Foundations of Teaching and Learning Part 4: Organizing the Series

In collaboration with colleagues at the University of British Columbia’s Okanagan campus, I designed and facilitated, again and again, a series of discipline-specific workshops called “Foundations of Teaching and Learning in X” where X is Health and Exercise Sciences, Digital Literacy, Nursing, Engineering, and others. In this series of blog posts, I describe the motivation, how the content was made discipline-specific, the format of the sessions, the process for organizing the series, and the outcomes. This post is about sparking and organizing the series in a Faculty, School, Department, or other Unit. I’ll refer to “Department” and “Department Head” here to keep it simpler.

One of the features of Foundations is collaborating with a “local champion” in the Department where the series might run. That person is key to making this series work.

In every series I’ve run, the local champion is someone I already know well. They’re the people who drop into the Centre to chat, attend teaching presentations and events, and are known beyond their unit for being excellent educators. It’s been my pleasure and privilege to work with Greg duManoir, Jackie Denison, Sajni Lacey, Ayman Elnaggar, and others.

I’ll spring Foundations on them during one of our frequent conversations, “Say, do you think your Department would be interested in a series of workshops about how to teach [your discipline]?” If they’re interested, we put together a flyer about the series that’s tailored from my generic doc.

The next step isn’t sending it out to the Department, it’s a conversation with the Department Head. Their endorsement of the series is vital because they’re the one who’s going to promote it in an email and in the next Faculty meeting. When the invitation to participate comes from them, it sends a message to course instructors, graduate students, and postdocs that this is a legitimate investment of their time. Participants are able to say to their colleagues, “Love to chat but I’m on my way to a Foundations workshop…” and “No, sorry, I can’t come to that meeting, I have a Foundations session.”

Having the Department Head on-board also opens up the possibility of using the time slot set aside for Department business. For example, suppose Department meetings are always on Mondays at 1:00 – 3:00 pm. The Department tries to not schedule classes at this time so everyone can attend the meeting. Except the Department meetings are only once per month, right? The other Monday’s that month are perfect for the Foundations series!

All that may change from one Term to the next, so I aim to run the entire 6-session series in one Term, usually every 2 weeks, starting in early October or early February. That is, a month into the Term when things are settled down but finishing before everyone is focused on finishing the term and the final exam.

If you’re really lucky, the room where the Department meetings are held might also be available, especially if it’s a meeting/conference room in the Department rather than a nearby classroom. The location of the meeting matters – busy, exhausted, or stressed course instructors might see the walk across campus in the rain or snow as reason they just can’t make it this week. A familiar room just down the hall – bring your coffee, no need to put on a jacket – is a better location.

With the time, dates, and location set and Department Head’s approval and promotion, the local champion starts recruiting and assembling their peers. By this time, I’ve set up a course in the LMS with me and the local champion as “instructors”. I add the participants as “students.” This might be the first time these course instructors have experienced the LMS from a student point-of-view (the built-in “student view” doesn’t always mimic the student experience).

And so the series begins. One week is the workshop,  the next week I meet with the local champion to design and prepare the following week’s topic.

When the series is over, there’s one last important task. For each participant, I send a letter to the Department Head, with a PDF and cc’d to the participant, with details about the series:

  • when it ran
  • how many hours the participant invested
  • what we discussed

The Department Head files it away. The participant adds it to their teaching dossier. They can bring it up during their annual review without fear of skepticism or having to justify the time they spent on teaching (and not their research). Graduate students and postdocs can use the letter as a record of their professional development.

I also write a special letter to the Department Head about the invaluable contributions of the local champion. This letter can serve as “evidence of impact beyond their classroom.”

The motivation for all the organization and overhead is to provide value for the participants’ precious time and attention. If I’m privileged to get 15 hours of their time, it’s my responsibility to make it worthwhile.

In the final part of this series, I’ll describe some of the programs and opportunities that were sparked by the Foundations series.

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