Tag Archives: research

Two great science communication tools for conferences and teaching: smart screens and cell phones

Earlier in the summer at the European Geosciences Union in Vienna I learned about two dead-easy and great science communication tools for conferences.  These are great for any conference hall or meeting, but could be just as easily be used in the classroom to make a more exciting in class research presentations. For better or worse, most of us are carrying them (or looking at them!) right now: a smart screen or cell phone. Continue reading Two great science communication tools for conferences and teaching: smart screens and cell phones

3 Minutes to change the world – top graduate student research in 3 minutes or less

On March 31st, McGill hosted the third annual “3 minutes to change the world” competition, where graduate students give three minute presentations on their own research and impact on the community.

3 Minutes to Change the World

This year, we are pleased to have partnered with the Canadian Association for Graduate Studies (CAGS) and Association francophone pour le savoir (ACFAS) to participate in the first national Three Minute Thesis (3MT) competition. A 3 Minutes to Change the World presenter, in both English and French, have been selected to represent McGill at the CAGS 3MT eastern regional finals and ACFAS concours Ma thèse en 180 secondes

This yearly event is an excellent opportunity for students to share their valuable research, to perfect their elevator pitch and presentation skills, and to network with their peers across disciplines – It takes all kinds of knowledge to change the world and thesis research from all disciplines is showcased.

These TED-style talks are incredibly well done and point to the high-quality work of McGill graduate students. These students overcome the difficult challenge of taking very sophisticated research and communicating it effectively in three minutes.

Have a look at the Youtube playlist below to see all the student presentations.

Sept. 13 workshop for faculty: Bringing research into the undergraduate classroom

Date: Friday, September 13, 2013, 9:30am to 12:30pm

As an instructor of undergraduate courses, have you wondered how to get students to ask better questions or to understand that knowledge is not black and white? In this interactive workshop, you will meet the Inquiry Network, a group of McGill professors who have been tackling questions like this and have created a framework for enhancing students’ understanding of the relationship between research and course content.  Participants will try out this framework and design new strategies for one undergraduate course.  Together, we will share interesting practices and develop new approaches for bringing research into the undergraduate classroom. For more info please contact eva.dobler@mcgill.ca.

Note: Coffee/tea at 9:00am, workshop starts at 9:30am

Register here >>

Librarians in the Classroom

Kristen Emmett, graduate student in the McGill School of Information Studies (SIS), writes about some of the intersections between librarianship and teaching in higher education.

University students and faculty may not think of librarians as teachers, but increasingly the role of librarians is shifting from reference and book providers to active educators.[1] In the past, instruction in the library, often referred to as bibliographic instruction, served to orient students and other users to the organization of materials within the library’s collection. Now, the library is refocusing from a collection-centered model to a user-centered model, where instruction is tailored to the needs of the user.

So what does that mean in university libraries? It means that librarians are going out into the classrooms on campus and teaching not only how to use the library’s resources, but how to conduct research, how to sift through information and avoid information overload, how to recognize seminal articles, how to do citation linking, and how to think critically. McGill librarians teach formally and informally every day in classrooms across campus and as well as in the library. For example, check out the MyResearch workshops for arts undergraduates, physical sciences & engineering undergraduates, and graduate students.

Bibliographic instruction still happens, but the 21st century library also emphasizes critical information literacy skills. The Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education (2000), set out by the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL), outlines five standards, 22 performance indicators, and outcomes for information literacy instruction.[2] What is information literacy? The ACRL uses the American Library Association (ALA) definition: “a set of abilities requiring individuals to recognize when information is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate, and use effectively the needed information”.[3] Librarians teaching information literacy design their instruction around the ACRL standards as well as their own learning outcomes based on the goals of the courses they are visiting. Information literacy instruction is student-centered and meant to be more just-in-time teaching than just-in-case.

Librarians are also getting involved in the digital classroom. MOOCs, or massively open online courses, have librarians across North America thinking about how librarians can play a role in assisting faculty and students. In a recent article in the professional journal Library Journal, Meredith Schwartz presents several ways that librarians can be “embedded” into MOOCs: preserving content, providing access to copyrighted content, and providing instructional support with resources and technology used throughout the course.[4] Libraries are constantly seeking to evolve along with the needs of their users, and librarians are more and more going out of the library to where their users are – in both the physical and virtual classroom – to better improve teaching and learning in higher education.

