All Posts Tagged With: "pedagogy"
Prof. Pettigrew on the limits of ‘teach what you love’
I don’t like Spenser’s Faerie Queene, but when I first taught Introduction to English Literature,there it was on my syllabus. I felt like I had to include it, so I did. When the time came to teach it, I gave some background, including an account of an earlier poem, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Once we got to Spenser though, I quickly realized my students weren’t liking it, because I didn’t like it. They had picked up on my enthusiasm for Sir Gawain, and wanted to know more about that Green Knight guy.
So I learned a good lesson: teach what you love, not what you think you’re supposed to teach.
This same principle, taken to an absurd extreme, has also been adopted by University of Toronto English Instructor David Gilmour, who got folks excited yesterday when he was quoted in an interview saying that he had no interest in teaching female writers because he only taught what he was passionate about: “Serious heterosexual guys. F. Scott Fitzgerald, Chekhov, Tolstoy. Real guy-guys. Henry Miller. Philip Roth.”
New research shows how much early instructors matter
I arrived at the University of Guelph just shy of 10 years ago and was so excited to study marketing that I spent much of frosh week highlighting and making notes in my intro to marketing textbook.
By week three, I was skipping my marketing classes because the professor couldn’t speak enough English. He verbally stumbled through the same lecture notes that he had posted online and when asked in one early lecture to elaborate on some point, he couldn’t even find the most basic words. His response devolved into mime as he frantically fumbled with an imaginary steering wheel until some blurted it out: “he means car!”
We laughed awkwardly that day but things became a whole lot less cute when he informed us that our 20 per cent participation marks would comprise four pop quizzes worth five per cent each. It was a desperate attempt to stop us from skipping classes where he did nothing but read lecture notes.
Poor marks for a new technology
Sometimes when I’m halfway through a pile of 40 essays, I get tired. At these moments, if I had a grading machine, I would probably be tempted to insert the remaining essays and watch them pop out all freshly marked.
However, after 20 years of grading university essays, I know this would be terribly misguided. I’m here to help my students learn how to thrive in university—and beyond. In order to do that, they need to have strong thinking, reading, and writing skills. Machine generated grades will not help them develop these skills. With this in mind, I pick up my pen and go back to providing the constructive human feedback that will help them.
Just to be clear, I am not some remote professor in an ivory tower above Lake Ontario. In fact, I am a non-tenured “gun-for-hire,” fighting hard in the trenches of the humanities. This past year alone I have taught 914 students in six classes in writing, literature, and film. I have graded hundreds of exercises and essays, some brilliant, some hard to understand. I have worked with 19 teaching assistants, generated over 20 evaluation rubrics, assigned 12 essays. Basically, I have been battling to keep my head up, to keep teaching as well as I am able, and to keep grading the many essays that come my way.
On whether an Alberta art teacher went too far
Lately there has been, it seems, a rash of incidents where professors have been accused of crossing the line of decent instruction, with ensuing finger pointing and outrage. The most recent, and perhaps most bizarre, is the firing of instructor Gord Ferguson following an incident in which a student slaughtered a chicken in the cafeteria of the Alberta College of Art and Design.
But there have been plenty of other dust-ups in the not-too-distant past, including the brouhaha over Tom Flanagan’s comments about child pornography. This kind of anger is always fuelled, in part, by the fact that the person in question is a professor. Professors, highly paid and usually well-regarded, are supposed to be beyond such outrageous word and deed.
‘Only got a lil’ glucose in my pathway’
University of Ottawa student Wilson Lam’s chemistry-inspired rap video about turning carbohydrates into energy has been viewed more than 125,000 times on YouTube. The song is a parody of Thrift Shop by Macklemore with lyrics like “I’m gonna pop some carbs, only got a lil’ glucose in my pathway” replacing “I’m gonna pop some tags, only got twenty dollars in my pocket.” The video helps students remember the complex metabolic process glycolysis. Mary-Ellen Harper, Lam’s professor, told the Ottawa Citizen that she encourages musical devices among her students.
‘Hot for Teacher’ lawsuit shows risk of journal assignments
If there was ever a university story made for internet buzz, it’s this one about Oakland University student Joseph Corlett who was kicked out of his school after writing suggestive assignments about his English instructor, Pamela Mitzelfeld.
Not only does this story have the classic element of sexual tension between teacher and student, it also raises difficult questions about feminist sensitivities, free expression, and even public safety since, it turns out, Corlett is a second-amendment advocate, and his teacher was reportedly worried he might turn up with a gun.
