Tranformative education

UBC President Stephen Toope was onsite the other day and delivered a short inspirational speech to an audience of about 100 staff and faculty.  He claimed that universities need to deliver a “transformative education” to undergraduate students … that got me thinking.  First, let’s be realistic.  The bulk of any transformation that occurs during a student’s undergraduate program occurs simply because they start as an 18 year old and finish as a 22 or 23 year old.  University or not, significant change is likely to occur during that period of your life.  Beyond that “natural” transformation, what incremental transformation should university provide?  More specifically, what transformations are you hoping to bring to your students? I believe that students need to (1) be globally aware, in simple terms that means that they need to show as much compassion/concern/caring for the student beside them, for the person next to them on the bus, for the person 1/2 way around the world as they do for themselves.  (2) want to change the world without conquering the world.  Conquering implies that you know best and everyone else be damned – the journey is as important as the destination.  Change implies that you have a vision, a destination, that you are committed to but the journey or path that is taken to accomplish that goal is flexible and allows for others input. (3) be innovative.  The big problems facing society, whether environmental, sociological, or financial, will not be solved using old ideas.  We need to encourage our students to be creative and reflective.  I’m a firm believer that people don’t spend time thinking and reflecting – we’re trying to do too much too fast.  Those three are pretty lofty so I’ll stop there.  Let’s go transform!

Team based learning and more

I was recently asked to take on a pretty major responsibility organizing the organizers (“chairperson” sounds too formal!) of the education portion of the Canadian Academic Accounting Association annual meeting in June 2008.  Sure, a bunch of accountants hanging out together doesn’t sound quite like Woodstock or a JT concert but all-in-all its a pretty good time.  The exciting part is that lately education has got some real respect from the “research” crowd.  My role is to put a committee together (mostly done), make sure all the tasks get done (not done), and organize a full day session on a chosen education topic.  I’ll post later this week to let you know who will be leading that session.  I have a few ideas and I’m hoping that the rest of the committee will be as excited about them as I am. Now, on to team based learning.  On Friday I attended a small but productive workshop on Team Based Learning hosted by the Center for Teaching and Learning at UBCO.  Unlike similar workshops at UofA that I have attended, there was no preplanned script that needed to be followed.  Six teachers sat around and discussed our experiences and concerns and I actually felt support.  That sounds weak but if you try new things as a teacher, support is critical.  It is doubtful that your students will support any change, and in most cases teachers won’t share what they’re trying.  I suppose that’s because if they share the idea, they may be required to also share any stories of failed success later on.  Anyway, back to the point.  Although each of the teachers at the workshop use team-based learning differently, the experiences shared by each were invaluable.  To those of you that were there – THANK YOU!  I look forward to the next workshop!  If you want to find out more about team-based learning, check out this site: http://www.teambasedlearning.org/.

A reply to Louis

If you haven’t read Louis post for today, you really should – there’s a link to the right for his blog which is 1000 times better than anything I can write.  His post is about a professor that writes in to criticize Louis for spending too much time talking about the average student.  “Why”, he says, “do you tell such stories about ordinary, average, and at times distasteful students?”.  Louis has a great explanation but in my opinion it is simply the “me-complex”.  We tend to like people that are just like us and in order to make it as an English Prof I bet he was a pretty decent undergrad student … unlike me.  I was pretty much a screw-up as an undergrad.  Too many other things to do, not sure what I was doing at university.  I was definitely NOT grad-student quality during my undergrad.  So when I hear stories about students struggling with motivation, students that are too busy to study, or students that are unsure of their career path I can honestly say that I understand.  What’s my proof?  How about the “dean’s vacation” letter I received in 2nd year?  That’s usually enough proof for students.  Clearly we don’t need 6 billion people like me (one is enough), we also don’t need 6 billion english-prof-wannabes.  Thank goodness we’re all unique, that’s what makes life interesting.  So, to the perfect professors out there that never stumbled, start looking for the one great thing about each individual.  You may have trouble spotting it since it is so different than your thing, but keep looking  – it’s there.  It needs to be found, encouraged, and emphasized.  Who knows, maybe that slacker at the back of the class may turn out to be the next famous English prof!