My stylus of choice: hand-written notes and the iPad

In April of this year, I will have been taking hand-written notes on my iPad for two years; I started doing this as a way to further my push myself towards embracing a paperless, fully searchable utopia. Now twenty-two months into this experience and with others often asking me what it’s like to go down this route, I’ll be self-indulgent enough to assume that my reflections might be be appreciated others interested in writing notes on the iPad.

In this post, I’ll outline what stylus I chose and what to you might want to consider when choosing a stylus. In future posts I’ll share my note-taking app of choice and I might close the series out with a post on how I incorporate these hand-written notes into my paperless system (and perhaps when I decide to take *real* hand-written notes).

Before I divulge my secrets, it is worth stating this from the outset: hand-writing notes on an iPad is not the same experience as hand-writing notes on with a pen on a piece of paper. So, if you’re looking for the same experience of pen-on-paper, switching to a stylus on iPad will leave you unsatisfied. There are technological limitations of the iPad’s input that has a cascading effect on the whole feeling you get when writing. Not that (for me at least) that it is so unnerving that you can’t get used to it, but it’s fair warning: it takes some getting used to.

Educational Development

Greet, Get, Give, Gauge & Go: a Framework for Student Consultations

As an instructor, it might be tempting to measure the success of student visits by how quickly you can provide a correct answer—but excelling at this particular metric might come at the cost of a student building their own ability to answer similar questions in the future. The 5G framework ((The 5G framework draws its inspiration from a framework outlined on page 53 in Nyquist, J. D., & Wulff, D. H. (1996). Working effectively with graduate assistants. Thousands Oaks: Sage Publications. It was my colleague, Dr. Natasha Kenny, who made me aware of Nyquist & Wulff’s work, so a tip-of-the-hat to her as well.)) for student consultations not only offers a structure for answering a variety of student questions, but is a tool that can be used to build a student’s future success as well as providing a way to measure the outcomes of consultations. It consists of the five following steps:

  1. Greet
  2. Get
  3. Give
  4. Gauge
  5. Go

Thinking about York University’s religious accommodation case from the perspective of course design and delivery

New this semester, alumni of UNIV*6800, University Teaching, Theory and Practice are reconvening to form a community of practice (CoP). It is exciting to see former students again while also having the opportunity to discuss issues related to teaching and learning in higher education.


“Teaching” Critical Reflection

Barker Dam Reflections

Thinking about critical reflection has been “front of mind” over the past few days, primarily because Natasha and I are presenting a workshop at this year’s Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education (STLHE) annual conference focused on just that. More specifically, the workshop focuses on a “disorienting dilemma” we’ve faced as course instructors for UNIV*6800, the graduate course at the University of Guelph that focuses on University Teaching.

Update (14/6/14): This post is the inspiration for the peer reviewed paper published in Collected Essays on Learning and Teaching: Teaching Critical Reflection to Graduate Students (Watson & Kenny, 2014).

Update (21/3/14): I’ve blogged on the process that resulted from this research. See how we scaffolded critical reflection.


Five things a TA should do in their first lab, seminar, tutorial or class

Classics seminar

1. Whatever approach you’re going to take in your classroom, model it.

If you plan to use discussions, case studies or experimental work, model some component of it on your first day. You want students to understand that these approaches are important to their success in the course while also letting them know that they’ll be expected to participate in this particular way.

2. Make a commitment to learn student names. State it in the first class. Hold yourself accountable.

Learning student names is a key (and simple) component to engaging students; research suggests the more positive a relationship a student has with an instructor, the higher the student’s final grade (Micari & Pazos, 2012).

3. Bring extras.

This can include: extra course syllabi; details of your office hours & contact information; extra chalk / white board markers; pencils; scrap paper; and lab instructions. Students are bound to forget any and all of these. Plus, looking prepared is a good way to set a tone of your own professionalism.

4. Write the course name, number and tutorial / lab section on the board.

Allows students to check right away if they’re in the correct room; saves the “walk of shame” when they realize they’re not.

5. Start creating a safe space for learning.

This means different things in different classrooms: in a chemistry lab, it might mean highlighting proper procedures; in a humanities seminar, it might mean talking about the kind of environments that encourage appropriate conversation.


Micari, M., & Pazos, P. (2012). Connecting to the Professor: Impact of the Student-Faculty Relationship in a Highly Challenging Course. College Teaching, 60(2), 41-47. doi: 10.1080/87567555.2011.627576

Daily Photo

Courtyard White Pine

Courtyard White Pine, originally uploaded by Gavatron.

Via Flickr:
There are parts of Governors Island that make you think that its a bit of land that time forgot. The Coast Guard "left" the island in 1996 with all structures pretty much as-is.

That means this White Pine has had 16 years to grow as it pleases.

The juxtaposition between the apartment courtyard, the clipped grass and the White Pine looking like it could have been transplanted from a windswept Georgian Bay island struck a chord.