Corlett, according to reports, wrote, as part of an assignment, a provocative journal entry called “Hot for Teacher,” riffing on the Van Halen song of the same title and speaking in detail about what he deemed Mitzelfeld’s distracting physical charms. Teacher was not so hot for the writing, though, and complained to her administration, saying that either Corlett had to go or she would.
Jordan LeBel is a 3M National Teaching Fellow for 2013
Jordan LeBel, who began working in kitchens when he was 12 years old, was destined to be a chef. But his parents weren’t so sure. They persuaded him to take a hospitality management course instead, putting him on a career track that would include restaurant reviewer, author, and a renowned chocolate expert who colleagues and students call Dr. Chocolate.
Now LeBel, 44, teaches Concordia’s highly popular, one-of-a-kind food marketing class, where he shares his passion with students. It’s his enthusiasm for his subject—consumer psychology and the pleasure of food—that makes him a favourite among students and one of 10 3M National Teaching Fellows for 2013.
“There is just so much to learn about it from so many different angles,” says LeBel. “I want to open people’s eyes and teach them everything they can learn about food.”
Prof. Pettigrew on why some courses are better spread out
Lately we’ve been hearing a lot about block courses at Canadian universities. The idea is that instead of taking several courses over a semester or two, students take one course at a time over a matter of weeks. The system is already in place at Quest University and the University of Northern British Columbia is trying them out.
It’s easy to see the appeal of this kind of programming. Students get to focus on one subject at a time. Moreover, the final exam comes not long after the first class, so they have less time to forget material from earlier in the course. I’ve experienced these and other benefits myself while teaching spring and summer classes, so I can see the temptation.
But it seems to me that block courses have as many or more disadvantages, and we should be cautious before jumping on the block bandwagon.
Small school in Squamish, B.C. may make you jealous
Quest University, six-years old and growing, is unique in Canadian education. It offers students courses in 3.5-week blocks allowing them to focus all day on a single subject. The school is also set apart in that students explore a single question in the latter half of their four-year Bachelor of Arts and Sciences degrees. And the serene campus setting in the Coast Mountains near Vancouver would make just about any student jealous. There is a catch: it’s $40,000 when room, board and fees are added. Maclean’s has explored Quest before. Here’s an update from Ivy League astronomer turned Quest president David Helfand.
What’s new at Quest?
We have a new residence building going up so we can accommodate our ever-increasing enrollment. We currently have 425 students and we’ll have over 500 next year so we’ll run out of beds. We’ll build another one next year as we expect to continue the expansion.
We are busy recruiting a number of new faculty for next year. Our student applications are up 65 per cent over last year which suggests we’re going to need a lot more faculty.
We have a few interesting courses this summer that are going to be field courses. The ancient world [course] will be in Greece and Turkey with one of our ancient philosophy faculty. The visual anthropology course will be in the Himalayas in India with William Thompson, a well-known National Geographic photographer who has a PhD in anthropology.
Quest doesn’t have typical majors or minors, but instead has a two-year foundation program followed by two years focused on a single question. Why do it this way?
We really divide the education into two pieces and the first piece is the foundation program. We say these are perspectives on how to ask questions and how to answer them that everyone should have. Everyone should have mathematics and science as well as humanities and arts and social science. That way students have been exposed to all these different ways of looking at the world.
Then it’s time for them to focus on what they’re passionate about and go into something in real depth. It’s not that they’re not taking courses, because they’ve designed a set of courses around that question. They also design an experiential learning course off campus so they can see how the real world works with that question and then they produce quite a large Keystone project.
So it’s really the contrast of the breadth of the first two years with the depth of the last two years.
The experiential learning blocks. What’s the benefit of that?
Our classrooms often have students out in the real world doing things, but they’re still classes by the hour, so the experiential learning is trying to get them where the action is.
I have a student now whose question is framed cutely as “What is the perfect meal?” It sounds like it could be silly, but it’s not because it has four components: a bionutritional component, a neuroscience component, a cultural component and a food production distribution [component].
The student just completed an experiential learning block imbedded with a company that runs all kinds of restaurants in Whistler following the production and distribution system and shadowing people in their restaurants and food distribution. The student is going to compare this to a book which has a single and political point of view [for] a much richer understanding of the question.
What’s an example?
We had a student recently whose question was, “What’s the best way to educate a child?” She’s interested obviously in doing K-12 education so she spent a month in a Montessori School and read Maria Montessori’s theory of education, spent a month in a Waldorf School and read Rudolph Steiner’s theory of education and spent a month in a public school and read John Dewey. She collected her experiences from those three environments and theories into a long paper. She’s now going to graduate school in education.
