CTE’s 2015-2016 Annual Report — Mark Morton

looking-backwardCTE’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: mmorton@uwaterloo.ca .We’ll also be adding a link on our website to an accessible PDF version.

Reflections of a TAWF – Stephanie Verkoeyen

Since next month marks my last workshop as a TA Workshop Facilitator (TAWF), I wanted to use my last blog post to reflect on my experience over the past year.

21194820_d6bfc6f5c9_qWhen I first started as a TAWF last September, I had no way of anticipating all of the wonderful additional opportunities for professional and personal development. As a member of the graduate staff you are welcomed into the CTE community. Living out of town and only occasionally coming to campus, I’ve found it difficult at times to feel a sense of belonging at the university. So the chance to connect with like-minded people and engage in conversations about teaching and learning has been wonderful and proven invaluable.

TAWFs are generally paired with one or two workshops that they will be responsible for for the duration of their appointment. These workshops are offered at least once per term. This means that you have several chances to deliver the same material and receive feedback on your delivery. As a teacher, this is a wonderful opportunity to flex your facilitation skills and gain a greater appreciation for your strengths and areas that may need improvement.

Multiple iterations of a workshop also mean that you will learn about at least one teaching and learning topic in-depth. Before I became a TAWF I had never thought to consult the literature on best teaching practices, and yet there is an entire body of work devoted to this very topic. Referred to as the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (or SoTL for short), post-secondary practitioners share their experiences of their own classroom successes and failures so that others can reflect on their findings and build upon teaching and learning processes.

The TAWF position also opens the door to other opportunities. There’s the option of getting involved with teaching and learning projects that are happening at the Centre or elsewhere within the University. Several TAWFs have also gone on to take on a GID (Graduate Instructional Developer) position.

I leave this position not only with a greater understanding of my approach to teaching and learning and improved knowledge in this field, but also with invaluable connections to both my graduate colleagues in other faculties and the staff of CTE. It’s been an honour and a privilege!


“Learning from Challenge and Failure”: Resources — Julie Timmermans

Michael Starbird
Michael Starbird, keynote speaker at the 2016 Teaching and Learning Conference.

Presenters at CTE’s recent Teaching and Learning conference explored the theme of Learning from Challenge and Failure. As a follow-up to the Conference, we’d like the share the following list of compiled resources:


Articles and Blog Postings

Podcasts and Talks

Growth Mindset Resources


Meaningful Conversations in Minutes – Mylynh Nguyen

ConversationWith constant media stimulation, increase in competitiveness, and stress overload, “Is it possible to slow down” (1)?  Our culture can be self-driven and individualistic so it is no surprise that for many, time is a finite resource that is draining away. As a result, we try to do as much as we can in a very short time period. Our minds are filled with constant distraction, thus limiting opportunities for self-reflection to ask oneself “Am I well or am I happy?” (1).

We’d like to believe that we have been a good friend, partner, or child at various points in our life. However, upon remembering that significant person in your life, do you know or have you ever asked what were the moments when they were the happiest? The times when they were crying from tears of joys to the time when they felt the most accomplished? Surprisingly for many, we are unaware of these stories that ultimately define whom that individual has become today. We mindlessly pass every day without pondering about the conversations that we had or the connections that were made.  By simply being mindful of the questions that we pose, more specifically “questions that people have been waiting for their wholes lives to asked … because everybody in their lives is waiting for people to ask them questions, so they can be truthful about who they are and how they become what they are,” as beautifully said by Marc Pacher (2).

So what is the action plan?

1.Invite people to tell stories rather than giving answers. Instead of “How are you” substitute

  • What’s the most interesting thing that happened today?
  • What was the best part of your weekend?
  • What are you looking forward to this week? (3).

2. Enter a conversation with the willingness to learn something new

  • Celeste Headlee in her TED Talk 10 Ways to Have a Better Conversation describes how she frequently talks to people whom she doesn’t like, and with people whom she deeply disagrees yet is still able to have engaging and great conversations. She is able to do this as she is always prepared to be amazed and she seeks more to understand rather than to listen and state her own opinion and thoughts.

