Learning Communities Course Development Update – Winter 2021

Winter 2021 course development is underway in the Learning Communities project, with six teams and a total of twelve teachers working on eleven new courses to be launched in the F21 and W22 semesters.  Working remotely imposes significant constraints on the course design process, just as it does with teaching.  However, as in the second half of last year’s winter semester, MS Teams is allowing co-teachers to work on documents asynchronously, meet via video chats, access all the relevant course design resources, and in short, create an almost satisfactory stand-in for in-person collaboration.   

Collaboration between teachers from different departments on the design and delivery of interdisciplinary courses is the very heart of Learning Communities.  Supported by colleagues and by a Dawson-developed course design toolkit, participating teachers work together on learning activities, integrative assignments and synched class schedules aimed at creating connections across disciplines. The goal is to create authentic and innovative learning experiences for students – but the LC teachers are also on their own unique learning trajectory.

“The process of co-designing has revealed to me, once again, the social nature of learning, and how much more exciting and thus motivating it is to work with a partner on a project. As someone who doesn’t necessarily excel at systems thinking, the course design materials have also been a welcome and useful guide in helping me to think through how we can work our vast topic into a structure that will be coherent and manageable for both students and ourselves.”    – – Andrew Katz (English), SPACE English & Humanities

Each of the six teams is supported by a LC lead with previous experience in developing and co-teaching paired courses: in Science, Jean-François Brière (Physics) and Annie-Hélène Samson (Biology); in Social Science, Lisa Steffen (History); and in Certificates and General Education, Pat Romano (Humanities).  Consulting and troubleshooting with the leads allows project teams to rapidly address challenges and develop workable solutions at each stage of the design process.

“Initially, the idea of organizing and synchronizing two brand new courses (ultrasound physics and ultrasound instrumentation) seemed like an almost overwhelming task.  But thanks to a recommendation from Jean-François Brière to build a shared MIRO whiteboard for course planning, it now actually seems pretty straight forward!  Creating our MIRO board has helped us to clarify the content, order, and prior knowledge for each of the modules and it has allowed us to write clear, concise learning outcomes.  The board also allowed us to identify opportunities for integrative assessments and joint exercises/labs.  This is an amazing, versatile tool that all collaborators should try.” – – Diana Glennie (Physics), Physics & Ultrasound Technologies

Ultrasound & Physics synchronized course schedule planning

Interested in learning more about each of the six projects?  Check out the project abstracts below, which offer a concise explanation of the objectives driving the course development work of each team.  And don’t hesitate to get in touch with LC project lead Ian MacKenzie if you have questions about how you, your department or your program can get involved in Learning Communities.

Winter 2021 LC Project Teams and Abstracts

I. Physiotherapy Technologies: Anatomy 1 (144-111-DW) + Biology 1 (101-941-DW)

  • Richard Calve (Biology) and Erika Hasler (Physiotherapy Technologies)

Understanding the human body not only from an anatomical perspective but also a biological one is of the utmost importance for a future health care practitioner.  Biology I and Anatomy I are two integral, foundational courses that introduce Physiotherapy Technologies students to the human body.  Biology I has a focus inherent to the systems of the human body down to their microscopic level of structure, function and organization. Anatomy I on the other hand focuses more on the macroscopic levels of structure, function and organization.  Bridging these contrasting perspectives, our synchronized curriculum will provide learners with a holistic and integrative view of the human body and its systems (e.g. musculoskeletal, nervous, circulatory, etc.) The integration of these two courses will enhance students’ ability to contextualize the importance of the structure and function of the human body, providing the the strong foundation required for future courses in the program and for a career as a Physiotherapist Technologist. 

II. DIS Certificate: Foundations in Decolonization & Indigenization – Complementary Contemporary Issues (365-BXP-DW)

  • Jocelyn Parr (History) and Jennifer Smith (Anthropology)

Indigenous Resilience, Refusal and Resurgence in the face of ongoing colonialism on Turtle Island is centuries old, yet the study of Indigenous-Settler relations has tended to focus on the study of settler systems. This course challenges that tendency by being grounded in lessons taught by Indigenous Knowledge Keepers. This course opens a space for students, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, to come together and work towards understanding complex truths, collaborating on dynamic projects, and practicing Indigenous ways of learning.  Drawing from multiple fields, including what Indigenous Knowledge Keepers might call land-based-pedagogy or Two-Eyed Seeing, and what Western pedagogies would call disciplines (e.g., anthropology, history, economics, etc.), a variety of topics will be explored. Students will learn about the complexity and differences among Indigenous peoples with a focus on resilience, refusal and resurgence. Many events and materials presented in this class are from Indigenous Knowledge Keepers (elders, artists, activists, leaders etc.) and will take place in the classroom, and beyond the college on the land and in the city. While the content and topics (such as Kanien’kehá:ka perspectives on this region; relationships to plants, animals, lands and waters; and lived histories, languages, art and storytelling) explored in this class will vary year to year, offering a decolonized pedagogical experience will remain the guiding principle. 

III. Law Society Justice Profile: Human Rights, (In)justice, and Democracy in Canada’s Past and Present – Canadian History 330-201-DW + Canadian Democracy 385-306-DW

  • Catherine Braithwaite (History) and Christopher Bourne (Political Science)

Why did certain groups such as Japanese Canadians, Indigenous nations and homosexuals suffer inequitably at the hands of the Canadian state over past centuries? Why were the rights of these individuals repressed by provincial and federal governments historically and how did they achieve justice, equality and conciliation through the passage of such legislation as the Charter of Rights and Freedoms? How does the Canadian state try to balance the emerging human rights and freedoms of the individual with the state’s suppression of human rights for the sake of the ‘common good? This paired Canadian Democracy and Canadian History course will offer students a learning community where they will explore intersecting themes that examine our unquestioning beliefs in Canadian equality and democratic institutions through particular historical events that have challenged concepts of ‘justice’.  Working as a team in this interdisciplinary / transdisciplinary approach, the class will examine the historical and political balance between human rights and democracy,  through the such lens as gender, ethnicity, race, and equality, and question how our ideologies and institutions, have not always lived up to its Canadian promise of equality for all.  In this shared thematic learning community, students will have the opportunity to hear multiple historical voices and examine a variety of political institutions and ideologies, culminating in a capstone historical-legal re-enactment experience allowing them to analyze/assess both the strengths and weaknesses inherent in Canadian democratic society today and yesterday. 

