Graduate and Postdoctoral Programming Updates – Jessica Jordao

Fundamenals Microteaching Session

Fundamentals Microteaching Session

During my short time as a Graduate & Postdoctoral Programs at CTE, I have come to realize how outstanding CTE’s graduate and postdoctoral programs really are. Our programs support UWaterloo graduate students and postdocs in their knowledge and skill development as university TAs and current and future instructors. The three programs offered, at no cost to the student, include the Fundamentals of University Teaching and the Certificate of University Teaching for graduate students and the Teaching Development Series for postdoctoral fellows.

During my time, I have been fortunate to receive feedback on the impacts these programs have had on graduate students. Participants have described our programs as integral to exposing them to new teaching approaches, increasing their ability to self-reflect and improving their confidence and skills in teaching. Here is what one participant had to say about his experience after completing one of our programs, “When I started doing my PhD, I never really considered the teaching component, but I have to admit that I really enjoy teaching now!” This feedback gives meaning and purpose to our work here in CTE, and we continuously strive to improve our programs and encourage participant growth.

As our enrollment numbers in teaching certificate programs for graduate students continue to grow, we are searching for ways to support our graduate students as they develop their teaching and communication skills through CTE programs. One of my initiatives this term included outreach to those registered in our Fundamentals of University Teaching program. This project included checking in with all 750 registered participants to offer support and follow up on their program progress. In doing so, not only were we able to improve our record keeping, we have also seen an increase in the number of program completions this term and were able to connect with participants who are now employed in faculty roles, not only across the country but across the globe! This outreach initiative provided us an excellent means to not only encourage and assist participants in successful program completion, but also increased participation levels in our teaching workshops for graduate students (even during the busiest times of the academic term)!

A second initiative, undertaken with the help of our Graduate Instructional Developers, TA Workshop Facilitators, and Graduate Programming team as a whole, includes amendments to our Fall term offering of the Fundamentals of University Teaching program, guided by feedback from participants. We have improved the program by introducing an orientation session and additional Q&A support sessions, where participants will receive additional support from our Graduate Instructional Developers. This support will focus on developing their microteaching sessions and provide further opportunity to engage with what they’ve learned.

As the Fall term draws to a close, I am delighted to report that we continue to experience increased interest in all three of our graduate and postdoctoral programs. We are excited about this and hope to see new graduate student participants in our teaching workshops next term. Watch out for the schedule of the teaching events for graduate students coming in the Winter term!

Five easy ways to support your students’ professional development – Charis Enns

5621810815_185b86a50d_bIt is that time of year when instructors receive a greater number of reference letter requests, as undergraduate students prepare applications for jobs, graduate school or professional degree programs. I have received a few of these requests from former students as of late, which has led me to reflect on ways that I could assist students in achieving their long-term career and academic goals in addition to writing letters. Although a positive reference letter may help students achieve their goals, there are many other simple steps that I could take to further support students’ professional development. Here are five practical suggestions that I have (or plan to) implement in my own teaching, in order to further support my students’ professional development:

  • Use authentic assessments: This is “a form of assessment in which students are asked to perform real-world tasks that demonstrate meaningful application of essential knowledge and skills” (Mueller 2016). I often use authentic assessments in place of mid-term exams in my own teaching, asking students to demonstrate their understanding of course concepts by performing skills or demonstrating competencies that are required by professionals in their field of study. Even if you cannot replace traditional assessments with authentic assessments, consider creating in-class opportunities for students to practice and refine relevant skills. This will also provide you with valuable insights about the students’ competencies, that you can draw on if you are asked to write a reference letter in the future.
  • Develop a list of undergraduate journals: When undergraduate students tell me that they plan to apply for graduate school, I encourage them to consider attending an undergraduate conference or publishing a term paper in an undergraduate journal prior to submitting their applications. Conference participation and publications strengthen graduate school applications, but they also look good on job applications, as they speak to a student’s communication and writing skills. Consider keeping a list of undergraduate journals in your field that you can share with students on request. This list may also include details about the journals’ submission policies and the peer-review and publishing process, based on previous students’ experiences.
  • Bring professionals into the classroom: There are many different benefits of bringing a guest lecturer into your classroom. For example, some research suggests that students found industry experts to be more credible than academic experts when learning about concepts with practical application (Van Hoek et al. 2011). From a professional development perspective, inviting industry or community experts into the classroom may create networking opportunities for your students. It may also provide opportunities for professionals to meet students that could fulfill their employment needs (Wolfe 2011).
  • Create a listserv to share relevant opportunities: I regularly receive emails about jobs, internships and research assistantships that may be useful to undergraduate students. However, it is difficult to keep track of undergraduate students after a course ends. Consider creating an email list or a list listserv to distribute relevant opportunities to former students. Let upper-level undergraduate students  know that you can add them to the list if they are interested and that they can ask to be removed from the list at any point. Although there are other ways that students can find jobs, internships and research opportunities, many opportunities are shared through personal networks or associations that require membership fees.
  • Coach students on how to ask for a reference letter: If you are teaching an upper-level undergraduate class, consider reserving time towards the end of the term to provide students with advice on asking for reference letters. You may also consider developing a template email or a tip sheet that outlines what type of information you want from students requesting reference letters and includes information about resources that are available at the university to help with job applications and interview preparation. Alternatively, you can provide students with a link to this short article on University Affairs that provides students with great advice on asking for reference letters.

