Tim Buell's CV Page
I was born in Toronto, Canada, although I grew up living in Cambodia, Hong Kong, Sarawak (Borneo), Singapore, and Thailand, because of my father’s work for the Colombo Plan.
My university education began with a Bachelor of Music degree from the University of Toronto, followed by a Master's in Composition. After further studies in digital sound synthesis at the MIT Media Lab, I attended the University of Pittsburgh on a Mellon doctoral fellowship, graduating with a Ph.D. in Music Theory and Composition.
One of my best discoveries as a grad student was that I wasn't confined to taking courses within my department: In fact – although it wasn't mentioned in the handbook – one could take almost any graduate course from any department or faculty, provided you could convince both your supervisor and the course instructor that you had a reasonable expectation of passing. And so, when I learned of a graduate course on William Blake in the English Department, I headed across campus to boldly go where no Ph.D. music student – according to my demurring supervisor – had gone before. That Blake course, along with one in Boolean algebra, modern dance, and acoustic engineering, were some of the most enjoyable courses I took as a doctoral student. It was only later that I discovered that my apparent dilettantism could be academically respectable when referred to as interdisciplinary studies.
My first academic job was as an assistant professor in music theory and composition. After a few months, cold reality set in as I realized that — in contrast to my interdisciplinary freedom as a graduate student — as a junior faculty member the opposite was true with respect to teaching and research expectations. I became restless, and when offered a post-doc position as Scholar-in-Residence for Interdisciplinary Studies at the University of Calgary, by the following spring I was — as Gordon Lightfoot sang — Alberta Bound.
Since the Scholar-in-Residence appointment was within the University of Calgary's Faculty of Communication and Culture, I was given the opportunity to teach some courses there, which led to a teaching appointment once the Post-Doc was over. While at the U of C, I also held adjunct professorships and secondments in the Faculties of Education, Continuing Education, Environmental Design, Music, the Graduate Department of Educational Psychology, and the Graduate Program in Communications Studies. I received two teaching excellence awards; and my interest in teaching and learning development resulted in my becoming the inaugural Director of the Learning Commons, (later renamed the Teaching and Learning Centre).
I left the UofC in 2000, to take up the position of Vice President (Research and Development) at Lakehead University, where I became involed in major research and advancement initiatives like the Northern Ontario School of Medicine, and a new capital infrastructure campaign. Since then, I have taken a break from a full-time academic career to worked as a private consultant, and to take a 2nd Ph.D. in Leadership and Adult Higher Education at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) at the University of Toronto.
Until 2016 I was Senior Partner at Buell • Salter & Associates, consultants in teaching, learning and leadership for higher education, corporate settings and the not-for-profit sector.
Currently, I am teaching in the Graduate Program of the Faculty of Education at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology., and I'm a Faculty Mentor for Academics Without Borders Virtual Mentoring Project at Aga Khan University.
Pluto’s Academy is a web-based, searchable multimedia database of films in which higher education is the basis of the narrative, or is otherwise depicted in a significant manner.
Unlike previous publications, which are mainly descriptive — and aggrievedly identify stereotypes supposedly exemplary of Hollywood's tendency toward "academic bashing" — I've designed Pluto’s Academy specifically for those interested in incorporating a film or group of films into their teaching, or as a faculty/TA professional development resource.
The filmography (n = 1,200) is the largest to date, and includes silent films (1894 - 1925) not found in previous studies. It includes representative stills, posters or video clips for almost every film, all on a web-based and searchable platform. Each film entry is accompanied by a brief critical analysis, as well as suggestions for how it might be used in the classroom as a teaching and learning resource, or for faculty/TA professional development purposes.
One of McLuhan’s favourite references from one of his favourite poets — Ezra Pound — was his statement that “artists are the antennae of the race.” McLuhan’s oeuvre is filled with — and his media theory dependent on — supporting references to visual artists and composers, and specific paintings and compositions. This is why for me, McLuhan’s reticence on Blake has always been a puzzle, especially when one considers McLuhan’s background in English literature and criticism, the fact that Blake’s multidimensional and multimedia poetic expression are so amenable to McLuhan’s analytical precepts, and finally, the crucial role of religious faith in the life and work of both McLuhan and Blake; each of whom underwent a spiritual re-awakening as young adults.
I begin the essay by proposing several reasons why McLuhan may have overlooked such an affinitive kindred spirit; which will form the contextual basis for some speculation on how McLuhan and Blake might have made use of social media — especially Twitter as a means of expression. Finally, I will introduce an ongoing project that explores the idea of using Twitter to share and respond to the application of McLuhans’s Laws of Media — or the Tetrad — which we have dubbed the “Tweetrad.”
This presentation is based on a larger, ongoing project entitled Pluto's Academy: Images of Higher Education in Film, describes a web-based, searchable, hypertext-enriched multimedia annotated database of 1,200 films in which higher education is the basis of the narrative, or is otherwise depicted in a significant manner. An overview of this resource, including a demonstration of its scope and search engine capabilities, will be followed by an interactive discussion of its use in various teaching and learning applications, and as a faculty professional development resource.
When it comes to their close-ups, educators — along with everyone from actuaries to zookeepers — have produced a huge body of literature about how Hollywood has portrayed their own profession. Regarding education, the first major study is The Portrayal of Education in American Motion Pictures, 1931-1961 (Schwartz, 1960); however, its scope is limited to primary and secondary education. The same is true of the numerous journal articles and sixty books we have identified: The vast majority of the articles are about "teachers in the movies" (meaning K-12); and only three books (Umphlett, 1984; Hinton, 1994; Conklin, 2008) and three doctoral dissertations (Reynolds, 2007; Thomas, 2009; Hess, 2012) are devoted entirely to films featuring higher education.
These studies share the same methodologies and the resultant shortcomings. The authors select a group of films; provide plot details and content analyses; create a set of professorial typologies, including personal characteristics; all of which is used to point out the differences between "reel vs real" academic life. Finally, they aggrievedly identify Hollywood's tendency toward "academic bashing," in the words of one commentator, who adds, "I can think of almost no movies that are even interested in what an academic actually does, the nuts and bolts of that life." (Farr, 2003, p4)
This resource advances previous scholarship in several ways: The filmography (n = 1,200) is the largest to date; including silent films (1894 - 1925) not found in previous studies. It is also the first to include representative stills and video clips, all on a web-based and searchable platform. Unlike previous studies, which are mainly descriptive and preoccupied with how higher education is (mis)represented by Hollywood, this project is designed specifically for those interested in incorporating a film or group of films into the curriculum, and as a resource for faculty professional development.
For example, students entering university for the first time will inevitably have preconceived images of professors and teaching methods gained in part from popular film. The interactive format will allow participants to actively query the database, providing them with knowledge of the stereotypes and preconceptions that students may have upon entering the college classroom, which may impact classroom interactions, and provides insight into how race and gender affect student evaluations of professors. Finally, I will discuss reasons for such differences and how an understanding of the differences can be used as a catalyst for conversation in academic development settings, and in the classroom.
Background curricular research and design materials to introduce faculty to principles of course design and learning styles. Teaching and Learning Centre (Learning Commons) University of Calgary
Report on the system wide impact assessment of Alberta Learning's $40 million Learning Enhancement Envelope (LEE) on the Alberta Post-Secondary System: Province of Alberta, 2001.
National Learning Infrastructure Initiative (NLII)
January 2001, New Orleans, LA
15th Annual Canadian Advanced Internet Conference (CANARIE).
May 31, 2001
An example of one of the program booklets for the teaching and learning programs for faculty and teaching assistants. I designed, edited and produced a booklet each Fall and Winter term from 1998 - 2000.
Sound Escapes Conference. Trent University, July 3, 2000 Note: pdf version currently unavailable
Calgary, October 25, 2000
Shastri Indo-Canadian Institute: Summer Institute in Canadian Studies
May 17, 2000
STHLE/CAPES 2000 Conference
Brock University, June 17, 2000.
Interface 2000 Conference
Grant MacEwan Community College, Edmonton
June 8, 2000
International Conference Computers and Advanced Technology in Education (CATE)
May 24-27, 2000
Educational New Media: A Strategy Session
The Banff Centre for the Arts
August 16, 1999
National Learning Infrastructure Initiative (NLII) Annual Conference
January 30, 1999
— With W. Hunter, & L. Wenger
Seattle, June 21, 1999
Society of College and University Planning Pacific Region Conference
San Diego, CA
March 20, 1998
Invited Panel (with N. Geisbrecht, E. Enns & W. Hunter)
Ed-Media and Ed-Telecom, June 15, 1997
University of Calgary
National Learning Infrastructure Institute Annual Conference
New Orleans, Louisiana
February 2, 1997
The Canadian Association of Fine Arts Deans
University of Calgary, October 25, 1996
Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra Mahler Festival
Jack Singer Auditorium, May 19, 1996
The Glenbow Museum
Oct 17, 1996
The New Gallery
May 25, 1995
International Symposium and Exhibition on Teaching and Learning
University of Calgary
June 10, 1994
Author of over fifty senior administrative committee reports and studies, as well as related articles in the University of Calgary Gazette, Alumni Magazine, and The Gauntlet (campus newspaper); related to curriculum development, teaching and learning initiatives, committee reports, research and infrastructure projects, etc.
