Spring may not be in the air just yet, but things are warming up here at CUOL! This issue’s theme is awards and achievements—read on to find out who’s been making headlines lately.
In this Issue: (pdf copy)
The Anatomy of Teaching
Jeff Dawson: associate biology professor, on his latest endeavours in cutting-edge learning.
It may still feel like winter, but Carleton’s push to elevate education is in full spring.
With a pilot campaign underway to enhance online learning and launch e-courses for graduate students, as well as a crowd-sourcing initiative to obtain real human plastinates for the health sciences department, Jeff Dawson and his fellow professors are working to rejuvenate Carleton’s teaching materials.
Dawson, an associate professor in the department of biology, has most recently helped colleague Iain McKinnell launch a Futurefunder initiative to raise $25,000. If successful, they’ll be able to purchase preserved human tissue, spinal cords, and blood vessels for research and teaching purposes—a state-of-the-art learning tool for anatomical studies.
“Students can touch this stuff,” says Dawson. “They can hold it in their hands, and feel the texture of a brain or a nerve. They can interact with it in a very intimate way.”
Not a very appetizing thought for those outside the science world, but for the university’s budding nurses, pharmacists, or physiotherapists, nothing beats the real thing. The health sciences undergrads are currently using two-dimensional instructional tools and plasticized models that are…well, old.
“They’re lacking in detail, and are subject to artistic expression,” he says. “We immediately realized what we needed was real human tissue. To use an old analogy, would you rather your doctor tell you going into surgery ‘oh yeah, I’ve seen someone do this in a video’, or ‘I’ve done this thousands of times before’?”
The initiative has accelerated his students’ excitement, with many helping to source donations via social media. If successful, the plastinates would help teach more than 400 students per year, spanning many disciplines and departments.
“It’s very unusual for a university to be using this caliber of material for undergrads,” says Dawson. “We’re trying to prepare these students in the best way we can.”
But sourcing plastinates is only one way Dawson is helping bring even more cutting-edge learning tools to Carleton. Through a blended-learning program he is taking through the Educational Development Centre (EDC), he is developing an online course in bioacoustics for his graduate students.
“There was a particular unfilled niche for online courses for teaching graduate students,” he says. “I wanted to create something that would give them the flexibility to complete courses on their own schedules.”
The EDC supports Carleton’s faculty, instructors and teaching assistants as they further develop their teaching toolkits. This is the first year the EDC has initiated a program called the Certificate in Blended and Online Teaching and Learning, co-facilitated by Samah Sabra, Educational Development Coordinator at Carleton.
“If I had to summarize [the program’s] goal in one sentence that we keep hearing from faculty who are currently in the program, it would be this: online teaching is not about the technology, it’s
about the pedagogy,” says Sabra. “What we really hope people take away is the idea that the online environment and technological tools provide a new medium for teaching, which is already a strength for our faculty and instructors.”
Sabra says the number of success stories and ideas that have stemmed from the pilot group of EDC pupils has been overwhelming, with several ideas receiving funding, new open online resources developed, and many professors designing and building new online portions to enrich their courses.
Professors like Dawson—who was initially skeptical about how much online teaching he could incorporate.
“I was naive,” he says. “Being a scientist, I thought, ‘How can I possibly teach science online? You need to be in a lab’. But what I found were the amazing tools available through cuLearn.”
Matthew Holahan: Professor Profile
Catching up with year’s Graduate Mentoring Award-winner on what makes a mentor.
To Matthew Holahan, experience is the name we give our mistakes.
“There is a lot to learn from trial and error,” says the associate professor and undergraduate advisor in Neuroscience. “There has to be a delicate balance between making mistakes but not spinning your wheels not making any progress. I think a good mentor knows when to step in and help out and when to stand back and let mistakes happen.”
Word of Holahan’s hands-on, lead-by-example approach to mentoring his students has spread outside of the lab. After receiving many nominations he was presented the Faculty Graduate Mentoring Award in January for his work with Carleton students.
“It was a great honour,” says Holahan. “It was a pleasant surprise and completely unexpected. It’s really nice to be honoured in this way.”
Holahan’s students note his ability to spark curiosity and encourage delving deeper in their research. He is known for his ability to liven up lectures with real-life examples, hands-on teaching methods in the lab—and the occasional dosage of potassium during a demonstration.
“I don’t think any of my students will ever forget how I used a banana to model a brain axon,” he says. “Hopefully, they will also remember the concepts that it was meant to illustrate.”
