The Calgary Journal
The Calgary Journal

MRU's scholarship institute one of a kind in Canada

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Learning the craft of teaching is a lifelong process.

That was precisely what Miriam Carey, a professor of policy studies at Mount Royal University (MRU), experienced when she took part in a new program run by MRU's Institute for Scholarship of Teaching and Learning.

Through the program, MRU faculty members can submit a proposal to become one of the Institute's scholars for the year.

It provides professors with funding and support to examine various teaching methods in their classrooms.

"It has changed me forever as a teacher," Carey said of her experience as part of the Institute's 2009 group of Scholars of Teaching and Learning.

She said that professors "make so many assumptions about students," — like everyone desiring a top grade. However, Carey found that most students would be just as happy with a passing B or C grade, and believes that professors should focus more on the act of learning.

"I think it would be very helpful for academics to understand that and treat students with their goals in mind," she said.

Teaching the Teachers

Centennial SymposiumProfessors from Mount Royal University took part in a scholastic retreat in Kananaskis County last November as part of the Institute for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning's scholars program.

Photos courtesy of: Richard Gale/Institute for the Schoarship of Teaching and Learning
Carey's study, titled "In The Valley of the Giants," focused on helping students to become "more intentional and integrative in their learning."

In her course on communities and societies, she had students work with reflective journals. She then took those journals and examined them for students' awareness of active learning and engagement.

"In terms of integration, I was looking for indicators of students taking material from the class and applying it elsewhere, whether in other courses here at the university, or to their workplace, or their social life, or their family life – so their ability to take course material and apply it outside that particular classroom."

Carey noted that some students took the lessons learned in class to heart. One example she provided was how one of her students applied the concepts of social justice to her own life – including an event where the student's children asked a mall Santa whether or not his elves were paid fair wages for their labour.

"I have to let go of all the assumptions I make about my students, and really give them the power to make their own choices," Carey said. "I will never be able to stand in front of a class of students again and assume they are just the same, and that they all learn the same way and have the same goals."

"I think the whole scholars program is doing what Mount Royal does best," she continued. "It allows us to capitalize on our teaching expertise and learn more in a very legitimate and rigorous scholarly endeavour about how students learn."

An Institute for Learning

The scholars program is just one of several being run by the Institute for Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, which was founded in 2008, said Richard Gale, the Institute's director.

2011 is the first year that non-MRU faculty had joined the scholars program with the addition of three professors from Royal Roads University in Victoria.

"We decided that if we want to make this a real national program, we'd better get started with several pilot projects around the country," Gale said, adding that future co-ordination with institutions around Alberta and across Canada was in the works.

"The whole goal of scholarship in teaching and learning is to understand and improve student learning, such that the course I teach next year will be better than the one I taught this year.

"We want to disseminate this information and hopefully change practice – not just in our own classrooms, but elsewhere."

Additionally, the Institute runs the Centennial Symposium, an expected annual gathering of teaching scholars. The first symposium was held last November in Banff, and attracted scholars from around the world. Plans have already been drawn up for a repeat event this year.

Gale explained that the goal of the symposium was to provide a venue for scholars to discuss their work, both completed pieces and in-progress studies.

"I think that Mount Royal really has a history of paying attention to student learning, and excellence in teaching, and to build on that is one of the ways we can really make it clear that we are a distinctive institution," Gale said.

"Becoming a university means taking the research agenda more seriously, and for a learning-centric institution to use scholarship of teaching and learning to do that just makes sense to me."

"There's no other entity like this in the world right now," he stated. "It really is an integral part of Mount Royal's dedication to its students and to its community."

A Part of the Whole

The Institute is just one part of MRU's newest faculty, the Faculty of Teaching and Learning.

"What the institute adds here to our faculty is a keen interest in inquiry into student teaching and learning," said Jim Zimmer, the faculty's dean.

Along with the institute, the faculty includes MRU's general education program, bachelor's in education and the Academic Development Centre, which focuses on innovative teaching and learning strategies.

According to Zimmer, the four components of the faculty work together and feed off each other. The Academic Development Centre works with faculty to "enhance their teaching practice," while the department of education and schooling is where scholars can implement "leading-edge practices" in teaching and learning in a classroom environment. If successful in those specialized programs, those practices can be implemented on a larger scale in the faculty of general education, and then studied through the Institute for Scholarship of Teaching and Learning.

"A big part of students' success is how well they are learning," Zimmer said.

"The Faculty of Teaching and Learning is unique in Canada in its reach and approach, so we think we stand in a special place to help students achieve more."

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