Recipients 2010

Recipients 2010

In 2010, the Best Practice Recognition Award committee is pleased to showcase the quality and variety of best practices through the CTLET website so that all members of the Brock Community may benefit from reading the nominations.

Daryl Dagesse, Geography

His Best Practice is the constant running of and modification to GEOG 3P56, our department’s annual physical geography field course.  While many North American geography departments no longer offer field courses, we do thanks to Daryl’s untiring diligence.  Every Labour Day weekend, he organizes four days of observation and data collection in the drumlins, eskers, moraines, and wetlands near Peterborough.  This provides students the opportunity to observe these natural features in the transition between zones of thick glacial deposits and the Canadian Shield.

    This Best Practice enhances student learning in four ways.  First, Daryl’s field course explicitly integrates material from the second year physical geography courses (GEOG 2P04, 2P05, 2P09, 2P16, 2P97), drawing on students’ knowledge of geology, geomorphology, hydrology, biogeography, soil science and meteorology.  Furthermore, it incorporates mapping techniques taught in GEOG 2P07, statistical concepts taught in GEOG 2P12 and the various scientific principles and data collection techniques common to the geosciences from GEOG 2P11.  The integration of this material into the field course validates and solidifies students’ knowledge gained over the first two years.
    Second, being in the field itself exposes students to new facets of the subjects studied in their first and second year physical geography courses. As a result, students develop a more subtle understanding of the ideal types and theories taught in lecture and lab, and ultimately a better intuition for physical geography. Students are taken out of the often ideal setting of a lecture room or laboratory to study the distributions, characteristics and physical processes underlying the landscape features and elements they have been exposed to in their first two years.  The group setting allows for interactive learning through working with their peers.  A primary objective of this course is to facilitate the students’ progress from knowing about the discipline of physical geography to understanding the discipline through doing the discipline.
    Third, students develop their geographical intuition through following clearly-structured procedures demonstrated on site by Daryl and then discussing their findings at the end of each day.  Ultimately, the data collected is used to test a provisional hypothesis that students developed before coming to the field camp. Working in groups, students use instruments such as the Schmidt hammer in a sampling grid, measuring tape in a vegetation transect, or coring tools for collecting four meter deep soil samples for carbon dating later in the semester.  He even organizes a flight over the study area in a small plane so students can see the whole landscape as a continuum rather than a series of specific points isolated in space.  Collectively, these activities not only grant students practical experience in data collection and hone their geographical intuition, but also expose them to the daily work of professional physical geographers.  To aid their transition to becoming professional geographers, Daryl provides students with clear directions on how to record their observations in their field notebook.  This includes feedback each evening on the content of their notebooks. He further helps students internalize professional standards for field notebooks (and in turn, data collection) by requiring each student every day to anonymously comment on the level of detail of another (anonymous) colleague’s field notebook. At the end of that Fall semester, this course culminates in the students presenting their individual field studies through either poster or oral presentations in a manner similar to that at academic conferences. Thus, Daryl employs various collaborative learning strategies to help students develop the bank of skills, insights and experiences needed in the third and fourth year physical geography courses.
    Fourth, the course lays a solid foundation for third and fourth year courses in physical geography. Students and instructors frequently refer back to the landscapes, features and processes observed during the field course to make a point.  Furthermore, this foundation includes a social component, as the physical geographers often form tight-knit groups that continue to collaborate in their third and fourth year courses, and even after graduation.

For these reasons, I nominate Dr.  Daryl Dagesse for the 2009-2010 Best Practices Recognition Award
Nominated by Jeff Boggs


Kevin Gosine, Sociology


Kevin Gosine is masterful at designing small group exercises to promote skill development, critical thinking, and student engagement in research methods courses.  Here are four examples of his group exercises that significantly enhance student learning:

1. In SOCI 2P11, Introduction to Research Methods, after delivering a lecture on measurement and operationalization, Kevin divides students into groups in lecture and has them operationalize some abstract, multidimensional variable (e.g., self esteem, job satisfaction, etc). Each group is asked to outline on an overhead transparency how they have decided to operationalize their chosen variable.  They then present their work in seminars where their peers critique the validity and reliability of their measure.  This exercise engages the students and works really well to teach operationalization.

