Bob Sproule: 20,000 and (Ac)counting

Robert Sproule
Bob Sproule, School of Accounting and Finance

Written by Arifeen Chowdhury  , Special Projects (Teaching Stories), CTE. 

(Update: Bob has now retired from the University of Waterloo)

After teaching more than 20,000 students during his tenure in Waterloo’s School of Accounting and Finance, Bob Sproule’s passion for teaching has not abated. Sproule believes that his role as an instructor is to support students as they explore and construct their knowledge, not just to impart knowledge. He’s the perfect example of a thought-provoking and insightful instructor, one who thrives on the opportunity to interact with his learners.  

Sproule says that his biggest challenge in the classroom has been changing students’ assumptions about their own role in their learning. Many students, he says, believe that they have little agency in how they learn because the instructor is the expert. Sproule strives to get students to see that articulating and sharing their perspectives, and making decisions in response to changing conditions, is essential for good learning. In his classes, he tries to create an environment that encourages this kind of active engagement. “Teaching,” he says, “is not about surface learning. It’s about deep learning, which is not learning for the sake of regurgitating information to pass a test or the course. Deep learning influences future behavior and has an impact on an individual.” To this end, Sproule divides his large classes into small groups and has them engage in discussions and peer-based learning, often by using clickers, simulations, and case studies. Sproule also designs his courses with Bloom’s Taxonomy in mind to ensure that his learning activities align with a range of cognitive levels that foster deep learning.

Sproule has recently retired from the School of Accounting and Finance, but he continues to be involved with teaching and learning at Waterloo through the Instructional Skills Workshop (ISW). This four-day, internationally recognized workshop helps instructors develop effective lesson plans and enhance their in-class teaching skills. After taking the ISW himself, Sproule realized “how impactful it was for me as a teacher and so I made the decision to become an accredited facilitator of the ISW.” To date, he has co-facilitated the ISW 5 times, and says that “facilitating the ISWs is a joy because the instructors are there because they want to be there and learn. They engage with each other and the ideas are constantly bouncing off of each other.” Recently, Sproule has decided to go one step further with the ISW and become a trainer – that is, someone who trains the facilitators who deliver the workshop.

Sproule has taken a leadership role in numerous national and international organizations that focus on post-secondary teaching and learning. He’s also received many teaching awards over the years – such as the 2005 Innovations in Accounting Education Award and the 2012 Desire to Learn Innovation Award – but he never mentions these during our interview. While it’s an honour to receive such awards, Sproule affirms that his greatest satisfaction is simply seeing his learners’ personal development. 

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More Resources

CTE has developed more than 100 Teaching Tips. Each one is a succinct document that conveys useful ideas and practical methods for effective teaching. Some of the Teaching Tips that are relevant to the strategies mentioned in this Teaching Story include the following: