University of Calgary

Project Engage

UToday HomeJanuary 11, 2013

(L to R): Project Manager Susan Cannon and Faculty Lead Leslie Reid saw Project Engage as an opportunity to collect data on how improving the quality of instruction could impact students and faculty. Photo by Riley Brandt(L to R): Project Manager Susan Cannon and Faculty Lead Leslie Reid saw Project Engage as an opportunity to collect data on how improving the quality of instruction could impact students and faculty. Photo by Riley BrandtWhen Leslie Reid accepted an assignment as faculty lead on Project Engage in 2010, she began with a simple philosophy: improving student engagement starts with engaging and empowering faculty.

Reid’s philosophy was reinforced by her time on the project, where she observed the boost in engagement that occurred when faculty participants had the opportunity to give each other feedback and share ideas.

Project Engage began in 2009 as a two-year pilot program to provide selected faculty with the support and resources they needed to improve the learning experiences of students in first-year arts and sciences courses.

Reid saw the project as an opportunity to collect data that would shed light on what improving the quality of instruction could actually mean to students and faculty. Reid, her Research Associate Julie Sexton, and Project Manager Susan Cannon, captured data in the area of student engagement using a series of evaluative tools — and they’re now sharing their final results.

“One thing that emerged through Project Engage was the willingness for faculty from multiple disciplines to give and receive feedback from one another,” says Reid. “Creating opportunities for instructors to share experiences and learn from one another was not only highly valuable to their teaching, but essential to furthering student engagement as well.”

“Teaching development programs like Project Engage are really what set this university apart from other peer institutions,” says Provost Dru Marshall. “It’s our focus on enriching the quality and breadth of learning that will establish the University of Calgary as one of the best places to be for our students and faculty.”

Reid and Sexton began by introducing the “Understanding by Design” teaching model to faculty participants during a three-day workshop. The team selected this model since it is strongly tied to research findings on how students learn.

“The model’s concept of focusing on the course’s ‘Big Ideas’ really resonated with participating faculty,” says Reid. “Identifying what they really wanted students to learn gave faculty the permission to cut content that didn’t fit without affecting the course’s overall learning objectives.”

“It’s important to start with what you want students to learn before defining a course’s content,” Reid adds. “Student engagement is just one of the positive outcomes of a well-designed course, since research has shown that students learn better when they see how things connect.”

The program allowed the participants to do their course redesign work within their own teaching context and they were advised to start with small, realistic changes that could be easily implemented and measured.

“Developing a teaching practice that is more student-focused is slow, steady, continual work that needs to be supported,” says Reid. “Making small well-planned changes over time can be more beneficial than redesigning an entire course all at once. It allows instructors time to explore new ideas and determine what will have the greatest impact on their students.”

Read the full Project Engage report.