2.  In SOCI 4P11, Applied Social Research Design, Kevin provides an interview transcript and has students collaboratively code them in small groups.  Each group then presents the coding categories and themes that they have derived from their analysis of the transcript.

3.  In SOCI 4P11, Kevin asks students to bring to class information on a social service agency/program of choice. After a lecture on evaluation research, he divides them into groups and develops a research design to evaluate the effectiveness of the agency/program.  Each group presents their work to the class for critique.

4.  In SOCI 4P11, after a lecture on questionnaire design, Kevin divides students into groups and asks them to design a questionnaire on some topic (paying attention to such matters as question construction, validity and reliability in variable measurement, question order, etc).  As with the other exercises, each group presents their work to the class for critique.

Social research methods courses are notoriously difficult to teach because students do not always identify with the role of researcher or see the relevance of the study of research methods to their substantive interests or concerns.  Kevin's use of small group exercises overcomes these challenges by allowing students to practice aspects of the research process in ways they experience as supportive and interesting.  These examples of collaborative, experiential learning complement Kevin's lectures and assigned readings with excellent results in terms of learning outcomes and retention.

Nominated by Mary-Beth Raddon


Tom Hall

Tom Hall is committed to the best possible experience for teaching and learning at Brock University

As the lead technician in Information Technology Services (ITS) assigned to teaching and learning systems like Isaak/Sakai and mathematics focused system WebWork, Tom puts the needs of the many teachers and learners using those systems ahead of his own. Tom Hall is responsible for most of the improved experience around on-line learning infrastructure since he was given this role. All this while contributing to the management of Brock University's E-Mail system, research computing and many other tasks.

It is easy to see the humans on the other end of a complex teaching tool like Isaak/Sakai or WebWork as part of that system itself and treat them as nothing more than inputs and outputs. Tom resists this temptation. The experience of the teachers and learners that use these systems are Tom's main concern.

Some quick examples include the odd hours Tom will arrive at work at which to do tasks that require, or potentially result in, down time for teachers and learners. Another example is Tom's insistence on stake-holder based decision making for these tools; the simplest or quickest technical solution is only sought if it matches the stake-holders' needs or demands. Within the limits of only being one person, Tom does not let "because that's the only way it works" dictate the experience that teachers and learners have; instead he investigates solutions and works hard to implement them, often with very creative results.

One of the best reasons to single out someone for congratulations is the impression that they would never congratulate themselves. In this regard I am privy to a few situations where in order to address a crisis of someone else's making, often by carelessness, Tom has given days of his time to the task. Most of his private complaints were the type of good humour that makes him a good friend of his peers, and most importantly to those individuals who were involved in the crisis he was nothing but professional as he did the hard work to prevent the crisis from becoming a disaster.

For these reasons and many more I am pleased to nominate Tom Hall for a Brock University Best Practices Award.

Nominated by Matt Clare

Janie Hodson, Education

Janie Hodson is an extraordinary--and very modest--administrative officer whose work extends far beyond her job description and any reasonable expectations one might have. The Tecumseh Centre, which does great work with limited staffing, would not be nearly as effective in meeting the needs of Aboriginal communities without Janie Hodson's efforts.

In particular, I would like to acknowledge Janie Hodson's tireless administrative support of research project applications and ongoing projects. When I submitted SSHRC proposals for research, Janie did an excellent job of putting the content of the applications into budgeting categories, accurately calculating costs, and making persuasive financial cases for the items. Two of the three SSHRC proposals my teams have received help with have been successful with the third awaiting a decision in March.

She has also been an excellent manager of project details over the course of the research, including extensive travel by participants and researchers throughout Ontario. Also, she has played an important role in the research, contributing to the analysis of field texts and the writing of two articles (in press) in leading Canadian journals.

For these reasons, I believe that Janie Hodson's practices deserve recognition within the wider university community.

