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Informal talking teaching communities: Spread the word!

In the 2015-2016 academic year, McGill’s Teaching and Learning Services (TLS) launched The Lunch Spot—an informal lunch-time forum where all of the university’s instructors were invited to bring their brown bag lunches and gather for some informal talking about teaching. Working with the principle “if you feed them, they will come,” TLS encouraged partaking in The Lunch Spot with the offer of home-made sweet treats.*

The Lunch Spot continues this year at McGill’s TLS on the following dates: Friday, September 30, 2016 (please register) and Friday, January 27, 2017.

Given that I practically live for talking about teaching and that I have a sweet tooth, I participated in The Lunch Spot at every opportunity during the 2015-2016 academic year. It was time incredibly well spent: I met instructors from a variety of disciplines with whom I shared some of my favourite instructional strategies and from whom I got some motivating ideas. (I actually got one really cool idea from an Engineering professor about how to encourage students to pay attention to test and exam instructions.)

To my delight, several colleagues from my unit, the McGill Writing Centre (MWC), also showed up at The Lunch Spot. Even when instructors work in the same unit, it’s not a given that they make the time to talk with each other about teaching. That was our case. What a boon it was that an opportunity had been created for us by TLS!

In fact, The Lunch Spot afforded us the opportunity to see that many of us at the MWC were keen to “talk teaching.” As a result, I proposed to my colleagues that we create the McGill Writing Centre Instructor Community—the MWCIC. (I know, it’s not as clever or creative a name as TLS’ The Lunch Spot, but it seems to roll off the tongue enough for people to retain the name.) We launched the MWCIC this past summer and pitched it as an opportunity to share teaching ideas in preparation for the coming academic year. The invitation below was emailed to more than 20 MWC faculty and course lecturers. (Readers of this blog are encouraged to use this invitation as a template for launching their own “talking teaching” instructor communities.)

Would you like to share a teaching idea with colleagues? Hear what other instructors are doing in MWC courses? Are you thinking of experimenting with a new instructional strategy and you’d like some input before trying it out? Come discuss these and other questions at the first MWC Instructor Community (MWCIC) gathering. The MWCIC is an informal and open forum where MWC course instructors can support each other’s professional growth through discussions of teaching and learning.

Since summer is a good time to mull over teaching/learning ideas for Fall courses, our first gathering will take place next Friday, June 17th, from 11am-12pm at the MWC. After that, we’ll meet monthly, starting in September. We hope you’ll join us (but participation is, of course, optional).

No need to RSVP; we will send a reminder one week before the gathering.

Five enthusiastic participants showed up at the first meeting. You might think that was a poor turnout, but my colleagues and I were thrilled given that it was summer. In addition, we received a number of regrets from colleagues who were out of town but who explicitly expressed a desire to participate at future MWCIC gatherings. I was also thrilled because I got another really cool idea, this time from a colleague writing instructor, about how to encourage students to follow assignment instructions. (Hmmm … ideas for encouraging students to pay attention to test, exam, and assignment instructions. Seems I may have an idea for a future blog post.)

I have since left the MWC for another unit at McGill (one that affords me the opportunity to talk about teaching almost 8 hours a day—yeah, as I said, I practically live for talking about teaching). It is gratifying to know, though, that the MWCIC community lives on. Nine instructors showed up at the most recent MWCIC gathering, where rubrics and audio recorded feedback were discussed. More MWCIC dates have already been announced.

What informal “talking teaching” communities are you a member of? What are the most useful teaching ideas you’ve received by way of informal chats with instructor colleagues?

*Do you need recipes for baked goods that will foster participation in your “talking teaching” community? Post a request and I’ll see if I can convince a colleague to share a recipe.

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