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Wednesday, May 16, 2001

  • A change to the exam regulations
  • A better way of learning culture
  • A call for environmental information
  • Other notes under the sun


Teaching award

Ron Scoins of the faculty of mathematics is one of this year's winners of Teaching Awards from the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations. "These are the men and women who both inspire and inform their students," said OCUFA president Henry Jacek about this year's winners, who will receive their awards at a ceremony in Toronto June 8.

A change to the exam regulations

The hassle that resulted from a snowstorm on December 12 last winter, when a day's exams were cancelled, won't happen again, at least not in quite the same way, because of changes to the UW exam regulations that were approved this spring.

The cancelled exams were rescheduled for the day after the end of the regular exam period -- which came close to Christmas, and after many students had planned to be long gone from campus. It was the first time the "general emergency" provision in the exam regulations had ever been used, and after the confusion and complaints died down, the registrar's office reviewed the event and recommended a change.

The result is a new section in the regulations, approved by the relevant committees and the UW senate:

If the decision is made to postpone examinations, the postponement will apply to all examinations scheduled for a particular day or part thereof. In anticipation of the need of such action, each examination schedule will list dates on which any or all postponed examinations would be written. Rescheduled examinations will be held at the same time and location as originally scheduled. The date chosen will be the next available day, including Sunday, on which examinations have not been scheduled. Examinations could be rescheduled for times prior to that date by mutual agreement of the instructor and the students in the class. If this occurs, students must be given the option of writing on the official alternative date.
If that rule had been in effect last winter, the exams that were cancelled on December 12, a Tuesday, would have been rescheduled for Sunday, December 17.

The full exam regulations are available on the registrar's office web site.

A better way of learning culture

A study of two types of "knowledge organizers", and how they help students in a second-year course on German thought and culture, has been supported by a grant to Paul Malone (below) of UW's department of Germanic and Slavic studies.

The money comes from the instructional development grant program of UW's teaching resource office, which offers money for "projects and initiatives intended to enhance the quality of teaching and learning".

Malone's project, titled "Combining Instructional Models and Enabling Technologies to Embed Best Practices in Course Instructional Design", is being highlighted by the teaching resource office this term. Says Malone:

[Malone] For the past two years, in partnership with Vivian Rossner-Merrill of the LT3 Centre, I have been planning and carrying out an ongoing research study, presently titled "Comparing the Impact of Two Types of Knowledge Organizers on Learning Complex Conceptual Material in a Second Year Course on German Thought and Culture." In 2000 I received a TRACE Instructional Development Grant, which aided my travelling to Montreal for Ed-Media 2000, a major international conference on educational media and hypermedia, where I presented a preliminary outline of the project as a brief paper.

This project compares two study methods, knowledge mapping and matrices, supported by a freeware tool (IHMC CmapTools from the University of West Florida) and Microsoft Word respectively. The methods are designed as both learning and instructional strategies and thus are used by both students and instructor in selected units of the course. The purpose of the study is to improve students' ability to better conceptualize and understand more abstract and complex material.

Students unfamiliar with cultural history are frequently presented with a huge number of facts and dates that have little significance to them, encouraging -- if not forcing -- them to acquire as much as they can through rote learning. The nature of the assignments and examinations often further reinforces rote learning and tends to discourage the synthesis and creative application of the material. Content acquired through rote learning is soon forgotten. The use of visual knowledge organizers, however, permits the student to see not only how the information communicated in the course is interrelated internally, but also how it is connected with knowledge already in his or her possession.

The study is integrated into the course through a series of steps. First, students receive ungraded training sessions in planning and constructing knowledge maps and matrices. At the same time, the instructor uses knowledge maps and matrices as teaching aids and as models. Students then construct their own maps or matrices for short assignments, incrementally acquiring competence in making knowledge maps and matrices. This will provide them with the expertise needed to construct a knowledge map or matrix that acts as a proposal for the major research paper. Finally, along with short answer and essay questions on the final exam, students will complete three concise knowledge maps or matrices based on recall of information in the short assignments. Data analysis focuses on the comparative merits of the two strategies in learning more abstract and complex material.

A call for environmental information

UW president David Johnston headed the task force that wrote one of two reports released by Environment Canada this week -- a study of "first steps towards a Canadian information system for the environment".

The report, Informing Environmental Decisions, comes from a Task Force on a Canadian System for the Environment, which Johnston chaired. This report, says the federal department, "will be used as the basis for consultations with Canadians throughout the summer. A multi-disciplinary team of experts will consult Canadians in seven cities on the development of an environmental information system to help all levels of Canadian society make better informed decisions that will protect the environment.

