Office of the Vice-Principal (Research)

Office of the Vice-Principal (Research)
Office of the Vice-Principal (Research)

Pursuing Pedagogy with Panache: Denise Stockley


Denise Stockley began her career almost 25 years ago in an elementary school classroom, and might have been content to stay there much longer than she did. However, curiosity and opportunity intervened, leaving the rest of us able to count ourselves lucky for the way things worked out.

For the last decade, Stockley has been an educational developer with the university’s Centre for Teaching and Learning in Mackintosh-Corry Hall. That role might conjure up images of a fairly straightforward service – making better instructors out of graduate students and faculty members – but the reality is far different. She has directly assisted hundreds of instructors, but Stockley also brings an infectious energy and enthusiasm to the formal study known as pedagogy. If that pursuit sounds all too stuffy or downright quaint in an era where students are attending massive open online courses and webinars, it has served her well as an invitation to a dazzling array of educational environments.
“I work with anyone who gets excited about how we can enhance and encourage learning,” she says. These collaborations have led her to deliver guest lectures in every faculty and teach term-length courses in four faculties, demonstrating the effectiveness of techniques such as direct interactions with students, regardless of how large the class might be. Yet her activities have gone far beyond the comparatively simple task of building better teachers. Stockley has used these occasions to open up new avenues for research into the many different ways people learn, and the many different ways that learning can be affected.
She acknowledges that pedagogical research might sound like a fairly abstract, purely academic pursuit, but it is one that has landed her front-and-centre in a number of major projects demanding an understanding of how participants acquire knowledge. For example, when the Human Mobility Research Centre sought to establish a new training program in bone and joint health technologies, the organization turned to her for input on how to set up this activity for biomedical students. The resulting proposal was among the first in Canada to receive a $1.65 million grant from NSERC’s Collaborative Research and Training Experience (CREATE) program, which was launched in 2009. She has since worked with two more CREATE grants for educational ventures – one dedicated to students who will be working with ultra-large-scale computer systems and the other to engineers who will be developing sustainable engineering in remote parts of the world. In each case, Stockley has helped to tailor an educational strategy to meet the particular goals supported by this substantial funding.
She also chairs the education and training committee of the Technology Evaluation in the Elderly Network (TVN), a national Network of Centres of Excellence dedicated to helping the country’s frail elderly population. TVN is based at Queen’s, where Stockley has framed a comprehensive approach to training for more than 100 individuals who will go on to play key roles in enabling the country’s health care system. Colleagues marvel at her publication record, which features journal articles in specialized areas where she has no formal training, and often little specific knowledge. “My focus is not the disciplinary content but how we create environments for people to learn within the disciplines.”
“The idea of creating individual learning opportunities, recognizing that each person learns differently – all those things are what play out in my work now,” she explains. “The assumption that we have to transmit knowledge through a traditional lecture is not the assumption now. Now the idea is that there are other ways for people to learn, and sometimes those ways are out of our comfort zone.” Stockley, for her part, appears to be entirely content outside of her own comfort zone. She is currently on academic leave to take up a one-year post as Researcher-in- Residence at the Office of Health Sciences Education, where she is looking forward to staking out the pedagogical territory in yet another discipline that is new to her. In the meantime, during her absence, she expects the Centre to continue to evolve as it has done since she arrived some 14 years ago. “We were always focused on practice-grounded pedagogical research,” she says. “What’s changed is that we’re doing more outreach. When I do pedagogical research, it’s about how we are building capacity, how we are creating networks and bringing in the right people.”
Nor is she surprised by an emphasis on using pedagogy as a way of making educators more accountable, given the considerable investments that are now being made in learning technology and ambitious programs such as CREATE. Having taught or researched in practically every academic nook and cranny of the campus, Stockley finds it all too easy to express the common underlying objective. “We have very high expectations for our learners,” she concludes, “and we should have very high expectations for teaching.”