Spark Teaching Symposium

April 24 and 25, 2024

Spark is a symposium dedicated to teaching in higher education that provides a platform for educators to exchange insights, discuss successes, address challenges, and showcase current teaching initiatives. This year’s symposium runs for a full day on April 24th and for a half day on April 25th. The 24th will open with a Deans panel keynote, include lunch, and end with a wine and cheese/awards/networking reception. On the 25th, our program begins with a keynote address from our Vice-President (Academic) and Provost, Dr. Michelle Helstein. Both days boast a diverse array of presentations, panels, roundtables, and workshops covering topics such as AI, collaboration, retention, wellness, assessment, experiential learning, and more.

Please contact for more information.

Spark 2024 Program

The Spark Teaching Symposium program is now available!

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April 24

8:30 – 9:00  Registration

9:00 – 10:30  Keynote Panel  Dr. Lisa Starr, Dr. Jackie Rice, Dr. Harold Jansen, Dr. Matthew Letts, Dr. Jon Doan, Dr. Heather Davis-Fisch, & Dr. Carla Carnaghan 

10:45 – 11:30  Concurrent Session 1

Who: Deanna Oye
Where: M1030
Abstract: In many ways, playing the piano is a lonely proposition.  Practicing can be even lonelier.  Importantly, then, the piano teaching studio at any level has the potential to be a 'place' of sharing, nurturing, and both formal and informal mentoring.  In the environment of a university music program, a studio can also be a vehicle for reaching out to the community and giving students the opportunity to safely explore their places outside of the institution. This presentation will look at the importance of the group dynamic in a largely solitary endeavour, the enhancement of learning when students of all levels engage together, and sample projects that mix studio with community. 


Who: Richelle Marynowski & Sharon Skretting
Where: M1035
Abstract: We invite you to join us for this interactive exploration into how AI can assist you to make a real difference to your work-life balance while also increasing student engagement. One challenge with using AI is knowing what to input to get excellent teaching resources. We have designed a series of prompts that, once responded to for your context and content, directs the AI to develop the desired resource drawing on current research in education. Participants will be taken through this reflective process to generate resources. Participants will also be given insights into evaluating resources generated by AI. 

Who: Dawn McBride
Where: M1040
Abstract: Emotional intelligence is a critical component known to be one of the significant predictors of job performance and life success. Transactional Analysis offers instructors an excellent framework to help manage tension-filled student dynamics and emotions during challenging encounters we may face in the classroom. This interactive presentation outlines the emotional intelligence framework and game theory from Transactional Analysis to showcase strategies to promote awareness and psychological safety in the classroom. The presentation will use diagrams and case studies from the author’s experiences to enhance the practical application of game theory. The primary objective shall be to expand the instructors’ toolbox when there is classroom tension and promote psychological safety in our teaching spaces.   

Who: Sean Fitzpatrick
Where: M1060
Abstract: At past SPARK symposia, I've talked about my efforts to make high quality open educational resources available to our students in mathematics, and the benefits of providing free online access to those resources. This year, I want to talk about ensuring access for all students, including those who require assistive technology. I will demonstrate some of the accessibility features of our textbooks, and in particular, I want to highlight the work done by a group of U of L students to make the images in our books accessible to those who cannot see them. This work was supported by a U of L EDI Scholar award.

11:45 – 12:30  Concurrent Session 2

Who: Mark Ward
Where: M1030
Abstract: Business graduates who possess skills to work collaboratively in teams to create new knowledge and develop evaluative judgement are high sought by organizations in a generative AI world. Transformational teaching is one approach to helping students develop these skills by engaging students in the process of interdependent discovery, and offering students an opportunity to discuss the strategies they use, and the knowledge they create. Students work in interdependent teams to communicate, share knowledge, delegate responsibility, negotiate relationships, and obtain consensus to complete assignments. However, free-riding, inactive students, and poor communication undermine the learning experience. Mark will discuss how he applies the authentic assessment design model to facilitate a transformational learning journey that empowers students to proactively address these issues.

Who: Miranda Leibel, Migueltzinta Solis, & Emily Gale
Where: M1035
Abstract: In the context of increasingly visible polarization and the high-profile and sensationalistic accounts of the ostensible threats to academic freedom on university campuses, educators face pressure from different sources to ‘keep politics out of the classroom’. This roundtable is an opportunity for educators at the University of Lethbridge to think collaboratively about what is at stake in presenting our classrooms as apolitical spaces. The facilitators will speak to their experiences in interdisciplinary classrooms–both in large-enrollment courses and in seminar settings–and as self-identified “killjoys.” We welcome discussion that considers some of the following: How do you perceive the relationship between your identity and the classroom as a political space? How does the discourse of “woke-ism” influence your decisions in the classroom? How do you navigate the diversity of student responses to the politicized classroom?