"The CISE Task Force will explore the views and environmental information needs of citizens, non-governmental organizations, businesses, institutions and governments. Its goal is to promote better decision-making by governments and individual Canadians, improve public policies and enhance accountability."

Says Johnston: "Our interim report identifies two immediate priorities: to fill the gaps in information by enhancing our monitoring of the environment and to improve the tools for reporting to Canadians on how well governments are doing in managing our environmental resources." A final report from the task force is expected this fall.

The other report issued by Environment Canada this week is Tracking Key Environmental Issues, an overview of "key environmental challenges" affecting air, water, nature, climate change and severe weather. "The trend data it summarizes," says environment minister David Anderson, "highlight progress to date, as well as the gaps in our knowledge base."

Other notes under the sun

I wrote yesterday about construction projects on campus, and inevitably I forgot one. Gail Clarke, director of housing and residence administration, sets me straight: "Don't forget about the new community space being constructed at Columbia Lake Townhouses. It is smaller relative to the other projects on campus, but it will offer some very important community and study space for our first year students this fall. As well, another townhouse unit is being built and joined to the community space. It will accommodate 4 more Dons. As CLT will be all frosh this fall, we have doubled our residence life staff complement to 8."

Ontario Power Generation -- one of the companies that resulted from the breakup of Ontario Hydro -- has announced that it will spend $5 million "towards the creation of a Universities' Network of Excellence in Nuclear Engineering. This is a partnership initiative with five Ontario universities, which have strong engineering programs -- Queen's, Toronto, McMaster, Waterloo and Western. The program will foster collaborative research and education among these universities to benefit the development of nuclear technology, while encouraging and supporting nuclear engineers and scientists. OPG will invest up to $1 million a year for the next five years to fund the Network of Excellence, while encouraging the universities to pursue matching funding from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) and other federal and provincial granting agencies. This investment will help create five industry Research Chairs at these universities."

They were reading about UW yesterday in London, capital of England and the Empire. Giles Coren's gossip column in The Times, "The Diary", had a sarcastic couple of paragraphs about how the Liberal Democratic Party, which ought to have better things to do with an election pending, has been "harassing the politics faculty of the University of Waterloo in Ontario for using a map on its website which bears a faint resemblance" to one on the Lib Dems' site. "They'd used our copyright without permission," the party's webmaster complains. In fact, it turns out, the offending site isn't from "the politics faculty" but from student Milton Chan, who's heavily into election predictions (and is calling the Lib Dems to come third in the June 7 vote).

Back in Waterloo: central stores will hold one of its regular sales of surplus UW property from 11:30 to 1:30 today at East Campus Hall, off Phillip Street.

The UW retirees' association will hold its annual general meeting today, at 1:30 in room 102 of Ron Eydt Village. (It will be preceded by a lunch meeting of the association's board, at the University Club.) The meeting will include reports from many committees, on topics ranging from social programs to pensions, as well as retiree support for UW's Keystone Fund. A nomination report suggests that Muriel Shepherd, formerly of the dean of arts office, is due for another year as association president, with Steve Little, formerly director of secondary school liaison, continuing as vice-president.

UW's Carousel Dance Centre has a performance scheduled in the Humanities Theatre tonight at 7:00 (and tomorrow at the same hour) -- sorry, I haven't received any details.

There will be a meeting at 7:00 tonight, beside the greenhouses west of Columbia Lake, for people interested in starting a community garden in that area. "The garden is part of a special readings course that I am doing this summer, to explore the community garden movement," writes environment and resource studies student Emily Chatten. "I thought it would be beneficial to have a community garden that was easily accessible by the UW community. In addition, because I am on campus this summer this was the only way I could think of to have an opportunity to do any personal gardening." She has in mind a two-part garden: small personal plots, and a larger area of vegetable garden for collective efforts to raise produce and donate it to charity. Faculty, students and staff are all invited, "to enjoy some fresh air and an opportunity to work with a group of people".

The Jewish Students Association has a clean-up day scheduled today, from 2 to 8 p.m. at its new headquarters, the Albert and Temmy Latner Jewish Students Centre at 148 Albert Street. Then at 8:30, when all the chazerai is out of the way, it'll be movie night, with showings of "Meet the Parents" and "Keeping the Faith". And snacks will be served -- nu, more chazerai?

And finally . . . UW should know next week who's going to be the next vice-president (academic) and provost. A special (confidential) meeting of the board of governors has been scheduled for Tuesday evening, May 22, to hear a report from the nominating committee, the university secretariat says.


[UW logo] Editor of the Daily Bulletin: Chris Redmond
Information and Public Affairs, University of Waterloo
credmond@uwaterloo.ca | (519) 888-4567 ext. 3004
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