This symposium hosted by Ken Ryba, acting Director of the Centre for Teaching & Learning at University of Calgary – Qatar, was a treat upon my return to Qatar. The symposium, “Working together to enhance teaching effectiveness in Qatar higher education,” was a timely opportunity for stakeholders to gather together, get some ideas and inspiration, and contribute to the critical discussion on this issue.
Miss Hissa Al Aali, Associate Director, College of Nursing Project, opened the session with a few words of caution and hope. She recognized the pressure that Higher Education is under from various areas, and the complexity involved in pushing agendas of change and innovation. My sketchnote highlights her statement that Higher Education’s complex institutions need leadership, collaboration, and people to resolve tensions between innovators and those reluctant to change. This is an important starting point, as we need to remind those in power that innovation cannot happen just by saying it will be so.
Professor Dennis Sumara, Dean of the Werklund School of Education at University of Calgary in Canada, engaged the audience with his practical, unromantic references to existing barriers. He highlighted that the industrial model hangover is one barrier to change in terms of how we view our purpose in higher education, and how we view our learners. He also recognized locked-in structures as an immediate barrier to effecting change.
Sumara also drew on Carol Dweck’s construct of fixed- versus growth-mindsets to underscore the micro-level issues we face with teacher expectations and perceptions of learning, asserting, “Teachers participate in creating fixed or growth mindset in their learners…one’s mindset as a learner will likely be one’s mindset as a teacher.” This is a critical factor, and one that has a direct impact on the work that I and my team do here at the Teaching & Learning Centre at CNAQ. Drawing on my experience as a teacher, it is easy to see how this construct can free you or inhibit you when working with diverse learners on a day-to-day basis.
The final barrier Sumara discussed is that of simple solutions. Looking for the easiest or cheapest way out is impractical and self-defeating.
Alternatively, Sumara suggests long-term institutional commitments, and says that 5-year plans are not enough. He advises institutions to expand their definitions of “learning” and “learners” to encompass a much broader range of phenomena, and to revisit terms like “intelligence” and “ability,” which he cautions are more (l)earned than bestowed (I think we could have a whole seminar just on this statement alone!). He also points to the process of learning and knowing as more analogical than logical, and asserts that teachers DO make a BIG difference, and that teachers participate in creating the type of learning and learners we encounter. These points need to be considered in the context of one’s institution, but speak volumes across a range of institutional cultures and strategic aims. When we lose sight of basic learning theory and teachers feel disempowered, the effects are felt campus-wide and beyond.
Sumara also indicates that promoting “effortful engagement” is important to the aims of improving teaching effectiveness in this context. In doing so, workshops alone are insufficient, but can be a starting point, or part of a larger more cohesive effort to develop a strategic movement. As stated in his talk, the effort must be Systemic, Specialized, and Sustained. Additionally, Professor Sumara highlighted ideas for moving forward, including funding “Teaching Scholars” and identifying “Leaders of Teaching” in every faculty.
In our Teaching & Learning Centre, we have been discussing ways to identify “champions” of teaching at CNAQ, but have yet to come up with a strategy for doing so. As we are in a technical college system, funding research and scholarship is not a primary focus. While we have some faculty conducting research, it tends to be isolated and I am uncertain of the institutional support provided or promoted for research endeavours. I would love to hear from other institutions on their strategies for identifying and supporting individuals for their teaching adroitness or scholarship.
Thank you to all of the organizers and speakers at the UCQ symposium. This was a great opportunity to meet some new colleagues, see some familiar faces, and to feel a sense of community, which is something we need to do more frequently. Professor Sumara’s talk was inspiring and our collective brainstorming seemed to get the wheels turning. Now we just need to keep up the momentum!