Multi-modal Learning at Home and Abroad! – Lynn Long

bicycle1Last Tuesday, numerous brave souls trekked through blustery weather to attend the January Seminar in Learning Innovation & Pedagogy (SLIP). The focus of this session was, “The Ethics of On-line Teaching” and our discussion centered around several pertinent articles which had been selected by participants beforehand. One article of particular interest was, “Ethical Considerations in Providing Distance Education in the Light of Massification”. In this paper, Michael Sankey and Rod St Hill of the University of Southern Queensland highlight the movement of their facility towards on-line, multi-modal learning in response to an increasingly diverse student population. Continue reading Multi-modal Learning at Home and Abroad! – Lynn Long

Mechanical Aids to Learning! – Mark Morton

02sept1930cropped-thumbnailInstructors have been urged to adopt new educational technologies for a long time: see the newspaper article below from the September 2, 1930 issue of the London Times. My favorite passage: “One of the difficulties of bringing together the teacher and the machine is that the former is not usually mechanically-minded. He is accustomed to working with his mind, and is shy of having to manipulate knobs and wheels and switches which may go wrong.” Continue reading Mechanical Aids to Learning! – Mark Morton

Announcing a Research Conference on Teaching and Learning at UW – Trevor Holmes

cte_logo_powerpoint-largeOpportunities and New Directions: A Research Conference on Teaching and Learning will happen Wednesday, May 6 2009.

Proposal abstracts are invited from our own community and beyond, and are due Friday January 30, 2009.

The Teaching-Based Research Group (TBRG), in association with the Centre for Teaching Excellence (CTE) at the University of Waterloo and supported by Geoff McBoyle, AVPA, invites you to participate in a one-day conference of research on teaching and learning. We welcome anyone interested in this scholarship to join us for an exciting opportunity to network with like-minded colleagues from multiple disciplines and to engage in conversations about new research, work in progress, and emerging ideas.

The full call for proposals is here.

Starting 2009 with a revised Mission Statement – Trevor Holmes

CTE staff “retreated” for a couple of days last October, and one of the results was a collaboratively revised Mission Statement:

The Centre for Teaching Excellence provides leadership in advancing skilful , informed, and reflective teaching.

Three teams of staff members then fleshed out what each adjective really means, and we all came together to finalize language that would then go more “public”:

Skilful teaching involves what we as teachers do, say, or make happen in order to improve learning. Skilful teaching can be learned and taught, acquired and honed. A skilful teacher also recognizes when and why to modify an approach.

Informed teaching involved openness toward new ways of approaching teaching, and a willingness to adjust practice based upon what we learn by listening to students and through discussions with colleagues. Informed teaching is scholarly. It draws on current research and contributes to disciplinary practice in higher education.

Reflective teaching is an iterative process that involves developing an awareness of what we do as teachers, why we make the choices we do, and how our choices impact students’ learning. By examining and sharing our successes and challenges with the larger teaching community, we contribute to an ongoing dialogue about teaching and learning, and extend our own learning and development as teachers.

Feedback on our new Mission Statement is welcome — as always, you can use the Comments feature of this blog to comment publicly, or you can send comments and suggestions to our Director, Dr. Catherine Schryer.

Techne and Teaching: Is Teaching an Artful Science or a Scientific Art? – Catherine Schryer


The other day during a discussion someone mentioned that teaching was obviously a techne. From the context of the discussion they seemed to mean that teaching consisted of a set of consistent practices. Just by chance, my research group and I had done a lot of investigation into the history of the term techne. We had been investigating teaching and learning practices in healthcare situations and noted the novice practitioners were often rigorously tested on their knowledge of specific facts and terms while at the same time their mentors sometimes talked about moving beyond facts and negotiating situations of uncertainty. We also tied these two conflicting observations into the debate around medicine as either an art or science. Continue reading Techne and Teaching: Is Teaching an Artful Science or a Scientific Art? – Catherine Schryer

Of lectures and laptops: civility and engagement, Part 1 – Trevor Holmes

A couple of years ago, I asked someone who kept falling asleep or listening to his iPod during my lectures (even though I break things up with “activities” every 20 minutes or so) why he didn’t just stay in his residence room. He said he always went to lectures in case he might pick up something by osmosis. I’m not blaming the student here — just reminding myself that not every second of my craft needs to be gripping to every single student! The increasing use of laptops in class (especially for MSN, Facebook, YouTube, and other non-course-related stuff) is, however, a very public display of what some would call incivility, or inappropriate behaviour amongst lecture attendees.

