Mini-Book Review – Engaging Students as Partners in Learning and Teaching – Cassidy Gagnon

In the eternal battle for power in the classroom, instructors and students butt heads for who should hold the power when it comes to how a course is handled and taught. And both parties’ have arguments to why each side sho3358374569_83a39b6ee8_muld have power.

Instructors argue that students would abuse the control of having any say in how a course is handled. Students argue that instructors are out of touch with what students want and that they forget what it feels to be a student again. Instructors have started to listen to students about these problems, but there is still a large amount of instructors using instructor-centered teaching, which is generally taught in a way that is ineffective in teaching students. And as it is, all instructors hold all the power. This, as a student, seems like a horrible thing. But there is a better way.

I decided to read “Engaging Students as Partners in Learning and Teaching”, one of the new books in the CTE library. In the book, authors Alison Cook-Sather, Catherine Bavill, and Peter Felten make the argument of allowing instructors to keep holding on to power in the classroom, but giving students a voice (besides written feedback at the end of the term). They make the argument that unless instructors make the actual attempt to listen to their audience, the students will be disengaged from the material taught. The partnership they describe rests on four main pillars: trust and respect, shared power, shared risks, and shared learning. The book also goes through many case studies and exemplars from different schools around the world, and the different methods that these professors use are also outlined as well.

The benefits are extensive as well. For one, you can control the amount of student contribution that students make to change the curriculum, whether you want to redesign how an assignment is given or want to overhaul the entire course. The ways that the students contribute are also extensive, and the ways to leverage students are outlined in the book as well. And finally, there are almost an infinite amount of ideas that students and professors can produce together.

This being said, partnering with students and redesigning something as small as an assignment is difficult. It involves a lot of student participation and the ability of the instructor to use feedback from the student ambassadors and the classroom to modify what needs to change. Sometimes, it can take several classes and a large amount of student data to change the way an entire course is implemented. As a new instructor, this would be incredibly difficult to achieve since you are dealing with the new challenge of teaching. The final barrier is the instructor’s acceptance to change: if instructors are stuck in their own methodology of teaching, then they will have created a huge barrier of what they think the students need versus what the students want. Because of this barrier, students will lose interest with the material after the first lecture.

I encourage not only new and old faculty instructors to read up on partnerships in the classroom, but also students. Speaking as a student, it is important to remember that we have a voice in the classroom. Instructors, it is important to remember that you have the ears to listen to students. And when both parties work together, hand in hand, we can mold the future of learning.

For interested readers, this book is available at the Centre for Teaching Excellence library (EV1 325).

Cook-Sather, A., Bovill, C., & Felten, P. (2014). Engaging students as partners in learning and teaching: A guide for faculty. San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons.

History and Learning of the Internaut – Cassidy Gagnon


Those were the first letters sent through the “Internet”, back in October 29, 1969. The first use of the ARPANET link was established between the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and the Stanford Research Institute. The word they tried to send was “LOGIN”, but the system crashed when trying to send the “G” (a literal “lo”w). Decades later, the Internet has developed into a monster of complex links to different servers and computers that is one of the greatest accomplishments in human history.

The original purpose of the Internet (which is not, as everyone says, cat pictures) was to communicate information between the different universities to share research and information that could not be easily sent through the phone or the postal system. It was a system that encouraged learning from others’ information, and using that information to create more information, and so on. But after computers started to condense from the size of an entire room into a device that could fit onto your desk, becoming much cheaper, and connections that were starting to be created all around the world, the common people were finally given access to a large amount of information and tools all in a short amount of time. But this information, as wonderful as it was, could not be communicated properly with the masses.

First, some of the information to articles and journals were (and still are) blocked, unless you pay a substantial fee to access that information. As well, this information was made for people in the field they were in, so people from other fields of work could not understand the information that was trying to be relayed since it would be filled with jargon and complicated information.

But it wasn’t until Salman Khan, founder of the Khan Academy, who started the Academy in 2006 on YouTube for the purpose of free tutoring lessons to friends and family in subjects of chemistry and mathematics. As time progressed however, the number of followers has grown to around 2 million and the site has broadened its focus: topics now include history, healthcare, medicine, finance, physics, chemistry, biology, astronomy, cosmology, American civics, art history, economics, music, and computer science, with videos available in 63 different languages.

A lot of other educators who wanted to provide free education to everyone followed suit, and more websites and YouTube channels popped up. For instance, my favourite educational channel on YouTube is CrashCourse, which currently covers subjects in literature, chemistry, world history (my favourite), biology, ecology, big history (as in the history of our universe), psychology and US history. Current sessions are going through the subject of anatomy and physiology, astronomy and US government and politics, while forecasted ones are going to be in intellectual properties and economy. Basically, everything you wanted to learn about a multitude of subjects in a very friendly and open matter that also brings up real world issues in the lessons.

