Taking a break with science fiction

By Terry Hébert, Pharmacology and Therapeutics

“Because preparing 9 new lectures for our new medical curriculum is driving me crazy, I’ve been re-reading some books by Jack McDevitt for the pure entertainment of it. McDevitt is one of my favourite science fiction authors who writes well, has a good grasp of big issues and realizes that people will be people no matter how far we are projected into future. In an epigraph to one of the chapters in “Polaris” he talks about history:

“History is a collection of a few facts and a substantial assortment of rumors, lies, exaggerations and self-defense. As time passes, it becomes increasingly difficult to separate the categories.”

So true…

Oct. 2 Workshop for Faculty: Designing Effective Multiple-Choice Questions

Would you like to improve the quality of your Multiple Choice Questions (MCQs)? Would you like to learn how to use MCQs to assess higher order thinking skills such as application and analysis? If so, join a group of fellow instructors for a workshop about the principles of well-designed multiple-choice questions. During this workshop you will have the opportunity to apply these principles to your own course. Bring existing MCQs exams or course materials for which you would like to develop questions.

Offered by: Teaching and Learning Services

Location: Bronfman Building, Rm. 179 (click here to view map) Register Now!


McGill and the Quebec Charter of Values

By Marcy Slapcoff, Teaching and Learning Services

Congratulations to Principal Suzanne Fortier and the McGill administration for taking a  stand in favour of pluralism  and against the Quebec Charter of values.  The statement published on the McGill website is a critical first step in supporting all members of our community and their right to dress in accordance to their convictions.  This statement demonstrates that we care about our students and are committed to ensuring them equal access to the opportunities that await them upon graduation.  It also communicates to society that we are engaged members of Quebec society – that we care about this province and are willing to take a stand when we feel things are not going well.

This statement is the first step but what comes next? How can faculty, students and staff continue to voice their opinions and make a difference in this province? Service to society is a central tenet of our mission and now is the time to take our efforts beyond the gates and demonstrate that our critical thinking, our scholarship, and our engagement can contribute to this debate and make a difference for society.  

The lost art of being selfish

By Lauren Soluk, graduate student in DISE, shares an opinion piece on life lessons as a graduate student.

Attending a new university, I was eager to involve myself in graduate university life. As my first semester progressed, I choose to take advantage of all the opportunities that presented themselves. Ambitious, like many other graduate students, I had difficulty saying ‘no’. Studying a full course load, working, maintaining familial and social relations, all while trying to remain mentally healthy, began to take its toll. How much can one person handle?

Being me, and like many other graduate students who don’t want to say ‘no’, I took on too much. Saying ‘yes’ to every job opportunity that came my way proved to be my demise, which I would experience later in summer. In the summer, I worked a full time day job part time, part time hours with university departments, provided childcare at night, and committed to other familial obligations. By July, I had reached the point of exhaustion, self-inflicted because of my inability to say ‘no’.

For the first time, I felt like I failed, especially when I knew I let down those who relied on me. For someone who wants nothing more then to succeed in life, that was a difficult experience to go through.

The other day, I noticed a professor had the sign “slow down” taped to his doorframe. When I commented on the sign, he directed me to a blog post he had written to explain the meaning of the words (his post can be found here). The moral of the story was simple, despite the hustle and bustle of the 21st Century, we need to slow down and take time to appreciate our surroundings. We need to realize that work will always be there – something that many of us tend to forget.

When I lost my father two years ago, my life philosophy changed and I vowed to appreciate my life more and take time for those around me and myself. The hustle and bustle of graduate living seemed to take its toll on me as I soon forgot this mantra. This fact was recently pointed out to me when my significant other’s mother said, “Tell Lauren it’s okay if she can’t attend [Thanksgiving in Muskoka]. She has a tendency to overcommit herself!” I believe my summer experience with exhaustion, reading the slow down story, and recent reminder that I overcommit myself, inspired me to write this blog post and reconsider my actions.

Recently, for the first time, I was proud of myself. I had previously decided that I wanted to involve myself in yet another school activity but after careful consideration, I decided that I shouldn’t overcommit and extend myself. For the first time, I felt as if I put myself first. I was selfish!

As graduate students, we often forget that we are people first and graduate students second. Although it’s a competitive job market out there, it’s okay to say ‘no’. While some may read this and think, “No! You have to take every opportunity because it could lead to bigger and better opportunities,” I urge you to reconsider. I’m not suggesting that we should say ‘no’ all the time however, I am suggesting that we strive to strike a balance between the two. On that note, I want to end this post with one final thought: Whether you are a graduate student, a professional, or someone who is just busy, I want you to ask yourself, do you work to live or live to work?

MOOCs and pistol shrimp in the Sea of Cortez

By Marcy Slapcoff, Teaching and Learning Services.

I think this opinion piece from the New York Times  presents an interesting and original take on online courses. Are MOOCs so highly organized (curated, is the term the author uses) that they eliminate the possibility of learning anything that is not on the syllabus, anything that cannot be easily assessed?

Great face-to-face courses create situations where everyone, including the instructor, can tackle problems together and discover something new in the process. The author describes a field course where two of his students discover what makes the the popping sound in the Sea of Cortez (spoiler alert – it’s the pistol shrimp!) The course becomes a triangle between the instructor, the student, and the world and the learning outcomes are surprising and likely to be remembered forever.

I think there is the potential for MOOCs to be designed as inquiry-based instruction, but most of what is currently out there focuses on the delivery of content  above all else. Imagine MOOCS as arenas for global citizen science – a place where instructors could help their students not just figure out the mating calls of shrimp underwater but also  grapple with the uncertainty around them and deal with unanswered questions. Thousands of students could be mobilized worldwide to address  pressing issues while learning something at the same time. Wouldn’t that be exciting??

Photo Credit: Standing Watch by aquarist.me, on Flickr

MOOCs and human interaction

By Terry Hébert, Pharmacology and Therapeutics

An interesting article by the president of my Alma Mater, David Naylor at the University of Toronto on the continuing need for interpersonal contact in the university educational setting. Here, he is commenting on the use of MOOCs (massive open online courses). To quote him:

“At U of T, recent curriculum reforms have deliberately leavened academic and technical skills with what one might call “renewable competencies,” such as critical thinking, effective writing and communications, problem-solving, teamwork, and ethical and social reasoning. These are competencies for a lifetime, for any job and for every citizen.”

This is also the raison d’être for McGill’s Inquiry network (http://www.mcgill.ca/tls/projects/nexus/network).

Naylor also says: “It’s hard to imagine nurturing such attributes effectively without some in-person interactions. It’s even harder to imagine how traits such as resilience or emotional self-awareness can be developed in an online cocoon with its pseudo-socialization. In contrast, if student A debates student B in a seminar, neither can reboot as their pet arguments get shredded. And the good news is that they might thereafter engage in civil discourse and discover the most important piece of human geography: common ground.


Also, here is a link to a lot of good articles on the risks and opportunities of online learning and MOOCs:



Discussing what matters in higher education.