What are some of the strategies that you use in your courses to engage students?
Because I teach labour relations, I like to link students’ work aspirations with what they are learning in class, so I’ll ask them to complete cards describing their interests and their career plans. I also like to engage students by talking about news in labour management relations, and by having them keep journals and do role playing, simulations and so on. For example, I’ll have them take the different sides of issues like public sector collective bargaining, and they’ll have 30 minutes to cover the issue from the perspective of the stakeholder they were randomly assigned to represent. Because the presentation is so long, they have to put a lot of time into it, so it really engages them. I also bring in speakers to coach them on how to do a simulation. When participating in these simulations, students learn about compromise, conflict resolution, and time management, so they’re actually engaged on many levels.
How do you evaluate your students’ learning? What kind of assessment strategies do you use?
Because I sometimes find exams too passive a way of testing knowledge, I will often replace either or both the midterm and final exams with other evaluation methods in my courses, like arbitration simulations for example. It’s not an exam, but they still have to prepare briefings as if they were going to court, they still have to present their proposals, and so on. 33% of the grade is for preparation, so students need to submit a paper before the actual simulation showing all their research and how they’re going to proceed. The next 33% is awarded based on their conduct during the simulation, and the last 33% is based on the final outcome. In another course, I replaced the exam with team-based case competitions, where students have to present a case using all the materials they’ve learned to date about emotional, relational and social intelligence, and then submit a final paper showing how they will apply what they’ve learned in their first jobs.
What is the most important thing students in your discipline learn when taking a course with you? How about students from outside your discipline?
News stories are often presented as black or white, good or bad. But life is not always black or white—so I would say critical thinking is the most important thing that they learn. Through the role playing, they also learn about working with others, compromise, handling conflict, and presenting themselves and their ideas—those softer skills that are important in a workplace. Also, because they don’t get to choose the roles they play, they have to learn how to see issues from all sides, even those they don’t support. They may never work with unions, but it doesn’t matter because they will use negotiation skills every day no matter where they find themselves.
How do you help your students understand what research and/or scholarship is in your discipline (including findings, methodologies, etc.)?
Depending on the course, I will provide research material to them directly in their course packs, or I’ll provide a list of journals that they can access. For their course packs, I’ll choose papers with relevant topics, and then we discuss them in teams in class, using questions I’ve prepared in advance to help them think critically about the material. For the class with the 30-minute presentation, students have to submit a complete bibliography of the research they used for the presentation in their final paper.
What are your recommendations to new faculty members to help them develop in their teaching role?
I’ve taken a workshop on teaching in higher education and an orientation session on the new Active Learning Classroom (Education 627), and both really helped me! I learned how to put myself in the shoes of the students, that what might be clear to me isn’t necessarily clear to them. I was also able to interact with other professors and see what they are doing. So, I would first recommend that new profs use the resources available to them here. McGill’s got so much knowledge, and so many resources to help. But I would also tell them, even though it might sound counter-intuitive, that the less they teach in the formal sense, the more they actually involve students and the more learning will take place. I’ll tell students that I want to know what they think of an article, what they think the key points are. It is tedious in a way because I’m reading and grading a lot. I could just have two exams and that’d be the end of it, and that would be a lot easier. But how much learning is taking place when we are asking students just to cram knowledge into their minds? I don’t believe in the law of cramming, I believe in the law of learning.
What advice do you have for undergraduate students about how to get the most out of your courses?
I tell my students, “Just leave the electronics at the door and come to class.” Because my courses are based so much on active learning, they really miss a lot when they’re focused on their devices or when they don’t attend at all. Though what they learn in class complements their readings, the readings can’t replace the class.
Why do you teach?
I teach because it challenges me all the time. There’s always new stuff to learn—my students know more labour news than I do sometimes! I also really like the dimension of dealing with students, the interaction with students. Because they are a different generation, they look at things differently, and they’re so bright and willing and keen! This is really nice and very stimulating to me—and that’s why I teach.
Photo by Owen Egan
How much learning is taking place when we ask students just to cram knowledge into their minds? I don’t believe in the law of cramming, I believe in the law of learning.