Nominated by Julian Kitchen

Philipp Lesmana & Margaret Groombridge, Student Development Centre


Together, Philipp and Margaret have created Essay Zone which is a very interactive on-line writing program that is now being used by over 3,000 Brock students.
There are at least a couple of best practices demonstrated in this project. First , is the interactivity, which makes writing an interesting, fun activity (with processes similar to on-line gaming), while also teaching in depth, the process of university level writing. Secondly, the online medium for the program allows for a great deal of flexibility with regard to both student and faculty use. For example, one could review the whole program from start to finish completing all exercises; one could review a single chapter from start ot finish, or a single topic area...again chooing to complete some, all, or none of the exercises provided.
Student learning is enhanced because they are the ones to determine what they need/want to learn/review. They can review as often as they like and do as many exercises as they choose.
Learning is also enhanced through the interactivity which provides motivation for learning, as does the instant feedback provided upon completion of the exercises.

Nominated by Cathie Closs


Joe Norris and Astrida Neimanis, Dramatic Arts and Women's Studies

As part of the "Year of Remembrance and Action" to mark the 20th anniversary of the Montreal Massacre, Astrida and Joe organized an event that combined social justice theatre and a dynamic speaker to highlight issues of reproductive justice.  This event was a best practice in several ways:  it used an interdisciplinary approach to bring together students and faculty from a variety of departments to work together on this event; the use of interactive social justice theatre was a unique way to engage the audience prior to the keynote speaker, Judy Rebick; the event was planned during class time to ensure that many of the women's studies students were able at attend the event; Joe and Astrida worked countless hours on a volunteer basis with the volunteer actors/writers to collaboratively develop the theatre piece in order to bring this engaging and unique learning element to this event.
Student learning was enhanced well beyond what just the speaker could have offered as the social justice theatre presented in multiple perspectives in a short period of time, and used an interactive format to engage students (both the actors and those who attended the event).

Nominated by Lynne Prout

Tim O'Connell, Recreation & Leisure Studies

Tim O'Connell instructs RECL 3P86, Advanced Outdoor Leadership Theory and Practice. Tim has designed this Spring semester course in such a manner as to maximize the development of students' outdoor skills, knowledges and dispositions during this two week intensive experience. Tim offers a 10 day wilderness trip with a focus on either expedition paddling or rockclimbing. Students receive course and trip preparation, including a course packet to further students' theoretical knowledge, including specific information about lesson planning. While on trip, students learn the technical skills while simultaneously learning about leadership and lesson planning. Immediately upon returning from their backcountry trip experience, the Brock students turn their lesson plans into meaningful praxis by teaching St. Catharines area high school students the very skills that the Brock students themselves just learned. The Brock students thus turn theory into praxis in a manner that furthers their own technical skill knowledge and pedagogical praxis and via a means that results in a contribution to the broader St. Catharines community that is both fun and educative.

I believe that Tim is most deserving of a a "Best Practice" award for this contribution to student learning.

Nominated by Mary Breunig


Camille Rutherford, Pre-Service Education


Best Practices – Using Sakai Forums to Engage Students & Differentiate Learning

For the past two years I have been using the Sakai forums to foster the development of an online learning community while supporting self-directed learning.

While student are not required to participate in online discussions each week, they can earn an additional mark each time they create a post. These marks can add a maximum potential of 5 to 10 percent to their final grade. By not mandating that students create a post each week for the sake of a mark, they are encouraged to participate in the discussion when there is something that is particularly appealing to them. Consequently, the discussions are often spirited and engaging.

To earn these marks students are encourage to respond to the reading assignments, reviewing the online resources, and respond to the comments and material posted by the class. To receive a mark the post must conform to one of the following requirements:
•    Demonstrate thoughtful reflection of one's own experiences to inform professional growth and improvement.
•    Demonstrate an integration of concepts and principles from course session/discussions/readings and practicum experiences.
•    Engage the class by sharing resources, providing links to resources or facilitating discussion. When sharing resources and links the rationale or benefits of the resource must be stated.

The Sakai interface makes monitoring and grading these discussions quite simple. Instructors can choose to grade each individual post or simply use the forum statistics feature to see the total number of posts each student has authored. It has been my experience that students rarely divert from the stated discussion parameters and thus there is little need to grade each individual post.