For more tips on professional development and ‘bridging the skills’ gap, click here to read a relevant blog post or review relevant Teaching Tips on CTE’s website.



Mueller, J. (2016). Authentic Assessment Toolbox.

Sniezek, T. (2005). Avoiding the pitfalls of the invited speaker. Exchanges: The on-line journal of teaching and learning in the CSU.

Wolfe, A. (2011). Student Perceptions of Guest Speakers in Marketing Education. In Marketing Management Association 2006 Educators’ Conference Proceedings.

Designing for the user experience — Pia Zeni and Matt Justice, Centre for Extended Learning

user-experienceWe’ve all encountered scenes like the one pictured above – you may even be looking at one outside your office window: pedestrians choosing to ignore the nicely-constructed, costly, often very pretty footpaths designed for them, and choosing instead to forge their own path.  But have you ever thought about what scenarios like this say about design?  Why aren’t pedestrians selecting the paths constructed for them? What do their choices say about the paths designers have constructed? What goal(s) motivate them to forge their own?  These are the types of questions user experience (UX) designers ask.

The picture presents a useful allegory for designers of any stripe: the idea being, of course, that if we want to design valuable things, we need to consult the needs, expectations, and yes, even wants, of our users.

Let’s translate that principle to an online learning context:  “If we want to design valuable online learning experiences for students, we need to take their needs, expectations, and yes, even wants into account.” Whether this strikes you as common sense, or fairly radical, it is a design approach that the Centre for Extended Learning (CEL) has recently adopted with our User Experience Design for Learning (UXDL) framework, an adaptation of UX Honeycomb, developed by leading user-experience advocate Peter Morville.

You can learn more about our UXDL framework and how our design process is evolving to put our users – our students – front and centre at This is a new initiative for us, so we welcome your ideas, thoughts, and reflections.

Pia Zeni (

Matt Justice (


[Photo Source: Kalve, S. (2014, September 11). Design vs UX I Nydalen. [Photo]. Retrieved from]

Looking Beyond the Evidence: What’s Your Story? — Donna Ellis, Director of the Centre for Teaching Excellence

Face covered with data
Have you ever felt overwhelmed?  I’m sitting at my computer on a late November afternoon contemplating what I have taken away from two recent events: a provincial symposium on assessing learning outcomes and an international conference for educational developers on transformative relationships in relation to fostering cultures of deep learning.

I attended numerous sessions and overall I came away with a sense of what I call “data overwhelmosis”. We have more data and more evidence available to us than ever before in higher education.  We have software to help us identify specific learning outcomes and each student’s level of achievement for each outcome. We have online templates for course syllabi that generate maps of the learning outcomes for an entire program’s curriculum. We can use learning analytics and data analytics to monitor students’ progress (or failure).  We can do social network analyses to show how we connect to one another, how information flows within a unit or across an entire institution (or beyond).  We know what educational development practices have empirical backing. The list goes on.  My point is that it’s clear that we can capture almost anything. We can collate massive amounts of data and generate evidence for (or against) almost anything you can imagine. But to what end? What’s the purpose? And what’s the overarching plan?

We’ve talked a lot about these questions as part of devising and implementing our Centre’s assessment plan as well as our upcoming external review.  Just because we can get data doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.  How much is enough? What will we do with what we collect?  Why will it matter?  Data collection takes time and effort.  We know this from any research project we have undertaken.  In our line of work, any time that we ask our staff to input data about their work, this is time not spent working with a client.  There has to be a good reason to ask staff members to spend time in this way.  This is where the role of questions becomes critical.

For research projects, we determine research questions.  We did the same when devising our assessment plan.  These questions guide our every move:  our methodological decisions, the types of data we need, the appropriate analysis methods, and the way we write up our results.  The questions enable us to select the data that will help us determine answers, and these limited data become the evidence for our conclusions.  We’ve realized that we don’t need every piece of data that we could collect – just the data that are relevant to the questions.  This is a freeing revelation.

