Tina Piper: Thinking small

"Students don’t have to approach change as Superman would – by being dramatic and trying to perform superhuman feats."

Since she began teaching at McGill in 2009, Tina Piper has taught upper-year courses in Canadian Legal History, common law property and intellectual property.

In 2009, she was also course coordinator for The Treble Cliff, an interdisciplinary course which brought together scholars and students from five faculties to address the real-world challenges faced by the music industry in light of ongoing technological change.

Professor Piper is also an active member of the Law Teaching Network project team. Read more about her thoughts on teaching at Teaching Snapshots.

What notable educational and professional experiences inform your teaching?

A few years ago I taught an interdisciplinary course where we had an interesting mix of students from various backgrounds and we brought in a lot of industry leaders and notable thinkers. For one major assignment, we had groups of students develop a project such as a business model, a blue-sky plan or a policy report that would somehow solve current issues facing the music industry. The students loved that approach because it allowed them to “think big,” interact with people in other disciplines and sharpen their problem-solving skills. That course had a strong influence on how I make content in my other courses meaningful for my students – how I can help them connect what they’re learning with issues and approaches in the outside world.

Another area of my past that had a great effect on my teaching was a fellowship I did at Action Canada. There, I learned that while many real-world projects may begin with a big goal of saving the world, by the end we learned to be more realistic in terms of our goals and accomplishments. I learned that while we may only engender one small change by the end of a project, that change may eventually have a tangible effect on future decisions and events, and those developments may lead to greater changes in the world – often changes that we might not have envisioned.

And how do we get to where we can make those small yet meaningful changes? I suggest to students that engendering change is all about having the right skills for whatever job they’re doing. It’s important for them to engage with the people who are embedded in the problems so that they can better understand the complexities below the surface of any issue. Students don’t have to approach change as Superman would – by being dramatic and trying to perform superhuman feats. Instead, they can effect positive change with little fanfare – the key is figuring out what skills they have and how and where they can make the best use of them so they can be more effective in their own advocacy.