University of Calgary

Breaking the mould on student learning

UToday HomeApril 15, 2013

By Sarah McGinnis

Kenya-Jade Pinto, outgoing vice-president (academic) of the Students’ Union, chats with Calgary Mayor Naheed NenshiKenya-Jade Pinto, outgoing vice-president (academic) of the Students’ Union, chats with Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi during a campus celebration of the Taylor family’s donation of $40 million to the University of Calgary. Pinto spoke on behalf of students at the ceremony. Photo by Riley BrandtShahir Mishriki knows if he wants to become a successful engineer he needs to master more than just the technical skills.

The fourth-year student in the University of Calgary’s Schulich School of Engineering says being able to work with team members from diverse backgrounds and communicate his ideas to non-engineers will be critical to his professional success.

“Our engineers coming out are going to be working in a business world. It is really important for them to take the concepts they are working on and be able to present them to someone without the same technical knowledge,” says Mishriki.

“It is equally important for them to understand how the business world works, to understand environmental concerns, social concerns and how their idea can fit in the real world,” he said.

The University of Calgary’s new Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning is designed to ensure students go beyond academic principles and have hands-on learning opportunities that can translate into practical career-building experiences.

The College of Discovery, Creativity and Innovation, which will be located within the institute, will bring together undergraduate students from across disciplines to work together on year-long “grand challenges.”

The program will incorporate undergraduate students into research from the beginning of their degrees, helping them develop valuable investigative and critical thinking skills.

Under the direction of professors, post-doctoral fellows and graduate students from across campus, undergraduate students will work together to help find solutions to key societal problems for the betterment of all Canadians.

For instance, engineering and science students might be investigating alternative fuel technologies while business and arts students explore historical market conditions and what social and economic factors contribute to shifts in decision making in society. By taking all of these elements into consideration, together the students might uncover a solution that has immediate real-world applications.

“This is probably one of the most innovative pieces of the Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning,” says Dru Marshall, provost and vice-president (academic).

“With the grand challenges society is facing today, we really struggle to find solutions within single fields of research. By bringing students from across disciplines together, and supporting them with leading experts in the field, we can encourage the students to think, create and try to solve issues of significant importance to society,” she says.

Hands-on learning for students won’t stop with these grand challenges.

The Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning will also include an Office of Experiential Learning that will co-ordinate internships and service projects to help students continue their learning off campus.

The expansion of existing internship programs will provide students with additional flexibility to pursue their learning outside the classroom. It will also help bridge the gap between academic and employment worlds, helping students continue lifelong learning wherever they are.

“Student learning will be based where they may choose to work, to lead, to be citizens, and will take place in a variety of different experiences,” says Marshall.

Back on campus, the Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning will also include some of the latest technological advances and cutting-edge learning spaces to ensure students can learn in the ways they learn best.

Formal and informal learning spaces located in a renovated facility on the site of the former Nickle Arts Museum will be created so they can be adapted and changed depending on the needs of those using them.

Instead of being forced to teach or learn in a prescribed way based on how seating is set up in a given room, furniture and even some room designs will be able to be reconfigured with ease to accommodate different styles of student collaboration or interaction between students and instructors. If a newly reconfigured room is deemed to encourage student learning, it will be used as a prototype for the development of other classrooms on campus.

“I think technology has the ability of really bridging what the prof is trying to teach and what the students are actually learning, and it can really improve the feedback for the profs and vice versa,” said Mishriki.

The Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning won’t be ready to open until early 2016, but the University of Calgary isn’t waiting for construction to conclude before putting some of these exciting new student initiatives into action.

In the Schulich School of Engineering, Mishriki is already involved in the Maier Student Leadership Program. By participating in a series of intensive coaching sessions, workshops and conferences, he has honed his communication and leadership skills and feels better prepared to translate his engineering ideas to non-engineers.


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