The Certificate Program in University Teaching and Learning: A graduate student describes her experience
When Mirjam Gollmitzer applied to the Certificate Program in University Teaching and Learning (CPUTL) in 2015, she already had quite a bit of experience as a TA and sessional instructor. But Gollmitzer, a PhD student in the School of Communication, was noticing a shift in the expectations of search committees and employers. “Job market requirements [had] changed,” she says. “Increasingly they were asking for credentials and training, not just experience.”
That observation led Gollmitzer, who had never received any formal training in teaching, to look into the CPUTL program. The 13-week part-time program, delivered by SFU’s Teaching and Learning Centre, is designed for graduate students and postdoctoral fellows interested in pursuing a post-secondary teaching career.
Gollmitzer says the program gave her a framework and tools for approaching her role in the classroom—“I definitely wanted to learn strategies for more participatory learning and more variety”—but beyond that, it provided her with “a dedicated time and space to reflect on [teaching].”
Before the program, she says, “I had no language to capture what I was actually doing in the classroom.” Just as significantly, she had “no one to talk about it with.” The certificate program provided her with both, and expanded her conversational circle in the process.
“It was truly interdisciplinary,” says Gollmitzer. “You meet people from other departments and you learn about teaching methods there.”
She cites the positive contributions of the facilitators as well. “Sarah [Louise Turner, an educational consultant with the Teaching and Learning Centre] and Shauna [Jones, a senior lecturer in the Beedie School of Business] are a pretty great combination and bring different things to the program. They created an open and empathetic space.”
Real change in the classroom
So what impact has the program had on her teaching?
“I’m a lot more participatory [now],” says Gollmitzer. “I can explain to my students what I’m doing. There’s a kind of transparency that I didn’t have before.”
That change has had an effect on her students as well. “Students are a lot more understanding and open and willing to put effort into the course when they understand the pedagogical goals, the why.”
The impact on her work opportunities is more difficult to quantify, but Gollmitzer cites indicators suggesting the credential has made a difference: “I am not sure if it is because of the certificate program, but my department at SFU has hired me continuously as a sessional instructor since completing the program, including two courses that I had not taught before. Because of CPUTL and the pedagogical toolkit provided by the program, I felt confident applying to teach these undergraduate courses that I had expertise in, but that fell outside of my immediate area of research specialization.”
A word of advice
Gollmitzer offers some counsel to anyone considering the program.
“The work is manageable, but you do have to dedicate yourself,” she says. “It requires that you are honestly interested in your students and becoming a better teacher. It’s not like a regular grad course.”
She believes the program would be most beneficial for individuals who already have some experience as teaching assistants or instructors and want to build on that foundation in a deliberate—and formally recognized—way.
“It’s a thing that makes you stand out.”