Welcome to my Classroom – 2016

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Welcome to my Classroom: Establishing Relevance via embodied engagement
Maureen Connolly (3MNTF-2003), Physical Education & Kinesiology, Brock University
Date, time, and location: TBA

Dissonance plays a primary role in my teaching and learning. The sooner I can move learners to dissonance, the sooner they can engage with unfamiliar and unsettling ideas and propositions. Thus unhinged from their habitual ways of thinking and knowing, they can consider approaches that they previously would resist or avoid. Yet, dissonance used like a bludgeon loses its effectiveness, hence, I must orchestrate a more nuanced, progressive and, admittedly, tricky, unfolding. I use strategically constructed questions which appear innocent but which compel complex and usually deep engagement. I accompany these with movement engagement that allows the participants to unhinge from their neuro-typical and habitual forms of engaging in learning ‘from the neck up’. I call this approach semiotic choreology, and I have been using it in my classes for almost two decades. Semiotic choreology is an approach I developed for exploration and analysis of cultural phenomena through the expressive body. Using Laban’s movement existentials of body, space, quality and relation, in combination with a phenomenological analysis, I and my students can describe and (sometimes) physically enact thematized and spontaneous movement sequences. What semiotic choreology makes possible, depending on how I am able to involve learners and other participants, is the implication of the body of the person attempting to formulate meaning, and the tethering of that meaning making to the body’s expressive and reflexive potentialities. The body remembers.

Martha Graham insisted that Movement never lies, it is a barometer telling the state of the soul’s weather for all who can see it. I believe semiotic choreology is a means to be more attentive to this seeing, even and especially when the seeing need not necessarily involve neurotypical forms of seeing. It centres the body in a culture increasingly inclined to move the body to the periphery. Semiotic choreology implicates the body, opening a pathway to expression of this unavoidable tension between body and world, signs and disclosures of a different kind. It allows us to have a felt sense of the consequences of hegemonic normalcy across its many contexts of enactment, higher education included.

Using three progressive questions and simple movement activities within a small group format, I will provide several embedded layers that we can then unpack as a group in a larger facilitated discussion. Together we can explore how embodied engagement might allow students to connect with any subject matter in meaningful ways.


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Welcome to My Classroom – The Two Hour Taskforce on Barriers to Educational Innovation
Tom Haffie (3MNTF-1995), Biology, Western University
Date, time, and location: TBA

The notion of empowering learners as agents of positive change is the raison d’être of my course, Education in Life Sciences. This course is designed to enhance the educational skills of undergraduate students in an otherwise rather traditional, discipline-focussed Bachelor of Science program. Course goals include increasing understanding of selected theories of learning and cognitive science, critical analysis of life sciences SoTL literature, application of evidence-based strategies to address real-world challenges and developing a critically reflective educational practice.

At some point during the course every year, some version of the following question inevitably arises from students – “If we know so much about effective teaching and learning in higher education, why do so many of my courses suck?”

This question opens up an important body of work that we address in a Two Hour Task Force on Barriers to Educational Innovation. Before the Two Hour Task Force meeting, students are divided into teams corresponding to stakeholder groups (e.g. students, professors, Deans, senior administrators, educational developers, edutech providers, educational publishers) and read literature addressing how and why their stakeholders may present barriers to the implementation of evidence-based educational innovation. During the first half of the Task Force meeting, teams meet face to face with a local representative of their respective stakeholder groups to discuss barriers at their particular institution. In the second half of the meeting, teams brainstorm and then present Recommendations for reducing these barriers. The Task Force Report is then distributed to stakeholder representatives for consideration. Students are then invited to reflect on how they would now respond to the original question regarding the disconnection between the ideas they are reading in the literature and the practices they are experiencing in the classroom.

This interactive conference workshop will be an abbreviated mock up of the Two Hour Task Force. Teams of participants will engage with real stakeholder representatives to identify barriers to innovation and suggest mechanisms to lower them.

Participants in this session can expect to:

  1. be able to assess the appropriateness of the Two Hour Task Force as a strategy for empowering students in their own courses.
  2. be more aware of the variety of barriers to implementation of educational innovation at their own institutions.
  3. have fun collaborating with colleagues.

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Welcome to my Classroom: Three Ways of Looking at Hamlet
Shannon K. Murray (3MNTF-2001), Engish, University or Price Edward Island
Jessica Riddell (3MNTF-2015), English, Bishop’s University
Lisa Dickson(3MNTF-2011), English, University of Northern British Columbia
Date, time, and location: TBA

Hamlet is at once familiar and remote for 21st century students. A student himself, this great Dane deals with royal succession and ghosts but also with depression, family pressures, and girlfriend problems. Recent filmed stage versions with hugely popular stars like Benedick Cumberbatch and David Tennant have helped bring a new generation to the play, so the challenge for instructors is to harness those moments of connection without glossing over the unfamiliarity. In this session, three 3M teachers of Shakespeare present three ways of inviting students to Hamlet through debate, close reading, and creative assignments. Lisa Dickson maps out the playing space with an exercise that unpacks the opening lines of the play: the original “knock knock” joke. In Jessica Riddell’s class, students explore how the play’s loss of meaning can become an object of aesthetic representation so that by dramatizing anxiety one can finally master it. And Shannon Murray’s students in a Hamlet seminar end their experience with a creative response to the play, anything from painting and sculpture to quilting and game design. Join us for some demonstration and play and for a discussion of the joys and challenges of teaching a 400-year old student to 20-somethings.


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Welcome to my classroom: Empowering Learners by Creating Human Connection
William B. Strean (3MNTF-2011), Physical Education & Recreation, University of Alberta.
Date, time, and location: TBA

What moves “Empowering Learners” from platitude to practice? It begins with human connection. The aphorism “People don’t care what you know until they know that you care” is increasingly true for today’s students. Both psychological theory and the most revered work in teaching and learning support the centrality of human connection. For example, self-determination theory (Deci & Ryan, 1985), one of the most cited theories in social psychology, recognizes the organismic need for interpersonal relatedness. In the latter case, both Lowman (1995) in his classic text, and Chickering and Gamson (1987) in their famous paper on principles for education, asserted one of the most fundamental factors in effective teaching is increasing teacher/student contact and connection. Yet, our classrooms can do more to meet students’ need for affiliation and connection.

In virtually any learning environment, students enter with some level of tension, anxiety, and/or resistance. If the stress response is activated, it can decrease the brain’s capabilities to learn and remember (Kaufeldt, 2010). This session opens with participants engaging in a real-time experience intended to create a sense of welcome and classroom learning community. Activities here will include a personal introduction from the teacher, a one-page survey, and a community-building process of student interaction. We will explore the very real and visceral concerns from personal history that students bring into every classroom. We will discuss how ground rules and other practices can reduce fears and concerns and facilitate students’ ability to learn.

Through a series of experiential exercises, including partner activities, participants will get in touch with what students feel on the first day of class and how barriers to learning can be removed through a focus on human connection. We will then “reverse engineer” the experience and participants will learn helpful practices that they can use to prepare themselves to be open and centred, helping to create relationships with and among students. By the end of the session, participants will be able to describe key approaches to create human connection and state how they can implement them in their teaching practice.