On being inspired

By Chng Huang Hoon Associate Provost (Undergraduate Education), National University of Singapore International Advisory Board, Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning

Earlier this semester, I enjoyed a week-long visit to Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning (October 17-21). As Associate Provost of Undergraduate Education at National University of Singapore and a member of the Taylor Institute’s International Advisory Board, I was eager to finally see the Institute in person and to learn about the University of Calgary’s work in advancing teaching and learning on campus through the scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL). On arrival, I was struck immediately by the promise that Institute embodied, and by extension, the potential for this university to propel itself forward in the next few years.

There may be no one correct pathway to institutional success. There are however important elements that need to be in place for institutions to realise their aspirations. To this end, the University of Calgary is in my view well placed to achieve its professed goal to be among Canada’s elite institutions as it celebrates its 50th Anniversary. In my view, the essential elements that will take UCalgary to new heights are the following:

One, aiming high with a clear vision that informs institutional directions

The “Eyes High” vision and strategy sets out clear expectations for institutional excellence. Together with the leadership teams at all levels of institution, the university management has articulated a set of goals for Calgary to earn its place as an institution of teaching, learning, and research excellence. This clarity of vision was evident to me in the opening set of discussions with Taylor Institute colleagues, who frequently alluded to “Eyes High” as a directional aspiration and guide that informs their work at the Institute.

Two, people

My visit to the Taylor Institute provided a snapshot of the type of talent put in place at the university to provide the leadership and high-impact programmes that will manifest UCalgary’s vision. The enthusiasm and energy I felt around me there gave me good reason to be optimistic about the will to succeed. The members in the teams at Institute are relatively young and energetic, brimming with passion for their work in supporting Calgary students and faculty—and very importantly, they exhibited a high level of collegiality and camaraderie that are critical in taking the institution forward as only a cohesive team could. The SoTL strategies that were generously shared with me by team members, particularly Nancy Chick and Natasha Kenny, have not only given me a clear picture of how the teams were guided in their capacity-building effort, but have also taught me valuable lessons in leading the work on creating community and managing institutional change.

Three, environment

From what I have seen of the university’s beautiful spaces for teaching, for student engagement, and importantly for scholarly conversations, the new building for the Taylor Institute provides a conducive and invigorating (and most enviable) environment for all stakeholders here to grow and to share ideas and practices. The transparent (literally, through clear glass panels) and open concept that allows office work spaces to flow seamlessly into student study areas is a compelling spatial “walking of the talk” that teaching and learning are not separate activities, but are instead two closely interlocking sides of the same coin. All these bode well for fostering community and, by extension, will allow for aspirations to become reality.

With these three key elements in place, I am convinced that it is not impossible for a good vision to come to fruition. Though a five-year timeline for institutional development is challenging for any organisation, this type of focus, discipline, and energy serves to inspire action and momentum. I see opportunities and promise here and draw much inspiration from such an enabling landscape. There is little that will stand in the way of the Calgarian determination to be the institution of choice in the near future. I am privileged to have been here to witness this energy and cohesiveness.

I wish you the very best, and cheer you on.

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