Celebration of Teaching Excellence at UBC – Deborah L Butler

Discover the techniques and practices of outstanding teachers at UBC

Dr. Deborah L. Butler

Faculty of Education
EPSE 583

Making Learning Processes Visible

In my view, learning…

  • is ideally deliberate, reflective, and strategic (i.e., intentional)
  • requires active construction of meaning by engaging with ideas
  • is enhanced through collaboration & and co-constructing meaning
  • is supported when you have to articulate your understandings
  • is developmental, formative, and evolving

As a result, activities and assignments in this course…

will require you to consider and reflect on your learning process, engage actively with ideas, negotiate meaning with colleagues, articulate emerging understandings, and trace changes in your thinking


Why did you choose this slide?

My research is in education, and one key finding in my own and others’ work is that students can only take deliberate, intentional control over their learning if they have a clear vision of what they are trying to do. Unfortunately, what we expect of students in post-secondary learning, especially in terms of the quality of thinking and learning processes in different disciplines, remains implicit. So, a great strategy for supporting learning is to “make visible” the quality of learning we are expecting in class and assignments.

What are you aiming to convey with it?

In this slide, which I show at the start of a course, I try to make visible to students what I expect of them, as learners, as the course unfolds. They are typically surprised when they see that I have a rationale behind what I ask them to do.

How do you think it contributes to student learning?

The slide sets the stage for me to make learning processes visible in the context of my courses, so they can guide their own learning accordingly. It is not enough to just show this kind of slide, however, to support them to know “how to learn.” As a follow-up, in the first class, I have them read and discuss one of the assignment descriptions, and then talk together about what I am expecting from the assignment (and why it is structured that way).

For example, one assignment I give them to do most weeks asks them to generate brief “questions and reflections” (Q&R), based on pre-readings, before coming to class. Then, during class, they are expected to participate actively in grappling with the day’s topic, as well as in discussions (whole class; small group). As they are learning, they annotate the “Q&R” they brought to class with new insights, answers to their questions, and/or new questions (e.g., using track changes). They turn in the annotated versions shortly after class as a record of their “thoughts in process.” In the first class, we talk together about how this assignment enacts the qualities of learning that I expect of them, as listed here reflection(, engaging with ideas, negotiating meaning, articulating thinking, tracing changes in thinking). This little bit of time, invested in this activity and interpreting the first kind of assignment, leads to far deeper thinking and learning across the entire term. (Though a little formative feedback after they first try it out also helps to get them on track).

View Dr. Deborah L. Butler’s one-minute presentation on their teaching practice.