As free and easy-access education is becoming more available, with different teaching styles, languages and subject matter being used, the future of online education is a bright one.

Momentum: Learning in Residence Life – Cassidy Gagnon

10918530916_8438ecda3c_mDuring the second last weekend of January I attended the 35th Annual Residence Life Conference at the University of Guelph, in which dons from all over Ontario gathered together and learned (and danced) with other dons. Although I’m not currently a don (or RA) for the Winter term, I was a don the previous two terms living at Village 1 and UWP. During the Fall term, I was given the opportunity with my friends in Residence Life to present at the conference under the title “Walking on the Quiet Side”, a presentation aimed to help fellow dons and RAs learn what the difference between extroverts, introverts, and ambiverts was, and how to cater to introverts who have trouble feeling part of the residence community. I wasn’t quite sure what the conference was going to be about and how I would react to it since, ironically, I am an introvert and extroverts seem to love the energy of conferences. The three members of my presentation group had already gone to last year’s conference, in which they told me about how the process was going to work, which did relax me a little.
We arrived the Friday evening and was staying at the Delta hotel. During the night, I only received 3 hours of sleep (which, as I write this blog, is still affecting my sleep cycle). The next morning of the conference, we were guided to a big, old building somewhere on the Guelph campus. On the projector screen in the building was only one word: momentum, with the “o” in the shape of a fast forward button, which was the theme of the conference. According to the website, “momentum is the product of existing motion; it is a testament to the hard work, creativity, and vision that has gotten us all to where we are. And, reflective of the energy and excitement we all feel now, we feel it captures our joint enthusiasm for the future”.
The first speaker that day was the keynote, who focused on the effects of technology on society and how we must be careful with how it affects our lives with others. After that session, we were given the choice of going to 1 of 8 learning sessions out of 5 concurrent sessions: basically, we were allowed to see 5 different sessions during the day that focused on material from diversity, personal and professional development, student learning and development, leadership and mentoring, self-care and balance, community building and advising and supporting. Needless to say, there was a variety of choices for anyone who wanted to learn about something they were either interested in or in something that they think would benefit themselves or their students more.
Being one of the presenters, I was only allowed to go to 4 of the session, since I was presenting in the middle of the concurrent sessions. The sessions I attended included: “Illuminating the International Enigma” (focusing on learning of different cultures and creating a safe and diverse environment for students), “This is Our Moment” (focusing on dysfunctional teams and how to go forward with building strong team dynamics), “How to Talk so Residents Will Listen” (a language based session that focused on how to talk to residences during any situation), and “With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility” (a diversity session to identify privileged people and student leaders, and how these people can change residence communities, campus, and life beyond university).
At the end of each session, the delegates and judges were then asked to rate the presentation based on a number of criteria. The top 5 sessions out of the 40 would present again (unfortunately, ours did not make it, but oh well…). The last session I went to, “With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility”, was actually in the top 5, as well as “GROOVE Your Body-Esteem”, done by Waterloo’s own Reba Campbell, which focused on exploring body image challenges and using GROOVE dancing to improve body confidence. I decided to attend the session called “Man Up!”, since it seemed the most appealing, and I already saw the other session, and Reba holds GROOVE classes on campus, which I have already attended (and was quite enjoyable. Thanks Reba!). The “Man Up!” session turned out to be my favourite session of the entire conference. It focused on breaking down stigmas surrounding cis gendered masculinity in our society and identify solutions for changing our student’s lives. Being a cis gendered male, there were a lot of truths within the session that I never would have thought of. And not to be melodramatic, but it definitely changed my life for the better for listening to it, and I will definitely be apply the nuggets of information I learned from this session towards my future students and myself.
As Sunday came around, we learned that “With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility” had won for the best session, while Reba’s session was runner-up (which was very exciting). After the closing ceremonies and the last keynote speaker, we then departed for home.
I found that this entire weekend was filled with lots of great knowledge, and better, knowledge I could apply towards my future residents, the people I meet, and myself. And even residents have loads of opportunities to learn things in residence, from educational events held by their don to leadership events offered by residence, such as the annual AMPED conference. But overall, thinking about my current state of being and carrying on the theme of the conference, I hope that I can have the momentum to take my love of donning and learning and conserve it in the future.

For more information about my time at the conference, or learning in residence in general, you can make a comment underneath and I will try my best to answer you.

Also, thank you to Kerry, Dillon and Ananya for being such great team members and allowing me to work on the project with them.