Two Minutes with…Chris Buddle, Associate Dean (Student Affairs)



Professor Chris Buddle took on the role of Associate Dean (Student Affairs) on June 1st this year. He comes to the role with an impressive record.


Preparing for the St Lawrence Ecosystems Course

Chris makes learning an enjoyable experience for his students: he is an articulate, engaging, enthusiastic and motivated educator in our Environmental Biology Program. The quality of his work with our students is continually being recognized and rewarded. In 2008 he received the Macdonald Campus Award for Teaching Excellence. He then led the redesign of the St. Lawrence Ecosystems course, which, among other innovations, incorporated the use of social media into this first-year course, allowing the students to communicate with scientists around the world from the field. For this body of work, he was awarded the “Best Practices and Pedagogical Innovators Award” by SALTISE (Supporting Active Learning and Technological Innovation in Science Education). This past summer, Chris was one of a handful of international post-secondary educators to be awarded the “Desire 2 Learn (D2L) Innovation Award” from the Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education. He assumes the role of Associate Dean (Student Affairs) at a time when significant emphasis is being placed on enhancing the student experience.

We sat down with Chris to learn a bit more about what makes him tick.

Q: You are much more than a university professor. How would you describe yourself? What are your hobbies and interests and why did you become a university professor?

A: I describe myself as an enthusiastic optimist but with enough skepticism to stay grounded. I’m a people person, and love the University environment in part because I get to interact with smart, interesting people every day. Im also a bit of a generalist, and enjoy working on a wide range of projects, from Arctic research on spiders to projects about teaching and learning.

Universities provide a place to think creatively, to collaborate and to learn, and I have always enjoyed this milieu. After completing my undergraduate studies at the University of Guelph, I wanted more of the university experience. Research was a good fit, and after doing a PhD about spiders occurring in the boreal forests of Alberta, I moved on to a post-doc in Ohio and continued my studies. During my post-doc a tenure-track position presented itself at McGill and I jumped at the opportunity. I realized the other day that I’ve been living and breathing the university experience for over half my life, and my enthusiasm for academia has never wavered.


Relaxing at home

I have always had many hobbies and interests outside academia. Im an avid cyclist and cross-country skier, I try to play some guitar and mandolin, and dabble with drawing and painting. For me, art and science are intimately linked. Most importantly, I have an amazing family and Im immensely proud to be a husband (of almost 20 years) and father: my three (growing) kids keep me grounded and help me keep priorities straight.

Q: What do you hope to accomplish in your new role?

A: I want to work in a collegial and productive manner with the entire Macdonald Campus community, recognizing that our undergraduate students are vital to our success. The well-being of our undergraduate students is a priority for me. I want to help ensure that our students are having a positive educational experience: one that will change their lives, bring them happiness, success, and allow them to be innovators, thinkers and leaders. The Student Affairs Office (and its incredible staff) plays a central role in helping enrich the experience for our undergraduates, and I hope I can bring energy, enthusiasm and some fresh perspectives on ways that we can continue to succeed. Although we are facing some challenges, there are also unparalleled opportunities for us to rethink how we do things and how we prioritize our operations. I’m also hoping to continue to explore ways to show our campus to the world. We are a campus that learns together and works together, and I am proud and excited to play a part in helping this community grow.

Q: What do you as a teaching innovator see for the future of teaching and learning?

A: The landscape of higher education is changing rapidly, and with that must come a paradigm shift in the way we think about teaching and learning. The way that we access knowledge and content is so different than it was 15 years ago, and the future holds even more rapid changes. Knowledge is everywhere and its totally accessible: the idea of “foundational contentwill shift dramatically as we continue along in this digital age. A university professor must work to be a facilitator of discussions about the content as well as be the delivery mechanism for that content: this approach requires a movement away from podium-style lectures. An instructor can help students synthesize and critique knowledge; an instructor needs to be a learner with the students, albeit a learner with a deeper set of experiences and specialized knowledge. At Macdonald, we have an opportunity to continue to transform our classrooms into active learning classrooms: ones full of interdisciplinary thinking, problem solving, debate and discussion. We can also fully embrace a range of new and exciting technologies and tools to help us with this paradigm shift in teaching and learning. Social media platforms are part of this toolbox. They have a place in the classroom, but only if the learning outcomes match. I have used social media effectively when the learning outcomes are about science communication: Twitter or blogs represent new and exciting ways to communicate about activities in the classroom. If the tools are a distraction, its because they aren’t being used appropriately. We live in a society full of distractions and technology, and as university professors, its our responsibility to find ways to leverage these effectively and integrate the technology and tools into teaching and learning.

Chris Buddle on the Barbados Field Study Semester

Chris Buddle on the Barbados Field Study Semester

Q: You are very active on social media. What does all this tweeting and blogging bring to you as an educator and researcher?

A: Being a scientist involves collaboration, networking, sharing ideas, reflecting on these ideas, troubleshooting, and communicating about research. These activities can be done in hallways, around a coffee machine, in laboratories, at conferences, or with social media tools. For me, the social media tools fit well with my personality and, every day, the tools help me be a better scientist, and be better at my job. Twitter helps me learn about new developments in my field, read broadly, and helps me connect with amazing people from around the world. Blogging helps to hone communication skills, and helps to reach out to a broader audience. I’m a strong believer that we have a responsibility to share what we do with people beyond the walls of our institution: blogging is a terrific way to do this. Finally, Twitter and blogging help present a very human side to higher education, and help remind us that, at the end of the day, we are all hard-working people, doing interesting things in our jobs, struggling along every now and then, having fun, and finding success and happiness at being in the business of higher education.


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