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Strong turnout for Teaching and Learning Winter Festival

Pedagogical workshops draw crowds eager to learn
February 13, 2013
By Tom Peacock

“We took a chance putting this together,” says Philippe Caignon, who headed up the organizing committee for Concordia’s first annual Teaching and Learning Winter Festival. “We didn’t know if the Concordia community would be there and be proactive. But Wow! The turnout has been so great.”

The festival, organized with support from Concordia’s Centre for Teaching and Learning Services, runs until March 9. It kicked off on February 1 with a workshop hosted by Harvard Professor Eric Mazur titled Memorization or Understanding: Are We Teaching the Right Thing?

Caignon says the audience really appreciated how the celebrated pedagogical innovator interacted with them, bringing his own teaching practices into play during the workshop. “He didn’t just say, ‘Here, I have the knowledge. Now listen to me.’ He asked us for our points of view, and then he modified what he told us, so that it was adapted to our reality.”

The opening day featured several other interactive workshops hosted by some of Concordia’s own leading pedagogical innovators. The university’s new E-Learning Fellow Saul Carliner gave a workshop which addressed the many myths surrounding the use of technology-based learning.

During the workshop, Carliner asked the audience whether they believed some of the commonly held beliefs about e-learning were myths or reality: that e-learning is less effective than classroom learning (myth), or that teaching online is less interactive than classroom instruction (myth).

Caignon says one of his colleagues, who did not believe there was any value in e-learning, came away from Carliner’s workshop with new ideas about how she could use technology to enhance her own teaching practices. “It was great because you got to see how you could learn about technology and use it wisely, so that it doesn’t simply become some kind of gimmick that doesn’t improve your course at all,” he says.

Caignon also attended another workshop on appreciative pedagogy, hosted by University Teaching Fellow Rosemary Reilly. He says he was again impressed by the level of interest and engagement during the workshop. “I loved it. I’ve been to several colloquiums about teaching throughout the world. Usually the people who talk about how to become a better teacher, how to behave certain ways, what pedagogical tools they can use, somehow when they do their presentation in front of a group of people, it’s dull. I wonder, how come they’re not applying what they’re saying? Our presenters were not dull. They actually applied what they wanted us to learn about teaching.”

On February 8, Marketing Professor Jordan LeBel, who was recently awarded a 3M Teaching Fellowship, gave a presentation titled Connecting with Students to a packed room in the Guy-Metro Building. He imparted many of the techniques he uses to help his students succeed, including creating engaging exercises and assignments, and constantly refreshing his course content. “Every term, I revise 60 to 70 per cent of my lecture notes, my lecture material,” he said. “Developing engaging content keeps me engaged.”

LeBel explained how it’s important to develop a classroom atmosphere that helps students to pay attention. To do so, he adopted many of the lessons he learned from the hospitality industry. “You have to think of the importance of the atmosphere, the interaction, a lot of little details that contribute to making the evening a success. I approach the classroom the same way.”

The Teaching and Learning Winter Festival continues on February 15 with a workshop hosted by Assistant Professor James Conklin from the Department of Applied Human Sciences, titled How to Facilitate Group Discussions.

On March 1, David Tabakow, a counsellor with Concordia’s Counselling and Development Office, will present a workshop titled Understanding Generation Me, outlining what professors can do to respond to a cohort that is more “demanding, assertive and entitled.”

Assistant Professor Marc Lafrance from the Department of Sociology and Anthropology will present the last public workshop of the festival on March 8, titled Critical Thinking. It will provide instructors with ways to encourage critical thinking in classrooms that are growing more crowded, and in which students are often distracted.

Professors Serge Talbot and Claude Savard from Université de Laval will host a special two-day workshop on the use of educational cards on March 8 and 9. The workshop is open to Concordia full- and part-time instructors only.

Related links:
•    First annual Teaching and Learning Winter Festival 
•    Centre for Teaching and Learning Services

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