$1-million donation backs MRU scholars
Nexen program helps faculty focus on education research
Students come to university to learn, but they aren’t just studying — they’re also being studied.
Mount Royal University announced on Feb. 21 that Nexen Inc., a Calgary-based oil and gas company, has invested $1-million over the next five years for the newly re-named Nexen Scholars Program.
Six Mount Royal faculty members have been selected for the program this year, and they will each undertake a year-long research project aimed at gaining insight into how students learn.
“We talk about Mount Royal being a great place for teaching, but it’s nice to actually put some data behind that and see what we’re doing that might be making a difference,” said Margy MacMillan, an instruction librarian who is one of the 2012 Nexen Scholars.
MacMillan’s research will examine how students read (or try to avoid reading) scholarly articles, with the goal of helping them understand and retain information that can sometimes seem like it is written in a foreign language.
“We can sit there and do nothing and complain about students not using scholarly materials,” she said, “or we can find strategies that will actually help bring students into the academic conversation, and I’d rather do that.”
According to an MRU news release, the donation represents the largest gift of funding to date for the Institute for Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (ISOTL), a Mount Royal organization which supports scholarly inquiry related to teaching and learning methods.
Richard Gale, the director of ISOTL, said in the release that the program “helps university teachers use their own classrooms to conduct innovative research which results in better understanding and improved learning for students everywhere.
“No other university provides this type of opportunity to its faculty,” Gale said.
“No other program offers an entire year of support, development, collaboration, critique and community.”
Though some may wonder why an oil and gas company is interested in supporting teaching and learning research, Sally Haney said it makes a lot of sense.
Haney, an assistant professor in the communication faculty and another 2012 Nexen Scholars, said whether it’s a kindergarten kid or a life-long learner who is running a massive corporation, the community as a whole benefits from a stronger understanding of education practices.
“Ultimately the hope is that we are creating more intentional learners, and if we can do that, it just works for everybody,” she said.
Over the next year, Haney will research the impact that authoring their own learning plans has on the development of students as intentional learners.
She said that, as a relatively new scholar, she’s glad to have the support and guidance of her colleagues in the program, who have quickly grown comfortable sharing openly with each other.
“At times you feel quite vulnerable about what it is you’re proposing and what you’re investigating,” Haney said. “Teaching is a very intimate process, a lot of it is tied up in your heart, so I just personally felt that the support was amazing.”