Graduate Student Certificate in University Teaching and Learning

Description of Activity 


The Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning will launch a new non-credit certificate in university teaching and learning for graduate students in the fall of 2017.  The description that follows captures the key elements of the university-approved proposal (which moved through 4 stages of governance) and the structure of the certificate.  At the time of writing, some components of the certificate have yet to be developed, so more detailed information will be provided as our plans unfold.



The Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning is committed to offering a systematic approach to developing the teaching abilities of graduate students.  The preparation of graduate students as scholarly post-secondary teachers is widely recognized as important, both for individuals who intend to pursue an academic career (Britnell et al., 2010) and for the future of higher education itself (Schonwetter & Ellis, 2011).  In competitive academic job markets, graduates of teaching development programs bring additional credentials to their applications, which hiring committees increasingly view as relevant (Kenny et al., 2014).  Given that the career paths of graduate students are diverse, teaching and knowledge transfer skills are also valued in the many professional settings outside of the academy in which graduates ultimately find themselves working (Canadian Association of Graduate Studies, 2008; Rose, 2012).  The development of scholarly teaching and learning skills, knowledge, and values is key to a well-rounded graduate education and certificate programs in postsecondary teaching and learning provide excellent opportunities to achieve these goals (Taylor et al., 2008). The Taylor Institute sees this non-credit certificate as a vital part of a robust graduate education for students at the University of Calgary, wherever their career paths subsequently take them.

The Taylor Institute Graduate Student Certificate in University Teaching and Learning welcomes graduate students to cultivate an approach to teaching that is reflective, evidence-based, and theoretically-informed.  Structured to be completed within two years (although individuals may take more or less time for completion), the program is designed to provide practical, flexible and adaptable skills grounded in knowledge about student learning that is relevant across the disciplines in post-secondary contexts.  The certificate draws upon the uniqueness and capacity of the Taylor Institute to offer graduate students a flexible, holistic, and multi-faceted learning experience that includes authentic, practical opportunities to apply their learning.  As with many other certificate programs, we welcome participants from across the disciplines into a collegial environment to explore evidence-based, research-informed teaching practices.  Research suggests that cross-disciplinary exchanges, which are a hallmark of many certificate programs, are of great benefit to participants (von Hoene, 2011) as they encourage students to learn from others’ experiences while exploring their own disciplinary needs.


The intended primary audience for the non-credit certificate will be University of Calgary graduate students enrolled in Master’s and doctoral programs. In keeping with the strategic plan of the Taylor Institute, flexibility is a key feature of the certificate.  This is a continuous enrolment program with multiple points of entry (Chick, 2016), whereby students can start at any time with any component of the scheduled certificate program, and at any point in their graduate studies.  This means that there is no official application or selection process required and that students self-enroll in order to participate.  In order to receive the certificate, all requirements must be completed prior to graduation, and it is the student’s responsibility to ensure that all requirements for completion are fulfilled in a timely fashion.  It is also possible to complete one or more individual components of the certificate, even if it is not completed in its entirety.


By the end of this non-credit certificate program, successful participants will be able to:

·         Engage in collaborative, critically reflective conversations with colleagues to explore current issues, theories and research in postsecondary education

·         Identify and implement research-informed teaching methods that enhance student learning

·         Practice peer teaching, and collecting and responding to feedback from colleagues

·         Articulate a research question and develop a plan to conduct a SoTL (Scholarship of Teaching and Learning) project

·         Evaluate and select effective learning technologies and maximize spaces to enhance student learning

·         Develop a teaching philosophy/dossier that aligns key beliefs about teaching and learning to sources of evidence drawn from participation in the certificate program



The certificate is made up of 5 components for a total of 52 instructional hours.  Each component involves stated requirements, all of which must be completed by participants in order to receive the certificate.   The components and their requirements are as follows:

Emerging Teachers Development Workshop Series (10 hours, taken over two terms)

The Emerging Teachers Development Workshop Series introduces students to a variety of topics related to developing their university teaching, with opportunities for discussion, practice and reflection.  Students will be invited to select topics of interest from a range of workshops in order to tailor this component to their needs.
Requirements: Completion of this component requires attendance at five workshops over the course of one academic year and a final reflective statement to summarize and synthesize one’s learning.

Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Foundations (12 hours, taken over one term)

Through attending a series of discussion-based sessions focused on foundational scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL) readings and a selected workshop, participants will learn about scholarly, evidence-based approaches to student learning and to their own teaching.
Requirements: A brief plan for a SoTL project with an explanation of how it draws upon the readings and discussion groups attended is required for completion.

Theories and Issues in Postsecondary Teaching and Learning (12 hours, taken over one term)

In this series of reading lab/seminar-style gatherings, key concepts, theories and issues informing postsecondary teaching and learning will be explored through reading and discussing the work of influential authors in the field.  This cohort-based component will also provide opportunities for students to lead their peers in interactive sessions and to gather and reflect upon feedback on their teaching.
Requirements: An interactive lesson plan, feedback instrument, and reflection on a selected reading are required for completion.