IV. Social Science General Studies: How Can I Know Who I Am? General Psychology (350-101-DW)+ Introduction to Philosophy (340-101-DW)

  • Susan Finch (Psychology) and Brian Redekopp (Philosophy)

Who am I? What do I want to become?  Finding answers to these questions can involve tremendous pressure: pressure from the judgments of others, pressure to conform, pressure to know now what one’s path is going to be, pressure to make the right moral choices in a world in peril, and the anxiety that comes with all of this.  In this paired introduction to Psychology and Philosophy, we will explore how each discipline investigates the self and identity and how the results of these investigations can help you navigate the pressures along the path of self-discovery.  In the Psychology course, we will explore current and historical perspectives in the field, the brain and its many functions, why people behave the way they do, and more – all contributing to answering the all-important question of who you are! (and how to be okay with that). In the Philosophy course, we will explore how philosophers have attempted to answer questions such as the nature of the self (and whether there even is one), the relation between mind and body, how free one is to create one’s own identity, the nature and value of self-love, the possibility of altruism, and the existential roots of anxiety.  Together these courses will provide tools to gain a deeper understanding of oneself and to understand, manage and cope with the pressures of navigating life as a young adult in 2021. Class activities will include traditional elements such as lecture, discussion and readings, and also more experiential elements such as nature walks, interviews and journaling. Students will leave the course with the knowledge and the skills in critical thinking to achieve greater peace with themselves in the face of their own particular challenges.  

V. SPACE Certificate: Investigating Story Value(s) – English 603-BXE-MQ + Humanities 101-BXH-MQ

  • Andrew Katz (English) and Robert Stephens (Humanities)

Why was Tal Al-Mallouhi, a 19-year old Syrian student, imprisoned in 2009 for writing poetry and social commentary on her blog? In the 1970s, when scientific study after study linked the burning of fossil fuels to climate change, why did oil and gas companies embark on a public campaign to question the authority of these studies? Why do #OwnVoices advocates argue for the importance of marginalized people being able to tell their own stories? Why is simply a shared set of facts often such a difficult achievement among groups in conflict with each other? This pairing of Applied English (603-BXE) and Humanities Ethics (345-BXH) titled Investigating Story Value(s), will offer students a learning community where they will explore the territories of both personal and public discourse across the disciplines and will consider the moral implications of the stories we tell.  Students will discover how these territories are marked by good-faith discussion, argument and research as well as by censorship, propaganda and “fake news”, and how so much of our discourse is organized by a common device as old as the human species itself: Story. In the English course, we will study the anatomy of story––its basic building blocks and the myriad ways those elements can be put together, with examples that range from fiction to creative non-fiction to news stories.  Meanwhile, in the Humanities course we will examine the ethics of storytelling, and both the conscious and unconscious ways that values shape our perceptions and descriptions of the world. Both courses will also look at some of the larger forces, psychological, social, political and others, that shape how story is used in our world today. For the major integrative assignment, students will research and present a case study that illustrates how story is employed in their particular field of study and analyzes the moral stakes involved. The course will also offer opportunities for students interested in crafting their own stories of various kinds. The course will place special emphasis on how story is used in both common and distinct ways in the Arts and the Sciences, and students will be encouraged to share their major integrative assignments with the Dawson Community through the venues hosted by the SPACE initiative (Sciences Participating with Arts and Culture in Education), such as the SPACE website and end-of-year SPACE showcase.

VI. Ultrasound Technologies: Physics of Medical Ultrasound (203-910-DW) + Ultrasound Instrumentation and Imaging Modalities (142-U13-DW) 

  • Diana Glennie (Physics), Ania Stosiak (Ultrasound), Monica Lopez (OAD)

Ultrasound imaging is deeply rooted in the physics of sound waves. From choosing the right transducer to interpreting the images, a solid foundation in physics principles will help students to properly apply their skills and critically analyze the results rather than just performing a set of memorized steps.   Students in their first year of Medical Ultrasound Technology will have the opportunity to take their Physics co-requisite simultaneously with their Ultrasound apparatus course. These two courses will be tightly paired, with complementary material and activities presented in a synchronized manner.  Students will be able to use their knowledge of the underlying physics to properly operate the ultrasound apparatus, while learning how to use the machines will provide students with a real-world application of physics principles.  This integration should solidify and enrich student understanding of how physics concepts and ultrasound applications are connected.

Why Develop Learning Communities in Certificates?

In their essence, Certificates at Dawson are learning communities that aspire to engage students and teachers –across their respective programs and disciplines – in a shared area of interest.

Our existing and developing Certificates address some of the most important and engaging issues of our time:

Current Certificates:

Peace Studies

Women’s/Gender Studies

Decolonization and Indigenization


Hellenic Studies

Certificates under development:


Environment and Sustainability

Artificial Intelligence


Certificates include both courses and opportunities to participate in relevant co-curricular activities. However, most students have limited interactions with other certificate students in their courses, while certificate coordinators, faculty and students often find little time to co-develop and/or participate in co-curriculars.  While certificates emphasize the value of an interdisciplinary approach to building knowledge and finding solutions to contemporary problems, participating teachers have few opportunities to collaborate on interdisciplinary course development.

Learning Communities addresses these issues by inviting faculty to think about new curricular models which:

  • allow for interdisciplinary collaboration and team teaching,
  • promote integrative learning across courses and disciplines,
  • enhance student engagement and success,
  • build links with campus and community co-curricular activities
  • develop academic relationships beyond Dawson.

