Feb. 5, 2019

University of Calgary Teaching Scholars receive $40,000 over three years for education leadership initiatives

Submit your application by Feb. 28, 2019
Thomas O'Neill says the Teaching Scholars program connects colleagues across campus.

Thomas O'Neill says the Teaching Scholars program connects colleagues across campus.

Adrian Shellard, for the Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning

Supported by the Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning, the University of Calgary Teaching Scholars program supports faculty in enhancing their education leadership through initiatives that enrich the quality of teaching and learning. The program provides recipients $40,000 over three years to implement their projects. Through the program, faculty influence change within and across disciplines, engage other colleagues in strengthening their teaching and learning practices, and participate in an interdisciplinary community of practice.

“We know how important local educational leadership is to creating strong teaching and learning cultures, communities and practices,” says Dr. Natasha Kenny, senior director at the Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning. “The University of Calgary Teaching Scholars program provides a unique opportunity for individual faculty members to build their educational leadership capacity, especially for those who may not hold a formal leadership role.”

From the Department of Psychology, associate professor Dr. Thomas O’Neill, PhD, and senior instructor Dr. Melissa Boyce, PhD, have put their Teaching Scholars funding toward comprehensive research into well-being in collaborative learning scenarios. Specifically, they conducted a three-year experiment involving teamwork with three separate student groups in a first-year psychology course. This project is part of a software assessment platform that Dr. O’Neill is developing, which offers a series of assessments for students to take to receive instant feedback reports on their scores, their styles, teammate perceptions and team success.

“This is a global tool,” O’Neill explains. “It’s something that I hope the University of Calgary can take advantage of and say, 'We’re a leader in developing teamwork capabilities in postsecondary graduates.' I mean, Melissa and I are already doing it.”

A Teaching Scholars initiative in action

O’Neill and Boyce’s project, Developing Student Teamwork Skills through Feedback on Personality and Conflict Management Styles, is multi-faceted, taking place over three years and involving more than 400 students. In the experiment’s first year, the grading scheme of the professors’ course did not hold students accountable to their groupmates’ assessments of their contributions. As O.Neill and Boyce expected, the students experienced a significant degree of conflict. The second year incorporated feedback into students’ final grades, and the results were markedly more positive, with an overwhelming spike in healthy team dynamics and enthusiastic student responses. The experiment’s third year will revert back to the first year’s grading scheme — if O’Neill and Boyce’s predictions are correct, feedback will be negative again, thus confirming their beliefs about the importance of feedback in positive classroom teamwork results. Indeed, the preliminary analysis supports this conclusion.

Reflecting on this project’s significance in relation to conflict between team members, Boyce says, “What I see a lot in my classes where teamwork occurs is that there will be role division, where everyone works individually and then pools their contributions at the end, rather than collaboration, where there’s a discussion of all components and consensus is reached. Where conflict can be useful is in discussing where ideas diverge and how to resolve these differences. When it is truly a collaborative process, students don’t feel that any single part of the project is theirs versus belonging to another student in the team.”

She continues to discuss the significance of this research project in realizing these goals. “I would say that I have noticed that, since using Tom [O'Neill]’s ITPmetrics.com platform, it appears to be helpful, definitely in terms of quantitative feedback. If you have an identity where you’re now a team rather than the individual separate components, I think you’ll feel more compelled to work with each other.”

Teaching Scholars discover new ideas from colleagues across campus

O’Neill and Boyce both appreciated Teaching Scholars not only for its financial support in pursuing their comprehensive research project, but also for its role in community-building between faculties and departments across campus.

“With Tom [O’Neill] and I both being psychologists, getting some feedback from someone in social work or feedback from someone in vet med has been very useful, because they come at these questions with a different perspective,” Boyce explains. “I would say that the ability to share collaborative ideas has been useful. It has also been really interesting for my own practice, to learn about other people’s projects, and some of the cool things that they’re doing in their classes. I think that as an instructor, there’s just that tendency whenever you hear about something, you personalize it – you think, 'Well, how could I transform that to make that work in my class?

O’Neill describes the program as a community of practice. “You know, people who are passionate about the subject of the scholarship of teaching and learning get to meet each other from all different disciplines in the university,” he says. “That’s huge.”

He encourages those who are interested in teamwork assessment and feedback to navigate ITPmetrics.com and take advantage of the free evidence-backed tools.

Apply to the University of Calgary Teaching Scholars program

The University of Calgary is pleased to extend funding opportunities for new Teaching Scholars. The deadline for applications is February 28, 2019. Click here for more information.