In this issue:


Wise words

.....be fair, firm, and friendly, in that order ...

Donald Irish

I have a real soft spot for chemists and chemistry teachers because I had some superb ones at UVic, and my undergraduate degree is in honours biochemistry (Queen's '68). We have a great chemistry department here at Waterloo, who lost one of its superb people in April, 2002 with the death of Don Irish. Don was a wonderful teacher, winning not only the University's Distinguished Teacher Award ('87), but the provincial OCUFA teaching award and the Chemical Institute of Canada's Union Carbide Award for Chemical Education.

I thought that nothing could be better to start the new year of 2004 than some wise words from a great teacher. The advice cuts across all disciplines, and it's great advice. The human dimension in teaching is, I think, still more important than any gadgetry. Thanks to Chris Redmond, who alerted me to the Chem 13 news publication where these excerpts appeared (April, 2003, pp 6-7), and to Lew Brubacher, editor-in-chief of Chem 13 news, for permission to reprint Don's words.

Barbara Bulman-Fleming

The human dimension in teaching

Donald Irish, Chemistry
University of Waterloo

(These are excerpts from the address Don gave at the 1990 meeting of the Canadian Society for Chemistry where he received the Union Carbide Award for Chemical Education.)

Where does education begin? It begins at home - with parents and siblings. Those of us who are parents know this. So much learning can just happen, from looking at hermit crabs under rocks to one young father who took his four-year-old daughter all over the house to see how the plumbing and water supply works.

Mr. Malkin, the principal of my local high school, taught chemistry and other general sciences. My first contact with him was when I was about 11, and very shy; my home chemistry set was out of one chemical and I approached him as he was walking to school to ask if he could provide me with some. Sheer bravery on the part of this kid. Generosity on his part. Later in high school he had a great influence on me. Chemistry was hands on and fun, but also there was no let up on learning valences, chemical arithmetic, industrial processes. And outside of the classroom he also supported me in many ways, including part-time work and badminton instruction.

Teachers, human contact, the giving of their time, inspiration, role modelling - and all of this at an early stage - made the difference in my goals and aspirations. That, and not so much what we do at universities, is where we will attract to our profession the future science students. The direction and motivation is inculcated at an early stage, and will never be replaced by machines. We are human beings and respond to human stimuli.

One important rule for teaching that has stayed with me is to be fair, firm and friendly, in that order. University students expect fairness - fairness in course presentations, in expectations and evaluations and marking. It is essential. A teacher loses credibility rapidly without fairness.

Secondly, one must have standards and one must be firm in applying these. Students need to know what our expectations are and what we are not prepared to tolerate. Only after this is established can one be friendly. Being friendly does not imply being a "hail fellow well met", "good old Don". I have trouble with the notion that students can call me by my first name and then I must turn around and give them a low grade. Rather, friendly implies being open, being sensitive to their needs and where they are coming from, being patient, being prepared to listen, not turning them away from your office door, being one on one as necessary. For some faculty it may mean assisting them with their chemistry club projects, being a student chapter advisor, or making an important contact, directing them to someone else who can give them the answers or advice. It means giving time - that which we have so little of.

A related point concerns sarcasm. There is no room for sarcasm in teaching. We are in the classroom to build, not to destroy. When I hear sarcasm I wince. There are those who address the first year class by saying, "Look to your left and look to your right; one of the three of you will not be here next year." What a way to start. What a put down. I am more apt to say "You have been chosen as the best in the province. There is no intellectual reason why any one of you should fail. You have the intelligence. You might not have the self-discipline, the work habits, or the motivation, but you have the ability and together we can master this course if you put the effort into it." Our task is to encourage, not to put down.

One of the other things that I have found important to students is to let them know at the beginning of a lecture where they are going that day. This can be a topic outline on an overhead, or a cartoon if you are so inclined, or a flow sheet. Among students' criticisms, I most often hear, "I was lost. I didn't know what he/she was talking about." So often we university types get so involved with the nitty-gritty that we fail to give the big picture, or even worse, we assume it. The bottom line is be prepared, be organized, and convey that organization. As pilots, our task is to plot the course. In that vein I try to ensure that the students end up with a good set of course notes. In this regard it is illuminating to ask a student at the end of a course to lend you their notes. You may end up saying, "Is that what I said or did?"