Tell me more about the block system.
Having taught 35 years in the Ivy League in semesters I can tell you I was skeptical about it. But neither I nor any of the other 32 faculty members who are here right now will ever go back to teaching any other way because it’s vastly more effective and more enjoyable for the faculty member and the student. It’s hard. It’s intense. But having no distractions for a month and focus….
And being able to attract people who have real lives. People can’t get time off teach a four-month university course, but they can teach a one-month long university course. So people from arts, and government can take short breaks off and avail our students of their expertise in the real world.
For the faculty the lack of time limits is liberating because if you want to go on a field trip for six or eight hours it’s not a problem because no one has a chemistry lab that afternoon.
In fact, our volcanology course, after working in the field here with dormant volcanoes, went to the Hawaii Volcano National Observatory for 10 days. Our students can do that because they have no other classes they’re completing with. Being able to focus on one thing at a time is a revelation for people growing up in a world where multitasking is celebrated.
We often hear people defend the liberal arts. Others say university should prepare better for jobs. It seems there are components of each at Quest.
I’m a strong defender of liberal arts for the sake of liberal arts and the education it provides one for life. There’s a distinction in my mind between education and training and both of them are really valuable. I had my hip replaced recently and I wanted that doctor really well trained.
But I think training is distinct from undergraduate education which is all of the communication skills, analytical reasoning skills and collaborative skills necessary to succeed in any sort of occupation.
The point is that university graduates will have five or six different careers in their lifetime. Not just companies but completely different careers. And half of those careers don’t exist today. Half of the careers we had in 1965 when I went to university don’t exist today. That doesn’t mean it needs to be, as it was in the Middle Ages, completely divorced from the real world. That can be unhealthy too. So what we try to do is balance this rigorous training in the liberal arts with some kind of experience in the real world.
Now that it’s a bit more established, what type of student are you seeing apply?
Perhaps the most dramatic change is that through our first five years of existence, unlike most universities, we had almost exactly the same number of men and women whereas in most universities it’s close to 60/40 women to men. In this year’s applicant pool it’s 60/40 [women to men].
The quality of the applicants and range of schools and geographic areas is increasing. We have 36 countries represented now and we’re very happy about that. Since all of our classes have small seminars, having the perspectives of people from outside north America is really important. We’re getting more students from the Eastern U.S. and Canada. The breadth of the pool is expanding.
Quest is quite expensive. How do you react to people who balk at the price or say it’s elitist?
Elitist to me is not a bad word when we’re talking about intellectual matters. It’s not a good word when we’re talking about access, so we have a very large needs-based scholarship program. We assess each family’s need, which takes into account not just family income but we know that if you have three kids in university that’s a lot more expensive than having one kid in university.
We try to make up the difference between the tuition and what the family can afford to pay. I believe as many as seventy per cent of our students are on financial aid. So we’re very conscious of this access issue and we work very hard to make sure all the students who are well-qualified and who will really contribute to the campus community can come independent of their ability to pay.
What makes a student jump out on their application?
A student who has been very active in their school or their community.
We want students who are really excited about the education they’re going to get, not about getting the degree as quickly as possible. So the students who jump out are those who understand we’re a very different environment and not for everybody.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Not always. Some things matter more than class size.
From the 2013 Maclean’s University Rankings
It’s 11:30 a.m. and this is how the morning has gone for the 71 students in Science One at the University of British Columbia—one of the rare small-class programs that brings big universities down to a more human scale. It started with a physics mid-term, which most of these high achievers feel good about. Then a quick, unscripted shift into biology. Projected on the classroom screens was a story from that morning’s headlines about a massive phytoplankton bloom off the B.C. coast caused by a program that seeded the ocean with iron sulphate in hopes of building a salmon food source. Chemistry instructor Chris Addison happily ceded time to biologist Celeste Leander so students could discuss what she called the “justifiable concerns” of messing with the ocean environment.
That diversion is what Addison calls a “typical Science One moment.” Seated at the back of the room were other instructors in this holistic program—a physicist, a couple of biologists and a mathematician—all welcome to contribute. Instructors try to sit in on as many other classes as possible, said Addison. “That’s where you get the interplay between the disciplines.” Addison then waded into a mini-lecture on energy levels in multi-electron atoms, before the class split into groups of about six to work through a series of questions. They debated the answers among themselves, knowing they’d have to justify their reasons before the full class, if called upon. Amir Ashtari, 17, prefers the small class size to the usual first-year prospect of packed lecture halls. “Here you are amongst a group of friends who are respectful to you and also who are smart,” he said. “Even if you ask a stupid question they come and help you.” Hanne Collins, 18, said she likes the accessibility of instructors, and that they know her name. “Their doors are open and if you have a question, you just walk in,” she said. “They’re not bogged down with 500 students.”
