June 12, 2024

How kinesiology duo's walks on campus led to an award-winning idea

Cari Din, Martin MacInnis nationally recognized for teaching and learning innovation
Martin MacInnis, a white man with light brown hair and wearing a blue cardigan over a collared shirt, stands beside Cari Din, a white woman with medium length blonde hair, wearing a red blazer and big red glasses. They are in a lab.
Stacy McGuire, Kinesiology

As with many great collaborations, this one started in a meeting. New to the Faculty of Kinesiology, Dr. Cari Din, PhD, and Dr. Martin MacInnis, PhD, bonded over a shared interest in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. Now, five years later, they are one of five teams in Canada to receive a D2L Innovation Award in Teaching and Learning.

On walks around campus, Din and MacInnis talked about how they noticed that students were just following step-by-step 'recipes' in labs, where any small deviation from the instructions was perceived as a negative. They were curious to see if there was a new way for students to learn in those spaces.

"We wanted to give students more opportunity to practise being scientists in their labs, as opposed to just following a recipe," MacInnis says. 

Science is, after all, trial and error. Success and failure. You just need the time to try.  And that's exactly what Din and MacInnis hoped they could do for their students.

"I am not a scientist," says Din, "but in my coaching and leadership courses I always frame learning as skills to practice."

In early 2020, the project got a jump-start from a UCalgary Teaching Scholars grant — followed immediately by a big interruption.

"The pandemic was the wrecking ball that initiated some brilliant work," says Din.

Trying to teach an exercise physiology lab online was all new territory, so Din and MacInnis had to get creative. Instead of following the same formula for how a lab should be taught, the duo used the online space to create more active learning and reflection — ideas they carried into the return to campus and in-person learning experiences.

"Once we were back in person, we added inquiry-based learning, where students had the opportunity to create a research question and design a protocol to answer it. We couldn't really do that online. But going online meant we were able to start fresh, so we had space for it," says MacInnis.

One of the most important aspects of the project turned out to be an asynchronous micro-course Din and MacInnis created to develop the lab teaching assistants’ (TA)  understanding of effective teaching practice. Through the course, Din and MacInnis wanted to create a culture shift, where the TAs were supporting student learning, not just telling students what to do.

"I think that's what I'm most proud of," Din says. "To see these scientists, these future professors, get really good at enabling learning, facilitating learning and moving far, far away from punitive things in labs and really creating space for students to practise science."

Both Din and MacInnis emphasize the people power behind the project.

"Part of the success of the project was realizing our limited ability to get in there and do something ourselves so we needed to transfer power to the TAs," says MacInnis. 

That success includes the work of student partners — like Joy Camaro, an MSc student who was essential to the project — the many TAs who have since gone through the micro-course and enhanced their teaching practice, and the support of leadership and a community of practice. But most of all, it includes the many hours of conversations MacInnis and Din had in order to create innovative change in teaching and learning. 

"If Martin didn't value this, the change wouldn't have happened," says Din.

"That's an important takeaway. We can have the best ideas and want all this change, but, if you don't have that person at the centre wanting it, too, you're going to be disappointed."

So, what’s next? Din and MacInnis hope to share what they have learned with other faculties.

"We are incredibly open to sharing our experience because we learned a lot. And connecting with someone about that, whether that's on a walk or over coffee, we're here to support this type of change," says Din.

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