You won’t have much luck chatting with Dr. Catherine Rawn on a Friday, unless you’re one of the 400+ students taking her introductory psychology course. She teaches two classes (PSYC 100 and 218), has course prep, and a drop-in office hour. Dr. Rawn also hosts something she calls “invitational office hours,” a weekly informal discussion session at a nearby coffee shop with 10-12 of her PSYC 100 students. Students earn one percent of their grade by attending the discussions (for “engagement in learning”). More importantly, they get to connect with their instructor. They may discuss the course or their first-year experiences. Often, though, the students spend the time asking questions about grad school and about Catherine herself.
Even though Dr. Rawn will only meet with each student once, the invitational office hours seem to have a significant impact on those who attend. Past students have expressed appreciation, explaining that they felt less intimidated in their second year about going to see instructors during formal office hours. Dr. Rawn also benefits from the weekly chats. “It really helps me to put faces to that sea of students,” she explains, “and it helps me to focus on the positive connection that I can have with students.”
Dr. Rawn is clearly passionate about teaching. She has been an Instructor in the Learning Enhancement area of UBC’s Psychology Department since July 2009. She writes in her blog that “teaching is much more complex than I could appreciate before I was the one at the front of the room, all eyes on me.” It’s this complexity that keeps Dr. Rawn engaged in teaching and learning-related professional development (TLPD) as both a participant and a facilitator. “I’m constantly drawing from the base of my professional development every day, as I design classes and while I’m in classes,” she says. “It’s given me a curiosity to try new things, [and] a recognition that some activities aren’t going to work and that’s okay.”
Dr. Rawn’s first foray into TLPD at UBC came in 2005 when she was a teaching assistant struggling to figure out how to mark assignments. She heard about a graduate student Instructional Skills Workshop (ISW) offered through TAG (now CTLT) and thought “here’s a place where I can get some skills.” What she found was a connection to a TLPD community. “I had fun,” Dr. Rawn recalls, “I met people, and realized it was a safe place to expose my curiosity [about teaching.]”
As her love of teaching developed, Dr. Rawn took more workshops and eventually completed the Graduate Student Certificate Program. The certificate gave her “a language to use for thinking about teaching.” The program also introduced her to the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning and to teaching-related conferences, opening connections and resources for teaching in her discipline. Before she finished her PhD, Dr. Rawn trained as an Instructional Skills Workshop (ISW) facilitator and was awarded a grant from the UBC TA Training Fund to create a TA training program in psychology, which she continues to lead.
Dr. Rawn’s teaching is marked by a learner-centered approach that developed through her own professional development experiences. Dr. Rawn has grown from graduate student to faculty member, from Teaching Assistant to Teaching Assistant Trainer, and from workshop participant to workshop facilitator. She is one of the many people on campus who could easily fit the bill as a poster child for teaching and learning professional development at UBC.