In this issue:

First year +: Director's reflections

The last year or so has been a challenging, busy time for me as director of the TRACE office. The learning curve was steep: there was a lot to learn, not to mention big shoes to fill administratively. I also still have significant responsibilities in the psychology department, where I teach, chair the division of behavioural neuroscience, have a research program and supervise undergraduate students and a graduate student.

When I took on the job of director in September of 2001, some people thought that I had lost my mind. Although that may well be the case, I don't think that my decision to get involved with TRACE is necessarily evidence for it! I suspect that part of the reason for people's bemusement with respect to my decision has to do with ignorance of what the TRACE office actually does. To help in the process of educating the campus about TRACE, I'd like to devote this article to a brief discussion of what we've been up to since I arrived on the scene. By 'we' I mean Donna Ellis, associate director of TRACE, Verna Keller, TRACE's administrative assistant, Darlene Radicioni, our secretary, the three part-time teaching assistant developers we employ for a year at 10 hours each per week, and finally our 'one-off' internationalization research assistant who was with us last term and will be with us for one more term.

The Certificate in University Teaching (CUT) program takes up a lot of our time here at TRACE, and we're pleased and proud of this because it is a reflection of its increasing popularity. Currently we have about 100 graduate students actively engaged in the program. Any graduate student can take part in it and proceed to complete the 3 courses that comprise the certificate at his or her own pace. The courses, which have a GS (graduate studies) designation and appear on the student's transcript when completed, 

  • attending 8 workshops
  • writing reflective reports on these workshops
  • preparing a teaching dossier
  • being observed three times in a teaching situation (once in a 'large-class' setting)
  • responding in writing to a detailed written evaluation of each teaching event
  • preparing a 20-page research paper on some aspect of teaching 
  • making a brief presentation on the research paper

Preparation, delivery and administration of almost all of the various workshops (open to ALL teaching personnel on campus, regardless of whether one is enrolled in the CUT or not) and evaluation of the written work (at least 13 pieces of written work, two of which are substantial, for each participant) are handled by TRACE staff. But participants can also take workshops from information systems and technology, CECS and the library, for example, and have them count toward the certificate.

Anecdotal evidence of our program's success has been provided by several of our CUT graduates, who mention such things as negotiating higher salaries as a result of having the CUT certificate. A more serious evaluation of the program's success will be forthcoming. 

Donna Ellis, TRACE's associate director, and colleagues at the University of Manitoba were awarded an SSHRC grant last year to investigate the impact of programs that prepare graduate students for future teaching careers in higher education. 

The TRACE library, located in our offices in the Math and Computer Building (MC 4050-4057), has an extensive collection of books (over 1300) and periodicals related to teaching and learning, and the books are now searchable on TRELLIS. We are currently going through our journal collection and culling those we no longer need or use. The journals will be searchable on the TRELLIS network in the near future. 

One-on-one advising on teaching is generally handled by Donna Ellis, who is our resident expert on instructional development and on the problems that instructors encounter in the classroom. Every year Donna helps instructors at all levels in this way.

New-faculty programming is a new initiative for us this academic year, and was undertaken under the auspices of Amit Chakma, vice president academic and provost, with help from the Learning and Teaching Through Technology (LT3) Centre (see article in the Sept. 2002 Teaching Matters, All new faculty hired since Jan. 1, 2002, were invited to a series of events to take place during the '02/'03 academic year:

  • a welcoming reception, keynote address by Jim Frank, associate dean for graduate studies, and a faculty panel on "How to succeed at Waterloo"
  • BBQ at President Johnston's farm, co-hosted by the faculty association
  • two lunch-and-learn sessions in the fall, and two this term on topics of interest to new faculty members
  • a website especially for new faculty, developed by TRACE and LT3 personnel ( at which can be found information on Waterloo and the local area.

