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Head of the class

Head of the class

Jill Scott’s eyes light up the minute someone mentions the word “teaching.”

For the German ­professor and vice-provost (teaching and learning), pedagogy is a passion.

“I see being here at Queen’s as an enormous privilege,” says Dr. Scott, who took on the newly-created vice-provost role in 2013. “People trust us with students, and we owe it to them to demonstrate that students have learned.”

Though it is a relatively new portfolio, Dr. Scott has accomplished much in the last year. Together with Brian Frank, Professor and Director of Program Development in the ­Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science, she co-chaired the Provost’s Task Force on the Student Learning Experience.

The task force, which included faculty members, students and administrators, released its Teaching and Learning Action Plan in March 2014. The plan, which includes 15 teaching-related recommendations, provides a road map for the ­future of ­teaching and learning at Queen’s. 

Recommendations include everything from establishing a University Teaching and Learning Committee and developing university-wide support for eLearning, to creating mechanisms to hire teaching-focused faculty positions that include scholarship of teaching and learning in higher education.

“We spent a lot of time asking ourselves: What is the essence of student engagement? What is the best way to ensure that students come away with the best possible learning experience?” says Dr. Scott.

“We also looked at best practices across the sector – what other institutions are doing that we, as a quintessential balanced academy, could also be doing.”

Dr. Scott notes the growing push towards assessing student learning, and focusing on learning outcomes, is changing the way people view the learning experience.

“It’s about teaching people to be lifelong learners, to understand themselves as learners,” she says.

“What are the most important skills? They’re the transferrable skills.”

That means ensuring that teachers are thinking more deliberately about incorporating opportunities for students to learn critical thinking, problem solving, and communication skills, and providing spaces that enable those opportunities. The recently renovated Ellis Hall classrooms are a shining example of how changes to physical space can improve the student learning experience. (See story on page 21.)

But Dr. Scott also points out that transforming learning spaces goes beyond classrooms, citing the recent Library and Archives Master Plan (LAMP) as one that prioritizes “community” spaces that encourage active learning for individuals and small groups. Community learning spaces are also being ­created online. Queen’s was recently awarded funding to design and host 13 online courses, receiving 19 per cent of the total funding available through the new Ontario Online initiative. The courses run the gamut from Anatomy of the Human Body to ­Introduction to Literary Study to Engineering ­Economics.

Many instructors are also bringing aspects of more traditional courses online, incorporating videos, readings and online discussion to enhance the in-class learning ­experience.

“I believe in transformative learning, and that every learning ­experience should be transformative in some way,” she says.

Next up for Dr. Scott and her team is to revise the name, mandate and scope of the teaching and learning service unit (currently called the Centre for Teaching and Learning).

“We’re trying to help our students become ­future leaders, to lead them to leadership. There’s just nothing more inspiring than seeing that ­transformation happen right before your eyes.” 


[Queen's Alumni Review 2014-3 cover]