I also bring my research into the classroom. Thus when talking about strong acids I can tell them about the Raman spectrum of perchloric acid, and the fact that when the concentration is high the molecular species does exist. Or when talking about buffers, the presence of the conjugate acid and the conjugate base forms can be revealed spectroscopically. Or even with something as mundane in the first weeks as an empirical formula, I bring in examples from the recent Canadian Journal of Chemistry. These give opportunity to introduce me to students in a different way, and to project some goals and aspirations. I try to make the material live.

In conclusion what have I been rambling on about? That it is the human dimension in teaching that is going to turn students on, not gadgetry. There certainly exists a place for high tech in the classroom but the teacher is at the heart. I wonder what our descendents will say about our teaching 120 years from now. I place odds that the human dimension will still be the key.


New way to request Certificate in University Teaching observations

Beginning with the Winter 2004 term, Certificate in University Teaching participants should request an observation online.

After you complete the online form and submit it, a TRACE teaching assistant developer will contact you by email within a week to book a pre-observation meeting with you. Thanks for your cooperation with this new procedure.


Online components in on-campus courses: The need for integration

Linda Jessup, a faculty member in health studies and gerontology, has integrated various online components into her on-campus HLTH/KIN 349 course on health behaviour change. Having just completed her second offering of this course in the fall 2003 term with 74 students, Linda shared her ideas about dealing with this special type of blended or hybrid course.

Linda used the Waterloo one system for the online components of her course. Students were introduced to the course website from the first class, and were told to regularly check the announcements posted since any changes to the course schedule would be there. She also posted her syllabus, contact information, and lecture notes to make the website a complete course reference. In her announcements, she highlighted due dates for assignments and links to grades. Linda found that attendance at her office hours decreased since students had easy, on-going access to course materials. Students also submitted their assignments online. The course website was integrated far beyond the course administration level, though.

In this course, students completed various online pre-class exercises, which were generally guided-reading questions, multiple-choice questions about the readings, or assignment preparation tasks, such as the library's online information literacy tutorials. She was also able to easily incorporate online readings and resources (such as TRACE tips sheets) as bases for the exercises. In the first offering of the course, Linda used in-class quizzes to encourage students to keep up with their readings, but this past time, she dropped the quizzes in favour of online assignments. Overall, she appreciated not having to spend class time on the quizzes, and the students were ready to engage in discussions and use the material. This change helped to integrate the technology and make it a more significant part of the course, thereby helping students to see the value in learning how to use the online system.

In addition to the online exercises, students needed to complete a multi-part assignment - a population health intervention (e.g., dealing with increases in Type 2 diabetes). The scenario was that they were experts in health behaviour change from across Canada who were to come together to address a specific health issue. As happens in the "real world," the groups of 5-7 were not able to meet face-to-face before presenting their plans. Therefore, they met online, using the discussion boards and chat rooms available through Waterloo one. Linda's course had three 50-minute lecture slots weekly, but she was able to cancel some in-class sessions to allow for the group work, which was done primarily online. The groups first created a group contract, then divided their issue into smaller pieces (one per group member) so they each became experts, submitted individual intervention proposals, then synthesized the ideas into an intervention presentation that they delivered in class. The groups typically generated minutes from their meetings as an indication of their participation. The benefits of this assignment were that the students learned valuable work-related skills, such as meeting skills and how to work online, and created superb end products. The students also had the benefit of being able to go back and easily access course materials because the materials remained on the website.

Linda did caution other instructors that she and her students endured some technical difficulties, particularly early in the term, but said it was worth persevering. As well, instructors should not assume their students are technologically savvy - some will not even know how to upload files. She suggests that faculty really focus on integrating the online components fully into the course instead of treating them like add-ons. There is a time investment on the part of both students and faculty to learn how to use any online system, and better buy-in occurs when students know they will use their new skills for more than one part of the course. Moving to integrating online components can also provide faculty members with the opportunity to re-think their course goals and designs because new types of assignments or materials can now be easily accessed and managed. But faculty members need not feel alone - both Learning and Teaching Through Technology (LT3) and TRACE staff are available to help ease the transition and offer suggestions, particularly LT3 liaisons.

For more information about the LT3 New Classroom series, a recommended precursor to using Waterloo one, visit: http://lt3.uwaterloo.ca/faculty. If you would like to discuss course design issues in general, please contact Donna Ellis at ext. 5713.

Donna Ellis


The buzz with cramming

Recently there has been much publicity about cramming, a poor study habit that is not conducive to learning. This has arguably been caused in part by the attempted recruitment of teaching assistants by a company called Exam Cram. Why is it not a good idea for our graduate students to participate in their activities? How can we prevent students from resorting to cramming?

