Creativity in the classroom part of the Glendon experience
Creativity is a broad concept that, in a university setting, can refer to the culmination of work in the arts, and to innovative thought and approaches found in any field.
At Glendon, both types of creativity are at work, as evidenced by a very diverse group of courses that also offer students a wealth of experiential education opportunities: Smoke and Mirrors: An Introduction to Technical Theatre; the sociology courses taught by Véronique Tomaszewski, an award-winning contract faculty member; and the philosophy course taught by one of Glendon’s newest faculty members, Andrée-Anne Cormier. They are the embodiment of out-of-the box thinking at its best.
Duncan Appleton, the course director for Smoke and Mirrors, is a media technologist at Glendon and a winner of the 2019 Principal’s Teaching Excellence Award. His creative talents are recognized outside the campus, too, notably through his collaborations with the Toronto-based Théâtre La Tangente theatre company for performances at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa, as well as with Le Théâtre français de Toronto.
Appleton’s passion for theatre translates well to the classroom, where he teaches students in Glendon’s Drama Studies program the skills necessary for making a production successful, giving them a solid grounding in the workings of scenery, lighting, sound, properties, publicity and production stage management. Appleton then encourages the students to experiment with what they learn. Ultimately, each person supports one Drama Studies production during the year.
“The experience brings learning to life while granting students relevant professional experience and fostering a more in-depth understanding of the subject matter at hand,” Appleton said.
Tomaszewski, a past-winner of one of the President’s University-wide Teaching Awards, fosters creativity and experiential learning among her students through field trips to various social and cultural institutions and celebrations throughout Toronto.
Her use of field trips is also grounded in a commitment to student well-being, part of her belief in holistic, mindful pedagogy. Through a study published in 2016 in the Canadian Journal of School Psychology, Tomaszewski became aware that students at 15 colleges and universities across Canada had requested support for mood disorders and anxiety. To support students at Glendon, she introduced “my holistic, mindful, pedagogy (mind – body – heart – Earth connections). It provides students with: a grounding, whole perception of themselves in an environment; contact awareness to improve the co-presence of all involved; a greater appreciation of their worth; and abilities to connect their studies to their sense of being.”
Tomaszewski’s students have taken field trips to Hindu Diwali celebrations; to Toronto's Nuit Blanche, an all-night, city-wide arts event; and to the Ismaili Centre, among others. During each field trip, the students acted as participant-observers, taking part in the activities on offer and interviewing key participants. During class, they took part in group discussions to compare their information, and, afterward, each student gave an individual presentation that incorporated both sociological theory and their own feelings about the experience.
“Field trips are life-affirming moments of personal and intellectual growth that train students to work in groups and to subject concepts to real life analysis,” Tomaszewski said. “A complete immersion, body – mind – heart allows for an empowerment and an authentic connection to theories come to life, building strong, resilient and engaged students.”
Meanwhile, learning philosophy has been given a new twist by Cormier, an assistant professor in the Department of Philosophy, who teaches multiple courses in the certificate program in Law and Social Thought. Cormier is eager to engage her students, rather than simply deliver lectures and does so in a number of ways, all designed to improve their critical thinking, reasoning and communication skills.
For example, students are required to select one or more texts from their readings and write an essay linking the text, the author’s reflections and their own personal experience or debates taking place in Canada. “This approach,” said Cormier, “allows them to integrate personal experiences or important current topics debated in society into scientific and philosophical conversations in a relevant and rigorous manner.”
Social, political and legal controversies also form the basis for collaborative work in the classroom. Working in small groups, students are asked to discuss a news item or concrete examples from modern life that highlight an ethical issue or philosophical question. They are asked to solve, or reflect on, these societal problems using concepts they have learned in class.
Cormier has also integrated the natural world into the class experience, in the belief that the natural world offers benefits to our thought processes. She assigns a question for discussion and debate and sends the students off in small groups to discuss and debate the question for 20 minutes in the forest surrounding the campus. Next, the groups come together for half an hour to share the results of their discussions. Finally, the small groups spend another 20 minutes walking and reflecting on what they have learned and what they have experienced.
“Philosophy is usually taught in a more traditional fashion,” Cormier said, “but since I want my students to learn how to live and communicate effectively in a pluralistic society, and to discover how to disagree with others in a respectful and fruitful manner, a more participatory and discussion-intensive approach seems especially relevant.”
Each of these teachers strive to exemplify the promise of the University Academic Plan 2015-20 to “incorporate to the extent possible an experiential component in every program.”
By Elaine Smith, with files from Julie Marguet and Agnes Lemesre-Valy