As Cambrian’s Innovation Champion I have been given an amazing opportunity to try new things with my students. In short, I am teaching openly on this website (while still offering students the Moodle option) and negotiating their grades.

My first online class was quite different than I imagined. I think my students left feeling a little confused. Someone commented that it was hard to follow and I am not quite sure if that was because of the open website being new to them, the concept of gradeless evaluation or the abundance of choice embedded in the course design. It also may have been related to using Nearpod and Zoom at the same time. I asked them to give me more information about what was difficult, but they may not have felt comfortable explaining in the live session.

Live Icon

Icon from the noun project / Design by the Cambrian Teaching and Learning Innovation Hub

Just in case, it was the website I have started constructing the Moodle shell in a way they are accustomed to, but it just links to the website pages instead of documents. Hopefully, this approach will minimise any confusion about where to find things. I have had a few students indicate they prefer the open website to Moodle. If I were to do it again I may not use Moodle at all (did I say that in my outside voice?). Having two places to find the information is good for multiple means of engagement and representation, but sometimes has students worried they will miss something and they end up looking in both places instead of one.

I miss their faces!

The most difficult part for me was not being able to rely on my assessment of the student’s non-verbals to pace myself and gauge their understanding. I have encouraged them to use a webcam in the future if they have one and hope that the next session will be more interactive. The first one was too much of me talking. This week (tomorrow) we get to work through actually creating rubrics together. I plan to use Zoom and Google docs for that.

As one student commented, “it seems to be too good to be true.” Some of the subsequent emails show that students are excited by the ability to engage in work as research assistants instead of doing a disposable assignment. I have been busy this week trying to gauge what people are interested in doing so we can create rubrics that enable conditions where students have the opportunity to be successful in a variety of ways.

They needed a nudge

During the session and an in-person orientation, I encouraged students to book a meeting with me. When I noticed that I was getting only a few emails after the first class asking for clarifications I decided to reach out and ask everyone to call me or meet with me.


Email to students

Email to students

Thankfully, that night my calendar started to fill up. I am now tracking the students that I have talked to for the sole purpose of knowing if I have checked in with everyone. In such a new learning environment each student has come in not knowing quite how this was going to work. As one student said, they are accustomed to being told what to do and just doing it.

The students that I have met with this far generally come in feeling excited, confused, or overwhelmed by the ability to shape their own learning. For those that just want to be told what to do so they can get through the course we talk about what they have done in previous courses and brainstorm some ideas for a research proposal. I make a clear recommendation before they leave the conversation, but also make it clear that they can still change their mind and do something else. So far this approach seems to be helping students feel comfortable in this open, online and gradeless environment.

I have yet to meet all the students. Tomorrow and Friday I hope to work through the co-creation of the rubrics for their participation, ethics assignment and project plan. It is my hope that I can engage them in shaping their own learning and get honest feedback from them about their perceptions of the course. I welcome ideas!





Laura Killam is an experienced nursing educator from Northern Ontario with a keen interest in improving student learning through innovation. For more information please visit


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