Category Archives: university

Building a Genuinely Social Class Community

This term I (Clive) have two wonderful graduate classes, each with 25 students. One is on Foundations of Curriculum Studies and the other Reflective Professional Development. As part of the community building effort we go to the pub after class three times during the twelve week term (that evening we finish the class half an hour early). This week we had our second pub visit in both classes.

As always, I was impressed with how enjoyable it was and how much we got to know about each other. Only about half the students came, due to the frigid weather, family responsibilities, and school classes early the next day. But it was nevertheless entirely worthwhile.

Other strategies to build a social culture include: sitting in a large circle for most of the evening; having the students say each other’s names around the room each time we meet; chatting and joking at the beginning of the class and at other times; each student giving a brief presentation on their emerging essay topic (2 or 3 presentations a week) with responses from the 3 students sitting to their left or right; small-group discussions on interesting topics, with everyone in each group reporting back. All this leaves less time for me to talk, but I find the students say at least 90% of what I would have said; and anyway, I get to choose the weekly topics and readings.

It is only a 36 hour course, shorter than most school courses, yet a real bond is formed. The social atmosphere adds greatly to the enjoyment of the course and the discussions are deepened. It may not seem very “academic,” but I wouldn’t do it any other way!


You Can’t Win Them All

Teaching can be very satisfying, but it isn’t easy. I (Clive) just received my course Clive Beckevaluation for last term and was reminded that “you can’t win them all.” I thought the course was my best ever, and most students rated it as “excellent.” But some just said it was “very good” (hmmm – why was that?) and one gave it a “good” or “moderate” on every item (what’s their problem?!).


One of the most important principles in teaching, I think, is that you can’t win them all. Some people don’t like it because it implies you aren’t going to try hard enough: it lets you off the hook. But on the one hand, it helps you be realistic and maintain your morale as a teacher; and on the other, it reminds you that everybody’s different. Different people want different things from a course and have different views on how to teach. Yes we should try to meet every student’s needs in a course, but no we shouldn’t be surprised or become dispirited when some students are not ecstatic about our teaching approach.

Gold StarBut come to think of it, if I found some good videos and varied the class format more, maybe I would get excellent from everyone…. Just joking!


Black Professor Speaks Out About Being Racially Profiled Near Campus

I (Clare) was reading this article by Kira Brekke on the Huffington Post which I found informative. If you click on the link you will get the entire article and an interview with Steve Locke and at the end of the article is a list of 16 Books On Race That Every White Person Should Read Right Now. I have read some on the list and already downloaded a few others that I feel I must read.

“A lot of my life has been organized around avoiding interactions with the police.”

Steve Locke, an assistant professor at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design, was left shaken after he was racially profiled by the police last week during his lunch break.

Locke, who wrote about his experience on his blog, recounted to HuffPost Live’s Alyona Minkovski on Wednesday that on his way to get a burrito near campus, he noticed a police car following him.

“The policeman got out of the car, said, ‘Hey, my man,'” Locke said. “He had his hand on his weapon, so I automatically knew that something had happened and he wasn’t coming to talk to me as a citizen. He was coming to talk to me as a suspect.”

Wearing his faculty ID around his neck, Locke immediately took his hands out of his pockets while the officer questioned him. The professor made it clear he was on his lunch break, but the officer — along with others who had showed up to the scene — detained Locke, telling him he matched the description of a suspected robber in the area.

“It was at this moment that I knew that I was probably going to die,” Locke wrote on his blog. “I am not being dramatic when I say this. I was not going to get into a police car.  I was not going to present myself to some victim.  I was not going let someone tell the cops that I was not guilty when I already told them that I had nothing to do with any robbery.”

Locke calmly stood still on the street corner alongside the police before being let go, sent away with apologies from the police for “screwing up your lunch break,” he wrote. But the experience recalled a lifetime of awareness about police profiling and violence.

“I am 52 years old. I grew up in Detroit, Michigan,” he explained to HuffPost Live. “A lot of my life has been organized around avoiding interactions with the police, but whenever I encounter the police, I understand that I’m encountering them differently than other citizens.”


