What Silence Taught

The middle of the semester can be rough. For students, there is work to be done. Lots of it. Assignments due. Tests. Mid term grades being released. The bulk of the semester’s work underway….which means there are often larger, culminating assessments lurking. 

For faculty, it’s the growing pile of assessment and the challenge of getting it all back in a timely fashion with the meaningful feedback that will allow students to improve. It’s the tweaking (or complete revisiting) of a course to meet student need while remaining true to the Learning Objectives. 

In short, it can be an intense and stressful time for everyone.

Time, I think, for John Cage‘s 4’33” (hyperlink)

For more, read The Piano in my Life’s What Silence Taught John Cage: The story of 4’33”

  Open Letter To New (and Returning) Students

A new year, a new semester, is just about to start, and it’s exciting, possibly a little nerve-wracking. It’s mostly parents who ask me what students can do to prepare for the change to post-secondary…let’s face it, they’re as keen as you are for your year to be a successful one. And whether you are heading straight from high school, or coming back as a second year, whether you are transitioning from the workplace or a different program, whether you have been out of school months or decades, there are things you can do to make this your best year ever. 

Be Open Minded: You will meet new people with new ideas, different perspectives. That’s the good news. With luck, you will have your own ideas challenged and stretched. You will make friends with people of different ages, backgrounds, cultures, beliefs. You will learn to disagree without offending, learn to question your own opinions and understand your personal biases. You will learn the value of evidence to support your own claims, and to share ideas in a culture of mutual respect. Embracing diversity, listening to others, and collaborating makes all of us stronger. 

Commit to Self-Improvement: College is about more than the credits achieved and grades earned. You heard me. It’s a tough shift in thinking, but the students who get the most out of their education are the ones who allow themselves to take risks, try something new, get outside their comfort zone. Assume you have something to learn in every class, and dig deep to figure out what that is. Take Electives that interest you even if….especially if…you know nothing about them. Push yourself to explore your own limitations. Then grow past them.

Only Connect:  Shamless reference to one of my favourite classic novels aside, make connections. Connect with your professors and your classmates. Draw connections between your subjects. Connect what you don’t know to what you do know, and to what you want to know. Connect with yourself through greater understanding and reflection. Connect to your community and the world around you. Only Connect, to me, embodies the most important thing you can learn…it is the hallmark of an intrinsically-motivated, self-directed, life-long learner.*

Fail Forward: Everyone is rooting for you to be successful. There may, however, be times when you are not. It happens to everyone, and it’s scary. It’s especially scary when you are away from home, on your own, and in a new environment. Society frames failure as a bad thing, but the truth is, we learn more from failure than we think. It means you took a risk, or that you misunderstood, or that you are struggling. The trick is to allow yourself to accept it without self-recrimination. And then figure out what you need to do to turn failure into success. 

Self-Advocate: The best way to be your own self-advocate is to understand your own needs as well as understand the nuances of group dynamics and positive communication. Start by making an effort to get to know your professors. Let them know if there is something you don’t understand. Know yourself….for example, if you procrastinate, find a study partner and commit to a time to meet every week. If you are feeling overwhelmed, or stressed, or anxious, don’t wait until the middle of the semester to get help. There are many resources on campus, and if you’re not sure where to start, ask.  

Balance: All work and no play…leads to stress and anxiety. Eat breakfast. Drink water. Go to the gym. Relax. Have a hobby. Walk the river paths. Socialize with friends. Call home. Nothing revolutionary here, but easy to forget in the middle of a busy semester. 

None of this….none of it….mentioned going to class, completing assignments on time, studying hard. You will need to do that too. But a successful college student isn’t necessarily the one who gets straight A’s without effort. Rather, it’s the student who puts in a solid effort, who asks questions and expands their own horizons, who helps others, who forges strong relationships, who is flexible, and who doesn’t shy away from a challenge, even when that means changing direction. 

It’s cliche, but true success is a result of internal growth, not external achievement. 

Welcome to College. See you in class. 

*Note: if you are a student in one of my classes, this is also a clue to one of our opening activities.

Summer Reads

This is my first day of vacation and I’m kicking it off by slowly and deliberately reading this book:  


So far, I’ve read the Preface and am on page 5 of the Introduction.

And I have a page of notes, observations, and miscellaneous thoughts. 

Good job I have all summer. 

Aligning and Building Curriculum: An Overview

I have joined fellow professors and college administrators across Eastern Ontario for a four day conference at the lovely Elmhirst Resort up towards Peterborough. 

What could be better than conversations and learning around curriculum while enjoying the blue lake and tranquil setting of the Canadan Shield?  In addition, the food here is incredible.   

