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‘Rediscovering our academic selves’

The Centre for Teaching and Learning has a new five-year plan which helps prepare the centre for its refocused role.

[Sue Fostaty Young]
Sue Fostaty Young was appointed director of the Centre for Teaching and Learning in September. She served as interim director for the past year. (University Communications)

The Centre for Teaching and Learning (CTL) is taking the opportunity to take stock of both where it is and where it needs to go.

Earlier this month, Sue Fostaty Young was appointed as Director of the Centre for Teaching and Learning. Prior to this, Dr. Fostaty Young was the centre’s interim director, programs manager, and educational developer. She has been with the CTL since 2012, and a member of the Queen’s community since the 1990s. She is also an internationally recognized researcher.

Dr. Fostaty Young sat down with the Queen’s Gazette to talk about her five-year plan for the centre.

How have the first few weeks in the role of director been for you and the team?

It is going well, and part of the reason it is going well is that I have been doing the job on an interim basis for a year. It is really gratifying to know that I have established enough trust over the last year for me to be asked to do this.

The other reason it is going smoothly is that I think the CTL has the best staff on campus. We get along well, we have differences of opinion that are constructive, and we work well together.

A lot of the changes that I have identified to the provost – the directions we want to take – are a direct result of consultations with the people who work here and the work they are doing. Because of this, it has been an easy transition.

Part of that work is changing your centre’s model in response to the changing needs of your clients. Walk us through how those conversations went, and why this is important.

When I took over as interim director, one of the first things I did was ask for an external review of the centre. One hadn’t been done in 10 years.

From that review, we received 23 recommendations regarding potential directions and orientations to programming for us to take. That was a really good springboard for us.

We received the report at the end of April, and we had a planning retreat where we determined which of the 23 recommendations were for us, which ones were for the provost and vice-provost (Teaching and Learning), and which ones were most important to enact first.

In collaboration with the centre staff, and input from the vice-provost (teaching and learning) and associate deans, I was able to propose a new direction for the centre.

In recent years, we had become very service oriented and we relied less on our own academic work to inform our practice. We have always been evidence-based, but in recent years we had been using research from other universities to inform our work. Now, the move will be to generate more Queen’s-based evidence and building practice around that. We are re-claiming our academic selves.

The CTL of the next few years will seek a better balance between academics, service, and leadership – which are the three fundamental pillars of educational development practice.

Tell us more about these recommendations.

A lot of the changes started happening last year. To the naked eye, it will seem that we are still offering workshops and doing a lot of the things we have always done. But if you take a hard look at what we are doing, everything is focused around institutional priorities. As examples: we have a workshop series on decolonizing the curriculum, and we have a workshop series on writing across the curriculum.

We also have staff working with the Human Rights and Equity Office on inclusive pedagogies and inclusiveness at Queen’s – another high-level priority. While we are still doing consultations and workshops, they are focused more at an institutional and departmental level rather than an individual faculty member level.

How have CTL staff embraced the recommendations? How about clients and the leadership?

The staff are really energized about the changes. These have been a long-time coming. It is full steam ahead.

Right now, the staff roles look pretty much the same as they did before. We are still in the planning phase on some distributed leadership efforts around certain programs and topics.

When we had our retreat in May, I told staff that, come Monday, the CTL will look as much the same as it does now… the change will be evolutionary. We are in a state of transition but, by the end of the next academic year, the centre will look very different.

The provost and vice-provost (Teaching and Learning) are supportive of where we are going.

What will the new CTL look like in light of these changes?

At decentralized universities like Queen’s, it is not uncommon for faculties to have their own teaching and learning professionals so they can provide at-the-shoulder, just-in-time teaching development support to their faculty members.

So, two and half years ago, we re-introduced the Queen’s Educational Developers’ Network (QEDN) – equipping us to collaborate with the embedded teaching and learning-focused staff in the faculties, and helping us to build a good relationship with those embedded units.

When you pair that network with this new vision, the CTL functions as the hub of an integrated network for teaching support. This allows us to help determine priorities and work with each of the faculties to support the big educational and institutional initiatives.

We have been planting the seeds of this new model for several years. So it may look like we are doing something shiny and new now, but we would not be where we are today without some of those important stepping stones along the way.

When you talk about doing our own research, what research is underway now?

All of our educational developers hold PhDs and are researchers by nature. We are supporting inquiries  about the active learning spaces and classroom design, program review, assessment and soon on decolonizing the curriculum, and writing pedagogies.

We are fortunate to have researchers on staff who align with the institutional priorities.

Anything else in the years ahead for the Centre for Teaching and Learning?

We have a lot of fabulous teachers on this campus. One of the things we can improve on from the past few years is to support and make use of the educational leaders we have on campus.

We have internationally and nationally recognized teachers, and we have some who are so busy being great teachers that they don’t have the awards they deserve. We are still figuring out how to do it, but we want to find ways to recognize them and help their colleagues learn from them.

More about Sue Fostaty Young

Prior to joining the Centre for Teaching and Learning in 2012, she served as the Assessment and Evaluation Consultant for Undergraduate Medicine, and as an educational research associate in the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science. She is co-author of Assessment and Learning: The ICE Approach, which outlines a comprehensive yet accessible conception of learning and assessment that is popular with both teachers and students and has recently gained international prominence with the publication of a Japanese edition.

Dr. Fostaty Young holds degrees from McGill University and Queen's University.