Mainstream(s) and Margins: Cultural Politics in the 90's
Center for the Study of Communication
University of Massachusetts at Amherst
April 3, 1992
Invited Panelist: 2nd Workshop on Creativity
Convener: Douglas Hofstadter, CRCC Director
Center for Research on Concepts and Cognition, Indiana University
March 21-23, 1992
Glasnost and the Global Village Conference
February 19-22, 1991
University of Calgary Press, 1991
Author: Program Booklet
Blurring Genres: A conference on alternative forms of critical practice
University of Calgary April 7, 1989
31st Annual Meeting of the College Music Society
New Orleans, Louisiana
October 15, 1987
Symposium of Recent Research in Music Theory
March 9, 1986
The Journal of Human-Computer Studies Blake Studies ▰ International Journal of Interdisciplinary Thought ▰ Canadian Journal of Educational Thought ▰ Computer Music Journal ▰ American Journal of Rhetorical Studies ▰ In Theory Only ▰ ex tempore ▰ Perspectives of New Music
Social Sciences and Humanities Review Council (SSHRC) ▰ Canadian Federation of the Humanities ▰ The Canada Council ▰ Natural Sciences and Engineering Research (NSERC) ▰ Alberta Foundation for the Arts
Interactive sound and video installation. Sound is digitally synthesised and is shaped and filtered in accordance with video images. Production grants from the Alberta Foundation for the Arts
As President, oversaw production of six to eight concerts each season. Responsibilities included: chairing the program committee, director of fundraising and marketing. Managed part-time administrative staff, volunteers, and artistic personnel. Managed operational budget ($410,000 annually). New Works Calgary was Calgary's first contemporary music performing organization, devoted to the performance of new music by Canadian composers. New Works Calgary is a non-profit society and has registered charity status.
International conference on interdisciplinary theory and practice.
Included papers, art exhibits and concert.
University of Calgary
May 9 - 12, 1999
Awarded SSHRC conference grant and major funding from Province of Alberta Department of Higher Education
University of Calgary
June 14, 1997
Ed-Media/Ed-Telecom Conferences, Knowledge Science Institute, University of Calgary (Total budget: $80,000)
Designed poster, Conference Website and Edited Proceedings.
November, 16- 22, 1996 — University of Calgary
Explored the economic and social implications of the convergence of information technologies.
Major Funders: AGT Corp. ($35,000) and the Convergence Research Network, University of Calgary
November 10, 1994, University of Calgary.
Focus on recent research in technology-based learning.
Strategic planning for Network of Centres of Excellence.
Co-authored NCE proposal (with B. Gaines, (Principal Investigator), W. Hunter and L. Katz).
Developed as a parallel event, integrated with the Learned Societies conferences, also held that year at the University of Calgary. June 3 - 18, 1994.
Designed poster, devised and directed special events (i.e., Great Teachers from History Debate; edited Proceedings & managed paper submission & review process
ISETL was a series of 3 week-long symposia on:
1) Faculty development, staff training and evaluation;
2) The impact of technology on teaching and learning, and;
3) The development of new curricula in response to changing student demographics and the evaluation of learning styles.
Included large-scale educational technology exhibition and trade show by major vendors.
Fundraised total budget of $45,000 (Alberta Learning, SSHRC, Microsoft)
International conference concerned with acoustic ecology (relationship between sound and the environment)
August 8 -14, 1993
The Banff Centre, Alberta.
Managed all fundraising as well as program development, promotion, publication of proceedings, hiring administrative staff, contracts with speakers and guest artists ($370K total budget).
Co-curated sound art exhibition at Nickle Arts Museum, authored and edited conference program, edited Proceedings.
Conference included program (funded by Science Technology Canada) that introduced K-12 Calgary public/Catholic school students to elementary principles of acoustics. Students created demonstrative projects that were displayed at conference. Program included professional development sessions for participating district music and science teachers.
May 8 - 12, 1991
University of Calgary
|Conference Program (pdf)|
|Sound recording of Douglas Hofstadter and Timothy Buell discussing interrelationships between music and the visual arts|
Federation of the Humanities and Social Sciences: Publication Grant
|1999 - 2001||
McGill-Calgary Advanced Learnware Network:
|1998 - 2001||
Peer Review of Instructional Technology Innovation (PRITI)
|2000 - 2001||
Evaluation of Learning Technologies Initiatives in Continuing Professional Development
|1999 - 2001||
Partnerships for Learning, Innovation and Technology (PLIANT)
|1996 - 2001||
Learning and Evaluation Research Network (LEARN)
|1995 - 2001||
President: New Works Calgary of Art Calgary Society
Special Projects Grant, University of Calgary Endowment Fund
|1995 - 1997||
University of Calgary Research Group Funding
University of Calgary Special Projects Grant
SSHRC Scholarly Conference Grant|
University of Calgary Special Projects Grant
Teaching Development Office Grant
University of Calgary Conference Grant (ISETL)
University of Calgary Spring/Summer Special Sessions Innovation Fund
Alberta Foundation for the Arts Composer's Commission
Canada Council Major Arts Grant |
University of Calgary Special Projects Grant SSHRC Conference Grant
|1986 - 1987||
The Banff Centre, Banff, Alberta
The Banff Centre, School of Fine Arts
|1982 - 1986||
University of Pittsburgh: Graduate Department of Music
California State University at Long Beach
Performing Rights Organization (PRO) Canada
The Canada Council for the Arts
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Duties & Responsibilities:
Responsible for the planning and administration of policies and programs for Research, and University Advancement.
Reported directly to the President. Member of the Administrative Executive Committee.
Direct reports included: Associate Vice President (Research), Director of Corporate Relations, Director of Development, Manager of the Office of Research, and directors of the University's research centers and institutes.
Provided support to the Board of Governors through the University Advancement Committee.
Senior administrator responsible for research and technology transfer at Lakehead University. Direct reports included: Dean of Research, Director of Research Office, Technology Transfer Manager, and the Directors of all university labs, research facilities and institutes. Responsible for developing and maintaining research collaborations with partners with colleges and universities, industry and government.
Senior administrator responsible for all university advancement. Managed creation of new strategies for individual and corporate giving, cultivation and stewardship of major gifts. Initiated the implementation of a major capital campaign for the University's Advanced Technology and Academic Centre.
The Learning Commons was established in September 1998 as an integrated unit consisting of Student affairs, Faculty Professional Development, and curriculum research support. The Learning Commons was renamed the Teaching and Learning Centre in 2001, and the last time I checked it had been re-named the University of Calgary Taylor Institute for Teaching and Leaning.
The Director's position was a Vice-Presidential-level appointment: Responsible for planning and implementing comprehensive professional development and teaching and learning research programs for academic staff and graduate teaching assistants, and for student academic support services. Direct reports included: Director, Academic Writing Centre; Associate Director of Student Academic Affairs; Co-ordinator of Faculty Development; Director of Online and Distance Learning; and, Director of Communications Media.
As Director, I created training programs for Student Affairs advisors; personally facilitated several seminars. Supervised 2 FT and co-supervised 10 pt staff, and14 FT researchers for externally funded research projects. Developed instructional development programs for corporate clients. Managed unit operational budget.
|1998 - 2001||Director, First-Year Experience Program|
|1999 - 2001||Chair, Student Aid and Bursaries Oversight Committee|
|1998 - 2001||Chair, Province of Alberta Advisory Committee for Educational Technologies|
|1999 - 2000||Chair, Instructional Facilities Advisory Committee|
|1998 - 2001||Chair, Teaching Excellence Awards Committee|
|1998 - 1999||Chair, Information Literacy Steering Committee|
|1997 - 1998||Chair, Building Space Study Task Force|
|1996 - 1998||Director, Alberta Learning Enhancement Envelope Funding|
|1998 - 1999||Chair, Learning Commons Executive Committee|
|1995 - 1997||Chair, Learning and Instructional Development Subcommittee|
|1995 - 1997||Chair, Technology Task Force|
|1995 - 1996||Chair, President's Review of Image and Marketing Expectations|
Buell • Salter & Associates (BSAC), with regional offices in British Columbia and Ontario, provides consulting services for professional learning in higher education, corporate settings, and the not-for-profit sector.
