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Constructing new knowledge about Teaching and Learning through Collaborative Inquiry

TransCanada Learning Innovation and Collaborative Inquiry Research Program

TransCanada Research Program for Learning Innovation and Collaborative Inquiry

The Institute for Scholarship of Teaching and Learning supports and facilitates collaborative research projects on program-level, discipline-level, and interdisciplinary topics. Through a generous donation from TransCanada Pipelines, we are pleased to sponsor the TransCanada Collaborative SoTL Inquiry Grants. These grants are designated for collaborative teaching and learning inquiry projects which go beyond an inquiry about teaching and learning in a single class.


Some examples of collaborative inquiries include, but are not limited to, inquiries about teaching and learning that:

  • will be investigated in multiple courses and/or sections in a department or program (for example, studying student learning over a series of courses)
  • will be investigated in courses from different programs and faculties (for example, studying undergraduate research skills development in courses from a variety of disciplines)
  • will be investigated in courses from multiple contexts (for example, studying the effect of a certain pedagogy at institutions with varying class sizes)
  • have a student as a co-investigator (a senior student collaborating to design/conduct a study in a lower-level class)
  • require the expertise of a variety of co-investigators due to the size and scope of the project (for example, a technical writing expert collaborating to study student writing skills development in science)

Collaborative SoTL projects may apply for funding of up to $10,000 over a two year period. Typically, one or two grants will be awarded per funding cycle. See the application guidelines, below, for more information. If you are uncertain whether or not your proposed project meets the criteria, please contact the Director to explore possibilities.

APPLICATION DEADLINE is December 1, 2016

**to apply, Principal Investigators must use the Office of Research Services web-based application, following the guidelines below:

2016-17 Collaborative Research Grant guidelines


Program- and Disciplinary-Level Collaborative Research

Collaborative Research Team: Ada Jaarsma (Philosophy), Kit Dobson (English), Kyle Kinaschuck (major: English; minor: Philosophy); TC grant awarded Winter 2014

While the Humanities have been under-represented in the scholarship of teaching and learning, there are methodological practices in the Humanities that have direct significance for scholarly research into teaching and into learning. The methods that are taught and enacted by faculty in the Humanities bear directly on scholarly inquiry into teaching, learning, and the relations between teaching and learning in the contemporary university classroom. This project is a collaborative one, bringing together students and faculty from across the Humanities in order to explore how a variety of Humanities-based methods might lead to innovative SoTL research. This project focuses on the relations between evaluation and assessment, both in the Humanities classroom and also in SoTL.

Collaborative Research Team: Amanda Williams, Maria Victoria Guglietti, Ron MacDonald, Sally Haney, Journalism; TC grant awarded Winter 2014

The project’s goal is to offer a much needed investigation of how students develop a definition and identification of themselves as journalists throughout their undergraduate degree. The study draws inspiration from existing literature on the state of crisis within journalism at present, investigations of models of ideal journalism, holistic approaches to identify studies, and empirical work based on a stages/model approach to identify management throughout the undergraduate experience. All of this literature urges additional scholarship in this area and encourages a qualitative approach focused on an appreciation of agency/reflection, doing/being, and behaviour/perceptions dynamics. This study will collect and analyze data from first- through fourth-year Journalism classes.

Journalism Identity Study, Phase 2

Collaborative Research Team: Amanda Williams, Victoria Guglietti, Sally Haney (Journalism); TC grant awarded Winter 2015

This project represents Phase 2 of a collaborative investigation examining the central research question: How do students form a concept of themselves as journalists throughout their undergraduate journalism degree program? In Phase 1 of the investigation, the research team completed a thematic analysis of more than 90 semi-guided student reflections gathered in all years of the journalism program at Mount Royal University. The study not only revealed what student journalists were saying about their experiences, it also informed the research team's decision to proceed with the second leg of the study. In Phase 2 of the investigation, the research team is using a narrative approach to guide qualitative interviews with several study participants. Given the privileged place that “stories” holds in the discipline, the interviews will be conducted with students as a means of understanding their identity vis-à-vis their stories. It is expected that by gaining a better appreciation of how students understand themselves in their journeys through the journalism program and in the context of their views of journalism, journalism educators will be in a better position to develop constructive pedagogical interventions that address points of anxiety, stress, disjuncture or frustration in the identity formation process. One or two student research assistants will be employed to assist with analyzing the interviews using qualitative methods and presenting the findings at a conference.

