Teaching + Learning News 2.03

Semi-regular reports on higher-education teaching and learning from the University of Calgary’s Faculty of Arts. By Michael Ullyot, Associate Dean (Teaching + Learning): saving your inbox from overload since 2014. Follow me on Twitter, if you do that sort of thing. Feedback and submissions are always welcome. Leave a comment below, or drop me a line.

Happy end-of-October! By now you may be familiar with the format of these newsletters, which I outlined in the first one back in September. There are sections on the Teaching + Learning Workshops, on the Consult your Colleagues section, and the Speakeasies — the official name (proposed by students) for our informal speakers’ events for students and faculty to meet and exchange ideas.

But first, a new section on what’s happening in Teaching + Learning around the Faculty of Arts.

-BREAKING-NEWS-with-vintage-radio-microphone-T-ShirtsNews + Announcements

Just what does an Associate Dean do all day? I’ve been posting questions and articles to the university’s new Taylor Institute Teaching Community, where you can share resources and discuss topics; and I’ve been writing about bookshelves.

But here are a few of my ongoing projects from my day job. (Click on titles for details.)

Our own D2L Coaches are available to meet with faculty members, one on one, five days a week. They can help you make the most of its functions, and solve your problems with the system. They even do house calls! (Or rather, office calls.)

Thanks to the generous support of the Vice-Provost for Teaching and Learning, Lynn Taylor, the Faculty of Arts has been able to extend the coaches’ availability from September 2014 straight through to April 2015.

Contact the coaches by calling (403) 220 2000, or e-mailing d2larts@ucalgary.ca.

Four lucky departments in the Faculty of Arts have begun a formal “Curriculum Review” process in 2014-15: Art, Geography, Psychology, and Sociology. That means they’re assembling lists of learning outcomes (what are our graduating students capable of? what do they know?) and assessing how every course in every program both (a) teaches and (b) assesses those outcomes. Curriculum Reviews are also a good opportunity to ask fundamental questions about your curriculum, like how it reflects evolving trends in your discipline.

If you want to know more, just ask. I have plenty more information — on both why it’s worthwhile, and how to do it.

And if your department isn’t one of the chosen few, take heart: your time will come. By the end of 2018-19, every department in the faculty will do a Curriculum Review, and then the process starts all over again.

You know that the Faculty has seed grants for your external grant applications; travel grants for your conferences; and scholarly activity grants for convening visiting luminaries and similar activities. But now we also have small grants for teaching-related activities.

Teaching Activity Grants support course- and curriculum- related activities in undergraduate and graduate teaching, normally for a significant number of students (typically 10 or more). Appropriate activities might include, but are not limited to events (open to more than one discipline or department); visiting speakers; conference presentations; or materials and supplies (e.g. software license fees, memberships).

Details, and an application form for all four grant types, are available here.


I’ll confess: before I became Associate Dean I was only vaguely aware that the Faculty of Arts had a Co-operative Education program. But now that it’s one of my responsibilities, I’ve learned just how important it is for students in our programs to apply their knowledge to the world of work. Employers benefit from new perspectives and ideas for ways to conduct their business. Our students work for corporations, non-profits, NGOs and governments, both here in Alberta and overseas.

Meanwhile, in the Arts Students’ Centre [formerly the Program Information Centre] our faculty’s two coordinators (Carllie Necker and Mandy Foley) work tirelessly to prepare, support, supervise, and assess our Co-op students before, during, and after their job placements.

So what’s new? This fall we’ve teamed up with the Faculty of Science and Career Services to launch an advisory board: a group of students, faculty, and employers across multiple sectors and programs who convene three times a year to talk about new employment trends and ways we can make Co-ops and Internships better for them all. And next year, we’ll do a broad-based review of experiential learning across the whole Faculty of Arts — to improve and integrate the design and delivery of programs like Co-op with field schools, study abroad courses, and so on.

Do you know any second-year Arts students who would be interested in applying to the Co-op program? (The next deadline is December 1, 2014.) Tell them about our upcoming information session on 3 Nov 2014, from 4-5 pm. Registration is via CareerLink.

Back in April the Faculty of Arts hosted my counterparts from the University of Alberta, Medicine Hat College, and other post-secondary faculties of Arts and Social Science for the first meeting of the grandly-named Alberta Faculties of Arts Collaboratory. (What’s a collaboratory? A fancy word for a virtual research group that collaborates through digital tools like Basecamp. I stole it from HASTAC.)

What are we collaborating on? Our goal is to study the impact of Arts graduates on the Alberta economy, so we can make a stronger case for our faculties’ economic impacts and the essential skills and knowledge of our graduates. That’s about the sum of it. My counterpart Mickey Adolphson, Associate Dean (Teaching + Learning) at the U of A, is doing some really innovative work in these areas.

Teaching + Learning Workshops

These are cross-disciplinary workshops that will directly affect your course designs and delivery. Each has a topic chosen by you and your colleagues, and has an immediate and concrete impact: you’ll draft a rubric or a laptop policy to use right away.