To draw the students into discussions, the forums must include a variety of engaging topics and resources. In an attempt differentiate instruction and accommodate different learning styles it is beneficial to pair text resources with video resources that address the same topic. While this can be very challenging, the proliferation of academic videos on YouTube that are produced by notable universities has made this much easier of late. Thus, students can choose to read an article regarding a topic or watch a video that covers the same content.

When using video resources it is imperative to embed the video into the forum instead of simply providing a link. Following links to external sites can provide students with the opportunity to become distracted by the superfluous information that is often included on YouTube or other video sharing sites.  By embedding the video, they see only the video resource that is germane to the topic at hand. This practice can increase the likelihood that they will post a comment or reaction to the discussion at hand instead of being distracted by other videos.

Nominated by Ruth Scott


Linda Steer, Visual Arts and Liberal Arts


I’m nominating Linda Steer because of not one but three practices that promote student engagement and active learning.

The practice I know the best is her work using role playing in LART1F90 (Poets, Painters and Philosophers). The course includes two 6-week role playing games set in particular pasts (Athens in 403 BC, and Paris in 1791). The purpose of the games is to get students to read classic philosophical and literary texts in an active way. It does this by giving them goals which they have try to achieve by persuading other students with often competing goals, all while being as true as they can to the historical setting. I know from experience that the element of competition enlivens the learning atmosphere (classes are student-driven and noisy), and really does encourage students to learn ideas at a much deeper level then the conventional seminar. Without Linda’s encouragement I would not have embarked on this teaching method myself. To help us with this pedagogical project we use already prepared resources from the “Reacting to the Past” series coordinated through Barnard College in NY.

The second and third practices that stands out are Linda’s use of techniques that I first learned about from Dale Roy during his CTLET presentation at Brock years ago on inquiry-based learning. Linda was not there, but on her own initiative she has learned about and adapted these practices for her own classroom use. In particular, I am thinking about her use of assessment contracts and at least partially open, student-defined syllabi in LART (GBLS 4P10) (Modernity) and in LART/VISA/STAC 3V96 (Imitation in Art and Literature). Here is Linda’s own description of and rationale for these practices: “In the interest in engaging students and encouraging them to take responsibility for their learning, both the content and the assignments in my upper-level courses are to some extent determined by the students.  I have been working with assessment contracts, where, in conjunction with me, students choose which kinds of assignments they would like to complete, the due dates and the value.  This means, for example, that students who prefer long research projects can have their grades weighted towards a term paper; students who prefer discussing ideas rather than writing, can write a shorter term paper and increase the value of their participation;  and those who prefer to develop ideas through shorter writing assignments over the 12-week period can that option, etc.   In addition to this, depending on the topic and the structure of the course, I allow students to choose up to 6 weeks of course content.  So, for example, in the modernity seminar, after reading key texts from the modern period, students, in conjunction with me and their peers, chose half the readings in the course.  I help them to determine the criteria for choosing good readings.  Students take this very seriously and are, I believe, more engaged with the material when they have had a say in determining it and when they have thought about what to read and why.  When they choose texts I have never read, I remind them that we are learning together.” I know from reviewing the course evaluations as director of LART that students found these approaches valuable. A few of their comments from LART 3V96 indicate how Linda’s teaching enhanced their learning:
•    “Allowed/encouraged a different way of thinking.”
•    “The marking scheme was fantastic. This is what university should be about.”
•    “I liked that students were treated as though we had valuable opinions.”

Linda has done a great deal as a relatively new faculty member to give students a greater stake in their own learning. Motivated students are better learners. For her multiple efforts to get students to learn for themselves rather than merely teaching at them, I believe Linda is an ideal candidate for recognition.

