Wednesday, April 30, 2008

  • ‘Expectations’ as students graduate
  • CTE developers will help departments
  • May 12-14 events focus on learning
  • Editor:
  • Chris Redmond
  • Communications and Public Affairs

‘Expectations’ as students graduate

UW departments are being asked to make explicit statements of something they may never have put on paper before: just what are students expected to learn in each course they take, and what should they have achieved by the time they graduate?

“The aim,” says a web site produced by UW’s Centre for Teaching Excellence, “is to write statements of what students will learn that incorporate an action verb, an observable behaviour, and if relevant, criteria for performance. Well written learning outcomes lead neatly into how they will be evaluated.”

CTE stands ready, two of its “instructional developers” said last week, to help departments — 11 of them this year, and the rest over the next half-dozen years — to write those “outcomes” and comply with new expectations from a province-wide agency, the Ontario Council of Academic Vice-Presidents. OCAV has adopted a set of six Undergraduate Degree Level Expectations, or UDLEs, and CTE’s site explains that “We need to show that students are meeting these threshold, base-level expectations through each of our programs,” along with two more expectations that UW has imposed on itself.

The provincial UDLEs involve Depth and Breadth of Knowledge, Knowledge of Methodologies, Application of Knowledge, Communication Skills, Awareness of Limits of Knowledge, and Autonomy and Professional Capacity. UW’s additions are headed Experiential Learning and Diversity.

“This is the lens that people need to look through as they’re doing their program reviews,” says Nicola Simmons, one of the staff in CTE who will be available to offer help. Those program reviews — in which each undergraduate program gets both a self-study and an outside assessment every few years — have been going on since 1997. As of next year, they’ll have to include attention to how the UDLEs are being met: for instance, how well graduating students have “an ability to gather, review, evaluate and interpret information relevant to one or more of the major fields in a discipline” and “the ability to review, present, and interpret quantitative and qualitative information”.

The language may be new but the ideas really aren’t, says Trevor Holmes of CTE, who has taken groups from some academic departments through an exercise in which they try to describe what a student should learn before graduation, and discover that their formulation matches the UDLEs pretty closely.

Simmons and Holmes say they’re confident that the new process will amount to more than just “ticking boxes”, but will actually help faculties and departments assess and improve what they’re doing. As things stand, Holmes said, it’s quite possible for a department to find that there are gaps or overlaps in its program — everybody might assume, for instance, that somebody else is teaching a particular skill that really needs to be part of the program.

“This is a developmental process,” says Simmons, meaning the time that departments need to put into looking at course content, objectives and evaluation, consciously determining which undergraduate course introduces each concept or skill, which course helps students advance it, which course requires eventual mastery.

The eleven departments and programs that are due for review in 2008-09 will be the first ones expected to go through the whole UDLE process. “They’ve got to do their self-study now,” Simmons points out. And that’s where the CTE experts stand ready to give some help.

Back to top

CTE developers will help departments

“We are supporting the faculties in implementing it in their own context,” says Nicola Simmons of CTE, talking about the requirement for programs to show how they measure up to the provincially-imposed “expectations” as well as UW’s additional standards. “We can facilitate the conversations you want to have,” she said, explaining the process last week in her office on the fourth floor of the Math and Computer building.

“We’re optional and facilitative,” colleague Trevor Holmes added — meaning that departments aren’t compelled to use CTE expertise, but that the instructional developers (some of whom are academics with PhDs who continue to teach in their disciplines) are ready if people want their guidance. Donna Ellis, associate director of CTE, is coordinating the centre's involvement.

Holmes noted that he’s done some intensive work in recent months with two academic departments that have already gone through program reviews, identified some need for academic changes, and are about to bring the proposed changes to UW’s senate for approval. “Sometimes it takes a new set of eyes,” he suggests, “to see what’s already going on,” to help a department identify disconnections between one part of a student’s program and another, or unjustified assumptions about what a student is really learning. "It often leads to very rich conversations between faculty members across courses and year levels," he says.

Simmons and Holmes met earlier this month with a group of chairs from the academic departments that are about to start the review process, and explained both what demands they’ll be facing and what help is available. Among the resources is a newly created web site about the UDLE process, with a “curriculum mapping template”, sample syllabi, examples of course objectives written at other universities, and similar material, as well as discussion forums and a frequently-asked-question page that they hope will grow rapidly.

Work with program reviews and UDLEs— “curriculum renewal” — is just one aspect of the CTE’s work, as a newly published brochure about the centre makes clear. Other facets of the CTE’s activity involve individual teachers and courses (“align your course’s learning outcomes, learning activities, student assessment, and technology choices”), consultation on general teaching issues and technology, workshops on teaching, grants and awards programs, a library of resources, and involvement in academic integrity issues.

“We focus,” says the CTE brochure, “on fostering research-based best practices in the classroom and online.”

The CTE, headed by English professor Catherine Schryer, includes five instructional developers (two, Holmes and Simmons, specializing in classroom teaching; one, Svitlana Taraban-Gordon, in charge of the Certificate in University Teaching program for graduate students; and two, Jane Holbrook and Mark Morton, focusing on technology). There are also research staff, and half a dozen “liaison” staff, available to connect the various faculties to CTE’s resources.

Back to top

['Teach me' brochure]May 12-14 events focus on learning

Coming next month from CTE and the faculty-led Teaching Excellence Council is a three-day symposium on “learning and teaching”, with an eye-catching poster headed “Teach me . . . I dare you!”

