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

Designing Assignments for Integrative Learning

Pacific-chorus-frog-and-northwestern-salamander.jpg.638x0_q80_crop-smartAs the winter term comes to an end, the LC teams have been designing integrative assignments for their paired courses.  While each individual course still proceeds via its own sequence of learning activities and assignments, at the centre of the paired course endeavour is a shared assignment that is introduced and worked on in both classes.

The integrative assignment should challenge students to make connections between the varying materials of each course; to apply different disciplinary concepts and methodologies to complex issues and problems; to synthesize and evaluate outcomes; and to reflect on the process.  We’ve drawn on several resources to guide the design of these assignments, from the Washington Center’s heuristic Designing Purposeful and Intentional Integrative Learning to Boix Mansilla and Duraising’s Framework for Assessing Integrative Learning.

Each teaching pair now has a tentative idea of their integrative assignments.  Here are their synopses: Continue reading

October 8, 2015 – Wicked Problems and Integrative Learning

montreal-east-refineriesThe meeting of October 8 examined attempts by Dawson faculty to put wicked problems at the centre of course work, and also the obstacles to designing truly interdisciplinary and integrative learning experiences.  Carl Saucier-Bouffard and Geoffrey Pearce talked about a Reflections & Environmental Studies field trip to the oil refinery district in Montreal-Est.  Participating on this trip were students from Carl’s Humanities: World Views class, Geoff’s Advanced Topics in Environmental Studies; they were also joined by Jeff Barnes and Michael Duckett who pitched in on the teaching side of the trip.  The general objective was to give students an immediate experience of the local environmental and social impacts on Montreal-Est of oil refinery development.  Continue reading