A “Community of Practice" to build teaching skills

Through a new Teaching & Learning Community of Practice (CoP), Arts & Science faculty are coming together to share the best of their teaching techniques and practices.

The initiative was launched and coordinated by Teresa Kramarz, an assistant professor, teaching stream at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Emily Greenleaf, a teaching and learning research officer in the Faculty of Arts & Science.

“Our format is discussion based with heavy emphasis on exchanging strategies and our experience. This year we have explored everything from apps to document cameras, classroom simulations, service learning, iterative writing assignments and how to provide the most useful student feedback,” says Kramarz.

Sharing ideas across the disciplines

Michelle French, an associate professor, teaching stream in the Department of Physiology, led an April CoP session to discuss large-class teaching. “CoP sessions are a good way to bring people together from different disciplines to share ideas,” adds French, who teaches an introductory class with 1,000 students. French recently toured Australian and North American universities to survey the latest initiatives with the assistance of an A&S Teaching Stream Pedagogical Grant, and used the CoP to share her findings from that trip.

French argues that the evidence suggests that structured class debates, peer teaching and editing, group work and other “active learning” methods produce better understanding and retention of course material and higher rates of student interest and engagement. Participants in the CoP shared their preferred active learning strategies, and worked with colleagues to adapt approaches across disciplines.

Connecting with colleagues = improved teaching practices

David Roberts, an assistant professor, teaching stream in the Urban Studies Program at Innis College, says he was able to improve his own teaching practices after connecting with a colleague at a CoP session who specializes in writing initiatives for students.

Roberts says he has since incorporated iterative writing assignments as a regular component of a second year course he teaches on globalization and urban change.

“I believe that this has been an effective way to encourage students to practise writing as well as give them opportunities to reflect on and synthesize material in class.”

Faculty members who have attended CoP sessions say the initiative provides a rare opportunity to connect with peers from a multitude of disciplines across the university.

“I don’t think in the past 10 years I have ever had the chance to talk with humanities lecturers until the CoP,” says David Dubins, an associate professor, teaching stream, at the Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy who teaches undergraduate Arts & Science courses.

Dubins says he finds it fascinating to think about the body of knowledge around teaching models that is constantly being tested and refined.

“The more I learn about teaching, the more I realize I don’t know.”

Insights in the use of technology

Alex Koo, who was recently hired as a lecturer by the Department of Philosophy, says he finds it especially challenging to teach his class of 350 students, but he gained many insights in the use of technology in the classroom at a January CoP session he facilitated.

He has also been able to share that information with other teachers “looking to make use of every tool they can” to better engage and teach their students.

“The best part about the CoP was the interaction with teachers from different departments,” says Koo. “Drawing on these diverse experiences genuinely helped me in planning material and assessments for my own courses.”

The CoP will be back in Fall 2016 with new sessions.


ByPeter Boisseau