By Patrick Lyons, Director, Teaching and Learning Services

What takes place in many of our classrooms happens behind closed doors – we don’t often get a chance to see the relationships and connections that instructors make with students. Yet, on occasion we can prop open the door and peek inside…

Up until March 2020, Carleton recorded about 50 course sections per term and made them available to registered students in a course format called CUOL (or CUTV). These recordings were glimpses into the classroom. I’d like to tell you about peeking inside of one of these courses – in this case, CHEM 1001 taught by Prof. Bob Burk.

During the very last class of every fall term, a microphone is set up at the front of the room and Bob invites his students to come to the front and sing the periodic table (from memory!). Their reward? One per cent towards the final grade and the appreciation of their classmates. Their performance is recorded – so this isn’t just a private song and dance routine to a small group – this is a performance that is made to 699 other classmates AND it can live forever online.

Some performances are awkward, some are good and a few are showstoppers. The thing is, no matter what, every performance is amazing – and shows the relationship of trust and caring in the class. Students support each other and when a performance ends, every student is cheered and congratulated. This moment captures elements that are fundamentally important to learning: trust, compassion and playfulness – something that Bob and his students have built over the term.

The last 21 months have sometimes been difficult for our students, instructors and staff. In the stress and uncertainty, I think it’s easy to lose sight of trying to have a bit of fun when we teach and learn and the importance of being compassionate and supportive of each other. I think back to the students in CHEM 1001 singing the periodic table. I still remember Nick singing blindfolded with duct tape wrapped around his head (ouch!), Zavian’s mashup to the tune of the Star Wars Imperial March, Gabriel’s Billy Joel Piano Man/periodic table remix, Austin’s epic rap (40K views!) and Fenem’s and Allison’s Carol of the Bells holiday version. In these moments, these peeks into a classroom, it’s a reminder of the little things that make Carleton special and the importance of relationships that we build.

Bob Burk is an award-winning chemistry professor recognized nationally for his commitment to teaching and learning in the Faculty of Science.

If you would like to read more stories of teaching and learning at Carleton, consider purchasing Courage, Curiosity, Teapots and Snakes: Stories of Teaching at Carleton University. Proceeds from the book will be donated to Carleton’s Community Campaign Bursary.