In this issue:

Impending pressures on university teaching

Ontario Universities are going to experience a number of pressures in the next decade. The look of the system in 10 years and Waterloo's role and image will be determined, in part at least, by how we respond to these pressures.

Likely the most serious issue is the predicted increase of about 40% in student numbers. Increases are being driven by basic demographic changes and changes in the Ontario high school system. University bound students usually complete the current high-school curriculum in five years. The new curriculum is designed to be completed in four years. Students now in grade 9 are under the new curriculum policy documents. They can graduate in 2003 along with students who did grade 9 last year under the old system. This creates a "double cohort" of students seeking admission to universities at the same time. The number of applicants that may materialize in 2003 is not clear. How Ontario universities may respond is even less clear. 

Will the new curriculum prepare students for university work? The curriculum policy documents now under development for grades 11 and 12 look fairly good. University faculty members from across the province contributed to the development of the documents, with Waterloo faculty being heavily involved. Once the new curriculum policy documents are final, we will need to examine how the new curriculum relates to what is taught in first year courses and we will need to assess admission requirements in light of the restructured high school curriculum and new high school transcript format. Students from the new system will be a year younger when they come to university which may require a reassessment of how we deal with frosh. 

Teaching resources are not likely to keep pace with increasing numbers. Governments have slashed support to universities. This has already resulted in fewer professors, increased class sizes, and changes in the way courses are run. For example, multiple-choice tests are increasingly used to evaluate large numbers of students in a section. Although increases in tuition have partially offset the government funding cuts, these increases have not replaced the lost revenue completely and there is increasing resistance from students for further tuition increases.

University infrastructures are also not designed to easily accommodate increased numbers. Classroom crowding is now common and scheduling classroom space is a challenge. Waterloo is in the process of developing new classrooms and more are being planned.

Three new classrooms are now under construction in the math and computing building and this summer two large classrooms will be created from small classrooms on the second floor of the arts lecture hall. However, not enough new classrooms are planned to speak to the potential increases that would result if Waterloo takes an equitable share of the projected increase in student numbers. The University has applied to the province's "Superbuild fund" for other classroom and infrastructure space. Increases in student numbers will also require more faculty, faculty offices, laboratories, student housing, etc.

Another issue is that the next decade will see large numbers of faculty retirements across North America and at Waterloo. Competition for faculty members will be severe. The role of technology in teaching is another issue and will likely become more prominent. Increasing numbers of faculty members want classrooms equipped with data projectors and installed, networked computers. The equipment is expensive and the University's ability to meet these needs is limited. And many classrooms are poorly designed for technology. Increasingly, students are using the new communication technologies to interact with faculty members. This kind of contact will have to managed.

How we deal with these issues will determine what the University of Waterloo will be in 2010.

Spotlight on teaching techniques

What happens when traditional assessment methods for a course do not fit your philosophy as a teacher? This is the issue that faced Charlene Shannon, a graduate student in recreation and leisure studies, last spring when she was approached to teach REC 408 (Gender, Leisure and Family). Being a participant in Waterloo's Certificate in University Teaching program, Charlene had spent some time reflecting on her own teaching philosophy. Based on her reflections, she knew the course as it was designed (to fit someone else's philosophy, level of experience, and skills as an instructor) would not work for her, so she was forced to rethink what and how she was going to teach and why. 

From the outset of her course planning she knew that she wanted students to be challenged to do something other than academic papers and exams which, to her, rarely allow students to draw on their own personal talents and gifts outside of reading and writing. So she began her course design with the idea of having students do a "creative project" which would allow them to foster their creative skills - skills that Charlene believes graduates of recreation and leisure studies will be expected to draw on when they enter a dynamic practice and face a wide range of issues requiring creative solutions. The questions that remained were: what would a "creative project" look like, what would completing one entail, and how would it be assessed?

In terms of thinking through these questions, Donna Ellis, TRACE's advisor on teaching and learning, was very helpful. Donna acted as a "sounding board" for Charlene's ideas as she went through the design process of this course. As Charlene notes, Donna challenged her about what she was doing and planning, forcing Charlene to be really clear in her own mind about what she was looking for and why. It is helpful, suggests Charlene, to have "someone who has experience in course design [to] prompt you with questions about it. It helps too if problems arise." For Charlene, her understanding of her own teaching philosophy was essential because she was able to acknowledge that it is behind everything she does with her students. The bottom line is that she wants all of her students to have a successful experience in her classroom. 

So what did students need to produce in their creative projects to be successful? Students were required to submit proposals about six weeks before their projects were due so that Charlene could help them decide early in the term what their specific learning objectives were and how they would best be able to satisfy those objectives. This proposal also enabled Charlene to guide students through the process, assisting with their ideas and helping to ensure that their projects also related to her course objectives. As Charlene notes, she really had no idea what to expect out of the individual projects. What she did receive was really remarkable. Students submitted everything from songs about the impact of poverty on men's leisure to clay models (submitted with a mock newspaper article) depicting changes in women's sport over time. The best parts for Charlene were seeing how successfully students were able to apply the course material in a variety of creative ways and hearing from the students themselves how much they had learned in the course about gender, family and leisure, and about themselves and where their views come from.

