Vanaja Sivakumar

The Silhouette


Many McMaster students can recall feelings of frustration with respect to the teaching practices common at the University, and consequently have ideas to improve the situation.

These pursuits, often hindered by a lack of communication, paved the way to the McMaster Seminar on Higher Education, featuring a series of discussions about the issues plaguing higher education.

The overall aim is to encourage dialogue and inspire critical thought in McMaster University and the Hamilton community. It emphasizes the importance of academics and society as a whole, and how both can learn from one another.

The seminar aims to appeal to a range of audiences, encouraging attendance and expression from students, the direct recipients of educational change.

The February session of the five-part speaker series, hosted by the Office of the President, proved to be both informative and insightful. This seminar invited the President’s Teaching & Learning Award winners: Dr. Ann Herring, Dr. Sheila Sammon, Dr. Patty Solomon and Dr. Jean Wilson.

Discussion topics were centered on the development of successful community-engaged learning programs and projects at McMaster University. The panelists shared their experience and expertise in conceptualizing, developing, and implementing community engaged projects within their own teaching strategies and the feedback they received from their students.

The seminar commenced with the moderator, Sue Baptiste, professor in the School of Rehabilitation Science, prompting discussion among the panellists about their own teaching experiences. Baptiste began by asking panellists to share their opinions about the meaning of “community” and how it is linked to learning.

Dr. Herring shared her own experience as a professor of Anthropology, describing a project she assigned, which required her students to compile a book about Hamilton. She expressed that her students were happy to be engaged with the Hamilton community and not solely confined to the campus educational scene.

Other panelists answered the question  by drawing on their personal experience such as Dr. Soloman, who shared his experience working with HIV patients and how learning from them, in terms of their social disabilities rather then the actual virology of the disease, was more beneficial to both the patient and the recipient learner.

Dr. Wilson, being a literary scholar, used her love of analyzing and discussing themes in famous novels as a venue for community engagement lessons which foster an ability to discover new, unique perspectives.

However, no matter what academic background each panelist came from, the overall theme of “learning from the environment around us” was prevalent.

Each panelist expressed the need to eschew the idea of “tokenism” as a way of connecting with the surrounding community.

The refined model of community engagement calls for “giving and receiving,” a form of knowledge that is the best form of community engagement.

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