But it doesn’t end there.  The evidence isn’t enough.  We need to find the story.  What does the evidence mean?  How will it affect what we do tomorrow or in the next five years?  I worry that higher education in general – and educational development specifically – is getting bogged down in the weeds and not stepping back to identify what those weeds are telling us.  The examples that I noted in the second paragraph help to illuminate the issue.  But what are we overlooking?  Which way is the wind blowing now and in the future?  Our questions create important frames to make data manageable and even meaningful, but thinking about how to tell the story of the evidence seems the most crucial of all to me.

In the next few months, we will be aiming to tell the story of CTE in our self-study, which will extend far beyond what we convey in our annual reports.  We will be analyzing existing relevant data and collecting new data as needed to fill perceived gaps.  We will be striving to ensure that we have sufficient information to assist our external reviewers in addressing the questions set in the Terms of Reference for the review.  But from all of this, what we most need is to tell our story and listen to what it is telling us.  I’m not entirely sure what we’ll hear, but I am very intrigued by what will emerge.  The evidence is critical, but we need to move beyond it to better understand where we are and where we’re going.

Donna Ellis

Donna Ellis

Donna Ellis has supported the teaching development of Waterloo faculty members and graduate students since 1994. In her role as Director, she oversees the development and delivery of all the Centre for Teaching Excellence programming and services, which include individual faculty consultations; events directed at graduate students, new faculty, and established faculty regarding face-to-face teaching, blended learning, and emerging technologies; online resources; curriculum and program review consultations; and research support services. Donna has a PhD from Waterloo’s Management Sciences program and completed her dissertation research on instructional innovations. She also has an MA in Language and Professional Writing from Waterloo, and has taught in the Speech Communication program. Donna, along with her husband, spends time away from work raising three fine boys.

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“Go on a field trip!”¹: An opinion piece – Anita Helmers

Magic School Bus book cover

As a student at the elementary and secondary level I always looked forward to day-trips to the zoo, the museum, or to a provincial park. Honestly, who wouldn’t be excited to be out of school for a day?

Regretfully I reflect back on my earlier field trips and can say I only appreciated them for the opportunity to get out of the classroom and took for granted the educational purposes. It was not until beginning my undergraduate career that I gained an appreciation for field trips and their educational experience (although it is still nice to get out of that lecture hall).

At the university level, field trips are few and far between for many students. But why is that? Field trips at the university level can offer hands-on “real-life” opportunities for students to, as Ms. Frizzle says, “Take chances! Make Mistakes! Get Messy!”¹ Field trips are an opportunity to put to practice the theories taught in the classroom. Field trips, as a teaching method, should be used to expose students to the realities of their surrounding environment and provide a safe, low-risk space to learn from experience.

I am not suggesting that professors take students to the Moon in a Magic School Bus; professors do not even need to take students off-campus. As a student in the School of Planning I have been taken on field trips across Ring Road to Laurel Creek to learn about water testing; I have travelled to North Campus to learn about soil horizons; and I have toured campus learning how to classify trees. The main goal for field trips should be to enrich students’ educational experience and to further exemplify the theories and concepts covered in class. Without wandering around campus staring at trees I would have never fully understood which elements of a tree to focus on in order to classify it. Or, I would have never had the low-consequential experience of cross contaminating my water samples from Laurel creek. Field trips should be used as a stepping stone from classroom to “real-life”; a step that is cushioned to allow for chances, mistakes, and a safe space for failures before the professional world.

I have also been spoiled with the opportunities to travel off campus – this is not something every university student can say. I was given the chance to explore Spongy Lake, the Distillery District in Toronto, Liberty Village in Toronto, and Guelph’s abandoned Correctional facility, to name a few places. Through these field trips I have learned ecological processes, planning practices such as adaptation, and the reality that I have so much left to learn before entering the professional world. I can say that without being exposed to the realities of my surrounding environment, I would enter the Profession of Planning with utopian, unrealistic perceptions of how cities develop.

So, although the University of Waterloo does not have a bus that can transform into a spaceship, a submarine, or even an alligator, students still desire hands-on experience and the chance to “get out there and explore!”¹ I ask that University professors consider field trips as a teaching method that is feasible for all disciplines. Whether you simply take students outside to study tree species or you take students across the country to practice the French language, any and all exposure counts towards an enriched education.

¹ “The Magic School Bus ™.” Magic School Bus | FAQs | N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Nov. 2016.

Image provided by xmoltarx under the Creative Commons “Attribution-ShareAlike” license.