Since its establishment, BSAC has developed an international client list from Canada, USA, Europe and Australasia.
Communications and management consultancy, based in Toronto and New York. Employed three full-time and sixteen part-time staff.
Weekly television program produced by Global Television (Calgary CFCN, 2000-2001).
Planned and implemented research strategy for program, web site and newsletter, and supervised research staff of 12 employees.
Program launched nationally by CITY TV, fall 1999.
Software developer of portal features and applications in pre-built applications (including systems integration, project management and prototype development).
Calgary's principal contemporary music performing organization, devoted to the performance of new music by Canadian composers.
New Works Calgary is a non-profit society and has registered charity status. Produced five to eight concerts each season.
Chairing the program committee, director of fundraising and marketing. Managed part-time administrative staff, volunteers, and artistic personnel. Managed operational budget.
Annual festival of contemporary Canadian music. Festival was collaboration whose partners included:
Calgary Catholic School Board ☉ Calgary Public School Boards ☉ Esther Honens International Piano Competition ☉ Calgary International Organ Festival ☉ One Yellow Rabbit ☉ Canadian Music Centre ☉ The Banff Centre for the Arts ☉ New Works Calgary ☉ University of Calgary ☉ New Works Calgary.
1993 Federal Election
Managed Mr. Blair's campaign for Calgary Centre Riding
|Ph.D||Graduate Program in Communications||
|Ph.D||Faculty of Education||
|MA||Graduate Program in Communications||
|MA||Faculty of Environmental Design||
|MA||Department of Music||
|MFA||Faculty of Fine Arts||
— Designed and implemented new courses in business communications and the fine arts.
— Hired instructors, managed course budgets, and designed marketing & advertising materials
— Built partnerships with community arts organizations.
Duties & Responsibilites:
Provided individual support (face-to-face and online); presenting group sessions and workshops in the following areas:
I've been a teacher since I was thirteen years old, giving guitar lessons at our local music store. As a teenager, I also taught swimming, sailing and canoeing for the YMCA, both in Ontario and for the International YMCA in Venezuela. As an undergraduate student, I taught theory, history, piano and classical guitar at the Royal Conservatory of Music, and I've held graduate teaching assistantships in several different disciplines.
As a professor and administrator, I have taught in a dozen different disciplines at eight different universities, managed a teaching and learning development centre and served as a vice president (research). Finally, I have worked a private consultant in marketing, communications and information technologies.
All of these experiences have shaped my outlook on teaching and learning. The following list is a distillation of what I have learned, and is — like my journey as a teacher and learner — very much a work-in-progress.
Hard students are commonly troubled with gowts, catarrhs,
rheums, cachexia, bradypepsia, bad eyes, stone, and collick,
crudities, oppilations, vertigo, winds, consumptions, and all
such diseases as come by over-much sitting: they are most part
lean, dry, ill-colored . . . and all through immoderate pains and
extraordinary studies. If you will not believe the truth of this,
look upon great Tostatus and Thomas Aquainas' works;
and tell me whether those men took pains
— BURTON'S Anatomy of Melancholy, P. I, s. 2.
George Elliot used this quotation to introduce one of the novel's main characters — Mr. Cassaubon — an elderly clergyman and scholar, who is as pompous and pedantic as he is long-winded and delusional, spending his life in a futile attempt to find a comprehensive explanatory framework for the whole of mythology (today, we might call Burton's “hard students” anything from nerds to nutty professors to academic deadwood, depending on the context). doing wikipedia on his own
Middlemarch is widely considered to be one of the finest English novels ever written, and is found on most English literature course syllabi — which is a mixed blessing in terms of academic stereotypes — given that it established Cassaubon as an academic archetype that has remained a dominant cultural trope ever since. And there's more: Cassaubon married the young and beautiful Dorothea, not out of love or desire but because he needed a sort of live-in research assistant. This was disastrous for Dorothea, who had entered into the marriage because she was enthusiastic about learning everything about with the great spheres of knowledge apparently inhabited by Cassaubon, only to be bitterly disappointed when he turned out to be an even worse teacher than a lover. This crushing of Dorothea's enthusiasm for learning by the disengaged pedant Cassaubon is one of the worst things a professor can do to a student. Once a student loses her initial sense of enthusiastic anticipation, or senses a professor's disengagement, it's very hard to get it back. For example, string theory researchers are lucky this guy is no longer teaching in their field:
This is what bell hooks is getting at in Teaching to Transgress when she speaks of “ experiencing education as the practice of freedom,” “engaged pedagogy,” “self-actualization,” and “empowering students.”
From the moment I begin a course, I try to share my passion for the material. If it is an entry-level course that I have taught over and over again, instead of letting myself get bored with the material or format, I set myself challenges to create new material or a different approach to the same content — this keeps me on the ball and enthusisatic: if we are excited by the course content then there is a greater chance that your class will join in the excitement. There are a number of ways to do this. In the "don't-try-this-at-home" category, there is always the Hollywood model:
There is, of course, a great difference between a stunt and genuinely instilling enthusiasm for learning and the subject matter. But there is a valuable lesson to be learned from these clips, and that is the difference between simply entertaining — as in these clips, since that's what Hollywood films are made to do — and creating learning enthusiasm through drama. For example, I had a colleague who taught an introductory course on Western Thought and Civilization, and who dressed up as Socrates (white robe and all) during the first lecture on Hellenic thought. I have sometimes been criticized for suggesting such approaches, and have been told that yes, while such a ploy may work in the arts and humanities, it's of little use in the hard sciences or more "difficult" subjects, such as pure mathematics or particle physics. But that's an excuse, not a reason, as demonstrated by the Nobel prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman, as he gives a lecture on atomic structure in this next clip:
Kay Redfield Jamison, Professor of Psychiatry at the John Hopkins School of Medicine, has cited research suggesting that enthusiasm can be infectious, and that exuberance is a trait shared by successful political leaders, senior executives, explorers — and teachers.
I believe that one of the most important things I can do as a teacher is to share my exuberance for the subject matter with my students. It can transcend the course material — even the degree itself — and will help ensure the creation of an ongoing relationship with graduates and their university. Feynman didn't need to stand on his desk to create an enthusiastic atmosphere — his exuberance did it for him.
Another problem with using standing-on-desk stunts to instill learner enthusiasm is that they are one-off: in other words, what do you do for the next class — stand on the window sill? One sure way to dispel student's enthusiasm is to set up a sense of expectation early in the course, only to deflate it by not following through in subsequent classes. I remember when I was in junior high school we had a class visit from an extremely popular history teacher to encourage us to take the senior history class. He had that sort of charismatic standing-on-desk way of presenting the subject. Of course, everyone signed up, only to realize on the first day that it was that other history teacher who would be taking the class that year, which immediately (and undeservedly) put him in the enthusiasm-deficit category.
One way I use to create an ongoing enthusiasm for the daily subject matter is to relate the content of a specific class with a very recent current event (within the past day or two), popular film, pop song, television commercial, magazine advertisements, and so on. I have found this to be particularly valuable given the disciplinary areas I teach in, i.e., Communications, Cultural Studies, Rhetoric and Public Speaking, Social Power Theory, Music, Educational Psychology and Marketing Communications. However, this approach also requires much preparation, since it involves preparing video clips, slides, web pages, and various handouts. On the other hand, nothing can deflate interest more than when students' realize their professor is using the exact same handouts and class materials as they have for the past ten years (as course evaluations often attest to). Such a scenario is depicted in this brief scene from Tom McCarthy's excellent film The Visitor 2007, where we watch Prof. Walter Vale, enveloped by a haze of academic ennui, trudge across campus as he malingers through a day of teaching, faculy meetings, student interviews, preparing a course matreials, and aggreeing to his Dean's invitation to attend a conference.
I have taught courses in Rhetorical Analysis and Public Speaking; and yes, a video of Martin Luther King's I Have a Dream speech is a wonderful example to discuss. However, during the years since I first used this in a class, I have developed a collection of over thirty other speeches, which also ensured a freshness and enthusisam in my own approach to the material.
