Monthly Archives: September 2014

Teaching a “Non-Course”

Written by Jennifer Mather

In the Spring of 2007, I was on sabbatical, so that means I was not teaching courses, but I had been teaching…a non-course. This is a reflection on that experience.

Why teach a course when I didn’t have to? Well, I commonly have several students who do the work-academic combination of individualized Applied Study courses. As Christmas and my sabbatical drew closer, I could see that two students, each of whom was working towards graduate training in Speech and Hearing Disorders and both of whom were working with populations at risk for speech problems, would benefit from individualized instruction on language. At that time, no professor in Psychology knew much about or taught a class connected to linguistics. My research background of ethology, the observational approach to animal and human behaviour, meant that I could show them a view into understanding speech, particularly in conversation. So we agreed to do a non-course. We met once a week, and I took them from a list of defects they might encounter through sentence construction, cognitive difficulties and non-verbal expression to the massive complexity of multi-way conversation.

I found the experience stimulating and yet restful. They were eager to learn, as this was a foundation for their future work. We bounced ideas off each other, some coming from their other classes, some from me and some that we built together. Between our weekly meetings they completed assignments. Why restful? There were no papers to mark, no hassle about grades. I didn’t evaluate them at all, ironically since they worked extremely well.

What did the students say when I asked them for feedback at the end of the semester? One commented that she had given up telling her friends about it, they would ask why she was working when she wasn’t getting any course credit. What a comment on our system! Both of them loved the focus on themselves and what they wanted to know, but admitted a bit of a yearning for structure, for extrinsic as well as intrinsic rewards. Again, what a comment on our system, but I too expect no extrinsic reward. I’m on sabbatical, I’m not supposed to be teaching.

If I were an Oxford-style Don, this is how I would teach. I would love it. Working with students to help them educate themselves, what could be better? I admit it’s probably not cost efficient, though what is the cost efficiency of teaching a whole lot of students something they don’t really want to know, in order that they can promptly forget it? One of the students commented wisely that something would be missing in a whole university career of learning in this style. She said, in indirect praise of our General Liberal Education requirement, that things came up in classrooms or through courses that you didn’t necessarily want to take that nevertheless surprised and enriched you. So maybe I couldn’t be an individualized tutor for all of my teaching, maybe only some of it…but what a rich reward that would be.

Design and aesthetics matter when creating your course.

One area that is often overlooked in designing a course is the aesthetics of the course. Clearly this is not as important as the goals and objectives of the course, but a well put together course can help your students navigate the content and activities much easier. The infographic below shows some ways in which you can improve the look of your Moodle course.

Continue reading

New Teaching Fellows and a New Teaching Chair

Janay Nugent

Janay is an Associate Professor in the Department of history and began with the Teaching Centre as of July 1st, 2014. Her term will continue over two years ending June 30th, 2016.  Janay has spent the last ten years teaching at the UofL. In that time she has focused on improving her own teaching by: creating a comfortable learning environment for her students to learn, stimulating curiosity in her students though a flexible learning environment, and engaging students in new ways using technologies such as iClicker.

Although Janay is a new Teaching Fellow, she is no stranger to the Teaching Centre, and has participated in Talking About Teaching events such as “The Life Course of a Professor – Part II”, co-presented on the effectiveness of MA students in a peer tutoring program at Teaching Day 2013, and has also been involved with the Learning Environment Evaluation project, and the Green Chair Interviews produced here in the Teaching Centre. She is looking forward to working with the Teaching Centre, and plans to help new faculty and graduate students in a mentoring capacity, by aiding individuals in the development of their teaching skills and teaching philosophies. We look forward to Janay’s contributions during her term.

Anne Dymond

Anne is an Associate Professor in the Faculty of Fine Arts and focuses on teaching Art History here at the University of Lethbridge. During her 14 years teaching Art History Anne has discovered new teaching philosophies that work for her teaching, and benefit diverse student learners. By better understanding her students via formal course evaluations, and informal in-class feedback she discovered that an active learning approach in her classes could work even though, the primary teaching style for her area tends to be lecture based. Through better examination and awareness of her evaluations and student feedback, she was able to improve student learning and student perceptions of the course. Her improved course evaluations provide motivation to keep developing her course to improve teaching and learning effectiveness.

In the past, Anne has worked with the Teaching Centre by presenting at some of our Talking About Teaching events such as “Rejuvenating Your Teaching Drive”, and has also become involved with the Teaching Centre via a Teaching Development fund project. The project focuses on the effectiveness of gaming as a learning support. Durning her time as a Teaching Fellow Anne also hopes to focus on best practices for preventing plagiarism both at an individual level and as an institution. Anne is a welcome addition to the Teaching Centre team.

Sheila McManus

Congratulations to Sheila McManus on becoming the 2014-2016 Board of Governors Teaching Chair. It is great to see Sheila in this role, as she has been involved in the Teaching Centre since her appointment as a Teaching Fellow.  Since 2011 Sheila has helped develop and facilitate the Instructional Skills Workshops here at the UofL, creating a self-sustaining program to help faculty improve their teaching and build a broader community of passionate teachers.   She also created the [He]art of Teaching peer mentoring program in 2012. These are casual, confidential drop in sessions where faculty can talk to their peers about teaching.

We look forward to working with Sheila in her role Board of Governors Teaching Chair, and as the Chair of the Teaching Centre Advisory Council.  The main focus of her research will be on peer mentoring and building faculty teaching communities.  Her enthusiasm for improved teaching will add some great energy to our council and to our team here in the Teaching Centre. Sheila is very excited about working with her co-chair, 2013-2015 BOG Teaching Chair Harold Jansen and everyone on the Teaching Centre’s Advisory Council!