Prof. Pettigrew says proper lectures work just fine
One can hardly check out an education website these day without hearing something about the flipped classroom (sometimes called flipped learning or inverted learning). If you don’t believe me, click here, and here, and here.
The basic idea is that the supposed old way of teaching—providing all the information to the class via lectures is tedious and ineffective. After all, there are plenty of ways of getting information to students outside of class—say, via online talks. In the so-called “flipped” model, students get the basic information outside of class and teachers use the class time to create activities and and projects that help students understand that information more deeply.
3M Fellow Connie Varnhagen explains her approach
University of Alberta psychology professor Connie Varnhagen doesn’t always know what students will learn when they enter her classes—and she likes it that way. She wants them to discover knowledge on their own.
Here’s a story that shows what she means. In one class, she instructed her students to come up with a test to identify which of her two cats has a worse case of cerebellar hypoplasia, a brain disorder that causes the poor felines to tumble over when they walk. While trying to come up with tests, the class observed that both cats are left-handed. That was news to Varnhagen. Exciting news. “Most cats are strongly right-handed,” she says. Could left-handedness be related to the disease? The students jumped into the research literature to find out.
The result? “They developed better critical thinking skills and scientific literacy because it was something they discovered all on their own,” says Varnhagen. One went on to veterinary school and studied even more about it.
Prof. Adrian Chan makes time to meet all of his students
When systems engineering professor Adrian Chan began teaching, he’d meet many of his students after final exams for the first time. They’d show up in his office after failing the course.
“I’d always wonder,” says Chan from his office at Carleton University in Ottawa, “why didn’t they come in earlier so that I could help them?”
A colleague suggested he make an effort to get to know his students better. “I don’t know if it’s possible,” he told her, “some of my classes have more than 100 students.” The coworker explained that her classes had up to 150 students in them and she still managed to meet with most in the first few weeks. “It was almost like someone threw the gauntlet down for me,” says Chan.
Since then, he’s blocked off 10 minutes with each student—hundreds of them—at the beginning of each semester. He asks students about their expectations and about why they chose engineering.
Pettigrew weighs in
With final exams on the way and final grades right behind them, students across the country are wondering where they stand. How much was that mid-term worth? Can I still hand it that essay?
Oh, and what about my attendance grade?
Anyone who’s taught a university course has struggled with the question of attendance grades. The arguments against giving marks for simply showing up are clear. University students are supposed to be adults, and it’s up to them to decide whether they want to be in class or not. Besides, grades should reflect the actual work done in the course: just being there doesn’t mean you’ve learned anything. And giving an attendance grade means taking attendance in each class, and that is boring and time consuming.
Prof. Pettigrew explains his “no… yes… ummm?” method
This week my Detective Fiction class was looking at Jeff Lindsay’s Darkly Dreaming Dexter, a novel about a Miami forensics analyst who is secretly a serial killer, but who only targets other killers (and yes, the inspiration for the Dexter TV show).
Trying to get my class to think through the complex moral questions that the novel raises, I asked them, “To appreciate this novel, you have to support capital punishment, don’t you?”
One of my best students jumped right in. “No” she said firmly, then instantly changed her mind: “Yes.” Then reconsidered again: “Ummm…”
And I knew I had asked the perfect question.
3M Teaching Fellow creates equality in the classroom
The McMaster University political scientist insists that even undergrads are valuable contributors to the university’s production of knowledge. It’s a view that’s (unsurprisingly) popular with his students, who nominated him for the 3M National Teaching Fellowship that he won earlier this year.
Students can sense Beier’s penchant for equality at the start of his second-year global politics class. Instead of opening his course with a discussion of the 1648 Peace of Westphalia (widely considered the birth of the modern state) he begins with the Iroquoian Great Law of Peace.
Why humour should count on course evaluations. Really.
When my august institution was creating its new course evaluation form, I was asked to provide input, and I dutifully suggested a number of questions that I thought should be on such a form.
One of my ideas, a question asking whether the professor was funny, was rejected outright on the grounds that not all professors are funny, so it wouldn’t be fair to include that criterion.
