Thinking about Teaching

How information is gathered for reflection on teaching will be related to a faculty member’s location in their professional journey. Consider the following practices as examples of possible entry points in this process. Some of these activities can be individual efforts; others invite interactions with colleagues or students. Over time, and possibly at a different career point, some faculty members seek to become active in a broader community of practice by making their work more public. Some common examples of activities are also shared here. These lists identify examples, and are neither exhaustive nor prescriptive.

Ideas for teaching can come from just about anywhere—materials do not need to be academic or professional education publications to be useful. Consider starting with popular publications and media that sometimes contain articles and ideas on teaching and learning. YouTube is loaded with videos on just about every dimension of teaching and learning.

If you’d like to get more exposure to the formal literature on teaching and learning, consider these resources:


VIU’s Centre for Teaching and Learning (CIEL) maintains a library of hundreds of books about teaching, many of which might be good catalysts for reflection or for conversations with your colleagues. Here are a few recommended items from the CIEL collection:

  • Linda Nilson, Creating Self-Regulated Learners
  • Ken Bain, What the Best College Teachers Do
  • Stephen Brookfield, Discussion as a Way of Teaching
  • James Zull, The Art of Changing the Brain

To search the CIEL library, go to CIEL and search for topics or authors of interest.


Many disciplines have their own journals focused on teaching. A quick search on “Journal” + “education” + “your discipline” will most likely point you to what’s available in your field. Also, searching the VIU library’s databases is a useful way to find these materials. Check with departmental colleagues if you’re new to teaching, to find out what has been most helpful.  

Examples of Teaching and Learning Journals (links to these journals, and more, are available at CIEL

Examples of Discipline-Specific Journals (links to these journals, and more, are available at CIEL)

For a comprehensive list of many journals, visit the web pages of Kennesaw State University Centre for Excellence in Teaching and Learning.


There’s no shortage of websites devoted to teaching. Nearly every university sponsors a teaching centre that publishes lots of practical ideas on teaching practices. Some outstanding examples of websites devoted to teaching and learning are:


Podcasts are a flexible way to get started thinking about teaching. Here are a few examples focused on teaching:

  • Teaching Strides: The Teaching Strides Podcast, a production of the Academic Development Centre at Mount Royal University, is a platform dedicated to promoting and supporting cross-disciplinary collegial exchange in higher education. The series of podcast episodes features Mount Royal University professors sharing some of their finest teaching practices. Each episode sets out to stimulate reflective thinking and discussion among teaching colleagues in the academy.
  • Teaching in Higher Ed Podcast: Faculty Development for Professors explores the art and science of being more effective at facilitating learning. Explores ways to increase productivity so we can have more peace in our lives and be even more present for our students.
  • The Critical Thinking Initiative: Research-based solutions, interviews, pragmatic classroom applications, and current events in critical thinking. 
  • Research in Action: A podcast about topics and issues related mostly to research in higher education featuring experts across a range of disciplines.
  • There are also listservs you can sign up for to receive via email articles or join conversations about teaching and learning. One example is Stanford’s “Tomorrow’s Professor” listserv which sends out summaries of useful articles and books. Subscribe or unsubscribe from the listserv, visit or send an email with subject or body 'help' to

For an up-to-date and evolving list of podcasts, check CIEL.

Colleagues in your department are teaching the same students you are, facing similar challenges, and have already tried strategies that work particularly well for your discipline. If you’ve not already taken advantage of this resource, below are some suggestions for how you might interact with them to exchange ideas:

  • Start a conversation by sending around something you’ve read (story, website, article) that you think would be of interest to colleagues. If it’s provocative and you don’t want to seem pushy, send the item around and ask your colleagues what they think of it.
  • Any time you are developing materials for a class, you have created an opportunity for a conversation with colleagues. Consider dropping in on a colleague, showing him/her your materials and discussing them either for feedback or just to share something that others might be able to learn from. 
  • Initiate an informal brown bag discussion or ‘book club’ where a small group reads a book or series of articles for discussion about teaching and learning. CIEL’s library of materials on teaching might be a good resource for this. 
  • If you have a new member of your department, invite this person to lunch and share your thoughts about teaching. Coming from a different background, there’s a good possibility he or she will bring a new perspective, that might lead to an engaging conversation on teaching.
  • Attend a conference in your field and check out one of the sessions on teaching. Many conferences now offer an “educational track.” This is a great way to connect with others to discuss the particular challenges in teaching your subject.
  • Invite a colleague to visit your classroom, and exchange classroom visits to gain new ideas, get feedback on your own practices. (See VIU Peer Observation booklet to guide this process)

Whenever you extend your education, you are most likely engaged in professional development as a teacher. Here are some of the most common examples.

