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Margin Notes

Honours, and new support, for exemplary teachers


This past Sunday, Nov. 2, I spent several hours in the company of this year’s 3M Teaching Fellows in Montebello, Quebec. The 3M fellowships are the highest honour in Canada for teaching excellence in postsecondary education. As part of their reward, each year the 10 new honourees are brought to this lovely resort about an hour’s drive east of Ottawa to discuss anything they’d like – there is no set agenda.

Of course, they always discuss teaching, and I was pleased to be able to sit down with this year’s group near the end of their three-day retreat to find out what they’d been up to. These particular 3M Fellows and the others I’ve spoken to in the past are always filled with such enthusiasm for teaching and demonstrate a near-evangelism that I find very inspiring and energizing. I get much the same feeling any time I’ve attended the annual meeting of the Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education (it’s at the University of New Brunswick in 2009).

The fellows at Montebello all said how thrilled they were to be able to have this retreat to talk with like-minded individuals, share their enthusiasm and discuss best practices. But they lamented that there seems to be no mechanism for this sort of get-together to happen more frequently on a regional or local level. “We have research clusters, why can’t we have teaching clusters,” asked one.

This brings me to what sounds like a fabulous new initiative of the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario. The council announced this morning that it has launched a research program “to help Ontario’s leading university and college teachers share teaching practices.” Called the Research Program in Knowledge Mobilization for Exemplary Teaching & Learning, it’s being led by Thomas Carey, an teaching expert at the University of Waterloo.

From the release: “The new research program includes a series of pilot projects to enhance the learning experience and student success in particular courses and programs; identify, adapt, and share exemplary teaching practices; document the pedagogical content to support knowledge exchange between colleagues; and develop more effective ways for educators to mobilize knowledge for the enhancement of teaching and learning.”

As a first step in this program, the council released a paper by Dr. Carey, Research Study on a Knowledge Exchange Network for Exemplary Teaching in Ontario Higher Education. The paper explores the idea of using “knowledge exchange networks… to identify and promote exemplary teaching practices in Ontario” and is well worth a look.

I have no details about how this initiative is being funded and by how much, nor how university faculty can get involved. But it looks like a worthy effort nonetheless that I hope other provinces will emulate, to the ultimate benefit of students.

Léo Charbonneau
Léo Charbonneau is a former editor of University Affairs.
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