Sharing personal information or an experience is not only a valuable way to personally connect with students, bit it is also an extremely useful strategy of using an anecdote to make an enthusiastic introduction to class material. For example, when I was a teenager I worked for the International YMCA on an exchange where I taught swimming and waterfront safety to counsellors at a YMCA camp in Venezuela, created for teenagers from the poorer barrios near Caracas. During a lifeguarding session, I needed a volunteer to jump in the water and swim out to the dock, and I asked one tough-looking youth if he could swim. Of course, he said yes, and, of course, the minute he jumped in he sank like a stone. I was so ignorant of teen-age machismo that I didn't realize that my "volunteer" would almost prefer drowning than admit he couldn't swim in front of his peers (not to mention a gringo). I found this to be a very useful anecdote when introducing certain concepts in sociology, social power, intercultural communications and cultural studies.
I also try to ensure that the in-class examples I use are relevant and up-to-date: not only does this help create enthusiasm, but it also establishes a connection between the theoretical and the real. For example, when I teach courses in rhetoric or public speaking, I work continuously to include new speeches - not just clips from recent public speeches by politicians, artists or other public speakers - but also fictional examples from recent films. Using these types of examples becomes especially valuable when we compare them to earlier celebrated examples (such as King's I Have a Dream speech), so that students may discover how certain rhetorical strategies and techniques have either remained unchanged — or evolved — in spite — or as a result of — changing socio-cultural or technological environments.
Since I am enthusiastic about my own research interests, I have found that when I involve students in aspects of my own research, my enthusisam often rubs off. While involving your students in research activities can include traditional means, such as including graduate students (and sometimes undergraduates), or graduate research assistants, as co-authors of papers, participants in research projects, fieldwork, etc; I continuously look for other creative means of doing this. For example, I have organized several large academic conferences in a variety of contexts and disciplines. Wherever possible, I try to include them as volunteer staff (in exchange for admission to events, etc.) in a wide variety of activities, such as working on media materials, registration desk, chaperoning guest speakers, providing introductory remarks for guest speakers, helping them with their presentations or assisting them during workshops, etc. For example, during an international conference I organized on the relationships between music, the humanities and the sciences — Resonant Intervals (1991) — many students from several of my undergraduate classes were able to meet and work with some world-renowned artists, musicians and scientists, including Richard Dawkins, Marvin Minsky, Douglas Hofstadter, David Lowenthal, R. Murray Shafer, Robert Morgan, Tom Sherman, and several others. I am aware of at least a dozen of my students who ended up pursuing advanced degrees in various disciplines as a direct result of this experience.
I did the same thing with students from my undergraduate and graduate classes with several other conferences I organized, including the Learned Societies Annual Meeting, the International Symposium on Teaching and Learning, and The Calgary Festival of Canadian Music. I will discuss a further example — The Tuning of the World International Conference on Acoustic Ecology — in the Curricular Innovation section of this portfolio.
Creating such active and experiential learning oportunities need not relate directly to my own research, or even the subject matter of my courses. For example, during the time I was at the University of Calgary, I was President of New Works Calgary, a non-profit contemorary music presenter, and I served on the boards of other non-profit and community organizations. Whenever I learned of volunteering opportunities, I made a point of encouraging my students to get involved, pointing out the personal and potential career benefits of volunteering.
Throughout the history of human discovery-making, we have explained the new or unfamiliar in terms of the familiar. When scientists first discovered the physical nature of sound, they likened to transmission of sound to a phenomenon already familiar — the movement of water — thus the development of terms like sound waves. In the clip below, evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins explains geological time by likening it to music.
Dawkins is explaining geological time by using a analogy — one of the most important tools we use as teachers. Analogy is one of the most valuable pedagogical tools we have - the ability to explain the unfamiliar in terms of something already familiar. Although many of us possess a natural talent for good analogy-making, others do not. Using analogy effectively is a skill that teachers must learn and refine just as with any other pedagogical device. Below are three essential points on analogy as a pedagogical device:
The term "interdisciplinary" pops up everywhere in academic discussions of research and applied research, course descriptions, teaching practices and curricular studies, but what does it actually mean? Is there even a generally-accepted conception of interdisciplinarity? Some definitions describe an interdisciplinary approach as using the terms of reference from one discipline to illustrate or further inform on an area of the subject being taught. But this is little more than basic analogy-making (see above), which, while an invaluable teaching resource, does not by itself adequately define interdisciplinary.
Some definitions and approaches — such as those described by Boyer and Bishop — define it mainly as a teaching methodology, where a particular subject is looked at from a variety of disciplinary perspectives, using team teaching to bring together faculty from different areas of expertise.
In medicine, interdisciplinarity describes an approach to research and treatment, for example, the topic of addiction could be taught by examining its physical effects on the body (medicine), the mind (physiology and psychiatry), sociological impact (sociology), and human or environmental factors (criminology, urban studies, political science). Similarly, medical terminology defines "interdisciplinary" as comprehensive patient care undertaken by a team of medical specialists working together (anesthesiologist, surgeon, hematologist, etc.). But in terms of how I think about teaching, this is not an interdisciplinary approach, but a multidisciplinary approach, rather like the army calling in air support.
For me, an interdisciplinary approach to teaching is essentially the same as it is for an interdisciplinary approach to research and creative discovery: It takes as its basis the analogy, but at a more comprehensive level, so that the analogical structure grows from a momentary, illustrative teaching tool, to an overall pedagogical approach that underlies the entire structure of the course: That is, to use the methodology of one discipline to study a subject traditionally examined in its "home" discipline.
To begin with an example, I would like to return to Richard Feynman, who did precisely this through a long collaboration with painter Jirayr Zorthian, during which Feynman not only became a competent artist in his own right, but used this new perspective to approach his work as a theoretical physicist.
In my own academic areas, some of the most successful interdisciplinary teaching I have seen comes from music, anthropology, and cultural studies. An example is the study popular music as a sociological phenomenon. In this approach, emphasis is not placed on the theoretical or harmonic analysis of the music itself. Rather, a musical style is looked at in terms of cultural origins, its sociological effects, and its overall place and function in a society. The potential problem here is that the discipline of music ends up being the poor cousin of cultural studies. Such a course as described would be more truly interdisciplinary if there were equal attention paid to musical harmony and structure. However, depending on the complexity of the music analysis portion, the course might not be as accessible to students (or professors) without the requisite music specialty. As you can see, true interdisciplinarity — as I have defined it — is difficult to achieve, since it requires a single instructor who is a viable specialist in two or more disciplines: which is why many such courses are team-taught. In fact, team teaching is often cited as an essential component of an interdisciplinary approach to teaching.
This does not mean that you cannot adopt such an interdisciplinary approach on your own — I have successfully done so — however, it does require a great deal of preparation and a readiness to learn new things (this was why I took a second Ph.D in mid-career). Otherwise, we risk shortchanging both the students — and the subject matter itself.
Note: This section is badly in need of updating — which I'll be doing soon!
While conventional wisdom proclaims that teaching and learning technologies are enabling and liberating, we often overlook the fact that every new learning technology brings a new set of constraints: Books chained to lecterns have simply been replaced by proprietary software (Blackboard, OWL, etc.), copyright legislation, and infrastructure costs.
New learning technologies are too frequently equated with the improvement of educational opportunities — from television in the classroom to MOOCS — with the usual seduced and abandoned result. We are now witnessing this trend once again with the introduction of the Internet and e-mail, web-based course tools and a myriad of online learning platforms. Discussions of learning technologies are clouded by such shibboleths as “early adopters,” “faculty development” which brand faculty members as needing improvement, and those who may have reason to be cautious as change-resistant dinosaurs. In my experience running teaching and learning programs for faculty, I have found that student dissatisfaction (on their course evaluations) with the learning technologies used in their classes stem from some issues so rudimentary that they are often overlooked, such as:
Finally, I always evaluate any learning technology before adopting it. The only criterion for adopting any learning technology is that it improves the learning experience, and I try not to use it simply because it's readily available, or because I've been told it will save time or labour. As most of us know by now, the supposed “labour-saving” benefit was a con, anyway — c.f. my previous comments on email.
It's fun to introduce workshop discussions on this subject by showing this clip from The Visitor (2007, Thomas McArthy):
This may be the most frequent request teachers get. While it might seem to be even-handed fairness to hold all students to the same deadlines and standards, the truth is that everybody faces certain health problems, family issues (including the sudden, all-too-frequent deaths of great-uncles), burnout, and personal problems that require compassion and understanding. While some disabilities are easily visible and understood, others are not. I try never to automatically dismiss an apparently transparent excuse; I'm sure that somewhere, sometime, some luckless student actually did have their homework eaten by the dog.
