Two Endings, and Beyond (Worn Down But Happy) – Trevor Holmes

So I’m grading some of my 164 exams, 164 papers, 1600+ discussion board postings from Cultural Studies 101 (KS 101) over at that other place. My eyes are finally glazing over and I wish everyone could write exams on laptops. But it’s lovely — really lovely — to read the exams and final Intellectual Response Papers (IRPs). More students than ever took me up on the challenge to write IRPs on alternate field observations and / or use a different format (photo essay, video, zine, whatever). The portion of their exam that was take-home asks them to reflect (with evidence) on their 10 minijournal entries from the 12-week term. So many “aha” moments arise with that part of the exam.

As I wind up the course for another year, I find that another teaching/learning experience has overlapped more than usual with my course. I’m talking about the Teaching Excellence Academy (TEA), a four-day course redesign retreat for more than a dozen faculty members annually. I am one of the co-facilitators. This year, it seemed earlier than usual and my exam down the road was smack dab in the middle of the Academy. Perhaps due to this timing, perhaps due to the number of faculty showing up each year who are looking suspiciously younger and hipper than I, I have found myself reflecting on similarities between my bifurcated teaching/learning experiences.

In the strangest way, I find myself in awe of both sets of learners in similar ways. The faculty torqued themselves right out of their preferred and habitual mode of designing courses, and all of them produced revised courses that were displayed in the FLEX Lab on the Monday afternoon for Chairs and Directors, and even the President, to see. Much of the time, they worked hard to overcome the defamiliarizing tendencies of our workshop design. In KS 101, the students torqued themselves out of their preferred and habitual mode of writing and reading in order to observe critically all sorts of elements of the world right around them, even reading themselves as readers. In both cases, I can see (almost presciently) individuals approaching things differently in their future practices.

For both groups of learners, 32-36 contact hours plus a lot of work on their part really do seem have been enough to make a difference. As I evaluate the products of both learning experiences, I am humbled by the capacity of people to go beyond their own expectations. Exhausted as I am, I can’t see myself trading these efforts for any amount of gold. There. You’ve caught me at my least curmudgeonly (just when I thought I’d be at my most!).

Back to assessment, which apparently I’ll know a lot more about after next week’s Learning about Teaching events and Opportunities and New Directions conference (including in the context of the whole curriculum).


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.

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As Senior Instructional Developer, Curriculum and Programming, Trevor Holmes plans and delivers workshops and events in support of faculty across the career span. Prior to joining the Centre for Teaching Excellence, Trevor worked at a variety of universities teaching courses, supporting faculty and teaching assistants through educational development offices, and advising undergraduates. Trevor’s PhD is from York University in English Literature, with a focus on gothic literature, queer theory, and goth identities. A popular workshop facilitator at the national and international levels, Trevor is also interested in questions of identity in teaching and teaching development.

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