Located on the fifth floor of Mills Library, the McMaster Institute for Innovation and Excellence in Teaching and Learning has just completed a renovation project for its offices.
Accessed by the rear-facing elevator doors and separated from the rest of the library, MIIETL feels tucked away, relatively undisturbed. But the renovations have really modernized the look and feel of the office space, and will allow MIIETL to better accommodate a potential increase in traffic from the McMaster population.
Formerly known as the Centre for Leadership in Learning, MIIETL is responsible for online initiatives at McMaster University, whether it's Avenue to Learn or a number of new blended online learning courses. But with a full-time staff of over 30 and numerous other part-time students and researchers, that's only a small part of what they do, explained Teaching and Learning Director Arshad Ahmad.
"In simple language, we help teachers to improve," he said. "We are partners with faculty, with staff, with students; whoever is in the business of teaching and learning and wants to improve, we're there to support them."
"Our business is helping people, to improve teaching, but also collecting evidence and doing research on teaching - in partnership," he emphasized.
With more of MIIETL's work being directed towards research on effective teaching and learning, the goal is for the redesign to allow more space for new students and researchers who will be working in collaboration with the institute. However, the renovations haven't expanded out of the occupied area; rather, it's given the offices a level of privacy that wasn't afforded by the cubicle-like walls before. In addition, sound that used to bleed from the inner classroom has now been minimized, and it can now accommodate up to 100 students.
Kris Knorr, the Research Coordinator at MIIETL, was principally involved with the summer renovations and commented that they looked at both open and closed designs, before ultimately deciding on a more private space.
Said Knorr, "it was part of [Ahmad's] vision to help alleviate [the noise and privacy issue] and help to create some new space for the growing capacity of MIIETL, and for the new work that we were going to be endeavoring with.
The growing collaboration with students is a sentiment that was echoed by both Knorr and Ahmad.
Knorr explained, "It's important for us to make sure that we have student partnership and a student voice in the work that we do."
With the renovation completed on time for its Sept. 1 deadline, MIIETL is planning on unveiling its new office space in time for November.
Formerly known as the Centre for Leadership and Learning, the McMaster Institute for Innovation and Excellence in Teaching and Learning promises initiatives that look at ways to improve the practice of education for students, professors, and faculties at large.
After going through a name change, the McMaster Institute for Innovation and Excellence in Teaching and Learning has its sights set on several first-year courses.
MIIETL’s director Arshad Ahmad said that many new initiatives revolve on the redesign of first-year courses like biology, chemistry, ecology and economics.
Right now the institute is focused on first year undergraduate classes hoping to gain a better understanding of how best to serve students in their adjustment to university life and ultimately increase the rate of returning students.
A successful project of MIIETL is their recent work with Dr. Joseph Kim, a professor of psychology, to make the IntroPsych course fully online by next September. To fulfill this goal, the imperative lies in effective research according to Ahmad.
“We gather evidence on teaching and learning. To become a research center, an institute, you have to find the kinds of evidence that improves practice,” said Ahmad.
He continued, “We’re not just finding evidence so we can publish an article and feel good about it. We take that evidence to redesign courses and learn from that process.”
Another research project aimed to synergize teaching and learning was a series of studies on ‘lecture-capture’ investigating how students interact with recorded lectures, that is, whether they are used as a supplementary resource for additional studying or as a substitute for the actual class.
The survey-based research asked students about the frequency of their engagement with captured lectures and their overall approach to studying.
“Lecture-captures are a strong practice because they are used by students as very useful study aids, and particularly for those students who are approaching the class with a deep and meaningful engagement,” said Beth Marquis, the Educational Research Consultant at MIIETL.
In addition to the increased drive for research, MIIETL also acknowledges the value in employing students as active members of the research team, to provide a space for students to pursue research projects proactively.
“Rather than hiring students simply as research assistants, which certainly still happens, we are also trying to think about the contexts wherein students can come up with their own research projects around teaching,” said Marquis.
When asked about the funding for the increased student employment, research production and upcoming renovated office space, Ahmad said that the university is making significant contributions from Forward With Integrity funds in combination with support from many faculties.
With its drive for research and partnerships among students and professors, MIIETL emerges as a prosperous initiative seeking to produce real changes on campus.