We hope to be able to provide this programming on an ongoing basis, with those newly arriving at Waterloo being eligible for one year of events, no matter what their start date. Although we managed all this so far this year with no additional help, we are looking to engage a senior (possibly newly retired) faculty member to help us out with this project in the future.

The Instructional Development Grant program, in which individual faculty members receive up to $1000, to support projects designed to enhance teaching and learning, is administered by the TRACE office. 

The grants are independently reviewed by three reviewers, and I make the final decision as to the award. Information about this program can be found at, and highlights featuring some interesting projects funded through the program can be found at

Internationalization activities: Bruce Mitchell (associate vice-president academic) and I were successful in obtaining a grant last year from the Canadian Bureau for International Education. Our internationalization research assistant, Elise Ho, whom we hired with this money, is busy researching whether and how other institutions enrich their curricula by making use of the knowledge and experience of international students and domestic students who have international experience. She is also meeting with groups of students and professors in order to identify some practical strategies that might be mutually beneficial with a view to trying out some of these approaches in classes either this term or in the spring. 

Every year, we receive many nominations for The Distinguished Teacher Awards (DTA). The committee, of which I am a member and which will be chaired by Bruce Mitchell in future, meets several times, but the bulk of the time is spent reading through the extensive supporting documentation for each of the candidates. This I find to be an exhilarating experience, though, as we have so many devoted and talented teachers on this campus who are making real differences in students' lives. For four years, we have also awarded up to four prizes per year for distinguished teaching by a registered student, the committee for which is separate from that of the DTA. Verna Keller takes care of the considerable administration of these awards.

Change, change, change ....
Last May Tom Carey, formerly LT3's director, was made associate vice-president, learning resources and innovation. As of that time, TRACE as well as Audio-Visual, Distance Education and LT3 have been reporting to Tom. With his experience directing the LT3 Centre and his background in human-computer interaction, he is championing the effective use of technology and innovation in the teaching and learning process. We're working with Tom to help enhance the quality of teaching and learning here at Waterloo on all fronts.

Barbara Bulman-Fleming

Sally Lerner

Sally Lerner, professor emerita in environment and resource studies, will be joining TRACE on a part-time basis this term to help us help you. Sally will be preparing a very brief questionnaire to help us identify teaching problems you've solved, and those you might not have solved. Our thinking is that if we can put together a repository of solutions to teaching problems, it will be extremely useful as a supplement to our "teaching tips" collection. She will also be asking you for your opinion as to how best TRACE can serve you. You will receive a questionnaire by email that you can simply 'reply' to in little time. Thanks, in advance, for helping us to serve you better. 

Making the ordinary extraordinary

Wayne Brodland, a faculty member in Waterloo's civil engineering department, has a knack for turning "ordinary" items into memorable teaching aids. As I sat in his office, he illustrated concepts, such as thin-walled structures and the effects of loads, through everyday items like tinfoil and rubber balls. To Wayne, physical models always "tell the truth" and can really help his students understand key concepts in his courses.

One day he found a piece of foam that had been used as packing for a new computer. He took it to his office, drew a grid on it, and has used it ever since to explain bending of beams. Its pliability enables him to illustrate clearly how and where a beam contracts and expands when it is supporting a load. This simple prop is portable and very inexpensive, yet it is very helpful to his students. "I encourage my students to handle the models and will often take them to more than one class," says Wayne. He has had some very successful models built by the engineering machine shop staff, but often uses objects around him to illustrate the concepts in his courses.

How does he decide when a model would be helpful? "I listen to my students' questions in order to determine what is unclear to them," he explains. 

His students couldn't agree more, finding the models very memorable and helpful. Wayne did volunteer that not all of his attempts at models have worked, but for the most part they are a quick and easy way to add an extra dimension to his teaching and enable his students to see the course concepts in action.

Wayne also aids his students' understanding of the course material through fill-in course notes. Although he varies how much white space to leave based on the course level, he generally leaves about 30% of each page blank. Students are expected to follow along with the notes and fill in material such as steps in a derivation; numerical answers; blanks in tables, matrices, or figures; and worked problems. 