When a working single mother asks for extra time to complete an assignment, she should be congratulated for her efforts, not given a hard time over a simple deadline, trivial in the long run. I recognize that everyone has a unique array of abilities and life experiences, and as a compassionate teachers we must recognize and accommodate this, even if it requires extra work. I endeavour to treat my students as colleagues. I find it helpful to remember that if I must re-schedule a class or assignment deadline because I am ill, I am not required to present a doctor's certificate to my students. Recall the clip from The Visitor just viewed — I encourage you to see the entire film — and you'll realize that this professor deserved more sympathy than the clip might suggest! To summarize, I believe that creating a sense of collegial respect and understanding with my students is central to their overall learning experience.
I am always thinking about new or different course formats and teaching strategies, but keeping in mind that this may require greater preparation or learning new skill sets on my part. It is important to remember that before we adopt a new course format, we must be comfortable with it; if the pedagogy is new, work into it gradually. Never change courses in mid-stream.
I also believe it is important to remember that a new format may also be difficult for students to adjust to — they will not have had the advantage of pre-familiarizing themselves with it — so I am prepared to tweak a new format during the course in order to accommodate this. I also keep in mind that not every course format is appropriate for every subject or class size. For instance, an intense two-week block course format may be perfect for an archeological field training course, but would be ineffective for a readings-based course, or one which requires developing a physical skill over time. The most important issue is that the course content and your pedagogical goals drive the class format, not the other way around.
The following are examples of where I have found innovative ways of teaching familiar courses, where I have created entirely new course formats, and where I have designed a specific course to take advantage of a unique learning opportunity.Metaphors that Matter — UNIV400
When I was at the University of Calgary, I was asked by the Deans of the Faculties of Education, Communications and Culture, and Science, to design a course on metaphor that would be of interest to, and appropriate for, students from all three faculties. This meant that the course had to be designed from an interdisciplinary perspective, but one which included the specific perspectives that would be familiar to students from a diverse array of backgrounds. The course was also designed to be a proof-of-concept for a new course-level designation at the University - UNIV - that would eventually include a set of courses that could be taken by all senior-level undergraduates, regardless of discipline or home faculty.
I decided to adopt a "lectureless" course format, which meant that the course had no regularly-scheduled lectures. The only stipulation was that students were asked to keep a two-hour slot open (as indicated in their timetables) to be used as an on-need basis, and for informal class meetings (when requested by the students), mid-year and final presentations.
The course used a combination of email, online discussion lists and web-based materials that allowed the cohort to engage in what I termed "collective independent" study: "Collective," because each student was part of a cohort who were each engaged in developing a research project in the area of metaphor studies; and, "Independent," because each student developed their own research topic in a specific area according to their own academic and disciplinary interests.
I anticipated that — because of the experimental nature of the course, and because students working toward a specific degree are fairly conservative when it comes to taking optional courses — enrollment would be low, and so I produced a poster advertising the course and put it up around the campus. It turned out that the course was a victim of its own success &mdfash; I had hoped for about ten students — however, I ended up with over seventy, which resulted in a lot more work than I had anticipated. The extra time I had to spend was more than compensated by the success of the course. When I left the University in 2000, there were fifteen UNIV-level courses in the Calendar.
In 1993 I was invited to organize a large international conference for the Banff Centre, called The Tuning of the World — The First International Conference on Acoustic Ecology. At the time I was also a professor at the University of Calgary, and I realized that this could be a great opportunity to create a collaborative course involving both institutions, and I designed a graduate course for the Faculty of Environmental Design on Acoustic Communication. I also wanted to include undergraduates, and so I arranged for the course to be cross-listed as a senior undergraduate course in the Communications Studies program (with appropriate changes to the academic expectations). The course format was a hybrid — part lecture, part experiential, part project-based and part case-based — and was designed to fit into the short spring session during which the conference was held. The course began with a short series of seminars in which I introduced the essential concepts of acoustics and its relationship to environmental design, and finished during the conference itself, after which students submitted a final project. As part of the course fee, students were registered as full delegates and provided with accommodation at the Banff Centre if they required it. This is an excellent example of what I call “opportunistic curricular design,” which means I am always on the lookout for ways to design curriculum based on — for want of a better pedagogical term — serendipity.
Advanced Marketing Communications
When I was teaching in the Graduate Program in Communications Studies at the University of Calgary, I inherited what was essentially a seminar-based course based on course readings and marketing communications theory, where students submitted a final paper based on case studies included in the readings. During the years I taught this course, I completely redesigned the format, which retained the theoretical/reading component, but in a case-based experiential learning context. I established a collaborative relationship with Calgary-based non-profit organizations (Calgary Zoo, Theatre Calgary, Calgary YMCA, The Women's Centre of Calgary), as well as corporations (Shaw Communications, AltaGas Inc. Agrium Inc., Bethany Care Co., The Calgary Herald). Each student in the class was able to select an organization based on their professional, disciplinary or personal interests, and was provided with an internship position for the duration of the course. This not only enabled each student to produce an original case study based on a real corporate marketing environment, but provided an invaluable experiential learning environment.
Another innovative aspect of this arrangement was the corporate partners agreed to consider an open-ended arrangement i.e., should both parties agree, the student could remain in the internship after the course ended. This enabled students gratified by the experience to continue their learning, or to complete a project they were working on. Finally, students could include the experience as a valuable addition to their résumés, and develop professional references.
One drawback of this course was the large workload that resulted for me, because of all the time it took to develop the network of corporate partners, ensure that the course content and format met University ethical and academic criteria, develop separate contracts and agreements for each corporate partner, and monitoring the progress of each student intern during the course: which included being prepared to make alternate arrangements should the student or corporation become unable to continue with the arrangement during the course. However, the workload became much more manageable after running a few sessions, because most of the corporate partners were gratified by the relationship and wanted it to continue, meaning less preparatory work. The workload was worth it for me, especially since one of the most successful outcomes of the course was that at least one student per term (and three in one of the classes) eventually obtained full-time employment where they had interned.
Continuing Education — Adult Education in the Arts
I am passionate about the role of lifelong learning and adult education, which is one reason why I took a second PhD in Leadership, Adult and Higher Education at OISE. When I was at the University of Calgary, I designed a series of Adult Education in the Arts courses for the Faculty of Continuing Education, which was based on a combination of weekly guest lectures, followed by attendance at an event related to the lecture. Other than serving as one of the "guest lecturers", my role was more of an entrepreneur and facilitator, because it was necessary to include all ticket costs and guest speaker honoraria into the course budget, and still make a profit for the faculty in addition to my own instructor's fee.
When I was directing teaching and learning programs for faculty, I always dreaded being asked this, because by the time the question was asked it was too late for those students anyway, the professor was demoralized, and because I privately held grave doubts about the usefulness of the traditional end-of-term student evaluations of instructors — at least as a means for improving one's teaching ability. The only real positive outcome about this question was that it showed the instructor cared enough about teaching to be concerned.
It hardly bears repeating that at many universities teaching ability usually comes in a distant second to research when it comes to promotion and tenure (despite rhetoric to the contrary: The chances of reciving tenure solely on one's teaching ability are roughly the same as the “faint hope clause” in Wellington's army. While there are indications that teaching ability is now being taken more seriously with respect to promotion and tenure, I have always thought that this was beside the point. In the end, faculties and departments can only legislate: I have always believed that it is up to me to constantly seek ways of improving my teaching through both formal and informal evaluation and self-evaluation.
A glowing traditional end-of-term evaluation, or winning a student-run Teaching Excellence award — while it always felt nice when I received one — are of very little value in truly evaluating teaching abilities. I should know, and I have to say that the courses for which I was nominated for these awards were almost always ones where I stuck to a traditional format, or didn't try to innovate or experiment. What I did learn is that many students — like most of us — are sometimes uncomfortable with doing things differently (despite films like Dead Poet's Society). As a result, I have always tried to find other, more useful means of measuring my abilities as a teacher. Here are some of the ways I have done this (and suggested to colleagues when I give workshops).
Conduct your own in-class informal evaluations during the term. Don't make them long, just one or two questions. Do one every couple of weeks or so. They can be paper or web-based, or even a casual group question at the end of class, or asking a student during an office-hours visit. Sometimes I ask about a particular lecture — did it work for them — why or why not? Every now and again I set aside some time at the end of the class for some informal feedback on some aspect of the course material or related topic (I also do this via a moderated chat room for an online course). Not everyone will pipe up at first, but some will, and the more often you have these sessions the more comfortable they will become. I try to hang around for the shy student.
Remember that each student's perspective may vary. Once, when I was going over the evaluations from one of my classes, a couple of students characterized my efforts to clarify and emphasize as "droning on and on about the obvious;" which required some humility to realize that maybe some things didn't require the same amount of repetition as others! On the other hand, several evaluations from the very same class praised me for making sure that everyone had understood a concept before I moved on. So, for some students my tendency to "repeat the obvious" was viewed by others quite differently; and further, what may work well in one class may not in another — every learner group has its own unique dynamic.
