Teaching Innovation Incubator

The goal of the incubator is to support experimentation with bold teaching and learning ideas by bringing together talent, expertise, and - where appropriate - technology to serve as a hub, catalyst, and launch pad for the development of transformative teaching ideas at Waterloo. It will provide the opportunity and necessary support to develop, “test drive,” and evaluate ideas that have potential to be part of the next generation of teaching and learning at Waterloo.

The incubator is in a developmental phase during which a few highly promising “Beta projects” are being supported both for their important potential as an innovation for Waterloo and because their progress can help us envision the most effective structure for the Incubator in the longer term so that it can be of most benefit to the University, its students, and its faculty and professional staff.

Read more about the development of the incubator

Updates of note

  • 25 consultations with campus stakeholders (faculty, students, staff, and senior leadership) fed into an extensive report that is currently under review by senior leadership)
  • "Beta" Incubator projects that were started alongside consultations continue, under the direction of Kyle Scholz, Interim Managing Director of the Incubator
  • The newest incubator project will focus on accessibility of education at Waterloo, including three sub-projects directed at the following focus areas: (1) instructional programs and practices (2) learning tools and materials and (3) policy and guidelines.
  • A dedicated Teaching Innovation Incubator website will be launching in mid-September.

Current projects

Accelerating Integration of Sustainability into the Curriculum

No career is likely to be unaffected by climate change and sustainability considerations. Our graduates need core competencies and discipline specific knowledge of climate change and sustainability if they are to be global citizens prepared to thrive in an age of rapid change.

This project will consider how curriculum offerings could be adapted to allow all students to develop foundational and discipline specific sustainability competencies. Its goals are to create opportunities for collaboration, interdisciplinary work, and shared resources by reaching out to faculty, staff and students to better understand the range of supports programs may need to build these student competencies.

Accessible Education

Based on the principle that accessible education is better education, UW envisions a post-secondary education experience for learners where accessibility is at the forefront of what we do.  Leveraging the AODA (Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act)'s post-secondary education standard recommendations that were written by experts with disability lived experience in post-secondary education sector, this project will support the creation of a teaching and learning environment in which innovative, accessible education practices are valued and supported, and so are tried, assessed, and improved over time.

This project will position accessible education as a road to better teaching and learning for everyone, not merely a regulatory approval matter, and recognize that the disability community contributes to our diversity and re-imagining our teaching and learning approaches is required to fully include all identities.

Adapting Student Led Individually Created Courses (SLICCs) to Encourage Self-directed Learning at University of Waterloo

SLICCs are among a growing body of self-directed and experiential learning models in post-secondary institutions, which have been linked to improving students' ability to become effective, self-regulated learners. The traditional course structure is removed in a SLICC, with the instructor providing desired learning outcomes in broad strokes, prescribing little in terms of what will be learned and even less on how it will be learned. In a SLICC, defining these aspects of the course is in fact the student’s responsibility. A student’s plan outlines their proposed learning experience and how they will complete it. Additionally, they must audit the skills they currently possess and those they would need to develop to achieve results. And finally, students determine how they will assess themselves as they complete their proposed learning experience. Therefore, SLICCs offer a flexible, personalized, student-centered approach to learning that empowers students to actively participate in the co-creation and evaluation of their learning.

This project will work towards making SLICCs a recognized, legitimate corm of course delivery in faculties across campus. Its goals are to determine if SLICCs promote more student engagement and accountability for learning, and position SLICCs as a vehicle for interdisciplinary collaboration and learning.

Evaluating LEARN Tools - Creator+ & Performance+

The University of Waterloo is currently undergoing a process to determine the future of D2L’s Brightspace (LEARN) Learning Management System (LMS). The version of LEARN that we use at UW has many pedagogical features that are used frequently by instructors and to great effect. There are, however, additional features available that we have not yet licensed, nor have we investigated their potential efficacy for our institution. Creator+ provides tools that enable the straightforward creation of interactive course content. Performance+ provides tools and dashboards that unlock insights into course and learner data and effectiveness.

