Great teaching at U of T
Karen Reid still recalls her scepticism when her first-year English literature professor at the University of Saskatchewan said a final exam should be fun - and that she should learn something while writing it.
“But there I was,” says Reid, “sitting in the varsity gym with the fans whirring and the heat, thinking: oh, I’ve got this great idea!
“So that’s the gold standard - I tell my students every year that’s my gold standard.”
Reid, a senior lecturer with the department of Computer Science and Associate Chair for Undergraduate Studies, is one of three winners of U of T’s 2011-2012 President’s Teaching Awards.
“Karen is a dynamic and enthusiastic teacher who creates an intense and rewarding learning experience for her students,” says Cheryl Misak, vice-president and provost.
Reid, who says she has never taught a subject the same way twice, has received many awards for teaching including: the Joan E. Foley award for student experience (2011), the Faculty of Arts and Science Outstanding Teaching Award (2008), and the University of Toronto Computer Science Student Union Award (2004, 2007, 2011, and 2012).
“The field of computer science is constantly changing – mobile computing devices were certainly not pervasive even three to four years ago - so we’re always looking for new ways to do things,” Reid says. “And I would like to be able to meet the students where they’re at. For students who’ve grown up on Facebook or texting, I would really like to be able to make the fundamental concepts that they’re learning in class relevant to their life.”
Reid is known for designing innovative projects to help her students learn. With two other faculty members, she developed the Undergraduate Capstone Open Source Projects, a national program that brings together students from different universities to work on open source software systems. Students gather at one university for three days near the beginning of the term for an intensive three-day “code sprint,” and then return to their home universities where they work remotely with their teammates, supervised by an industry or academic project mentor.
With her students, Reid developed MarkUs a web-based assignment submission and grading application used widely in Computer Science and Engineering at the University of Toronto, and at the University of Waterloo and at l’École Centrale de Nantes in France.
“What I’m proud of in the projects I’m running – and MarkUs is the best example – is that the students are not only helping to build this tool we find useful but they learn something really valuable in how software is developed and how users respond to it and what kind of quality we need to be able to produce to make it worthwhile,” says Reid. “It makes it more real and ties together a lot of the pieces they’ve been learning along the way.
“And they produce something that isn’t just for marks and has a life beyond their work on it.”
Reid grew up in a family of teachers and tends to study teachers to gauge what makes them effective – from colleagues at the university to less obvious examples.
“My kids are singing in the Toronto Children’s Chorus and I’ve learned a lot about how to teach university students from watching the conductor,” Reid says. “It’s completely different from what I do yet a lot of those same techniques apply: the high expectations and respect for the students, the storytelling and being ready with the material when they’re receptive.”
And that notion of setting a fun final exam with one more chance to learn something?
“I think I’ve achieved it once, in one question on one final exam in all the years of teaching,” Reid says. “I had a student come tell me after the exam that he was completely floored, he couldn’t believe I could ask a question like that. I wasn’t sure at first if he was being critical. I said ‘but it wasn’t a hard question’ and he said ‘I know, it was so cool!’ – so I think I got it once, maybe.”
Excerpted from U of T News article; see the full article here.
Jennifer Lanthier, U of T News