September 19, 2016

Good things happen when Applied Sciences faculty members visit each other’s classrooms

From left: Kevin Oldknow, Vivian Neal and Brad Bart are pleased with the way Pairwise Teaching Exchanges in the Faculty of Applied Sciences have generated practical ideas for the classroom.

In the Faculty of Applied Sciences (FAS), instructors are encouraged to drop into a colleague’s classroom to gain ideas for their own teaching. It’s an initiative known as the Pairwise Teaching Exchange, and it was devised by Kevin Oldknow, a senior lecturer in the School of Mechatronic Systems Engineering and FAS Faculty Teaching Fellow, as part of the overall goal of making teaching visible in FAS. Paired faculty members sit in on each other’s classes and then get together to discuss how aspects of what they saw could be incorporated into their own teaching practice. Oldknow notes, “It’s an invitational exercise because you have to have that comfort level—it couldn’t be done as a mandated activity.”

Coffee, cookies and conversation

The first exchanges took place in Spring 2016, and in April all those who participated were invited to meet over coffee and cookies to share their experiences and talk about what they learned, ideas they could use, or anything else. The gathering was convened simultaneously in two locations by Oldknow in collaboration with Vivian Neal, an educational consultant from the Teaching and Learning Centre; 10 faculty members from all three FAS constituent schools attended, connected by teleconference.

One participant, Computing Science lecturer Brad Bart, said, “I think everyone should sit in on a colleague's classroom. It’s about seeing teaching through the students’ eyes.”

Oldknow was pleasantly surprised by the results. “Feedback was in areas that I wouldn’t have expected. I took away some very different and specific ideas.”

New ideas

At the April event, the participants were open and frank and shared a number of useful practices:

  • Have undergraduate students read research papers and then discuss them in class.
  • Respond to questions with more than one perspective/viewpoint until a student understands.
  • When a student asks a question, broadcast it back to the class before answering it.
  • Go slow, cover more—“It’s magic.”
  • Share with students an experience at a conference to demonstrate that there are real opportunities to change the world.
  • Use different coloured chalk for different subject areas.
  • Switch between camera and PowerPoint to retain attention.

Finally, Oldknow noted, “Though it’s not meant to be a critique, it’s inevitable that the person being observed invites feedback.”

The exchanges are occurring this semester as well, and the next sharing event is being planned for December. For more information or to participate in a FAS Pairwise Teaching Exchange, visit