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Terrific teaching tales

The end of the academic year is a time to celebrate our students’ academic achievements. It’s also a time when instructors might reflect on their teaching experiences and revel in the moments that made them feel good about teaching. On April 17, 2023, the McGill Faculty Matters Terrific teaching tales session offered an opportunity for instructors to do just that. Instructors gathered to share teaching experiences that have spurred their enthusiasm for teaching and left them feeling motivated by their students’ energy and eagerness to learn. We wanted to capture the spirit of the session and so invited instructors to submit their key moments in writing. Check out these extracts from their responses—we hope you will be inspired by their enthusiasm!

Julia Freeman (Bieler School of Environment) addressed what the most gratifying part of teaching McGill students is: “I find immense gratification in working with people who are so passionate and capable, and who want to make a difference in the world. I see it in the amazing students in the Environment program, but I’ve discovered it holds true right across the University as last fall I co-taught a course called ‘Climate Crisis and Climate Actions’ (FSCI 198) that was open to undergraduate students from any Faculty. Seeing the way students’ energy can transform over a term such that their critiques are refined, their visions for change have more nuance, and their arguments are better articulated through the use of new concepts … to me it’s what this work is all about.”

Brian Rubineau (Management) talked about a risk he had taken with his teaching that resulted in something unexpected and positive: “In my smaller, project-oriented, methods courses, I try to create a collaborative culture among the students in my class. The material is challenging, and I want the students to feel supported not just by me but by each other as we learn new analytical methods. Towards this end, I experimented with having students submit their weekly assignments in the Discussion area in myCourses rather than via the usual assignments area. This way, students can see the approaches of their classmates. I encourage collaboration and sharing. I provide comments and corrections publicly. These assignments are only a small percentage of their total grade. Their final grade depends heavily upon their individual projects. Keeping the assignments public and shared like this prevents students from feeling left behind, and students will ask each other for help, clarification, ideas, and the like. The experiment was a success and I’m extending this approach to other classes as well!”

Jasmin Chahal (Microbiology and Immunology) also talked about risk taking: “Teaching is forever evolving, and I think it’s important to take risks. Whether the risk fails or succeeds, it will give you some information. I decided to do a two-stage quiz in my large class (~315 students) where students completed an individual quiz followed by a group quiz using IF-AT cards. The group quiz received overwhelmingly positive reviews as students felt the collaborative environment and liked the instant feedback that IF-AT cards gave. 

Laura Pavelka (Chemistry) had using student feedback on her mind: “Utilizing student feedback wisely can be very powerful. I find the best way to do this is to keep the students informed about what changes have been made, based on previous student feedback, and reiterate the importance of their input. I am a big fan of mid-course feedback surveys, as well, so that students can see some small changes in the course while they are still a part of it. It can be small things, like changing office hour times or options, making student support more accessible (in person and remote), adding more scrap paper during the midterms, adding an extra tutorial session, etc. Even the act of explaining why some changes are not possible has a big impact. Keeping the process transparent and respectful is key, and sets the mood for future course evaluations.”

Tatiana Lamoureux Gauvin (Management) talked about the intangible rewards she experiences: “There are many gratifying parts of teaching McGill students, but I think the biggest one for me is the relationships we are building and nourishing with students. I have so many students in my office all the time, and it warms my heart when they come to me not necessarily for class-related questions, but rather because they want to discuss their career paths, get advice, or just update me on what’s going on in their lives. Another gratifying part of this is when students share the positive impact I had on their lives, through that relationship and the many discussions it yielded.”

Lawrence Chen (Electrical and Computer Engineering) encouraged colleagues to enrich their teaching practice by sharing experiences beyond McGill: “Getting involved in communities of practice and faculty learning communities is a great way of hearing and learning about the teaching and learning experiences of colleagues. Definitely consider participating in multi-institutional communities, such as SALTISE, because it is reassuring to hear about struggles and successes about using different instructional and assessment strategies from various disciplines as well as institutions.”

The session ended on a feel-good note, with Laura Winer, Director of Teaching and Learning Services, reminding us that there is a tremendously rich community of colleagues who are excited about teaching—don’t be shy about reaching out and starting conversations. Students are also partners in the teaching and learning process, and if invited to, can make great contributions.

Check out the resources that were shared at the Terrific teaching tales session (click on the “Past sessions” tab)!

Photo credit: Yan Krukau

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Associate Director, Faculty and Teaching Development, and Senior Academic Associate, at McGill's Teaching and Learning Services; former Senior Faculty Lecturer at the McGill Writing Centre; area of specialization: Second Language Education; loves teaching and learning!

(Photo credit: Owen Egan)

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