Award-winning History prof takes teaching beyond the classroom

While she aims to teach in the classroom, Elizabeth Vlossak is also there to learn.

The Associate Professor of History sees herself as a guide and co-learner with her students, rather than someone who is only there to transmit knowledge.

Mentorship is key to her work with students at all levels, and she looks for opportunities to mentor and learn with undergraduate and graduate students, teaching and research assistants, staff and colleagues from across the University.

“Teaching is not just a transmission of knowledge, but an ongoing, almost dialogic relationship between the instructor and the student,” says Vlossak, the recipient of this year’s Faculty of Humanities Award for Teaching Excellence. She was recognized with the honour at Brock’s Virtual Spring Convocation on Friday, June 18.

“Becoming the teacher that I am today has been a journey, and I would like to acknowledge all the students, faculty and staff, as well as members of the broader academic and non-academic community who have supported, challenged and inspired me along the way.”

All of Vlossak’s courses include opportunities for experiential learning, and she isn’t afraid to take learning outside the classroom. In 2019, she led a directed reading course on historic gardening, using Brock University’s community garden for her students to research and recreate historic gardens.

She was also instrumental in bringing the Virtual Bauhaus virtual reality (VR) exhibit created by the Goethe-Institut Boston and Cologne Game Lab to Brock so her students could experience the iconic 1920s design school.

“To say that Professor Vlossak’s teaching is innovative would be a gross understatement,” says Carol Merriam, Dean of the Faculty of Humanities. “She comes up with exciting and creative ideas for students to try new things, but also has clear objectives and outcomes. Students come away from her courses with new insights into both History and their own lives and times. The work they do with her is unforgettable.”

Vlossak finds inspiration in bringing people together to share ideas and learn from each other. This past year, she worked with fourth-year History student Adam Williamson and Rosemary Goodwin of the Niagara-on-the-Lake Tennis Club to capture club members’ stories.

“The work that brings me the most joy is the work I’ve done through collaboration, either with other colleagues in my department or other departments at Brock, staff, other students, as well as members of the community,” she says. “Transformation happens to all of us when we’re working together, and I see the benefits too of the transformational opportunities for our community as they work with our students on projects.”

Some of her current community collaborations revolve around local sports history as well as the Canada Games, which will be hosted in Niagara in 2022. This past year, she worked with students using local history and Canada Games stories to create a digital exhibition, “Threads through Time,” which will launch next spring in the lead up to the Canada Games.

Next year’s iteration of the course will include a work-integrated learning (WIL) project with the Niagara-on-the-Lake Historical Society and Museum, in which students will collaborate on an exhibit for the museum’s Tiny Museum. Students will then apply the skills and knowledge gained through course content and WIL to research, design and install interactive exhibits across Brock’s campus for the Canada Games.

Vlossak is also the co-director with Associate Professor of Sport Management Julie Stevens of the Sport Oral History Archive, a digital, interactive archive preserving local and national sporting legacies through the collection of oral history interviews and photographs. She is also a past director of the Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine and Performing Arts.

“I am also so fortunate to work at an institution that continues to value teaching, and where I have been given the space to experiment with teaching approaches and to bend the boundaries of what academia is,” Vlossak says. “I am excited to continue to work with and learn from our students, and to offer them new ways of thinking about the past and opportunities for ‘doing’ History.”

To hear more about Vlossak’s teaching and research, tune in to episode four of Foreword, the Faculty of Humanities podcast. New Foreword episodes are released every Wednesday on Apple PodcastsGoogle Podcasts and Spotify. Transcripts of the episodes are also available here.

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