Learning Spaces and Digital Pedagogy (10 hours, taken over two terms)

Learning Spaces and Digital Pedagogy provides an opportunity for participants to explore, discover, and experience various technologies and the aspects of learning spaces that support and enhance teaching development and student learning in higher education.
Requirements: To complete this component, students will be required to participate in a Taylor Institute Teaching Challenge ( by creating and implementing an innovation with their peers in the program, and subsequently reflecting on and sharing their learning through the website.

Developing Your Teaching Dossier (8 hours, taken over one term)

This component provides students with the opportunity to integrate learning from previous components in a final product.  Principles and components of teaching philosophy statements and teaching dossiers will be introduced.  Working sessions will support participants to write a teaching philosophy statement and to select and align supporting evidence in a dossier.  Through a peer evaluation process, participants will give and receive feedback in order to develop and subsequently edit their dossier.
Requirements:  Students will participate in the working peer-review sessions and submit a completed teaching dossier to complete this final component of the certificate.

Works Cited

Britnell, J., Brockerhoff-Macdonald, B., Carter, L., Dawson, D., Doucet, L., Evers, F., et al. (2010).  University faculty engagement in teaching development activities phase II. Toronto: Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario.

Canadian Association of Graduate Studies. (2008). Professional skills development for graduate students. Ottawa: Canadian Association of Graduate Studies.

Chick, N. (2016). Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Strategic Plan 2016-2019. Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning, University of Calgary, Calgary AB.  Retrieved from

Kenny, N., Watson, G.P.L., & Watton, C. (2014). Exploring the context of Canadian graduate student teaching certificates in university teaching. Canadian Journal of Higher Education, 44(3), 1-19.

Rose, M. (2012). Graduate student professional development: A survey with recommendations. Ottawa: Canadian Association for Graduate Studies.

Schonwetter, D., & Ellis, D. (2011). Taking stock: Contemplating North American graduate student professional development programs and developers.  In J.E. Miller & J.E. Groccia (Eds.), To improve the academy: Resources for faculty, instructional and organizational development, 29, 3-17. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning (2015-2016).  Annual Report.  University of Calgary, Calgary AB.  Retrieved from

Taylor, K.L., Schonwetter, D.J., Ellis, D.E., & Roberts, M. (2008). Profiling an approach to evaluating the impact of two certification in university teaching programs for graduate students.  Studies in Graduate and Professional Student Development, 11, 45-75.

University of Calgary. (2016). Comprehensive Institutional Plan. Retrieved from:

University of Calgary. (2012). 2012 Academic Plan. Retrieved from:

Von Hoene, L. (2011). Graduate student teaching certificates: Survey of current programs. Mapping the Range of Graduate Student Professional Development, 14 (Spring), 101-123.



Alignment with Priorities

X   Building capacity and creating community

X   Supporting evidence-based practice

X   Strengthening innovation

X   Raising the profile of the EDU

X   Evaluating our practice

Additional Key-Words, Tags, or Themes

Graduate student teaching development

Teaching dossier

Assessment Plan / Results

A postdoctoral scholar will oversee the development and implementation of this program and will create a comprehensive plan for evaluating its effectiveness.  Along with developing an overall evaluation framework, each of the components of the certificate will be evaluated separately.  In the case of the Emerging Scholars Development Workshop series, each individual workshop will be evaluated and the data compiled.  Completed requirements for the individual components (such as lesson plans, reflective statements, and teaching dossiers) will also be taken into consideration as artefacts that could be included in the evaluation of the program.







Reflection and Impact

The process of developing this certificate in university teaching and learning began with a survey of University of Calgary graduate students who unanimously indicated their interest in taking a certificate of this kind.  In addition, an environmental scan of post-secondary institutions across Canada found that nine of the U15 institutions have some sort of certificate in teaching and learning for graduate students.  A review of the literature on graduate student teaching development was also conducted to ensure that we were abreast of current trends.


Within the Taylor Institute we also hosted a visioning session during which we considered the unique features of our institute, how we might draw upon our resources and talents, and what might make our certificate relevant to the University of Calgary graduate student audience.  Program descriptions and outcomes were drafted at the session and subsequently revised for further feedback and revision.  The proposal moved through 4 university-level governance committees for questions, revisions, and ultimately, approval.


While some components of the certificate already exist in the EDU programming, details of the new components are yet to be established.  It is exciting to propose an initiative that brings together the many talented individuals at the Taylor Institute into a collaborative project and to anticipate how this initiative will ultimately come together.  It will also be rewarding to welcome graduate students into this rigorous and robust certificate program, and to gather feedback from them about their learning and experiences.


Written by Carol Berenson














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