Charlene acknowledges that, despite the positive results that came from her approach, not all instructors will be able to make it fit with their own philosophies of teaching. Students needed lots of support in her course because they were essentially handing in a piece of themselves. Not only that, this assessment method would not necessarily work with all cohorts of students.

Charlene acknowledges that she would have to make changes to accommodate a class bigger than thirty students. However, she is determined to maintain her enthusiasm for her approach because, although it was time consuming, the results were wonderful.

Virtual, but a university?

The issue of virtual universities continues to concern me since some friends of ours have started a new venture which will lead toward a virtual university for Canada's public service. Canada's Campus Connection is an astute idea to benefit our post-secondary community and employees of the federal government. Campus Connection is "an Internet service connecting employees of the government of Canada to the online for-credit offerings of Canada's universities and colleges." By giving Canadian offerings prime exposure, the Campus Connection folk hope to limit the flow of tuition revenues to other providers, such as the private for-profit U.S. institutions that have been growing so effectively by targeting working adults. The organizers have asked Canadian institutions to indicate how they would deal with issues like credit exchange across institutions and student services for learners taking a personalized curriculum with offerings from several universities.

The objectives are admirable: give government employees easy access to continuing education and online degree programs, and give Canadian educational institutions an advantage in the online market by giving them the best 'shelf space' in the online supermarket - the computer desktops of the federal public service. So why might this approach trouble us?
The main concern I hear from faculty is that the distinctiveness of our various institutions will be lost in the online course catalog. The course descriptions will describe what each course teaches, but will there be anything about how the learning takes place? The same content from an undergraduate institution in the liberal arts tradition might focus the how around personal transformation and integration of ideas, whereas an undergraduate institution with a strong professional orientation would put more stress on career development and applicability on the job. And for a research university, the how will stress critical inquiry and the exploration of new ideas.

This latent curriculum is something we don't always express well in our course descriptions, nor have we found effective ways to assess how it develops as students progress through a program. I'm reminded of a study of a 'writing across the curriculum' initiative in a highly selective undergraduate college in the U.S. When the faculty measured the effect of the initiative in individual courses on the students' writing ability, they found no significant difference from the new instructional designs. But when they measured the effect across the four year program, there was a significant improvement in students' writing. Each course seemed to have contributed something to each student's development, and for some there had been a particular 'Aha' course where it all came together. But there were never enough of those cathartic experiences in any one course to show up in their measures, even though across the program the effects were undeniable. 

How can we guarantee that a student creating a degree program from online courses will end up with a whole education that is greater than the sum of its courses? We could require that students take a large number of our own university's courses in order to qualify for a degree, but that puts us at a competitive disadvantage to more 'open' programs without explaining the advantage to the student. And this assumes that the intellectual vitality we want for our students will be contagious in our online courses the way [we believe] it is on campus - most of us feel that the spirit of a research university is more 'caught than taught.'

Personally, I think we have to make a more explicit case for a research university education in the online world of global competitors for the adult learner market. That will probably include articulating more clearly the intellectual spirit of our enterprise, how we expect students to develop the capabilities of independent evidence-based inquiry, and how we as faculty can support that process. Since Waterloo is the only institution in the country with both a long tradition in reaching out to adult learners and an ongoing research orientation, we need to let the world know how that unique combination can produce something of distinctive value. If you have ideas or energy to contribute, contact me at, or extension 6054.

In addition to being Associate Director of TRACE, Tom Carey is director of the new Centre for Learning and Teaching Through Technology.

Effective university teaching

There is no agreement on what constitutes effective teaching. A recently published study by Young and Shaw (1999) examined "how teaching effectiveness might be defined or, more accurately, whether it might be defined in multiple ways..."

They asked 912 graduate and undergraduate students to rate an instructor of their choice from whom they had taken a course. A rating instrument was constructed from a review of items mentioned in the teaching effectiveness literature. They found 56 items, eliminated duplicates and near-duplicates, and settled on a 25-item instrument for the ratings.

Students received brief instructions to clarify items and procedures and to decrease rating errors. This training helped students understand that the study was more about what teacher effectiveness is than about simply evaluating teachers. The rating data were analyzed to see if multiple definitions of teacher effectiveness were indicated.

Six items, value of the course, motivating students to do their best, comfortable learning atmosphere, course organization, effective communication, and concern for student learning accounted for 87% of the variability in the criterion of teacher effectiveness Adding the remaining 19 items to the model increased the explained variance by only 1% …

Young and Shaw also examined the variables that best differentiate between effective and ineffective teachers. "Five items were found to differentiate significantly between the two groups of teachers..." These items were: value of the course, motivating students to do their best, effective communication, course organization, and genuine respect for students.

