World Café serving up ideas

(Edmonton) With pens in hands, diverse groups of researchers, students and staff will be milling and shuffling around tables March 15 at the atrium of the Edmonton Clinic Health Academy. On each tablevwill be printed questions—How can universities create a learner-centred education? is one example—which the groups will ponder and then pen their replies. The atrium will become a World Café, brimming with ideas.

“The overall thought is to set up a place where people from all over the university come together and talk about teaching and learning by asking thoughtful questions,” says University of Alberta infectious diseases professor Sarah Forgie and World Café organizer.

“They will discuss these questions, write their responses down or raise more questions, working as a team. At the end, we will hopefully have some ideas that we will use going forward,” she said.

The ideas generated will help create effective learning environments that promote self-discovery, develop scholarship and enhance exemplary teaching at the U of A, says Forgie. The café is part of the U of A’s ongoing Festival of Teaching.

Forgie says there’s a need to shift the traditional focus from teaching to one of learning—a path she says the U of A has been following.

“The old way was teacher-centred and now we’re moving towards learner-centred, and I think people at the university are at very different stages of that,” she said. “A learner-centred environment makes for a nicer experience for the learner; the learners feel valued and their values are valued. And it makes a
longer-lasting change in the learner, which is what’s needed.”

One way to attain that goal is to bring the experiences of learners into the classroom. Another is to bridge gaps among disciplines.

In her own classes, Forgie deconstructs learning and encourages creativity.

“It’s a bit of a change for many of my students—because they’re used to a certain way of teaching and learning—coming into my world, where I want to engage everybody, where the learners are doing peer teaching, [where] they will teach each other and I bring other peer teachers, students who are further along in their learning, to come back and share,” she said. “I see people come up with ideas such as creating a play, song or film to learn about a certain bacteria and treatment. It’s been fantastic, really amazing.”

The Festival of Teaching will conclude March 15 with a keynote closing address frin Larrie Greenberg, a clinical professor in pediatrics at George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences. Among his many honours, Greenberg’s achievements as a teacher are particularly telling. He started one of the first office rotations for pediatric residents in 1974, started faculty development and the Master Teachers’ program, did the first randomized control trial research on teaching residents how to teach in the late 1970s and published on the use of standardized patients in the early 1980s to teach doctors how to give bad news to parents.

The café begins at 2:45 p.m. with the keynote address beginning at 4:30 p.m. Both events are being held in the ECHA south atrium.