For the past two days (predictably — it’s the end of term and who doesn’t need a break from grading?) the main discussion list for the Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education has been awash in opinions about boring professors and unengaged students. The topic began as a question about banning laptops. Of course banning laptops sounds good to those of us who teach or have observed large first year courses. Until you remember the doodles we did, notes we passed, and other things we did during certain lectures in our own freshman years. Until you remember that some students require laptops to help accommodate disabilities, and banning everyone else’s laptops would “out” them to their classmates. Some good advice came in the form of “use the laptops that show up in class” — which is what I try to do, especially given the possibilities of Web 2.0 tools — and we did get a great reference to an issue of New Directions for Teaching and Learning about this very topic in different disciplines. A quick search of the blogosphere revealed a Chronicle of Higher Education article about this topic too.

This is about more than laptops though.

What concerns me most about the discussion, I think, is that what started as a “blame the lazy millennials” for their lack of civility became a “blame the unprofessional professors” for their inability to keep people awake with entertaining cartwheels (I think I’ll try cartwheels this Winter in my class of 160 students). Blame the students or blame the professors. Pick your side.

I’m simplifying things, but only a little. At least two posters so far have placed the blame for disengaged students squarely on the shoulders of the professors. Ironically, this happens the same day that we find out the data on why students are at university in Ontario and at Waterloo in particular. Sure, 42% really want to be here in an engaged way. Fewer than half. Just over a fifth come because they think they have to, and another fifth have no idea why they bothered. Luckily, a fifth still want to change the world.

The same holds true of informal polls in a couple of first year courses my spouse and I have taught at another university — fully half the students each year claim not really to want to be at university at all, and cite peer pressure, parental pressure, or just aimlessness as their only reasons to bother going for a degree.

And yet it’s up to us to engage every one of them? Surely, surely it’s a shared responsibility! As a student in the 1980s, when I faced a so-called “boring” lecturer, I saw it as my job to FIND something interesting in the lecture. I was free to leave if I couldn’t. And I knew (as a Trent student) that we’d have a lively tutorial after even the most mind-numbing lecture (there really weren’t many of these; virtually all my lectures in first year were top-notch, and they were delivered by tenured professors, who also ran the tutorial discussions).

This leads me to reflect on the data-driven findings of the Physics Education Research Group at the University of Washington, three members of which visited UW last Friday for the annual Physics Teaching Day, organised by Rohan Jayasundera. They have found time and time again that students CAN in fact improve markedly on basic understandings of fundamental physics concepts through guided inquiry and guided tutorials. This seems to square with the Harvard research on “interactive engagement” techniques (now with clickers) in large lectures. More on next term…

On global campuses and internationalized courses – Svitlana Taraban-Gordon

Some interesting global developments related to new cross-border delivery of educational services are currently taking place in higher education.  In recent years many Canadian universities have joined their Australian and British counterparts in establishing their presence overseas. To this end, several universities have established various partnership agreements  and opened branch campuses and franchises in Asia and the Middle East. Some that come to mind are Hong Kong campus of the UWO’s Ivey School of Business, University of Calgary’s nursing education program in Qatar, Al-Ahram Canadian University in Egypt and Canadian University in Dubai. Our own institution has also began the foray into cross-border education. Many of us here at UW are currently following with interest the developments related to the opening of UW campus in Dubai.

Amidst all these exciting and bold global initiatives by Canadian universities, it is easy to overlook the efforts of individual faculty members who are trying to find creative ways to bring the international and the global into their classrooms. In higher education literature, this process of bringing international perspectives into the content and delivery of the course is known as course internationalization. While there is a perception that some disciplines and courses lend themselves better to internationalization while others are not, there is emerging evidence reported by faculty from various disciplines as to how the possibilities of applying international lens to virtually any course. Here are a couple of examples of how faculty members in computer science internationalized their courses:

Here, at UW, we also have some interesting course internationalization projects underway. A couple weeks ago I had a chance to talk to Josh Neufeld of Biology about his fourth-year biology course. Josh and his tech-savvy undergraduate student, Forest Rong Wang, created a collection of digital interviews from international researchers whose articles were used in the course. Josh came up with an idea to send Webcams to the international researchers in his field and to invite them to return recorded interviews with their ‘behind-the-scenes’ perspectives on their scientific discoveries. All ten researchers responded enthusiastically and provided insightful interviews, telling Josh’s students about how their scientific discoveries were made, how this discovery shaped their career, and what they love about science and academia. During the course, Josh’s students not just did presentations based on research articles but also watched interviews with each of the researcher who conducted the research and wrote the article. What a neat idea! And the best part is that this approach can work in many other courses.