Examples of existing LC Certificate-listed courses

Paired Courses:

  • Imaging Violence and Nonviolence: Humanities + 365 Cin-Com Complementary, Womens’ and Gender Studies and Peace Studies
  • Into the WildEnglish + Phys Ed, Environment and Sustainability
  • Living on the Land: Regards sur la vie traditionnelle autochtone: French + Phys Ed intensives, Decolonization and Indigenous Studies
  • The Good Life?  Psychology + History, Peace Studies

Certificate Foundational Courses:

(Certificates may decide to offer their students one or more “foundational” courses, that will immerse interested students in the academic foundations of the field, while potentially also engaging them actively in certificate co-curriculars. The LC project prioritizes new course development projects that are designed and taught through a collaborative process).

  • Gender Matters: Team-designed and team-taught 365 Complementary, W/GS
  • Peace 365: 365 Complementary featuring multi-disciplinary teacher panels, Peace
  • Make Things That Matter: 365 Complementary with integrated co-curricular activities, SPACE

Program-based LC course clusters or sequences:

(Employed in Social Science General Studies, involving a cohort of students enrolling in a thematic cluster of courses or following a sequence of courses through different semesters)

  • Research Methods/ Quantitative Methods/ Integrative Seminar: Social Science Research Methods Sequence, Decolonization and Indigenous Studies

 What do I do if I am interested in developing an LC Certificate Course?

  • Take a look at the W21 LC Call for Proposals, then run your ideas by your Certificate Coordinator
  • Consider dropping in the LC zoom meet-up session with Pat Romano (LC Lead, Certificates and General Education) on Thursday, October 8 from 4:00-5:00 (You will be able join via the Faculty Hub website)
  • Submit a proposal to Karina D’Ermo at OAD by Thursday, October 15

Learning Communities in General Education: Innovation, Interdisciplinarity, Collaboration, and Real-world Applications

From its inception in Fall 2015, Learning Communities (LCs) at Dawson College has aimed to create structured opportunities for Dawson faculty from different departments to work together to co-design and co-teach interdisciplinary courses.

These new curricular structures are designed to facilitate the forging of interdisciplinary insights and connections; permit a closer integration of classroom and experiential learning; investigate complex “wicked problems” and applied solutions; and enhance students’ sense of personal belonging, both within the classroom setting and across the college.

The project so far has supported several different course models that touch on General Education, including:

  • paired courses developed by teachers across all four core Gen Ed departments
  • stand-alone Complementary Contemporary Issues courses that allow for team-teaching opportunities from diverse disciplines, and feature integrated co-curricular activities

Why develop LCs in General Education?

General Education courses are ideally situated to become an important place for LC courses at Dawson. College. Examples already exist of LC paired courses involving collaborations between all four core departments, as well as stand-alone LC Complementary courses.  The diversity of courses and opportunities for new course development within Gen Ed departments opens the door to a myriad of interesting pairings and ideas for courses that build links with campus and community co-curriculars. General Education courses already play an important role in Dawson Certificates and can contribute further through interesting foundational or paired courses that allow students from different programs to collaborate on a shared area of interest.  The LC model is also an evidence-based “high impact practice,” and as such, can positively impact student engagement and learning in General Education courses.

Examples of existing LC paired courses and Complemetary Contemporary Issues 365 courses in General Education

  • Imaging Violence and Nonviolence: Humanities + 365 Complementary, Women’s/Gender Studies and Peace Studies
  • Into the Wild: English + Phys Ed, Environment and Sustainability Certificate (under development)
  • Living on the Land: Regards sur la vie traditionnelle autochtone: French + Phys Ed intensives, Decolonization and Indigenous Studies
  • Gender Matters: Team-designed and team-taught 365 Complementary, W/GS
  • Peace 365: 365 Complementary featuring multi-disciplinary teacher panels, Peace
  • Make Things That Matter: 365 Complementary with integrated co-curricular activities, SPACE

What do I do if I am interested in developing an LC Course?

  • Take a look at the W21 LC Call for Proposals
  • Consider dropping in the LC zoom meet-up session with Pat Romano (LC Lead, Certificates and General Education) on Thursday, October 8 from 4:00-5:00 (You will be able join via the Faculty Hub website)
  • Submit a proposal to Karina D’Ermo at OAD by Thursday, October 15

Call for Proposals: New Learning Community Projects – Winter 2021

 Faculty interested in integrative learning and collaborative curriculum development are invited to submit a proposal to participate in the Winter 2021 phase of Dawson’s Learning Community project. Proposals will be welcomed from sectors where LCs have already been implemented (Science, Social Science and Certificates/General Education), and equally from programs and profiles (Pre-U and Careers) not already involved in the LC project but interested in prototyping innovative curricular structures that prioritize interdisciplinary teaching and integrative learning.

Proposals must be submitted to Karina D’Ermo at the Office of Academic Development (OAD) by Thursday, October 15 and should be kept to two pages addressing the criteria below.  Up to 6 sections of release will be available for W2021.  Faculty are advised to assemble a team of project collaborators and propose 1 or 2 project leads as candidates for release.  Department chairs, program coordinators and Deans must be informed of the application.  Proposals will be reviewed by the LC Coordinating Committee (see membership below).

Learning Communities are identified in Dawson’s Strategic Plan 2016-2021 as one of several strategies for the successful development of the learning outcomes of the Graduate Profile.  Applicants should review recent course development projects from W20, and browse the LC workplan for 2020-2022.  Some background on the learning community model and integrative learning in higher education may also be helpful.

Format and Objectives
Participation is organized around regular meetings over the W21 semester, either in person or on Teams as the situation permits.  Faculty teams will collaborate on course and assignment development, and on-line writing will document both process and products.  Work culminates in the completion of new paired/linked courses; or a thematic course cluster; or a new stand-alone course with integrated co-curricular activities.  The goal is to pilot these new learning communities in F21 and/or W22.  It is not necessary that the proposed courses be designed principally with online delivery in mind; however, your proposal should indicate to what extent the courses may be adaptable to online formats.

