Meaningful dialogue taking place beyond the classroom: NSSE

Twenty-three of Prof. Matthew Bellamy’s fourth-year students recently accompanied him to a bar, sat quietly to observe and then became engaged in an animated discussion about the “then and now” — female servers, pitchers of beer and advertisements for alcohol in a 21st century drinking establishment contrast remarkably against the stark, men-only saloons of 80 years ago.

The “lesson” was part of Bellamy’s seminar course, the content of which includes this country’s brewing industry and the highly regulated, segregated post-prohibition saloons of the ’20s and ’30s.

“The power relationship between professors and students is changing,” notes Bellamy, who graduated with a PhD from Carleton in 2001. “Education is now more of a partnership than when I went through. Profs and students each bring something unique to the classroom.”

In fact, the 2008 National Survey of Student Engagement indicates that students are more involved than ever beyond the classroom setting. According to the survey, 18 per cent of first-year students and 23 per cent of final year students are discussing ideas from readings or classes with faculty members outside of class often or very often. Even more — 58 and 63 per cent respectively — are discussing ideas with other students, family members or co-workers.

“The fact they are sharing with others shows they are on the right road,” suggests Prof. Matthew Sorley, a psychology instructor and ArtsOne teacher. “Our role as teachers extends beyond the walls of our classes. One positive interaction with faculty can have a positive effect on retention, especially with first-year students. Our students are part of a broader world and we need to invite them to participate in the discussions of our discipline.”

Sorley recently involved a couple of his first-year students in a volunteer program to help students from Japan explore the social and cultural differences of studying in Canada.

“Students today want to apply what they learn at university to the world outside. We want them to do more than pass their courses. We want them to exhibit the characteristics of good citizenship and do meaningful work.”

Third-year English and history student James Benning, 24, admits the countless hours Bellamy and English Prof. Collett Tracey have provided out of class have given him useful insight and even rekindled his love of poetry. As well, it has been instrumental to his success at Carleton.

“I can’t stress how much both these professors are there for all their students and the countless extra hours they put into ensuring their students have the tools to succeed.”

Leah Ferguson, 20, is in her third year of public affairs and policy management studies and says she often discusses classroom content with her peers.

“When you learn something that really resonates with you, there is a need to share (it) with more people and continue the discussions.”

Ferguson’s first-year history professor, Roderick Phillips, “embraced” this approach in his Europe in the 20th Century course, she explains. “He would have the entire class over (and) we could question the material, add personal stories and ideas, continue the discussion at a deeper level.”

The professors in Brittney Bos’s master’s program in Canadian Studies ensure active engagement with their materials, she says.

“I very often discuss ideas from classes with family members and friends, introducing them to ideas and engaging their opinions. These viewpoints offer diversity and provide new insights that aren’t always possible inside the classroom.”

The Canadian Studies program, says Bos, particularly looks at real-world problems. “I see my research as crucial to the continued evolution of Canada’s national story and a central component in diversifying the perspectives presented within histories.”

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Susan Hickman

By Susan Hickman

For nearly four decades, journalist Susan Hickman has written about every imaginable subject for sundry newspapers and magazines in Canada and abroad, as well as for CBC TV and CBC Radio. She has also managed various publications, including academic newspapers and technology magazines, and was recently commissioned to write a guide for foreign missions serving in Canada. Currently, she is working on a couple of personal memoirs.

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