It’s a real treat to be here. I’d will find time to do more in depth posts, but in the meantime, here are the highlights of our formal discussion so far:

  • Outcome-Based Education (OBE) – Challenges and Benefits
  • Credential ing Framework in Ontario
  • Curriculum Development and Evaluation (Mapping)
  • Vocational Learning Outcomes
  • Essential Employability Skills
  • Course Outlines and Perfirmance-Based Course Learning Outcomes
  • Authentic & Aligned Assessment 
  • Credential Validation
  • Quality Control and Audits 

Informally, there are sidebar discussions on pedagogy-andragogy issues, academic freedom, student readiness, summative and formative assessment strategies, mental health concerns among students, growth-fixed mindsets and student achievement, faculty coaching, program development, transfer credits and student pathways, and a host of other great topics.

This afternoon, there are some concurrent sessions running on Universal Design of or Learning, Hybrid and Online Teaching, new Program Development, and Employability Skills.

All of this, ultimately, will be taken back to our respective colleges where, I am sure, the conversation on ensuring quality and consistency in standards across the province will continue. I’m thrilled to be part of it.

St. Lawrence River: An Anthology

Turns out, we have some talent in the Communications class. 

When I suggested we write and publish a book for our Enjoying the Short Story culminating project, I had no idea how enthusiastically the idea would be received. 

Maybe they thought I knew more about publishing than I do (hey, I’m a book editor, not a publisher), but everyone was on board and ready to go.

Honestly, they did it all. I provided the framework, suggested the river as a thematic way to pull it together, and set deadlines. The rest was up to the students. They wrote and submitted. I worked with the editors to finesse and fine tune. We received submissions from the greater Cornwall community. The students took photographs. We formatted and proofread in class. One student researched publishing options.two others did some marketing.

It was an ambitious few weeks. And a crazy few weeks.

But I have never before had students so eager to do the work that they emailed me at all hours, offered to do extra, and were disappointed when the project ended. So as a professor, I call that a win.

And when the “project manager” and I uploaded it into Amazon, and I said Hit Publish and he looked at me and said, Is this it? ….That was a good moment. 

Here’s the link for the Kindle version.

We couldn’t make it free. Hadn’t expected that. There are some things I would do differently for sure.

But I know I couldn’t have done it without the dedication and effort of the students. They all partipated, and there were tasks for everyone. My editors, art director, and project manager deserve a big hand though. They really pulled this together. I also want to thank our local contributors who wrote for us and trusted us with their work. Thank you all so much.

There is much to be said for Real World Learning. 



That’s what we decide to call our end of semester project in the communications class I teach entitled Enjoying the Short Story.

This course is a hybrid course revolving around some of the classic literature of the genre -Saki, Poe, Fitzgerald, Gilman, Jackson, Chekhov – and exploring some of the great questions: Is meaning constructed by the author or the reader? Is the idea of a “canon” dead? How have modern short stories evolved? Does literature even matter….and if so, how?

We write too. Creating our own fiction from prompts and assignments, identifying the structural elements of a good story, sharing in small, safe groups.

The final assignment is always a class project that spans the final four weeks of the course. In past years, we have picked a story and themed our projects around it to end up with essays, video, poetry, plays, and analysis all related to the same subject (hence the somewhat unwieldy term Trans-Media Project). One year it was The Yellow Wallpaper: last year Winter Dreams. There is a certain beauty in mining the depths of a story like that.

But the first day of class this semester, I announced that I would like the class to try and write, edit, publish, and promote a book for their final project.

And to my delight, they were game.

Workshop Chaos And Learning

Sometimes, learning is chaotic. 

That was how last week’s two-hour communications class went. Instead of presentations for their final oral presentations, each student had to prepare and deliver a 10 minute workshop.  This was met with a lack of enthusiasm from students who thought this was going to be too hard. 


(Music, martial arts, knots, aerodynamics)

I gave class time two weeks previously for preparation and brainstorming ideas. But then they were on their own. They had to submit their plan the night before, and on the day of, I divided the class into groups, with each student taking a turn as workshop leader.   

(CPR, algebra, more martial art, the fine art of shoelace tying)

I was impressed with the variety, the thought that went into each of the workshops. Students were enthusiastic and took their task seriously, bringing in props and mats for safety, and being conscious of their group dynamics, and of their time restrictions….one karate move as opposed to five, for example.

(Tying a tie, Italian, driving skills, cursive writing)

I walked around to see what was happening. Each Leader was expected to explain relevancy of their workshop….though I left that open ended…and was to demonstrate their activity, as well as allow time for practice, feedback, and individual/peer assessment.

(Basketball shooting, manicures-the guys too, guitar riff, dinner etiquette)

Turns out you can teach a wide number of useful skills in 10 minutes. And can have fun doing it. Students really loved the activity in the end. After every 10 minutes, I gave time for student evaluation of their workshop. I kept it simple, but would modify this next time and instead if numerical values, would ask students to write a sentence about what they liked most, and another offering a suggestion for improvement.

(Fishing fly, how to disarm someone with a knife…using plastic cutlery… Braiding)

It was noisy. So noisy. I’m glad we had the tail end of a Friday afternoon, and an opportunity to move into one of the larger classrooms for this. And since one of the students chose to bring in his electric guitar and equipment to teach a basic riff and hand exercise, we ended the class with some music. 

Next time, I will bring snacks too.