Proposal Criteria
1. Names and departments/programs of faculty members participating in the proposal, and identification of 1-2 teachers who are applying for release as team leaders.
2. The context of the proposed learning community courses (Program, Profile, Certificate or Special Area of Study) and explanation of how the proposal addresses an important challenge or need within that context.
3. The courses your team plans to develop, and how, in the design of these courses, you plan to address some or all of the following characteristics:

  • Collaborative, interdisciplinary course design process
  • Engaging, complex theme/issue/question/topic as integrative framework for course content
  • Interdisciplinary co-teaching or team-teaching pedagogy
  • Assignments encouraging the integration of student learning across courses/disciplines
  • Links with campus or community-based co-curricular activities that facilitate experiential learning outside the classroom
  • Curricular innovations that are transferable between teachers and sustainable over time

Building on the LC developments that have already taken place in Science, Social Sciences, and Certificates, the LC Coordinating Committee has identified several priority areas that proposals for W21 are invited to address:

Science Sector

  • Projects aiming at a better integration of math, biology, physics or chemistry in career programs.
  • Projects developing interdisciplinary connections in the Science program.

Social Science Sector

  • Projects offering thematic course clusters for first-year General Social Science Students
  • Projects that develop thematic course clusters in the Methods Sequence
  • Projects that offer interdisciplinary connections within the Social Science Program

Certificates and General Education

  • Projects developing Gen Ed certificate-themed interdisciplinary paired courses; team-designed/team-taught 365 Contemporary Issues courses; team-designed/team-taught “foundational” courses in Gen Ed disciplines; or any certificate-related course that connects classroom learning to out-of-class co-curricular activities
  • Projects creating LC opportunities for integrative learning across Certificates



Don’t hesitate to get in touch with the Learning Communities Coordinating Committee with any questions regarding your proposal: Ian MacKenzie (LC Project Lead), Pat Romano (Certificates and General Education), Jean-François Brière and Annie-Hélène Samson (Science), Lisa Steffen (Social Science).

Watch the Dawson Faculty Hub for information on upcoming webinar meet-up sessions for teachers interested in developing LC proposals.


Winter 2020 Project Updates

Despite the COVID-19 disruption this winter, work proceeded on 7 different Learning Communities projects involving 15 different teachers.

Following are capsule reports from each team on their progress.


I.  Improved integration of statistics in the Analytical Chemistry program  

– Steve Holden (Chemistry) and Rodney Acteson (Mathematics)

We developed activities to better integrate statistics into the Analytical Chemistry Program. In addition, Rodney worked on changing the delivery of his course to a “flipped” classroom model with the goal of using class time for student to apply statistical tools in the context of their study.

Many occasions have been planned to encourage contact between second year students in the Laboratory Technology program with their first year colleagues studying statistics. One such plan calls for the examples used by the students studying statistics to come from experiments actually performed in more advanced courses. Further context for the data used in stats class will come in the form of videos that demonstrate how the data was obtained – videos that will be created by second year students.

Late in the semester, an experiment will be jointly carried out by first and second-year students.  The experiment involves the analysis of cigarette smoke for cancer-causing compounds.  This activity will allow first-year students to observe experimental protocols in the lab, and collect rich data that will then be used in the statistics course, providing an explicit example connecting the worlds of chemistry and statistics.  As COVID-19 will not allow these initiatives to be run in the Fall 2020 semester, an implementation over two years is planned.

The teachers involved found the opportunity to collaborate with other teachers very rewarding.  As we worked together with LC Science lead Jean-François Brière on content and delivery, we realized that an important spin-off benefit of learning communities is that other people’s good ideas improve your courses!


II.  Nursing & Biology integration 

 – Gina Gentile and Richard Calve (Biology)

This project aims to help nursing students make the important link between biological theory and nursing practice. In the context of nursing pedagogy, recent research from learning institutions around the globe, strongly supports case-based learning in which nursing students use theoretical anatomy and physiology concepts to assess patient needs and care in a realistic case study scenario. This approach has not only shown improved academic performance, but an increase in student self-confidence and independence prior to their entry in the workplace (e.g. Gholami et al. 2016).

In collaboration with Dawson’s Nursing program, we developed an interrupted case study describing a patient who suffers from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a prevalent degenerative lung disease which most commonly occurs after years of smoking cigarettes. The same case description will be introduced in student’s biology and nursing first semester courses. The case description is followed by a set of questions designed to apply the material and techniques currently being learnt in each course (i.e. a different set of questions per course) such that students will be able to link nursing and biology concepts to one single scenario. We created a learning outcome table (see below) with a breakdown by semester and by department that can be used to guide the COPD case study, but also act as a template to create and implement more case studies moving forward.

The first semester serves as an introduction to the basics of patient care as well as chronic pathologies relating to the respiratory system. In subsequent semesters, students would be presented with Pamela’s scenario as her degenerative disease progresses. The idea would be to highlight the aspects of the pathology that make use of the concepts currently being taught in each specific course. For example, the case study in Human Biology for Nurses III will reveal that Pamela had a genetic predisposition to COPD. Follow-up questions in this course will incorporate the theoretical principles presented in this course, namely genetic inheritance, protein synthesis, and protein function. Ultimately, we will be developing a case presentation for each of the first four semesters of the 6-semester Nursing program that will be seen in both biology and nursing courses.

We will continue our collaboration with the Nursing department to ensure that the presented case study truly integrates and puts into practice the course material being taught in nursing and biology courses. In addition, we will use the learning outcomes table as a template to create additional case studies to reinforce the integration between nursing and biology.

Finally, what a fantastic experience.  It was such a great pleasure to work with like-minded colleagues who are so willing to lend a helping hand.  We truly feel inspired and grateful to have been part of the learning community project.


III. Race, Ethnicity, and Migration – A first-semester General Studies Social Science course cluster  

– Selma Hamdani (Psychology) and Cornelia Howell (Anthropology) in collaboration with Gesche Peters (History)

We worked to create a learning community that would run as a pilot project in the Fall 2020 semester including three introduction classes, specifically in General Studies Social Science. The theme of this cluster will be race, ethnicity and migration. In the current world political climate, societies are trying to figure out how to deal with new immigrants.

History can show us how the issue has been dealt with over time.  Anthropology, through understanding the role that migration has played in human evolution, and looking at cultural relativism, helps us see how we are all one species of hominid. Psychology will use principles of Social Psychology to explore the effects of acculturation, cultural bereavement, prejudice/discrimination, and various motivation aspects of identity. The brain and behavior section of the course will investigate effects that epigenetics have on inter-generational behavioural and neural legacies.

