Celia Popovic, founding director of the Teaching Commons and a professor in the Faculty of Education at York University, has been inducted into the 2018 Honour Roll of the Staff and Educational Development Association (SEDA), which is based in the United Kingdom.
Considered to be a leader in educational development, SEDA is a professional association for staff and educational developers who are dedicated to promoting innovation and good teaching practice in higher education.
For Popovic, the honour is particularly meaningful because it recognizes her pioneering work to bring educational development into the forefront of the post-secondary sector. She is one of Canada’s most important voices in a field devoted to enhancing both the teaching practice of faculty and the learning experience of students.
It was her own experience as a new contract faculty member at Wolverhampton University in the U.K. that sparked her life-long interest in, and dedication to, educational development. “I first became interested when as a contract faculty member of Wolverhampton University in the mid-1980s and I was shocked to find that there wasn’t any guidance or training for new instructors,” recalls Popovic. “I couldn’t believe I was alone in thinking it would be useful to learn from others’ experience and started to seek out formal and informal support. I rapidly became fascinated with the field and realized a desire to contribute to this emerging practice.
“I discovered SEDA in 2004 when I attended my first SEDA conference and basically ‘found my tribe!’ For the first time I was surrounded by people who understood my language and shared my passion,” she says. “My first educational developer role was in 1992 when I was employed by De Montfort University in the U.K., and a year later I joined the Open University. In both institutions I worked with faculty, particularly in connection with implementing technology into their teaching.”
Educational development is emerging as an important and potent force for universities and colleges, especially given the increasing competition for students and new faculty. It brings teaching and learning communities together to enhance the classroom experience from both sides of the lectern. Educational developers provide guidance and consultation on teaching methods, classroom organization, evaluation, in-class teaching strategies, curriculum design and presentation.
At York University, the Teaching Commons is the home port for the University’s growing league of educational developers. The Teaching Commons under Popovic’s leadership has grown from a concept into a vibrant hub. It has expanded to offer instruction to teaching assistants, and new and experienced faculty, and is playing an important role in emerging areas such as experiential education and technology-enhanced learning.
Since joining York University in 2011 and being appointed director of the Teaching Commons in 2012, Popovic has been a dynamic force and a vocal agent of change. She is most proud of the Teaching Commons team that she has built and describes them as an amazing group of dedicated professionals. “I can honestly say that I have never had the fortune to work with so many fiercely intelligent, professional, knowledgeable and committed individuals. Together we have built a Teaching Commons – we are more than the sum of our parts, we provide resources, events and guidance to all who teach at York University,” says Popovic. “My colleagues from across Canada and beyond tell me that the team at York University is second to none.”
As part of her role, she grew a dedicated program for Teaching Assistants and is the driving force behind York University’s annual Teaching in Focus conference. Both the Teaching Assistant program and the conference are free and booked to capacity each year. (The 2018 Teaching in Focus conference will take place at York University’s Keele Campus on Dec. 5.)
Popovic’s SEDA honour recognizes her pivotal work in growing Canada’s presence in the Educational Development field and her work on behalf of SEDA in the U.K. “The SEDA honour means a huge amount to me. I have been exceptionally fortunate to forge friendships and professional networks with colleagues in both the U.K. and Canada,” she says. “I left the U.K. seven years ago, but despite that my colleagues from my past life value my work enough to confer this honour on me – this is an award that is made by the body as a whole (they vote on it) so it is particularly meaningful.”
Never one to rest on her laurels, Popovic recently decided to step down from her role as director of the Teaching Commons to focus on her passion for teaching and scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL).
“After seven years as director of the Teaching Commons I decided that I needed a new challenge,” she says, noting that she also felt it was important to step aside to allow for others with a new energy and vision the opportunity to continue to develop the Teaching Commons.
“Having achieved tenure I realized that I had the astonishing opportunity to step aside and return to my original passion of teaching undergraduate and graduate students,” she says. “I am also excited to be able to turn my attention to research into teaching and learning (SoTL).”
An accomplished author and editor, Popovic has produced a slew of books on educational development in a few short years. These are: Understanding Undergraduates (2012) with David Green; Advancing Practice in Academic Development (2016) with David Baume; Learning from Academic Conferences (2018) by Popovic, and “Centre Reviews: Strategies for Success” with numerous co-authors, for the Educational Development Guide Series (2018).
The SEDA induction to the Roll of Honour comes as the association celebrates its 25th anniversary. The citation for Popovic reads:
Celia has been a key figure in SEDA for many years and, even based in Canada, she has continued to make rich and varied contributions to the work of SEDA. Through being deputy editor of the SEDA journal Celia has been able to champion the dissemination of evidence-based practices to enrich student experiences in diverse contexts. Her Program Leadership of SEDA’s Supporting and Leading Educational Change course has enabled individuals working in a range of settings to be recognized as Fellows of SEDA. Celia is passionate about what she does, and she continues to make a difference to the educational development community as a whole. We are delighted to include her on the SEDA Roll of Honour.