January 15, 2020

Bridges and booster rockets: CEE's new senior director talks about teaching support

By Centre for Educational Excellence staff

Nanda Dimitrov is the inaugural senior director of the Centre for Educational Excellence.

Nanda Dimitrov, former director of the Centre for Teaching and Learning at Western University in London, Ontario, took up her new role as senior director of SFU’s Centre for Educational Excellence on January 6, 2020. She shared her experiences and perspectives on learning and teaching in a conversation with CEE’s Learning & Teaching News blog.

CEE: You had an active and successful career at Western University. What convinced you to make the move to British Columbia and SFU?

Nanda Dimitrov: Building a new Centre for Educational Excellence at SFU is really an exciting opportunity to create new programs to support faculty. What makes working at SFU particularly interesting for me is that in B.C. there’s a strong community of colleagues who work on international education and intercultural learning, and I have been collaborating with them for many years. British Columbia is beautiful, and my family and I love mountains.

CEE: Now that you have been here for a whole week, what are your first impressions of the SFU learning and teaching community?

ND: I have met some wonderful teaching champions and colleagues who are really passionate about teaching and learning. During my first week I attended the opening of the [SFU Library’s] Makerspace and saw how different groups collaborated on bringing students together to learn in very interesting ways.

CEE: You are an educational developer and intercultural communication scholar. How will that background shape the approach you take in your role as senior director of CEE?

ND: As senior director of CEE, it’s my job to support all of the areas under CEE, including our colleagues whose work focuses on teaching and technology, faculty and TA development, assessment, research on teaching, multilingual learners and many others. But of course intercultural learning is my passion, so I hope that we can collaborate across campus to support faculty members as they prepare to teach in diverse classrooms, explore internationalizing the curriculum, and work to include Indigenous perspectives in their teaching.

CEE: What are the larger trends and directions you see when you look at the learning and teaching community across Canada, and how closely do they align with the concerns and priorities you see at SFU?

ND: One of the trends across Canada is that both faculty and educational developers are working with students as partners in teaching and learning. This means involving students in the process of course design or in the design of new experiential learning activities. Students can also bring unique insight as collaborators in research on teaching projects and in mentoring programs for new faculty and TAs. Considering ways to integrate the student perspective would align well with SFU’s priority goal of improving the student experience.

CEE: The Centre for Educational Excellence was formed from the merger of several previously separate teaching support units. What opportunities do you see arising from this more unified approach to teaching support?

ND: I think we have an opportunity to collaborate and create a seamless support experience for instructors. The types of questions innovative faculty members bring to us are often very complex, so we may draw on research from curriculum design, active learning and emerging trends in blended learning at the same time to come up with possible approaches they can consider.

Given the unique strengths of our team, instructors now have a team of experts collaborating to provide resources and advice. I think the new centre also gives us an opportunity to know and learn more about each other’s work, which enriches the team’s own practice in curriculum development, faculty mentoring and instructional design.

CEE: What one thing would you like the SFU academic community to know about CEE?

ND: One thing I’d love for colleagues to know is that our job is to help innovative, creative instructors take their teaching to the next level. In a sense, our job is to kind of be a booster rocket for their teaching. And then our second role is to build bridges across disciplines, departments and communities and bring colleagues together in dialogue about teaching innovation, student engagement in the classroom and support them in creating a strong teaching culture across the university.

CEE: What is your dream for SFU’s learning and teaching community?

ND: My dream for teaching and learning at any Canadian university is that we create a community that really celebrates teaching and teaching excellence and values teaching, not just in words but in actions, and where our outstanding teachers feel valued and rewarded for their work in teaching as much as they are rewarded for their work in research and service.

CEE: We know you love your work, but we hope you won’t spend all your time at the office. When you aren't working, how do you like to spend your time?

ND: When I’m not working, my kids and my husband and I love spending time in nature, and we’re really looking forward to exploring BC, hiking, skiing … And we’re really excited about all the great cuisine and diverse food options in Vancouver.

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