The University of Calgary Teaching Awards celebrate teaching excellence in diverse learning contexts, by individuals and groups, and through curriculum design and educational leadership.
In March 2017, Mayi Arcellana-Panlilio received an award for full-time academic staff, and Khobaib Zaamout was honoured with an award for graduate assistant teaching. Although these two categories might present different contexts and challenges, both Arcellana-Panlilio and Zaamout believe strongly in the importance of open learning environments.
What exactly are open learning environments, and how can instructors foster them? Cliché or not, Arcellana-Panlilio and Zaamout subscribe wholeheartedly to the dictum of “no question is a stupid question.”
“I really believe that,” stresses Arcellana-Panlilio, a senior instructor in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. “I encourage students to question — question me, question what they’re reading. It’s what makes knowledge dynamic, it’s what will make knowledge grow.”
Zaamout, a doctoral student in the Department of Computer Science, shares this belief. “When students don’t feel that comfort, they switch to a different mode — the mode of ‘write notes and figure it out later',” he says.
Developing a nomination package and teaching philosophy
To be recognized for University of Calgary Teaching Awards, one must assemble a nomination package, including a description of one’s own teaching philosophies. Although Arcellana-Panlilio and Zaamout reflect often on their own teaching, both instructors found unique value in the philosophy-writing process.
Zaamout found the Teaching Award application requirements to be unlike any he had encountered in the past. “There is genuineness in it that is refreshing. So I did write multiple versions of what I had and passed it along to my friends, and honestly it didn’t feel as 'real' initially, because of that inertia I have in how I write my applications,” he recalls. “But then I just relaxed and wrote it exactly the way I would say it.”
Arcellana-Panlilio believes her nomination package as a whole substantiated the effectiveness of her teaching philosophy. Reflecting on her preparation of the document, she says, “It forced me to think about my teaching, not only about the teaching philosophy, but about what I’m trying to accomplish, and whether I’m accomplishing it. It really was a reflective process, because I come in and I’ve got this idea that this is what I want to do, and then I have to find out whether I’ve done it, and what I need to do going forward. I learned a lot having to go through, for instance, my USRIs from the past several semesters, and doing some math and stats to look at what trends were looking like.”
Advice for 2018 nominees and nominators
Looking back on the successes of their own applications, Arcellana-Panlilio and Zaamout offer advice for others who consider preparing their own Teaching Award nomination packages.
“I found it really useful that I had a diary to go back to. So if you’re thinking of doing it for next year, I would suggest keeping a diary,” Arcellana-Panlilio recommends. “It helped me to see the thought processes behind stuff that I was doing; so that was really helpful, having a log of these contemporaneous notes.”
Zaamout also advocates for careful pre-planning. “Gather all your data, be very organized,” he says. “Then eventually, on the first opportunity to apply to this, you’re going to have a lot of people who want to help you, and you’re going to have a lot of data. The challenge becomes to consolidate that data in a way that is presentable to people who are going to evaluate you. So my advice is to start very early, and really understand what is needed behind this. And attend all the workshops.”
Zaamout refers to a series of workshops hosted in the Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning. The sessions cover a range of topics, including the preparation of strong nomination letters and developing a nomination dossier — all of which are intentionally structured to support successful nominees in preparing for national awards such as the 3M National Teaching Fellowship.
For more information about workshops and available resources, including dates and times, and for Teaching Award deadlines, visit the University of Calgary Teaching Awards on the Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning website.
University of Calgary Teaching Award recipients are presented with their awards at a high-profile Celebration of Teaching hosted by the provost, and their names are added to the Wall of Honour located in the Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning. Students, instructors and staff are encouraged to nominate individual teachers and groups who make outstanding contributions to enriching the quality and breadth of learning on campus.