Looking Forward with CTE’s 2015-2016 Annual Report – Donna Ellis

2015-2016 CTE Annual ReportLooking forward always entails looking back, which is why we at CTE are committed to continuous improvement founded on critical reflection and evidence. A year has passed since we produced our first annual report as part of our comprehensive plan to assess the work of the Centre. I am happy to announce the publication of this year’s annual report, which builds on the hard work of my colleagues to develop and engage in the assessment practices we know to be so important to the evaluation and ongoing development of the work that we do.

Numbers certainly don’t tell the whole story, but I want to share a few with you as a window into what we’ve been up to at CTE over the past year. Here are some highlights of our 2015-2016 year:

  • Our 2016 Teaching and Learning Conference, Learning from Failure and Challenge, attracted 260 participants, 96% of whom rated the conference as “good” or “excellent”
  • CTE staff provided 5,055 consultations to 1,172 instructors and delivered 226 workshops to 1,019 unique instructors, graduate students, and staff members
  • 18 postdoctoral fellows attended our Teaching Development Seminars, bringing the total of fellows who have taken the seminars to 165
  • 480 graduate students participated in 129 microteaching sessions, 1,674 attended workshops, 163 completed the Fundamentals of University Teaching program, and 18 completed the Certificate in University Teaching program
  • CTE’s online resources—our Teaching Tips in particular—were accessed more than one million times from locations around the world

CTE staff have also made strides in promoting teaching excellence beyond the University of Waterloo. Thirty-eight presentations were given by our staff members at conferences and other institutions, four articles and one book chapter written by our staff members appeared in peer-reviewed publications, and CTE staff received two research grants to conduct educational research.

We are already engaged in continuing the process of assessment and reflection for the 2016-2017 year. In the winter of 2017, we will prepare a self-study as part of CTE’s External Review, a process that will provide us with new insights into the work that we do in support of our mission: collaborating with individuals, academic departments, and academic support units to foster capacity and community around teaching and to promote an institutional culture that values effective teaching and meaningful learning.

There is so much more to say, but rather than dive deeper here, I encourage you to read the 2015-2016 annual report to get a more comprehensive sense of CTE’s story. My colleagues and I are already looking forward to a year of new achievements at CTE.

VoiceThread Project: Call for Participation — Gillian Dabrowski

voicethreadAre you looking for ways to engage your students in learning? Consider partnering with the Centre for Extended Learning (CEL) and the Centre for Teaching Excellence (CTE) to pilot a new instructional tool in Waterloo’s on-campus and online classes: VoiceThread.

You may be interested in learning about the pilot if your goal is to engage students in any of the activities below:

  • Idea sharing and interaction
  • Community building
  • Social learning
  • Peer instruction
  • Critical reflection
  • Presentation practice
  • Digital literacy skills building
  • Language practice

What is VoiceThread?

VoiceThread is a media-based discussion tool. A key feature of VoiceThread is that it enables you and your students to create digital presentations and make them the centre of a discussion. Presentations can include documents, images, PowerPoint slides, audio, or video. Students attach comments to the presentation using a keyboard (text), a microphone or telephone (audio), or a webcam (video). Discussions are asynchronous, meaning students are not online at the same time.

Why use VoiceThread?

Penn State’s Use Case Introduction gives several examples of why instructors use VoiceThread:

  • On-campus, create digital presentations on difficult to comprehend concepts and processes. Students can review content multiple times and ask the instructor questions on specific slides.
  • Enable students to present knowledge and research digitally. The class benefits from exposure to a multitude of topics. The presenter benefits from practice articulating themselves verbally and peer feedback.
  • Actively engage students in online lectures by prompting them to comment on specific slides or respond to questions posed within the presentation.
  • Increase your online instructor teaching presence and build online class community by initiating weekly kick-off discussions.
  • Create an online ‘seminar’ course experience where students grapple with heavy readings together in both written and verbal formats.

Pilot Details

The VoiceThread pilot is scheduled to run from Winter 2017–Winter 2018. Faculty who participate in the pilot will receive a VoiceThread account linked to their LEARN user account and a course site. Training and support for the pilot will be supported by CEL, CTE, and LEARN Help. Faculty participants and course participants will be asked to provide feedback via survey response, panel discussion, and interview.

If you would like to volunteer to be a part of this pilot, please contact CEL’s Gillian Dabrowski,, or your CTE Liaison with the following details:

  1. Name
  2. Course information (CourseID, name, section) and expected number of students
  3. A description of how you will use VoiceThread in your course to support student engagement and assessment. How might VoiceThread help solve a problem you are experiencing with discussions or assessment as you currently use them?

More Information


Gao, F. & Sun, Y. (2010). Supporting an online community of inquiry using VoiceThread. In C. Maddux et al. (Eds.) Research Highlights in Information Technology and Teacher Education 2010 (pp.9-18). Chesapeake, VA: Society for Information Technology and Teacher Education (SITE).