Who: ReSet Team
Where: M1040
Abstract: Wish you had time to submit resources to the ReSET initiative website? Us too! Not sure what resources you could submit? We can help with that! The ReSET resource repository is a great way to learn and share ideas about effective teaching. This session will provide a brief background of the project, highlight some resources that have been shared, and provide participants with time to upload their own resources to the repository. Members of the ReSET team will help you decide where your resource will best fit and support you in sharing your excellent teaching materials. Bring your ideas and your laptop and get ready to ReSET!

Who: Ying Zheng, Rob Horlacher, & Valerie Archibald
Where: M1060

Chem2120 (Chemistry for the Life Sciences II) is a short organic chemistry course tailor-designed for life sciences students, i.e., students who do not major in chemistry or biochemistry. Thus, the laboratory portion of this course (25% of total course grade) is designed to have alternate experiments and tutorials. The experiments are designed to equip the students with basic organic chemistry lab techniques with engaging everyday life content. The tutorials are designed to reinforce problem-solving skills and to ensure the success of the students in this class. Recently, 3D printing has become a much sought-after job skill. Our university has six 3D printers sitting in the innovation zone. The capacity is both amazing and attractive. Why not incorporate 3D printing into a chemistry lab course, especially an organic course in which 3D modelling is already a skill to be learned. Now, let’s take the models on the screen to the printer and make it hands-on!  The presenters and the students who have completed this course in S2024 will share with you their experiences in the first trial of this lab. This panel discussion aims to “spark” your interest in finding out what innovation zone and the library can do for your courses, as well as how we can teach innovatively to meet the needs of today’s students and the job market.    

12:30 – 1:30  Lunch

1:45 – 2:30  Concurrent Session 3

Who: Richelle Marynowski
Where: M1030
Abstract: As part of one’s grading practices, rubrics can be an effective way to both grade and provide feedback to students regarding their work. Three different types of rubrics will be discussed: analytic rubrics, holistic rubrics, and single point rubrics. This session will provide attendees an opportunity to develop a rubric for their own context following a four phase process that focusses on aligning one’s learning goals or outcomes to the assignment to the grading criteria. Be prepared to be actively engaged in the production of a rubric!

Who: Dawn Burleigh, Aaron Stout, Daniel Balderson, & Greg Ogilvie
Where: M1035
Abstract: If missed classes, late assignments, statements of distress, anxiety, and overwhelm sound familiar, you too might be experiencing a shift in student wellness in your post pandemic classroom. With 62.5% of mental health disorders developing by the age of 25, this becomes a classroom reality for students and their professors. Our team from the Faculty of Education, will identify the emerging wellness needs of students, outline the programmatic adjustments we have made, and engage in dialogue with attendees around individual pedagogical choices that address the wellness needs of students to ensure a positive and productive learning environment. Come join the conversation!

Who: Daniela Fontenelle-Tereshchuk
Where: M1040
Abstract: This presentation focuses on the impact of AI on writing in higher education, especially on first-year university students who often struggle to meet academic writing standards expected in academic papers. It also discusses the current challenges surrounding the use of AI technology, such as ChatGPT, and how better to support beginner writers in academia.

Who: Jaxon Reiter & Amanda Luzardo
Where: M1060
Abstract: The Research Internship Concentration (RIC) is a cohort for undergraduate students majoring in Biological Sciences. This small group of students is introduced to both discipline specific principles (experimental design, introductory statistics, presentations, and scientific writing), as well as more general transferable skills (communication, collaboration, experiential learning and problem-solving) over several courses throughout their degree. Over the course of the concentration, students build relationships with each other, graduate student mentors, and various departmental members. The concept of the RIC is rooted in promoting experiential, flexible, student-guided learning and the promotion of relationships between students and their graduate student mentors. Our discussion will focus on the underlying principles of the RIC and how graduate teaching plays a role in developing undergraduate students.

2:45 – 3:30  Concurrent Session 4

Who: Charlotte Brenner & Erin Reid
Where: M1030
Abstract: This presentation will focus on how teachers can create physical, social, and academic space within their classrooms for diverse students to connect to curricular content and their peers. Charlotte will provide an overview of how self-regulated learning aligns with the promotion of inclusive teaching practices across the curriculum. Erin will outline how teaching strategies grounded in frameworks of care and empathy can help educators create brave classroom spaces for genuine inclusion.

Who: Miranda Leibel, Kaylan Schwarz, & Emily Gale
Where: M1035
Abstract: In a conversation led by Kaylan Schwarz (Liberal Education), Miranda Leibel (Liberal Education), and Emily Gale (Music), this session will introduce a series of creative course assignments, such as letter writing, show-and-tell, podcasts, quilts, and zines. We will consider the pedagogical strengths and challenges of developing, implementing, and grading unconventional approaches to demonstrating knowledge. We welcome rich discussion among instructors who have experience facilitating or are interested in trialing visual, auditory, and/or collaborative forms of assessment.

