Whenever I talk with instructors here about how my job is to support them in their writing and communication instruction, I hear some version of the same response: “My students are brilliant, but they can’t write a sentence to save their lives!” No matter whom I’m talking to, regardless of discipline, job title, teaching experience, linguistic background, educational background, or teaching load, nearly everyone has the same anxieties around the role of communication in their courses. But I’m always glad to have the chance to talk about these concerns. If you’re one of those instructors I’ve talked with about teaching writing and communication in your discipline, you’ve probably seen my eyes light up as I eagerly launch into my spiel about the research on teaching writing and communication across the curriculum.
Stephanie White is an Instructional Developer at the UWaterloo Centre for Teaching Excellence, where she focuses on TA Training and Writing Support. In addition to helping run CTE’s certificate programs for graduate students and supervising graduate-student TA Workshop Facilitators, she teaches workshops for faculty and staff on designing effective written assignments, consults one-to-one with instructors in any discipline about their written assignments, serves on committees and working groups about communications outcomes at UWaterloo, develops resources about Writing and Communication Across the Curriculum at UWaterloo, and consults with instructors on training TAs in their departments.
Having an opportunity to reflect on my brief time with CTE is a most welcomed development. Not only for those interested in CTE, but for myself, this chance to pause and consider all that has transpired within my introductory entry into the world of CTE has been, quite frankly, remarkable. I’ve only just wrapped up my first term as a GID (Graduate Instructional Developer), though the wealth of experiences makes it feel as though I’ve been here much longer (and I mean that in the best way possible). Firstly, I suppose a bit of preamble is in order before we get ahead of ourselves… Continue reading Teaching teaching to (future) teachers – Joseph Buscemi
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 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.
Looking 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:
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.
Observers of educational development at Waterloo will know that we’ve had a teaching centre onsite for 40 years. Christopher Knapper was the founder of the Teaching Resources and Continuing Education (TRACE) unit in 1976, which kept the same name until the 2006-2007 academic year, at which point a merger with Learning and Teaching Through Technology (LT3) and Learning Resources and Innovation (LRI) led to the formal creation of the Centre for Teaching Excellence pretty much as we know it today.
I think I’m feeling rather wistful and nostalgic at this point because our Senior Instructional Developer for Blended Learning, Jane Holbrook, retires this week. We can hardly believe this to be true, but true it is. I’d like to take a moment to acknowledge Jane’s work with LT3 and CTE. It’s difficult for me to accept that this marks nearly 10 years since CTE’s inception, and the occasion of Jane’s retirement is cause for reflection about where we’ve come and where we’re going. Mainly, though, it’s an opportunity to appreciate Jane’s contributions to scholarship in the areas of blended learning and educational development, as well as her commitment to supporting our Waterloo teaching community over many years.
Jane started teaching courses in Biology here around 1989, but in or around 2001, prepared a report for Tom Carey in LT3 about a new model of support for educators in Waterloo’s six Faculties. The result? Our much-praised and oft-copied Faculty Liaison model. Jane took up one such role, for Science, and others followed soon thereafter. I can remember looking at LT3 first from my vantage point at Trent’s Interactive Learning Centre, and later from Guelph’s Teaching Support Services, with a certain amount of envy — in large part because of this model.
I was very happy to join CTE, then, and to work directly with people whose efforts and processes I’d admired from afar. I was not disappointed. In the 9 years I have worked here as a Senior Instructional Developer, I have relied on Jane as a source of wisdom, especially as I learned the ropes of managing other people and managing multiple projects.
Jane is a model of honest, astute, intelligent leadership. She never shies away from difficult conversations, always provides incisive input on university-wide and CTE committees or as a personal mentor, and pulls more than her share of administrative weight at one of Canada’s largest teaching centres. I aspire to emulate her level-headed, savvy, and caring approach towards both people and projects.
Working on blended learning initiatives, Jane has applied her considerable creativity and scholarly approach in ways that have helped many professors to think differently about their practice, and indeed change that practice in ways that increase learning for many generations of students to date, and many more to come.
Thank you, Jane, and all the best in your own next steps. I am thrilled to be working alongside Mary Power, your replacement in the SID role, and will also miss you enormously.
As Senior Instructional Developer, Curriculum and Programming, Trevor Holmes plans and delivers workshops and events in support of faculty across the career span. Prior to joining the Centre for Teaching Excellence, Trevor worked at a variety of universities teaching courses, supporting faculty and teaching assistants through educational development offices, and advising undergraduates. Trevor’s PhD is from York University in English Literature, with a focus on gothic literature, queer theory, and goth identities. A popular workshop facilitator at the national and international levels, Trevor is also interested in questions of identity in teaching and teaching development.
CTE’s 2015-2016 Annual Report is nearing completion and will soon be sent to the printers. It’s hard work creating the report, but also revealing and affirming: it gives us a chance to look back over the past year and discern what we have accomplished from a “big picture” perspective. And of course it also helps us reorient ourselves for a new year of activity.
As a preview of our 26-page report, I’ll paste below some of the achievements that our Director, Dr. Donna Ellis, highlights in her preamble to the report:
Thanks to strategic plan funding, we hired a new Instructional Developer to assist with the development of our students’ communication skills. This staff member helps instructors at all levels learn strategies for teaching and assessing writing across the curriculum, as well as supports our instructional programs for graduate students.
We contributed to two university-wide committees on large-scale change projects to assist with teaching quality: one on student evaluations of teaching and another on teaching and learning spaces. We bring research evidence and best practices to bear on these important and complex initiatives.
In conjunction with the Graduate Studies Office, we launched a two-day Graduate Student Supervision series to ensure high-quality graduate instruction and assist new faculty members in attaining supervision status.
With colleagues from Western University and Queen’s University, we developed two of six new online modules on university teaching for use in our instructional programs.
We increased participation in our instructional development programming: since 2013, the number of unique participants in our workshops has increased by 19 per cent, with total workshop completions increasing by 37 per cent. This increase reflects an improved uptake, as our total number of workshops increased by only 23 per cent in the same timeframe.
We added more instructor profiles to our high-traffic website to help promote public awareness of Waterloo’s teaching excellence.
We started three projects to encourage innovative methods of course delivery using learning technologies. One project involves developing a new process for soliciting information from instructors about their use of learning technologies (beyond LEARN) so we can report on their usage and facilitate the sharing of best practices.
If you’re interested in receiving a copy of CTE’s 2015-2016 Annual Report, just let me know: firstname.lastname@example.org .We’ll also be adding a link on our website to an accessible PDF version.
As Senior Instructional Developer, Mark Morton helps instructors implement new educational technologies such as clickers, wikis, concept mapping tools, question facilitation tools, screencasting, and more. Prior to joining the Centre for Teaching Excellence, Mark taught for twelve years in the English Department at the University of Winnipeg. He received his PhD in 1992 from the University of Toronto, and is the author of four books: Cupboard Love; The End; The Lover's Tongue; and Cooking with Shakespeare.