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Dillon Hall
Dillon Hall

November 2017

Here's what we asked:

The Strategic Mandate Agreement (or SMA) between the University of Windsor and the Province of Ontario sets out five overarching priorities on which our performance as an institution is measured. One of these priorities is “Innovation in Teaching and Learning Excellence.”

UWindsor has been a leader in teaching and learning for a long time, but we are always exploring new ways to do things ... not just differently, but better. I’d like to hear about the best experiences in teaching and learning from both the students’ perspectives and the instructors’.

So, the Provost’s Question of the Month for November 2017 was twofold:

  • As a student, what style or format of teaching works best for you? The dynamic lecturer in front of the class? The small discussion group? The hands-on team approach? The hybrid face-to-face and online blend? The exclusive online experience? What’s the most effective way for you to learn?
  • And as an instructor, what works best from your end in the above list? Where do you feel the greatest satisfaction as a teacher, and what approach has contributed the most to student success in your classes?

Here’s what we heard: 

Not surprisingly, responses to this month’s question foregrounded preferences that run the gamut from in-person classes led by dynamic lecturers to completely online courses. Many students enjoyed the interactive aspect of being taught by a real human being in the classroom, while others liked the scheduling freedom that online courses provide.

But for most students, a blend of pedagogical approaches worked best. Some of the University’s most successful classes, according to this month’s student sample, feature a knowledgeable and enthusiastic lecturer, robust opportunities for meaningful small group work, and value-added online resources. Intelligently deployed multimedia tools also improve student experiences, as do varied methods of assessment and “hands-on” experiential education components, when appropriate.

Learning at university today is a multi-modal experience. High-achieving UWindsor students still find time to arrive a few minutes early to ask a professor an in-person question, but they also review recorded lectures or other audio material while on the treadmill or walking to campus. Many of our students are glued to their Blackboard sites, and more still use social media to study with friends and classmates in inventive ways.

The ideal format that emerges, or as close as we can come in practice, is a course led by a professor who is engaging in the classroom, effectively uses visual and multimedia teaching aids (e.g., PowerPoint or Keynote presentations, videos, etc.), spends time working through questions or problems with individual students, supplements lectures with online materials, and provides opportunities for hands-on experiences.

Ultimately, a majority of respondents advocated for some combination of passionate, dynamic lectures with supplemental hands-on or discussion-oriented work. Many students benefit greatly from activities like “break-out” discussion groups, which allow learners to challenge and encourage each other through experience-based conversations in a relatively comfortable, safe environment.

Let’s take a look at selections from my favourite responses:


Instructor response:

Photo of Douglas Kneale with Jody L. Ralph

Dr. Jody L. Ralph, Associate Professor in the Faculty of Nursing, submitted this month’s most thoughtful response from a faculty member.

Dr. Ralph, whose research focuses on oncology, recently joined the University from another institution. She is working hard to familiarize herself with the teaching resources available to her on our campus. In general, Dr. Ralph’s teaching philosophy is to deliver level-appropriate, responsive, and multi-modal instruction. She writes:

Of course, the best approach always incorporates the “level” of the learners (e.g., first year vs. graduate students), the class objectives, overarching curriculum outcomes, and the class size. But my favorite (and the most-effective) approach has been to deliver course content as appropriate (e.g., via lecture, learning activities, or discussion) but always supplement that approach with numerous optional online resources.

To this end, Dr. Ralph provides her students with recordings of her lectures, motivating them to extend learning outside regular class hours:

This allowed students the opportunity to listen to the lecture as many times as they wanted, either before or after class. I also posted numerous practice exam questions for each topic/chapter, as well as links to relevant animations, websites, and supplementary material. I could also create mini-tutorials for the concepts that were difficult – or in the event that I was receiving numerous questions. This gave the students options: they could use all of the resources, some, or none of them. It also incorporates many of the principles of Universal Design (i.e., materials are very accessible, so fewer students need to request accommodations).

Read Dr. Ralph’s full response.


