The University Students’ Council (USC) at Western is the largest and most comprehensive student government in Canada. As the leading undergraduate organization on campus, our mandate is three-fold: to advocate on students’ behalf for the best possible undergraduate experience; to provide social programming; and to offer a vast array of services and operations important to students at Western.
The first, and most important, of these goals — advocacy — necessitates the USC is engaged in the process of ensuring the best possible classroom environment for the students we represent.
With the recent implementation of the Teaching Fellows Program (Teaching Fellows Program looks to spark classroom innovation, Jan. 16), Western is taking a proactive and positive step to ensure teaching quality is improved and rewarded. The goal of the program — to enhance teaching innovation and teaching quality at Western — is beneficial for not only the experience of students but also the reputation of the university.
This program will better equip our professors with the resources they need to be the most engaging teachers possible and help them realize their potential as educators.
Furthermore, the funding and development of “an innovative technology project designed to enhance teaching and learning” will ensure Western will be at the cutting edge with its teaching pedagogy. Discovery, creativity and ambition are necessary to develop the best research. Teachers who make a difference need encouragement to pioneer and innovate in the classroom. This type of unique, high-quality and engaging teaching method is exactly what the USC wants more professors to adopt.
Despite the fact Western is a research-intensive institution, as a university community we must ensure teaching quality always remains a distinct priority. The students we represent continually assert how crucial effective teaching is to their quality of life at Western; it was with this in mind we presented the idea of Teaching Fellows to our partners at Western last year.
We will not take credit for the program’s subsequent development and progress, but we are proud to be involved in the process that has developed this program.
The USC would like to thank the university for its efforts in making Teaching Fellows a reality. Additionally, we are happy the university provided us with an opportunity to collaborate on this initiative. Both students and administrators are always striving to better our university community as a whole, and programs such as this reaffirm the value of working in cohort for greater goals.
The implementation of Teaching Fellows is a great step forward, but there is always more that can be done to improve the classroom experience at Western. We challenge university administrators, professors and the greater Western community to consider the following ideas as they continue their work.
Guarantee a small classroom or seminar experience in first-year and a ‘capstone’ project in final year for all students.
An enriching first-year experience is critical to improving persistence and graduation rates; a seminar or small class environment has been demonstrated to be a useful strategy to connect students to their new environment and build a sense of community.
A final year thesis project or lab project would allow students to apply the full breadth of learning gained during their undergraduate studies. Such an experience would also model faculty-student interaction at the graduate level, which would encourage more students to pursue graduate work and better prepare them for those studies.
Integrate more collaborative and active learning opportunities.
Learning at Western must go beyond the traditional lecture format and present students with opportunities to interact more closely with each other and with faculty. Opportunities such as service learning, discovery learning, project-based learning, peer teaching and case-based learning should be integrated into teaching methods across disciplines. Using a multitude of teaching methods has been demonstrated by George Kuh and others to result in a more effective and engaging learning experience for students.
Articulation of university-level learning outcomes will be a very positive step toward encouraging more innovating methods of instruction and assessment, and we look forward to this framework being developed in the years ahead.
Samanta Krishnapillai is the vice-president (internal) for the University Students’ Council.