Our design process touched broadly on the following objectives:

  1. a) Teachers of these three classes will commit to using the underlying theme as much as possible in the course. They will also meet at least three times, once before the semester starts in order to organize the classes, once during the semester to ensure that things are running as planned, and once at the end of the semester in order to debrief on the process.
  2. b) Each course will have at least one assignment that would focus on the theme and encourage students to use material from the other two classes.
  3. c) This pilot project will also run with the idea of turning this theme into an enjeux course that would exist after the program revision has been put into place.
  4. d) The idea of ethnicity, race, and immigration is in alignment with the Journeys program, the Peace, Women and Gender as well as the Indigenous studies certificates and makes a connection with lived experience outside the college (many students are immigrants themselves, this can help them make sense of their experience).

Over W20, we worked specifically on:

  • Reading the course manuals/textbooks assigned for the three classes
  • Preparing common learning outcomes addressed by all three courses
  • Meeting with teachers who teach these classes and have a special interest in the theme to understand how their courses work, how they approach the material, and look at intersections of the elements of the competencies for the classes
  • Determining which parts of the courses are ripe for including the theme specifically in the lectures, activities, and/or assignments
  • Preparing a course description for our outlines and the online course catalogue

Remaining on our to-do list:

  • In consultation with Gesche Peters in history, creating an assignment that can be done in each class that focuses on the theme, and is equitable across the three courses in terms of value of the assessment and amount of work required by the students
  • Creating an information document that can be accessed by IS teachers using a similar theme, so they can see how this learning community that can be built on in the IS research, and a guide to ensure this cluster is connected to specific courses and not specific teachers
  • Creating an electronic portfolio for students so they can keep track of the work done on this topic that could be of use in their methods classes.

The exciting thing about being involved in a learning community is that it brings you out of your bubble. The opportunity to talk with a colleague who is outside your department about content and course organization is re-energizing. You get to be excited about teaching because you’re not alone. You explore your own content in a new light through the eyes of a different discipline. Blending different strengths and having someone to lean on lets you get more out of your own strong points. Teaching online can be challenging, but being part a Learning Community gives you access to a network that helps make it all manageable. We hope that the student will benefit from this new course format and will gain a deeper and multidimensional understanding of our topic.


IV. Living on the Land: Regards sur la vie traditionnelle autochtone  

– Cindy Cantin Starzenski (Physical Education) and Lysanne Audy (French)

Cindy has for several years been teaching a physical education class called Nature Retreat: Traditional Indigenous Outdoor Activities.   For the new course pairing with French  the name will change to Living on the Land: Traditional Indigenous Outdoor Activities. This class is for students in their third or fourth semester (103 class). With this Land-based course, students are able to deepen their understanding of the Atikamekw culture and are able to link Indigenous practices to present day outdoor recreation.

The Phys Ed intensive portion occurs in Manawan, Quebec, over 3 days. The activities include canoeing, fishing, building and tending fires, sleeping in tipis, identifying plants and trees, and many more activities all in the context of Atikamekw culture. Atikamekw guides accompany our students throughout the intensive.

Manawan is a very unique community in that 98% of the population uses Atikamekw as their first language. The second language in Manawan is French. All of the story-telling, instructions, directions, and sharing from the Atikamekw guides to our students is done in French. Through another language students discover another culture. The students come to realize that language is both a conveyor of cultural heritage and a bridge to mutual understanding.

Combining this course with Lysanne’s French class seemed to be a natural fit, and beneficial in many ways:

  • Interaction with the Atikamekw people is in French, therefore providing students with an opportunity to practice their French communication skills;
  • In French class, students could learn vocabulary specific to this experience;
  • Students would be able to deepen their understanding of Indigenous culture, and Indigenous History in Canada with their French teacher;
  • Having time, in French class, to explore Indigenous issues in Canada and Quebec would enrich the student’s appreciation for the uniqueness of this experience, and allow them to process the meaning of what they learned and experienced;
  • Students would be able to develop more understanding of what kinds of actions they can take towards reconciliation and peace-building.

Cindy’s course has been very successful so far in both developing an interest in outdoor activities and in opening the door towards reconciliatory thought and actions for our students. Creating a multi-disciplinary Block B course with French will enrich the learning and the experience so much further. Linking two disciplines, French and Physical Education, fosters the emergence of a third component: developing an understanding of Indigenous culture.

Puisque le cours Living on the Land: Traditional Indigenous Outdoor Activities est donné à des élèves de 2e année, nous souhaiterions explorer l’idée de concevoir un cours à double crédit en jumelant le 2e cours de français obligatoire pour les élèves, plus précisément le cours bloc B en format multiniveaux transdisciplinaire.

Dans ce cours du bloc B, les élèves doivent développer des compétences de français en lien avec leur programme d’études. Ce cours permettrait de faire un pont entre les préoccupations autochtones et le domaine de spécialité de l’élève. Voici quelques exemples de thèmes possibles à aborder sous la forme de glossaires, projets, fiches de lecture, journal de bord, etc.

  • Élèves en sciences : la faune et la flore, géographie du territoire, notions de physique appliquée (canot, tipis…)
  • Élèves en sciences humaines : l’histoire de la nation atikamekw et du colonialisme, le système matriarcal, la protection de l’enfance, l’éducation traditionnelle…
  • Élève en arts : légendes autochtones de la création, la langue, la confection des outils traditionnels, etc.

Nous sommes convaincues que ce projet commun ne serait pas seulement un cours : il serait une expérience de vie. En français, les élèves apprendraient, avant le voyage, à connaitre ces nations autochtones qui vivent à côté de nous. Pendant le voyage et après, ils apprendraient à communiquer leur expérience de la manière la plus juste et la plus inspirante possible afin qu’un pont à la fois, nous bâtissions un vivre-ensemble meilleur avec les nations autochtones.

