Celebrating Five Years of Opportunities and New Directions in Teaching and Learning at uWaterloo — Julie Timmermans

OND compassThe theme of this year’s  Conference — “Barriers and Breakthroughs: Accounts of Change in Teaching and Learning” – reminded us that one of the most important things we can do to facilitate teaching and learning is to talk to each other, to exchange honest accounts of the teaching strategies that have worked and those that have failed.  Presenters included faculty and staff members, graduate and undergraduate students from across the disciplines who explored obstacles and frustrations faced, but also breakthroughs experienced – pivotal moments when new possibilities for teaching or learning became evident.

During the Presidents’ Colloquium keynote address, David Pace and Leah Shopkow from Indiana University Bloomington led us through the “Decoding the Disciplines” model – a framework for helping to identify and “decode” the “bottlenecks” that students experience in their learning, and to determine how we might motivate learners and assess their understanding of those often tricky conceptual stumbling blocks.  Their ideas left us with a new lens with which to examine the design of our courses.

Another highlight of the day was the “Igniting Our Practice” plenary session during which Jean Andrey, Carey Bissonnette, and Troy Glover – three of uWaterloo’s outstanding faculty members – taught us concepts for their own courses.  We learned about a bit about Chinooks, a bit about Chemistry, a bit about assessing outcomes, rather than outputs, and a lot about how to teach with expertise, panache, and a good measure of humour.   It was evident why these three instructors are beloved by their students.

The Conference closed with a wine and cheese reception and, as befitting an anniversary celebration – a cake.  It was a time to eat, relax, connect with colleagues, and to thank the many people who had contributed to the success of the Conference.  We’re particularly grateful to the current Associate Vice President, Academic, Mario Coniglio, and the past AVP-A, Geoff McBoyle, for lending their vision and financial support to the Conference.  And, once again, FAUW generously sponsored refreshments following the Presidents’ Colloquium.

And now, it’s time to pursue the ideas that were sown at the Conference.  We look forward to learning about the ways in which those ideas have developed at next year’s OND.

For an overview of the Conference, please visit the OND 2013 website.  Presentations and materials from the day will be posted within the next few weeks.


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As the Instructional Developer - Consulting and Research, Julie supports research on teaching and learning. She is Chair of the annual teaching and learning conference at uWaterloo: Opportunities and New Directions and manages the Learning Innovation and Teaching Enhancement (LITE) Grant program. She also collaborates on research projects, regularly reviews journal manuscripts, and works on publications. Most recently, Julie has had the opportunity to facilitate a week-long course design workshop in Japan and see first-hand how the questions, frustrations, and joys related to teaching are both similar and different across cultures.