Be sure to have an occasional lecture videotaped. Many lecture halls have enclosed projection booths so that the camera won't even be noticed. You can get an AV technician to do this. But sometimes, I simply set up a camera at the back of the classroom, focus it on the front, turn it on and just leave it running till after class. I guarantee that if you've never seen a videotape of your lecturing before, you'll be shocked! Once you get over the shock, go over the tape with a teaching development person or with a colleague. I guarantee that in your next lecture you'll wave your arms around a lot less frequently; or, if you're like me, you'll learn to stop endlessly repeating yourself. Your students will be forever grateful.
Invite a colleague to sit in on one of your classes. Peer-to-peer evaluation and feedback is one of the most useful tools I know. In a large class students may not even notice the extra face; in a small class just disguise her as Barbara Streisand — as in this scene from The Mirror Has Two Faces (Striesand, 1996):
Try to attend teaching and learning development seminars, workshops and conferences. These are especially useful for learning multimedia, web-based tools or other e-learning techniques. Go to teaching development conferences or workshops (many universities will provide funding for you to attend these). Especially go to the annual STLHE or ISSOTL conference. Better yet, give a presentation at one.
When I was Director of the Teaching and Learning Centre at the University of Calgary I set up UofC's Great Teacher's Website. I began by getting the winners of the President's Teaching Excellence Award to come in and give short video commentary on what they think is important in their teaching (I hired students to do the interviewing and produce the videos). Many years later, I'm gratified to see it's still up and running. However, when I was going through the first set of video interviews I was often surprised at how often the faculty teaching award-winners tended to discuss their teaching methods simply by describing how they did things rather than why. It reminded me of those post-game interviews of hockey players who have just scored the winning goal, when they say things like "Marty saw me open on the left wing and he got me the pass just in time." I ended up having to provide with specific questions for interviewees to prepare beforehand, as opposed to a simple open-ended interview. If you are an excellent teacher, to be of any value to your peers you must be able to articulate what you do, and why, and what results you achieved. In other words, you must be able to recount our teaching as research.
This is something I have always tried to do, from documenting my own teaching innovations to creating professional workshops for faculty based on both my own teaching research as well as my colleagues. As an example, to the left is a link to one of the Teaching and Learning Centre set of programs I created while at the University of Calgary.
I've been puzzled by this cliché ever since it was introduced — especially the implication of some previous higher education dark ages where what was learned had an expiry date. Personally, I've always thought it part of my teaching responsibilities — beginning with introductory undergraduate courses — to impress that a single course can at best only scratch the surface of the subject, and that a 4-year BA ought not to be considered as an accreditation unto itself, but rather as an introduction to the means of inquiry and intellectual curiosity needed to continue to learn new things. Here is my checklist of the ways I try to do this:
The majority of my senior undergraduate students will not go on to take an advanced degree. However, I think that is important to help them see that graduation is not the end of learning, but rather a crucial milestone in their path to further discovery. For senior classes, I always invite a member of the Alumni Association during the final week or two, to inform them about its various activities.
Finally, I always make sure that I attend Convocation.
For many students this is a highly significant event in their lives — they may be the first of their family to have graduated from university. I've always noticed two things: how pleased a student is to see you there, and comes over for a chat (often I'll meet their spouses, parents and grandparents, too); and, how many of my faculty colleagues I do not see at Convocation.
A collection of links and pages of both professional
and personal interest to me, and, I hope, to you.
The William Blake Archive An invaluable hypermedia archive sponsored by the Library of Congress and supported by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of Rochester.
Following The Tuning of the World: The First International Conference on Acoustic Ecology, the World Forum for Acoustic Ecology (WFAE) was founded in 1993. The WFAE is an international association of affiliated organizations and individuals in Europe, North America, Japan, and Australia that share a common concern with the state of the world's soundscapes.
Bill Buxton's home page. Bill is a relentless advocate for innovation, design, and - especially - the appropriate consideration of human values, capacity, and culture in the conception, implementation, and use of new products and technologies, and a personal hero of mine.
The Knowledge Media Design Institute The Center for Research on Concepts and Cognition (aka the Fluid Analogies Research Group, or simply FARG) is an interdisciplinary center for research in cognitive science, directed by Douglas Hofstadter. CRCC research focuses mainly on emergent computational models of creative analogical thinking and its subcognitive substrate -- namely, fluid concepts.
Buell Salter & Associates provides expertise in teaching, learning and leadership for higher education institutions, corporate settings and the not- for-profit sector.
The McLuhan Centre for Culture and Technology is an initiative of the Faculty of Information at the University of Toronto that aims to continue the ground-breaking work initiated by the Canadian thinker Marshall McLuhan. The Centre fosters and supports innovative scholarship, interdisciplinary research and public discourse, specifically within the fields of culture, technology and communications, all in keeping with the tradition of the Toronto School of Communication.
AWB—Academics Without Borders — actively works to promote development in developing countries by assisting them in improving and expanding higher education. Volunteers work on projects that foster the skills and expertise needed for health care, education, agriculture, infrastructure, business, and more.
The Knowledge Media Design Institute (KMDI) is an interdisciplinary unit of the Faculty of Information at the University of Toronto. Founded in 1996 by Professor Ron Baecker, the institute is U of T’s first virtual institute to deal with interdisciplinary issues of collaborative design in the artifacts of knowledge creation, production and distribution.
I have recently had the privilege of being asked to become a faculty mentor with Academics Without Borders in association with Aga Khan University.
This is a university-wide virtual mentorship programme for AKU faculty, and is administered by the AKU-wide Networks of Quality, Teaching and Learning. It is the result of a successful pilot mentorship programme between Academics Without Borders (AWB) volunteers and some faculty members at the School of Nursing and Midwifery, EA.
As a mentor, I work with AKU faculty in the following ways:
For more information, or to inquire about becoming a faculty mentor yourself, follow this link.
Despite L. Frank Baum's protestations that The Wizard of Oz — and the musical film adaptation — was a fairytale for kids, numerous academics have argued that what's also going on are parables or allegories on a myriad of subjects, such as American politics, populism, 19th-century American history, economictheory, monetary policy, the gold standard, numismatology, the Great Depression, and geo-politics ( I may have missed a couple). But they're all wrong, of course.
While the basic narrrative of the film depicts Dorothy's odyssey along the Yellow Brick Road, it is also a biting critique of academia, academic drift, and the emergence of diploma mills. The fact that even Dorothy's dog Toto is able to expose Professor Marvel as a mediocre, middle-aged, white male is indicative of some major challenges faced by universities today: including the lack of diversity among faculty; the emergence of questionable psuedo-disciplines such as Thinkology; and, the impenetrability of academic jargon. Further, Dorothy's ability to get back to Kansas simply by clicking her heels together and piping "there's no place like home" demonstrates how a level-headed young girl can solve problems that elude professors overly-obsessed with hot-air technologies: i.e., advancing one's research profile at the expense of teaching. By the film's end, however, Professor Marvel has come to realize his shorcomings, and admit that he's both a "humbug" and a "bad wizard;" demonstrating the sort of personal humility sometimes lacking among scientists and academics.
Finally, Marvel has an excellent ability to explain complex ideas and difficult language in a clear and unpatronizing manner -- as demonstrated in this comparative analysis of Derrida's esssay, Mochlos, or the Conflict of the Faculties.
Like all academics, I’ve had numerous teachers and professors -- perhaps more than usual -- since the vagaries of my university education include a Bachelor’s, Masters’ two Ph.D.’s and credentials in different disciplines. I was thinking about this the other day, and so I decided to make a rough estimate of all the teachers who’d given me formal instruction. I included my university professors (including TA’s); my elementary and high school teachers; athletic coaches (university and high school); as well as numerous private and master class instrumental music and composition teachers. I ended up with a total of nearly a hundred, and yet …
One of my most influential teachers never taught a single one of my classes: N. Roy Clifton was the librarian in my high school, and he was in charge of the school’s Drama Club. He was also the teacher/advisor for numerous extracurricular activities I was involved in, including the school newspaper, the drama club, student’s council, the film club, and the “Recycling Society.”
