Retreat enhances doctoral student experience

December 2010

Students held their retreat day at Thomson House.

DCL students spend a day exchanging thoughts on pedagogy, technology and more

Students in conversation during the retreatBy Victoria Leenders-Cheng

Like so many conversations among students, the one that opened the second annual DCL student retreat at Thomson House in mid-October eventually made its way to the subject of Facebook.

And like so many conversations about Facebook among individuals who also teach, this conversation eventually gave rise to a debate about whether or not to ban Facebook, or laptops altogether, from the classroom.

The panel, which took “Teaching Experience” as its overarching theme, was part of a day-long opportunity for the Faculty’s doctoral students to come together and discuss the various facets specific to their student experience, from teaching to thesis supervision.

The twenty-odd students in the doctorate in civil law (DCL) program who were taking part in the retreat all had varying – and strong – opinions on the subject of Facebook. Many felt that laptop use in classrooms had enormous pedagogical potential but also posed a risk to attention span.

“It’s up to the professor to engage students,” went one argument. “If students are interested, they won’t be checking Facebook.”

“It’s not hard to tell when students are using Facebook anyway, but it is more difficult to engage students if they’re tempted or amused by whatever they’re seeing on their computer,” went another.

The panel showcased the diversity of DCL student backgrounds, from Austria to Mexico, Uzbekistan to Ireland, Israel to Canada and beyond, passionately united by situations they had encountered as teachers that spanned country and language.

As the day continued, discussions included approaches to grading, the ins and outs of thesis supervision, how to teach in a large classroom and how to handle diversity in teaching. The retreat, which took place on the upper floor of Thomson House, garnered positive reviews from the participants, who voiced particular appreciation for the opportunity to build on the sense of community among their peers.

“I have repeatedly found the doctoral students at McGill to be eager to help each other with academic questions and ideas,” remarked Alexandra Harrington. “The openness of the DCL community is truly invaluable, as are the friendships formed in this atmosphere.”

Photographs by Lysanne Larose.

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