Student response:

Photo of Jeff Berryman, Talysha Bujold-Abu, and Douglas Kneale

Talysha Bujold-Abu, a second-year student in the School of Creative Arts’ Master of Fine Arts Program in Visual Arts, wins this month’s prize for best response from a student. I would also very much like to give right honourable mention to Lauren Culmone, Donald Leung, and Emily Provost, who provided well-considered accounts of their experiences. Bravo and thanks to all.

Talysha’s response to this month’s question was a kind of rhapsodic meditation, a prose poetry that thoughtfully dramatized her own personal experiences at UWindsor. For her, the best classroom experiences are deliberately orchestrated and produced by passionate, invested faculty who are empowered to teach from a position of relative freedom.

Talysha observes that classrooms are only some of the learning environments in which university students operate:

Lecture halls and hallways, steep stairs, and crumpled lumps of paper scattered on tiled floors.

Bedrooms and squeaky desks, old socks snooping in forgotten corners.

Both of these atmospheres (so dissimilar) are uniquely alike: They are learning environments. Of course, these spaces could also be a café and an espresso cup, or the rickety hum of a train heading home for holiday break … students are students everywhere.

In the classroom, Talysha relishes the exposure she’s had at UWindsor to diverse teaching styles and pedagogical models:

The stomping, waving arms of a passionate professor in the semi-circular curve of an auditorium has me on the edge of my seat. A teaching or graduate assistant leading an intimate tutorial allows me the safety of expressing my thoughts in a small, formative group. When an online lecture is mixed with an in-person lecture, I can pause, take a beat, and move at my own pace. Experiencing all of these methods has made me a better-rounded and considered student …

I prefer where my [instructor] is most comfortable. It is quite the responsibility to take on the young and moldable minds of the future … I want to know and learn from someone who is expressing their knowledge in the best way they know how, but also in the way they want; passion wanes under uncertain and confusing circumstance.

I believe that the hybridity of instructor (the variance from class to class) is what offers me a critical lens into the world to come. We (as a University) are a community of individuals, and I learn my best when my instructor is teaching at their best.

These processes of learning (mixed classes, traditional lectures, focus groups, and the like) offer an array of possibility for students to find where they are most comfortable, and where they need to improve. I’d hope that instructors are taking the same approach in this process.

While Talysha’s first university class left her somewhat underwhelmed, it was immediately cast in sharp relief by a superior educational experience she recalls with fondness to this day:

So, I reflect on my second lecture in university instead, a tangible atmosphere vibrating with excitement and curiosity. Shuffling in our seats wasn’t necessary; we were all too interested in my professor. Their voice was loud and clear as they walked the room in dirty old sneakers, reading passages from a tattered, dog-eared book. I was enthralled! I was confused! I was trying to keep up. As I came away from that day, and moved into the years that followed, I could recall one key thing: they smiled (a lot). That joy and exuberance in academic performance (teaching, in other words) is what has me writing this today – doing what you love, because you love it.

As University faculty, staff, and students, we would all be wise to read and meditate on Talysha’s concluding words:

A successful learning environment is about commitment, a willingness to engage, passion, and the ability to find one’s own route amidst a sea of differing waves. Mastery of any skill, exploration of new topics, and taking out the final book in the library all require dedication, perseverance, and positivity. A multifaceted lens (in terms of teaching and innovation) will suit the multifaceted masses of eager and shy students who are filtering between timetable slots. The beauty of academia is that it is a hub for sharing information. Thus, to teach effectively is to care.

Read Talysha’s full response.

Here’s what we’re doing:

Continuing to innovate in the teaching and learning space is a clear institutional priority for the University of Windsor. At present, we offer several services intended to help both new and experienced faculty members reflect on, develop, and strengthen their teaching practices. Here are some of these services:

The Centre for Teaching and Learning

  • The Centre for Teaching and Learning (CTL) works with members of the campus community to enhance the practice, culture, and scholarship of teaching and learning; to support the integration of effective teaching practices and technologies that extend and enrich learning; and to support instructors using the University’s Learning Management System, Blackboard Learn.

