VIU faculty share easy-to-implement teaching suggestions and ideas

May 4, 2012 - 2:14am

Faculty at Vancouver Island University have a valuable new resource to engage with students in their classrooms – and they created it themselves.

Teaching Tips from the Trenches is a collection of suggestions and ideas available online through the centre for Innovation and Excellence in Learning @ VIU.

Tips include using speed-date learning for students to share personal experiences, silent brainstorming to encourage participation from reserved students and creating “word clouds” at the beginning and end of courses to demonstrate new understanding of topics.

“VIU faculty have great ideas – things that they know will work in the classroom,” says Liesel Knaack, Director of Innovation and Excellence in Learning @ VIU.

Knaack got the idea for Teaching Tips from the Trenches after hearing about another institution’s practice of distributing cards to faculty with exercises and techniques that can readily be tried out in the classrooms. Knaack was impressed by the initiative but thought it would be more effective to have the suggestions come directly from faculty who are credited for their contributions.

“There’s more authenticity if you know that a faculty member has taught this way, done this activity, knows that it works and recognizes that it’s worthy of sharing.”

Knaack put out the call for ideas in November 2011 and soon had 30 tips to collate. She picked 20 ideas that are assembled in a “special-edition” boxed set of cards with descriptions of the ideas and straightforward suggestions on how to try them out. All the ideas are available on the website and Knaack plans to gather more tips each year to expand the resource material.

“I was happy with the response from faculty. They came from a wide range of academic and trades programs. There were lots of tips – easily accessible things their colleagues could do immediately in the classroom.”

Nursing professor Maggie Kennedy’s speed date approach is one of many ideas that can readily be adapted to a variety of programs. Speed date learning involves having students pair off to discuss their experiences. In the nursing program, it may be following work in practice settings. After five or six minutes with one partner, they move on to another and possibly another after that. It promotes peer-based learning and makes it easier for participation from those who aren’t comfortable speaking to large groups.

Forest Resource Technology instructor Bill Beese has another technique for encouraging participation from quiet students. In silent brainstorming, students are given a question or topic and a blank card. They are asked to write one idea on the card and pass it along. Fresh and innovative ideas tend to emerge as more and more ideas are shared. The summaries of the ideas spur further discussion by the whole group.

English Language Centre instructor Ruthie Tilston has an activity that she learned from a Cuban professor at the University of Havana. The exercise is also geared to the final class in a course. Three chairs are placed at the front of the room. Students take turns sitting in each chair using the first to reflect on how they felt at the start of the course, the second on how it felt midway and the third to talk about their feelings in the present. Instructors learn from the feedback and students get a sense of empowerment by expressing their feelings and opinions.

While Teaching Tips from the Trenches is available online, Knaack says distribution of the boxed-set of cards is limited to faculty who have submitted tips, with some sets kept in reserve for prizes in professional development workshops.

Knaack anticipates there will be plenty of creative ideas for future editions of Teaching Tips from the Trenches.

“The response has been amazing. What wonderful teaching ideas we now have in our collection for all faculty to use,” says Knaack. “The most important thing is that this is a way to honour the good work of faculty and their best practices in the classrooms at VIU.

On the web:

Innovation and Excellence in Learning @ VIU:

Teaching Tips from the Trenches:

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