TLC helps grad students become reflective university teachers
By Colleen MacPherson
If, as Ron Marken believes, "the least that students and parents can expect" from a university is grad students who are well prepared for their role of teachers, then a newly revised course that offers both theoretical and practical teaching experience fits the bill.
Marken, Director of the Gwenna Moss Teaching and Learning Centre (TLC), describes GSR 989: Introduction to University Teaching as a systematic study of teaching for those grad students, faculty members and sessional lecturers with a passionate interest in improving their skills. Originally run by the Extension Division, the class was taken over by the TLC when it opened in August 2000 and is now run jointly with the College of Graduate Studies and Research.
Revised for this year by graduate teaching assistants Tereigh Ewert-Bauer and Kim West after they took a close look at similar pedagogical programs available at other Canadian universities, GSR 989 was extended to run over two terms from one in previous years and now includes both a course pack and an expanded roster of speakers.
The 25 participants in the class are given practical teaching experience but almost as important is the opportunity for students to reflect on teaching, said Ewert-Bauer. The major assignment of the course is the preparation of a teaching portfolio which outlines personal teaching philosophies and promotes instructional development.
Led by core instructors Marken and Dr. Linda Suveges, a professor and assistant dean in the College of Pharmacy & Nutrition, the weekly classes also bring students in touch with some 20 of the best instructors from across campus. Ewert-Bauer said she has observed with interest how these instructors "have almost stepped into informal mentoring positions with the students. The relationship often goes beyond that one class."
As a pilot project, Teaching Assistant Joel Deshaye has posted the basic information from the course on the TLC website for all to access.
For Marken, GSR 989 is a goal fulfilled. About 10 years ago, he and other newly-named 3M Teaching Fellows from across Canada met to discuss a number of issues, but what consumed their agenda "was the dearth of any kind of systematic preparation of grad students to enter the teaching profession. We agreed to put it high on our priority list and when these centre opened and I got this job, it became one of the missions I had."
Marken recalled his own experience as a first-time teacher - "we were given a syllabus, a list of students and a room, and eight months later, they asked us for our grades". Likewise, West and Ewert-Bauer both found themselves in sink-or-swim situations as first-time instructors, West adding that she had "no evaluation, no support and no feed-back". The consensus at the TLC is that ensuring grad students are prepared to teach should be a priority throughout the university community because "we depend a great deal on them to get our teaching work done," Marken said. "And of course the first benefit of this class is to the undergrads."
To extend the opportunity to more students, the TLC is also offering a new Scholarship of Teaching & Learning Certification Programme. Its 25 participants attend both mandatory and selected courses, including at least four of the TLC's Graduate Student Development Days, and they have until the end of their graduate studies to fulfil the requirements.
Completion of GSR 989 results in both a certificate and a note on the student's transcript, as opposed to just a certificate for the teaching and learning program.
Although the two courses combined can only accommodate 50 of the estimated 2,000 grad students on campus, Ewert-Bauer pointed out all grad students are welcome to participate in development days, seminars and other events throughout the year.
The irony here is that most of the course grads go on to work at other universities. "Typically we're educating students for other institutions," Marken said, "but one of our responsibilities is to do just that - educate people for the international university community."
And according to letters sent to the TLC staff, GSR 989 graduates have a unique advantage in job interviews. In two cases, the writers, one now at the University of Northern British Columbia and the other in Lincoln, Nebraska, both got comments from search committee members on the careful thought they'd obviously given to their personal teaching philosophy.
Marken adds that not only is GSR 989 good for students but "our university's reputation is enhanced at other institutions".