Mentorship is an invaluable resource in Holahan’s area of study—especially at a graduate level, when students are expected not only to use neuroscience and other complex science procedures to understand basic brain function (which is, as one would expect, not so basic), but to do outreach, teach, publish and acquire government funding.
Holahan calls it an apprenticeship arrangement, the goal being to help students achieve their potential when it comes to laboratory skills and scientific writing.
“There is so much to learn and to be successful in this field, one really has to be a jack-of-all-trades as well as a Master,” says Holahan, who is in his eighth year teaching at the university. “It is not an easy task to navigate all of these different aspects, so having someone who has gone through and is able to help students navigate is critical to their success.”
While hands-on help is critical when working with graduate students in the lab, Holahan notes that mentorship should be an ingredient in any course—whether it’s graduate or undergraduate, in-class or online.
He recently mentored three undergraduate students who were using a model of real-time pattern recognition in the human visual system to demonstrate how memristors could be used to simulate memory storage in the brain—fusing fields of study with Steve McGarry in the department of electronics.
“In terms of mentoring undergraduate students, I think being accessible through email and being available for face-to-face meetings is really important,” he says.
And it helps if you have a few of your own advisors along the way. Holahan credits both his PhD supervisor, Dr. Norman White, and post-doc supervisor, Dr. Aryeh Routtenberg, as personal mentors who helped him along his own academic journey.
“Of course, I did not realize it at the time I was with both of them, but now that I am in their position, I see how well they mentored me,” says Holahan. “I guess that’s what makes a great mentor as well—leading people without them knowing they are being lead.”
Catherine Smith: A PhD candidate shares her scholarly success story
After working closely with professor Matthew Holahan, what struck Catherine Smith was the incredible calming effect he has on the animals the neuroscience students work with.
“We call Matt the ‘rat whisperer’,” says Smith, a PhD student at Carleton. “I—or any of his other students—have never seen anyone else have that effect on the animals.”
Smith has been working with—and mentored by—Holahan for almost six years, first as an masters student in neuroscience followed by her PhD candidacy. She is currently studying the neurodevelopmental and behavioural changes in rats that have been exposed to an environment toxicant, phthalate, during development.
“Grad school can be incredibly stressful, but Matt has been there to provide support and advice so I made it to the end of my degree,” she says. “He is a great supervisor and deserves to be recognized for his mentorship.”
How would she describe his style of instruction?
“He’s a competent teacher that conveys the course material very effectively,” she says. “His lectures are always very engaging and entertaining. He adds a lot of subtle humour to his lectures.”
It’s a compliment coming from someone who has also experienced instructing courses at a university level, both as a TA for CUOL courses, as well as teaching NEUR/PSYC 2200 last fall. But Smith says her proudest accomplishment in her academic career to date has to be having her first peer-reviewed journal published.
“I took one neuroscience class during my undergrad and knew this is what I wanted to do,” says Smith. “I chose to come to Carleton for grad school because it had a small Neuroscience department. Everyone works in the same building rather than being spread out across campus like some other universities.”
Smith is aiming to graduate in early- to mid-summer of this year and pursue a career in neuroscience research. Her advice for students heading down the same academic path she followed?
“Meet your potential supervisor ahead of time to make sure you have compatible working styles,” she says.
That compatibility has been the secret to Smith and Holahan’s working relationship—they are currently working on an online project that will help bring their experiments to a broader neuroscience community.
“One task on the horizon is to publish a video of some techniques we use in the lab,” says Holahan. “This has been spearheaded by Catherine. We’ll have a video production team in the lab filming Catherine doing some experiments and the videos will be published for other Neuroscientists to use and follow. We’ll see how that turns out, but it should be exciting.”
Ready to rock teaching? EMCP Style
It is Carleton University—EMCP style! Our Enrichment Mini-Courses Program is all about teaching high school students on campus. Although it requires a lot of preparation, the commitment does not make it any less popular with full-time faculty members and graduate students who have signed up to teach mini-courses. This year, about 75% of instructors are new to EMCP. The program offers future undergraduates their first glimpse into Carleton’s academic programs. For many parents and students, the one-week mini-courses provide valuable information about our various academic programs.
Carleton hosts more than 1,000 students from 22 school boards from Eastern Ontario and Western Quebec in our 50 available mini-courses. We’ve had very positive feedback from the school boards and parents, who have praised our academic offerings and learning experiences—all with our beautiful campus as a backdrop. If you can believe it, one Grade 8 student even asked for more school: “If possible, [I’d] add a second week to the course because I had so much fun. It was amazing; our professor was great and made the subject come alive to me!”
