By Alana Mikkelsen
The University of Calgary’s first endowed teaching professorship will focus on the science of teaching by investigating ways to make science classes more engaging for students.
The Tamaratt Professorship in Geoscience is one of the latest milestones in a growing national trend to help professors learn to be more effective in front of their students and how to include more active, hands-on learning in their classes.
Made possible by a $1-million donation from two alumni, Tara and Matt Brister, the professorship is unique because it provides resources for a scientist to focus exclusively on teaching and on research into better ways of delivering science education.
Traditionally in Canada, education research is viewed as the purview of—and funded almost exclusively by—agencies in the social science fields, a situation that often bars science professors from getting adequate support to improve their teaching.
“This endowment will support concentrated research into the best practices for geoscience and other science education,” says Dr. Larry Lines, head of the Department of Geology and Geophysics, in which the professorship will reside. “What we learn here will almost certainly benefit other faculties as well.”
The five-year professorship will function like a research chair, with the focus on education rather than a scientific discipline. The endowed professor will also serve as a resource for other faculty members.
“It’s much more difficult to deliver hands-on, interactive learning activities than to prepare a 50-minute lecture,” says Lines. “And most professors don’t have the time to learn how.”
Matt and Tara Brister both graduated from the university’s Department of Geology and Geophysics. Their gift, part of a three-way funding partnership with the Faculty of Science and the university, was donated through the Calgary Foundation.
“You’re not necessarily born a teacher, but there are skills you can learn,” says Tara Brister, BSc’82, past board president of Alberta Theatre Projects. Matt Brister, BSc’81, is chairman of Storm Exploration and CEO of Storm Ventures International, an internationally focused start-up company.
Recruitment for the new position is underway.