The Richmond Hill High School Recycling Society was Clifton’s own initiative. Well before recycling emerged as a mainstream environmental issue or became part of public discourse and corporate and government initiatives –when blue boxes were simply, well, blue boxes -- Mr. Clifton recruited a bunch of us (who in turn had to recruit our parents and siblings) to organize newspaper recycling drive or the town of Richmond Hill. This involved writing and distributing information about the monthly pickups around the town, convincing parents to drive us around while we picked up the bundles from the ends of driveways, then spending hours sorting and bundling the huge piles of paper stacked on the front yards of those of us who had volunteered our homes – much to the chagrin of our parents – as sorting stations as we awaited the arrival of the delivery truck we had hired to take the tonnes of paper to a commercial recycling plant. The money we made selling the paper to the recycling contractor paid for the truck and other costs, and the rest went to the students’ council. This was long before experiential learning, project-based learning and community-based learning emerged as important academic research areas, were pedagogically recognized, and became part of the lexicon of faculty development in universities; and before shows like David Suziki’s The Nature of Things put environmental activism onto popular television. Thanks to Clifton, I and my fellow 5:00 am recyclers learned about environmentalism and community development as a social responsibility; as well as the practice of evidence-based practice and proof of concept; or, as Clifton told us; if we could convince the municipal government of the viability of such a program, then the city could be convinced to adopt such a program as a municipal service. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Mr. Clifton ran the school’s Drama Club exactly along the lines of a professional acting company, with auditions, call-backs, rehearsal call postings where our names were always preceded with “Mr. or “Miss;” his play productions replicated the entire gamut of theatrical occupations which allowed the participation of numerous students in non-acting capacities as make-up artists, sound technicians, carpenters, set designers, 1st and assistant prompters, stage hands, and publicists. We learned what a Green Room was (besides being the Home Economics classroom); and Clifton ensured that final performance always received a professional adjudication. I’m not alone in appreciating this: several renowned Canadian film and stage actors have said that Clifton was a major influence on their decision to enter the profession (including R.H. Thompson, Sonja Smits, and Mag Ruffman). Another former Drama Club member, Premier Kathleen Wynne, recently named Clifton as one of her most influential teachers, recalling him as a “drama teacher,” even though the club was an extra-curricular activity and Clifton was not part of the classroom teaching staff!
Another innovation in experiential learning was Clifton’s “Octopus” program, which was a series of seven or eight excursions to various events, including the opera, screenings at the Ontario Film Theatre, a Queen’s Park legislature session (Kathleen Wynne was also a member of “Octopus”) and attending a court case at Queen’s Bench. We were surprised to learn that such legal proceedings were free and open to the public; and this was one of Clifton’s aims: he always stressed how our knowledge of civics and other public institutions was too often based on how they were portrayed in popular media. Our visit to the law court also included a chat by a judge who explained how different a Canadian court proceeding was from those depicted on American television -- this was also before Canadian film and TV subsidies enabled shows like Street Legal to portray Canadian lawyers and judges wearing legal wigs and gowns.
At the time I did know Clifton was an avid film buff: he organized visits to the Ontario Film Theatre and screenings of historically important films. Before film studies was taught in any serious way at the high school level, we did glean a vague understanding of things like auteur theory from Mr. Clifton, although I must admit that our eyes would sometimes begin to glaze over as Potemkin was mentioned yet again.
I haven’t even mentioned how Clifton was able to help staff the library with student volunteers, that he also taught practical skills in book binding and repair, and how we learned about type fonts, journalism ethics and editorial policy from his work on the school paper (have I referred to experiential learning?) As I’ve mentioned, Clifton’s pedagogic and academic interests were ahead of their time: he was one person who truly defined the term interdisciplinarity teaching. I was continually surprised to discover – sometimes years later – that he had yet some other ability, interest or personal characteristic: such as the fact he was a Quaker; and that he was a published poet, and author of children’s books, for example The City Beyond the Gates (1971). Oh… did I mention he was also a professional square-dance caller whose work had been released on LP’s? Late one night, while falling asleep listening to a CBC radio program on folk music, I was awakened by an eerily familiar voice extolling me to “Circle-to-the-left, around-you-do, All-the-way go two-by-two!”
Oh, and I almost forgot. After our Octopus trip to Queen’s Bench I asked Clifton why he seemed particularly interested in legal matters. Turned out Clifton was a lawyer, and had practiced for many years in his native South Africa. When his religious and ethical beliefs could no longer countenance Apartheid, he immigrated to Canada, but was not allowed to practice in Canada without returning to a law school for re-credentialing. Unable to afford this, Clifton became a high school librarian,
Years later, when I was teaching cultural studies and communications at the University of Calgary, I was doing some research for a paper on how terms and constructs derived from semiotics and rhetorical theory – metaphor, synecdoche, anadiplosis, metonym, etc. – have been adapted as analogies in theories of art and music. One of the disciplinary precedents I looked at was film theory, which has a similar tradition, and I came across a wonderful book about metaphor as vehicle for film analysis, which provided some very useful insights. Titled The Figure in Film, it was a meticulously argued, scholarly book; it is frequently cited in the academic literature of several different disciplines, and has been the subject of favourable critical analysis by other scholars.
And the author? None other than Roy Clifton, high school librarian and drama coach. Not a university professor with a two or three-course teaching load, access to sabbaticals and research grants; and for whom research is a part of the job description anyway; but a high school teacher who not only spent his entire day 8-9 hour working day at school with his library duties, and in addition spent several evenings a week at the school supervising extra-curricular activities (not to mention those mornings when he’d be on the phone at 5:30 making sure we had our recycling pickup routes confirmed). The Figure in Film was published about 1983, just a year or so after Clifton retired; meaning the bulk of it was written while he was a full-time high school librarian and innovative teacher of, to name a few: Stanislavski method acting, environmental engagement, civic responsibility, Canadian legal history, journalism, and the role of the arts in society. Innovator in experiential, collaborative and project-based learning long before it trended in faculties of education and teaching and learning development. How he ever found the time to do all this remains a mystery to me.
While McLuhan is most popularly associated with the “Toronto School,” and its association with the creation of the interdisciplinary fields of Communications/Media/Cultural Studies, the organizers of this conference are right to remind us that there are several others whose contributions were equally important, particularly when it comes to McLuhan. Among them, the works of Eric Havelock, Harold Innis and Walter Ong were vital not only to the theoretical underpinnings of the Toronto School generally, but to McLuhan’s thought in particular -- even though they were never interviewed by Playboy, nor anointed as the patron saint of Wired.
Wired’s hagiographic designation of McLuhan as a “media theorist,” amplified by its 1996 "interview" with McLuhan , might leave one to believe – as apparently do so many other commentators -- that his theory of media effects simply leaped from his head – like Athena, fully grown and armoured – and shouting, “the medium is the message.” This is a mythical view of McLuhan’s thought, whose discourse on media technologies and their effects is ultimately grounded in both rhetorical theory and the political economy of technological change, and cannot be fully appreciated without them, specifically with regard to the theoretical perspectives of Havelock, Innis and Ong .
This paper has two main considerations:
McLuhan’s doctoral thesis at Cambridge was not about television — or even the printing press — but a detailed study of the English rhetorician Thomas Nashe. This is where Eric Havelock, a British classicist and rhetorician who spent much of his academic career in Canada -- and who was one of McLuhan’s primary influences – comes in. Havelock’s vital contribution to the Toronto School was his concept that Greek philosophical rhetoric underwent a transformation from an oral to a literate form, a theory which, although controversial amongst classicists, was embraced by Ong and McLuhan. In his discussion of Aristotle's use of the visual metaphor "to look at" when setting out the premises of a philosophical enquiry, Havelock states: "Why choose vision as the metaphor for an intellectual operation, unless guided by the subconscious recognition that the operation had arisen out of viewing the written word rather than just hearing it spoken?
As a graduate student, McLuhan’s immersion in Renaissance rhetorical theory led him to Petrus Ramus, variously described by McLuhan as that “furious pedagogue” and “a Frenchman who rode the Gutenberg wave.” Ramus’s innovations in, or destruction of -- depending on one’s critical standpoint – the pedagogy and curriculum of rhetoric, changed the course of its theory and practice.
While teaching at St. Louis University -- and while completing his thesis on Nashe -- McLuhan recommended Ramus as a research subject to one of his graduate students, Walter Ong. This fortuitous suggestion resulted in the publication of Ong’s classic work, Ramus, Method and the Decay of Dialogue, a study of the reforms Ramus made to the dialectic and rhetorical curriculum and the development of his Method. For Ong, Ramus's method of organizing his dialectic in a series of dichotomies can be viewed as a direct result of the refinement of the printing process, allowing the placement of tables and charts into the printed book.
While the first theoretical pillar of the Toronto School – the (sometimes overlooked) rhetorical framework -- was established by McLuhan, Havelock and Ong – its application required a means of understanding the technologies that enabled it. For example, during the middle Ages, literacy had become ingrained into European social and political culture to the point where written records were given legal standing. However, the use of letter writing to codify laws and record commercial information in a durable and compact form depended on the development of new media technologies, i.e., the invention of parchment in the codex (replacing papyrus in the roll), and the introduction of paper making from China.