The symposium, subtitled “Changing Students’ Attitudes about Who’s Responsible for Learning”, will run May 12-14, and features visiting expert Marilla Svinicki of the University of Texas at Austin, where she headed the Center for Teaching Effectiveness for some 30 years.

The three days will begin with the “Presidents’ Colloquium on Teaching and Learning” — sponsored by the president of UW and the president of the faculty association — on Monday afternoon, May 12, when Svinicki will speak at 2:00 in the Humanities Theatre. (Everyone is welcome.) A wine-and-cheese reception and a signing for Svinicki’s book, Learning and Motivation in the Postsecondary Classroom, will follow.

“There are many modern motivation theories that are based on personal responsibility and intention to learn that can be helpful in structuring teaching to involve the students more directly in their own learning,” Svinicki says. “This plenary talk will describe those theories and what their implications are for instructional design. The talk will discuss both the research and the application of these theories and when they might or might not be useful to teachers.”

Tuesday, May 13, brings two limited-enrolment workshops for faculty members, both led by Svinicki and taking place in the Flex Lab in the Dana Porter Library. At 9 a.m. it’s “Self-regulation and learning in the disciplines”, and at 2:00 it’s “Assessment as motivation for learning”.

On May 14, CTE says, more workshops will build on the ones delivered by Svinicki. Topics are “Designing Motivating Assessments”, to be facilitated by CTE’s Trevor Holmes, and “Motivating Your Large Class”, to be moderated by Simmons and featuring faculty panelists Paul Guild (management sciences), Tracy Penny Light (history), Barb Moffatt (biology), and Ian VanderBurgh (mathematics). Registration for all the sessions in the May 12-14 symposium is on the teaching-and-learning web site.


Back to top

Team shows off its fuel-cell car

The UW Alternative Fuels Team is hosting its 2008 Ride Green and Drive Clean event today in Toronto to showcase an emission-free hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle and highlight the finale of the four-year international competition, Challenge X: Crossover to Sustainable Mobility. The team's work has made UW the first university in the world to build a fuel-cell vehicle.

Media have been invited to jump behind the wheel and test-drive this cutting-edge technology, between 9:00 and 6:00 today at the Direct Energy Centre, Exhibition Place. The day will feature keynote speeches — by Ontario natural resources minister Gary Lunn, Toronto mayor David Miller, and UW dean of engineering Adel Sedra — at 11:00.

The hydrogen fuel-cell car built by Waterloo students will be available for test-drives on a 1,100-foot (335 metre) indoor track. Team sponsors will be on hand to explain specific technologies used in the vehicles.

Waterloo is one of 17 universities in North America, and the only one in Canada, chosen to compete in Challenge X, which encourages research and development on increased fuel economy and reduced emissions. Teams are challenged to modify a stock Chevrolet Equinox into an alternative fuels vehicle while maintaining performance and function.

Link of the day

Poetry Month

When and where

Fiscal year end for 2007-08 is today. Deadline for accounting transactions to be submitted to finance office, East Campus Hall: May 12.

UW bookstore, UW Shop, TechWorx and Campus TechShop closed for inventory today.

Shine Dance Wednesday-Saturday, Humanities Theatre.

Waterloo Institute for Health Informatics Research presents David Koff, Hamilton Health Science Centre, “Managing the Medical Image Tsunami”, 3:00, Davis Centre room 1302, webcast available, register online.

‘Flexibility and Injury Prevention’ lunch-and-learn session 5:30 p.m., boardroom at TechTown, 340 Hagey Boulevard.

Fee payment deadline for the spring term is May 1 (by bank payment or international wire transfer; other forms of payment already overdue), details online.

‘Cinema and Social Change in Germany and Austria’ conference hosted by Germanic and Slavic studies department, Thursday-Saturday, details online; “Kinofest: New Films from Germany and Austria” festival begins today at Princess Cinema.

Military History Colloquium hosted by UW department of history, May 1-3, including public lecture by Michael Neiberg, University of Southern Mississippi, “The Second Battle of the Marne: Turning Point of 1918”, full schedule online.

‘The (Long) Tail of Waterloo Region’ leadership conference sponsored by Communitech, Thursday, details and registration online.

International spouses group: “Travels in Canada” (bring photos or stories of where you have travelled in Canada, or where you would like to go) Thursday 12:45 p.m., Columbia Lake Village community centre, information e-mail

Open house at English Language Institute, Renison College, Thursday 3:00 to 4:30 p.m.

Niagara Falls engineering alumni reception Thursday 5:30 to 7:00, Fallsview Casino, information online.

Going Green workshop series sponsored by Grand House student co-op: “Black Water, Grey Water and Living Machines” May 3, “Natural Landscaping” May 10, details online.

Spring term classes begin Monday, May 5.

Welcome reception for new students Monday 4:30 p.m., Student Life Centre multipurpose room, with information about UW services and a chance to meet other new students, information ext. 35643.

Graduate Student Association reception for graduate students to meet new GSA executive, Monday 6:30 to 8:00 p.m., Graduate House.

Positions available

On this week’s list from the human resources department:

• High performance computing programming specialist, physics and astronomy, USG 11
• Manager, gift processing, development and alumni affairs, USG 7
• Information services and science manager, geography, USG 10

Longer descriptions are available on the HR web site.

Yesterday's Daily Bulletin