4th Teaching Showcase
(Atlantic Association of Universities)
First published in Teaching Perspectives, Spring, 2000.
The 4th Teaching Showcase, hosted by St. Thomas university in October of 1999, was truly a St. Thomas affair, chaired and organized by a St. Thomas faculty member and organized and run by St. Thomas faculty and students. In addition, of the 29 papers presented, 10 were authored by St. Thomas faculty while 8 of the 16 faculty papers accepted for publication in the ACTS were written by professors at St. Thomas. That the seventeenth accepted paper was written and researched by two St. Thomas students is also a fact of which we can be proud.
The Acts themselves were easily divided into three categories with writers from St.Thomas present in each category. What follows now is a brief description, foretaste as it were, of the St. Thomas contribution to the 4th AAU Teaching Showcase. In the first part, Dialogue and Performance _ Enlivening the Traditional Classroom, the papers represent innovative ways in which more or less traditional teaching has been enlivened to turn the focus of the class onto active participation by the learner. In the lead paper, "De Memoria: on the Art of Memory as Performance and Pedagogy," Dr. Andrea Schutz makes the world of Middle English literature come alive for her students by requesting from them a live performance in which they memorize and recite passages from the Canterbury Tales and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. In her paper, "Creating Community in Large Classes," Dr. Elizabeth McKim demonstrates how discussion can be facilitated in larger classes within a learning community created by small groups in which useful discussion is focused on key elements of the literary work. However, as Prof. McKim is quick to point out, discussion and work may be done in-groups, but evaluation is always carried out upon the work of individual students. Dr. Christine Cornell takes performance a stage further when, in her paper "Weighing Evidence: Shelley's Frankenstein in the Court Room/Classroom," she applies the mock trial so frequently used in the history class to a work of literature, in this case Shelley's Frankenstein. Dr. Cornell claims that as students dramatize aspects of non-dramatic texts, they are confronted by the need to weigh textual evidence in a thorough and critical manner, thus gaining a better knowledge of the text than they would do with more traditional methods at the undergraduate level.
Dr. Rosemary Clews, in "Spoken by a Puppet: Teaching and Learning About Anti-Racist Social Work," reinforces the need for dramatic performance when she describes how writing and producing a puppet play about cultural diversity enabled social work students to explore their own cultural biases and develop the commitment, knowledge, and skills needed for anti-racist social work. Still within the field of Social Work, Prof. Sandra deVink describes in "Increasing Students' Motivation to Engage in Role-Playing: Learning Interviewing Skills Through a Live Role-Play Scenario," how a role-playing scenario functions. In the course of the dramatization, former students of the Social Work Program, themselves now professional social workers, draw upon their lived experiences to create a fictional dysfunctional family, the Frobuchers, who are interviewed in sessions first witnessed and later analyzed by participating students. In the final St. Thomas paper from Section One, Dr. William Vaughn, argues that Model United Nations courses should have a place within the regular curriculum, for it can be shown that they contain a subject matter and pedagogy which can be described and analyzed. Clearly, the role-play involved in the national concourse of the Model United Nations makes this course a true proponent of the dramatic art of performance. It is interesting to see how the papers in this section highlight performance, group work, and oral activities as a means of involving students. Class size seems to be less important when regular activities involve small, committed groups in intellectual tasks that can themselves be measured individually.
Section two, Bridging the Divide, consists of a single paper, "Student Generated Instructional Development Sessions: A Proposal for a New Model," written by two St. Thomas University students, Ms. Chantal Lafargue and Ms. Loretta MacPherson. In it, the two students describe their involvement with the Student Generated Instructional Development Sessions that were employed in the Romance Languages Department at St. Thomas University during preparation for the most recent external review of the department. Both students feel that regular SGIDS allow them to maintain an interest in the development of the courses in which they are involved. Further, when SGIDS take place while a course is still in progress, professors are obliged to take notice of what students are saying and to discuss openly differences which may arise between the goals of the professor and the goals of the students. This paper raises an enormous question: should students take an active role in the design of their own learning environment or should they play a relatively passive role as they submit to the authority of the omniscient teacher?
Such is the nature of the rapid expansion of computer technology in our universities that it comes as no surprise that the third section of the Acts, Stepping into the Future _ the Expanded Classroom, is devoted to the use of technology both inside and outside the classroom. Indeed, if performance and active role-play are the central themes of section 1 and the question of student participation in the design and planning of courses is the main theme of section 2, then the breaking down of the classroom walls and the expansion of teaching into a life-long concept well beyond the limits of the classroom is clearly and deservedly the central theme of section three.
In his paper, "Mexico Online: The Creation of a Language Learning Community," Dr. Roger Moore tells how a web site containing common material to be shared among students can be used as a central focus around which a language learning community can be built. Spanish is established, from the start, as the main language of the class. The sharing of daily news and common projects among learners and teachers soon establishes each student as an individual. As interest builds, the community establishes rules of its own and learning and teaching move in directions that were not always predictable at the start of the course.
Dr. Russell Hunt, in "`Does This Count as an Occasion?' Engaging Students in the Culture of the Campus," breaks down the classroom walls further by extending the classroom to cover events such as lectures, readings, gallery openings, recitals, concerts, theatre presentations, film series, and seminars. However, for any event to count as an "occasion" which may then be described and posted to an electronic discussion forum, the student who initiates the idea of attending the event must persuade other students to attend so that reasonable discussion, based upon shared knowledge, may take place. This idea was taken even further, incidentally, in the last paper of this section. In it, Professors Jeff Burns and Aušra Burns describe how they involved the whole community at Sackville, New Brunswick, in making creative responses to experiences linked with their physical and social community. Knowledge, ideas, and discoveries were then shared at a series of group meetings and through an interactive website. The resulting creations, visual, performance, and literary art were presented in a local gallery and on the internet.
Section 3 shows clearly that teaching is moving outside the walls of the classroom and is involving students more completely than ever before in what might be called "real life experiences." The whole movement from in-class learning to active participation in activities that are increasingly connected with the daily lives of people is a major innovation in the new teaching. Life-long learning begins when the classroom walls break down and the student is able to take learning and teaching out of the ivory (or in our case, the red brick) tower and into the surrounding world which we share and in which we all live out our lives.
Interesting papers from outside St. Thomas were also presented by Dr. Suzanne Seager, Mount Saint Vincent University, who recommended that students be encouraged to correct their own mistakes for a reduced percentage of their mark; Prof. Tanya BrannBarrett, University College of Cape Breton, who believes that when students teach other students, they learn most; Prof. Harriet Field, Mount Saint Vincent University, who sets multiple assignments in large classes so that students can better follow live debates; Dr. Catherine InnesParker, University of Prince Edward Island, who has expanded teaching resources enormously with judicious use of the internet; Dr. Robert Thompson, Mount Allison University, who protects fragile plant specimens by circulating digitized images of the originals; Dr. Deborah Wills, Mount Allison University, who believes that students learn how to think critically by studying analytically their own pop culture; Dr. Pierre Zundel, University of New Brunswick, who asks his students to match their progress against a specially designed computer program which analyses the field results of experts; and, as has been mentioned earlier, by Profs. Jeff Burns Mount Allison University, and AuÜra Burns, University of Alberta, who took their project out into the community at large. All these papers will be available in the Acts which will be ready for all paid up conference participants sometime after St. Patrick's Day of the year 2000.
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