They are also expressly designed for teaching faculty in the Faculty of Arts. The Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning offers a broader array of workshops open to you, including one about Writing a Teaching Philosophy Statement on November 19th. (I went to one a few weeks ago about mid-term course evaluations run by the same people, and it was really useful.)Registration for our series is required, so I can recognize your participation. (Remember, you get formal recognition if you attend three or more workshops in an academic year, or if you present in any workshop. This will testify to your professional development in merit, promotion and tenure applications.)Our first workshop is on Digital Distractions in the ClassroomHere are the other eight workshops planned for this year. Some have firm dates, and some have full details if you click on the links.

  1. Digital Distractions: Wed 29 Oct 2014, 11-12, SS1339
  2. Your Teaching Dossier 1: Tues 2 Dec 2014, 10-11:30, SS1339 
  3. Goals and Grades: Tues 9 Dec 2014, 10:30-12:00, SS1339
  4. Rubrics: Thurs 11 Dec 2014, 1-2, SS1339 
  5. Turning a Class into a Community: Thurs 13 Jan 2015, 11-12, SS1339
  6. Teaching Controversial Topics: Tues 27 Jan 2015, 1-3, SS1339
  7. Bums in Seats: late Feb 2015
  8. Preventing Plagiarism: Wednesday 11 Mar 2015, 2-3, SS1339
  9. Your Teaching Dossier 2: May/June 2015

Dates and times are varied to accommodate different teaching schedules. If you can’t attend, each workshop will post online materials.


These are student-faculty gatherings for panel discussions and informal conversations on various topics. We’re close to releasing full details of this year’s series, and a snazzy poster — but I can give you a few details now.

Each will invite a few faculty members to speak on a question, to spark conversations. Our three questions are:

Can social media effect change in the world?

Twitter and Facebook are often credited with political and social influence, and trending topics like #BokoHaram or #ArabSpring can turn regional struggles into global movements. Or do they? Malcolm Gladwell has argued that social networks spread information, but do little to induce participation. It’s easier for us to follow and retweet causes than it is to make real changes in our lives, let alone the kind of real change in the world that Peter Singer advocates.

When + Where: 26 November 2014, 5pm, Faculty of Arts Lounge (SS104)

How and why should I live a creative life?

We spend far more time consuming culture than creating it. We have a fear of failure, and that makes us too timid to explore ideas and ask the questions that lead to wisdom.

The solution? We should live a more creative life, thinking and acting in ways that make new possibilities for our lives and our world. Creativity opens our minds to the world, and shapes the world to our minds.

When + Where: 18 March 2015, 5pm, Faculty of Arts Lounge (SS104)

Consult your Colleagues

Have you ever struggled with a pedagogical problem, only to discover that someone two offices away resolved it in her class last term?

Consult your Colleagues is an anonymous advice column for issues that arise in your teaching. Last time, here are the questions that your colleagues asked:

  1. How would you adapt a course designed for 40 students if you suddenly discovered that, due to an administrative error, it has 60, 75 or 100 students enrolled?
  2. How have you made unsuitable classrooms fit your teaching style, instead of changing your style for the room? For instance, if you need movable desks but you’re assigned a room without them, or you’re running discussions in a long narrow room where there’s no space to re-group the desks.

Jean-Jacques Poucel wrote:

A quick reply to your questions, from my point of view, would be 1. use D2L differently… i.e. try to fashion small group exercices for class, build the intial group discussion through the D2L questions and responses, require students to comment on eachother’s contributions (otherwise they will not). As for the question of space, I find this question to be important because, in my case anyhow, I especially like to run courses as as seminars… and I know from experience that nothing works so well in a classroom as having a seminar table around which everyone can physically sit. I have been trying to build that space virtually (through D2L discussions), but find this solution to be less tactile, less engaging in real time to the minds of my students… Virtual spaces are also hiding spaces, and this is non-productive, especially for shy students. 


And here is Mike Adorjan’s response:

I’ve had the good fortune of, to date, not having a class ‘balloon up’ due to some error or unintended enrolment consequence. That being said my first instinct would be to grasp for additional TA support. I wouldn’t necessarily change the course assessment; having a term paper of 10 pages/student for a class of 40 may still be doable with 90 or even 100 but when it goes beyond that you start to think seriously about multiple choice. However, I’d also try to do what I could to keep the essay assignment in a modified form – perhaps shortening the length or tweak the expectations.

As for classroom ergonomics, I always rely on ‘think pair share’ which you can do in a class of any size. Discuss x for 3 minutes with the person beside you or in groups no more than 3. Arranging furniture is not something I’ve spent much time considering. We’re already police officers of technological usage, now we’re becoming interior decorators in an effort at pedagogical fung shui!

Thanks to both for their replies. For the next newsletter, please e-mail me your questions: I promise to keep them in confidence. I’ll do the same for responses, but only if you ask me to.


3 Responses to “Teaching + Learning News 2.03”

  1. Patrick Finn

    Looks great Michael – thanks for the update. I can’t make the Digital Distractions workshop, but look forward to future sessions.


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