For over a decade, McGill’s SKILLSETS program has been offering a range of personal and professional development opportunities for graduate students and post-doctoral fellows. One of the annual flagship offerings is Learning to Teach (LTT), which is aimed at helping students develop the knowledge, tools, and skills to become better teachers.
This year, due to the remote teaching and learning context, LTT was transformed from a single-day, in-person conference into a week-long series of events organized around the theme of fostering student engagement in learning, with a special focus on teaching in the remote context. From Nov. 16 – 20, close to 100 graduate students and post-doctoral fellows participated in the week-long LTT events offered on Zoom, including teaching skills workshops and a main event keynote panel with three instructors who exemplify excellence in teaching at McGill.
Teaching skills workshops
A total of five teaching skills workshops were offered by a combination of SKILLSETS’ trained graduate student assistants and staff members from Teaching and Learning Services and the Office of Science Education. Each session was interactive, featuring opportunities for practice, feedback, and reflection. All attendees receive recognition on their co-curricular record for their participation in the LTT events.
The week kicked-off with Designing a Student-Centered Course Outline, where the importance of clearly articulated learning outcomes was explored in alignment with teaching and assessment strategies. The session also provided key details for the main components of course outlines, which was particularly valuable and timely for those preparing to teach for the first time.
Next, in Advanced Zoom Skills for Student Engagement, the focus was enhancing engagement and collaboration through features that promote interaction on Zoom, one of the tools used at McGill for the remote delivery of courses. This workshop was followed by Active Learning Strategies, which reinforced the importance of making effective use of teaching strategies and tools, like TurningPoint for polling, to ensure students are actively engaged in their learning process.
In the fourth LTT workshop, Building Community in the Virtual Classroom, the importance of classroom community-building for students’ learning experiences was explored through small group discussions and role-playing scenarios. A challenge of remote teaching and learning is that a virtual community is experienced differently from the more familiar community in face-to-face learning environments, so this session offered practical strategies for understanding how virtual community-building can enhance students’ remote learning success.
The final workshop of the week was Giving Effective Feedback for Student Learning. Constructive feedback is important to the entire teaching and learning process: instructors need feedback to guide their teaching and students need feedback for guidance on how they’re learning and how to improve. Participants in this session reflected on the significance of effective feedback and rehearsed strategies that can be applied in different contexts.
Reflecting on their experience as a workshop facilitator for LTT, Valérie Bourassa said, “I was delighted to see that our McGill community is enthusiastic in continuing to develop and improve teaching and learning at our university. This semester particularly we were faced with the difficult task to engage remotely, and I was pleased to see our participants embracing the new format and technologies creatively.”
What did participants think of the workshops? Tessa Groszman, who attended Learning to Teach Week in full, commented, “I couldn’t have asked for a better introduction to the career path of teaching. Despite this year’s theme of student engagement, these interactive workshops really covered everything from reducing students’ anxieties, to using Bloom’s Taxonomy, to managing Zoom breakout rooms when teaching in a remote context.”
Panel on fostering student engagement in learning
In addition to the workshops, the main event of the week was the keynote panel featuring three instructors who—among other accomplishments related to teaching—are recipients of the Principal’s Prize for Excellence in Teaching: Prof. Manuel Balán (Associate Professor, Department of Political Science and International Development Studies), Prof. Melanie Dirks (Professor, Department of Psychology), and Prof. David Ragsdale (Associate Professor, Department of Neurology and Neurosurgery). Each provided compelling presentations around their approach to teaching, including tips and strategies particularly relevant to graduate students interested in teaching at the university-level. This was followed by an open discussion and question period. A recording is available online of the presentation portion of the panel for anyone interested in learning more about what engagement in learning means and looks like, as well as what strategies are most effective in fostering student engagement in learning!
So, what’s next for graduate students interested in learning to teach? SKILLSETS is planning more teaching skills events for 2021, starting with teaching assistant training throughout January. Graduate students can continue to check their inboxes for the regular SKILLSETS bulletin or consult the SKILLSETS webpage for further learning opportunities in the new year.