Mountain Studies Interdisciplinary Team Wins Teaching Unit Award

    Innovative and high quality teaching has taken place across our campuses, and among this year’s standout educators are the recipients of the 2018 University of Alberta Awards for Teaching Excellence

    October 22, 2018

    Congratulations to the Mountain Studies Interdisciplinary Team on receiving the 2018 University of Alberta Teaching Unit Award.

    This is a team like no other. It is inter-disciplinary, it is inter-faculty and it is inter-organizational. The team is inter-disciplinary in its teachings of the physical, biological, physiological and cultural dimensions of mountain regions through the delivery of INTO 280 'The Mountain World: Introduction to lnterdisciplinary Mountain Studies'. The team is inter-faculty, as they are from the Faculty of Kinesiology, Sport, and Recreation and the Faculty of Science. In addition, the team is inter-organizational, as they include members from the climbing community, the Alpine Club of Canada (ACC), and the Association of Canadian Mountain Guides (ACMG). Inter-organizational reach includes formal contributing partnerships with Travel Alberta, the Alpine Club of Canada and our proud partner, Parks Canada. 

    Established in 2011, the University of Alberta’s Mountain Initiative (MI) is Canada’s first fully interdisciplinary Mountain Studies group, bringing together teachers and researchers, students, Indigenous communities, and a range of other community stakeholders to improve our understanding of mountain environments and communities in Canada and around the world. The MI promotes, coordinates, and conducts research from across all disciplines; advances theoretical and experiential learning on campus, online, and in mountain places; and is a vehicle for leading national and international collaborations. With this foundation of well-established and successful interdisciplinary research and teaching, a strong national and international reputation, and robust, established and emerging partnerships and networks, Mountain Studies represents a distinctive and innovative opportunity for the University of Alberta to lead an emerging field of scholarship, innovation and teaching.

    This nomination for the Unit Teaching Award was based on several lines of evidence:

    • The Mountain Studies Unit Teaching Team has established a core of interdisciplinary undergraduate and introductory courses that are redefining how mountain studies are taught, not only at the University of Alberta, but nationally and globally, as well.

    • Mountain Studies are inherently interdisciplinary. The Unit Team is made up of scholars from both sciences and humanities, two Faculties (KSR & Science), scholars of different career stages, graduate students, faculty professionals, and community members who are professional mountain guides.

    • INT D 280-850 is one of the most popular courses at UAlberta based on the number of January registrations when the registration cap was raised in W17 (200 to 300) and W18 (200 to 500).

    • INT D 282 and Mountains 101 have both been recognized nationally by Macleans magazine as UAlberta’s ‘cool courses.’ In 2018, it is being spotlighted in a Canadian Geographic feature article.

    • With now over 20,000 registrants, Mountains 101 is ranked as the #1 Science MOOC in the world, and a top-50 MOOC of All Time, according to, a registry of hundreds of MOOCs worldwide. It recently won an Ember Award (Digital Alberta) as the Best MOOC of 2017.

    • Students from across campus are consistently excited about the interdisciplinary learning opportunities and instruction in Mountain Studies courses. Students from over 10 UofA Faculties are currently enrolled in INT D 280, and UofA alumni are active participants in Mountains 101. Many students and ‘life-long learners’ have used these courses as a catalyst for their career choices and a renewal of their interest in recreational and other educational pursuits in mountains.

    • Mountains 101 highlights the strong partnerships and collaborations the MI has fostered with other researchers in this area, nationally and internationally. For example, the MOOC features over 30 cameos with experts from across the academy, Parks Canada, and beyond, including Prime Minister Trudeau. Developed in close collaboration with Parks Canada, Travel Alberta, the Alpine Club of Canada, and MEC, Mountains 101 exemplifies UAlberta leadership of the emerging field of Mountain Studies in Canada and around the world. In July 2017, the Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Hon. Catherine MacKenna, issued a press release recognizing “the work that the University of Alberta and Parks Canada have done to help inspire people to learn more about the science and incredible history of Canada’s mountains.”

    Faculty of Kinesiology, Sport, and Recreation Team members included:

    (1) Zac Robinson, Associate Professor Zac Robinson is a historian whose research focuses on the cultural and social histories of the Canadian Rockies and Columbia Mountains. He is the editor of the recently published volume Conrad Kain: Letters from a Wandering Mountain Guide, 1906-1933 (University of Alberta Press), and presently serves as the Vice President for Mountain Culture of The Alpine Club of Canada. In partnership with Mountain Studies 5 David Hik, Zac co-developed and teaches INT D 280 (since 2013), INT D 282 (since 2014), and Mountains 101.

    (2) Craig Steinback, Assistant Professor Craig Steinback is a physiologist who is broadly interested in how the human body responds and adapts to environments, activities, and conditions that are associated with reduced oxygen availability (e.g altitude). More specifically, he studies how the sympathetic nervous system is activated during exposure to low oxygen, and how it acts to control blood flow to critical organs and tissues. Craig has been a co-instructor for INT D 280 B1 since 2016, and contributed to the development of instructional material for Mountains 101.

     (3) Jill Cameron, Manager, International & Community Education Jill Cameron has been an integral member of the mountain studies team since 2015. Jill was responsible for overseeing the production of Mountains 101, and remains actively involved in promoting Mountains 101, and Mountain Studies more broadly, across and beyond the campus. She has presented at several conferences, including the Alberta Recreation and Parks Conference, Health and Physical Education Conference Shaping the Future, Ever Active Schools Conference, and the Greater Edmonton Teachers' Convention, and is the core liaison with the wider Edmonton community, including Edmonton Public Libraries and MEC. Although not directly involved in course delivery, Jill’s contributions remain integral to the success of the mountain studies Teaching Unit.

    Faculty of Science Team members included: David Hik, Professor, Biological Science, Martin Sharp, Professor, Earth Atmospheric Sciences, Laura Redmond, former MSc Student, Biological Science

    Community Members included: Cyril Shokoples, ACMG/IFMGA Mountain Guide and Matt Peter, ACMG/IFMGA Mountain Guide

    This team coalesced from the Mountain Studies Initiative at the University of Alberta with the initial intent of developing an introductory, interdisciplinary undergraduate course relating to the mountain world. So began INTD 280, which gained a warm reception from a broad range of undergraduate students though its initial offerings. The success of INTD 280 led to an application for internal funding for the development of a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) and the establishment of formal partnerships with Parks Canada, the Alpine Club of Canada and Travel Alberta for its development and delivery. Launched in 2017, Mountains 101 has attracted over 20,000 students from more than 120 countries to the #1 Science and #1 Environmental Science MOOC in the world, and one of the 'Top 50 MOOCS of All Time' as ranked by Class Central.

    The development of Mountains 101 from INTD 280 has come full circle. Currently INTD280 has 81 students registered in the face-to-face section and 492 students studying online (for credit) using the Mountains 101 platform. Internal and external demand remains high and the student reviews of both INTD280 and Mountains 101 are exceptional.

    Congratulations to the Mountain Studies team on their success in developing these exciting courses that have extended the educational reach and reputation of our respective Faculties across campus and around the world.