Who: Chris Mattatall
Where: M1040
Abstract: In Spring 2023 I interviewed 20 recognized and award-winning University of Lethbridge instructors and professors who had no formal pedagogical training before accepting their teaching positions. Over the course of their career they developed and honed their teaching skills to the point where other’s nominated them for teaching recognition. How did these individuals learn to become effective, recognized and award-winning teachers? What informed their development? What did they say contributed to their mindset about how teaching should be done in their classrooms? What informs their planning and teaching decisions? In this session I discuss the findings from this study and report on major themes and participant points-of-view for consideration.   

Who: Sheila McManus, Natasha Reners, & Jenny Burke
Where: M1060
Abstract: This panel brings together Natasha Reners from the StartSmart team to talk about the research that team has been conducting about the challenges facing first-year students, along with Jenny Burke (Biology) and Sheila McManus (History and Religion) who will talk about best practices in their first-year courses. We will also showcase some of the resources available through the ReSet (Resources to Support Excellence in Teaching) site. Providing proactive supports to first-year students, and encouraging best practices in first-year courses, can help give our students an exceptional experience.

3:30 – 5:00  Awards/Wine and Cheese

April 25

8:30 – 9:00  Registration

9:00 – 9:45  Keynote  Dr. Michelle Helstein

10:00 – 10:45  Concurrent Session 1

Who: Stephanie Kerr
Where: M1030
Abstract: The principles of constructive alignment hold that learning outcomes are to be aligned with instructional strategies and with assessments. In the past it was believed that students acquired critical thinking skills ‘naturally’ as they engaged in the subject matter. One type of instructional strategy and assessment, seldom used in university settings, is explicit instruction in how to think critically about the content of a course. This presentation presents the preliminary result of a pilot study that examined the potential relationship between educational practices and critical thinking (learning how to learn within a context) in a hybrid/mixed approach. In addition to instruction in critical thinking skills, the students were also provided feedback through formative assessment. Here the instructional strategy is used to explicitly teach critical thinking skills while explicitly teaching the content of the political science curriculum. That is, critical thinking skills are directly linked with course content.

Who: Tara Million & David Kootnikoff
Where: M1035
Abstract: We are Professors Tara Million and David Kootnikoff from the Indigenous Studies and English Departments, respectively. We would like to propose a panel on “Positionality Statements and Teaching Indigenous Topics.” For this presentation, we would explain how we do positionality exercises in our classes and explore what that does for the class's ability to reflexively engage with Indigenous topics. Although our presentation is specifically about Indigenous literatures, which contain Indigenous Knowledge and draw on relationships, this pedagogical method could be used with any type of class. Cree communities use nakayâskamohtahitowin (the act of introducing yourself to someone else) as an act of wahkohtowin (kinship/relationship). Similarly, academic communities use positionality as a way of demonstrating both their awareness of the social fabric they work within and their ability to engage in reflexive analysis (Holmes, 2020). Therefore, positionality exercises require students to be sensitive to the cultural, political, and social contexts around them and are focused on encouraging self-awareness and critical consciousness (Freire, 1970). As a non-Indigenous “unsettled” scholar, Kootnikoff uses positionality statements to model a commitment to transparency within a settler context. For Kootnikoff, this can be extremely effective in reminding readers of who/what is not being represented while clarifying how their own positionality impacts their world view. As an Indigenous scholar, Million uses nakayâskamohtahitowin to bring diverse knowledges into the academy. For Million, this facilitates the ability to open up space so that the voices of all students can be heard in wahkohtowin with each other and the course materials. 

Who: Sidney Shapiro
Where: M1040
Abstract: Following a year of advancement, worry, and gain, the landscape of higher education has been irrevocably transformed by the relentless march of technology, particularly through the advent of Generative AI (GenAI). This surge has reshaped our teaching methodologies and curriculum designs and prompted us to confront a new array of challenges and opportunities. As we stand at this crossroads, the critical question emerges: How can we navigate this new terrain to harness the full potential of GenAI, enhancing instruction and student engagement while preserving the core values of academic integrity and equity? The presentation will focus on the practical implementation of GenAI as an instructor assistant, underscoring its capacity to personalize learning, drive curriculum innovation, and cultivate deeper student engagement. This talk will critically examine the implications of GenAI integration, particularly maintaining academic integrity, ensuring equitable technology access, and revising pedagogical frameworks to use AI tools for teaching effectively. Through an analysis of the current integration of GenAI in educational settings and exploring anticipated developments, the presentation aims to equip educators with the knowledge to effectively harness AI in their teaching. This examination seeks to contribute to the academic discourse on GenAI by offering a comprehensive overview of its impact on higher education, suggesting strategies for its effective integration, and considering its future trajectory. The aim is to provide actionable insights that enable educators to navigate the evolving landscape of higher education with confidence and foresight. 