Most EMCP instructors are PhD and Master’s students, who are responsible for developing and teaching the mini-courses with the support of their faculty advisors. Many regularly participate because they tell me they loved to teach and the lessons that are prepared are exciting—coupled with lots of hands-on activities. They noted they could see the excitement in their students’ faces whenever they learned something new, an added bonus when teaching eager young minds. As part of their teaching portfolio, instructors use EMCP to gain some field training, similar to Teacher’s Colleges providing their students with hands-on experience, like creating course outlines and planning activities. Just like what one instructor said, “Plus, it is an excellent opportunity for me to gain valuable teaching experience.”
The EMCP course style assimilates group work projects, field trips, mini-research and collaborative multi-class projects. Science and computer labs are used, (i.e., equipment for filming, viewing micro objects in microscopes, rendering animations in computer labs, and developing simple gaming tasks). Seminar rooms are also made available for group discussions, and some use the spacious ‘Galleria’ for joint group works and multi-class ventures.
EMCP also serves as a recruitment program for prospective students. One instructor commented “Geology is not usually offered in schools, so this is our chance to show students what’s available at the university level, as this may be the only time they study Earth Sciences.” Which is why she has deliberately included many different topics which introduce participants to the world of earth sciences through hands-on activities, presentations, computer and creative work and anticipated field trips. “It is important that students really engage with the material and I give them the opportunity to do a variety of activities, such as visiting Hog’s Back Falls to interpret the rocks and its geological history, going to the Museum of Nature’s dinosaur exhibit and creating a field map on campus.”
Being part of the Carleton University EMCP steering committee, I want to point out that most of our courses are in high demand and fill up quickly. The faculty of Engineering and Design had a big push this year, resulting in 16 mini-course submissions. Not surprisingly, all courses were easily filled up during the registration. Names are randomly selected to make up the course list.
Participants are selected by their school, pick their “top ten” choices and then are assigned to the course they will take on a first-come, first-serve basis. High School students receive an overview of the courses’ mini-curriculum during orientation and get the comprehensive learning guide during the week at Carleton’s lovely campus.
Some students who were interested in the more popular courses were not successful in having their names selected. Thus, one parent, an alumnus, has emailed me requesting that the course be offered during the summer. “We are very interested in your program, ‘218 – Let’s Build a Driverless Car’. While my son was recommended for the EMCP, he didn’t get any of his choices (he was also interested in 209 – Discovering the Brain). Is there a possibility that the Driverless Car course will be offered during the summer? It seems that there is a great opportunity to attract more business and potential interest in Carleton U.”
Carleton University has continued its EMCP tradition since it started in 1981. It’s an effective way to introduce students to the university, as it showcases Carleton’s diverse academic programs to prospective high school students. Carleton offers Awards of Excellence to students applying to the school who have participated in EMCP for at least one year and show academic excellence. Last year, our program awarded six new Carleton students each a $1,000 scholarship.
The EMCP will run this year from May 4th to 9th.
Tech Corner- HealthyMinds App
A new app that’ll help keep your mind at ease and mental illness at bay.
Ever since Daron Richardson, the 14-year-old daughter of former Ottawa Senators assistant coach Luke Richardson, took her own life in 2010, the Do It For Daron fund has been spreading its bright-purple message to raise awareness and erase the stigma attached to mental illness.
The latest tool in the D.I.F.D. arsenal is HealthyMinds, an app specially created for students to help them cope with stress. It was developed by the Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre thanks to a donation from the fund, and designed by psychiatry professionals based on the latest research on mental illnesses to help you track your moods, journal your thoughts and manage your stress.
“It’s important to think about thoughts, feelings and behaviour as separate things. Just because you have a strong feeling, doesn’t mean you have to act on it every time,” says Dr. Simon Hatcher, a psychiatrist at the Royal. “We can change how we think about situations, which may change what we do, or how we react to them.”
The app, marked by an outline of a brain encased in the trademark Do It For Daron rich purple, prompts you to identify your mood by scrolling through a dial of emotions and picking the word that best corresponds to how you’re feeling (i.e. “excited”, “indifferent”, or “stressed”), then writing down why (“I have a major test tomorrow morning, and I don’t think I’m ready”). The app then logs your responses into a mood-timeline, so you can track your emotions and pinpoint problem times and triggers. If need be, you can then access one of the app’s many coping mechanisms, like breathing exercises, problem-solving activities and stress-busting techniques, to help combat those feelings.
“My favourite part was the breathing activity,” says Carleton student Gabrielle McKay in a testimonial on the Royal’s website. “It’s easy to use and has all kinds of helpful information in one place.”
HealthyMinds is available on the App Store, as well as in French under the name Toutematête.