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CUT Award recipient leverages reflection for instructional development

Friday, May 11, 2018

Caitlin ScottEach year, the Centre for Teaching Excellence and Graduate Studies and Postdoctoral Affairs recognize and celebrate the teaching development efforts of a Waterloo graduate student with the Certificate in University Teaching (CUT) Award. We’re excited to announce that the 2018 CUT Award has been awarded to Caitlin Scott from the School of Environment, Resources and Sustainability. The award honours Caitlin's commitment to implementing feedback for the continuous improvement and development of her teaching, her thoughtful approach to assessing student learning, and the practice of reflection that she regularly brings to her work as an instructor. 

We sat down with Caitlin to get an inside look at her experience in the CUT program and into what she believes motivates meaningful teaching and learning. Caitlin is a PhD candidate in Social and Ecological Sustainability. Her research examines the role of corporate actors in governance at the intersection of health and the environment. As Caitlin discusses below, engaging students in the difficult and often disheartening subject of environmental politics is an important pedagogical challenge she must grapple with in her teaching.

What motivated you to enrol in the Certificate in University Teaching (CUT) program? Can you point to something you’ve learned through CUT or the Fundamentals of University Teaching program that has had an impact on your teaching?

I originally enrolled in the CUT program in order to gain further certification on my teaching and to continue to carve out time to both work on and think about my teaching. The Fundamentals of University Teaching was a great start to contemplate lesson planning, how to use interactive teaching strategies, and present information in the most effective way possible to students. But it was in the CUT program that I really found my passion and voice as a teacher. In spending the time to work on my teaching dossier and research project, I started to understand my teaching philosophy more clearly, and identify what matters most to me in teaching. The guidance from Tommy Mayberry and Svitlana Taraban-Gordon allowed me to really pursue my passion in my research project, looking at pedagogical approaches to dealing with the often overwhelming and disheartening nature of the subjects that I teach. Connecting my students’ well-being to the approach I take to teaching these topics has been a really important take-away for me.

Care for your students seems to form the foundation of your teaching. Can you expand on this?

Throughout my own career as a student, I have seen the impact that great teachers can have on your life. I feel that teaching is an incredible opportunity to have a positive effect on students, not only through what I teach, but how I interact with my students on a day-to-day basis. I try my best to share the lessons that I have learned only a short time ago with my students, as well as the lessons that I wish I had learned earlier in my career as a student. I often think of teaching as a way of “paying it forward” in this sense. Mentoring is an important part of my teaching philosophy, and I value the opportunity that teaching gives me to mentor students in a variety of ways. Seeing my students succeed gives me more pride than anything else. Finally, teaching gives me the opportunity to share my passion for the topics I teach, and hopefully inspire students to become excited about those things as well. I would also hope that my approach encourages students to find the things that they are truly passionate about.

One of the reasons you were recognized with this award is how you approach assessing student learning, particularly student participation. What does this approach involve, and why do you think it’s an important one for your students?

Professor Ian Rowlands (School of Environment, Resources, and Sustainability) has had a profound impact on me when it comes to thinking about assessing student learning and participation. I had the opportunity to TA for him three times and was always impressed by his diverse assessments and the way that students were given a variety of options so that they were choosing something that mattered to and worked for them. I’ve tried my best to carry these lessons into my own teaching strategies and emulate the diversity of opportunities for students.

For marking student participation, I first ensure that expectations are clear and provide a rubric to the students. Second, I make sure to mark students quickly after every class and tutorial with my impression of their performance that day based on the rubric. At the halfway point of the course, I provide students with a mark and feedback, which gives students who are not excelling the opportunity to try a different approach ad participate more.

Can you share a story of a time when you applied something that you learned from CUT in your teaching?

I’ve applied many lessons from the Fundamentals of University Teaching in my TA positions and some key lessons from CUT in my semester as a sessional instructor, but I have yet to have had many opportunities to teach since I completed the bulk of my CUT work. That being said, I’m excited to start a new position with the Student Success Office as an Academic Discipline Specialist for the Faculty of Environment. I believe that my CUT research project and thinking about my teaching philosophy were instrumental in getting this position and will provide an important foundation for working with students in that role. I’m also incredibly excited to use some of the pedagogical approaches, particularly contemplative pedagogy, in teaching UNIV 101 in the Fall. Contemplative pedagogy combines mindfulness with more traditional pedagogical approaches, helping students to engage with the material in different ways and make connections to their values and lived experience that they may not have made otherwise.

If you had to give one piece of advice to new instructors or graduate students about teaching and learning, what would it be?

Take advantage of the resources available to you on campus to improve your teaching. This means not only using the services of CTE, but asking for guidance, taking an active approach to becoming a better teacher, and thinking about all the amazing teachers you’ve had. What made them stand out to you? What can you learn from them? I was so lucky to work with amazing professors as a TA, and have learned so much from them.