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!


The Benefits of Experiential Learning Through Co-operative Education — Thinushan Sandrasegaram

iheartcoopNearing the end of high school, students are pressured to select an academic path, one which they will be on for the next three to ten years (depending on program and level). I was lucky enough to have a relative who was enrolled into a co-op program at the undergraduate level to guide my decision making. She explained to me that co-operative education (co-op) provides a structured way of learning that incorporates in-class learning with periods of work placements. In addition, she shared personal experiences from her co-op terms to help me get a better understanding of how co-op can kick start my career. As a result, she strongly influenced me to enroll in a program that offered a co-op option.

Now having completed two co-op terms and nearing the end of my third term, I can proudly say that I have benefited greatly from my co-op experiences. In this blog post I will share some benefits that I have experienced from being enrolled into a co-op program.

  1. Additional source of income while gaining valuable work experience:

Through co-op most students have the opportunity to bring in a source of income while gaining work experience. I’ve used the money that I earned to help pay for housing/living expenses, tuition fees, and textbooks. As a result, I have reduced the total amount of funding needed from student loans.

  1. Networking and identifying the right industry and work environment for you:

Co-op provides students with a platform to network and meet new individuals. In addition, it is also an opportunity to work in different industries and work environments; this may allow you to determine which setting is the best fit for you. For example, I had the opportunity to work for a mental health clinic, an oil and gas company, and now a teaching centre; next I am hoping to land a placement in a governmental sector or a placement that requires extensive field work. As a result, when I complete my required co-op terms, I will be able to identify which industry and which work environment best complements my skills and interests.

  1. Learning new processes and software, while developing a diverse skill set:

Depending on the assigned task in your placement you may be given training on various organizational processes and software. The newly learnt processes and software can potentially provide you with a competitive advantage over other job applicants upon graduating. Likewise, co-op also provides the opportunity to enhance your skill set. For example, in my past co-op role, in order to improve my oral communication skills, I volunteered to present various topics to new clients. Furthermore, you can also schedule a performance evaluation with your supervisor(s) in order to gain feedback on your progress and continually improve your skills and performance.

  1. Exciting opportunities:

During your co-op term you may be presented with many exciting opportunities. In my past co-op term, I was able to attend two Toronto Raptors basketball games and visited Ripley’s Aquarium for the first time. Here at the Centre for Teaching Excellence, I have the chance to complete the Fundamentals of University Teaching certificate program, which is only offered to graduate students. Furthermore, my friends who worked for other organizations as co-op students have attended car shows and even got to travel parts of Canada. The opportunities that can arise throughout a co-op term largely depend on the organization itself and your role in the organization.

In short, being enrolled into a co-op program has many benefits. However, it is entirely up to you to decide if a co-op program aligns with your goals and interests. If you want to know more about co-op at the University of Waterloo visit the Co-operative Education website.


University of Waterloo. (n.d.). Co-operative Education. Retrieved from

Accessibility tips I have learned on my Co-op term – Scott Hurley

A man stares at a bright computer screen.

The University of Waterloo is in the process of making our communications more accessible to everyone. Part of my job this term, as a Special Projects Assistant in the Centre for Teaching Excellence, has been to make our newsletter (Teaching Matters) more accessible.

I credit most of my knowledge to IST (Information Systems & Technology) and their SEW (Skills for the Electronic Workplace) courses and material, available to staff and faculty, which can be found on their Help & Training page.