Exam Cram is a company that offers cramming sessions for an array of mostly first-year courses. For the sum of $90, students can register for a two-day cramming session, taught by "fully qualified instructors," which includes a review package prepared by the cramming instructor. These "fully qualified instructors" seem to be Waterloo graduate students who are currently teaching assistants for a course that Exam Cram wants to develop a cramming session for. Exam Cram is offering these teaching assistants $500 to (1) prepare a course package that would review the main concepts of the course, and (2) deliver a two-day cramming session that will cover these same concepts.

The ethical issues are significant. For example, teaching assistants (TAs) would be charging their own students, even though they are already receiving a salary from the University of Waterloo for their teaching-assistant position. As well, the acceptance letters of many graduate students limit work hours to those of a TAship.

From a pedagogical perspective, Exam Cram is a problem because it encourages poor study habits. Cramming on the weekend before an exam, though it can help scrounge up a few marks, is not conducive to learning. As such, University of Waterloo instructors and teaching assistants should not encourage cramming and should even work to prevent it.

There are many ways an instructor can encourage good study habits that will potentially prevent students from resorting to cramming. The first step is to have a detailed outline that clearly specifies the objectives of the course and, if possible, objectives for each lecture. Students will be able to use this outline to ensure that they have reached each of the goals listed. Handouts that list the main concepts and ideas covered in each class are helpful, too. They can be especially effective if only the terms are listed and students fill in the missing information - students have a list of what they should know but they do their part of the work, leading to stronger learning. But, students may not use these tools regularly and leave the work for the last moment before the end of the course. To help students keep up to date, we can design assignments that span the length of the course - for example a journal with sections due every second week. This will force students to keep up with class work without overloading them. Another option is to give students frequent quizzes that are worth a few points each, or to count only the top quizzes (for example the top four out of six, at 2.5% per quiz). A mark-free alternative could be to ask students to write a one-minute summary at the end of each class and collect them to review. More options can be found in the TRACE tips sheet "Improving Students' Learning Practices."

The main message? Students' $90 is better kept in their own pockets. Nobody said learning isn't hard work.

Geneviève Desmarais


Promoting critical thinking skills

Critical thinking is a high priority outcome of higher education. But, what does it mean to be a critical thinker and how do we promote it in our students? These issues and more were discussed at the TRACE Critical Thinking Workshop held on October 15, 2003. For the purposes of the workshop, critical thinking was defined as being able to examine an issue by breaking it down and evaluating it in a conscious manner, while providing arguments/evidence to support the evaluation.

Generally speaking, asking questions and using answers to understand the world around us is what drives critical thinking. In inquiry-based instruction, the teacher asks students questions to draw out information, inferences, and predictions about a topic. As a result, students have a model from which to learn how to ask their own questions. For example, instead of asking, "What is the address to the University of Waterloo?" a question such as, "If I needed to go to Conestoga Mall from Waterloo, what is the best way to get there? Why?" would require more evaluative thought and justification. For more information on using question strategies effectively, see the TRACE tips sheets, "Question Strategies" and "Asking Questions: Six Types."

Another essential ingredient in critical-thinking instruction is the use of writing. Writing requires active learning as students identify issues and formulate hypotheses and arguments. The act of writing also requires students to focus and clarify their thoughts before putting them down on paper. Refer to the TRACE tips sheet "Low-Stakes Writing Assignments" for ideas on short writing exercises that you can use to encourage critical thinking in your students.

Group work can also promote critical thinking. Effective teams have the potential to produce better results than any individual; working as a group leads to more ideas, opinions, and solution alternatives than working alone. When students are engaged in peer interaction, they also need to clarify their own ideas and learn that their perceptions, assumptions, values, and general understanding of the material may differ from those of others. The TRACE tip sheet "Group Work in the Classroom: Types of Small Groups" outlines suggestions for implementing collaborative work.

These three activities do not necessarily have to be independent of one another. For instance, critical inquiry can be incorporated into a writing assignment, or groups could collaborate to come up with a written product. For more ideas and tips, see the tip sheet, "Promoting and Assessing Critical Thinking." All tip sheets are available on the TRACE web site.