Who: Jenny Burke, Laurie Pacarynuk, & Tegan Barry
Where: M1060
Abstract: The role of graduate teaching assistants (GTA’s) varies across institutions. For some, completing a teaching assistantship (TAship) may be a requirement of their graduate program. For others TAships provide income, teaching opportunities, and experience for their future academic career. While not all graduate students have the opportunity to teach, those who do can make a lasting impact on their students’ learning and experience. GTAs teach most lab sections of undergraduate courses in STEM disciplines.  To prepare GTAs for their role, laboratory coordinators typically organize weekly training sessions focused on reviewing content and demonstrations. GTAs are often hired because of their disciplinary content knowledge rather than their capacity to teach the content effectively. We hypothesized that one way to bolster effective teaching by GTAs would be to institute weekly Community of Practice (CoP) meetings. These meetings were attended by GTAs for first-year biology labs on a voluntary basis. Three faculty members worked together to host the meetings. Our initial data indicates that the CoP did, in fact, increase the pedagogical development of GTAs. This panel discussion will take participants through the CoP process and involve them in the pre-and-post CoP questions we utilized for our qualitative analysis. We will also discuss the use of CoP in SoTL (Scholarship of Teaching and Learning) practices.   

11:00 – 11:45  Concurrent Session 2

Who: Alison Liu
Where: M1030
Abstract: Beyond the guidance of their supervisors, what additional support do graduate students require to achieve both academic excellence and personal fulfillment? This presentation delves into the essential role played by graduate peer mentors at ULethbridge in empowering students and fostering a nurturing environment within university communities. By exploring how these mentors bridge gaps, facilitate integration, and cultivate resilience among mentees, the discussion sheds light on how such support enhances the overall success of graduate students. Highlighting the ripple effect of mentorship, the presentation also emphasizes the value of transferring knowledge and experiences to foster continuous growth within the university community, ultimately creating a supportive ecosystem where graduate students can thrive academically and personally.

Who: Jade Oldfield
Where: M1035
Abstract: “I don’t give out 100%.” Even if this statement comes from a well-meaning place, it ultimately impacts students, can affect their future prospects, and causes undue anxiety. This presentation will discuss common post-secondary grading practices through the lens of neurodiversity, exploring some often unintended consequences of these common assessments. With 1 in 5 Canadians having a mental health condition, students with anxiety, ADHD, Autism and other conditions can experience significant disadvantages compared to their classmates, though the grading practice we will discuss, such as the “no 100%” policy, can negatively impact neurotypical students as well. Following this discussion, the presentation will explore a number of assessment “best practices,” as well as different ways to plan and use assessments in your classes that will ease all students’ stress and anxiety. The presentation will also include tips, tricks, links and resources that may even help speed up the time spent on grading.  

Who: Sidney Shapiro, Hamza Warraich, & Shannon McAlorum
Where: M1040
Abstract: In the rapidly evolving landscape of higher education, Artificial Intelligence (AI) tools have emerged as both a boon and a challenge for faculty and students alike. From automating mundane tasks to facilitating complex research processes, AI's potential to transform educational practices is immense. Yet, adopting AI in academic settings raises important questions about effectiveness, ethics, and equity. Drawing on firsthand experiences from the Dhillon School of Business, our panellists Hamza Warraich, Sidney Shapiro, and Shannon McAlorum will share their insights into the practical applications of AI for data generation, assignment creation, and research. They will discuss the successes, pitfalls, and ethical considerations encountered while integrating AI into their work. The panel will also delve into the broader implications of AI for curriculum development, pedagogical strategies, and the future of higher education. 

Who: Shea Mellow & Colleen Klassen
Where: SA6304
Abstract: The Zone isn’t only for the science-minded. As a unique space conducive to developing 21st century core competencies, the Zone can leverage curriculum across all faculties. In any discipline, it’s the doing that cements the learning. Experiential learning bridges theory and practice and The Zone provides the perfect space to design learning for student creativity, innovation, problem-solving, and community-building. This session will be spent in The Agility Innovation Zone, exploring its unlimited potential. After viewing some exemplars, a round table discussion will engage participants in collectively considering how this incredible learning space can leverage and enhance instruction and learning experiences for all students at ULeth. Please join us and creatively consider how your curriculum would be enhanced through the Zone.

Past Keynote Speakers

2018 - Dr. Leroy Little Bear

Spark Keynote Address - Dr. Leroy Little Bear

2017 - Dr. Shelly Wismath

Spark 2017 Keynote Speaker - Dr. Shelly Wismath

2016 - Dr. Bryan Kolb


SPARK: 2016 Keynote Address - Dr. Bryan Kolb

2015 - Dr. Andrew Hakin


SPARK: Keynote Address - Dr. Andrew Hakin