Learning and Teaching

This year's Excellence in Teaching Award winners reveal the secret sauce of great teaching

March 22, 2024

What does great teaching mean to the winners of the 2023 Awards for Excellence in Teaching?

We asked them to define what matters most to their teaching. Their responses reveal a consistent commitment to creating flexible learning opportunities, fostering a culture of trust and safety and never forgetting the importance of fun.

2023 Excellence in Teaching Award, Mauve Pagé, Senior Lecturer, Publishing Program, Faculty of Communication, Art and Technology

"I am always striving to give my students flexibility in their assignments and to take a student-centred approach in every aspect of the class. For example, I will invite students to pick a topic that they are really interested in or that relates to their career objectives. In the same way, when I’m assessing their work, my expectations will vary based on where they are in their careers, and what their personal learning goals are within the context of the class. I also think it’s important that they have fun because when that happens they become more open—and then the learning just sneaks in."

— Mauve Pagé

2023 Excellence in Teaching Award, Marianne Ignace, Distinguished Professor, Departments of Indigenous Studies and Linguistics, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences

"Teaching in and with the Indigenous community requires the instructor’s openness to respecting the historical legacy of many Indigenous adults having been failed by the education system. Through my decades of teaching and learning (in research and through the process of teaching) in Indigenous communities, I feel I have gained respect among my students for doing this. Based on the advice and requests of the Indigenous communities I have worked in and with, I am particularly proud that I have been able to bring the classroom into the community, and created classrooms “without walls” where on their Indigenous homelands and through the teachings of their ancestors, students can experience and learn from stories that reconnect them with their past, and learn about the intricate ways in which traditional ecological knowledge is interwoven with practices of looking after resources and being stewards on the land."

—Marianne Ignace

2023 Excellence in Teaching Award, Tara Holland, Senior Lecturer, Department of Geography and School of Environmental Science, Faculty of Environment

"I see my students as partners in the classroom with me, because I want them to take ownership over their own learning. That may sometimes be a different classroom environment than they are used to, which means I need to demonstrate that it's a safe space. Part of that is showing them that I have empathy and that I care about them as an instructor and a human. And that I care about their success. I think one way this is expressed is when students work on community-engaged projects in my classes. These projects require students to trust each other, trust themselves, trust the process. The feedback that I've had from students is that they felt a responsibility to do a really good job and appreciated that it wasn't just about getting a grade, but about learning through doing work that made a real impact—and that’s something they are really proud of, and so am I."

—Tara Holland

2023 Early Career Award for Excellence in Teaching, Tammara Soma, Assistant Professor, School of Resource and Environmental Management, Faculty of Environment

"An important part of my teaching is exposing my students to different ways of knowing and lived experiences. As someone coming from the Global South, I feel like a unique opportunity that I can offer to my students is to guide them through the different ways that justice and privilege play out in the material we are exploring. I also think it’s important to provide them with the opportunity to explore methods of knowledge translation that are exciting to them—like photography, video, asset mapping. Fundamentally, my goal as a teacher is to create a space that helps all learners thrive, whether that means sharing snacks in class or providing one-on-one opportunities for students to engage with me."

—Tammara Soma

2023 Early Career Award for Excellence in Teaching, Daria Ahrensmeier, Lecturer, Department of Physics, Faculty of Science

"When I first started teaching in Canada, I noticed that what I had done successfully in Germany didn't quite work here. It was a first hint that good teaching really depends on knowing your students and understanding their context. So I made sure to get to know them better and also let them get to know me. Today, my teaching includes a lot of communication and even collaboration with my students. I value their feedback, because I want to know how they experience the course and what is working for them or not. To design relevant and effectives courses, I build in flexibility that allows students to focus on what they are curious about (e.g. pick an interesting project) and to accommodate different preferences in learning style and timing. Recently, I have involved former students in my course design projects, alongside colleagues and TAs, which has evolved into very productive work and also a lot of fun."

—Daria Ahrensmeier

2023 Early Career Award for Excellence in Teaching, Molly McVey, Lecturer, School of Sustainable Energy Engineering, Faculty of Applied Sciences

"For me, the most important part of my teaching is creating a sense of belonging—for everyone involved. I have had experiences that have demonstrated how much people are capable of when they feel like they belong and I want to build that kind of environment in my classroom. It goes both ways, too—when I first came here as a new faculty member in a new discipline, in a new country and a new university, I had a lot of reasons to wonder if I fit in. Early on I struggled but I eventually decided to let my guard down and just be myself. The students responded well and all of the sudden the classroom stopped feeling intimidating and teaching became really fun. I am hopeful that by me being myself, being honest with my own struggles in academia, and providing lots of low-stakes opportunities for learning I can build a classroom that facilitates learning as much as possible."

—Molly McVey