Dr. Karla Wolsky (PhD) will become the first student to graduate with a certificate offered by the Graham Centre for SoTL (Photo: Submitted)Dr. Karla Wolsky (PhD) will become the first student to graduate with a certificate offered by the Graham Centre for SoTL (Photo: Submitted)
Dr. Karla Wolsky (PhD) will become the first student to graduate with a certificate offered by the Graham Centre for SoTL (Photo: Submitted)

USask’s Scholarship of Teaching and Learning program celebrates first graduate

This week, Dr. Karla Wolsky (PhD) will become the first student to graduate with a certificate offered by the Jane and Ron Graham Centre for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (Graham Centre for SoTL).

By Connor Jay

An experienced registered nurse and educator in Alberta nursing programs, the knowledge she has gained in the certificate will help her improve how students learn the skills and knowledge required of the profession.

Located in the College of Education, the Graham Centre for SoTL opened in 2022 thanks to a $2-million donation from University of Saskatchewan (USask) alumni Jane (BEd’62, DCL’22) and Ron (BE’62, DCL’13) Graham. At the heart of the centre’s work is the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning – commonly referred to as SoTL — which focuses on the systematic study of teaching practices in higher education with the goal of improving student learning.

Wolsky is an instructor in the Health Care Aide program at the Centre for Health and Wellness at Lethbridge College and a sessional lecturer at the University of Calgary. She was introduced to the Graduate Certificate in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning program by Dr. Melanie Hamilton (EdD), director of the Graham Centre for SoTL.

Wolsky and Hamilton met in 2012 while working together in the Lethbridge College nursing program. Although they had different nursing backgrounds, with Wolsky’s experience in the medical surgical and emergency room and Hamilton in the operating room, the duo bonded over similar teaching philosophies on how students learn. Since Hamilton knew Wolsky was already active in SoTL research and had a passion for curriculum, she thought the program would be a good fit for Wolsky.

“If anyone talks to Melanie, they cannot walk away from her without acknowledging her passion for SoTL,” said Wolsky. “[Melanie] knew that I was looking for more information [in social research] to mentor [and inform] other people. It was a good fit both ways.”

Wolsky’s pursuit of additional credentials beyond the PhD shows how a learning journey is lifelong. 

“[Wolsky] is an example of how you can continue to improve yourself through professional development; that you don't have to have an end stop after your master's or a PhD,” said Hamilton. “She shows that we can continue to learn in a variety of ways."

The Canadian Association of Schools of Nursing (CASN) requires nurses to report on the scholarship of teaching and learning taking place in nursing education. Since educating students is embedded in the job description, the opportunity to engage in research on teaching presents itself naturally. Wolsky’s research project, titled Cinema Education: Utilizing Films to Teach Psychological Aspects of Client Care for Health Care Aide Students, stemmed from her experience with her students.

“The courses I instruct are about psychosocial aspects of care such as death, dying and palliative care, dementia and mental health,” said Wolsky. “These topics are hard to teach in a classroom setting. Students were asking me, ‘Are there any movies that would help me understand this concept?’”

Wolsky noticed the positive feedback from her students after providing movies and supplemental resources for learning. The students mentioned how they could visualize the caring process for patients.

“The students started asking about other movies. I thought that this would be a great SoTL project. Then I started taking the SoTL certificate, and I thought ‘I should use the idea that students brought forward and then see if it really does assist students.’”

Wolsky, who recently received the 2023-24 Teaching Excellence Award at Lethbridge College, has noticed an improvement in her teaching practice. She will continue to use her findings as she begins to oversee the provincial health care curriculum revision across Alberta.

“I'm hoping to utilize some of my scholarship on teaching and learning and research background to help improve some of our curriculum changes and revisions,” said Wolsky. 

Hamilton is excited that Wolsky is the first graduate of the centre. She credits Wolsky’s passion for learning as to why she will be a strong SoTL specialist and advocate.

“She will be able to continue to take that passion of student learning, supporting students and her teaching and leadership philosophy into our program as she moves into an instructor role,” said Hamilton. “[Wolsky] is already telling people why the USask SoTL program is important and the kind of benefits that a person can get out of it.”

Wolsky is proud of the committed work she has put in to complete the SoTL certificate. She appreciates the overall experience that allowed her to discover new information and encourages others to pursue the program.

“The program provides a really good experience with lots of engagement with other individuals and their research projects,” said Wolsky. “The way the program is laid out, it walks you through a SoTL project. When you are finished, not only have you completed this certificate, but you have a SoTL project that’s ready to be implemented.”

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