  • Graduate courses in pursuit of another diploma or degree.
  • General interest courses that allow you to extend your knowledge in a way that will support your teaching (For some examples of the many free online courses available, UToronto, Coursera and Open Universities-Australia, all have extensive offerings in a wide array of topics)
  • Trades certifications that indicate increasingly advanced levels of skill
  • Provincial Instructor Diploma Program (PIDP), available at several institutions in BC.
  • Visiting Fellowships to work with colleagues and students at other institutions
  • Technical training that enhances your ability—both, to practice in your field or to enhance your teaching

It’s common for a faculty member to make a huge investment of time and effort in redesigning or upgrading a course—without considering that this, too, is a vital form of professional development. Here are just a few of the elements of learning that can be the result of a course re-design.

  • A fresh review of disciplinary mission, perspective, knowledge and literature, for updating the course
  • Exploration and discovery of new pedagogies to make the course more engaging and motivating
  • Experiment with a new technology (social media, web-based applications, etc.) to improve student access and comfort
  • Developing knowledge about assessment, by thinking anew about the function and purpose of a course, with respect to the program as a whole and what it hopes to achieve

Program development and design can be among the richer professional development experiences within a faculty member’s career. Here are some of the more common professional learning activities related to participating in program design or redesign.

  • Collaborative inquiry with colleagues on how best to align specific learning experiences, structures and assessments for program coherence
  • Investigating the always changing realities of students, their needs, perspectives and aspirations, so as to shape the journey into one that students will feel to be compelling 
  • Deepening insight about your field and its current context, and how it will shape your academic program
  • Developing greater competence and acuity in framing or reframing program learning outcomes 
  • Creation and participation in a community of practice for educators

Just as with redesigning a course (see #4 above), challenging yourself with a course that is notoriously difficult to teach (or with which students historically struggle) can quickly bring you to explore and experiment with new teaching and learning perspectives and tools. Elements of professional learning in this area might include:

  • Focused research (for example, interviews with students and faculty) into why students might chronically struggle with a given body of material or skill set
  • Investigation into what other programs and institutions have done to address the challenges that this course presents
  • Exploration of learning strategies and perspectives around student development, in trying to shape student experiences that will increase their traction in the subject matter

Learning opportunities of this kind are increasingly available for faculty, not only locally, but also regionally, nationally and internationally. Most North American institutions of post-secondary education now offer a slate of events for post-secondary teachers, and many include a technological component that allows you to participate just about anywhere you find something of interest. For regional, face-to-face events, you are not limited to VIU. Often UBC and Simon Fraser University put on public events for other faculty to attend. BCcampus hosts many teaching and learning events and workshops for BC faculty. Check out their website and also their program for supporting faculty to attend who do not have funds.

  • Webinars: You’ll find many webinars on teaching and learning with many of them for free. One purveyor of webinars on teaching in post-secondary settings is magnapubs, which offers both synchronous and asynchronous options for learning. You can also check out Ted Talks for short educational talks.
  • CIEL offers a wide range of events every semester, ranging from short sessions on VIULearn to three-day sessions on course design. Visit the CIEL website and look for Learning opportunities  or look on InViu where you can register for CIEL events. The Centre also sends out newsletters via email to all teaching faculty with updates of its offerings and suggestions for conferences, learning experiences and new ideas. 
  • BCcampus: Check out the BCcampus alendar of events for upcoming professional learning sessions and upcoming larger events.
  • ETUG – Educational Technology Users Group is a grassroots group of BC educators interested in teaching, learning and ed tech in higher ed.

Many academic and professional disciplines now have “tracks” within their annual conferences focused on teaching in that particular discipline. Searching out those tracks and connecting with the people interested in advancing teaching and learning in your own discipline is a great way both to learn and to gain recognition in your disciplinary community for your own contributions. 

If you have had a role in any of your department’s program review processes, you have already been engaged in various sound practices of professional development.

Getting involved in program review provides a professional learning opportunity similar to that of designing or re-designing a program (see #4, above). Program review takes you on a journey to determine how effectively your program prepares students in your field—and allows you and your colleagues to reflect upon the continually evolving shape of that preparation. Here are some of the more common professional learning activities related to participating in program review.

  • Collection and analysis of data related to student retention and placement
  • Assessment of alignment of program with needs of stakeholders, including community partners and employers
  • Analyzing the alignment of course and program outcomes with teaching practices and assessment strategies
  • Determining faculty, student and program needs, for further research and development

Work on committees and task forces might not seem at first glance like professional development but consider taking a closer look. For one, working on a committee brings you into a community of practice, from which you inevitably learn something you can use as a teacher. Working with colleagues on a common challenge or question exposes you to new ideas and different perspectives, which, directly or indirectly, shape your professional practice.

