Dr. Melanie Hamilton (EdD) in the newly established Jane and Ron Graham Centre for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning at USask.
Dr. Melanie Hamilton (EdD) in the newly established Jane and Ron Graham Centre for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning at USask. (Photo: Connor Jay)

USask’s Graham Centre places focus on student learning

Dr. Melanie Hamilton (EdD), new director of the Jane and Ron Graham Centre for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL), arrived at the University of Saskatchewan (USask) this past summer with a mandate to elevate and champion this growing research area.

For those unfamiliar with the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning – known among academics as SoTL – you would be hard-pressed to find someone as connected in this field as Hamilton. In addition to building the SoTL program from the ground up at Lethbridge College, she is the chair of SoTL Canada and vice-president, Canada, for the International Society for SoTL (ISSOTL).

“SoTL is a type of research traditionally done in higher education which examines how your teaching impacts student learning. It can be done in any discipline,” explained Hamilton. “The goal at the micro level of SoTL – which is in the classroom – is to look at your teaching strategies to see if they are as successful as you think they are.”

A nurse by discipline, Hamilton started doing inquiry into scholarly teaching 15 years ago while a faculty member in the nursing program at Grande Prairie Regional College.

“I was always really curious about student learning and the impact of student learning, but I didn’t know it had a name,” said Hamilton. “Over time, I realized that what I was doing was the scholarship of teaching and learning and it evolved from there. I transitioned from faculty to education development specialist where I was responsible for the SoTL research program at Lethbridge College.”

In July, she brought that expertise to the role of director at the newly established Jane and Ron Graham Centre for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in USask’s College of Education. Funded through a $2-million donation from alumni Drs. Jane (DLitt’22, BEd’62) and Ron Graham (DLitt’13, BE’62), the centre is at the forefront of change in higher education that places a focus on research into student learning.

“It is such an opportunity to have two private donors support teaching and learning research in K-12 and in higher education. It is pretty much unheard of,” said Hamilton. “Having Jane and Ron’s support adds to the value SoTL offers.”

Hamilton explains how the COVID-19 pandemic was a catalyst for instructors to become more creative in their classroom on a moment’s notice and many have started to think about how to share what they’ve learnt more broadly.

“We’ve just gone through a pandemic. Students are expecting to learn in different ways than they were 10 years ago. SoTL helps keep us innovative and creative in our classrooms,” Hamilton said.

With teaching and learning research, there is also a focus on what may be perceived as teaching failures and what can be shared and learnt from those projects. In addition, because it’s done between and across disciplines, the research results can be shared more widely.

“That’s the beauty of SoTL: we celebrate successes and failures. We don’t call them failures; we call them ‘Aha Moments’ that maybe we need to change our teaching. And that change could be needed because we have different types of students in the classroom, than we did even five years ago,” explained Hamilton.

Hamilton is looking forward to building the SoTL research program at USask and helping faculty and staff make headway in this growing area.

“Coming to the Graham Centre for SoTL was the opportunity of a lifetime,” Hamilton said. “The fact that the centre has launched the first master’s and post-graduate certificate credentials in SoTL in North America was a big draw for me to take my expertise from Lethbridge College and re-create that on a bigger and broader scale.”

Her goals over the next few years include ensuring the graduate programs offered are fully subscribed and teaching the best content in SoTL, building internal support for USask researchers by offering research grants and professional development opportunities, and supporting the external community of K-12 educators in considering how SoTL research can make a difference for younger students.

For Dr. Airini (PhD), provost and vice-president academic at USask, the Graham Centre for SoTL is a key part of the university’s strategic plan aspiration for global recognition for learning and research by 2025.

“One of the optimal ways that shows USask values learning and teaching is how we value research and scholarship in these areas,” said Airini. “USask has committed to the aspiration of being a university that sets the standard in learning. The Graham Centre for SoTL is integral to helping us achieve this goal and being a leader for student experience in higher education.”

Hamilton agrees that it is this focus beyond the USask campus and classroom that increases the promise and impact of SoTL.

“In SoTL, disseminating your findings is the gold star, it’s where we want all of our research projects to be,” said Hamilton. “The more research that we can do to help students here be successful, particularly post-COVID when the higher education landscape has changed so much, the more fortunate students everywhere will be.”

Interested in learning more about the graduate programs and research grants the Jane and Ron Graham Centre for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning offers? Visit their website or drop in at their new space on the main floor of the Education Building.

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