These two analyses identified 7 items, with 4 items (value of the course, motivating students, course organization, and effective communication) being identified by both analytic procedures. The 3 additional items (comfortable learning atmosphere, concern for student learning, and genuine respect for students) came from only one of the analyses.

Using clustering techniques, they found 5 clusters of effective teachers. The clusters were quite similar but different in specific ways. All 246 effective teachers were rated high on most of the 7 items. But 4 of the clusters included 1 item on which the effective teachers were rated substantially lower but still above average as compared to other teachers in the analysis. For example, one profile had organization rated as 7.0 relative to the other items that were rated between 8.0 and 9.0. The rating scale went from 1 to 9. "Teachers who were recognized as highly effective in this study, then, were rated very high on at least 6 of the 7 items but were rated, on average, as low as 6.6 on the 7th item, and still considered very effective by students." "It appears that effective teachers can compensate for deficiencies in one or two areas by demonstrating outstanding skills in other areas." 

Most of the findings in this study support other research in the field. One difference was the importance of the item "value of the course" which emerged very strongly as a predictor of teaching effectiveness. "This item was highly correlated with the global measure (teaching effectiveness) for graduate students separately, undergraduates separately, and the groups combined." "In this study, the worth of a course for the university students was the most important predictor of teacher effectiveness and this may be one of the most significant findings to emerge from this investigation. It is possible that course value was so important because, as time passed, students became much more aware of its usefulness."

You can help students understand the importance of your course by indicating where your course content fits within the bigger picture of your discipline and explaining the value of your course in that context. Also using applications and/or examples from the real world to illustrate concepts and points in your course will help students understand the value that the course may have for them in the future. 

New teaching assistant developers

Maria Nelson

Maria is a PhD candidate in the computer science department. She has been a lecturer for beginner and advanced classes at the university level, in business environments, and for children.

Maria is currently involved with the education program for software professionals at Waterloo where she has all kinds of teaching responsibilities, including lecturing for courses, tutoring distance education classes, preparing and marking assignments and exams, and providing personal assistance to students in intensive programs. 

Maria is enrolled in the teaching certificate to refine her teaching skills. As a teaching assistant (TA) developer she is looking forward to exchanging teaching experiences with other grad students. She can be reached at extension 3408 or by through email at

Torsten Nelson

Torsten is a PhD candidate in the computer science (CS) department. He has six years of teaching experience, having been a teacher at both the university level and in business environments. At Waterloo, he has taught a second-year undergraduate CS course, and currently teaches for the education program for software professionals. He is also a tutor for distance education.

Torsten has been enrolled in TRACE's teaching certificate program since its inception in order to further develop his skills as a teacher. As a TA developer, Torsten hopes to work closely with other students in order to help them to refine their teaching skills. He can be reached at extension 3408 or by email.

Classroom problems?

Do you have problems in your classroom such as burned out lights, no chalk, etc.? If so, call ext. 3793 and report the problem. Extension 3793 is a 24-hour Plant Operations service and maintenance line. When you report a problem, they will ask for your name and extension. TRACE tested this system in the past month on some burned out lights in a classroom. The problem was fixed within a week. Lecture theatres with high ceilings may not be fixed as quickly.

University classrooms are repainted according to a schedule established by Plant Operations. Please let Gary Griffin know by email if you have concerns about the current condition of paint or the classroom colour scheme. Suggestions will be compiled and passed on to Plant Operations.

Teaching assistant award winners

Several departments at Waterloo honour outstanding teaching assistants with awards. Here is a list of recent winners:

Faculty of Engineering

L. D'Agnillo
Electrical & Computer

I. Stokes-Rees
Systems Design

J. Foster
Year 1 Engineering

A. Linton

Congratulations to all!


Time for reflection

Here are 3 prompts from Cranton (1994) to reflect on and write about in a teaching journal:

  1. What did I do in that class or course?
  2. How did I decide to do that?
  3. Why should I question what I did?

Contact Donna Ellis, extension 5713, for other reflective prompts.

Announcing winter 2000 TRACE events

TRACE will be offering many interesting and informative workshops in the winter term which are open to all Waterloo instructors. They are as follows:

Thursday, January 20 -From presenting to lecturing
Tuesday, February 1 or Wednesday, February 9 - Teaching dossiers, part 2
Wednesday, February 16 - Groupwork strategies
Monday, March 13 - Supervisory relationships

For more specific details, watch for flyers in your department and via the Certificate listserv. If you would like to join the listserv, please email trace@watserv1. Each lunchtime workshop is followed by an informal discussion group one week following the workshop.

CUT participants, please note that all of these workshops partially fulfill CUT requirements for GS 901 and 902. The teaching dossier workshop is a required workshop for the CUT.

Conference notice

The Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education (STLHE) is holding its annual conference at Brock University from June 14 - 17, 2000.

Proposal submissions are due by January 31st.