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Innovations in teaching: Teresa Kramarz wants to bring the world to the classroom

 Teresa Kramarz leading a Munk One class: it's important that students gain international experience, she says. Photo: Johnny Guatto

Teresa Kramarz leading a Munk One class: it’s important that students gain international experience, she says. Photo: Johnny Guatto

“I have a thousand ideas,” says Teresa Kramarz. “And thanks to this fellowship, I now have the time to pursue one of them.”

Kramarz is an assistant professor and director of the Munk One program at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs. The idea she’ll be pursuing – thanks to her 2016-17 University of Toronto Teaching Fellowship – is to develop a toolkit that will allow instructors to bring the world into their classrooms by collaborating with classes at other institutions around the world. She’s been seconded to U of T’s Centre for Teaching Support & Innovation for 50 percent of her time over the coming academic year to turn that idea into reality.

Kramarz calls her idea the Global Classroom. “In the global classroom, two or more instructors will use technology platforms to deliver lectures for the students in both locations. And the students will work together as international teams to complete project work, jointly conduct research, or develop case studies informed by their unique experiences and perspectives.”

Bringing the international experience to the classroom

“It’s important that U of T students gain international experience,” Kramarz says. However, for a variety of reasons, not all students are able to travel abroad to gain that experience.

“I’m the international liaison for Munk, so I do as much as I can to get students to go abroad,” she says. “Munk is a practical and professional school where we really ask our students to engage with problems, not just by learning about them, but also by designing ways to address them. For example, if students are studying the palm oil industry in Indonesia, how do I get them there so they can better understand that industry? It’s expensive to get them all there, so can we bring Indonesia here?”

Kramarz hasn’t picked out a particular international institution to partner with yet, but there’s one thing she is sure of: the collaboration has to be an equal one. Too often, researchers and students travel to other parts of the globe from Western universities and gain much in the way of knowledge and experience, but give little or anything in return. “In my idea for the global classroom, there is a heavy emphasis on co-designing the course, so that the people participating from abroad and the people participating from here have equal input into the course design and evaluation.”

Finding the right technology for an interactive experience

It will be important to find the right technologies to use, she says. She wants the experience to be interactive and in real time – not just an instructor giving a lecture while students listen passively. “There’s a wealth of educational technology that can facilitate this, and that space is continually growing so we’ll have a lot to choose from.”

Although she’ll be spending half her time on the Global Classroom project,Kramarz will continue to teach and direct the Munk One program. “It’s very near and dear to my heart.”