What We Can Only Learn from Others — Donna Ellis, CTE Director

eurekaYou know when you have an “a-ha” moment and two ideas from completely different contexts suddenly merge in your mind?  I had this happen to me when I attended a recent faculty panel discussion in Math about the use of clickers.  The panelists shared a variety of experiences and gave excellent advice to their colleagues.  My “a-ha” moment arose when the panel facilitator declared how much she had learned about her students when she started to use clickers:  “I thought I knew what they were thinking.  Boy, was I wrong!”  Her statement cemented for me the extreme value of asking others about their thinking rather than making assumptions and then devising plans based on those assumptions.

You may have heard that CTE is going to have an external review in 2017.  It’s time and it’s part of our institutional strategic plan for outstanding academic programming.  Our Centre was launched in 2007, a merger of three existing units that supported teaching excellence.  Many things have changed since then, including the structure of our leadership, our staffing, the breadth of services that we provide, and our location.  Organic, evolutionary change is positive, but there’s value in stepping back to see where we’ve been, what’s on the horizon, and how to get there.  And this is where the “a-ha” moment comes in:  my small CTE team working on this review cannot know what others think about where we are and where we could go.  I’ve always known this, but it’s one thing to know it and another to do something about it.

And so we’ll be asking, both as we prepare for our self-study and during the external reviewers’ visit.  We have already started to ask some different questions on our feedback instruments about our services, focusing on ways that working with us have helped to enhance your capacity and your community as teachers.  These changes are part of launching a comprehensive assessment plan that connects to our Centre’s overall aims.  But we have also begun to work on sets of questions for our external review about areas that we might be too close to see clearly or cannot know because the responses needed are others’ perceptions.  These questions involve topics ranging from our mission statement and organizational structure to our relationships with others and the quality of our work.  We also need input on the possibilities for “CTE 2.0”:  where could we be in another 10 years?

We’ll be starting this data collection with our own staff members, doing a SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) this spring term.  But we will be seeking input far beyond our own walls, including beyond UWaterloo.  When we come knocking (literally or by email or by online survey), I trust you’ll answer and provide your honest feedback and insights.  We believe we are a responsive organization that helps those who work with us to achieve their goals, and we have some data to support these claims, but we want more.  We want your input.  We want to be able to say: “We didn’t know that. We’re so glad we asked!”

If you have thoughts or insights into our external review plans, please let me know.  You can reach me at donnae@uwaterloo.ca or at extension 35713.  We want to make this external review activity as generative and useful as possible.  I am optimistic that with your help we can achieve just that.

Photo courtesy of David McKelvey

Published by

Mark Morton

Mark Morton

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.

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