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Impacting student futures

Wendy Powley of the School of Computing receives the Chancellor A. Charles Baillie Teaching Award.
Wendy Powley is the 2020 recipient of the Chancellor A. Charles Baillie Teaching Award, which recognizes undergraduate, graduate or professional teaching that has had an outstanding influence on the quality of student learning at Queen’s University. (Supplied Photo)

Throughout her career Wendy Powley has had a positive impact on students and their education, from teaching a variety of courses, from introduction to programming to computer ethics in computing, to her work toward increasing the number of young women studying and pursuing careers in the technology sector.

As a result, Powley is the 2020 recipient of the Chancellor A. Charles Baillie Teaching Award, which recognizes undergraduate, graduate or professional teaching that has had an outstanding influence on the quality of student learning at Queen’s University.

“The adjudication committee was astonished by what Professor Powley has accomplished. Her dedication is remarkable and extends well beyond what is normally expected of a Continuing Adjunct Professor,” says John Pierce, Vice-Provost (Teaching and Learning). “The student-centered approach to teaching, built-in mentorship methods, and the bridges that have been built to attract more female students to the discipline from high school are all particularly impressive. The teaching strategies employed and developed by Professor Powley offer special opportunities to learners from equity-seeking groups and are sound pedagogical approaches that elevate everyone in the classroom.”

Powley has been a faculty member at the School of Computing for over 20 years, while also teaching courses in the Faculty of Education and Arts and Science Online. She has been a major contributor to the School of Computing’s success, having developed the curriculum for more than 10 distinct courses in three units.

For example, her redesign of CISC 110, an introductory computing course, resulted in a three-fold jump in enrolment, an increase in the participation of women, while 92 per cent of the students enrolled in a second computing course. A grant from the Centre for Teaching and Learning was used to add a mentorship component to CISC 110 in 2019.

“I am honoured to receive this award in recognition for the diversity work that I do. I am pleased that Queen's acknowledges that teaching involves far more than simply conveying subject knowledge,” Powley says. “A large part of what we do – role modeling, inspiring, encouraging, building confidence is all part of the teaching experience and I am pleased to be recognized for this. I am also proud to be the recipient of this award as a continuing adjunct. It is wonderful to be part of an institution that has been proactive and ahead of other universities in providing opportunities and supporting and acknowledging individuals that have become career academics via a non-traditional path.”

Active learning

A hallmark of Powley’s classes is the use of active learning wherever possible. When lecturing, she incorporates demonstrations and illustrations and explanations into nearly every class. When it comes to coding she uses live coding, which can lead to real-life debugging tasks with the entire class involved in finding a solution. This demonstrates the real struggles of coding and normalizes errors. Significant learning in computer science stems from failure, Powley explains, so it is important for students to learn the debugging process and to understand that it is a normal and vital part of the software development process.

“Wendy is an exceptional teacher, a role model for young colleagues and students and a champion of women in computing in Canada and internationally,” says Hossam Hassanein, Director of the School of Computing. “In every task Wendy does, she goes far above and beyond what is expected and does so because of her dedication and love of the School of Computing and Queen’s.”

Women in technology

Away from the classroom, Powley has played a fundamental role in promoting education and career paths in computing and technology for young women. She is the founder of the Canadian Celebration of Women in Computing (CAN-CWiC) – which began as an Ontario-only event at Queen's University in 2010. The 2019 event attracted 750 participants from across the country, bringing together leaders in research, education, and industry, as well as students.

During her career Powley has introduced computing to thousands of students. She has taught introductory programming, databases, operating systems, web development, ethics and curriculum courses for pre-service teachers. She receives excellent evaluations from students who use words such as engaging, excellent, and amazing to describe her classes, while her fellow faculty members often hear from their students how much Powley has influenced their education.

“My motivation comes from the students and the impact that we can have on their lives – from teaching them a new skill, pointing out a career avenue that perhaps they have never considered or helping them to find the confidence that they need to pursue a life-changing dream,” she says. “There is truly nothing like hearing from a student that because they took your course, they have achieved success.” 

More information about the Chancellor A. Charles Baillie Teaching Award, including eligibility requirements, is available on the Centre for Teaching and Learning website.