This second theoretical pillar -- the political economy of technological change – was provided by the fourth founding partner, Harold Innis, who provided the correlation between the commercial revolution in Europe during the late middle ages and the increased production of paper.
While the introduction of readily-available, commercially-produced paper, and the later advent of the printing press, resulted in profound cultural shift in the way we communicate, we are currently undergoing an equally – if not greater – cultural shift in rhetorical discourse, in the way we communicate with each other publically, privately, and institutionally, first through internet-based communications technologies, and later through the advent of mobile platforms.
For example, the web designer’s mantra is “mobile first responsive design.” Although one might reasonably assume this means responding to the needs of the user’s discourse, it means quite the opposite, i.e., the demands of the technological platform, and the commercial enterprises behind them.
Consider the myriad of “guidelines” to consider when creating web-based content. Medium Consulting tells us an ideal blog article is about 1,600 words, or about seven minutes reading time. Social media guru Derek Halpern, among others, states that the two most important factors to consider when creating content are “the appearance of simplicity” and the width of the content. Content width – literally, not metaphorically! -- can give the appearance of simplicity or complexity, and is therefore the best way to ensure reader comprehension. When you consider that an iPhone 5 has a vertical screen width of 320px – less than two inches -- the implications are profound (if not depressing).
Those who aspire to succeed on Google+, are advised to keep their text on one line. Demian Farnworth of Copyblogger researched the Google+ breaking point and found that headlines should not exceed 60 characters – unless, of course, that’s too many characters to be readable on an iPhone. Although sixty characters seems rather brief for an oration (although ideal for anonymous expletive-laced rants) even this is verbose for Facebook. Research on retail brands on Facebook measured engagement of posts, defined by “like” and comment rates, demonstrate that 40-character posts (just the title of my paper has twice that many characters) received 86% higher engagement than others.
This brings us to the rhetorical platform of Twitter. According to Twitter itself, the ideal length of a tweet is 100 characters, although tweets shorter than 100 characters have a 17% higher engagement rate. If Joseph Conrad had to contend with such a publishing milieu, all that would remain of Heart of Darkness would be, “Mistah Kurtz – he dead.”
Before we are seduced – and insidiously silenced -- by the contemporary societal myth that social media enhances democracy, empowering us all with the unfettered ability to blog, tweet, Facebook-post, and self-publish, bypassing the strictures of publishers and other censorious academics, we can hear the combined voices of Havelock, Innis, McLuhan and Ong calling out, “not so fast!”
In the final chapter of Ramus, Method and the Decay of Dialogue -- "The Diffusion of Ramism" – Ong speculates:
This parallelism between the physical and the intellectual worlds remains to be developed in a future study. At the stage to which this present book extends, one can hope only to have indicated how the Ramist reworking of dialectic and rhetoric furthered the elimination of sound and voice from man's understanding of the intellectual world and helped create within the human spirit itself the silences of a spatialized universe.
If he were writing today, Ong might likely have altered his last phrase to, “the silences of the twitterverse” (which in turn points out the logical fallacy in the popular interpretation of these dopey galactic metaphors – cyberspace, Googleverse, internet galaxy, cyberverse -- since you can’t hear anything in the vacuum of space).
At any rate, with The Gutenberg Galaxy, McLuhan provided the "future study" anticipated by Ong, above. For McLuhan, Ramus personified Gutenberg man, and Ramism demonstrated the western world's shift from the acoustic realm of an oral culture to the visual, spatially-oriented world of a literate culture. As Ong demonstrated, the curricular reforms of Ramus resulted in rhetorical discourse becoming a visual process; and a world of discourse in which "the orator is perhaps not extinct, but he is now permanently eclipsed."
For McLuhan, this process was still ongoing in the present day. In his last book, Laws of Media, McLuhan, and Eric McLuhan, suggest that "a complete history of the three arts together does not exist and is badly needed, for all three are reasserting themselves now, at the close of the second millennium, as never before."
I hope to stimulate others to contribute to McLuhan’s idea of a “complete history.” Such a study must consider the fact that the contemporary incarnations of “furious pedagogues” such as Ramus no longer come from the academy. Ong’s “eclipsing of the orator” has now been taken up “furious CEO’s” like Steve Jobs, Jack Dorsey, Chad Hurley, Larry Page, and, of course, ex-Harvard man Mark Zuckerberg.
The Toronto School? There’s an app for that.
McLuhan's later, more experimental publications and projects: The Medium is the Massage — both the print and experimental vinyl LP versions — Counterblast, and Culture is Our Business met with limited success. This was partly because McLuhan had to deal with the limitations of conventional book publication and commercial record production.
McLuhan’s restless nature at this stage in his career also resulted in many of these projects being hastily completed or left incomplete, something that was also seen in McLuhan’s impatience with the conventions of scholarly academic publishing. However, I believe that a younger, 21st-century Marshal McLuhan would have done the same as so many other independent writers, artists, filmmakers and musicians, which is to use increasingly accessible and user-friendly multimedia and internet technologies to bypass the corporate and academic arbiters of publishing, filmmaking and record production, and publish directly to the web and YouTube.
Platforms such as web-based multimedia publishing would also have enabled McLuhan to insert examples and excerpts of the works of art and music he referenced. It would have been an ideal solution to the issues I mentioned above, that is, McLuhan would have been able to embed examples of visual art and music into his text, enabling artists, composers and theorists to provide authentic and supportive commentary. Recently, my colleague Bob Logan and I have started work on a hypertext-enriched e-version of The Gutenberg Galaxy, in order to do just that.
I believe Blake would have done the same thing, except that he too was born a little bit too early. However, despite being (as McLuhan like to say) “a pre-electric man,” Blake’s illuminated works are as close as possible to a music video pre-MTV.
It's just too bad that McLuhan’s ill health prevented him from experiencing at least the beginnings of the web, access to email and the advent of social media. If he had only remained reasonably healthy into old age, he surely would have been an active participant. I am not the only wishful commentator here, as Tom Wolfe has more famously rhapsodized:
Dear God — if only Marshall had been alive during the 1990s! What heaven those 10 years would have been for him! How he would have loved the Web! What a shimmering Oz he would have turned his global village into! Behold! The fulfillment of prophecies made 30 years before! The dream of the mystical unity of all mankind- made real!
Many others, however, have given McLuhan a robust presence on social media on his behalf. Almost every archival video recording of McLuhan has been posted to YouTube, and there are innumerable websites and blogs devoted to him. I am sure that McLuhan would have particularly taken to Twitter: it is text-based, and given McLuhan’s love of aphoristic expression and wordplay, he would have delighted in sending off frequent Twitter “probes.” McLuhan’s most memorable and eloquent predictions, such as the evolution of the medium is the message to the medium is the massage to the medium is the mess age, as well as the explanatory tropes that accompanied them, are aphoristic bursts which fit perfectly within the 140-charatcter limit of a Tweet.
It is fascinating to speculate on how many Twitter followers McLuhan would have had — and they would have been legion — and how the “Twittersphere” would have responded to McLuhan’s first tweet about “the medium is the message.” Finally, I think McLuhan would have found Twitter an excellent way of working out his concept of the Tetrad, first formally laid out in Laws of Media: The New Science, which was published after his death through the work of McLuhan’s son and collaborator, Eric McLuhan. McLuhan’s simpler tetrads are easily expressed in less than 140 characters, such as this one for “Booze:”
ENH Private outlook, zest, aggressiveness
RET Group sentiment, songs
REV Depression, hangover
OBS Sensibility, private inhibition
Perhaps McLuhan might have applied the Tetrad to Facebook:
ENH Voyeurism; Narcissism
OBS Humility; Privacy
RET The village gossip; Billboards
REV Anti-social media; Corporate advertising
Or even to Twitter itself!
ENH conciseness, brevity
RET the telegraph
REV endless repetition by re-tweeting
OBS phatic communication; literacy
Other useful aspects of Tetrad-Tweeting — or “Tweetrads” — are Twitter’s Re-Tweet and Reply functions, which are perfectly suited for adding additional interpretations of the same artefact, and for adding interpretive glosses, which are an essential part of the Tetrad’s application. As a proof-of-concept, I have set up a Twitter feed under the handle Laws of Media.
So far, the site’s followers and I have posted about one hundred “Tweetrads.” I would like to invite everyone to become a follower, and to reply and comment on the existing “Tweetrads”, add glosses, and most importantly, contribute your own Tweetrads, which we will then re-Tweet. Please share @McLuhanTetrad with your colleagues: Here's the link — check it out — the more participation the better!