Nominated by Michael Driedger



Andrea Tirone, Geography

My "2P10: Qualitative Research Design and Methodology" course requires an extremely competent, diligent and conscientious teaching assistant, because students submit assignments that build on each other and thus require speedy grading and detailed feedback, and because there are inevitably intense time-crunches. (For example, each student has to conduct, transcribe and submit an electronic copy of their transcript according to an interview guide that is created by each seminar group. These transcripts are then compiled into seminar sets that each student receives electronically, and then analyzes independently. The turn around time between receiving 90 electronic transcripts and compiling them into five seminar sets is very short, given the work involved.) In this context, where it is very easy for students to fall behind or lead themselves off-track, it is essential that the TA interact with them with compassion, encouragement, sympathy, understanding, and also with firmness and high expectations. Andrea has shown herself to be an expert at this combination, which I think may be described as a "best practice". As part of this she is extraordinarily alert to ways she can be helpful to me and to students, as well as to symptoms that students may be facing health issues, personal difficulties, or learning challenges that threaten to impede their success in the course. She is a consistent advocate for student concerns, without undermining or overriding my authority as professor, something I appreciate very much. She also frequently develops her own material to complement or enhance my carefully-prepared seminar exercises, and often provides constructive suggestions for improving seminars.

These "best practices" enhance student learning in four main ways. First, and most obvious, they actively help students to succeed in the course, and to get the most out of the learning experience. Second, they have been instrumental in preventing weak or overburdened students from "derailing" part way through the course. Third, her feedback has been important in helping me improve the course from year to year, in ways that benefit students; earning experience. Fourth, the respect and good-will she garners from students provide me with some leeway to teach more challenging material than I could otherwise (student engagement isn't guaranteed in a second year required methodology course), and that benefits students' geographical education.

Nominated by David Butz

Ebru Ustundag, Geography

I think Dr. Ustundag's whole career at Brock may be defined as a "best practice." She approaches all aspects of her job with great thoughtfulness, careful research, and unfailing compassion; these attributes especially characterize her approach to teaching and interactions with students.

I wish to emphasize two "best practices by way of illustration:

1. Dr. Ustundag designs her fourth year and graduate courses to include weekly "reaction papers", which she comments on extensively and returns to students by the following class. She does this at great expense to her own schedule. I know that students in her graduate course are required to submit their reaction papers by Sunday morning. Dr. Ustundag spends much of Sunday commenting on them, so that students may receive her feedback by Monday's class. As someone who employs the same practice, I know that providing detailed and extensive feedback on writing, argumentation skills, critical thinking, factual information, etc. is immensely time-consuming. I think this is worthy of recognition, especially in an untenured assistant professor, who has lots of other more self-interested ways to spend her working hours.

Student learning is enhanced in several ways. First, they get the obvious benefit of detailed, repeated and cumulative guidance regarding their critical thinking and written communication skills, as well as detailed assessment of their grasp of course materials. Second, they get the benefit of knowing with certainty that their ideas are being considered seriously and carefully, and that, I think, helps them to strive for excellence and understand themselves as scholars. Third, Dr. Ustundag's own commitment and intelligent engagement provides them with an example of how to model their own approach to their education. Each of these benefits is enhanced by Dr. Ustundag's efforts (successful, by my observations) to get students into her office to clarify her feedback, and to continue the written conversation orally.

2. Dr. Ustundag is currently teaching our large (500 students) first year human geography course. She has made a special effort to incorporate "new technology" into the course, for example in the form of a Google Earth exercise (with special workshops offered by the Map Library). The assignment asks students to work with Google Earth, but also to reflect critically on the sorts of information that are generated through this technology, and the implications of generating and using information in this way. It is a sophisticated assignment that engages students in technology they are familiar with, but from a critical perspective. Beyond this, in the same first year course, Dr. Ustundag makes extraordinary efforts to engage students in discussion in lectures, to encourage personal meetings with her outside of lecture, and to respond quickly and encouragingly to student emails. Her ambition is to have at least one personal conversation with each of the 500 students in her class over the course of the term.

The Google Earth exercise enhances students' learning by asking them to use the sorts of technology they are familiar and comfortable with to generate knowledge, and then helping them to think critically about that knowledge. It helps to bring learning and critical thinking into their everyday lives. Dr. Ustundag's general policy of interacting personally and encouragingly with first year students helps to acclimatize them to university, and put them on track for future productive relationships with their professors, in addition to increasing their engagement with the material she is teaching them.

Nominated by David Butz