Festival of Teaching 2011's classroom focus gets to the heart of the matter

(Edmonton) For students and staff eagerly awaiting this year's Festival of Teaching, there are a few important changes happening in this year's incarnation.

For one, this festival moves from February to March 7-10. For another, it has expanded from a one-day event to a four-day, full-blown celebration of teaching that strikes to where the heart of teaching generally beats: the classroom.

Colleen Skidmore, festival co-chair and vice-provost (academic), said this year's festival committee has been busy "coming up with new, fresh ideas" for the look and feel of the event. This fourth season, she says, needed a bit of a re-envisioning of what the festival was and how it would continue the tradition and honour the novel instructional opportunities and methods of U of A faculty.

But a redefined and revamped festival requires the involvement of returning elements like banner presentations, and new features like the classroom presentations portion of the festival. That means recruitment is well underway, but far from over.

"We have a call out to professors who are willing to open their learning environment for the festival," she said. "We want this to be an active festival, so we want to see real teaching in action."

Organizers have taken on the ambitious task of canvassing for at least 100 professors to open their classes to the university public for observation. So far, they are about three quarters of the way there. Skidmore says that, while the number of professor participants may have been ambitious, given the sheer number of classes across campus at any given time, it was well within their means to accomplish. And it has also meant that U of A satellites, Campus Saint-Jean and Augustana Campus, have taken up the torch to bring the celebration of teaching to their halls as well.

"Augustana has 14 classes that they're going to open to us," said Skidmore, "so one of the days is a special Augustana day."

Also added this year is a keynote address to open the festival, and the choice of an inaugural speaker is someone who is no stranger to teaching or to the U of A. Maria Klawe, who received her undergraduate and doctoral degrees in mathematics, and whose mother taught economics at the U of A, will present March 7. Klawe is currently the president of Harvey Mudd College in California.

While the banner presentations will take place on the last day of the event, the classroom presentations will run throughout the week. The festival will round off with another keynote event and a closing presentation, which Skidmore says will be based on TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) talks, wherein five or six dynamic teachers will give roughly 10-minute TED-style speeches.

"We're ambitious," says Skidmore, admitting that this year's format of the Festival of Teaching is a departure from years past; however, she notes that the changes are part of a learning experience for the organizing committee. And, as any good teacher knows, sometimes the greatest risks in teaching yield the biggest benefits.

And while the event is pulling together quite well, Skidmore says the organizers still want to hear from more professors campus-wide who want to be part of the four-day Festival of Teaching. Individual invitations have gone out to several people on campus, but she is hoping that more will submit their names in an expression of interest.

"I think most professors are pretty modest and wouldn't necessarily think of themselves and their work as being interesting to a broader community," she said. "But they're such fine teachers. We want those day-to-day good teachers."

For more information, visit: http://www.provost.ualberta.ca/FestivalofTeaching2011.aspx

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