Quick tips that helped me are:

Things that are not accessible and should not be used:
•    Text boxes
•    Drop caps
•    Hyperlinks like “click here” or “more”
•    Avoid adding  in pictures that add no value other than “looking nice”
•    Blank cells in a table

Things to do that increase accessibility:
•    Use Styles appropriately
•    Use descriptive hyperlinks: State the title of webpage (example: “Centre for Teaching Excellence”) “ instead of  “click here”
•    Provide alternate text for pictures, figures, and tables
•    Use the built in accessibility checker (in Word 2010)

Finally here are some of the tools that I have found helpful to check accessibility:
•    The PDF Accessibility Checker (PAC) (use this to check your PDF files)
•    The Web Accessibility Evaluation Tool (WAVE) (use this to check if your website is accessible)
•    The built in Accessibility checkers in Adobe Acrobat and Microsoft Word

I know it seems like a daunting task with a lot more work when you start to make your material accessible. Once we know what is/isn’t accessible, however, we can change our formatting habits and the process becomes very easy. It is also important to note that the real reason we are making our communications accessible is to make it easier to serve our audiences equally and not just because of new accessibility laws.

iClick? iClick not. — Dan Gan, CTE Co-op Student

Over the years, teachers and professors alike are coming up with new, innovative ways for students to learn and retain information. One of the more recent additions to these gadgets is the iClicker, an electronic response device used in different schools across Ontario. Now, we must ask ourselves a simple question: Is the iClicker actually effective? Through my experience with this gadget, from pondering whether or not to take it out in class, punching in the classroom code, and trying my luck on the day’s set of problems, in no way did it appeal to me. Continue reading iClick? iClick not. — Dan Gan, CTE Co-op Student

The Power of Goal Setting — Michelle Yien

After checking my emails this morning, I decided to catch up on some news. I came across an article that showcased the importance of goal setting in academia. It seemed very relevant to what we do here at the Centre. To summarize the article in one sentence or less – realistic goal setting increases grades and reduces drop-out rates.

I strongly emphasize the word “realistic”. It is unrealistic to set goals that can be too challenging for the individual. Simply stating a goal and not working towards it will not get a student a 90% in a course. It is my belief that if goal setting were implemented into our curriculum, educators would see an increase in grades. It encourages both students and educators to achieve success in the classroom. It is a great way for educators to evaluate what students expect/ want from their course. It doesn’t mean that educators should hold students’ hands and walk them through it, but to introduce goal setting skills into our young students. I remember starting university and how confusing everything felt. I didn’t feel connected to my professors or programs, which led to poor grades. Explaining grading systems and how students can achieve good grades can induce students to take on a more proactive role in investing into their future.

In my earlier university years, I was guilty of just cramming before midterms and writing final exams. I never thought about how much I actually learned, what I took away from the course, and quite frankly I don’t think I cared. My goal was just to get high grades at the end of the term. It wasn’t until I met a student that was quite older than me that I realized we’re not here just to get good grades, but we should actually “learn”. He was so passionate about improving and learning from his mistakes. I’ve never met another student who was so comfortable talking to professors and constantly going to office hours. Learning, to me, is the ability to take away knowledge and skills from a course to apply them in our lives and real world situations.

I was introduced to goal setting during my last year of high school. My business teacher used a “Management by Objective” model to set goals with us. For every goal we achieved, we received 1% of our grade (up to 3%). I recall setting goals that I thought were realistic, but I didn’t manage to achieve them all. Sometimes, failure can help you reflect and understand what went well and what didn’t. It gives you a taste of reality.

Perhaps you are skeptical about the power of goal setting. Let me share a story with you. My business teacher has a habit of writing a journal. In one entry she wrote about her dream to drive a BMW in Greece. After many years, she forgot about that dream. One summer she travelled to Greece to spend time with her family. She decided to rent a car for that summer. She said she remembers driving along a coast in Greece and then she realized something. She was in Greece driving a BMW! She believes that because she wrote out her goal in vivid details, her brain subconsciously worked towards that goal.

After three years of studying at the University of Waterloo, I think I’ve started to feel the key of success – hard work and care. When I look at my grades, I realize that the ones I’ve done exceptionally well in are those where my professors cared about our achievements and wanted us to succeed. All it takes is that sense that someone wants me to succeed, and together we work hard towards that goal.

Here is the article:

“Making Kids Work on Goals (And Not Just in Soccer)”


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.