New Methods To Motivate Students And Enhance Learning

2010-2011 Issue 1

A profile of four CCE instructors bringing the world into the classroom


Imagine studying the topic of travel in a Language and Culture class and being able to have a real-time online demonstration from someone on the other side of the world.  Lorraine Inglis does just that with her students, courtesy of Skype and the new hightech classrooms on the 12th floor of 688 Sherbrooke Street West.

“With much of the modern technology we can knock down the four walls of the classroom to bring the outside world in,” says Inglis, who teaches in the Intensive English Language and Culture (IELC) program.  “There are many new learning possibilities with wired classrooms – laptop hook-ups, built-in projectors, whiteboard screens and microphones.”

Using Skype, Inglis and her students recently called Egypt and spoke to a PhD student about his country and its food. “He was thrilled about meeting our class and had examples of Egyptian foodstuffs and even showed us his Subway cup with Arabic script on it. The students were divided into groups and took turns asking him questions about culture and travel. It was an exhilarating experience for them.”

Inglis also uses YouTube videos and image-filled PowerPoints as part of her teaching methods. “Many of my students
are visually oriented so the technology really helps them ‘see’ the concepts I’m teaching.  For example, I project drawings with hidden images to teach them prepositions of place. They work collaboratively to discover
these images: ‘Look at the top, look in the middle, look on the right, etc.’ They really get engaged.”

Inglis likes using such technology in the classroom since “today’s students really relate to it.” However, while it may be easy to capture students’ attention with high-tech bells and whistles, she is very clear about her ultimate goal of creating an environment that targets as many learning styles as possible using both traditional and contemporary teaching methodologies and tools. “Technology is certainly powerful when used appropriately,” she says. “I use it in some activities to further motivate my students and keep them actively involved in their learning.”


When a massive earthquake and multiple aftershocks struck Haiti on January 12 of this year, many of the country’s towns and cities were leveled. Approximately 230,000 people died, while many more were injured, displaced or left homeless. International charities were quick to respond. A new Montreal-based charity – KANPE (pronounced kahn-pay) – was founded with the goal of rebuilding Haitian towns.

Fundamentals of Fundraising lecturer Rosalind Franklin was quick to react too. “I called as soon as I saw a newspaper article about KANPE,” she says. “They have a great team of Quebec-based volunteers and an international board of directors. Since they would like to get Quebec youth more involved in their charity, I saw this as an excellent fit for my fundraising students because so much of their classwork has a real-world focus.”

For example, an early assignment in Franklin’s class could be to track down and interview the manager of street fundraisers, those brightly clad, clipboard-toting young people who approach pedestrians at busy downtown intersections or outside Metro stations in support of worthy causes like Doctors Without Borders or
AIDS charities.

Back in the classroom, Franklin’s students get to use actual donor prospecting software, courtesy of Metasoft Systems Inc. For the past four years, Metasoft has partnered with the course, providing the software so students can get up to speed with the same fundraising tools used by so many charitable organizations. “It’s great experience for them,” Franklin says.

And all this class work will feed nicely into the KANPE project. “By the end of the semester my students will have developed a fundraising plan to raise awareness and better engage youth in KANPE activities. This will give them a solid grounding in fundraising and non-profit organizations, while supporting a very worthy and timely cause. What they learn in my course also prepares them well for later work in a charitable organization or as a volunteer.”


When Julia Mercuri-Albisi started teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) 25 years ago, scissors and glue were among the popular technologies used by teachers to assemble handouts and by students to prepare some assignments. Today, Mercuri-Albisi is more likely to use the “glue” of WebCT to bring her teaching materials, reference documents, Web-page links and student assignments together, and her students are more likely to use software than scissors to crop images and lay out their projects.

For the past two years Mercuri-Albisi has assigned students in one of her courses a multimedia project that she calls Digital Storyboard. Each student has to create a multi-faceted story based on a real event in his or her life, and assemble it using Windows Movie Maker. Combining photographs, narration and music may seem odd in a language class, yet Mercuri-Albisi’s been amazed at the collaborative efforts her students undertake
– communicating and problem-solving – to bring their projects to fruition.

While Mercuri-Albisi emphasizes that her “teaching approach and methodologies have probably not changed a great deal over the years,” she’s sure that her use of multiple technologies accelerates learning by motivating
students and also saving them time. “In the past they might have spent a lot of time transcribing lessons or deciphering handwriting; now they can consult all the course materials on the class WebCT site. This allows
them to focus more on what I’m saying and what their fellow students are saying.”

Other technologies she uses include Camtasia to video-record team presentations for later review and feedback, and digital voice recorders for oral exams to eliminate a great deal of subjectivity in student assessments. And while Mercuri-Albisi may have moved on from her Scotch Tape and Liquid Paper days, she still knows how to make the best use of the time-tested blackboard. “Chalk is good,” she says, laughing. “If the power ever goes out in my classroom, chalk never lets me down!”


When the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded, burned and sank in the Gulf of Mexico in April, it caused one of the U.S.’s worst environmental disasters. It also unleashed a torrent of ink, round-the-clock news updates, blogs, tweets and live underwater camera footage. Where, in all of this coverage and commentary, was the truth of what happened? How did BP’s statements match up with those of independent observers? Was it just an engineering issue? Was the CEO properly advised by his PR people?

These are just some of the questions Louis Fortier raises in his graduate-level Ethics in Public Relations course. A typical assignment would have his students analyze such an event from different perspectives – say, through coverage in The New York Times and a British publication such as The Guardian or The Economist. Working in small groups, they carefully review high-profile stories to better understand the ethical matters at play.

“I use the case study as my core methodology,” says Fortier, a former communications and public affairs executive in the pulp-and paper industry as well as at the Canadian Space Agency. “We look at ethical issues in today’s business world, examining topics like sexual harassment, sustainability in resource management, and the behaviour of companies like BAE, BP, Green Giant and Monsanto.” Once the students have done their analysis and made their presentation, Fortier opens it up for discussion:

“How did you arrive at your position?” For him, the conclusion is not as important as the analytical process
and how his students support their arguments. “I try to create a real-world environment in my classes where, like their managers, I won’t tell them how to work, but I’m very interested in their thinking processes and the factors they take into account along the way.”

This openness is all part of Fortier’s educational philosophy to enhance learning. “I don’t want to have any walls between me and my students. I see my relationship with them as a compact where I enter the classroom with a sense of humility that allows us to learn from each other. This creates an environment of intellectual receptivity that you can’t attain with an ex cathedra approach.”

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