Tag Archives: Western University

  • One in a Thousand: One Hundred Years Later

    One hundred years ago, Eddie McKay, the WWI flying ace featured in One in a Thousand, was shot down and killed. To commemorate his life and death, and the publication this year of Eddie's story in an innovative new microhistory, author Graham Broad discusses how he was compelled to research, write, and publish Eddie's story. To learn more about Eddie McKay, you can of course get your hands on a copy of One in a Thousand, but we also urge you to check out Eddie's account on Twitter: @AEMcKayRFC

    I don’t believe in such things, but if I did, I’d say that Eddie McKay was pursuing me.

    About fifteen years ago, when I was a TA in the Canadian history survey at Western, I was asked to give a guest lecture about Canada in the First World War. It was my first lecture and I was quite unsure of myself, but I knew that the lecture would be more meaningful for the students if I told them about someone from their own university who had been killed in the war. The campus had no First World War cenotaph—it’s a long story—but I found Eddie's name in an old book about Western’s history. I looked into his story briefly. He was a rugby player who became a pilot in the Royal Flying Corps. Perfect.

    I spent a few hours in the university archives looking for a picture of him to no avail. I left, stretching and yawning, rubbing my eyes, and paused to glance for a moment at a nearby display case. And there was an old and yellowed photo of Eddie McKay, wearing his rugby team uniform, looking straight back at me from the pages of a scrapbook about Western’s sports history. I alerted the archivist. “That’s weird,” she said. “I flipped to that page at random this morning.”

    Odd things like that happened again, over a decade later, when I decided to write a book about Eddie, like the time I took my laptop to the local market for a change of scenery. Sipping coffee and writing, I looked down for a moment at the top of the table. Somebody had etched “Eddie” in it. So that was weird, too.

    Again, I don’t believe in that stuff, but Eddie McKay does haunt me in a way. I can’t really claim to know him. Even if he had survived the war, it’s improbable that I ever could have: he would have turned seventy-eight the year I was born. Would I have liked him, or would he have liked me? He was athletic and a soldier. I am bookish, uninterested in sports, and unmilitary. And it would be incredible if he did not share many of the commonplace sentiments of his own age that rightly find no place in our own. Yet something about him compelled and still compels me inexorably. I’d mention him once a year when I guest lectured, and later in my classes when I started to teach. Then in 2007, I persuaded my senior seminar to do a little class project about him. Together, we gathered material about his life, at least the stuff we could get locally, and placed a commemorative marker for him on campus. I pass it often. My wife, who works at the university, can see it from her office window.

    In 2013, I hashed out an idea with Natalie Fingerhut, the Higher Education History Editor at University of Toronto Press. A biography, of sorts, of Eddie McKay. Could it be done? I dunno, I said. I’m not sure if there’s enough material. What the students and I had gathered in 2007 provided no more than a sketch. Even better, she proposed. It would really be two biographies: the story of Eddie McKay and the story of how I wrote that story—or failed to write it. A pedagogical microhistory.

    So, I committed biography, as they say. Sort of. I was able to locate only about six documents relating specifically to Eddie’s life prior to his twentieth year, for example, so the “biography” was pretty much confined to the last three years of his life when he was a student and soldier. Moreover, the experience of thinking my way through things I had taken for granted, such as how I went about doing history, why I believed the things I discovered about the past were probably true, laid me bare. Oh, back in the day I had taken the obligatory theory and methods courses, and I had wandered the thickets of “theory” over many hours of beer and argument with classmates who were convinced that there was nothing in this world that we could be convinced about. But I had always believed that, for all the interventions of the post-modernists, the core methodology of the historical profession hasn’t changed much over the years. We write about more things and often take a broader perspective, but fundamentally it seems to me that most historians do what historians have been doing for a very long time: they gather evidence to tell stories and make arguments about the past.

    My book, One in a Thousand: The Life and Death of Captain Eddie McKay, Royal Flying Corps, is the story of a promising young man who was killed in a terrible war. It is also the story about how I struggled to learn what I did about him, how I came to certain conclusions—however tentative—about him, and how I dealt with gaps in the record and the mysteries I couldn’t resolve. Where is he buried? Who was the mystery woman who inquired after him when he failed to return from his final patrol? What was in the envelope, addressed to him, that was never sent by the President of UWO in 1917? The book serves as an entry point, then, for students wanting to learn more about historical theory and method. It’s possible to skip the methodological discussions and read the book as biography alone, but it’s my hope that readers who come for the history will stay for the historiography.

    Eddie McKay was killed in action the day after his 25th birthday, 28 December 1917. For the past two years, I have been tweeting significant events in his life from @AEMcKayRFC. You can follow him there. In a future blog post, I’ll ruminate some about how I learned to stop worrying and love the tweet.

    Graham Broad is Associate Professor of History at King's University College at Western University and the author of A Small Price to Pay: Consumer Culture on the Canadian Home Front, 1939-1945 (2013).

