Three-day virtual event celebrates excellence in teaching and learning

A group of students participating in an online meeting.

More than two dozen sessions were held over the three days in which faculty, staff and students shared findings from research, teaching and learning, supporting students remotely and novel approaches to teaching.

After a one-year absence, Mount Royal’s annual Celebrate! Teaching and Learning event moved online to bring together campus and community members eager to recognize successes and key learnings over the past year. The three-day event from May 5 to 7 included participation from across campus, with faculty, staff and students sharing presentations and hosting discussions.

Missing the campus and its people was the common theme in the opening panel discussion, which featured the president of the Students’ Association of Mount Royal University (SAMRU) and the University’s president and provost, during which they were asked to reflect on a year of teaching and learning through the pandemic.

“What I’ve learned is the importance of my friends and family, the importance of connections,” said SAMRU President Spirit River Striped Wolf as the first speaker. “It’s a fundamental aspect of our humanity — being with each other and connecting with each other.”

Striped Wolf talked about the challenges students have faced and how their mental health has suffered, but that they’ve also developed resilience. “Throughout it all, I think students have learned we’re stronger than we think.” Striped Wolf said he misses the Iniskim Centre and the people there the most.

Asked to describe an event or experience over the past year that summed up the experience for her, Provost Elizabeth Evans, PhD, highlighted Mount Royal’s first-ever drive-in Convocation last November, describing it as the ultimate “lifting us up” moment.

“It really brought people together in a very unusual way — absolutely nothing like what our typical convocations would look like. To sit on a stage, honking a Canadian Tire horn and having cars honk back was pretty special.

“All of us are feeling the fatigue of the pandemic,” she added. “I’ve been reading a lot lately about decision fatigue, which I have come to really feel. Convocation just epitomized for me what we can do when as an institution and as a community we think creatively.”

Evans said the Provost’s Council has helped her through a difficult year, with everyone pulling together, but she misses the spontaneous hallway conversations that were a regular part of her day on campus.

President and Vice-Chancellor Tim Rahilly, PhD, said he, too, misses people. Asked what advice he would give himself if he were able to go back in time one year, Rahilly said it would be to “manage some of the voices that I heard. This entire experience has been one for me of managing the voices of certainty and voices that crave certainty over the obvious ambiguity of this situation.” People wanted guarantees and certainty, “and the reality is I can’t guarantee anything. We all have to go through this together.”

Rahilly hopes people come out of the pandemic having learned to temper their emotions and criticisms of one another, which can be harsh.

“Hopefully one of the enduring lessons of the pandemic is that we can’t do that. We can’t be focused solely on one thing. We have to look at the context and hold more than one concept in our mind at once as we express ourselves.”

'Trials and triumphs' of teaching and learning online

Dr. Christian Cook, PhD, academic director of the Academic Development Centre (ADC), says the organizing committee received a record number of presentation proposals, including from students and alumni.

The keynote address was ‘Culturally Responsive Teaching and Mindset’ from doctoral candidate Kate Sweeney of Columbia University Teachers College. Inspiring and topical, the keynote address also provided usable, practical tips for inclusion in the classroom and creating safe and meaningful learning environments. The session was recorded and it will be available on the ADC website for the next year.

More than two dozen sessions were held over the three days in which faculty, staff and students shared findings from research, teaching and learning, supporting students remotely and novel approaches to teaching.

“Many of the presentations focused on the trials and triumphs of teaching and learning online, and I believe they really spoke positively to how we all supported each other over this incredible year,” Cook says.

Mount Royal’s Maker Studio staff (found in the Riddell Library and Learning Centre), explained how they helped students online in creating a variety of innovative projects as part of coursework. Dr. Janne Holmgren, PhD, in justice studies and Ann Wade, access advisor in Access and Inclusion Services, shared how understanding the barriers students face can increase student participation, engagement and empowerment, with Holmgren describing how teaching virtually helped her see the true needs of her students and led her to adjust her teaching style to better accommodate them. One session explored ways to incorporate different technologies to support universal design principles in the classroom. Classroom experiences where students were invited to share their cultural heritage and meditate in the classroom were also described.

Several presentations and discussions centred on what may become part of the ‘new normal’ after a year of remote learning. A panel discussion celebrated the creative instructional delivery methods used across a range of disciplines, and speakers from three service areas within the Riddell Library and Learning Centre spoke about creative service delivery opportunities they developed.

See the complete list of presenters. Find out how the Academic Development Centre supports professors in their teaching journeys.


'Pop-quiz with a twist'

Dr. Uthpala Senarathne Tennakoon, PhD, presented ‘Pop-quiz with a twist (PQT)’ at this year’s Celebrate! Teaching and Learning event. Senarathne Tennakoon is an associate professor of human resources in the Bissett School of Business.

In a content-heavy HR class, she introduced a two-stage assessment in which students first answered a pop quiz on their own. Without knowing how they did on their solo attempt, they were then given a chance to re-do the quiz — stage two — as a group with a closed book. She first ran it as a pilot project with a control group to be able to compare outcomes. The pilot ran on campus before the pandemic.

Senarathne Tennakoon said she was motivated to try this because she found students weren’t retaining enough content from one lesson to another and were attending fewer classes as the semester wore on. After researching other two-stage assessment models, she added self- or peer-grading to her model, which was immediately followed by class discussion and feedback from her.

“Two-stage assessments are known to improve performance and motivation, reduce test anxiety and are usually positively received by the students,” she says. Senarathne Tennakoon used the method for low-stakes quizzes, not high-stakes exams.

During the closed-book group collaboration stage, she observed “enhanced collaboration because they have to dig deeper into their collective memories. Collectively they can get all the answers. Everybody gets a better grade (on the quiz), everyone remembers the concepts better.”

What she called ‘collaboration clusters’ started to form, and students engaged with each other, asking how they answered a question and why. They heard different perspectives from their peers and different ways of explaining concepts, which helped the material to sink in. “There becomes a collective ownership of the concept and of the answer.”

Senarathne Tennakoon found that the pop-quiz-with-a-twist approach leads to higher student engagement and cohesion in the course overall, and better learning outcomes including improved retention of the course content. When she asked students to evaluate the model, most agreed it led to better outcomes.

“You can see the visible reduction in stress levels. They forget that this is a quiz — it becomes an interesting activity. As you can imagine, this time in the classroom is very engaged, kind of loud and exciting. It also engages some of the quiet students because they know there’s a mark at stake.” The follow-up class discussion clarifies any misunderstandings or errors, and the peer grading gives them an additional opportunity for feedback on their own learning.

Senarathne Tennakoon adapted the class to online learning last fall. She’s currently running a grant-funded research project into the effectiveness of PQT, collecting data through observation, student reflection, grades and surveys. She has also submitted a paper to the Harvard Educational Review and it is currently undergoing peer review.


The annual Celebrate Teaching and Learning event is organized by a working group of the Teaching and Learning Committee, which is a subcommittee of General Faculties Council. Cook says, “This team worked incredibly hard to bring all of this to fruition and organize it all online for the first time ever, too.”


Brad Mahon Mary-Ann Ciupak
Bree Smith Melanie Rathburn
Genevieve Curry Meg Wilcox
Ian Borg Mike Durnie
John Cheeseman Nancy Funke
Katharine Barrette Christian Cook (Chair)


Find out more about Celebrate!, view recordings of sessions held over the three-day event and see content from past events. Recordings will be available through the ADC website starting this week.

Stay tuned for the announcement of this year’s Distinguished Faculty Award winners, coming soon.

May 11, 2021 ― Melissa Rolfe

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