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By Anna Sarkissian
Political science lecturer Julie Norman has a knack for presenting complex subject matter in a clear, organized fashion. Or so say her students.
“She presents a full spectrum of opinions,” says Lawrence David Bisse, who is enrolled in her POLI 388 Human Rights and International Justice class. “She helps students who are uninitiated develop a better grasp of the nuances in the field of human rights.”
Norman, a native of Washington, D.C., is a specialist in social movements, human rights, peace and justice and the Middle East. She speaks Arabic and has facilitated video and photography workshops with refugee youth in the West Bank.
This year, she is teaching four courses at Concordia and is taking an innovative approach to lectures and assignments.
“Many of the texts we read are very theoretical and abstract,” Norman says. “It’s hard to get a handle on how these dynamics play out, especially when it comes to human rights.”
Her style is laid-back and easygoing. Though Norman is fresh out of grad school, students respect her and listen attentively when she speaks.
To supplement standard lectures, her classes occasionally engage in debates, simulations and role-playing. She also invites guest speakers.
Last week, the students in POLI 388 were divided into two fictitious ethnic groups and multiple smaller agencies. The students created interest groups and political parties. After several rounds of discussions and campaigning, the politicians tried to gain power while addressing the needs of minorities.
Mia Ilantzis, who is graduating this semester, enjoyed putting the theories into practice.
“It’s one thing to explain what an NGO is and what they do,” she says. “To actually take on their role and put yourself in that headspace, you develop a much greater understanding.”
Using multiple teaching styles can help students who learn in different ways, says Norman, who studied educational psychology as part of her undergraduate degree at Duke University.
“It allows them to engage more directly with the material,” she says. “And to be active recipients of what we’re talking about.”
For their final assignment, students have a lot of flexibility. Those who don’t want to do a traditional term paper can opt to get involved with the Community University Research Exchange (see Journal, Oct. 9, 2008) for a research project related to human rights. Others can present their work via a creative project like a film or website.
Norman says this approach recognizes that not all students have the same skill set and gives them the power to take charge of their own learning.
“I encourage them to be engaged, creative thinkers. Giving them these options could allow them to communicate their ideas in a way that is more meaningful and useful for the students.”
For political science major Bisse, it allows students to expand their knowledge outside the classroom.
“It goes beyond regurgitating material for your prof. You really have to analyze it yourself and bring out your own perspective,” he says.