The Stanford Prison Experiment

This past weekend I had the opportunity to attend a screening of the film The Stanford Prison Experiment at the APA (American Psychological Association) conference. The screening of the film was followed by a Q&A session with the led researcher and distinguished psychologist Dr. Philip Zimbardo. The film was adapted from Zimbardo’s book The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil. I first learned about the Stanford prison experiment during my undergraduate studies in psychology. The ethical implications of this landmark study are still discussed in undergraduate and graduate psychology classes. It was interesting to now revisit the study as a researcher who has designed and carried out various research studies.

The Stanford prison experiment, a study conducted in 1971, examined the psychological effects of prison life. The male college students who volunteered to be part of the study were randomly assigned to be either prison guards or prisoners. The study was originally planned to run for a two-week period, but it was ended after six days because of what the situation was doing to the participants. Within the first couple of days the guards exhibited sadistic tendencies and the prisons showed signs of extreme stress. Watching the film was distressing (as it should be), as the study itself was controversial and the results quite shocking. It was interesting however, to hear Dr. Zimbardo discuss how the Stanford prison study inspired his notable research on shyness and his recent work the Heroic Imagination Project.

The official Stanford Prison Experiment website:

Three Minute Thesis Competition

Today I (Clare) will be a judge for the 3M 3 Minute Thesis Competition. This competition is found in many universities.

The Three Minute Thesis (3MT®) competition is a University-wide competition for doctoral students, in which participants have three minutes or less to present their doctoral research to a panel of non-specialist judges. The challenge is to present complex research information in an engaging, accessible, and compelling way. ​​

This competition is a unique opportunity for graduate students to showcase their innovative and significant research to a wider audience, across disciplines within the University, and to the broader public. It is open to the public and adver​tised within the community.​ 

Graduate students must summarize their thesis (topic, methodology, findings) in 3 minutes. They must present their research in accessible language so that others not familiar with the field can understand it. They can only have 1 ppt slide (which is static), no props, no notes ….

I watched the winner from last year, Daiva Nielsen, and it was amazing. Her research in nutritional sciences examined a large number of participants who were given diet guidelines based on their DNA. There was a control group who just got regular diet info. The group with the specific diet guidelines made much bigger gains (or losses). I highly recommend you watch the video because it is fascinating research made accessible – both content and presentation are so interesting. For those of us who do doctoral supervision this process might beneficial. My thesis supervisor used to tell me that I should be able to summarize my research in 1 sentence, 1 paragraph, and 1 page. I tell my doc students you should be able to explain your research to my mother – no technical language and no jargon. Enjoy the video – here is the link.



Henry Giroux Named 1st Paulo Freire Chair at McMaster University


Henry Giroux was recently named the first Paulo Freire Chair in Critical Pedagogy at McMaster University. The McMaster Institute for Innovation and Excellence in Teaching and Learning established the chair position to honour scholars who have made a significant advancements in studies of education.

The McMaster website describes Giroux’s work:

Giroux has been a celebrated scholar, author and cultural critic for more than three decades. He currently holds the McMaster University Chair for Scholarship in the Public Interest, and is a professor in the Department of English and Cultural Studies.

His life’s work has been central to the development of critical pedagogy as a field — exploring intersections between the role of education in schools and universities, the role of educators and academics as public intellectuals, as well as topics related to public pedagogy and the educational force of the wider culture.


Giroux speaks about his recent appointment. He answers questions such as:

  • What does critical pedagogy have to say about education?
  • Why is critical pedagogy significant to the important work of teaching and learning centres?

Watch the video here:

The strikes in Toronto continue: Common struggles across university employees

Last week Clare wrote about the strikes happening in 2 Toronto based Universities.

Teaching Assistants and Course Instructors are still on strike.  The issues are complex and go beyond pay increase.  Pay amount, pay structure, working conditions and job security are pieces of the intolerable job structure. The situation of poor, unstable working conditions for graduate students and non-tenured faculty continues to be a continent-wide misfortune.  I recently read an article about the experiences of an adjunct-professor in Washington, DC.