At VIU these opportunities abound. It’s even possible to tie your committee work to concerns you have for the well-being of students, or to any issues you’d like to learn more about, as a professional educator. Consider these common themes for committee or task force participation, and think about how you use them to further your professional development:

  • Student “transitions” into university culture and standards. Work on this task force would open the door to learning more about student development
  • Campus learning spaces (classroom design, but also the use of open or specialized spaces). Work on this task force would expose participants to the latest in learning theory
  • Learning technology. Work on this committee would refresh your thinking about latest developments as well as about student learning behavior
  • Also: Hiring new faculty. You may not yet think about it this way, but serving on a hiring committee presents another opportunity for professional development. When reviewing CV’s, conducting interviews and checking references, you are likely to experience any of the following: encountering new ideas and ways of looking at things; learning what’s happening in your field in the way of teaching and learning; networking, making new contacts that can turn into future professional relationships

Sample Activities for Collecting Information about Teaching

Participation in professional development activities, such as those described above, provides the basis of activity needed for reflecting on what you do as a professional teacher, and for identifying the kinds of things you might pursue as you continue on your journey.

For those VIU faculty who would like to take a more formal approach to self-evaluation, a logical next step will be to think more precisely about what you learn by observing your students as they learn. This practice of intentional observation and information-gathering for the purpose of reflection does not need to be onerous. Often it can be teased out of something you already do.

As a teacher, you are already tuned in each day to whether students are ‘getting it’ or not; and you naturally think about why your students may be responding in a certain way to what you have done or designed for them to do. Some instructors make these observations more explicit for themselves by jotting down notes at the end of each class session. Recording what you observe allows you to see patterns over time and—if needed—becomes a tool for finding solutions if something is not working perfectly. In your notes you might ask yourself:

  • How did the students respond to what I planned; what did they actually say or do in class or online?
  • Was this what I wanted them to say or do?
  • What’s the evidence that they got what I wanted them to get?
  • What might need to be tweaked for next time so that they respond more appropriately?

Looking back at such regular reflections at the end of a semester or over the course of multiple semesters can help you turn up patterns of success and patterns that suggest areas where you may want to seek new strategies for engagement or consider different ways of assessing student learning.

Take the time to note whenever students had the “aha” experience, or when it was a challenge to explain something to a student. What did you say? What did the student say? What is the “pattern” of successful and unsuccessful interactions?

Save copies of your comments to students on assignments. Look for patterns of things you usually give feedback on. This can help you streamline how you give feedback, or strategize for those areas students find most difficult. Reflecting on and documenting the kinds of feedback you give students can also help you make more explicit for yourself the underlying goals or values you have for giving feedback to students. Increased clarity for yourself can translate into better, more focused feedback to students.

Asking students directly (and anonymously) about their responses to your lessons, what they found most important or least clear, and what they are learning is a great way to ‘take the temperature’ of the class from time to time. See Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATs) for more ideas of this type.

Administering a feedback survey is a quick, convenient way to learn how your class is going for the students at a point in time when you can still do something about it.  

You can get informal but anonymous feedback from students by simply asking them to fill out a simple, two-question survey:

  1. What’s going well for you in this class so far?
  2. What recommendations do you have for the instructor?

End-of-term student satisfaction surveys can help you gauge how your whole class went for the students. These are not the same as VIU’s end-of-semester online evaluation survey administered by VIU for new faculty and sessional faculty. Your end-of-term survey would be administered by you in class, on or near the last day of class, so that you get full participation and a full range of opinions from the students in your class.

You can do this most easily with open-ended questions. Focus on what you most would like to know in order to keep the survey short and to the point. If you have access to a mechanical scoring system (Scantron, for example), you might use that tool for administering a Likert-style survey, which would allow you get targeted feedback on specific issues of interest.

Collecting this information regularly can help you redesign the course (or parts of it) before you teach it again, and gives you a picture of how students (and you) are changing as you teach the course over time.

Teaching is often seen as a “private” activity that we talk about only in general terms. But opening your classroom to colleagues, and asking whether it would be suitable for you to observe their classes in the interest of learning new strategies, is a big step toward making teaching more communal. It may seem a bit scary, at first, to contemplate having colleagues in your classroom. But there is a well-recognized process for ensuring that such visits result in good feedback on your teaching and in opportunities for learning new ideas from others.

Please see the VIU Peer Observation booklet, available for free in CIEL, created for this purpose to ensure that your peer visits are as successful as possible.

Even if you’ve collected student feedback in the form of surveys, sometimes the things you want to know from students are too complicated or subtle for those tools. Sometimes something students have said in a survey is mysterious to you and you need further explanation.  These are conditions when a focus group is a good tool:  design 3-4 questions about important things you want to know. Invite a colleague to conduct a conversation with your students based on these questions. It will be important for your colleague to take notes of the main ideas in the conversation, and to maintain the anonymity of the students when he or she reports back to you.

