Mount professor wants every class to be memorable

At Mount Saint Vincent University, faculty come together once a year to share insights and explore a contemporary teaching and learning issue. The theme this year was service learning—how to provide students with experiences outside the classroom.

“This includes a discussion of everything from co-op placements to internships to practica, but the most important component of the day is the ideas, energy and knowledge faculty bring. People are enthusiastic,” says Dr. Donovan Plumb, co-ordinator of the Teaching and Learning Centre.

Donovan Plumb 2Approximately 200 members of the Mount community brought their enthusiasm to the most recent Teaching and Learning Day. The purpose of the annual event and much of the work done by the Teaching and Learning Centre is to garner a greater understanding of student engagement and effective learning.

“The weight has shifted from judging student performance at the end of a course to improving performance throughout the class. By doing this, you can increase learning fourfold,” explains Plumb.

The annual Teaching and Learning Day, which has been a feature at the Mount for at least 10 years, is a unique event and it mirrors the university’s commitment to teaching excellence.

“We are an institution committed to fostering teaching and learning. We have opportunities to advance our teaching practices,” notes Plumb.

The annual day of exploration and celebration is one of those opportunities. The other 364 days of the year, the Teaching and Learning Centre serves as a resource for all Mount faculty by offering both instructional design assistance and professional development. This past summer, for example, a two-day workshop was offered to new and part-time faculty that addressed the question: How do you teach a memorable class?

“A lot of people have expertise in their subject matter, but have not conducted a class. We looked at how to organize things to help students feel part of the learning,” says Plumb, who is the editor-in-chief of the Canadian Journal for the Study of Adult Education.

Although the Teaching and Learning Centre has been a part of the Mount campus for many years, it has recently been refocused and revitalized. As part of that process, Plumb visited departments across campus to better understand what services, programs and resources they wanted the Centre to provide. The groundwork has, well, worked. “The Teaching and Learning Centre is shifting into the limelight at the university,” says Plumb. “There is a momentum building.”

Among the face-to-face and online services the Centre offers are consulting one-on-one with faculty on topics like course design for on-campus, distance and blended programs. It also provides teaching workshops; disseminates teaching and learning-related literature and best practices; and collaborates with faculty on preparing successful proposal submissions.

“We’re hoping the Centre can advance teaching and help address those issues we know can be problematic for students,” says Plumb. “We are working to maintain our reputation for teaching excellence. We want to be the very best we can be.”

This article originally appeared in the fall 2015 edition of the Mount’s alumnae magazine, Folia Montana.