My path to working in educational development dates back to a research question I began to formulate as an undergraduate pursuing a Combined Honours degree in French and English literatures at the University of Alberta. Moving back and forth between two departments, I came to see not only that this division of knowledge was arbitrary, but also that these divisions limited my professors’ ability to see the same connections that I was making as someone immersed in both fields. I wondered how such deeply limiting divisions could seem natural and entirely logical to my professors and to my fellow students. How, in other words, do the fields in which we specialize not only limit our perspectives but also, more importantly, shape the types of knowledge we produce in our students? Making this question the focus of my doctoral research, I elected to do something infrequently done by scholars of literature: fieldwork. Over several months, I travelled across Canada to interview professors and survey course and department structures at 29 different French and English universities. This trip and the nearly 100 interviews I conducted had a dramatic impact on my career path.
Having so many conversations about literary pedagogy and the factors that shape both what and how we teach (course and department structures, institutional histories, the influence of the literary canon etc.) guided me to two important realizations. First, I discovered through these interviews that sharing our stories and ideas about pedagogy is an incredibly powerful form of professional development; faculty members can learn tremendously from the experiences of their colleagues, regardless of their field or discipline. Second, I was stunned at nearly every turn to discover how infrequently conversations like these seem to occur. I spoke to professor after professor who knew nothing about what his or her colleague next door taught or how he or she taught, even when those colleagues were teaching different sections of the same course. My interview subjects were so eager to share with me all they had experienced, that it was clear that few people, if any, had ever asked them to talk about pedagogy. While these two observations have affected my research agenda – the evidence-based approach to my scholarship on the teaching of courses on the literatures of Canada addresses a significant gap in our understanding of the field – they had a much larger impact on the rest of my career. Teaching and thinking about teaching became incredibly important to me, but so did sharing my ideas about teaching. After having the opportunity at Mount Royal College (now Mount Royal University) to mentor faculty in the effective use of technology, I knew that working full-time in educational development would be one of my long-range career goals.
One of my very first stops at the University of Vermont (UVM) after I arrived there in 2003 was their Center for Teaching and Learning. UVM’s Center for Teaching and Learning helped me to continue to use technology and innovative ways. Together, we launched pilot projects using blogs and podcasts in the classroom. Not only did I begin to use both extensively in my classes, the CTL and I worked to train all students in my annual freshman seminar to use these technologies. I helped lead faculty workshops and provided mentorship to other faculty wanting to use these technologies. I also became heavily involved in the creation and teaching of online courses, and co-led workshops on that topic for faculty, including a month-long online course on “Teaching Effectively Online” that I co-taught with Holly Buckland Parker. All of this work helped prepare me to make the leap to my position as Faculty Development Coordinator at MacEwan University.
At MacEwan University, I oversee a wide variety of programming ranging from our annual Faculty Development Day and New Faculty Orientation to Chair Professional Development Day and the National Great Teachers Seminar in the Canadian Rockies. My role also involves managing all professional development and sabbatical funds, all of which originate from the $1.5 million dollar budget for which I am responsible, along with the fourteen-member Faculty Development Committee that I chair. What I feel is the most important and rewarding part of my job is the chance to work directly with faculty in support of their pursuit of excellence in the classroom. My initiatives over my time as Faculty Development Coordinator have included the adjustment and improvement of core programs, the introduction of new programming ranging from a Teaching Triangles peer-mentoring program to a Faculty Development Breakfast Book Club, and the development of new mission and vision statements for Faculty Development. The most important piece of new programming I have designed is MacEwan’s new Teaching Excellence Program. Launched in 2013, this program brings together many of the core workshops run by Faculty Development into a cohesive program that faculty members can complete over the course of two to three years.
I tell anyone who asks that I have the best job at MacEwan University. Because of our centre’s structure and the fact that we report directly to the Provost, I often find myself on the front line of discussions about our university’s core mission: teaching. More important, through programming, professional development funding, direct consultation, and the chance to help faculty members root their teaching in evidence-based practice, I feel like my work truly makes a difference in furthering student learning. That was always my top concern in my own classroom and I feel privileged to work with faculty members who feel the same.