“I loved how enthusiastic he was . . . and how he brought in his own experience (through photos of his travels and occasional anecdotal stories).” – University of Toronto Student (2016)
Developing a co-learning environment allows me to personalize both my pedagogy and the past. During class I introduce myself to individual students, which makes both lectures and seminars more personal and less intimidating. Creating an open atmosphere of intellectual exchange means that I can facilitate learning instead of being a mere presenter of information. I also enhance my interpretation of historical events and ideas with brief anecdotes and photographs from my travels throughout Europe and North and South America. Drawing upon my own experiences, I bring history to life for my students by humanizing it in ways that draw them into the topic under discussion. Not only this, but all students absorb information differently, so the combination of the spoken word with visual material is useful for both communicating ideas and as a mnemonic device for future assignments.
“Very organized course structure (weekly lecture outline before lecture) that was thoroughly followed.” – Trent University Student (2015)
For all my classes, I provide detailed outlines that include important names, terms, dates, and suggested readings. I post these outlines on the Learning Management System so that students can bring them to class or pull them up on their laptops or smartphones. During lecture, I incorporate my outlines into my PowerPoint presentations, thus allowing students to follow content more easily. These outlines also provide them with a larger roadmap of the entire course, a helpful way of reviewing what they have learned throughout any given term.
“[Jason] Dyck’s enthusiastic reading of Document Exercises in almost every lecture really made the authors we read from come to life.” – University of Toronto Student (2015)
Instead of formally lecturing for the duration of any given class, I complement my interpretations of course material with document exercises. Together with my students, we analyze one-page excerpts from an array of different sources. These interpretive exercises are a form of active learning that reinforce their critical reading skills and transform lectures into discussions.
“When he mediates our seminars he does so without judgement, but responds rather with more engaging questions to students.” – University of Toronto Student (2016)
Seminars are an important complement to interactive lectures because they provide an intimate setting where ideas can be shared more freely. My overall goal in seminar is to facilitate an engaging discussion of our weekly topic by asking questions in a Socratic fashion. Instead of “correcting” my students when I notice holes in their arguments, I challenge them with further questions. Beyond developing critical reasoning skills, this method forces students to rethink their own theories and to discover answers to problems on their own. Not only this, but this teaching strategy establishes a safe and inclusive setting where all students feel welcome to participate.
“Jason was an excellent professor who genuinely cared about his students.” – Brock University Student (2012)
Beyond breaks during lectures and seminars, I make myself available to my students during office hours, frequently encouraging them to stop by and discuss any questions they might have about my courses. When students approach me after class to tell me about themes that are of interest to them, I search for articles or book chapters to further stimulate their enthusiasm. I fondly remember when some of my instructors went out of their way to photocopy material for me to read, because they changed my way of thinking without ever having to say a word.
“He gave detailed feedback on assignments, and detailed instruction on Blackboard, which made performing well on assignments much easier.” – University of Toronto Student (2016)
In all my courses I emphasize the interpretation of primary sources, which is why I favour document analyses, photographic reports, and reflective essays. These types of assignments provide students with the opportunity to explore their historical imaginations, to exercise their critical reading skills, and to refine their creative writing. I assign them texts by authors from different socioracial backgrounds, which challenge them to enter the worldviews of diverse peoples and to identify their biases. When appropriate, I use ethnographic assignments to provide students with the opportunity to take down field notes on their experiences of cultural difference. Research papers are also valuable exercises for undergraduates at all levels. When I assign these types of essays, I stress that students need to be passionate about their subjects, always recognizing that writing a university paper is a privilege that few people in the world enjoy.
“He was also the first professor I’ve had who personally introduced himself and engaged with students before the beginning of every lecture.” – University of Toronto Student (2015)
Whenever a student approaches me during class or office hours, I normally ask them how the course is going. I always make a conscious effort to talk with students during break whenever possible, checking to see which parts of my teaching are working for them and others that can be improved upon. Beyond this, I also pass around blank sheets of paper at the halfway point of the semester in search of feedback on what to continue doing and what to change.