Queen’s duo awarded for work on cutting-edge teaching tool

Posted on January 22, 2016

BASICS, new web app helps instructors focus on learning outcomes

Jake and Nat

NAVIGATING A PARADIGM SHIFT: Queen's staffers Natalie Simper and Jake Kaupp are building tools to help instructors develop new teaching techniques.

Queen’s staff Jake Kaupp and Natalie Simper are being honoured by the university for their contribution to the development of a new web application that aims to help instructors emphasize and measure student learning outcomes more precisely and deliberately than ever before.

Kaupp works with the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science, Simper in the Office of the Provost. Together they’re collaborating with Information Technology Services (ITS) to develop BASICS. It’s a prototype web tool that helps guide instructors, step-by-step, toward new and innovative ways of teaching curricula; ways that emphasize and measure student progress in areas of critical thinking, creative thinking and problem solving.

“We’re asking instructors, ‘How can we take you from a holistic approach to teaching these concepts in your courses to being a bit more explicit?’” says Kaupp. “Let’s identify where you’re measuring them, then develop strategies to actually move students forward in those skills.”

“It’s designed to support instructors with assessment strategies to prompt student development of cognitive skills,” adds Simper. “Students often have to guess what’s in the instructor’s head but this helps instructors communicate to students more clearly what it is they are expected to do.”

It may seem at first like a very subtle shift in thinking for instructors, some of whom already have decades of teaching experience, but it represents the new paradigm universities and funders around the world have been moving toward for some time. It’s a shift that will likely loom even larger in Ontario over the next two years.  


SUPPORTING MATERIAL: Though simply sitting down and playing with BASICS can be helpful to instructors, Simper and Kaupp have developed processes and accompanying documentation to help make the app more accessible.

In December a consultation committee submitted a report to the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities outlining fundamental changes to how the province determines annual funding levels to each of Ontario’s 20 public universities. The funding formulae are complex and nuanced but, too-simply put, the lion’s share of provincial support has, since the 1960s, been determined on a per-student basis: the more students a university has enrolled, the more money it gets from the province. The world has changed a lot in 50 years and so the new funding model mandates a shift toward an emphasis on learning outcomes: the more effective the instructors, the more capable the graduates, the more funding support a given university stands to earn from the province.

The new model is designed not only to aim for best outcomes for students graduating into their working lives but also to ensure Ontario’s universities equip them to best satisfy society’s need for skill and labour. But in order to adapt to the new model, educators need to develop new ways of thinking about teaching and new ways of measuring outcomes that perhaps formerly seemed too abstract for precision metrics and therefore best left solely to instructors’ intuition and style.

Paradigm shifts are often chaotic and this one is a difficult exercise even for seasoned post-secondary educators. It requires a whole new vocabulary and re-evaluation of traditional approaches to pedagogy while simultaneously maintaining standards for current students and continuing to serve research demands. It’s difficult, too, for education researchers like Kaupp and Simper not least because tools and vocabulary to aid new approaches need somehow to be equally meaningful, relevant and effective across many and varied disciplines, from engineering to social sciences. It’s a tough task for everyone.

All this to say Kaupp and Simper’s app, BASICS, dovetails nicely with that shift as just one tool to help instructors ensure students succeed. And it’s Kaupp’s and Simper’s contribution with BASICS to the art and science of teaching that’s being recognized with the Educational Technology Award, one of the Principal’s Learning and Teaching Awards.

“In the end it’s all about focus on the student for the student’s success,” says Kaupp. “It’s not about you as an educator or a teacher. It's about doing something to help your students achieve the best they can and to be able to demonstrate key things at the finale of a course or program.”

Kaupp and Simper are scheduled to receive the Educational Technology Award, one of the Principal’s Learning and Teaching Awards, sponsored by Information Technology Services (ITS) at a ceremony scheduled for 4:30pm,  Wednesday, January 27, at the Agnes Etherington Art Centre at Queen's.

BASICS is still a work in progress and is intended for use in conjunction with other tools but Kaupp and Simper encourage any Queen’s instructors who might be interested to try it out here. Additional information about BASICS and how it can help instructors can be had by contacting Simper or Kaupp.

BASICS is a project of the Queen’s University Learning Outcomes Project and the Engineering Graduate Attribute Development Project.