Center’s Note

Bridging Cultures: A Visit to the University of British Columbia

Michal MAZUR (Asst. Prof.)

University of British Columbia (UBC) is renowned for its outstanding education and research contributions. Since its establishment in 1925, it has attracted prime ministers, Nobel laureates, and distinguished researchers to its campus. Notable among its alumni are Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who attended part of his education here, Nobel Prize-winning physicist Carl Wieman, and environmental activist David Suzuki. These figures underscore the university's impact across various disciplines.

Set against the backdrop of spectacular natural beauty, the campus is surrounded by breathtaking landscapes near Vancouver, Canada, providing a vibrant setting for the academic and personal development of its students and faculty. UBC's legacy of contributing to global knowledge and its leadership in sustainability and innovation make it an inspiring place to visit, work and learn.

Picture: Rose Garden with a beautiful panorama on the UBC Campus

Classroom Insights

During a visit to the University of British Columbia's Chemical Engineering class, one couldn't help but be drawn into the vibrant academic atmosphere fostered by Dr. Jonathan Verrett, an Associate Professor of Teaching in Chemical and Biological Engineering. Known for his significant involvement with the Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology (CTLT) and the Educational Leadership Network, Dr. Verrett has earned accolades for his teaching excellence, including the prestigious Killam Teaching Award. His dedication to fostering a supportive and engaging learning environment was easily observed during my classroom visit.

The class session observed was a tutorial part of the course, offering an active learning environment where students, divided into teams, tackled a design problem. This approach, emphasizing hands-on learning and teamwork, underlines the department's commitment to preparing students for real-world challenges. The tutorial assignment required the completion of two main deliverables: a team contract and an Expression Of Interest (EOI) memo for the term project. The team contract, aimed at establishing effective team dynamics, and the EOI memo, focusing on outlining and justifying the design project, highlight the comprehensive educational approach adopted by Dr. Verrett.

By integrating elements such as effective communication, diverse team composition, and conflict resolution strategies in the team contract, along with a detailed project proposal in the EOI memo, the assignment showed the unique approach to engineering education at UBC —combining technical proficiency with soft skills and practical application. Such an educational methodology enhances learning outcomes and prepares students for the complexities and dynamics of the engineering profession.

Picture: Participation in Dr Verret’s Class

UBC Center for Teaching, Learning and Technology

A visit to UBC's Centre for Teaching, Learning, and Technology (CTLT) allowed me to delve into the innovative and collaborative spirit that characterizes this beacon of educational development. Led by Academic Director Christina Hendricks, the CTLT boasts a vibrant team of around 80 staff members committed to advancing teaching and learning throughout the university. My interaction with Isabeau Iqbal, a Senior Educational Developer at the Centre, was particularly illuminating. Isabeau shared insights into the innovative "coach approach" to educational development, a strategy designed to empower educators by equipping them with coaching techniques to enhance learning.

Jeff Miller, the Senior Associate Director of Projects and Faculty Partnerships at CTLT, and Elisa Baniassad, the Acting Academic Director, participated in an engaging discussion about the latest trends in Canadian and Japanese higher education. The conversation provided insights into the diverse initiatives and methods CTLT employs to create a supportive and stimulating learning environment. The Centre's commitment to improving faculty skills and focusing on the professional growth of graduate students and teaching assistants was particularly enlightening. The CTLT offers a wide array of services, including faculty-focused workshops and seminars, as well as the Graduate Instructional Skills Workshop, designed to prepare new instructors and those seeking to enhance their teaching skills with the essential tools for success in the classroom.

Picture: Visit in the CTLT

Discussing Generative AI

The University of British Columbia (UBC) is navigating the emergence of generative artificial intelligence (GenAI) in the educational landscape with a thoughtful and comprehensive strategy. Recognizing the dual nature of GenAI tools, UBC acknowledges their capacity to significantly enhance the educational experience—facilitating creativity, supporting study habits, and assisting with writing, provided these tools are used with proper acknowledgement.

However, UBC is equally aware of the potential downsides. In the discussion, it was pointed out that without careful management, GenAI could hinder the development of critical skills, and, in some cases, its application might be deemed academic misconduct. Moreover, ethical considerations such as copyright issues, accessibility concerns, biases in AI outputs, and the possibility of generating harmful content are at the forefront of UBC's considerations.

In response, UBC empowers its faculty members and program leaders, who are experts in their respective fields, to make informed decisions about integrating GenAI tools into their curricula. The university emphasizes the importance of clear communication with students about the decisions made regarding GenAI tools, including the rationale behind these choices.

To further support its community, UBC is developing guidelines that promote the ethical, intentional, and transparent use of GenAI in teaching and learning. The purpose is harnessing the benefits of GenAI while safeguarding academic integrity and fostering an environment that values ethical considerations and skill development.

Picture: Inside UBC

Indian Residential School History & Dialogue Centre

Another highlight of my visit was a brief stop at the Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre at the University of British Columbia (UBC). This architectural gem, imbued with symbolic elements, honors the complex history it addresses. Designed with a deep sense of purpose, the building incorporates features intended to mitigate the oppressive atmosphere associated with the confinement of residential schools.

The Centre fosters an environment of openness and reflection, promoting healing and understanding. Its design intentionally facilitates dialogue between the past and present, encouraging visitors to engage deeply with the narratives and experiences of those impacted by the residential school system. Through its architectural choices and the stories it holds, the Centre is a place for meaningful conversations about Canada's history and the journey towards reconciliation.

I was particularly impressed by the innovative use of interactive elements, notably the interactive wall ( This feature allows visitors to directly engage with the histories and personal stories of those affected by the residential school system. The interactive wall offers a rich array of information through touch and digital technology, featuring testimonials, photographs, and historical documents, facilitating an immersive learning experience. This dynamic tool bridges past and present, allowing us to delve into the reality of Indigenous experiences and the impact of residential schools. I was impressed by such a way of leveraging technology to boost empathy, understanding, and dialogue to heal and reconcile through education.

Picture: At the Indian Residential School History & Dialogue Centre

Nitobe Memorial Garden

The final destination of my visit was the Nitobe Memorial Garden, a tranquil oasis offering students a peaceful retreat, perfect for seeking a moment of rest between classes or finding a quiet space for exam preparations. More than just a beloved sanctuary, the garden also showcases the beauty of seasonal changes, fostering a deep appreciation for nature. Beyond its recreational purpose, the garden acts as a cultural bridge, enabling students to immerse themselves in Japanese culture, with some classes even conducted within its serene confines. According to my guides, it even once prompted former Emperor Akihito to exclaim, “I am in Japan,” highlighting the authenticity and its cultural significance.

Learning about the garden's tribute to Inazo Nitobe deepened my visit's significance, especially considering his celebrated legacy at Hokkaido University (HU). Nitobe's vision of acting as a "bridge across the Pacific," fostering dialogue between Japanese and Western cultures, and his dedication to global peace and understanding is celebrated in such a peaceful Canadian setting. Seeing this world away from his homeland was inspiring and touching. The garden honours Nitobe's commitment to cross-cultural harmony and embodies his aspiration to connect continents and cultures tangibly, thus reinforcing the shared ideals and missions between HU and UBC.

A friend of mine, a former student of UBC, mentioned that Nitobe Memorial Garden was her favourite place on campus. She said it connected her to Japan every time she visited, serving as a peaceful reminder of the broader connections between cultures. As my tour at UBC ended with the peaceful Nitobe Memorial Garden, it was the perfect ending to my visit, leaving me with deep feelings of calm and a sense of how we all are connected across the world.

Picture: At Nitobe Memorial Garden