CTL Workshops, Events, and Courses

  • The CTL facilitates an ongoing series of presentations, workshops, and learning communities that focus on learning-centred environments, instructional practice, learning technologies, teaching dossier development, and other issues that impact student engagement and the student experience at the University of Windsor. The CTL also sponsors an annual, international conference on teaching and learning, and offers a certificate in university teaching.

Readily Available Teaching and Learning Resources

  • The CTL regularly posts teaching and learning resources on topics such as instructional practice, curriculum design, and inclusive teaching to offer instructors opportunities to explore teaching and learning issues on their own time.
  • Instructors, graduate students, and staff are also welcome to visit the CTL’s teaching and learning lending library, located in Lambton 2103. The library is equipped with a variety of texts on learning-centred environments, instructional practice, and teaching dossier development, including a complete collection of the Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education’s Green Guides, a series which offers pragmatic advice on a wide variety of the tasks and responsibilities of university teachers.

Curriculum Mapping Resources

  • In 2018, the University will be making a substantial investment in curriculum mapping, a process of documenting and analyzing the structure of a program, and how individual courses work together to support student success through each year of study. It facilitates both summative program reporting for accreditation and IQAP purposes, as well as formative planning and enhancement by identifying which courses contribute to specific program outcomes, and at what level of mastery, and articulating how this is assessed. Curriculum mapping also supports review and planning by making it easier for Departments and Faculties to identify gaps in their programs, bottlenecks or troubleā€spots that students may face, as well as areas of program strength.

GATA Network

Peer Collaboration Network

  • The Peer Collaboration Network (PCN) is a voluntary teaching observation program through which faculty can develop their teaching practices. Teachers benefit from their participation in the network by being able to create new networks, exchange ideas with others, and demonstrate their effectiveness and dedication to teaching. Participation in the network is non-evaluative, confidential, reciprocal, and does not pose a significant time commitment to those involved. As part of the PCN, participants commit to three meetings with a peer, the central one being a classroom observation. The process begins with a short meeting between an observer and an observee, at which time the two parties discuss specific aspects of teaching on which the observer would like feedback during the classroom observation. Following the classroom observation, the observer and observee meet to exchange ideas and discuss the feedback provided. The collaborators are encouraged to switch roles and continue the dialogue through a reciprocal observation, but one-way participation is also valued and supported.

Leddy Library

  • The University of Windsor’s library supports teaching on campus in several ways. For example, instructors are encouraged to contact their respective faculty liaison librarian. This person is generally your first point of contact for any matter regarding library services. Many faculty members also make great use of the Academic Data Centre (ADC), which helps the entire University of Windsor community access and use statistical and geospatial data, often using sophisticated statistical/data software. Leddy also offers a number of options for faculty who wish to integrate information literacy instruction skills into their curricula, and is faculty’s primary resource for information regarding fair dealing, copyright ownership, and publishing arrangements.

Media & Educational Technologies (MET) Team

  • The Media & Educational Technologies (MET) Team is responsible for providing primary support for audio-visual and related equipment in the general-purpose classrooms across campus. The MET team also supports, in varying capacities, all other audio-visual equipment in classrooms and meeting rooms across campus.

The Office of Open Learning

  • The Office of Open Learning supports instructors interested in developing high-quality online, blended, flipped, and technology-enhanced courses. The Office can also help faculty evaluate or develop technological and open learning resources to enhance the teaching and learning experience of their on-campus or online courses. Open Learning’s online learning specialists are experienced online instructors who still teach and conduct research on a wide range of issues in online learning and teaching. The office has an open-door policy and encourages faculty and staff to visit with questions, ideas, and challenges.

Student Accessibility Services

  • Student Accessibility Services (SAS) is an educational support program for students who require academic accommodation for a permanent or temporary disability. SAS staff welcome hearing from instructors. Faculty are encouraged to contact a member of the SAS team with any questions or concerns they may have. You may also contact SAS to consult about a student who has self-identified to them as having a disability, or, who they feel may benefit from a referral to SAS.