Collaborative Research Team: Mark Lafave, Kjatija Westbrook, Dennis Valdez, Breda Eubank, Jenelle McAllister (Health and Physical Education); Michelle Yeo (Academic Development Centre); TC grant awarded WInter 2015

Competency-based education in medical and allied healthcare professions has become accepted as commonplace. The Athletic Therapy program at Mount Royal University has undergone a transformation from a more traditional delivery method to one that employs a clinical presentation (CP) model of competency-based education. A CP model of curriculum is similar to problem-based learning (PBL) delivery whereby clinical cases or diagnoses are central to the teaching and learning process. A CP model is unique from PBL in that students are taught to think more like experts, whereby both inductive and deductive reasoning approaches are employed. Specifically, students are taught schemata that are employed by experts to evaluate, diagnose, manage, and treat various neurological and orthopedic-related conditions or CPs. A schemata is essentially a cognitive script and process that expert uses to help evaluate, manage and treat injuries or conditions. Experts employ schemata subconsciously and thus, it is important to make what is happens seamlessly and implicitly for them more explicit to the student. Metaphorically, it is like teaching students to use a road map to get from one point to another. We have completed research that identified 253 CPs that should be part of an undergraduate curriculum. Ideally, if students understand the 253 CPs, it should lead to a competent Athletic Therapist upon graduation. The proposed research aims to determine if the CP model of competency-based education effectively teaches students to be ‘competent,’ as intended. Furthermore, understanding the student experience with these clinical presentations help describe a learning curve in AT. A student Research Assistant will contribute substantially to this project by assisting with data collection, analysis and dissemination of findings.

Pedagogical Innovations and Multi-Institutional Collaborations

Collaborative Research Team: Brent Oliver (Child Studies and Social Work, MRU), Darlene Chalmers (University of Regina), Mary Goitam (York University); TC grant awarded Fall 2014

This grant furthers Dr. Oliver’s Nexen-sponsored SoTL project and extends the investigation into three distinct and diverse programs offering social work education in Canada. The study examines the learning processes that social work students enrolled at Mount Royal University, York University and The University of Regina experience as they participate in a reflexive photography project and how this learning contributes to their emerging professional practice. Evidence will be gathered related to students’ experiences with the reflexive photography project, descriptions of the meaning and insight they draw from participating in the project, and their ideas around alternatives that would enhance their learning. This proposed scholarship of teaching and learning project is extremely relevant to the current discourse in social work education and could have potential application for other practicum based disciplines including nursing and education.

Collaborative Research Team: Heather Russell, Margot Underwood, Marg Olfert, Liza Choi, Stephanie Zettel, Jennifer Watson, and Caroline Silen (Nursing, Mount Royal University; Meredith Patey and Jennifer Stefura (Respiratory Therapy, SAIT); TC grant awarded Fall 2015

The Mount Royal School of Nursing and Midwifery collaborated with the SAIT Respiratory Therapy (RT) program to organize an augmented oxygen delivery lab to first year nursing students to improve their confidence in managing oxygen delivery. Third year RT students facilitated first year student nurses’ hands on learning of oxygen delivery through the use of case studies and low fidelity simulation. Surveys administered indicated that both groups of students had a very positive perception of the inter-professional collaboration and learning offered through this lab. The purpose of the study is to examine the readiness of nursing and respiratory therapy students for IPE, and to examine the construction of identity for both groups of students within a collaborative lab using a mixed methods approach.

Collaborative Research Team: Michelle Yeo, Academic Development Centre; Sarah Hewitt, Department of Biology; Joanne Bouma, Department of Nursing and Midwifery; TC Grant awarded Winter 2016

Anatomy and Physiology is a year-long, first year course taught in two parts - BIOL 1220 and 1221. This is a service course taught by the Biology Department and is a required course for first year nursing students. This first year anatomy and physiology course has traditionally had one of the highest failure and withdrawal rates at the university. It is an extremely content heavy course, historically taught with a lecture/exam-based model. Students take the course in their first year of the nursing program as a required course. Faculty in the Nursing Program have repeatedly observed that students who barely pass this course struggle in subsequent courses, especially pathophysiology which they take in their second year. Consequently, there is a lot of impetus to try to improve their understanding of the basic material in the first year. 