To my mind, the response begged the question, though. Some professors may lack foresight— does that mean you can’t ask if the course seemed to have been planned well?
iPads: coming soon to a school (or zoo) near you
All incoming first-years enrolled in full-time post-secondary programs at Collège Boréal in Sudbury, Ont will receive iPads for the start of the 2012 school year. The Northern Ontario School of Medicine, also in Sudbury, handed out iPads to each student starting in September 2010.
It’s easy to see the appeal. Writing notes by hand is a pain. You have to print lecture slides out ahead of time, transport them, and then (if your penmanship is anything like mine) scribble all over them. That’s why many of us bring laptops.
But laptops have drawbacks too. Unlike a good-old-fashioned spiral bound notebook, you have to worry about the battery life. Tablets like the iPad are—in the words of Hannah Montana—the best of both worlds. They’re small, easy to transport, and have longer-lasting batteries.
A.R. Elangovan shares his secrets to successful teaching
Many teachers say that education is their calling. Professor A.R. Elangovan, of the Gustavson School of Business at the University of Victoria, has literally written the book (well, journal articles at least) on callings.
Naturally, his research caused a re-evaluation of the way he teaches Organizational Beahviour and leads as the International Programming Director of the school. Students have noticed, and so have colleagues. Elangovan is one of 10 new 3M National Teaching Fellows who have agreed to share their secrets to success.
Elangovan’s style might not seem radical, but if every business leader was taught the way his students are taught, it could have a profound impact on the world.
The Indian-born professor’s style was perfected a few years ago when he working on a paper with a religion professor about that elusive type of employee who doesn’t differentiate between “living life and earning a livelihood”—the type of employee who has found their calling.
Naturally, Elangovan turned the mirror on himself.
He realized that one’s calling does not have to line up with a job title—doctor, firefighter, singer or priest. A calling can be a core value adhered to in whatever you do—9 a.m. to 5 p.m. included.
“It took me a few years thinking about and doing research on this topic to finally realize that the essence of me, what’s driving me, is a very firm belief that everybody deserves a life of dignity,” says Elangovan. “The moment I started thinking like that, I changed what I do in the classroom.”
Most of Elangovan’s MBA students will one day be bosses. By helping their employees adhere to their core values—their callings—organizations are more likely to succeed. The job of a business teacher is to give students the confidence to build “enlightened workplaces,” he says.
To do so, he needed to move beyond simply imparting knowledge and encouraging students to apply that knowledge. ”I’m no longer just a teacher,” says Elangovan. “I’m a vehicle with morals, ideas and answers. I’m willing to step into [students’] worlds, which are full of doubt and messiness, and answer when they say ‘what would you do in this situation?’”
Other professors feel they must steer clear of articulating the path they would take in a particular situation, lest they impose their values on students. Elangovan doesn’t maintain that distance.
“I have to have the courage to say, yes, this is what I would do,” he explains. “I give them the ideas and concepts, but I don’t hide behind the ideas and concepts.”
Another way that Elangovan is pursuing his calling is through his role as the International Programs Director. He’s an evangelist for seeing world through different eyes “and having all your assumptions shaken.”
Canada is dependent on trade. It’s also a country where the most talented often grew up in another cultural context. Those are the types of ideas business leaders can see with international study.
They’re also the types of ideas that can lead business leaders to choose the path of greatest dignity for their employees—whether in Canada or in factories on the other side of the Pacific.
Elangovan’s goal is for 100 per cent of his students to spend a semester in a foreign culture. Only a small proportion of students ever study abroad, but at his school, 73 per cent now do.
Elangovan is living up to his calling, so that his students—and their employees—might live up to their callings too.
Victoria student Sol Kauffman says profs talk too much
From the Maclean’s Student Issue, on sale now.
It’s 3 p.m. on a Monday and I’m sitting in my afternoon writing lecture. The professor has been reviewing PowerPoint slides for half an hour now. In one window of my laptop, I’m brewing ideas for the paper due at the end of this week; in another, I’m editing a photo shoot I did on the weekend. In my busy life, this is the perfect opportunity to get some work done. I half listen to the lecture, perking up when a question is asked. Lots of chairs in front of me are empty. Obviously the usual number of people are skipping class today. Maybe they’re sick, maybe they’re working a part-time job; hell, maybe they just slept in. In front of me, I see a student on Facebook, another writing in her journal, another texting on a phone. I know these students and they’re strong writers; I’m confident they’ll all pass with at least a B+. It’s not that the assignments are easy. On the contrary, we’ll all spend some sleepless nights grinding away at them. So why are so many of us absent, physically or mentally, from lectures?