Graduate Students Earn Passport to Success

Teaching Innovation: Workshops develop teaching skills

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By Corrine Bent-Womack

At Guelph presents this story as part of a series that highlights University of Guelph leadership in teaching excellence and the scholarship of learning. Writer Corrine Bent-Womack conducted the interview while completing a service-learning placement at U of G as part of her master’s program in higher education at the University of Toronto’s Ontario Institute for Studies in Education.

Michael Moore

Master’s student Michael Moore is revising the introduction to a chemistry lab manual as part of his work as a teaching assistant. Photo by Susan Bubak

Chemistry grad student Michael Moore says he’s a better teacher because of the Graduate Student Teaching Development Program (TDP) co-ordinated by Open Learning and Educational Support (OpenEd). “I am now able to employ teaching methods backed by research, instead of just doing what I figure would work, or worse, blindly repeating how I was taught.” Moore adds that he’s also a more confident teaching assistant (TA) since completing the seminar program.

TDP is designed to support graduate students in their personal development as university educators, explains Gavan Watson, an education developer in OpenEd. The program gives them practical tools, techniques and strategies to employ as TAs and later as professionals pursuing careers in academia. Helping TAs become more effective educators also supports the University’s commitment to providing quality undergraduate education, says Watson.

TDP workshops introduce graduate students to knowledge and experience within the profession of teaching and learning, he adds. The program helps future academics develop classroom skills and a host of long-term transferable skills such as facilitation, effective teaching philosophies, and a wide variety of communication and management skills.

“Each workshop is designed to address active learning,” says Watson, “providing graduates with new learning experiences, hands-on opportunities to test their skills and strategies, the chance to learn from others, and the opportunity to meet graduates from other colleges across the institution.”

Graduate students who complete at least 12 hours of TDP workshops receive a recognition certificate from Teaching Support Services (TSS). A TDP passport allows them to document and track their participation in events offered as part of the program. Available workshops include the TSS interdisciplinary workshop series, the fall conference on university teaching and the winter teaching workshop program. Passports can be obtained at any of the workshops or in U of G’s Teaching Resource Centre in Day Hall.

Moore says completing the 12-hour teaching passport program gave him many tools to employ in the classroom and in the lab. With an undergraduate degree in nanoscience and chemistry, he says improving his teaching skills is also benefiting his master’s research, because he spends much less time putting together talks and teaching sessions.

“I would consider gaining knowledge of teaching tools – the ability to apply them and knowing when to apply them – is one of the primary skills I’ve gained through this program,” he says. “Learning how to set up an effective lesson that encourages participation and how to assemble a teaching dossier were also invaluable skills I gained as a result of the series of workshops.”

Kristy Erickson, a PhD candidate in the Department of Chemistry, has also completed the program and describes the major benefits of the TDP passport as two-fold: adding the participation certificate to her CV helps her stand out as a candidate for future teaching employment, and she gained valuable hands-on workshop experience.

“The workshops were designed to assist both graduate students and faculty members with developing a diverse skill-set and to spark ideas for effective teaching strategies,” she says. “Without the passport program, I’m not sure that I would have even considered taking these workshops or becoming involved in the teaching assistant advisory council at the University of Guelph.”

Both Moore and Erickson agree that the teaching development passport program demonstrates that U of G acknowledges the importance of and promotes quality seminars for graduate students, which underscores the University’s commitment to undergraduate success.

Visit the Open Ed website to learn more about the Graduate Student Teaching Development Program, or contact Natasha Kenny, an educational development associate in TSS, at nkenny@uoguelph.ca.