Based on prior interviews with students, and the observations of faculty teaching the course, the students struggle to find the best approach to learning so much content. Their retention of material beyond the exams is very poor, and for this reason, they are unable to make connections between later concepts that are based on, or identical to, earlier concepts. In an effort to help the students develop a more structured approach to learning, retaining information, and making connections between concepts, Sarah Hewitt decided to radically alter the course delivery in the sections she was teaching.  In consultation with Michelle Yeo, Hewitt re-configured the course by amalgamating shortened lectures and in-class group work, with some typical components of a flipped classroom - more work outside of class time that allows for more student engagement activities in class. The biggest change involved the development of skeleton concept maps. Von Der Heidt (2015) argues that concept mapping can powerfully contribute to deep learning for students. Furthermore, a series of video lectures were created that students watched outside the class and could view them repeatedly as needed.
Calls have been made in the literature for research to help build an evidence base to justify the implementation of flipped approaches, and to increase their effectiveness through a better understanding of what does and does not work (Vickrey et al. 2015). Our SoTL work intends to discover how well these new approaches in BIOL 1220&21 are working and why.  Furthermore, a recent study (Van Vliet, Winnips, & Brouwer, 2015) suggests that the benefits of a flipped model are not maintained if the pedagogy is not continued. Thus the GOALS of this project are as follows:
1. To assess the success of the partially flipped classroom as a teaching tool in first year,
2. To see whether this method can be used in the follow-up pathophysiology course in second year, and finally,
3. To find out whether the combination of this teaching method on both first and second year courses is an effective way for the students to more thoroughly learn the material, increase their long term retention of concepts and/or their ability to apply the concepts in a clinical setting.  We are proposing a two-year project to accomplish these goals. The project represents a partnership between three faculty members from Biology, Nursing, and the Academic Development Centre.

High Impact Practice: Community Service-Learning

Collaborative Research Team: Cynthia Gallop and Brian Guthrie (Child Studies and Social Work); TC grant awarded Fall 2014

In the field of social work, the greatest opportunity for professional socializing and identity development occurs in an experiential setting (Plummer et al, 2008). Although there is a growing acceptance of service-learning as a component of social work theory classes, there are no current examples of incorporating service-learning as a component of the field practicum experience in Canada. To date, the lines between volunteerism (emphasis on service), field education (emphasis on student learning), and service-learning (equal emphasis on learning and service) have been blurred, primarily because researchers have used the terms imprecisely (Plummer et al, 2008). This study will compare how a traditional social work practica influences the emerging professional identity of social work students when compared to a service-learning practicum section, which is being test-piloted.

Collaborative Research Team: Melanie Rathburn and Roberta Lexier (General Education); TC grant awarded Fall 2015

Community-service learning (CSL) allows students the opportunity to participate in a service experience that is integrated within the curriculum, meets the actual needs of the community, and incorporates critical reflection to connect their academic learning with their experiences. There is now overwhelming evidence that CSL has the ability to influence students’ cognitive and affective learning. While the effectiveness of this pedagogical approach is well demonstrated, we believe that better preparation by ensuring that students understand and recognize the purpose and value of CSL will further enhance their learning. Therefore, this project examines how students understand community-service learning. Specifically, we are interested in 1) determining how different pedagogical interventions help students prepare for and understand community-service learning and 2) how does a thorough understanding of CSL influence students’ cognitive and affective learning. To answer these questions we will ask students to reflect on their understanding of CSL at the start of the course, after pedagogical interventions, and following their hands-on experiences. These data will be collected from the 2016 cohort of students participating in an international field school to Honduras and can be compared with similar data from students in the 2014 field school. Throughout the semester, students will also complete structured and open-ended reflections, course projects, and final exams that will be used to assess their cognitive and affective learning gains. We hope that this study helps provide new knowledge to an active and growing CSL community at Mount Royal University and beyond.