The author writes about her experience:

There were things about the work I loved. One student wrote an excellent research paper on creative arts therapy as a healing tool for depression sufferers; the paper landed her a fellowship working with cancer patients. When I saw students nodding their heads during lessons on essay structure or avoiding wordiness, I felt reenergized. In fact, engaging students was a challenge I loved. The working conditions were what drained me completely.

There are similar stories here in Toronto and across Ontario. The stories are grim and unfortunate. I (yiola) look forward to posts where I can write about changes to the status of non-tenured faculty, teaching assistants and the ever so needed university staff members.


‘Shadiowing’ through Critical Reflection

I (Cathy) am currently working my way through a book on critical reflection.  ‘Working’ is the operative word, as this book, What Our Stories Teach Us, is set up as a guide to take us ( the teacher, professor, etc.) through an active critical analysis of our lives as educators using storying and  critical incidence.  The author, Linda Shadiow, loves to share stories herself.  Below is one of her favourites.  Apparently she has told it often and she uses it in her  book to illustrate how our stories can impact our lives.

A graduate student is attending a lecture being given by one of her intellectual heroes, the Brazilian educator and theorist Paulo Freire. She takes notes furiously, trying to capture as many of his words as possible. Seeing that she is keenly interested in what Freire had to say, his translator asks if she would like to meet him. Of course! She is introduced and he begins by inquiring about her work. Then he graciously agrees to respond to a set of questions she and her colleagues hoped they would get the chance to ask him. She is impressed beyond belief, but time prevents her from asking one last, difficult question. They meet accidentally once more at the event and he wonders if she asked all her questions? No, there is one more. “Given your work, we want to know ‘where is the hope’?” Without hesitating he moves toward her, takes her face in his hands, looks into her eyes, and replies, “You tell them, ‘you are the hope, because theory needs to be reinvented, not replicated … it is a guide. We make history as we move through it and that is the hope.”

(Taken from )

The graduate student is, of course, Shadiow.  She explains in her book that her experience with Freire never left her.  It energized and motivated her.  She had to “give back “.  She invites us as both reader and participant to rediscover our incidences of profound learning and let them move us.


The Next Generation of Academics: An Uncertain Future

The Teaching Assistants in Toronto’s two largest universities are on strike. The issue is not simply one of money. I (Clare) read with interest an article about the strike in the Globe and Mail today.

One of their major concerns is future employment. The article by Simona Chiose provides some startling statistics re: supply and demand. In 2012 there were 6,393 PhD graduates yet between 2008-2011 there were only 3,030 new full-time faculty positions. Graduates are being hired to limited term or part-time positions, not full-time tenure stream positions. And those of us in universities know that more and more courses are being taught by part-time faculty and that trying to survive on a salary of course stipends (which tend to be abysmally low) is nearly impossible. The Teaching Assistants with whom I have worked over the years have been hard-working, smart, keen, and committed yet their future is dim. The life of a grad student is hard. Let’s try to make their future more secure.

A hard cold truth about teaching and teachers at Canadian universities

An article I (Yiola) came across on Canadian news, the CBC.

The increasing numbers of contract employees in academia is not new. We have known for quite some time that many faculty members, usually teaching faculty, have part-time contract positions.

The organizational process to hire well-qualified academic faculty as part-time and contract employees is complex and has many implications:

– funding: it seems universities receive little funding for the renewal or development of permanent or tenure stream faculty and other resources

– work/life conditions for contract faculty:  the article describes the challenges contract faculty experience both at work and in their personal lives (low wages, job instability, heavy workloads)

– culture/work environment: the tensions between tenure and non-tenure, permanent and contract, faculty

– quality of teaching: with the aforementioned stresses placed on teaching and teachers at the university, is there an effect on the quality of teaching?

Clare and Clive have explored and written on the topic. For example:

Kosnik, C., & Beck, C. (2008). In the shadows: Non-tenure-line instructors in preservice teacher education. European Journal of Teacher Education, 31(2), 185-202.

Beck, C., & Kosnik, C. (2003). Contract staff in preservice teacher education. Teaching Education, 14(2), 187-200.

The article speak to all faculties and departments across the university. This holds true for teacher education as well. Upon reading the article and listening to the interview   I cannot help but feel sad for the state of teaching and learning at the University level.  University teachers deserve better… students deserve better.