Entente Canada-Québec: Testimonials of Three Project Leaders
Did you know that the Entente Canada-Québec (ECQ) is similar to BASF, the chemical company? Their advertising slogan is "We don't make a lot of the products you buy. We make a lot of the products you buy better." Like BASF, the ECQ is not always visible. The ECQ does not lead pedagogically innovative projects, but it helps make them possible. Previous ECQ Profweb columns have profiled various collaborations across the College Network – within both Anglophone and Francophone colleges (read more about this in our April 2012 and April 2013 articles). However, what is the impact of these initiatives? What difference have ECQ projects had on teachers and students after they've been launched?
Testimonials from John Abbott and Champlain St. Lambert
After John Abbott's Cheryl Jenkins received a one-time grant last spring to develop Macroeconomics modules to help students learn "on the go", she received perhaps the greatest compliment. One of her colleagues is using the modules in his courses so that students could acquire their missing math skills. He was so impressed that Cheryl is teaching him how to create his own instructional videos. Another colleague requested a copy of the modules to use in his courses. He said that it contained everything that the students would need to get them up to speed. These modules have taught Cheryl that although students are computer literate, they must be taught how to use any new pedagogical tool for learning. Unlike many computer games, it does not come naturally to them.For the last few years Malcolm Harper (Champlain St. Lambert) has been developing math (and most recently physics) homework problems using WeBWorK open source software. Teachers can monitor students' progress, track problem areas and address problems before the due date of a given assignment. One unexpected benefit teachers reported was the increase in students showing up for office hours, particularly among first semester students who often appeared with WeBWorK questions.
The learning curve for teachers new to WeBWorK, however, can be steep. For many teachers new to cégep teaching, learning a new homework delivery system while struggling to keep up with cégep teaching demands can result in delaying their learning to use WeBWorK. Despite this, the tool has overwhelmingly been adopted by younger members of Champlain St. Lambert's Math Department.
To make adoption easier for teachers, Malcolm and his team developed "template assignments" for each of the mainstream cégep mathematics courses, with each course broken down into mathematical topics. Teachers new to WeBWorK usually rely on these template assignments, and some also make up their own assignments to match their teaching style. Students have responded favourably to the tool, with many asking for additional questions to review before a test.
A sample problem
Virtual Team Teaching at Vanier
Eric Lozowy's and Nathan Loewen's Vanier-based VTT takes its roots from the Vanier – Sept-Iles J@nus project. Not only was J@nus a pioneer VTT ECQ initiative, it also paved the way for all other college-based projects funded by the ECQ. Eric and Nathan share their insights on the impact of VTT on faculty, citing three key elements.
First, teachers are brought together from different colleges who otherwise might not have worked together. They learn about pedagogy as well as different cultural and institutional realities. In certain cases, there is also a personal dimension : teachers are enriched by the perspectives and subjective experiences of their colleagues and develop a strong professional bond with them. In planning VTT sessions, participating teachers meet and work with pedagogical advisors online to identify shared learning objectives and then create activities with outcomes related to those objectives. For several teachers, this reinforces the practice of teaching by way of learning objectives, and collaborating within a teaching team makes the process more enjoyable and leads to tangible results. The VTT support team also debriefs teaching teams on their sessions, and this process encourages self-reflective practice.
Second, the VTT project develops teachers' digital literacy skills. Some teachers who embark on the VTT experience are not particularly technologically savvy. However, they quickly become at ease in a virtual, online learning environment and easily master web 2.0 tools and open online platforms such as Google Docs, Prezi, Skype, etc. In a matter of a few months, they acquire crucial competencies that allow them to function very well in an inter-institutional space that transcends the material limitations of their own college.
Third, the VTT project fosters collaborative attitudes, which are crucial for the success of a VTT session. Teachers must learn how to collaborate in order to design effective lesson plans and carry out the planned learning activities of a VTT session. The experience of working with a teaching partner and the VTT support team establishes a community of practice where consultations also touch upon the general experience of college teaching.
The TLC Factor
Any teacher contemplating similar experiments should keep in mind that :
- Troubleshooting will be a necessity at some point.
- Establishing appropriate levels of support, both technical and pedagogical, is crucial for success.
- Collaboration is the catalyst for enriching pedagogical activities.
A follow-up article could be the pitfalls of pedagogical experimentation. Most of us can probably contribute to that! What's your most memorable moment when experimenting in the classroom?
Special thanks to Cheryl Jenkins, Malcolm Harper, Eric Lozowy, Nathan Loewen and Jennifer Mitchell for their collaboration.