His latest innovation with this method involves using styles within Word to create one document for both student and instructor notes. He uses Word's hidden text style to hide his own notes within the students' notes.  He puts his notes in a different colour, such as burgundy, and makes them bold and italicized. Then he burns the Word document onto a CD and takes that to his classes. He has found that he can project this Word document via a data projector and show the students his version of their notes.  He uses a full screen mode which shows about half a page of the notes at once. He can scroll down through the document one line at a time.

He cautions instructors to check that the coloured text can be seen with the available room lighting. However, he notes that this is easy to change if your colour is defined using a style. He also mentioned that instructors need to carefully format the notes so that the student set includes enough white space (When hidden text is not printed, Word does not replace the non-printing text with an equivalent amount of blank space).  And he mentioned that it could be easy to lecture too quickly when the notes are pre-made. However, he redraws items such as critical diagrams to pace himself and help students understand the process by which the diagrams are developed. 

Once again, his students appreciate his efforts since they always know where he is in their notes, and he appreciates how easy it is to maintain and use these integrated notes - another adaptation of an "ordinary" tool to facilitate student understanding. 

Donna Ellis

Introducing: Teaching tidbits

Do you have groups or teams do projects in your courses?

Rob Gorbet of electrical and computer engineering drew my attention to a useful article that you might consider having your students read when they are about to embark on group projects. Rob was sent this article as a result of his having subscribed to a listserv called "Tomorrow's professor"; the article is entitled "Coping with hitchhikers and couch potatoes."  As its name suggests, it is about two common types of individuals that make for a very difficult time if you have them as partners in a group-project situation, and it suggests sensible tactics for dealing with 
these individuals. I found the article on the web at the following address:

Two new books discuss the state of universities in Canada

In the December 2002 issue of University Affairs, Alan MacEachern reviewed two books that investigate the current state of Canada's universities, and come to different conclusions ( Paul Axelrod, an historian at York University and dean of its Faculty of Education, has written Values in conflict: The university, the marketplace, and the trials of liberal education (2002), McGill-Queen's University Press. It is a restrained call, according to MacEachern, to appreciate the great strength and value of a liberal education in our increasingly technological, market-driven world. The other book, No place to learn: Why universities aren't working (2002), UBC Press, by political scientists Tom Pocklington and Allan Tupper, is more radical. An excellent review of the latter book by Ronald-Frans Melchers of the Deptarment of Criminology at the University of Ottawa can be found at To quote Melchers: "The authors advance that a disproportionate focus on highly specialized discovery-oriented ("frontier") research has contributed to the abandonment of the teaching mission of universities."

Bucking the trend

I have come a across couple of articles in the past few months that go against the general tide of "The more technology in teaching, the better."  One from The New Scientist, called "Bring Back the Blackboard," is a rather humorous account of a failure of presentation technology at a recent genetics conference in Baltimore, together with a description of a "riveting" talk delivered only with the aid of an overhead projector The other is a serious assessment of the ways in which students prefer to use online technology written by Sir John Daniel, former vice-chancellor of Britain's Open University and presently assistant director-general for education at UNESCO. He says, among other things: " ... my experience has taught me that the activities at the heart of the academic endeavor - study and assessment - lend themselves less to online technology than do other aspects of college life." The full article, entitled: "Lessons from the Open University: Low-Tech Learning Often Works Best" can be found at Thanks to Don Kasta for bringing this article to my attention.

Teaching dossiers explained 

A number of Waterloo departments have graduate seminars focused on preparing their students for future careers in academia. Jay Thomson ran one such seminar in kinesiology in the fall term, and invited Barbara Bulman-Fleming and Donna Ellis to facilitate a session on teaching dossiers for his students.

