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December 18, 2019 10:43 AM

Innovation in Teaching & Learning

Being a leader in polytechnic education is no accident. It requires an unwavering commitment to excellence in programming and services that can support learners as they create successful futures for themselves, their families and communities.

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Elizabeth Coar (left) is a chartered accountant who runs her own business and teaches part-time at Conestoga. She is pictured here with Kathryn Brillinger, Teaching & Learning.

Conestoga’s 1,500 full and part-time faculty members define and shape the learning experience within -- and even beyond -- the classroom. Armed with real-world experience, a passion for teaching, and a strong commitment to their students, they are also provided with ongoing opportunities to innovate, develop new skills for the classroom, and meet the needs of a highly diverse student body.

The Teaching & Learning team at Conestoga promotes and supports educational leadership while building capacity to support students’ learning experience. Using evidence-based approaches, the group works with faculty and academic areas across the college to achieve continuous quality improvement in both program design and delivery.

One key area of emphasis is faculty development.

“Teaching & Learning exists to ensure all faculty at Conestoga are prepared before they enter the classroom, and remain supported throughout their teaching career,” said Kathryn Brillinger, Associate Director, Teaching & Learning. “We’re dedicated to better understanding and improving student learning by supporting faculty development.”

According to Brillinger, the college takes a progressive approach to ensuring that all faculty have a foundation for teaching excellence through mandatory training sessions for new faculty that comprise part of their orientation and onboarding process. These sessions help to set expectations as well as building a framework for continuous improvement.

“New faculty are not only introduced to Conestoga,” said Brillinger, “they’re also introduced to our team and the supports that are available to them as they continue to develop their skills.”

Laura Stoutenburg, a consultant on the Teaching & Learning team, has spent much of the last year delivering training sessions and faculty support services in Brantford as the college expands its presence in the city.

“While there is a strong focus on what outcomes are expected as faculty prepare to start teaching, there is also an expectation that as a team, Teaching & Learning will keep moving forward to explore next steps in educational support,” said Stoutenburg. “It’s our job to stay on top of trends in education and understand how students are changing so that we can anticipate not only their needs, but also the support our faculty will need in order to deliver quality teaching.”

Rooted in industry

To produce career-ready graduates, programs must reflect real-world conditions and include the most up-to-date industry knowledge. Input from industry and community partners contributes to the achievement of such goals, but faculty, who bring with them substantial industry expertise, play a key role as well.

Many of the college’s part-time faculty have deep industry roots.

Elizabeth Coar is a chartered professional accountant who teaches parttime at Conestoga in addition to running her own business. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Computer Information Systems and has spent 15 years working as an accountant for various services and manufacturing companies.

For instructors like Coar who are new to teaching, there’s an obvious learning curve. Training provided at orientation lays the foundation for teaching excellence, but support doesn’t stop there. In-class observations, consultations and online resources are all used as tools to help instructors at Conestoga develop their teaching skills.

“We help faculty to foster student success -- that could be through providing feedback on rubrics, tips to help facilitate group work and participation, or strategies to implement best practices for classroom engagement,” said Stoutenburg.

According to Stoutenburg, providing support and opportunities for developmental feedback is important for the delivery of a quality teaching and learning experience, especially for new faculty.

Coar agrees.

“The training sessions build up your expectations, and the positive reinforcement helps you realize the potential in the classroom,” she said. “It allows me to create a richer experience for students by using what I’ve learned from Teaching & Learning to relate my experience in industry to what is in the curriculum.”

For students, there’s a clear benefit, but Coar benefits as well. “I don’t want to just be in the classroom,” she said. “I want to stay rooted in industry and bring that real-world experience to students, because I really do enjoy both.”

Global perspectives

With more than 7,000 international students as well as many who are newcomers to Canada, Conestoga classrooms are rich in cultural diversity.

“As diversity increases at Conestoga, the dynamic in the classroom is starting to shift,” said Brillinger. “Not only are we seeing an increase in international students, but we are seeing an increase in internationally trained faculty.”

Rajul Singh teaches in Conestoga’s School of Business, specializing in Sustainable Business Management. She holds a PhD in Environmental Toxicology from Chaudhary Charan Singh University in India and has more than 15 years’ experience teaching and developing curriculum in postsecondary institutions. She moved to Canada with her family five years ago.

“I love to teach -- I love to share information and I’m passionate about my subject matter. I didn’t want to have to give it up when I moved to Canada,” said Singh.

Transitioning to a Canadian post-secondary institution comes with a unique set of challenges, whether you’re a student or an instructor. For Singh, it required adapting her teaching style to fit a new culture of learning, one that was more informal than what she was accustomed to in India. It was also recognizing and supporting the varying educational experiences of students in her diverse classrooms.

Development and training opportunities focused on intercultural teaching help Conestoga faculty in their efforts to interact with and support students who are culturally, socially or otherwise different not only from each other, but also from their instructors.

“Intercultural teaching is being aware of the diversity in the classroom,” said Brillinger. “It’s recognizing, for example, that for some international students, active learning was never a part of their educational experience, nor was engaging with faculty by using their first name.”

Understanding these differences in experience helps create a learning environment that supports all students to achieve success and adds value to a classroom by fostering a more global perspective.

The next generation of professionals

Conestoga has seen substantial growth over the last few years, investing in expanded facilities, programming and human resources that provide broader access to education and training. Part of that investment includes the development of talent to sustain innovation and growth.

Katrina Sparks is a part-time faculty member in Conestoga’s School of Community Services. She has worked in mental health care since graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from the University of Waterloo in 2006. With more than 10 years at the Canadian Mental Health Association behind her, Sparks decided to give back to the field in 2018 by helping train the next generation.

“My entire experience with the college so far has made me feel valuable,” said Sparks. “I feel that my skills and experience in the field are seen as an asset, that the time spent on my training and development means I am worth being invested in, and the welcoming and supportive environment created by my colleagues has made me feel connected to the college community.”

It is a combination that set her up for success and gave her confidence in her ability to teach.

The services provided through Teaching & Learning are designed to support students by investing in faculty, enabling the college to grow in a way that meets quality objectives.

“We can confidently tell faculty that from the time they are hired to their retirement, our team has something for them,” said Brillinger. “We are invested in their development.”

For Sparks, seeing her students grow as they develop their skills and knowledge in the classroom is an indication that she is doing something right in training the next generation of mental health care professionals. “It means,” said Sparks, “that I have helped empower them to enter their communities and affect positive change.”

This article originally appeared in the fall 2019 edition of Conestoga’s Connections: Building Communities and Careers. The magazine includes profiles of new and expanded campus facilities and initiatives, while highlighting some of the outstanding students, employees and friends who contribute to the success of the college and the broader community.

Connections is available in digital format online; print copies are available through Corporate Communications.

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