How professors are using interdisciplinary collaboration to innovate teaching in environment

January 16, 2023

While teaching is central to universities, it can at times be an isolating experience lacking collaboration, innovation, and appreciation. Tara Holland, SFU Faculty of Environment’s teaching fellow, knows that there is the potential to change this.

In 2022, Holland introduced the Teaching Squares Program to the Faculty to give faculty members a forum in which to develop a community of teaching practice. The program brings together three to four faculty members from different academic units for a semester-long partnership where they observe their peers’ teaching style to reflect on their own.

Those interested in participating must agree to the fundamental rules of the program including confidential reciprocity, mutual respect, appreciation, and self-referential reflection. After groups are finalized and ground rules are set, faculty attend a lecture or review course materials of each group member and complete a reflection and an action plan based on their experience.

While giving direct feedback to group members is possible if mutually agreed upon, it is not essential to the nature of the program. Rather, the goal is for faculty to critically analyze their own teaching by learning about the teaching methods and materials of colleagues.

“The program gives us the space to observe other’s teaching and reflect on our own practice in a non-judgmental and non-evaluative way,” says Holland.

After completing a pilot cohort in the summer of 2022, Holland launched the program the following semester. Currently the only one of its kind at SFU, it is based on similar programs that have successfully taken place at other universities.

Early participants have already noted the program’s benefits including the opportunity to foster a collaborative environment around teaching, receive positive feedback, and learn peer teaching strategies. One member referred to their experience in the program as “a game changer,” for teaching and community building among faculty.