Katherine Lithgow was a recipient of the annual Staff International Experience Fund (SIEF). The award allows staff members to travel and engage in collaborative work with international partners and institutions.

Katherine is the Senior Instructional Developer for the Centre for Teaching Excellence. She uses her expertise in integrative learning to work with instructors and help students succeed inside and outside of the classroom. Her SIEF experience provided the opportunity to facilitate an exchange of ideas about experiential learning, programs, and incentives that she will be able to integrate into improved programming at the University of Waterloo. 

In February 2018, she visited Deakin University in Melbourne, Griffith University in Brisbane, and Macquarie University in Sydney.

What was the purpose of your trip and why did you choose Australia?

The purpose of my trip was to visit partner universities in Australia  (RMIT and Deakin in Melbourne, Macquarie in Sydney, Griffith and QUT in Brisbane) to learn and share best practices related to embedding experiential learning opportunities into courses and programs, with an emphasis on high-impact practices such as work-integrated learning (WIL), community service/community-based learning and authentic assessments. 

I had been involved with a LITE grant funded research/teaching and learning intervention project recently.  Much of the literature we looked at came from these universities. I was keen to learn the different ways in which these universities provided programming, support, resources and incentives necessary to help instructors implement these kinds of experiential learning opportunities into courses, and how they provided support to help academic programs intentionally incorporate these opportunities into the curriculum.

How did the SIEF award provide professional development related to your role at Waterloo?

The SIEF award provided me the opportunity to spend time with individuals in roles similar to mine at their institutions.  I could meet with them and their colleagues in their own setting for an extended period, i.e., I was able to spend at least 2 days at each institution with the exception of the one day I spent with QUT.  In doing so, I was able to learn how they approached their role, how they interacted with colleagues inside and out of their department as well as develop a better understanding of the culture of their institutions and the different types of support they had available to help them in their roles. 

What surprised you most about your experience in Australia, both professionally and personally?

Professionally, I was surprised at how generous and accommodating each one of my contacts was with his/her time and resources.  Arrangements were made in advance for me to meet with a number of different people. I was invited to attend a conference that happened to be taking place in Sydney.  And I have received so many helpful resources from the people I met during my stay.

I was also surprised at how strong the professional networks were. The people I met all knew each other, and had worked on various projects or committees with each other.  This was especially helpful as I planned my trip. During the planning stages, I often received suggestions from contacts saying be sure to ask x about this particular project when you visit her place.

Personally, I was surprised how kind Australians seem to be.  On a bus, three people jumped up to give an elderly man a seat when he boarded the bus. A vendor brought a meal to a homeless person sitting on a bench outside his store. Two customers in a restaurant witnessed a patron being rude to a homeless person, and at the end of their meal, they approached the patron and suggested that he should be kinder to those who are less fortunate than himself.

What was the greatest lesson you learned from your trip?

The power of collaboration was one of the greatest lessons I learned.  I was struck by how most of the the people in roles similar to mine worked in teams composed of individuals from different support units and faculties to help with course design. I was also impressed with the number of excellent resources that had been created through grants involving individuals from different universities.

What do you want other people to know about the SIEF award?

I would encourage anyone interested in personal and professional development to consider applying. I think many staff may believe that their goals are not ‘important’ enough to the institution, but the fund really is intended for all staff at the university.