Recently, staff members in the Centre for Teaching Excellence went on a two-week “blind date” with 20 faculty members from King Saud University. I call it a blind date — even though it was really an instructional development program — because none our staff had previously met or even spoken by phone to any of the KSU faculty members. All of the coordinating took place over the course of several months via email between CTE’s Director, Donna Ellis, and KSU’s Dean of Deanships, Dr. Mohammed Al-Sudairi. On the morning of July 12, when the KSU faculty were scheduled to arrive in CTE’s FLEX Lab, our staff members were nervous: Would they like us? Would we like them? Would cultural differences make it hard to talk about issues pertaining to teaching and learning? Would they appreciate my jokes?
Our anxiety, as it turned out, was needless. Within an hour of arriving, CTE staff and the KSU faculty members were laughing together and engaging in excellent discussions about educational issues, teaching strategies, and learning technologies. We discovered that the instructional challenges facing KSU faculty are essentially the same ones our own faculty face at the University of Waterloo: finding ways to effectively motivate and engage students, devising opportunities for active learning, managing large classes, encouraging students to focus on “mastery” (or “deep”) learning rather than “performance” (or “surface”) learning, discerning which educational technologies are most effective, and balancing teaching and research. Moreover, the KSU faculty members’ evident dedication to their students also mirrored that of our own faculty, as did their willingness to reflect on their teaching, and their generosity in sharing pedagogical insights with one another and with us.
Our CTE staff, too, did a first-rate job in developing and offering a host of workshops, with the first week devoted to educational technologies and the second week devoted to teaching excellence. We also strove to make our guests’ visit to Southern Ontario as enjoyable as possible by developing an online description of leisure activities they could undertake on weekends. We heard many stories from KSU faculty members about memorable trips to Niagara Falls, Grand Bend, Long Point, Toronto, African Lion Safari, and elsewhere. Many KSU faculty members also took the opportunity to meet with UW faculty members working in their discipline, who kindly made themselves available. I might mention, too, one of my own highlights — namely, the lunches catered by Kitchener’s Arabesque. The food was delicious and the pleasant lunchtime conversations among KSU faculty members and CTE staff re-invigorated us for the afternoon workshops.
At the end of the two-week program, our Centre hosted a closing ceremony, attended by UW’s Dr. Leo Rothenburg, Associate Vice-President International, Dr. Geoff McBoyle, Associate Vice-President Academic, and Drew Knight, Director of International Programs, during which every KSU faculty members received certificates recognizing their completion of the program. We also viewed an interactive presentation using an online platform called Glogster, showcasing photos and videotaped interviews from the program. We were sad, at the end of the day, to say goodbye.
After returning to Saudi Arabia, the KSU faculty members sent us many emails expressing their thanks and warm wishes. My favorite message is this one, because it also reflects the feelings of our CTE staff:
“I have acquired knowledge and skills from attending these workshops, but certainly I won so many friends. I am proud of knowing such great people like you. Hopefully we continue seeing each other again.”
The Centre for Teaching Excellence welcomes contributions to its blog. If you are a faculty member, staff member, or student at the University of Waterloo (or beyond!) and would like contribute a posting about some aspect of teaching or learning, please contact Mark Morton or Trevor Holmes.