York University’s Teaching Commons: Embracing innovation and good pedagogy

Celia Popvic, director of York Teaching Commons

Over the two years of its existence, the Academic Innovation Fund (AIF) has supported over 50 projects focused on teaching and learning that are leading a spirit of change from within York University.

Many of the projects are yielding new techniques and strategies to enhance both the teaching practices and satisfaction of faculty as it relates to their classroom experience, and the engagement of the York students in their learning. Supporting good pedagogy in these areas and more is a team of faculty, staff and researchers who make up York University’s Teaching Commons.

celia2fpCelia Popovic

The Teaching Commons is led by director Celia Popovic, an academic who came to York University from the UK-based Birmingham City University. Working with her are educational developers Yelin Su and Ellen Sims. Supporting them are research assistant and former York teaching assistant Mandy Frake-Mistak, an expert in the role of teaching assistants in the University, and Faculty of Health contract faculty member Robindra Sidhu, a specialist in experiential education. In addition to establishing itself during this first year of operation, the Teaching Commons has been providing invaluable support for many AIF projects.

 “The Teaching Commons is related to the Academic Innovation Fund in that it is a repository and incubator for some of the new teaching practices being explored and developed through projects such as those investigating experiential education and technology-enhanced learning, in addition to traditional lecture formats,” says Popovic.

The team develops seminars, resources and courses for all of University’s full – and part-time faculty and teaching assistants to help them adopt new pedagogies or enhance their teaching experience. They also work with AIF project champions to channel important findings into new courses, seminars and other supports for the University’s faculty.

For an example of this activity, Popovic points to new course offered by the Teaching Commons that is focused on supporting faculty who are interested in adopting new techniques using eLearning. “The [eLearning] course is completely free to faculty who wish to explore ways of using eLearning in their courses, whether that is fully online, a blended learning course or other elements of classroom technology,” explains Popovic. “Looking to the future, I can see the Teaching Commons working very closely with AIF project champions to see what sort of other developments will take place and how we can better support faculty.”

“We are increasingly offering accredited courses to faculty because we feel that while it is appropriate to have a short quick burst of information (perhaps it is something a faculty member needs to know immediately that will help with teaching), what is more effective and long lasting is when we work with faculty over a period of time, looking at teaching in the round,” she explains.

As part of this work, the Teaching Commons is building an inventory of resources that include new courses, seminars, informal brown bag lunch and learn sessions and best practices employed by York faculty, which the team views as an important step towards enhancing the sense of connection within the University’s teaching community.

“Universities are about knowledge generation and research, but they are also about knowledge dissemination and engaging young minds to be inspired and have a love of their discipline,” she says. “I know how important it is for York’s faculty to do that,” says Popovic.

group3bThe Teaching Commons team meets regularly to discuss new pedagogies, best practices and innovations

She invites faculty to come to the Teaching Commons, to reclaim their passion for teaching and find out about exciting developments in pedagogy and the wealth of resources available to support them.

“It’s an exciting time at the Teaching Commons,” says Popovic. “I believe the work we are doing is absolutely fundamental because we are supporting faculty, the powerhouse that is the University.