  • Counseling Diversity in Context

    To mark the publication of Counseling Diversity in Context, author Jason Brown explains the political context within which counselors and psychotherapists work and how his book is intended to provide useful guidelines for those who wish to take a more activist role to promote social justice, equality, and equity.

    Counseling Diversity in ContextCounseling and psychotherapy are political activities. I try to convince students of this. It seems strange to many of them that I would even mention politics in a micro-skills counseling practicum course. But really, just as everything a counselor does with a client is (or should be) therapeutic for the client, it is also political, whether this is acknowledged or not. Not only do counselors and psychotherapists practice in professions that are political, each is also a citizen, a status that comes with its own responsibilities.

    The point of my new book, Counseling Diversity in Context, is to talk about the contexts within which psychotherapists practice and clients live. It speaks to something that is fundamentally challenging to many of us: despite best efforts to understand, own, and act in ways that are authentically ourselves, the environment has a lot of influence on what we do. This is a great thing when there is reciprocity and the right balance of support and challenge, but that’s not usually the case when we are struggling.

    Consider, for example, a young adult on social assistance and looking for work. A dejected woman who has been applying for jobs for weeks, who cannot afford minutes for her cell phone to take and return calls from prospective employers, comes for counseling. While depression may be a “problem,” the “problem” may also be an absence of schools that accommodate parents or a lack of access to affordable child care. While income support is far below many poverty lines, fear of losing it if her partner lived with them (and helped out financially as well as with caregiving) keeps them separated. Counseling could help improve her energy and motivation, and may be supplemented by connecting her with free short-term childcare and providing a card for telephone minutes. However, the “problem” is also poverty, the welfare system, and how these reflect classism, sexism, and racism.

    Addressing the full situation may sound idealistic, I know. But in the big picture, each person, group, organization, community, and nation influences others. Therefore, we each participate in the creation and maintenance of our sociopolitical environment. With equality as a goal and equity as a first step, the context in which clients live can no longer be viewed as benign—it must always be seen as part of the problem for which clients seek therapy.

    A major barrier to acting on notions of social justice, equality, and equity—even if a majority of stakeholders actually agree that such action needs to be taken—is how to do it. That’s the emphasis of the second half of Counseling Diversity in Context. It takes a look outside of the psychotherapist’s office and into the communities where we practice and live. It offers a way to assess that community and identify potential changes, as well as approaches and tactics to bring that change along.

    Counselors and psychotherapists need not be leaders of community change. In this book, a range of possible roles are outlined with pros and cons of each, where the principles apply equally well to institutions, agencies, and programs. In each chapter, case examples illustrate the connections between social issues and personal problems. They also point to ways these can be addressed both within and outside the counseling office, and, importantly, how clients themselves may be best positioned to advocate for, lead, or support community change.

    Counseling Diversity in Context is for students in counseling and psychotherapy training in psychology, social work, medicine, and other allied disciplines. It may fit well within courses on diversity and culture, as well as supplement readings in professional and reflective practice or counseling theories and methods.

    There are discussion questions for each chapter that can be used to identify different perspectives and positions on issues. Internet links to various social justice organizations and initiatives are included for further reading. There are also several frameworks that students may use to explore personal experiences with oppression and liberation, how these are experienced by their peers and clients, as well as how addressing them may be promoted within professional organizations and communities.

    Jason Brown is Professor of Counseling Psychology in the Faculty of Education at Western University.

  • Teaching Canadian Politics: Reflections on Student Interest and Course Feedback

    Andrea Lawlor, Department of Political Science, King’s University College, Western University and Erin Crandall, Department of Politics, Acadia University

    Courses on Canadian politics are not always the first pick for university students interested in political science. It may be that American politics, with its sensational headlines, or the pluralistic and conflict-driven nature of international politics, attract students as they become more aware of their own place in the world. But there are important reasons why students can benefit from an understanding of the political institutions, processes, and people that make up the Canadian regime. As professors who teach Canadian politics, our goal is not only to educate our students about these topics, but also to show them why Canadian politics matters, particularly as it applies to their own roles as citizens and residents of Canada. And while there are undoubtedly many different paths to this goal, it is helpful to reflect on what works, what doesn’t, and why. With that in mind, we’d like to briefly share our own experiences teaching introductory Canadian politics, as well as the results of a student survey we ran at the beginning and end of our courses.

    Canadian Regime 6e

    Though we teach at different universities (King’s University College at Western University and Acadia University), the similarities between our courses—second-year, small class size, over a full year—and our shared interest in teaching Canadian politics, prompted us to collaborate on our course design for the 2015-16 academic year. We used the same texts, The Canadian Regime and Canadian Politics (from University of Toronto Press), and also collaborated on the design of two in-class simulations.