3. Lastly “being cognizant of [your] impact is already the first step toward change. It really does start at the individual level” my friend once said (5).

  • Brene Brown in her Power of Vulnerability talk said, “Many pretend like what we’re doing doesn’t have a huge impact on other people”. But we’d be surprise of what we are capable of when you allow yourself to be vulnerable as this “can be the birthplace of joy, of creativity, of belonging of love… the willingness to say, “I love you” the willingness to do something where there are no guarantees” (6).

That being said, you don’t have to be the most intellectual or outspoken person in the room, but what is key is the willingness to be open and the questions that are posed. There are many simple things that can be easily integrate into our daily lives, by being more mindful of the question that we ask to ultimately have a more memorable and enriching conversation. In the end it is to have better connections, new understanding and awareness to savor the moment.

At CTE, Microteaching Sessions are offered where you can choose from various topics to conduct an interactive teaching lesson. For my first topic I will be talking about the importance of communication. All participants will not only be giving feedback but will receive constructive feedback and ways to improve from knowledgeable facilitators. It’s a safe environment where you have the chance to present to fellow graduate students from various departments. Many have found these sessions beneficial as you are working on skills relevant to work, field of study or for your own personal growth. I am excited and nervous for this opportunity to talk about something I am passionate about and I hope I can successfully engage others and deliver the content well. In order to help participants formulate an effective teaching plan, the Centre for Teaching Excellence website has provided many resources such as well written guidelines, lesson plans outlines, and facilitators review the lesson before you present.

As a follow-up post, I had the chance to facilitate an hour session for an AIESEC conference for participants from various universities such as Toronto, Waterloo, Laurier, and York, that recently returned from their international exchanges. There were lots of discussion so thank you to the Graduate Instructor Developers, Charis Enns and Dave Guyadeen, and Instructional developer, Stephanie White for their great feedback and helping me make this session more successful!


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

Graduate Student Teaching on Campus

As a Graduate Instructional Developer who works mainly with CTE’s Certificate in University Teaching (CUT) program, I have the privilege of observing graduate students teach in classrooms across campus. Over the past year, I’ve had the opportunity to observe over 35 classes taught by graduate students in all six faculties. I have been incredibly impressed by the quality of teaching by graduate students. They have taken concepts from CTE workshops (e.g., active learning, group work, formative assessment) and applied them directly in their teaching. They are using innovative teaching strategies, technologies, and engaging students in their lessons. The University of Waterloo community should be proud of graduate students’ dedication to, and passion for, teaching.

So how can we support graduate students in continuing to develop their teaching skills?

  • I think many of us would agree the best way to improve our teaching is to practice. In some departments, it’s difficult for graduate students to access teaching opportunities, but guest lectures are a great way to gain experience. If you’re teaching, consider asking the graduate students you supervise and/or your Teaching Assistants whether they’re interested in giving a guest lecture in the course.
  • If you know a talented Teaching Assistant or graduate student instructor, please nominate them for an award! Information regarding Graduate Student Teaching Awards can be difficult to find, so I’ve compiled a list here. If you know of any that are missing from this list, please post a comment and we will add them.


Graduate Student Teaching Awards

A) University-wide teaching awards

Amit & Meena Chakma Award for Exceptional Teaching by a Student (deadline: February)

B) Faculty-wide teaching awards

C) Department teaching awards

  • Biology – “Outstanding Graduate/Undergraduate Teaching Assistantship Award” (no link available)


Teaching Resources for Graduate Students:

Walking the Talk: Preparing for an External Review — Donna Ellis, CTE Director

review facesAs many of you know, one of CTE’s key services involves facilitating curriculum retreats for departments as they prepare a self-study for academic program review. We help faculty to: identify program-level outcomes, map courses according to those outcomes, and explore how course assessments fit into the curriculum map. See our curriculum renewal website for more details. We feel strongly that we should also undertake similar processes for our own work.  Even though we have only a few programs that might look like a coherent curriculum, and fewer still that lead to some kind of certification, everything we do is meant to be an opportunity for learning about teaching.