Collaborative Research Team: Victoria Calvert, Yasmin Dean, Judy Gleeson, Roberta Lexier, Janice Miller-Young, Jennifer Pettit, Melanie Rathburn, Margot Underwood

Faculty learning in Global Service-Learning is an important area of research because understanding how faculty develop their practice is an important first step in improving student learning outcomes and relationships with community members. Enacting reciprocity in service-learning can be particularly troublesome because it requires faculty to learn to develop courses and partnerships in counternormative ways. This study examines an approach to investigating and generating faculty learning, in our case about the threshold concept of reciprocity, through a group self-study process that included the interview method developed for Decoding the Disciplines (Pace & Middendorf, 2004) followed by individual and then group reflection. Our self-study resulted in new perspectives and new awareness related to the value of examining the concept of reciprocity and the role of group dialogue in generating learning – although the specific nature of these changes was somewhat different for all of us, and analysis shows that that the Decoding interview and the multidisciplinary nature of our group were both important factors in developing the trust necessary for this study to generate learning

Miller-Young, J., Dean, Y., Rathburn, M., Pettit, J., Underwood, M., Gleeson, J., Lexier, R., Calvert, V., & Clayton, P. (2015). Decoding Ourselves: An Inquiry into Faculty Learning About Reciprocity in Service-Learning. Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning, 22(1), 32-47.

High Impact Practice: Undergraduate Research 

Collaborative Research Team: Karen Manarin, English; Miriam Carey, General Education; April McGrath, Psychology; TC grant awarded Fall 2013

Undergraduate research has been identified as one of the high-impact educational practices, leading to gains in critical thinking skills, information literacy and communication skills (Kuh 2008; Lopatto 2010). Often people associate undergraduate research with honours projects and research assistantships available only to a few; however, if undergraduate research leads to learning gains, it should be available to all students at multiple points during their studies (Healey and Jenkins 2009).

In 2011/2012, Karen Manarin developed a scaffold for independent research projects within the context of a 4th year English class. The scaffold involves several assignments, leading students through the steps of a research project: finding an area of inquiry, identifying a frame, conducting a literature review, integrating claim and evidence, incorporating feedback from a poster session. This research project investigates the effects of this scaffold in other contexts and levels: as students are introduced to post-secondary research in GNED 1404: Writing about Images; a Research Methods course, PSYC 2213; and a specialized 4th year seminar for majors, ENGL 4443.

** also see: Manarin, K. (2016). Interpreting Undergraduate Research Posters in the Literature Classroom. Teaching and Learning Inquiry, the ISSOTL Journal, 4(1). Available at

Decoding the Disciplines

Decoding the Disciplines is a process designed to help instructors and educational consultants articulate expert approaches to difficult, or “bottleneck” concepts, and to find new ways to help students learn these concepts (Pace and Middendorf, 2004). The process begins with an interview which helps the instructor better articulate their own thinking, in order to then model it for students. 



Haney, S. (2015). Interrogating Our Past Practice as We Scale the Walls of the Box We Call Journalism Education. In G. Allen, S. Craft, C. Waddell, & M. Young (Eds.), Toward 2020: New Directions in Journalism Education (64-81). Toronto: Ryerson Journalism Research Centre.


Community Service-Learning

Miller-Young, J., Dean, Y., Rathburn, M., Pettit, J., Underwood, M., Gleeson, J., Lexier, R., Calvert, V., & Clayton, P. (2015). Decoding Ourselves: An Inquiry into Faculty Learning About Reciprocity in Service-Learning. Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning, 22(1), 32-47.

Using the Decoding the Disciplines framework for Learning Across Disciplines

Editors: Janice Miller-Young and Jennifer Boman

A special issue proposal has been accepted to New Directions for Teaching and Learning (to be submitted in February 2016) which consists of 8 chapters profiling the ways in which the Decoding the Disciplines framework is being used at Mount Royal University in various teaching, curriculum and research projects.   

  1. Introduction to Decoding Across the Disciplines: Jennifer Boman, Genevieve Currie, Ron MacDonald, Janice Miller-Young, Michelle Yeo, Stephanie Zettel
  2. Uncovering Ways of Thinking, Practicing and Being through Decoding across Disciplines: Janice Miller-Young, Jennifer Boman
  3. Conscious Connections: Phenomenology and Decoding the Disciplines: Genevieve Currie
  4. Hermeneutics of Decoding: Michelle Yeo
  5. Narrative Identity: Ronald MacDonald
  6. Impact of Decoding Work on Program Planning: Michelle Yeo, Mark Lafave, Khatija Westbrook, Dennis Valdez, Breda Eubank
  7. Moving Towards Reciprocity: Using the Decoding framework for Faculty Self-Study in Service-Learning: Jennifer Pettit, Victoria Calvert, Yasmin Dean, Judy Gleeson, Roberta Lexier, Melanie Rathburn, Margot Underwood, Janice Miller-Young
  8. Learning from Decoding Across Disciplines and within Communities of Practice: Jennifer Boman, Janice Miller-Young .