University of Guelph

“Grade” expectations

Studying spanish
cc image source

With apologies to Dickens, in preparation for the upcoming Graduate Student University Teaching Conference, I’ve been editing the TA survival guide that we provide all conference participants. One specific section that I’ve updated is based on the most recent data collected from 2011 incoming undergraduate students.

University of Guelph

Respectfully, you’re doing it wrong

Twitter Wallpaper - Vector Redo
cc-licensed photo source

Twitter—more than just broadcasting—is about engagement.

If you agree with this premise, then take a moment to visit the University of Guelph’s Twitter account. Notice anything? A stream of tweets linking to the University’s communications and public affairs news releases and At Guelph articles. No conversations, no re-tweets. How many people are following @UofG? A little over 8700 (as of July 2012). How many accounts does the University follow back? 35.

How about a quick visit to the Library’s main account? Looks to be a feed of truncated re-posts from the Library’s news service. A lone-wolf, it follows no one.

Now have a look at the University’s Guelph Gryphons account. Admirably, there is the odd re-tweet, but again we see that the majority of time, it’s a tweet with a link to a news release on the Gryphon’s site. Not a single conversation in sight.

Perhaps it’s okay to be a nameless, faceless institutional account and go on sending out 140-character links to press releases, but what about the public faces of the University?

None would be more visible than President Alastair Summerlee. Dr. Summerlee’s tweeting tempo has improved recently and though abrupt, I don’t mind his staccato style but there isn’t a re-tweet or conversation in sight. The Associate VP Student Affairs is on Twitter too. But the trend continues, and Brenda Whiteside‘s stream is infrequently updated and (broken record time, sorry) without any evidence of conversations.

But why should @UofG, @LibraryUofG, @Guelph_Gryphons, @UoG_President or @WhitesideBrenda care about my observations here? Because people who are active users of Twitter are expecting engagement. And the best brands know this and already are engaging with their broad community of followers. And while brand could mean American Airlines, I actually mean fellow institutions of higher education here in Ontario. For examples of how other Universities are “getting” how to use Twitter, see the University of Waterloo‘s institutional account or Queen’s University Principal Dr. Daniel Woolf’s account: conversations, information, re-tweets. They’re all there. And personally as an alumni, staff member and active Twitter user on-campus, I can’t help but want better for our image, perception and institution.

It’s not all dire on-campus. The University’s Alumni account is exact antithesis of my criticisms above. But it does leave me with more questions about Twitter and Higher Ed: What are institutional accounts for? Is lower activity and no engagement better than no account at all? And can we improve how we “do” Twitter here @UofG?

Edit (4:31 pm, July 24): Ensuing conversation on Twitter that suggests other U of G accounts that are engaging, enjoyable and, in one case, a cannon:

Edit (8:25 pm, July 24): Another suggestion:


Putting @OntarioWarnings and IFTTT to work

06-24-09 Ominous Outflow!!!
CC-image source

I discovered a new account on Twitter that struck me, at first glance, kind of funny. A sample tweet from @OntarioWarnings:

It’s not that needing to take cover due to a severe thunderstorm is humorous (far from it), it’s the fact that all tweets from this account have some form of all-caps. All-caps, the Internet version of YELLING, struck me as strangely appropriate for an account that warns people of impending danger.

Then I thought, “Boy, this is a great idea.” But do I really need to know it’s thunder-storming in Kenora when I’m in Guelph? The noise to signal ratio, especially given the all-caps is pretty low. How to make the account more relevant?

This is where If this then that (or IFTTT) has come to the rescue. It’s a web service that lets a whole bunch of other web services (like Twitter, Evernote and even the non-web SMS) talk  & do things to each other. The genius is how easily you can create recipes to do these useful things. For example, right now I use a recipe that archives all my tweets into a single Evernote note. With this, all my tweets are archived and easily searchable. Magic! Useful!

OK, back to OMG! ONTARIO WARNINGS! I’ve created an IFTTT recipe that searches @OntarioWarning’s twitter stream for mentions of Wellington County or the city of Guelph. It then sends me an SMS message to my cell phone with the text of the tweet. I do have IFTTT to thank for help figuring this out:

So for the collective benefit of humanity (or, at least those living within Ontario) here’s the recipe for your use.

If you live in Guelph or Wellington County, then you don’t need to change a thing. If you live elsewhere in the province, you’ll need to update the search “guelph OR wellington from:ontariowarnings” to “x or y from:ontariowarnings” where x is the city you live in and y is your county. Obviously, you can add or remove search terms to expand or narrow just when you get pinged about an EMERGENCY!


A letter to my one-year old

May 30, 2012

Is this *all* for me?

Lonán, you and I have been together almost every day for the past five months. As you probably know, Mum went back to her graduate work and I took parental leave to be with you from eight months to just past your first birthday.

Today you’re just two days past that first birthday and I’m getting ready to go back to work. I wanted to write this note to you to share with you some of my reflections about our time together.