Five Capilano University educators recognized with Teaching Excellence awards

Instructors were selected from a pool of 144 nominees across all five faculties


Like their top students, Capilano University teachers are also getting good grades.

This February, the Centre for Teaching Excellence (CTE) announced the first recipients of its inaugural Teaching Excellence Award – an initiative designed to honour the educational innovation and impact of CapU professors and instructors.

The winners include Karen Okun from the School of Business, Eugene Chu from Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), Barb Mathieson from Education and Childhood Studies, Stephen Atkins from Performing Arts and Greig Gjerdalen from Tourism Management. “We looked for ones that talked about innovation and pedagogy or doing something really impactful in the class,” said Laura MacKay, manager of the CTE.

In total, 144 different professors and instructors were nominated by students, which, according to MacKay, represent well over 20 per cent of the entire CapU faculty. When accounting for multiple nominations, the submission ballot amassed a total of 327 entries.

Submission ballots were made available to students during the last week of the Fall semester final exam period. The selection process, which MacKay emphasized as being “very difficult,” involved her input, as representative of the CTE, and a committee of faculty development put together by the Capilano Faculty Association (CFA).

While several members of faculty were nominated multiple times, the judges placed more weight on “impact factor” over the volume of nominations. Mackay, who admitted to having been brought to tears by several student testimonials, said numerous submissions cited an educator’s contributions that go beyond teaching. “Students talked about physical health challenges, mental health challenges, family and emotional situations, and that, that faculty member was there for them and that sort of impact.”

Ultimately, the judges wound up picking one recipient for each of CapU’s five faculties (Arts and Sciences, Business and Professional Studies, Education, Health and Human Development, Fine and Applied Arts and Global and Community Studies).

“In the end, we decided that there was no bad option and we would do it again next year,” said MacKay. “We know that there was so many more people that we could have and should have recognized.”

Launched in August last year, the CTE has already made significant contributions in providing more resources for members of the CapU faculty. In the previous semester, the Centre facilitated short instructional workshops that addressed certain caveats those professors and instructors might consider in the classroom such as starting classes and alternative ways to assess learning. The Centre also helped CapU create an open educational strategy – one that went beyond an open textbook concept by also looking into practices such as non-disposable assignments. “We’re well ahead of many other institutions in the integration of portfolios into our program,” said MacKay.

Though innovation is often exciting, MacKay understands that there are limitations to some of the projects that CapU educators can pursue. “Innovation is what we should be aiming for and it sometimes gets stifled in the procedures that we have to follow,” she said. “How do we really innovate something that’s ahead of where other institutions are and ahead of where they’re thinking, within the system that we have?” Nonetheless, she admits that procedures “are there for a reason.”

MacKay’s hope is to cast a bigger spotlight in the work of CapU’s faculty members. “I 100 per cent believe we have phenomenal faculty here and I think it’s a secret, we have to get the word out there,” she said.

Long recognized as a teaching-intensive institution that values the role of small classrooms and peer-to-peer communication, CapU’s next step could be capitalizing on that small school characteristic.

“Within Canada, there are centres for teaching and learning that work on the scholarship of teaching and learning – research about what’s best practice for teaching in the sciences, or the arts, etc. – I think we can be leaders in that,” said MacKay.

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