At first glance, the University of Alberta’s Festival of Teaching, now in its second year, looks like a business conference that’s been crashed by Halloween pranksters. At one end of the room, a group of students dressed as various farm-related objects (including a cow and a gas can) address a small crowd as slides from the community education program they’re involved with flash behind them. At the other end, people in business attire peruse a dozen poster boards, amidst balloons and “wandering scholars” like Aesop and Henry David Thoreau (played by graduate students in the agriculture faculty).
The half-day event, held at the end of January, is something of an education tradeshow. But it wasn’t just theatrics. The festival’s highlight was arguably a half-dozen presentations by university professors who spoke about their approaches to teaching challenges, such as renewable resources professor Anne Naeth’s “Communicating high-tech information to a juvenile audience” or pediatrics professor Jonathan Duff’s “Simulation-based training of a pediatric arrest team.”
Olive Yonge, one of the event’s organizers and the university’s vice-president, academic, says the festival emerged from discussions among several teaching chairs. They figured that a celebration would be the best way to change the university’s teaching culture, she says. After its success last year, the festival was made into an annual event.
“I know the University of Alberta is research-intensive. I also want it to be teaching- and learning-intensive” says Dr. Yonge. “I want everyone who goes to the U of A to say, ‘My professors are dynamic. My learning environment was exhilarating.’”