Helping graduate students become better teachers is a labour of love for Jill Grose and Lianne Fisher of the Centre for Pedagogical Innovation (CPI).
The duo are co-instructors for the non-credit graduate level course – GRST 5N01: The Theory and Practice of University Teaching – that was introduced two years ago as a partnership between CPI and the Faculty of Graduate Studies.
The course is a natural extension of CPI’s training and development opportunities in teaching and learning as well as the efforts by the FGS to provide professional development for graduate students.
Classes, held every other week from September to April, bring together graduate students to discuss their teaching experiences at Brock and to sharpen skills in the areas of planning, instruction, evaluation and assessment. The completion of a GRST appears on the Brock academic transcript.
“We don’t even call it a class because we think of it as a bi-weekly gathering of a community of practitioners who can explore issues and practice as experienced through TA work,” says Grose, Director of CPI. “We are able to provide personal attention and an environment that lets students engage and interact with each other.
“Given it’s a non-credit course, we ensure the workload is supportive of demands on graduate students in their specific program disciplines. We want to make it informal and comfortable, supportive and engaging.”
And the course is being received that way with glowing feedback from students over the past two years. In the 2014-15 class evaluations, one student remarks that in graduate studies, “when students can feel quite isolated, a group learning experience like this was so rewarding and fulfilling.”
Another student writes “the class itself was a huge support to my learning as it put me in touch with others who were experiencing the same challenges in teaching and provided a positive, supportive environment in which I could voice those challenges and find solutions.”
The learning from the course takes on a life of its own, says Fisher, as students can apply it directly to the classes they teach throughout the year.
“Our goal is to model the care and relationship building that is a cornerstone of learning – that’s important,” says Fisher, CPI’s educational developer. “In a natural way the course reinforces teaching skills in the broadest terms as coaching, mentoring, advising and communicating. These are skills that apply to all career pursuits.”
Graduate students represent an important portion of Brock’s teaching workforce, says Mike Plyley, Dean, Faculty of Graduate Studies.
“Each year, many graduate students work as TAs for undergraduate courses at Brock,” he says. “They are on the front lines of shaping the learning experience in undergraduate courses. They are passionate about teaching and that passion contributes to Brock’s reputation for quality teaching.”
FGS and CPI also partner on another non-credit graduate level course focused on service learning that will be offered for a second time this fall.
Plyley places a high priority on expanding graduate student professional development at Brock through a variety of initiatives from non-credit courses to programming through Vitae Essential Skills Program for Graduate Students.
“We are looking in as many directions as possible to prepare graduate students for careers in tandem with the research and scholarship that they pursue within our 44 programs,” says Plyley. “The broad graduate experience at Brock is one in which graduate students develop essential competencies and professional skills that are in demand by employers.
“For example, each student in GRST 5N01 will finish with a professional teaching dossier that showcases their teaching skills and philosophy. It’s the document that becomes their calling card for job interviews.”
Registration for both non-credit graduate level courses is under way. Details are posted on the FGS website.