Pressures of university among research presented by Chancellor’s Chairs

Knowing the mounting pressure often experienced by first-year students, Child and Youth Studies Associate Professors Shauna Pomerantz and Dawn Zinga recently provided their colleagues with insight into the academic and social difficulties faced by those entering university.

Pomerantz talked about their recent study, “Surviving or thriving? The agony and the ecstasy of the first-year university experience,” during Brock’s Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) event March 27.

Organized by the Centre for Pedagogical Innovation (CPI), the event featured presentations by five current holders of Chancellor’s Chairs in Teaching Excellence. Chancellor’s Chairs awards provide annual funding of $5,000 over three years to support a program of research and practice that makes a broad contribution to advance teaching, learning and educational technology at Brock.

Through group and individual interviews, Pomerantz said students candidly shared with them their fears around failure, high expectations, academic pressures and a general sense of feeling intimidated by professors. They described their social lives, the residence and party culture, the importance of friendships, and pressures of gender identity, while also opening up about the emotional swing from loneliness to strong feelings of freedom and power.

The social and academic life for students can’t be untangled, said Pomerantz, and while the challenges are not surprising, their struggles can be almost invisible. The more parents, professors and administrators know about the challenges, she added, the better able they will be to find ways to “make things so much better” for first-year students.

The SoTL presentations demonstrated the depth and cross-section of teaching scholarship being carried out at Brock. Emerging from the mix of topics were recurring messages encouraging colleagues to create innovative, reflective, collaborative and supportive environments to engage students in learning that will set them up with the knowledge and skills for career success.

In another presentation, English Professor Martin Danahay, Skyping in from England, and Evan Sitler, Goodman School of Business, previewed their newly created 3D classroom. Next year, a small group of students will experience virtual 3D learning at Brock. The 3D space resembles a seminar room setting. With the use of 3D headsets, students will create avatars of themselves to enter, move and interact within the space as part of online course discussions.

Danahay’s project is focused on evaluating the impact of 3D bodily presence on teacher and student interactions and he’ll gather feedback from students about the learning experience and how it compares to typical Sakai forum interactions.

CPI is accepting nominations for the next round of Chancellor’s Chairs in Teaching Excellence awards, with appointments effective July 1. The application deadline for the 2019 awards is Monday, April 15. See the CPI website for details.

Faculty also have until Monday, April 15 to submit proposals for CPI’s upcoming 2019 Spring Perspectives that will continue the discussion of reflective teaching. The event will be held Tuesday, May 7 from 9 a.m. to noon. Complete details are on the CPI website.

Highlights from the other SoTL presentations include:

Wikipedia Assignment: Developing Graduate Student Outcomes and Employability Skills
Assistant Professor Nicola Simmons, in the Department of Educational Studies, says her project has already changed the way she teaches. Simmons is examining how an assignment she gave to graduate students to critique and edit a Wikipedia page is impacting their development of graduate degree level expectations and employability skills. Simmons says the project emphasizes the importance of providing students with metacognitive learning — deeper reflective teaching activities that involve critical awareness from which students discover how to go from consumers of knowledge to creators of knowledge.

The “I” in Teams: The Development and Evaluation of an Interprofessional Course on Collaboration and Teamwork
Associate Professor Jenn Salfi, in the Department of Nursing, debuts an innovative course, Foundations in Collaboration and Teamwork, this spring. With the help of a working group of colleagues, she has designed an interprofessional experiential learning opportunity for students from the five Health Sciences programs. The course features lectures, in-class interprofessional case-based learning and a small-group collaborative activity or project with a community partner. The project emphasizes a focus on helping students build competencies, particularly soft skills such as communication, teamwork and shared decision-making, required to succeed in careers that involve interprofessional teamwork.

Do Students Believe they can become Industry Leaders: A longitudinal study
Professors Shannon Kerwin and Kirsty Spence, of the Department of Sport Management, have followed a cohort of Sports Management (SPMA) students throughout their program to explore the relationship between ego development and leadership efficacy. This study is focused on mapping the vertical development of students — how students deepen and expand their perspectives, views and experiences of leadership qualities. For example, SPMA male students in particular, come into the program with an inflated “boxscore” sense of their leadership abilities based on what they have done on the playing field. Spence says it’s a valuable opportunity for the department to get inside the student experience and reflect on the SPMA curriculum in facilitating ego development.

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