University of Waterloo’s Annual Teaching and Learning Conference: OND 2014 — Julie Timmermans

brass_compassThis year’s Opportunities and New Directions (OND) 2014 Conference took place on Thursday, May 1st.  We were excited and humbled by the participation of over 200 people, mainly from the University of Waterloo, but also from other local universities.  This made it clear that, as teachers at Waterloo, we are part of a growing, thriving community of people dedicated to teaching and learning.  The day began with an enthusiastic welcome by Vice-President, Academic and Provost, Geoff McBoyle.

The theme of this year’s Conference was “Rethinking and Reframing the Assessment of Learning.” A diverse array of panels, workshops, and presentations explored the many facets of assessment – from assessment practices in different disciplines, such as Math and English, to assessment in online, blended, and face-to-face environments.  Assessment at the course level, program level, and on work-terms was also explored by presenters who included faculty and staff members, as well as graduate and undergraduate students from across the disciplines.

There was an unmistakable and enduring excitement about the ideas presented by Presidents’ Colloquium Keynote Speaker, Dr. John Bean.  During his session, John explored how students’ growth as disciplinary thinkers can be enhanced by integrating problem-based writing assignments into our courses, whether we teach in the humanities, sciences, or social sciences.  John also explored how using writing can  be useful for assessing not only learning outcomes related to writing, but also for assessing skills that are critical in the formation of disciplinary thinkers – skills, such as inquiry, research, critical thinking, and problem-solving.  If you’re intrigued by these ideas, you are welcome to download the handouts from the keynote session, available through the Conference website: .  In her lead article in the CTE Newsletter coming out later in May, Donna Ellis, Director of CTE, also explains and reflects on John’s session.

Another highlight of the day was the “Igniting Our Practice” session.  Kelly Anthony, AHS’s Teaching Fellow, and Hamid Jahed, Professor in the Department of Mechanical and Mechatronics Engineering, drew us into the learning spaces they create for their students by teaching us a concept from their own courses.  As Hamid noted when he began his session, both he and Kelly addressed the idea of “structural stability,” but did so from very different perspectives.  Kelly explored the stability – and fragility – of some of our social structures, and took us on an emotional journey of the experience of youth in foster care.  She discussed how collaborating with members of the wider community can be a powerful teaching tool.  Hamid also explored the idea of structural stability, this time from an Engineering perspective. Through engaging demonstrations involving broken rulers and crushed pop cans, Hamid brought to life the concept of how structures behave under load.  Hamid and Kelly’s session was inspiring and moving, generating thoughtful questions from the audience.

The Conference closed with a wine and cheese reception.  It was time to connect with colleagues over a drink and some food.   Associate Vice President, Academic (AVP-A), Mario Coniglio closed the Conference, thanking the many people who had contributed to the Conference, including the participants, the Teaching Fellows, members of CTE, the people who had provided technical support, CTE’s Co-op students, as well as FAUW for generously sponsoring the delectable breakfast following the Presidents’ Colloquium.  At CTE, we’re particularly grateful for the vision and support of the current AVP-A, Mario Coniglio, and Vice-President, Academic and Provost, Geoff McBoyle.

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 OND 2015.

For details about the Conference, please visit the OND 2014 website: .

This post also appears as an article in the May 2014 CTE Newsletter

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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.