This project will evaluate the efficacy of these two tools and determine how they can be used to better support UW students in their learning.

Interdisciplinary Grad Student Designed and Led “Wicked Problem” Courses

UW offers several interdisciplinary courses at the undergraduate level. Despite these initiatives, interdisciplinary research and teaching is still underdeveloped at UW and remains a leading strategic initiative for the University and its Faculties in their forward-looking plans. Creating even more paths to pursue interdisciplinarity are needed, in both research and teaching. This project brings together teams of PhD candidates to design, develop and offer a course related to contemporary “wicked problems” that catalyzes each PhD candidate’s research and disciplinary expertise while also offering them a meaningful teaching experience.  The teaching team receives mentorship and support with regard to course conception, design and integration by those with disciplinary and pedagogical expertise. The courses are offered to senior undergraduate students across the university as electives, and collectively create an interdisciplinary construct that fosters learning and an integration of knowledge, methods and ways of knowing that could not be achieved within a single disciplinary approach.

This project will expose undergraduate students to (student) research and researchers, potentially motivating future studies. Learnings from this work will also ideally lead to the development of a process and pathway for interdisciplinary course development.

Background: the teaching incubator

The vision for this teaching innovation incubator is squarely focused on the student learning experience, but the University’s systems and processes also significantly shape those experiences. The Incubator will play four different roles as Waterloo creates new ways of teaching and learning for the future:

  • "Incubating" - developing, testing, and evaluating teaching and learning projects
  • Experimentation - new educational technologies and pedagogical approaches will be given a space with support to trial these tools and processes
  • Networking - serving as a hub to connect and celebrate individuals/groups who are engaged in innovative teaching and learning practices
  • Repository - relevant institutional processes and project learnings will be stored to benefit future initiatives

As the Incubator is still in its development phase, there are currently a number of "Beta" projects that are being supported. These projects are being supported both for their important potential as an innovation for Waterloo and because their progress can help envision the most effective structure for the Incubator in the longer term so that it can be of most benefit to the University, its students, and its faculty and professional staff.

The concept of the Teaching Innovation Incubator (TII) has been a part of campus planning conversations since 2017 and was refined through the campus-wide consultative planning process that led to the University’s 2020-2025 strategic plan: Connecting Imagination with Impact. The incubator specifically fits with the following two objectives connected to the first goal of the Developing Talent theme:

  • Promote quality and innovation in teaching and learning and support infrastructure, policy, and practice that remove systemic barriers.
  • Find new ways to work together and remove barriers to collaboration, interdisciplinarity, and the integration of knowledge.

After approval of the strategic plan, the University set up three action teams to lead its implementation. The Incubator was selected by the Developing Talent Action Team as a priority project that directly addressed several goals and that would indirectly help achieve several others. The idea was discussed in various forums (Undergraduate Operations, Senate Undergraduate Committee, Executive Committee) in fall 2021. Late in 2021, the Incubator idea was discussed and received the go-ahead from Deans’ Council. In January 2022, the idea was presented to and endorsed by the President and Vice-Presidents group and was presented to and discussed at Senate. In March 2022, the Terms of Reference for a two-pronged approach to developing and launching the Incubator was approved by the Provost. As a first prong, the TII Planning Project was launched in earnest.

In 2022, various consultations occurred to inform the development of the Incubator:

  • Environmental scan – An environmental scan was conducted using web searches and email listserv requests to find other teaching-focused incubators or labs.
  • Campus consultations – Project team members took turns facilitating 25 consultations with groups of senior leaders in each Faculty (associate deans, chairs, and teaching fellows), in centres and institutes, and from ASUs as well as groups of undergraduate and graduate students.
  • Campus survey – Concurrent with the consultations, an open-ended campus-wide survey was available for two weeks in November. More than 200 faculty, staff, and students provided responses via the survey.

As a second prong, the Beta version of the incubator was also launched in 2022 as a means of developing and testing possible processes that the future incubator could adapt and use. 

The consultation input and survey results have since been summarized and a report has been written to generate initial recommendations and possible implementation considerations.