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By Karen Herland
Until this year, Ollivier Dyens operated as most professors do. He was chair of the Département d'Études françaises, published regularly (his poetry was frequently nominated for major prizes), established two literary magazines over the course of his career ... and he taught.
"There is nothing more draining than actually teaching, both psychologically and physically," Dyens said in an interview about his new role as Vice-Provost Teaching and Learning.
Created by Provost David Graham this summer, Dyens was attracted to the three-year position because of the challenge of "engaging faculty and students in their teaching and learning more dynamically. What attracts me are the great challenges we face in trying to enhance the learning process."
He concedes that few professors are actually trained to teach. "Only a small number of us get pedagogical training in graduate school. Teaching is something we do intuitively."
Dyens would like to develop ways to support intuition with "research and data on what works and what doesn't."
He is working closely with the campus Centre for Teaching and Learning Services (CTLS) to find out more about cognitive functions and how students learn. Currently, the CTLS offers a 40-hour program for PhD students to prepare them for teaching. That could easily be extended to MA students, who may want to teach at the CEGEP level.
"I've had an interesting dialogue with them. They have a teaching and learning perspective, I have a faculty/research perspective."
Bringing those two sides of professors' roles together is a translation exercise for Dyens. He especially wants to see that dialogue develop across Faculties and departments. "Whether we are engineers, or business people or artists or humanists, we should have a definition of university students and a common answer to what we want them to have learned."
He would like that concept to develop not top-down, but bottom-up, with each department contributing their own culture to the discussion.
He would also like to see more focus placed on teacher recognition awards and programs at the provincial and national level. Ideally, professors should be able to refine their teaching skills and abilities, the way they currently can with research.
Although professors' research can easily feed the classroom experience, it is less clear how teaching can nourish research. Reinforcing that relationship, perhaps involving undergraduate students in research projects, is another possible direction.
Dyens has also helped organize the celebration planned to welcome Judith Woodsworth the day before her installation as President and Vice-Chancellor at this fall's convocation ceremony. The event will feature theatre, dance, and performance.
"We want to showcase how Concordia, like Montreal, is multi-cultural and multi-lingual," said Dyens. "Dr. Woodsworth is a translator and the event is a cross-translation and intertwining of ideas and language."