Seeing yourself from the students’ point of view can help you see more clearly what’s working, and what you might want to target for course development.

Tip for using videos: it is useful to review a video first with a friendly colleague. We are often our own worst critics, and it is easy to over-emphasize trivial flaws while ignoring the bigger picture of how you successfully engage students in learning.

What is the impact of students’ experience in your program 3-5 years out? If you have access to alumni data, you may find it useful to hear what former students say about how their experience in the program helps them in their current activities, both personal and professional. This process can be informal (you call a few old students and see how they are doing) or formal (your department organizes a survey of all alumni from the past 5 years).

Alumni are well equipped to give overall assessments of how the program helped them, but also comment on how individual courses taught them what they needed for the next steps in their professional and personal lives. With a maturing perspective, they are likely to have insight into how their experience in your classes helped them.

Where do your students go once they leave the program? Student graduation data, when parsed effectively, can show how well your courses (and program overall) are preparing students for the workplace or helping them to take advantage of other educational opportunities. If students’ careers are diverging from what you and your colleagues imagined they would be, that topic becomes a good question for further inquiry and discussion.

You have surely had current or former students make appreciative comments.  It’s not easy to capture these things if they are given orally, and it’s especially awkward to ask students to write down appreciative things said in casual conversation. Also, sometimes your success with students does not become clear to them until after they have moved on, and suddenly realize the value of the education you provided when they have to apply it in the “real world.”  When former students do get in touch, make sure to keep any of their letters or emails. These documents become part of your “story” if ever you decide to create a professional portfolio of your work.

It’s best not to rely on unsolicited letters if you are hoping to get feedback from students.  It’s more effective to make the collection of student perspectives a part of every course you teach, and to make sure your program has a mechanism for following up with alumni.

While you may not feel the need or desire for “recognition,” the exercise of constructing a document of self-presentation is often a rich professional development activity. Organizing documents and telling your story as a teacher automatically sparks reflection and self-awareness. Many faculty uncover through the process a clearer sense of themselves as teachers, and a greater focus for future work.

Sample Activities for Interacting with a Community of Practice on Teaching

If you are in a department where you spend a lot of time talking with colleagues about your courses, sharing what you do to engage students, and passing around the latest and best teaching ideas you’ve found, you are fortunate to already be in a thriving community of practice. If this dynamic is not already characteristic of your interactions with colleagues, there are still ways you can begin to reach out and find communication partners.

The surest way to engage with colleagues informally is to ask them for advice. Asking for advice is nonintrusive and can be taken as a compliment. For example, ask your neighbor to look at something you are planning to use in your class (an activity; a quiz; an assignment) and see what he or she might suggest for improvement.

Invite a colleague (or group of them) to join you over coffee or lunch to discuss a short article or other item you’ve uncovered. Many of your colleagues will be pleased that you thought to invite them.

If you are a frequent user of social media, consider using these tools to sustain a longer-term conversation with colleagues, either on campus or at other institutions where you have conversation partners. For many faculty, the informality of social media makes it easier to engage and follow the ideas of other teachers in your community of practice.

The CIEL hosts a series of “Show and Share” events each year, which are designed to highlight individual faculty members’ best teaching ideas. If you have a great idea you wish to share but don’t want to wait until the Teaching and Learning Conference, contact the CIEL staff and share your idea to set up a session.

VIU’s Teaching and Learning Conference: This bi-annual conference is a great way to showcase your best teaching ideas and gather new ideas from others. Look for invitations to submit in your email.

Portfoliopalooza is an annual event sponsored by CIEL, for the purpose of creating time, space and structure of support for faculty who are interested in building a portfolio, either of teaching, the scholarship of teaching, or community engagement.

On your own, you may want to set up your account in WordPress, which is an effective tool for creating and hosting an electronic version of your portfolio.

Consider sharing your portfolio with your VIU colleagues or with colleagues in your field of practice.

An audience exists (locally, regionally and nationally) for essays and stories about teaching. If you have adopted a new strategy and have begun to develop a track record indicating how it’s working, this is something your professional colleagues will be interested in hearing.

VIU faculty are featured regularly as both subjects and authors in CIEL’s web materials. If you have an idea for something to write or something to be written about. Contact the CIEL staff and share your idea.

Sometimes VIU faculty publish articles for more popular publications in local newspapers such as the Nanaimo Bulletin or the Times Colonist. Other non-scholarly but refereed outlets that welcome narratives and new ideas include:

For more Scholarly writings on teaching and learning the following are possibilities: