Teaching Commons Founding Director Celia Popovic receives prestigious national award

Celia Popovic
Celia Popovic
Celia Popovic
Celia Popovic

Celia Popovic, associate professor in the Faculty of Education at York and the founding director of the University’s acclaimed Teaching Commons, has been awarded the Distinguished Educational Developer Career Award for 2019.

The award was presented to Popovic at the 2020 Educational Developers Caucus (EDC), which took place from Feb. 19 to 21 in Halifax, N.S.

Popovic received the award for her leadership role in developing a national framework for the accreditation of educational development programming in Canada. Since its launch in 2016, more than 18 educational development programs have been accredited by the EDC. Core to the uniqueness of the accreditation process developed by Popovic and her collaborators are two unique goals. The first goal is that the accreditation process serves as a vehicle to mentor and support educational developers in Canada and beyond in creating or developing programs to an established standard that would lead to EDC Accreditation. The second goal is that the process highlights and celebrates the professionalism of educational developers who create and facilitate these high-quality programs.

Celia Popovic shows off her award

“The Educational Developers’ Caucus is ‘my tribe.’ These are the people who know and understand my work. So, to receive a lifetime award from this group means a huge amount to me,” said Popovic. “It was particularly touching for me to have this acknowledgement from my Canadian colleagues a year after being granted a similar award by the Staff and Educational Development Association (SEDA) in the U.K. I believe I am the only person so far to have been recognized in this way by two national educational developer organizations. It is quite overwhelming to have my dual identity of Anglo-Canadian recognized in this way.”

Educational development is a recent entry into the Canadian educational landscape and Popovic says there is a quickly growing appreciation for the expertise that educational developers bring to the postsecondary landscape.

“Educational developers provide support and guidance in all things pertaining to teaching and learning in postsecondary education (PSE). They have a passion for and knowledge of effective pedagogies, they may be experts in particular fields such as experiential education or online learning, but they all care about teaching,” says Popovic. “The role of an educational developer may vary from institution to institution and country to country, but they all share this fundamental concern. In most English-speaking countries, educational developers can be found in centres such as the Teaching Commons and embedded in Faculties and departments. Often a faculty member with a passion for teaching will become an educational developer, either by switching roles to become a developer, or by incorporating elements of educational development into their day-to-day work with colleagues.”

York University was an early adopter of educational development. Popovic’s role as the founding director of the Teaching Commons at York University saw her devise the first operational plans for the Teaching Commons. She worked with stakeholders across the University to develop the strategic mandate for the Teaching Commons and established and mentored a strong and passionate team of educational developers. The EDC award recognizes this pivotal work and her role in introducing an annual teaching conference at York University, which is known as Teaching in Focus. She also created exemplary professional development programming for graduate students and faculty.

“If I were to pick out some key achievements, they would have to include the following: The annual TIF (Teaching in Focus) Conference is something that I am proud to have instigated at York. It is not easy to bring together presenters, keynote speakers, poster presenters and participants each year, but that event has now become an annual celebration of teaching and learning at York,” said Popovic. “Externally York has a healthy presence on many of the national and international bodies associated with educational development. Several of us, including myself have and do serve on the executive of EDC, COED (Council of Ontario Educational Developers) and SEDA (Staff and Educational Development Association, U.K.). This gives us the chance to influence and learn from national and international developments in the field of PSE teaching and learning. In 2013 I helped organize the FEED (Faculty Engagement in Educational Development) Summit at McMaster, which brought together colleagues from across Ontario’s universities, senior administrators, faculty members, union representatives and students to debate the issue of teacher training for instructors and encouraging engagement of faculty in educational development.”

York University has always provided support for teaching assistants (TAs), particularly those who are graduate students. Popovic says it was personally important that this support continue when the Teaching Commons was formed. The Teaching Commons provides a range of supports for graduate students and faculties. Specifically, for graduate students, she is most proud of the breadth of workshops the Teaching Commons provides, from the initial “how to get started” workshops through an in-depth accredited course for TAs and the unique STA program where TAs are scaffolded in designing and delivering TA teaching and learning workshops for their peers.

She also played a pivotal role in the development and delivery of the Academic Innovation Fund (AIF). “This was created before I joined York, but as the Teaching Commons director I had an extensive involvement in the development of the fund, as well as direct involvement in supporting many of the influential projects that were funded by the scheme. I am particularly pleased that research by instructors into their teaching is now funded by a category of AIF.”

A prolific author, Popovic has provided extensive contributions to the fields of higher education and educational development, including numerous peer-reviewed conference presentations, journal articles and an EDC Guide – Educational Development Guide Series No 3 Centre Reviews: Strategies for Success. She has also co-edited and/or co-authored several books, including Advancing Practice in Academic Development (with David Baume), Understanding Undergraduates (with David Green), and Learning from Academic Conferences: Realizing the benefits on individual and institutional practice.