[1] Elmborg, J. (2006). Critical information literacy: Implications for instructional practice. Journal of Academic Librarianship, 32(2), 192-199.

[2] Information literacy compentency standards for higher education. (2000). Association of College and Research Libraries.  Retrieved January 9, 2009, from http://www.ala.org/ala/mgrps/divs/acrl/standards/standards.pdf

[3] American Library Association. (1989). Presidential Committee on Information Literacy. Final Report.(Chicago: American Library Association.)

[4] Schwartz, M. (May 10, 2013). Massive Open Opportunity: Supporting MOOCs in Public and Academic Libraries. Library Journal. Retrieved from: http://lj.libraryjournal.com/2013/05/library-services/massive-open-opportunity-supporting-moocs/


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How “professional baggage” may be a key barrier in changing how we teach

A little while ago, a colleague in the UK sent me this article “Barriers to Faculty Pedagogical Change: Lack of Training, Time, Incentives, and…Tensions with Professional Identity?” by Bronwell and Tanner. He knew I’d be interested – I’m always experimenting with my own teaching, but I’m also aware that I’m in the minority.

The article starts by making an excellent argument that we KNOW how to improve teaching at Universities, but little change takes place regardless. Bronwell and Tanner make the argument that barriers to Professors wanting to improve their teaching are often related to lack of training, lack of time, or lack of incentives. This fits with my impression of Academia, especially at a research-intensive University such as McGill. When I arrived over 10 years ago, I had little training as a teacher (other than a couple of short workshops), I had little time to devote to teaching improvement (I was barely ever one lecture ahead of the students!), and I was mostly encouraged to concentrate on developing my research program. There were not a lot of incentives to foster, improve, or change my teaching approach. I don’t blame anyone for this, nor am I bitter about my experience. It was the norm, and perhaps still is for most tenure-track Professors at a University with a significant research focus. So, as I began reading Bronwell and Tanner’s paper, it resonated, and I agreed that training, time and incentives were key barriers to changing pedagogy.

Bronwell and Tanner, however, ask a clever question: if we imagined those three barriers gone, would we see immediate improvements in teaching? Would Professors suddenly value pedagogy and teaching improvement differently, and find ways to change their approach to the classroom? Perhaps not – and this is where the article gets interesting.

The article focuses on “Professional Identity” as being a key barrier to improved teaching, but one that is often understudied and underappreciated. They define professional identity to be the following: “how they [scientists] view themselves and their work in the context of their disciplines and how they accrue status among their professional colleagues as academic scientists”. In other words, it’s the process related to the way that we become an expert in our discipline – the culture, the context, and the training we receive. It’s the intangible as well as the tangible things that become our professional baggage. Bronwell and Tanner argue that, for many scientists, we learn early in our careers to value research over teaching, and there is (for the most part) a greater emphasis placed on developing our research profile. There is often time and incentives to do some teaching (e.g., Teaching Assistantships are paid, and have hours associated with them), and there is training available (McGill’s SKILLSETS programs are a fine example). Regardless, the culture of science is mostly related to research and we are ultimately judged on research production rather than teaching. My personal experience supports this idea, and I have found myself often discussing this with my graduate students – I sometimes have advised them to avoid extra teaching responsibilities if it is going to slow down their research productivity.

Bronwell and Tanner go into a lot of detail about the tensions between the development of professional identities and participating in pedagogical change. They make a very strong case: among several lines of arguments, they illustrate that scientists are often afraid to change their teaching approach for fear that it may be frowned upon by their peers, or that their teaching evaluations might suffer (and, in in the short term, this may be true). They also argue that the scientific culture at large places a lower value on teaching than on research, and it’s hard to overcome this.

The article finishes with some ideas for change: “we need to find ways to challenge the assumption that a scientist’s professional identity should be primarily research-focused and consider ways in which teaching could become more integrated into the fabric of the discipline”. The authors suggest 1) graduate student and post-doctoral training goals need to be broadened, 2) scientific journals should include/value papers and research related to education, 3) scientific conferences should better integrate education into the (typical) research focus. These are intriguing, thought-provoking, and interesting ideas. But are they enough to shed some of our professional baggage? I’m a bit skeptical, but I do agree that some pretty fundamental paradigm shifts are required if we want to shake up the system, and see Professors placing higher value on teaching improvement.