Finally, thanks to all  involved in LCs for the support and understanding – especially to Pat Romano, who was our General Education LC lead.   We have made significant progress over W20 in our concept, in the big picture of how we will combine the courses, and on specific elements like our integrative assessment and our combined class schedules. We are looking forward to continuing our work on the course outlines and on the details of our combined evaluations.


V. Integration of Environment Seminar with English Ecological Literacy BXE

– Ian MacKenzie (English)

After discussions with Brian Mader, Tonia de Bellis and Anna-Liisa Aunio, Ian worked to realign the timing of course content and learning activities in his English course so that students would be able to attend Dawson’s biweekly Environment Seminar speaker series.  The English course, Ecological Literacy, focuses on the rhetoric of environmental controversies, which allowed for many points of connection with the topics of the Environment Seminar.

Once the speakers and topics were scheduled, units in the English course were organized to highlight connections to readings and learning activities both in preparation for and as follow-ups to the seminars.  Topics in the course and the speaker series included

  • Unit I: What is ecological literacy? Complex problems, public controversy and rhetorical strategies
  • The “duty to consult”- Chief Ross Montour, Lynn Jacobs, Kahnawake Environment Protection Office
  • Unit II: Is a biocentric worldview possible? Evolution by natural selection and its implications
  • Environmental change and behavioral flexibility: Japanese monkeys and disability on Awaji Island, Japan – Sarah Turner, Department of Geography, Planning and Environment, Concordia University
  • Unit III: Can agriculture be efficient, sustainable, and just?  Sustainability, food systems and well being
  • Gardening for Social Ills – Mitchell McLarnon, Intergated Studies in Education, McGill University 
  • Unit IV.  Why can’t people agree on climate change?  Polarization in climate politics  
  • Climate politics and Canadian politics – Elizabeth May, Leader, Green Party of Canada
  • Unit V: Good neighbors in the biotic community?  Landscape ecology and future scenario modelling
  • Climate Change and Arctic Ecosystems – Marrianne Falardeau, research biologist, McGill University

Six of the seven seminars were held before classes were abandoned after the March study break.   Students benefitted several times from extra time with the speakers after the conclusion of their presentations.  A highlight was spending an additional hour with Elizabeth May during her visit to Dawson.

Elizabeth May and Ecological Literacy students

The course attracted a diverse student enrollment from 14 different programs, including Commerce, Studio Arts, Law Society & Justice, Health Science, Civil and Mechanical Technologies, Nursing, North-South Studies – as well as Environmental Science and Environmental Studies, whose students attend the seminar series as a requirement.

Special thanks to Anna-Liisa, Tonia and Brian, who year after year succeed in organizing an outstanding schedule of Environment Seminar speakers and topics.


VI. Vertical integration of Social Science methods courses with a Decolonization and Indigenization thematic focus

Ben Lander (History), in collaboration with Elizabeth Kirkland (History), Eliot Kerr (Sociology), and Mark Beauchamp (History)

Our proposal was to create a thematic methods course progression that connects the three mandatory Social Science methods courses together into a thematic offering.  The focus for our proposed thematic methods progression is Colonialism and Indigenous Resilience.  We envisioned our offering as part of General Social Science and potentially as part of the new Decolonization and Indigenization Studies certificate.  We also hope that our proposed thematic methods courses will become a template for other thematic course progressions.  Thematic methods courses would create a more coherent and meaningful learning experience for students and teachers alike as these are courses that generally lack content, or a connection to real-world issues. When these issues are introduced, they lead to concrete connections to the different theories, methods, and tools that these methods courses are meant to teach. We see particular promise for these clusters in General Social Science where retention, particularly in methods classes, has proven to be challenging.

This winter we began to develop the thematic course progression of RM, QM and IS with a group of interested faculty and students, some of whom are already part of the DIS certificate – in a similar way to that process used in the creation of the Gender Matters learning community.  We held a series of meetings with students, teachers, staff, community members and others who interested in the subject.  In this way we began to develop a curriculum that draws on all social science disciplines, Indigenous knowledge and pedagogies and other community knowledge.  The goal remains to produce a thematic course progression in the methods sequence that is malleable and changeable so that teachers from different departments are able to step in and out of the methods teaching roles from term-to-term. We see this as the most sustainable and transferable model within the context of Dawson College. Topics that we began addressing include:

  • The relationship between students’ ancestral histories and the colonization of the unceded territory of Montreal.
  • The differences between western social science research ethics and Indigenous research ethics.
  • The gendered, racialized and colonial reality of information gathering, library systems and academic sources in general.
  • The history of scientific and social science research on Indigenous populations, highlighting both the horrific crimes as well as best practices and successes.
  • The use of statistics, both historical and contemporary to understand historical and contemporary situations and mindsets.
  • The development of numeracy and the ability to make powerful arguments using statistics and statistical displays.
  • We discussed linking with campus based and community organizations to facilitate experiential learning.  These could include a trip to visit the cultural centre in Kahnawake, walks around the Dawson neighbourhood, and perhaps a partnership with the new day shelter, Resilience Montreal, that is opening a few blocks from us.
  • A major theme will be our communities’ (however that is defined by students and teachers) relationship and responsibility to this land and the Indigenous people who live here.
  • The students will definitely take part in the Kairos Blanket Exercise, perhaps as a culminating activity in IS.

This winter we developed a framework for the Decolonization and Indigenization Studies methods progression. We have developed a structure that will see students move up Bloom’s taxonomy from a position of understanding in RM to application and analysis in QM and finally to evaluation and creation in IS.

We have some evidence of the potential of this structure. In essence we are combining classes that already existed in practice but weren’t connected in any way other than that they were taught by the same teachers. This term, two of those teachers taught IS and Advanced History with students who had taken either RM, RM and QM (the Learning Community, Social Justice in Canada?) or just the Learning Community QM with these teachers.

The teachers noticed that the students who had taken RM generally knew more than students who hadn’t taken the RM with us, but weren’t much further ahead when it came to analysis of the topics presented in IS. The students who had taken the QM class, on the other hand, were far more advanced in their knowledge and analysis of these subjects and were able to pull the class along to really interesting places. The few students who had taken both the RM and the QM were extremely well prepared to evaluate, create and take action towards decolonization and indigenization. It should be noted that the first three students to ever receive the Decolonization and Indigenization Studies certificate took both the QM and IS in this progression and all of them plan on pursuing these topics in university.