Terra Jamieson


Award-winning research

At the 2003 Professional and Organizational Development (POD) Network Conference, held this past October in Denver, Donna Ellis, TRACE's associate director, received a Menges Honoured Presentation Award with her research colleagues, Dr. Dieter Schönwetter, University of Manitoba, and Dr. Martha Roberts, past TRACE research assistant. This annual conference draws more than 500 faculty developers and higher education administrators from the United States, Canada, Europe, and Australasia, and gives 2-3 of these awards, in memory of an honoured scholar, Dr. Robert Menges, to sessions based on sound research.

Donna and Dieter are conducting a longitudinal study on the effectiveness of Certification in University Teaching programs, and have a 3-year SSHRC grant to support their work.

Both Waterloo and Manitoba have Certificate programs for their graduate students, although Waterloo's program is larger because we have both master's and doctoral students as participants. The research team has collected almost 200 pre-Certificate surveys and more than 50 post-Certificate surveys. The conference presentation highlighted the findings of factor analyses performed on the data.

Overall, key Waterloo results indicate that our Certificate in University Teaching (CUT) participants feel more prepared for getting a teaching position after completing the program - the greatest difference between pre-and post- was for feeling prepared to develop a teaching dossier, but other items improved significantly, such as feeling prepared to discuss teaching with employers and presenting teaching accomplishments. Participants also feel more prepared to develop a course, discuss teaching with colleagues, and reflect on their teaching techniques and teaching performance. Waterloo's CUT participants attend eight teaching-related workshops and write a short application-oriented response paper for each one, write a research paper and deliver a short presentation on the paper, write a teaching dossier, and complete at least three teaching sessions during which they are observed and then receive comprehensive written feedback. Manitoba's program differs slightly but is equally demanding and rigorous.

Congratulations, Donna and Dieter!


Teaching awards

Registered Student Teaching Awards are open to all registered students who have a formal teaching role (e.g., teaching assistant, lab demonstrator, sessional lecturer) at the University or its federated and affiliated university colleges. 

Distinguished Teacher Awards are given in recognition of a continued record of excellence in teaching at the University of Waterloo. All Waterloo instructors are eligible. 

Information is also available by calling extension 3857.


Research assistant

Anastasia (Asia) Nelson, TRACE's incoming research assistant, is doing her master's in English language and professional writing at Waterloo with an aim to work in international communications. She will be working with the TRACE team, conducting research into best practices for supporting international instructors in making the shift to North American teaching. Asia has been active in teaching and travel for over a decade. Before coming to Waterloo, Asia hosted a television travel show that took her to over 25 countries. It was this time spent experiencing other cultures and meeting people from such diverse walks of life that sparked her interest in international studies research. She's excited and grateful for the opportunity to dive into this area of teaching research, and looks forward to where it will lead. Asia is also pursuing TRACE's Certificate in University Teaching with the goal of teaching in academe upon completion of her degree. 


New teaching asssistant developers

Kate Hoye is a PhD candidate in systems design engineering. While working on her doctorate, Kate has enjoyed a number of opportunities to develop her teaching skills. She has taught introductory linear algebra to engineering students, applied statistics to business students, and organizational behaviour to students from across the campus. She is a CUT participant and has also been a teaching assistant for numerous courses. In these positions, Kate has assumed a wide range of teaching responsibilities from lecturing to developing course materials and assessing student work. Kate is looking forward to sharing her experiences and learning from other students' teaching practices. 

Robert Kline is an MA candidate in the Department of English Language and Literature. After completing his undergraduate degree here at Waterloo, Bob attended Lakehead University's Faculty of Education. He is currently an "occasional" high school teacher with the Waterloo Region District School Board. Bob has also been an active staff member at the local YMCA for several years, where he enjoys teaching swimming to people of all ages. At the university level, Bob was a teaching assistant for Genres of Business Communication in the Fall 2003 term. He has a particular interest in lifelong learning, and looks forward to sharing his enthusiasm for teaching with other grad students. 


Announcing winter 2004 TRACE events

Teaching Large Classes January 20 12 - 1:30 p.m.
Facilitating Discussions February 10 12 - 1:30 p.m.
Teaching Dossiers February 26 1:30 - 3:30 p.m.
Conflict Management March 10 12 - 1:30 p.m.
Creating CVs & Cover Letters March 25 12 - 1:30 p.m.
Course Design April 8 OR
April 14
9:30 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.
9:30 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.

For more specific details, watch for notices in your department and via the Certificate listserv. T

CUT participants, please note that all of these workshops partially fullfill CUT requirements for GS 901 and 902. The teaching dossier workshop is required for the CUT and will be offered every term.