As part of the Academic Programming strategic plan, CTE is up for external review in 2017.  Like an academic department, we recognize that some preparation is in order, including thinking carefully about where we’ve been and where we’re going.  One key preparatory step has been our work over the past few terms on designing a comprehensive plan to assess the work of the Centre.  Despite a growing body of literature in the area of teaching centre assessment, no set standards have emerged for assessing a Centre’s work, so we’ve been developing some parameters and frameworks to help guide our efforts.   In many ways we have been predicting this activity since we began preparing to support new academic review processes in 2007, and it is exciting to be acting more fully on it now.

Key principles underlying our plan’s development include being: a) collaborative by involving multiple stakeholders, b) defensible by drawing from the evaluation literature, and c) comprehensive while not assessing everything all the time.  Most importantly, we are striving to create a plan that is sustainable so that no one feels overburdened by contributing to its implementation: we can focus on providing our services and you can focus on your ongoing development.

Our plan is centred around four key questions:

  • Who comes to us?
  • To what extent are we meeting our participants’ needs?
  • What intended outcomes are our participants meeting?
  • How effective are our processes?

These questions are meant to help us gather evidence about our overall impact and indicate how well we are achieving our aims of building capacity, building community, and promoting a culture that values teaching and learning.  We are interested in both short- and long-term results, including the ripple effects to our work, and we are poised to look more systematically at connections and transformations.

Building on the evaluation tool of a logic model, we have identified both output and outcome data to collect:

  • Output Data: event registrations and staff reports (e.g., consultation numbers); resource hits (e.g., website traffic); internal planning (e.g., workload analyses)
  • Outcome Data: surveys (post-event and long-term); participant reports/narratives; interviews and focus groups; other data (e.g., network analyses)

We are now at the stage of building a matrix that involves us mapping our various programs and services according to the questions that need to be addressed in each case and the most appropriate type(s) of data to collect.  A CTE working group is also developing survey questions based on our programming outcomes.  Our goal is to pilot our new instruments and processes this Fall, so expect to experience some new ways of providing feedback on our services.  We thank you in advance for assisting us with this important work.

Another part of our plan is to release an annual report that highlights key assessment data.  We plan to replace our Fall newsletter with this annual report, with the first one scheduled to come out this Fall.  Our new assessment plan won’t be in place by then, but we already have various data to report on to help increase transparency around CTE and the impact of our services.

I am grateful for all of the talented individuals at CTE who are contributing to our assessment plan and annual report, and to our faculty colleagues who have been providing feedback along the way.  Like academic program reviews, our assessment work is part of a larger ongoing continuous improvement process.   There is more work ahead of us, but it is exciting to contemplate all that we can learn from it.

If you have feedback about our assessment approach or would like to learn more, please give me a call   (ext. 35713) or send me an email (donnae@uwaterloo.ca).


Grabove, V., Kustra, E., Lopes, V., Potter, M.K., Wiggers, R., & Woodhouse, R. (2012). Teaching and Learning Centres: Their Evolving Role Within Ontario Colleges and Universities. Toronto: Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario.

Hines, S.R. (2011). How mature teaching and learning centers evaluate their services. In J.E. Miller & J.E. Groccia (Eds.). To improve the academy: Resources for faculty, instructional, and organizational development (pp. 277-279). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Wright, M. C. (2011). Measuring a teaching center’s effectiveness. In C.E. Cook & M. Kaplan (Eds.),  Advancing the culture of teaching on campus: How a teaching center can make a difference (pp.38-49). Sterling, VA: Stylus.

Program development and evaluation logic model templates from University of Wisconsin-Extension:  http://www.uwex.edu/ces/pdande/evaluation/evallogicmodelworksheets.html