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!