For this session, we combined our two existing dossier workshops for the Certificate in University Teaching (CUT), and ran a very interactive 90-minute session. We began by explaining that a dossier needs to articulate why teachers do what they do and illustrate how they put those beliefs into practice. In its structure, it is a report that includes short descriptions of activities and achievements that reflect the scope and quality of one's teaching, supported by appendix materials. Typical sections in a dossier are: teaching responsibilities, teaching philosophy statement, teaching strategies or methods, evaluation of teaching, preparation for teaching, and future goals. From here, we discussed how one might use a teaching dossier, including in a job search, for personal reflection and improvement, and in tenure and promotion preparation.

The students received two sample dossiers from the literature and a set of discussion questions. The goal of the activity was to discern what makes a dossier effective. Our discussions brought us to the following conclusions. An effective dossier:

  • Has a clear and complete teaching philosophy statement
  • Provides evidence from various sources throughout to support the philosophy
  • Explains all jargon used
  • Is formatted to allow for easy reading
  • Accurately portrays the author as a teacher

These are the criteria that we use in TRACE when assessing dossiers as part of the CUT.

From here, we facilitated a metaphor exercise for the students, which is one activity to help reveal ideas for a philosophy statement. The students were asked to generate a metaphor that described them as a teacher, then had to brainstorm the characteristics of the metaphor and how they applied the characteristics in their teaching. Benefits of the activity included highlighting aspects of their teaching (from the metaphor characteristics) that they might not initially think to include in a dossier and generating concrete examples to use in the dossier.

Complete dossiers, or at minimum a teaching philosophy statement, are being asked for more and more in ads for academic positions, so it is worthwhile for graduate students to know how to create one. As well, students in this seminar were invited to submit response papers about the session to count towards the CUT since the dossier workshops are the only two required ones of the eight needed in total.

If your department is interested in having such a session as part of your graduate seminar, please contact Barbara Bulman-Fleming (x. 2579) or Donna Ellis (x. 5713). 

Donna Ellis

Online discussions

The TRACE Office recently produced two tipsheets on planning and facilitating online discussions: one for faculty members and another for students. The instructor sheet provides tips on the following online discussions issues: benefits, integration into your course, question 
design, student orientation methods, facilitation, and assessment. The student sheet includes tips on making postings, responding to others' postings, and developing a positive perspective. A bibliography of resources is also included. Here are a few tips from the instructor sheet as samples. 

  • Connect the discussions to your course objectives. Like any other teaching strategy, online discussions should not be used as an add-on to a course. You need to carefully consider what course objectives you expect discussions to fulfill and how you will integrate them into your course as a whole. What do you want your students to gain from the discussions? Use your answers as a guide in preparing the online discussion activities.
  • Include online discussion participation in the course grade. If grades are not given for participation, students typically do not use the discussion forum. Decide how much of the course grade to give to discussions and whether you will assess the quantity or quality of postings, or a combination of the two. Harasim (1995) suggests that you assign a 10-50% of the course grade for participation, and either give a grade for each week or start at 100 and subtract an amount each week if minimum participation requirements are not met.
  • Acknowledge all first responses individually and expediently.  If possible, send a message to individual students, welcoming them to the discussion and making them feel supported. You need to start creating an online community, and just like in a face-to-face meeting, first impressions are very important. 
  • Foster a warm environment. You may need to help students relax and move past the inherently impersonal nature of computer-based discussions so that they feel part of a group. To do this, you need to be outgoing and positive yourself. Other strategies that help include: letting them know that the discussions are for your course participants only; encouraging an informal, conversational style on contributions that are not formal assignments (i.e., spelling and grammar are not critical); allowing social chitchat to help build relationships; encouraging them to use each other's first names; and labelling disagreement as a learning opportunity.
  • Explain your evolving role as facilitator. Let students know that you will have a strong presence for the first week or two in the term, but will gradually back out of the discussions, since the point of online discussions is to have students talking to each other.  Harasim (1995), Salmon (2000), and Gold (2001) indicate ranges in the ratio of teacher-to-student comments of 1:2 to 1:10, with those having the lowest proportions often being most successful.  Participate enough to show interest, but let the students dominate.  If you interject too much or too soon, you will stifle the discussion and your students will learn to wait for the "definitive" answer from you. After the first week, learn to wait 1-2 days before responding to comments; this should encourage others to respond first.  Once the students have taken over, you need to contribute only every few days. Let students know how often to expect you online.