    Discussing how we might retool our existing courses to energize the learning environment, we decided to eliminate both term-end exams in favour of smaller quizzes throughout the year to give students a more consistent barometer of how they were performing in the class. We also added a practicum component—in our case, two two-week simulations of the Canadian political environment to help students put what they learned into practice and to work on both their written and verbal communication skills.

    BICKERTON-GAGNON_CP

    In order to better understand students’ knowledge and interest in Canadian politics, we designed a two-part survey for students to comment on their existing familiarity with the subject matter and their preferred modes of learning.* Our goal here was to measure how our students felt about the study of politics (Canadian and otherwise), their study habits, and what they wanted out of a second-year course in Canadian politics. The endline quiz also measured what they thought of the course components. Of course, we can hardly generalize from the changes we observe in our limited data, but the results, descriptive though they may be, were encouraging.

    Starting with students’ interest in and knowledge of Canadian politics, we observed that both increased from the start of term in September to the completion of the course in April. We measured their increase in knowledge in two ways: how knowledgeable they believed themselves to be (self-reporting) and how well they were able to answer a battery of questions about material related to Canadian politics. Over 95% of students reported that they felt very or somewhat knowledgeable in April, compared with only 34% the previous September. We also saw a slight increase in the number of questions answered correctly in a short quiz on Canadian politics embedded in both surveys.

    While the increase in self-reported Canadian political knowledge may simply signal that (a) we’re doing our jobs and (b) students are doing theirs, we take heart at the self-reported increase in interest in Canadian politics (from 43% in September to 76% in April). These results are particularly encouraging if we consider that, in September, 78% of students reported taking the class because it was required for their degree (compared with only 67% who reported taking the course because it sounded interesting and 25% who reported feeling guilty about knowing little about Canadian politics).

    CdnPols_Knowledge of Canadian Politics

    CdnPols_Reasons for Taking Canadian Politics

    CdnPols_Interest in Canadian PoliticsWe also sought to measure whether participation in the course may have encouraged civic participation—namely voting (though voting is far from the only mode of civic participation discussed in our classes). We know from Elections Canada’s statistics on voting in the 2015 federal election that participation amongst voters aged 18 to 24 increased an impressive 18.3 percentage points to 57.1% (from 38.8% in 2011). This national uptick was even more apparent in our classes where nearly 95% of eligible students voted (33% of those surveyed were international students and therefore not eligible to vote and 5% had not reached the voting age by the time of the election).

    Regarding the teaching tools used in the course, over 80% of students rated The Canadian Regime and Canadian Politics as useful. We selected these texts because we believe that they balance coverage of key concepts, issues and institutions, with their brevity and easy-to-read style. Because the course was redesigned with these texts in mind, we were pleased to find that 83% of students reported that they enjoyed the topics selected for study.

    The most significant change to our courses was the institution of the two-week simulations. We think that these simulations in particular proved to be an engaging and effective learning tool. In the first semester, we ran a model Canadian Parliament, which had students divided into federal political parties. Each party was responsible for researching and drafting a bill that they would then introduce and attempt to pass through the model House of Commons. Students had to tackle the legislative process in a minority government situation, requiring them to apply the rules of responsible government that they had learned earlier in the semester, while also navigating the more partisan challenges of coalition building and political negotiation.

    The second simulation was a First Ministers’ Conference, which had the students divided between federal and provincial governments, and the Assembly of First Nations. The conference was convened for the purpose of drafting a new health care accord, but governments were assigned competing objectives and varying budgets to simulate the political and fiscal challenges that governments face when working on major social policy initiatives. Here students were tasked with researching and completing policy briefs for their government, while again navigating the unique challenges associated with political negotiation. While students’ enthusiasm for these simulations was fairly evident in class, this was confirmed in the year-end survey where nearly 94% of students who responded reported that they were a useful, hands-on activity.

    Undertaking these surveys at the beginning and end of our courses proved a helpful tool to better understand students’ interest, knowledge, and approaches to studying Canadian politics and provided us with a better, subject-specific barometer of students’ goals and opinions than standard teaching evaluations. While the survey confirmed our impression that students often begin Canadian politics courses with a relatively limited interest in the topic, it also showed that a course that provides modes of learning outside of the general evaluation metrics can help to increase student interest. In particular, the popularity of the simulations suggest that interactive class activities may contribute to stimulating this interest and we plan to continue to use simulations in lieu of exams in our courses going forward.

    Ultimately, there are many different ways for instructors to reflect on the successes and failures of each course they teach. A pre-/post-survey is one such method, and has particular utility when trying out new pedagogical techniques. Our own findings helped us triangulate the courses’ strengths and areas for improvement through gauging students’ preferences, behaviours, and outcomes at two different time points. The results are helping us improve our approaches to teaching and our students’ learning experiences in Canadian politics.

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    *We collaborated with Erin Tolley (University of Toronto, Mississauga) in the design of the two-part survey.

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