Katie Misener's Culture of Active Learning

Katie Misener's Culture of Active Learning

Katie Misener
Katie Misener

Written by Victoria Faraci, Special Projects (Teaching Stories), CTE. 

As a junior faculty member in the Recreation and Leisure Studies department, Dr. Katie Misener works hard to foster an active learning environment in her classroom. Given the early stage of her career, Misener has a significant amount of teaching practice under her belt. She has experience mentoring fellow graduate students through the University of Western Ontario’s Teaching Assistant Training Program and teaching online, hybrid, and classroom-based courses at Ryerson University. Misener also has her own set of teaching beliefs that she enacts in her classroom. As a recently hired faculty member, Misener’s invitation to Waterloo’s Teaching Excellence Academy in 2013 was an impressive feat. So, how has her teaching evolved during her short time at the University of Waterloo? Misener says that she is “definitely less of a lecturer now whenever possible, using a lot more active techniques in the classroom to engage students and let them facilitate the class.” 
During what Misener terms “pivotal years” in the life of a university student, she aims to be a positive influence for them, beyond just attending to their educational needs. “I never view it like I am the expert coming in with all of this knowledge to impart. I think that that teaching philosophy has had its day.” Instead, fostering an active learning environment with the students “is more of a dialogical process and the co-learning model is definitely more in line with who I am and who I want to be.” This sentiment is no doubt echoed by her students, especially Mia Weston, a 2A student in Recreation and Leisure Studies who says that her positive experience in Misener’s REC 101 course can be attributed to the effort Misener made to make every class interactive. “She made a point to get to know her class and make them active in learning,” Weston says, adding that Misener organized the course content to reveal clear connections between subject matter and detailed information. 
Integrating her research with her teaching is a fluid process for Misener. Her research relating to organizational studies in community sport and recreation resonates with students in the classroom because the topic is so pervasive in our society. With this seamless connection between her teaching and her research, Misener continues to find inspiration for both from her colleagues and, especially, from her students. “It's exciting to work in a university environment because students are fresh and smart and have all these new and bright ideas,” says Misener. “They think about the world in dynamic and complex ways.” 
Engaging students in the classroom environment is a must for Misener, regardless if it is a first-year or senior-level course. Recently, she implemented weekly tutorials in her first-year course.  This was a way for Misener to help the material come alive for her students, giving them a way to “have more ownership over their learning strategies and techniques.” In a fourth-year course, she really pulls back on lecturing, saying “small group work and student-led presentations are really effective,” seeing her role as “more of a facilitator in senior level courses” than as a teacher. 
Another noteworthy practice in Misener’s teaching is her commitment to making the material applicable outside of the classroom. Her students have the chance to work alongside an organization, or at least to study one, and understand what they think could be different, using problems that are self-defined by the organization. With this type of experience, students are able to apply their knowledge beyond the classroom and to real-life situations. Julie Leeming, a recent graduate of the Recreation and Business program, took Misener’s REC 413 course. She draws on her experience working with an organization, saying that the final project allowed her to gain contacts outside of uWaterloo to prep her for graduate studies or potential job opportunities after graduation. Leeming also notes that Misener’s passion for learning and research in Sports Business was clear through “the creative and engaging ways she taught the material.”
Though Misener has honed an effective teaching style, she insists that she is not doing anything “wickedly out there” but, instead, just tries to maintain a consistently active classroom. This approach, though maybe not wildly new and innovative, “sets up that nice culture of active participation in the classroom that keeps students a little bit more on their toes because their interest is piqued.” It is establishing this balance that is important to Misener, allowing students to come to a comfortable place where they are able to learn well. 
Misener’s advice on how to establish an active learning environment is quite simple: “I think it is about setting up a classroom culture and expectations around active learning” from the very first day of class. Still, Misener admits to occasional butterflies before teaching. She says, “I don’t know if that will ever go away, and I’m not sure I want it to because I feel like what I am doing is important and that it matters. I want to know student responses on a really genuine level.” Simply put, Misener says, “I care.” 

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Tip sheets

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: