Haskayne Teaching Triangle Tackles Tradition

By Brent Snider (Senior Instructor, Haskayne Teaching Fellow, Faculty [OSCM]), Darren Ambrose, (Instructor, Faculty [ACCT]) and Leighton Wilks (Instructor, Non-Credit Teaching, Haskayne Teaching Fellow, Faculty [OBHR])

Haskayne instructors Brent Snider (supply chain), Leighton Wilks (human resources) and Darrin Ambrose (accounting) recently completed a teaching triangle in October with the support of the Taylor Institute.  All three have previously won University of Calgary Students’ Union teaching excellence awards (to date, a combined 6 in total) and were eager for the opportunity to learn from each other with the teaching triangle structure.

While academics often collaborate on research projects, there is generally very little collaboration on teaching.  The same academics typically design, deliver, and attempt to improve their courses on their own.

“I have always been interested in observing fellow instructors, especially award winning instructors like Darrin and Leighton, but found it awkward to ask. It is just not part of the academic culture,” said Brent. “The teaching triangle structure breaks down these barriers.”

Leighton described the many benefits of participating.  “The teaching triangle truly demystifies what goes on in other classes, and is a learning opportunity on many different levels – teaching style, class management, content & pedagogy. I observed many techniques that I absolutely want to incorporate into my own teaching repertoire.”

Some of the specific techniques that the group mentioned learning from each other including using music effectively in the classroom, turning review questions into small group competitions, and fast and simple ways to better engage students. In fact, benefits are already being realized.

According to Darrin, “I gained a number of great ideas from both Brent and Leighton, including different and fun ways in which I can engage my students. I implemented one the very next week and both the students and I thought it was a huge success.”

Although a teaching triangle is primarily intended for reflection by the observing instructors, the group chose to receive feedback from each other on their teaching effectiveness.  This was done through both a 10-15 minute discussion immediately following the class, and by a debrief discussion conducted over a dinner, funded by the Taylor Institute, at the end of the week.

Leighton described how the process turned fear into opportunity. “Although initially somewhat anxiety provoking, the teaching triangle was a truly rewarding experience. It was great to get to see other top instructors in action, and to receive feedback on my teaching style and the content of my lecture.”

All three chose to briefly tell their students at the start of class about their fellow faculty observers and the teaching triangle concept.

“The students were impressed by our efforts to help each other become better instructors, and that the University of Calgary is supporting such an initiative,” said Brent.

The group sees the benefits of their teaching triangle experience continuing on in the future. “The teaching triangle helped create a cross-disciplinary network amongst faculty members here at Haskayne,” said Darrin.

Leighton agreed that this is just the beginning. “Teaching synergy was created,” he said. “We will definitely go to each other for further ideas and feedback.”

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