Lens

Questions or comments?

Jim O’Connor Ph.D.
Professor and Founding Dean Emeritus of the College of Education and Health Sciences
Director of the Center for Innovative Learning and Teaching, Western Division
Interim Co-Director IT, TUC
Touro University California
1310 Club Drive
Vallejo, CA 94592

Improving Classroom Discussions

Dear Colleagues,

Interested in improving student discussion in your class? Below is some information from Dr. Stephen Brookfield.

Students are most engaged in learning when they’re verbally interacting with course material, the professor, and their classmates, research shows. Yet pulling off a great classroom discussion that involves all students is such a complex and challenging topic that we’ve broken it down into two course modules: one focused on planning effective classroom discussions and another focused on facilitating them.

Fortunately, there are research-based techniques that are known to work. Below are four tips to keep students focused and engaged in meaningful classroom discussions.

1. Start your discussion on the right foot with sentence completion exercises. Using a sentence completion exercise at the start of a discussion session is an excellent way to get students to focus and connect to the topic at hand. First, ask students to complete a thought-provoking sentence related to the discussion topic. Second, have them share their responses with one another, either in small groups (for large classes), or as a whole-class (for smaller classes). Make sure students are jotting down responses that they’d like to hear more about. After all responses have been read, have students begin the discussion by asking about the responses they wanted to hear more about.

Here are a few examples of sentences that you can ask your students to complete:

“What most struck me about the text we read to prepare for the discussion today is…”
“The question that I’d most like to ask the author of the text is…”
“The idea I most take issue with in the text is…”

2. Set clear expectations. “I grade students for participation in class, and I give them a participation rubric, which lists the behavior I’m looking for from them as evidence of good participation. In those behaviors are a lot of questioning items:

“Good participation is when you ask another student to elaborate on something they’ve already said.”
“Good participation is when you ask another student to explain or give an example of something that they’re talking about.”
“Good participation is asking the question that opens up a new area of exploration for us.”

“So I’m trying to train the students as they’re thinking about how they can get their participation marks in this class, trying to train them in the skills of asking different kinds of questions for different purposes.” (From ACUE’s interview with Dr. Brookfield)

3. Encouraging student-to-student interaction is the best way to keep a discussion going. It ensures a lively discussion as opposed to a back-and-forth between you and one or two students. Here are a few prompts that may help guide your responses:

“Sandra has shared an interesting viewpoint on our reading. Who else shares a similar viewpoint?”
“Who would like to play devil’s advocate here? Who sees something we’re all missing?”
“Dave, when you heard Roberto make that comment, what were you thinking?”
If a student asks you a question, you can always respond with, “That’s a good question. What do the rest of you think about that?”
“We haven’t heard much from this side of the room. What would you like to add?”

4. Be a leader in discussions by guiding students appropriately.“Students are not always looking for you to be quiet and to let them take over, which is actually a threatening and challenging prospect for certain students. They want you to model what you’re asking them to do. They want you to give them some directions on how the process should go. They’ll often look for you to bring the discussion back on track if someone is taking it in an irrelevant direction. They’re looking for you to make sure that people don’t dominate. Despite all the ground rules that you have, people will dominate, and it’s your responsibility to say, ‘Well I think we need to to open this up. I’d like to hear what other people think about this.’” (From ACUE’s interview with Dr. Brookfield)

Questions or comments?

Jim O’Connor Ph.D.
Professor and Founding Dean Emeritus of the College of Education and Health Sciences
Director of the Center for Innovative Learning and Teaching, Western Division
Interim Co-Director IT, TUC
Touro University California
1310 Club Drive
Vallejo, CA 94592

Annual Canvas Conferences

Hello everyone…

Over the past week or two I have been trying to provide more resources that you can use to help develop your skills with Canvas. For me, one of the best sources of information about things I can do in Canvas has been the annual Canvas conferences. The past three conferences have been held in Keystone, Colorado. You can actually review almost all of the sessions, as they have recorded them to allow attendees to see what is happening in rooms that they were able to get into (often because there are so many good sessions that you want to see all in the same time slot).

The videos for each of the last three conferences are available at:

For example, there was a session “How Video is Failing, and How We Can Fix it” during the 2016 conference that looked at common errors in video-based content for students and how to avoid those errors. During the 2017 conference there was a session entitled “10 Minutes, 10 Hours, 10 Days: Scaffolding Student Success From Day One” that looked at strategies for how to use Canvas to provide support through the online course content for students to increase their chances of having success. “Move From The Sideshow To The Big Tent With Advanced Gamification In Canvas” was a session from the 2018 conference that looked at how to use some of the tools in Canvas to gamify your online course content. And there are so many more topics in these video archives that may focus on things that you’d like to do in your own courses.

The 2019 Canvas conference (which they have traditionally called InstructureCon) will be in Long Beach, CA from 9-11 July 2019. You can see some early information about the conference at:

And eventually the new conference website will be up at (although right now the 2018 conference is still the one that is featured).

I wanted to share this with you not necessarily to encourage you to attend the conference, but to be sure that you were aware of the video libraries that were available from previous conferences.

Michael Barbour