Looking forward, we will be working on QM in the fall of 2021 to ascertain whether it is possible to offer a version of the course that is not part of a Learning Community; the dearth of disaggregated data in Canada on race and numerous other social justice topics makes this difficult. We will also be working to finalize what the IS class will look like and will offer our first version of it in the winter of 2022. Lastly, we want to work on formalizing this structure within the systems that exist at Dawson so that it is easier for students and teachers to enter this collaborative project, which in the end is what will allow it to continue and thrive.


VII.  Introduction to Research in Neuroscience – A new Complementary Contemporary Issues 365

– Helene Nadeau (Physics) and Sylvia Cox (Psychology)

Complementary courses are meant to widen the learning experience of our students. Most of the time, they are discipline specific. We believe it is important for our students to experience a true multidisciplinary environment to take advantage of the variety of their backgrounds and to learn about the interconnectedness of disciplines in the applied work field. As an introduction to research in Neuroscience, our course will use concepts in Physics, Psychology, Biology, Chemistry, Mathematics, Engineering and Computer Science. The course will be of interest and accessible to anyone curious about the brain, regardless of their background in arts or science.

In Cegep, when faced with the difficult decision of choosing a career path, students have few opportunities to get involved in a realistic and applied research setting. This is unfortunate considering the impact such experience could have on their career choice. We know that there is a large appetite for such opportunity: last summer, over 100 students applied to be part of our summer program, despite the absence of any financial or course credit. Clearly, the demand surpasses the offer by a large margin.

Sylvia Cox and I have been running the Dawson Research in Neuroscience Group for several years. We have developed a fruitful extracurricular program of introduction to research that brings together students from various programs in the College, in particular Science (Pure and applied and Health profiles) and Social Science (Psychology profile). Students get a very good feel of what interdisciplinary research is about and how much one learns from working with people of different backgrounds.

Now we have been working to apply this experience to the development of a credit course that aims to develop skills necessary not only for research (communication skills, team work/collaboration skills, self-efficiency, problem-solving, thinking outside of the box, etc.), but for any occupation or application in society where one needs to adapt quickly to ever-changing landscapes.

The umbrella of Neuroscience covers a wide variety of topics giving us the flexibility to tailor the course to the students’ interests and thus allowing for a student-centered active learning approach. While performing a research project, possibly using simple EEG devices owned by the College, the students will familiarize themselves with searching accessible scientific literature, designing a scientific experiment, writing a proposal for the research ethics board, testing subjects, analysing data with specialized software, discussing and disseminating results. After completing this course, the students would be eligible to participate in the Summer Internship, where they would work in laboratories in Montreal.

We started the W20 semester by establishing the course framework with the learning outcomes, elements of competency, performance criteria, pedagogical and assessment activities and timeline.

Then we designed a plan for the course, matching topics, activities and performance criteria.

We have also worked on the Muse hardware and software but need to complete this task such that we have a system that works smoothly before Winter 2021. Furthermore we will design a strategy for recruitment in Fall 2020, using the suggestions provided during the last meeting of the Learning Communities.

An important part of our collaboration is to make sure that the new course will be suitable to students from any program. Joining our forces from Social Sciences and Natural Sciences resulted in a well-defined, multidisciplinary complementary course. Though Sylvia and I have been collaborators for years, coming up with evaluation strategies together was somewhat new to us. It definitively enlarged the scope of possibilities but also gave a new dimension to our fruitful collaboration.

Thank you very much to all for this exceptional opportunity!

LC Project Development – Winter 2020

Watch for updates here by June on the following curriculum development projects:

  • A DIS-themed French and Phys Ed intensive pairing, designed by Lysane Audy (French) and Cindy Starzenski (PE), to take place in the Atikamekw community of Manawan.
  • A Neuroscience Research 365 Complementary, designed and co-taught by Helene Nadeau (Physics) and Sylvia Cox (Pyschology)
  • A DIS- themed Social Science Research Methods sequence, designed by a team led by Ben Lander (History)
  • A three-course first semester General Studies Social Science cluster of Western Civilization, General Psychology and Introduction to Anthropology.  Led by Selma Hamdani (Psychology) and Cynthia Howell (Anthropology)
  • A BXE Ecological Literacy course integrated with Dawson’s Environment Seminar speaker series.  Ian MacKenzie (English)
  • A Nursing – Biology collaboration to integrate a Nursing case study into the contributing discipline Human Body courses, taught in the Nursing program by the Biology department.  Led by Gina Gentile and Richard Calve (Biology)
  • A collaboration between Mathematics and Analytical Laboratory Technologies which will see peer instruction across cohorts of the Lab Tech program.  Led by Steve Holden (Chemistry) and Rodney Acteson (Mathematics)

Scaling Up Learning Communities 2020-2022

Over the Winter 2019 semester, the LC Task Force and its three Working Groups (in Science, Social Science and Certificates) were busy with consultations and brainstorming sessions leading to the development of four planning frameworks that will guide new developments in the Learning Communities project through 2022.   The process drew on more than 60 teachers for input, producing more than 400 ideas on priorities for future directions.  The frameworks were presented to Deans in June for feedback and discussion, have just been reviewed at the September Senate meeting, and will be presented to the Board of Governors this fall.   Anyone interested in the future directions of the Learning Communities project is invited to browse the overview of the project and details of the planning frameworks in the document below.

Coming later in September: A call for new proposals for Learning Community Winter 2020 projects.  Proposals will be welcomed from sectors where LCs have already been implemented (Science, General Social Science and Certificates) and equally from other programs and profiles interested in developing and prototyping innovative ideas for new curricular structures that prioritize interdisciplinary teaching and integrative learning.For more information, contact LC Working Group leads Pat Romano (Certificates), Jean-François Brière and Annie-Hélène Samson (Science) or Lisa Steffen (Social Science).