And from the student sheet, here are a few tips:

  • Use informative keywords in your titles. To help the other participants, be sure that your title clearly indicates the content that will follow. "My ideas about today's readings" isn't nearly as clear as "Joe should disclose to his manager." 
  • Make postings short and purposeful. In general, only fill 1-2 screens (25-50 lines of text) because long messages are difficult to read online. Another rule of thumb is to make only one main point in each posting, supported by evidence and/or an example. Again, be concise.
  • Feel free to disagree with your classmates. To air different perspectives or help others clarify their thinking, you may need to contradict a classmate. Remember to disagree respectfully (no name-calling or obscenities) and support your point with evidence, but do not feel bad about offering a different interpretation. Your contribution should help to make the discussion more productive for all involved.
  • Work to create group cohesion. Discussions are about group learning. When you function well as a group, you will be more open to all the benefits that this type of learning can offer. Give positive feedback to one another, use light humour, avoid comments that could be taken as insulting, use first names, respond promptly to each other, and offer assistance. Also remember the lack of nonverbal and vocal cues in the online environment.  You'll need to label emotions ("I'm confused about this" or "I feel strongly") because no one will pick up on how you feel otherwise.

The tipsheets can be found at under the heading "Instructional Methods." 

Donna Ellis

New teaching assistant developers

Terra Jamieson is currently a PhD student in the Department of Earth Sciences. During her MSc degree she was a teaching assistant for several microbiology courses, acting as a laboratory instructor as well as a marking assistant. In the past, she has served as co-supervisor for two undergraduate BSc student theses and been a guest lecturer on several occasions. Terra very much enjoyed these teaching opportunities, especially working with students one on one. She is also enrolled in the TRACE Certificate in University Teaching to further develop her teaching skills. Terra is very enthusiastic about working in the TRACE Office to gain further teaching experience and interact with other graduate students.  She can be reached at

Guillermo Ordorica-Garcia is currently pursuing a PhD degree in the Department of Chemical Engineering. He has been a teaching assistant (TA) in the Faculty of Engineering, and has experience in conducting tutorials as well as in providing individual student assistance and development. He has also served as a TA mentor for ExpecTAtions and assisted in coordinating tutorials for large classes. He views teaching as a partnership between student and instructor, in which each person contributes towards the realization of mutual professional and personal development. Teaching as an extension of the teacher's personality and ideals is central to the attainment of such development. Within TRACE, Guillermo looks forward to learning from others at Waterloo who share his passion for teaching and to contributing to others' development as teachers. You can reach Guillermo at

Announcing winter 2003 TRACE events

Workshops for the winter 2003 term:
TRACE will be offering many interesting and informative workshops 
in the Winter term which are open to all Waterloo faculty members, staff 
instructors, and graduate students.

Group work January 21 12 - 1:30 p.m.
Giving and receiving feedback February 10 12 - 1:30 p.m.
Teaching dossiers, part 2 February 26 OR
February 27
9:30 - 11:00 a.m.
2:30 - 4:00 p.m.
Academic publishing March 13 12 -  1:30 p.m.
Creating CVs and cover letters March 26 12 - 1:30 p.m.
Course design April 9 OR
April 15
9:30 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.
1:30 - 4:30 p.m.

For more specific details, watch for notices in your department and via the Certificate listserv. 
To join the listserv, 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.  Teaching Dossier, Parts 1 & 2,are required for the CUT. 

You may register via our web site at: