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.




Fall 2018 Learning Community Courses

This fall, 18 different courses are running under the banner of the Learning Communities project.  To find out how integrative learning is progressing across the disciplines, read on for an update on from the teachers.

First-time LC offerings include:

Carl Saucier-Bouffard – “Business Ethics and the Triple Bottom Line” – Humanities Ethics

The goal of  “Business Ethics and the Triple Bottom Line” has been to integrate my Humanities Ethics BXH course with E-week co-curricular activities.  To complement our preparatory work on the main theories in normative ethics, my students took part in a field trip to La Gaillarde, a non-for profit boutique on rue Notre-Dame that specializes in ecologically-friendly and locally-made clothing.  They then had to complete an assignment on one of the eco-designers represented in this boutique.  They have also completed many other active learning activities, including one aimed at evaluating the dishonest marketing campaigns of some boutiques located in Alexis Nihon.  E-Week finally arrived last week, and my students took part in different ways: some in the Dragon’s Den’s competition and others making poster presentations in Conrod’s.  On Monday, to kick off E-Week, my students participated in an interactive workshop on the design process with Jade Vaillancourt of Vocaprep.  Later that afternoon, I gave a E-Week keynote talk on my experience as an entrepreneur trying to create an “ethical” product.   The course doesn’t finish with E-Week, however!  Last week, a representative of the vegan coat company Save-the-Duck, Rick Hinojosa gave a guest talk to my students, and the students then had to evaluate from an ethical perspective the different aspects of this company.  Finally, the last major assignment that they will have to complete will be an original business plan, in which they will have to apply the ethical concepts learned this term.   – Carl


Lisa Steffen & Susan Finch – “The Good Life?” – Western Civilization & Introduction to Psychology

The Psychology and Western Civilization Learning Community has generated positive opportunities for students to think across two disciplines to understand complex problems.   Some examples of the integrative nature of our paired courses topics:

  • The brain: Introduction to  Psychology begins with students examining the operations of the brain, and as students first discussed this they, simultaneously in Western Civ they explored how the philosophers and scientists of Ancient Greece and Rome understood the brain.
  • Perspectives:  students learned how psychology investigates the relationship between sight and seeing/interpreting; students in history compared and contrasted medieval and Renaissance art (linear perspective).
  • Bias: Students actively engaged in a self-evaluation of bias using an on-line psychology test from Harvard; connected to this exercise students explored how extreme bias can lead one people to enslave another as they explored the massive on-line database for Trans-Atlantic slave trade.
  • Obedience: students learned about the human tendency to be obedient and submit to an authority figure in psychology; the students then considered the rise of fascism in Italy and Germany.

Meanwhile, spanning the course is one over-arching theme: What makes a good life? Students realize that the question is quite complex and involved, and is one that matters deeply to them. This theme is mentioned frequently and hopefully provided much food for thought. The learning community has fostered a supportive and engaging community of new, first-year general studies students. We have had a chance to model how two different disciplines can exchange ideas and offer insights to the same problem. Hopefully, this will strengthen their performance later in IS as they will be asked to integrate different disciplines to analyze an issue. Most importantly, we hope all students leave the class with a greater appreciation for the importance of psychology and history in their own lives.   – Lisa & Susan

Benjamin Seamone & Chris Roderick / Chris Whittaker & Sylvain Moise / Jean-Francois Briere & Andreea Stanciu Panait – Enriched Science: Physics Mechanics & Calculus I

All six teachers in the Calculus I and Mechanics LC pairings are having a very positive experience. By seeing the math and physics teachers in close collaboration, students seem to be better at making connections between the two courses and at using the tools developed in math in their physics courses.  For example, in a recent class, students were given sets of Calculus functions for which they had to sketch curves, and then they used the same functions and curves to work on energy conservation diagram problems in Physics.  For first-semester science students these are very challenging tasks, but our students met the challenges eagerly and with success.  For the teachers, assisting in our colleague’s courses has helped us to become  familiar with their content, recognize new theoretical connections, and identify problems that could be studied from complementary points of view. – Andreea & JF

Dipti Gupta – “Gender Matters” – Complementary: Contemporary Issues

“Gender Matters” was designed over the W2018 semester by a team of Women and Gender Studies teachers to provide an introduction to the interdisciplinary nature of gender studies and our certificate.  Every week this fall has been an exciting journey to discover how diverse disciplines contribute, build, engage, discuss, study, and deliberate a range of fascinating and engaging topics.  We have had guest teachers from Psychology, English, History, Religion, Humanities, Cinema and Communications, Art History collaborate in co-teaching this course.  Our students are from a range of different profiles and programs at the college, and the guest teachers presented varied topics that engaged students in the politics, history, development, and contributions of Women and Gender Studies.  Some of the disciplines/teachers/topics were:

  • Psychology: Presentation by Selma Hamdani + Davina Mill: Don’t box me in: Embrace the Spectrum!
  • History and Religion:  Johanne Rabbat & Michael Wasser: Curses, Hexes & Spells: The Magic of Gender
  • A visit by a retired professor, Greta Nemiroff, who started Women and Gender studies at Dawson.
  • History: Lisa Steffen & Julie Johnson:  Noisy, Notable and Notorious: Women Navigating Public/Private Spaces, 1700 – 1900
  • Cin/Comm: Kim Simard & Dipti Gupta:  Representation of the “Other” & “Sexuality” in Cinema
  • English: Neil Hartlen: Gender and Genre:  The Science Fiction of Ursula K. Le Guin
  • Humanities: Pat Romano:  Feminists on War and Peace
  • Fine Arts: Amanda Beattie:  The Feminist Art Movement of the 60’s and 70’s

The students for their part have done presentations on key feminists and their contributions in their field of study; completed several short class exercises and mini tests through the term; and are now going to build a final class project around a topic of their choice that is connected to their program. What was most exciting was the openness of the class to different teachers, and other students as well – we had students who weren’t even enrolled drop in intermittently and participate in the course content and the discussions!  – Dipti


Returning LC courses include:

Janet Wyman & Yoon Seo-Uh – “Making the Connections” – General Biology II and Organic Chemistry

This second time for BZE General Biology II and Organic Chemistry pairing has gone so much better than the first. I cannot emphasize the importance of both teachers sitting in on each other’s class. The opportunities to connect material where we hadn’t necessarily planned on it jump out as we are teaching. Secondly, it’s a chance to connect with students at a totally new level. For example, while trying to make a model with the molecular kit a student at my table gently pointed out that I was making it wrong “uh miss you can’t make that bond…” and after that we worked as team sometimes getting it right sometimes getting it wrong but always enjoying the process. Perhaps the best moment of the semester came when we taught properties of water. We literally tag-team taught with Yoon giving 15-20 minutes then I gave 15-20 minutes for the entire period. At the end a student asked, “Was that biology or organic chemistry?” and we both answered “yes”. The integrative assessment also went very well with an incredibly smooth link between courses and material. Sharing the active classroom has also made a huge difference, it has allowed us to be more flexible with the time, for example there are periods where Yoon has needed more time for an activity which later I can take for a case study. On a personal note, I have thoroughly enjoyed sitting in on Yoon’s classes; he is a wonderful teacher and can make some very difficult material very accessible. Although it does take more work than a classical separate course it is more than worth the effort, the rewards as a teacher and the connection with the students far out-weigh the extra effort. I feel privileged to still be learning and trying new approaches as a teacher.   – Janet

Doug Smyth & Ian MacKenzie – “Nature Revisited” – Phys Ed Nature Retreat & English Literary Themes: Into the Wild

PE Nature Retreat and English 103 Into the Wild are running for the second time this fall.  The Phys Ed course focuses on developing skills and attitudes for wilderness activities, while the English provides an introduction to the American tradition of nature writing.  We’ve made some changes that have improved what was already a great experience for students and teachers alike.  In terms of the outdoor component, while last year we traveled to the Gatineau for a single three-day wilderness camping trip, this year we’ve spread two shorter excursions out over different weekends in September and October: a two-day canoe camping trip in the Laurentians, and a one-day outing to hike Mount Sutton in the Eastern Townships.  This change increased and sustained the opportunities for experiential outdoor learning.  In the classroom, the course readings and learning activities have been reorganized around a set of core practices developed by Jon Young of the Oregon Wilderness Awareness School, which has given a well-defined thematic focus to activities and course work in both Phys Ed and English.  We have also experimented this year with students using field journals to observe and identify flora and fauna, develop personal reflections, and document physical activities.  A course blog complements the field journal by allowing students to publish work connecting their documented observations and experiences with course readings.  Students are currently working on their final projects, and we are looking forward to the results! – Ian & Doug

Michael Duckett & Gray Miles – Reflections: “Tolstoy’s War and Peace” – European History & Humanities Ethics

The greatest advancement that I noticed this semester is in the progress in integration of the humanities and history components of each course. It is the second time that I have taught with Gray Miles and therefore I became much more familiar with the issues addressed in his Humanities course. This has allowed me to reinforce the learning the students do when alone in the History class with me – such as my being able to refer to Immanuel Kant’s categorical imperative in almost every class!  Another advantage of a paired course the second time around is that we get to continue conversations in front of the students that we had begun the first time around. In short, the further embedding of the two courses in each other is something that even the students are noticing and commenting upon favorably.  This is definitely reflected in their commitment to the classes; 70% of our students have not missed a single class over the entire semester.  – Michael

Elizabeth Kirkland & Ben Lander – “Counting the Costs: Social Justice in Canada?”  – Canadian History & Social Science Quantitative Methods

This second iteration of Counting the Cost has been significantly different than the first. While we have a similar-sized class of 25 students – a pretty diverse group of General Social Science students – we have faced more challenges in terms of getting the students to “buy in”. We have had some very powerful moments in the class – a great round table on an engaging reading, a team-based activity where they taught each other about various specific legal cases, and some amazing one-on-one conversations.  We also had an excellent trip to Kahnawake early in the term with a very engaging and knowledgeable tour guide arranged by Dianne Labelle.  At other times, though, we have struggled to keep the momentum as we introduce and consider a range of “heavy” social issues. We have had to adapt both the content and our pedagogical practices to keep trying to reach our students, and to find pathways to success. Currently, students are working on their major projects, in the form of a poster presentation on a social issue of their choice,  and we are optimistic that independent work will reveal deeper engagement and learning.  – Liz and Ben

Winter 2018 Learning Community Course Development

Ten teachers working in five teams are working on eight new Learning Community courses this winter.  Under development are three new course pairings, and two new General Education courses with integrated co-curricular activities.  Read below for an introduction to each team and their work.


First Choice Science

Physics: Mechanics & Calculus I – Chris Roderick, Jean-Francois Briere (Physics), Andreea Staniu-Panait, Ben Seamone (Math)

Building on the work of Janet Wyman (Biology) and Yoon-Seo Uh (Chemistry) in developing paired courses for General Biology II and Organic Chemistry I (W17 Learning Community Project), and on the continuing changes to the First Choice Science profile that seek to develop learning opportunities that are more engaging and interconnected, our work is focused on developing paired courses for Mechanics (Physics) and Calculus I (Math). The plan is for the integrated course pairing to be offered to the incoming F2018 First Choice cohort.  The future of learning at Dawson is clearly oriented towards enriched educational experiences (see Strategic Plan 2016-21). By engaging students, creating learning communities, and stimulating a more holistic learning experience, the changes being made to the First Choice Science profile seek to develop a curriculum that better reflects Dawson’s mission statement and its values, and is in line with the ongoing provincial-wide process of re-writing the science program.  A large step in this process of change is to encourage cross-disciplinary co-instruction such that the connections, content and language used in the teaching and learning of science are rich and coherent.

The disciplines of physics and mathematics share a deep and intertwined set of roots and the courses of Mechanics (203-NYA) and Calculus I (201-NYA) are a perfect pair for this project. Developed by Isaac Newton, classical mechanics and differential calculus were literally made for each other and so the coordination of their presentation to science students only makes sense. Beginning with notions of motion and rates of change there are many opportunities to both enrich and streamline each course. The idea would be to teach sections of Mechanics and Calculus I back-to-back so that integrating concepts and examples while harmonizing language, the timing of content and even evaluations is made possible.

Social Science General Studies

Western Civilization & Introduction to Psychology – Lisa Steffen (History) and Susan Finch (Psychology)

We are working on the creation of a Learning Community for first-year General Social Science students. As these students must choose two compulsory classes in Term 1, it seems that an ideal pairing is that of 350-101-DW: General Psychology and 330-101-DW: Western Civilization. How wonderful it would be if these non-profiled students were part of a cohort as they adjust to and navigate through their new Dawson community!  First semester students experience a myriad of challenges as they transition from high school to CEGEP. While many benefit from participating in a profile, the majority of Social Science students remain unaffiliated. This may lead to a sense of alienation, of frustration or of disengagement. The students may go so far as to drop-out. A loss to them and to us. A learning community seeks to counter this and helps to improve retention, motivation and individual interest. If we can design our paired psychology and history classes to focus on competencies, analytical thinking and problem solving, then we are helping these students build skill sets within the first term that can carry over to success in their other courses.

We want to explore several different modalities that might prove most efficacious to achieving the goals of student retention and student engagement—and dare we say student enthusiasm and excitement? One of the things that we both need to explore and understand better is how to cover the content required in each of these introductory courses while at the same time working together to create a cohesive experience. We both are committed to the Peace Certificate, and so perhaps this will be a lens through which to explore connective themes between our disciplines. Our intention is to create a model not just for our exclusive use, but which could serve all Social Science teachers.

General Education / Certificates / Special Areas of Study

Humanities: “Green Business Ethics” integrated with Entrepreneurship/E-Week – Carl Saucier-Bouffard (Humanities)

Given the growing awareness and concern regarding the environmental impact of business activities, a course on Environmental Business Ethics, taught by an ethics teacher, would appeal to a large group of Dawson students. All students (regardless of program) have to complete the general education Ethics course (345-BXH-DW). Moreover, this new course on Environmental Business Ethics would offer a strategic fit with many activities co-organized by Dawson College’s Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship Education, as well as with a future “Environment & Sustainability Certificate.”  This newly created course would focus on delivering “green business ethics” using a practical approach. During the first part of the course, students would be taught the main concepts of the two most influential theories in normative ethics: Kantian ethics and act utilitarianism.  Students would then be exposed to the real-life challenges in running a business that includes corporate environmental responsibility efforts. To illustrate the ethical dilemmas faced by entrepreneurs, the instructor would rely on his own experience as the founder of a small business selling ecologically friendly handbags (i.e. “Les Sacs Éthic”). In at least one of their assignments, students would have to reflect on a real-life business problem and would have to argue in defence of a solution that meets ethical requirements.

To incorporate experiential and integrative learning approaches, students would have to play an active role in some of the activities organized by Dawson College’s Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship Education. Moreover, this course would apply a case-based approach in bringing principles to life. With the rising social environmentalism trend, there are many corporations recognized for their sustainability efforts and these examples would serve to illustrate the need to apply green business practices in today’s marketplace. Finally, in order to foster learning outside the classroom, field trips would also be organized. For instance, one class would take place on the premises of La Gaillarde, a non-profit boutique in St-Henri that is specialized in eco-fashion.

Complementary: Contemporary Issues “Introduction to Women’s and Gender Studies” integrated with Women’s and Gender Certificate – Pat Romano (Humanities)

Along with a team of WGS teachers, I’m working on the development of a foundational course for the women’s/gender studies certificate that will be team-taught by 5 or 6 teachers from different disciplines/programs. The course, constructed as a complementary course, will be led by a main teacher/coordinator and include a variety of themes/topics, each one taught by a different teacher, that introduce students to the interdisciplinary nature of women’s/gender studies, while illustrating the extent to which feminism has reshaped our world.  In this course, students will have a chance to get to know fellow students and multiple teachers in the certificate, while being immersed into this rich interdisciplinary area of study. This course will allow us to meet several long-standing needs of the certificate:

  • Create the opportunity for interested women’s/gender studies students to follow a course together, helping us build a strong sense of community between students and certificate teachers.
  • Encourage students to recognize the extent to which a gendered perspective has transformed knowledge across the disciplines (possible themes that could be addressed include gender representation, women in science, women in political movements, sexuality, masculinities and feminist fiction)
  • Support on-going co-curricular women’s/gender studies activities and projects that will be connected to the course (e.g. It Happens Here, International Women’s Week).
  • Support cross-disciplinary collaboration and exchanges between faculty members.

Our goal is for this course to serve as a central hub for women’s/gender studies activities at the college. This is a grassroots initiative supported by faculty members in the certificate, and our hope is that there will be much diversity in both themes and participating teachers across the semesters. We are also considering the possibility of making the course schedule available to all women’s/gender studies faculty to encourage interested faculty to attend a class on a theme that interests them. With an ever increasing enrollment in the certificate, we think the time is right. This course will likely count for 2 credits (out of the required 5 credits needed) for the women’s/gender studies certificate so as to make it of significant value to the certificate students, while still ensuring that the certificate remains as accessible as possible.

Humanities World Views & French Language and Culture “La democratie en question” – Sean Elliott (Humanities) & Carmen-Silva Cristea (French)

Au moment de l’effondrement des régimes totalitaires de l’Europe de l’Est, Francis Fukuyama publiait un article intitulé  « The End of History ? »,  à la fois provocateur et optimiste, qui annonçait la victoire universelle de la démocratie libérale.   Or, les événements politiques qui agitent la scène internationale depuis quelques années semblent remettre en question la thèse optimiste de Fukyama.  La démocratie libérale a-t-elle encore un avenir ? Représente-elle encore un modèle universellement applicable ? Ce sont des questions qui  reviennent en force hanter la scène politique actuelle et qui constitueront le noyau de la réflexion menée dans notre cours.

Ce cours jumelé se propose avant tout de sensibiliser les étudiants à des questions qui tourmentent notre société, tout en stimulant leur pensée critique et leur capacité d’analyse et de compréhension des problématiques contemporaines.  Nous ambitionnons de rendre nos étudiants plus réceptifs à ces questions de société, et en même temps, de leur inculquer le désir d’être des citoyens actifs, capables de se positionner par rapport à ces problèmes de société et de proposer des solutions. Les travaux proposés dans le cadre du cours permettront également aux étudiants de développer des compétences inhérentes aux disciplines que nous enseignons : comprendre et analyser un texte, expliquer  une théorie,  synthétiser et organiser des idées, rédiger un texte en français et en anglais.

Nous inciterons les étudiants à réfléchir sur les questions suivantes :

  • le rapport individu/ société
  • la relation entre la liberté individuelle et la responsabilité
  • l’interprétation différente voire divergente de la notion de liberté en fonction du contexte social, historique ou politique
  • le rôle et l’importance des différentes institutions de l’état démocratique
  • la relation entre éthique et liberté
  • l’état providence versus le néolibéralisme

Ce cours – dispensé en anglais et en français –  accordera une place importante aux discussions de groupe, aux débats argumentés et aux projets d’équipe interdisciplinaires et/ou multimédias.  Nous envisageons également d’inviter des conférenciers pour partager leur savoir en la matière et témoigner de leur expérience civique ou politique.


Watch for updates later in the spring, when the teams are well advanced in the course design process.  At that point, they’ll be sharing their ideas for integrative assignments, and presenting draft versions of their common course schedules.

Peace 365 & SPACE: Make Things that Matter – Linking Curricular and Extra-curricular Learning

Two new Complementary Contemporary Issues courses running this winter feature direct ties between classroom learning activities and well-known Dawson extra-curricular initiatives.


Peace 365, designed by Ivan Freud, puts students to work examining the relationship to self, others and nature through the lens of peace studies, and also participating in new Peace Certificate and Peace Centre activities outside the classroom.

Peace 365 is designed as gateway course for the Peace Certificate, using the Learning Communities model as an approach to course design, permitting the integration with co-curricular activities of the Peace Certificate and Peace Centre.  This gateway course creates an opportunity for dialogue between teachers and students/classes in terms of developing both separate and common learning outcomes and assessments across the Peace Certificate and could serve as the foundation or hub for the Peace Certificate’s Communities of Practice (CoP) of both faculty and students.

The Peace 365 course is divided into the three categories, those outlined by Abdennour Bidar in his recent book “Les Tisserands,” namely the relationships of “self to self,” “self to other/community,” and “self to nature/the environment.” The overall endeavor is to weave these three realms together to help peace-minded individuals promote peaceful communities in sustainable relationships with the environment.

More specific learning outcomes are grouped under these headings (Self, Community, Nature), each of which begins with the development of knowledge from multiple perspectives, and proceeds to applications involving the integration of multiple disciplines.  By the end of this course students will be able

  • To develop a poised, non-reactive, objective awareness of one’s thoughts and feelings. Mark Twain is quoted as saying, “I’ve lived through a lot of horrible things in my life and some of them actually happened.” Given that we cause ourselves a lot of unnecessary suffering through our interpretation of events in our lives, developing an awareness of our internal dialogue would thus be of great benefit in reducing one’s suffering. As one reduces one’s own suffering, one automatically reduces the suffering of those around them.
  • To develop and employ non-violent interpersonal communication skills in mediation and conflict transformation.
  • To apply a fundamental understanding of ecosystems and generate strategies of how to live in harmony with nature while promoting both individual and communal sustainability.


In SPACE: Make Things that Matter, led by SPACE coordinator Joel Trudeau, students are learning about design thinking methodologies, and then using them to address real-world problems and challenges, with an eye to presenting their major projects in the annual SPACE exhibition.

SPACE 365: Make Things That Matter is part of an integrated learning community in conjunction with SPACE (Sciences Participating with Arts and Culture in Education) at Dawson College. It embraces the notion that all problems, even the seemingly intractable ones, can be solved through human ingenuity and a collective desire to improve the lives of everyone. The course explores problem solving, innovation, and the future through the application of design thinking, social impact tool sets and related methodologies. A sequence of design challenges and activities linked with various innovation initiatives concretize the methods. Students generate, develop and realize their own breakthrough ideas by way of learning basic skills of brainstorming, research, prototyping, and public presentations. Collaborating in groups, they may pursue any problem that aligns with the yearly theme of the course, can be related to a contemporary issue and has the potential for a synthesis of disciplines.

All project ideas are placed in an appropriate social context where students draw on different areas of knowledge in the consideration and treatment of contemporary issues from a cross-disciplinary perspective. Students are encouraged to derive inspiration and incorporate knowledge, skills and problems from their programs and other learning activities. Final projects may be presented in a variety of public venues and will be linked with annual SPACE co-curricular undertakings.

Some highlights so far this term:

The course is a third of the way through and we have reached a few noteworthy milestones with this first MTTM cohort. In the main, confusion has been replaced by curiosity and a sense of possibility, apprehension with trust, and passive attention with active, ambitious engagement. There is a collegial and collaborative spirit in the class that has been fostered by the course methods and the AL environment.

The class is diverse (12 different programs/profiles) and though less than one half of the students were pre-registered because of interest or previous affiliation with SPACE, they seem to be ideal for testing implementations of the course.

The new AL classroom (3H.10), which was not completely furnished or functioning as intended during the first 5 weeks, has presented another resonant methodological layer as we adapt to its uses and changes. We are learning the nureva span software that links our meeting work with the cloud. Though iterations away from fluid, natural use, it’s not a challenge to see how this will bolster collaboration in and out of the classroom.

The course content has been curated to draw out the relevance of the course methods, but there has been an adjustment period to the freedom offered in selecting breakthrough project ideas to develop and cycle. So far students have progressed through two design challenges: they have re-designed the gift-giving experience for another person and made or modified their own journals for reflection and research in the course.

They have experienced positive aspects of engagement, inquiry, and collaboration, as a class and in groups. Two unique exercises worth highlighting have reinforced the positive atmosphere. We explored connections, however spurious, of individual, passion-fueled interest with the 2017-18 SPACE theme of en-tropy by formulating questions (e.g. What if we allowed society to decay into chaos?). These questions were explored in groups, then at the class level in a fishbowl arrangement by responding to an input question of a student volunteer with dialogue formulated only in terms of questions. This exercise brought into focus the importance and difficulty of asking good questions as well as listening when the desire is to answer with or defend a position.

In an attempt to form bonds across the groups and to experience a diversity of ideas from students with different backgrounds directly we also conducted a “speed dating” exercise where individual questions were presented and students exchanged personal information in pairs. At the end of class we observed the impact of our exchanges by stringing thread between individuals who had interacted in pairs, left impressions within the group or during the fishbowl exercise. We were all connected, a clearly powerful visual metaphor (even for our blind student who sees the world in remarkable ways!).

Also noteworthy: On Feb. 6th the class witnessed and responded in real time to the SPACEX launch of the Falcon Heavy rocket. The idea of using science fiction to prototype possible futures, another methodological lens for the course, could not have been better demonstrated. They were assigned to write a micro science fiction prototype (a kind of flash fiction treating a futuristic scenario) linked to a contemporary issue of interest to help creatively define a major project. Major project proposals are now being submitted for feedback and soon will be prototyped for testing and further feedback. What the outcomes will be are not clear yet, but there seems to be genuine excitement about the ideas being explored and an eagerness to research and learn.





Integrative Learning in “The American Banjo Project” at MassArt

In November, I had the opportunity to visit the Massachusetts College of Art and Design in Boston, and drop in on an innovative paired course undertaking.  “The American Banjo Project” links an art history course with a course in studio technologies, and provides a great example of the potential of interdisciplinary and integrative learning.  The studio part is led by sculptors Rick and Laura Brown, MassArt sculpture professors and also founders of Handshouse Studio, while the historical angle is handled by art historian Ezra Shales, who specializes in American craft and material culture.

Laura Brown of MassArt talking about student work for “The American Banjo Project.” Student built replicas of 17thC plantation banjos are on display on the hallways of the college. In the same displays are selected period drawings and paintings that students analyze in their history course, and then use to guide the design and construction process in their studio course.

Shales examines the evolution of the banjo in American culture as the instrument travels in time and morphs in nature, from Africa to the plantations of the American south; from the overtly racists songs and miming of 19th century minstrel shows to its appearances as a mainstay of Appalachian mountain music; and from its appropriation in therenaissance of American folk music in the 20th century forward to its re-appropriation in the contemporary genres and sub-genres of “roots” music. Students learn about the materials and techniques of instrument making in the New World, with a focus on how the craft-based origins of the African predecessors of the banjo are eventually transformed in America by the shift to mass production processes ushered in by the Industrial Revolution. Meanwhile, in the wood studio with Rick and Laura, each student embarks on an individual project to create a full-size working replica of a 17th century plantation gourd banjo.

The resulting experience sees the group struggling through a thicket of challenges, intellectual and artistic. They confront the explicitly racist-supremacist foundations of American economic and social development, and the lingering expressions of that racism in myriad forms in in different time periods in American culture. At the same time, they struggle with the technical challenges of designing and building a functioning musical instrument based on original sketches and paintings from the 17th and 18th century.

Rick Brown of MassArt demonstrates a step in assembly of the banjo for students at work in the wood studio.   Students use materials similar to those that would have been involved for the original instruments. The body of the plantation banjo, for example, is shaped from the calabash gourd, whose genetic origins are African but which was present in the Americas from prehistoric times.

Laura Brown and students in the studio discuss the day’s design & build challenges.

… and then shift to full-scale plans that guide the cutting and assembly of the various parts of the instrument.

Student designs begin with rough sketches based on the period artifacts….

The class has access to an important local archive of primary artifacts and documents related to the banjo and other instruments of 17th & 18thC America, which allows students to grasp how the instrument is entwined historically with racism and the subjugation and ridicule of African Americans…

…and reference to these documents in the studio means that the work in progress is constantly being regrounded in the historical facts and circumstances.

A MassArt student talks about the feedback she’s just received on the first draft of her history paper, an analysis of the social and cultural aspects of a period photograph.

Art historian Ezra Shales works alongside the students both in the classroom and in the studio. That  means offering suggestions on draft versions of their papers – and getting their help in return on techniques and materials involved crafting in the instrument replica. Here, Shales works on shaving down the neck of his own banjo.

The American Banjo Project illustrates the potential of integrated learning and making, purposefully created by its difficult unifying theme, and by enrolling the same group of students in the history and studio courses.  As a result of their various projects at Handshouse Studio, Rick and Laura Brown bring years of experience and know-how to the endeavour of bridging historical research with collaborative design and making.

For Ezra Shales, the integration of the two courses was a new and challenging experience, one that proved so stimulating that he has recently drafted an article on the topic for an upcoming issue of Journal of Modern Craft.  The art historian, whose area of expertise is craft and material culture, found that retracing the history of the American banjo became a frankly disturbing journey deep into topics and historical problems that were new teaching territory.  Racism, stereotyping and cultural appropriation in America, past and present were familiar topics, he emphasized, but he found himself challenged and sometimes shaken by the reality of teaching to them.  Professors and students together were forced to debate the ethics of what they were doing: Was the process of making instrument replicas itself a variety of racist cultural appropriation?  Was their work questioning or reproducing a racist set of ideas and social conditions?  What is, and what should be, the relationship between an artisan’s craft knowledge and her historical awareness?  Is it possible, or desirable, to reconcile a painful knowledge of racism and American history, and the joyful musical experience that a uniquely American instrument can produce?  These profound questions came to occupy the foreground of the course as the semester proceeded.  And according to Shales, student comments at the end of the term highlighted repeatedly the depth and complexity of their engagement.  One student said they had learned more American history over the semester than in any other course context, while another explained that the entwined relationship of race and culture in America, past and present, had never so thoroughly examined and debated as it had been in the classroom and the studio.

Integrative Learning in Progress: Fall 2017 Learning Community Courses

Again this fall, the Learning Communities project is creating unique opportunities for interdisciplinary teaching and integrative learning.  Of the twelve paired courses underway, the first three pairs below are running for the first time, after being developed in the second phase of the project in W17, while the remaining three pairs are repeat offerings of courses developed in phase I over the W16 term.

What’s been going on, both in and beyond the classrooms?

First Choice Science:   Biology II & Organic Chemistry I, led by Janet Wyman (Biology) and Yoon Seo-Uh (Chemistry)

“The integrative assessment was a real highlight for our paired courses.  Yoon introduced the students to stereo chemistry and the chirality of molecular structures, while Janet prepared them to understand the different biological impacts of  enantiomer variations of the same molecule.  In the lab, we challenged them with a case analysis authored by Janet, based on the story of a young woman who suffers the loss of her sense of smell due to a head trauma.  The students responded enthusiastically and diligently, with great results; watch the video for more details.   Now, we are moving into final exam preparation mode in our respective courses, but Yoon continues to attend Janet’s lectures, supporting the biology concepts with chemistry background where helpful.  As Yoon says in the video, “Whenever we sit down to discuss an idea for the course, we are having a blast!”  – Janet & Yoon 


Counting the Costs: Social Justice in Canada?   Canadian History & Quantitative Methods, led by Elizabeth Kirkland (History) and Ben Lander (History)

 “While we weren’t sure how it was going to happen before the course began, we’ve been able to do some really great integrated learning activities. For example,  students worked directly with the Census of 1901 while we discussed the process of Peopling the new Nation of Canada.  This led directly to complex and layered discussions around race and identity, geography and class.  Currently, our class is knee deep in their team projects. Each team presented a pitch which led to great peer feedback and participation. Students have chosen to work on issues such as Food deserts in Canada, Health challenges for women of colour, Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls, Questions of Consent and Sexual Assault, Consumerism, and Refugee detention practices.  It’s been exciting to see them gather momentum as the projects grow and we look forward to seeing the final results in less than a month.” – Liz and Ben


Nature Revisited:   Nature Retreat PE Intensive & Literary Themes: Into the Wild, led by Doug Smyth (Physical Education) and Ian MacKenzie (English)

“Our weekend intensive at Lac Poisson Blanc in early October was a full-on integrative experience, for both students and teachers.  Hiking, canoeing and rock-climbing skills provided the focus for the three days’ activities, while journal writing allowed students to reflect on what they’d learned in each activity, and to make connections to readings from their English class.   The nature sculpture workshop was a highlight; working on an island in the middle of the lake, groups gathered materials from the shoreline and forest, then designed and created a sculpture that expressed their relationship to the natural world.  Currently, as the end of term approaches in their English course, students are revising journal work and creative projects for publication on the “Into the Wild” course blog.  We are already looking forward to our next version of this pairing for fall 2018 – and hoping for the same amazing weather!”    Doug and Ian


Mapping Shaughnessy Village:   Introduction to Geography & Research Methods, led by Geoffrey Pearce (Geography) and Mark Beauchamp (History)

“What’s going on?  We’ve got a student interviewing a pastor who works at The Open Door (day shelter in SV). One of our students is interviewing an activist from Saint-Henri who has been engaged in fighting against gentrification for years, while another student is interviewing the owner of Shaughnessy Cafe about their role in the gentrification of Shaughnessy Village.  We’re excited to see what they come up with!  Finally, we’ve just been done the Lachine Canal historical audio walk on Tuesday, November 7.  Students loaded their phones with an mp3 guide entitled “Canal,” created by Post-Industrial Montreal, which is an offshoot of Concordia’s Oral History Project.  Then we got ourselves down to the canal to walk along and listen along.  See our pics – it was awesome!”  – Mark and Geoff


Imaging Violence and Non-violence:  Humanities Worldviews & Complementary: Contemporary Issues, led by Pat Romano (Humanities) and Kim Simard (Cinema and Communications)

 “We have been working this semester to embed the theme of resistance into both of our classes right from the start, and our students, while small in number, are deeply engaged and connected. They have just handed in a reflective essay on artistic/cultural forms of resistance to their Humanities class, and this week gave their pitches for their final media projects in their Cin-Com class. From the stigmatization of mental health problems to abusive relationships, racism to a dictionary of oppressive language, and slut shaming  to oppressive dress codes, our students are off and running with enthusiasm!”  – Pat and Kim


Reflections – War and Peace:   19th Century History & Humanities: Ethics, led by Michael Duckett (History) and Gray Miles (Humanities)

“This semester has again paired a Humanities Ethics course with a History course, and Tolstoy’s War and Peace is again at the centre of our discussions.  We may see Humanities and History as different disciplines, but as students read and discuss Tolstoy’s novel, they are seeing these disciplines as very interrelated; for example, a character’s ethical decisions are frequently, even usually, made in a particular historical context. We as teachers try to find universal truths, but we learn reality from our students.”  – Michael and Miles


So, what’s the Big Picture?

Building curricular bridges between traditionally separate disciplines entails a host of challenges, small and large.  These challenges, and possibles responses, provided the topic for Randy Bass’s keynote address at Dawson’s Pedagogical Day in October.

Vice Provost for Education  at Georgetown University, Dr. Bass argued that if colleges and universities hope to graduate students who are able to think and problem solve in integrative and interdisciplinary ways, they will need to create more flexible curricular structures, and support new approaches to instruction that confront students with complex, unscripted problems and situations. 

These concerns are at the heart of the design and delivery of this fall’s Learning Communities courses, and will remain central to the next phase of course development in Winter 2018, when a third and final phase of the project’s ECQ grant will (hopefully!) fund a new team of 5-6 teachers working on 2-3 new course pairings.

Questions about any of the F17 courses or the LC project?  Don’t hesitate to get in touch.