Spring Brainstorming Sessions

This winter, working groups in Social Science, Enriched Science and Certificates have been generating plans for future developments in the Learning Communities project.  In April, all three groups invited faculty in their respective domains to participate in brainstorming sessions that cast a wide net for ideas related to collaborative teaching and interdisciplinary learning.







More than 60 teachers responded to the invitation, and in 4 different sessions generated more than 400 ideas on how to grow the LC project over the next 5 years. The working groups have been busy sifting and summarizing several small mountains of post-its, with the aim of ensuring each group’s final strategic plan is aligned with teacher input. Plans from each working group will be presented to the Dawson community by the end of the winter semester.

LC Project Development: Strategic Planning W19

Work is underway this winter on a new 5-year plan for developments in the Learning Communities project.  A faculty task force with representation from Science, Social Science and Certificates/Special Areas of Study is examining how to build on the successes of the  interdisciplinary team-taught courses launched over 2016-2018 in the 3-year pilot phase of the project.  With a mandate from the Strategic Plan Implementation Committee, this task force has created working groups in each of the three domains noted above.  The working groups are following a research and design methodology which will result in the submission of 3 distinct action plans to the Implementation Committee by June 2019.  The process consists of research and consultation; narrowing of planning objectives; brainstorming new formats and ways of addressing obstacles; and prototyping and testing new LC structures for feedback.  The members of the LC Task Force are Ian MacKenzie, Lisa Steffen, Jean-François Brière, Annie-Hélène Samson, and Pat Romano.

Read on to learn about the membership of the individual working groups, and the topics they are discussing.  If you’d like to attend a meeting or make a contribution to one of the working groups, they are meeting on a weekly/bi-weekly basis over W19.  Get in touch with one of the working group members to find out more.


Science LC Working Group: Jean-François Brière, Annie-Hélène Samson, Yoon-Seo Uh, Andreea Panait

Under consideration:

  • Design or adaptation of math, biology, physics and chemistry courses offered in career programs that target student success challenges in the programs; that are effectively aligned/integrated with appropriate program courses; and that are transferable between science teachers.
  • Expanding availability of Learning Community initiatives in Enriched Science by exploring models beyond paired courses.
  • Applying some of the initiatives developed in Enriched Science to the rest of the science program.


Social Science

Social Science LC Working Group: Lisa Steffen, Geoffery Pearce, Madeleine Côté, Cornelia Howell

Under discussion:

  • Developing new formats permitting thematic course clusters for 1st semester required courses for General Studies students
  • Exploring options for thematic course clusters in the upper level discipline courses.
  • Building on the current examples of discipline courses paired with QM and RM to consider other Learning Community frameworks to enrich the methods sequence
  • Looking to create themed clusters of Integrative Seminar classes for the General Social Science students


Certificates / Special Areas of Study

Certificates/Special Areas of Study LC Working Group: Pat Romano, Ivan Freud, Mark Beauchamp, Brian Mader, Joel Trudeau, Michael Duckett, Jaya Nilakantan, Kim Simard, Susan Finch, Leila Roiter

Under discussion:

  • Flexible curricular structures that will facilitate access to certificates for students.
  • The role of graduate attributes and learning outcomes in creating and developing certificates.
  • How certificates/special areas can facilitate student success in Gen Ed requirements.
  • Refining and expanding links between curricular and co-curricular learning activities.
  • Defining coordination needs and examining new options for meeting those needs.
  • Identifying other key factors for the institutional sustainability of certificates, such as recruiting, communication, and assessment strategies.

Watch for further updates on the progress of these working groups over the rest of the winter semester.

If you’d like more information about this winter’s planning, or anything regarding the Learning Communities initiative, don’t hesitate to contact LC project lead Ian MacKenzie.

Call for Participants – Learning Community Project Development Winter 2019

With the completion of the Fall 2018 semester, Learning Communities will enter a new phase of planning for the future.  With the completion of the 2015-2018 start-up period of course development, the 2018-19 academic year sees 24 interdisciplinary courses on offer.  These courses have been developed and launched in two programs (Science and Social Science); three General Education certificates and special areas of study (Women and Gender, Peace, Reflections), and in collaboration with two co-curricular activities (SPACE and E-Week).

The institutional rationale for Learning Communities can be found in Dawson’s 2016-2021 Strategic Plan, which identifies LCs as a high-impact practice central to achieving the first goal of the plan: “Foster intentional and coordinated approaches to developing the Graduate Profile outcomes.”  Learning Communities faculty, for their part, are involved in the project because they see interdisciplinary teaching and integrative learning as central to meeting the complex challenges that await our students as the 21st century advances.

Surveying completed over the pilot phase at Dawson indicates that the learning community approach can have significant positive impacts on student learning and engagement, just as the research literature suggests.  And positive impacts extend to faculty as well, who report increased professional and personal satisfaction.

To build on the work already done and to map out developments over the next several years, Winter 2019 will be an intensive period of consultation and planning.  Teams of teachers in three domains – Enriched Science, Social Science, and Gen Ed certificates/special areas of study – will be working on a range of challenges presented by the prospects of sustaining current LC offerings and developing new ones.  These challenges include (but are not limited to)

  • Optimizing existing modes of integrative learning, such as paired courses and courses integrated with co-curricular activities.
  • Evaluating alternate modes of curricular integration (course clusters, for example) that might complement what we do already.
  • Developing collaborative approaches to recruiting and registration across college units.
  • Identifying and addressing faculty needs for professional development in interdisciplinary course design and integrative learning.

Over the course of W19, there will be a variety of opportunities to participate and contribute, for both current LC teachers and new teachers curious about getting involved in the project.

If you’d like to jump in deep, and commit time and energy to being a team leader for this next phase of Learning Communities at Dawson, now is the time to signal your interest.  There are limited resources available to support release for W19 for teachers in each of three domains: Enriched Science, Social Science, and Gen Ed Certificates/special areas of study.  To apply, contact Ian MacKenzie by December 7 with a message outlining 1) your rationale for getting involved in W19 as a team leader, and 2) previous involvement with the LC project or with other interdisciplinary curricular projects.