Innovative teaching/learning in Ontario colleges and universities focus of upcoming HEQCO research projects

Thirteen research projects designed to assess and highlight innovative and effective teaching/learning practices at Ontario’s colleges and universities are being supported by the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario…

Friday, November 12, 2010 – Thirteen research projects designed to assess and highlight innovative and effective teaching/learning practices at Ontario’s colleges and universities are being supported by the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario (HEQCO) and conducted over the next two years in partnership with universities and colleges from across the province.

Each research project examines specific strategies that institutions are using to support the development of effective teaching and learning. 

“Ontario’s postsecondary institutions want to support best practices in teaching.  We know they can have demonstrable impact on how well students learn,” says Harvey Weingarten, president and CEO of HEQCO.  “Many colleges and universities are already engaged in innovative approaches to improved teaching. These research projects will both evaluate the effectiveness of these initiatives and ensure that all of Ontario’s postsecondary institutions are aware of programs and techniques that have proven impact on student success.”

“The quality of teaching at our colleges and universities is of the utmost importance to Ontario students,” says Meaghan Coker, president of the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance. “We welcome HEQCO’s initiative to evaluate and promote best practices in teaching, and hope it will lead to an improved learning environment for students across Ontario.

Among the research projects are:

Large classes: As the size of first-year classes continues to grow, engaging students in classroom material becomes an increasingly difficult challenge for faculty. At Queen’s University, the use of technology that makes lectures available to students on-line will be explored to determine whether the approach promotes smaller and more manageable group work. The study will also evaluate whether students who focus less on taking notes have more time in class for group work, and more meaningful interaction with lecture material.

The changing face of PSE: An increase in first-generation and immigrant students to PSE in Ontario has resulted in varying levels of English language skills, which can have numerous impacts including comprehension and communication. A study with Mohawk College and partners Fanshawe College, Fleming College, Conestoga College and Centennial College will measure the effectiveness of current programs to address this challenge. The study will focus on language proficiency, student success and retention.

Effective teaching: More than half of new faculty have limited experience with learning how to teach. Carleton University will lead an assessment of faculty orientation programs that have been developed at colleges and universities across Ontario.  The study’s focus will include program structure, content and funding.

Other research projects and lead PSE institutions are:

Ryerson University will lead a project to evaluate the Instructional Skills Workshop (ISW). Recently introduced in Ontario, it provides training to instructors for a more student-focused approach to teaching.

The University of Windsor will partner with the University of Western Ontario in evaluating their teaching skills programs for graduate students (where many of tomorrow’s PSE teachers first develop their teaching abilities).  This research project will measure Windsor’s and Western’s teaching skills programs in relation to graduate student instructional skill outcomes and attitudes toward teaching.

Like most universities, the University of Toronto has thousands of graduate students who work as teaching assistants and play a significant role in guiding the learning of students. This research project will assess the efficacy of the Advanced University Training Preparation certificate established in 2006 and open to all graduate students, and the Writing Instruction for teaching assistants program established in 2008.

International graduate students represent a significant proportion of teaching assistants at Ontario universities. The University of Western Ontario’s Teaching in the Canadian Classroom Program is a recently developed initiative with explicit cross-cultural communication components. This study will measure international students’ teaching effectiveness.

The University Teaching Certificate is Canada’s first and only internationally approved certificate program in North America. This study at the University of Windsor will measure the effectiveness of the program.  A project by Seneca College will assess the impact of technology in the classroom on improving writing skills of students, focusing on computer tablets funded by the college.

A study with Nipissing University and Wilfrid Laurier University-Brantford will assess two innovative methods for teaching preparation: 1) mentorship pairings between novice and mentor teacher and 2) learning placements in community agencies and international school settings.  

Large-enrollment introductory courses pose particular teaching/learning challenges.  The University of Guelph and four Ontario college and university partnerswill investigate whether approaches used in introductory accounting courses increase student engagement with the course content.  A project at the University of Waterloo will assess student outcomes in its Professional Development Program, which teaches co-op students professional skills such as written communication, critical reflection, diversity, ethical behavior and collaborative work.

And a study at York University will assess its widely used community- based learning and service learning approaches, which enable students to become actively engaged in the issues of their community.

About the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario

The Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario is an arm’s-length agency of the Government of Ontario dedicated to ensuring the continued improvement of the postsecondary education system in Ontario.  The Council was created through the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario Act, 2005. It is mandated to conduct research, evaluate the postsecondary education system, and provide policy recommendations to the Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities with a view to enhance the quality, access, and accountability of Ontario’s higher education system.

For further information, please contact:

Susan Bloch-Nevitte
Executive Director, Communications
Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario
(416) 212-5242