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    Rowing Against the Wind

    For many, the road to writing a master’s thesis is challenging and often filled with minefields. Now, imagine what it is like to write your first major publishable-quality academic paper in a language other than your native language. This will give you a sense as to the pathway Yuehua Zhu encountered on her way to defending her master’s thesis last week.

    Yeuhua took my Research in Education class a year ago and, after learning about the magic of educational research, decided to pursue a master’s thesis. This was not easy for her. She gave it a great deal of thought and, in the end, began her journey. But she was rowing against the wind!

    She used all of the support that was available, including weekly meetings with me and frequent visits to the Leddy Library Writing Support Desk. She also asked for feedback from her student colleagues, which helped a great deal.

    Two of the members of Yuehua’s thesis committee were also of great help to her. Drs. Ma and Zhou provided wonderful advice to her on directions her research might go to achieve her stated purposes.

    Yeuhua Zhu has completed a thesis which fills an important gap in the research literature by showing how student political participation impacts social integration, student sense of belonging, and English proficiency; all of which contribute to Chinese-origin student retention and success at Canadian post-secondary institutions.

    Look for her thesis, “Enhancing Social Integration in Canadian Post-Secondary Educational Institutions for Students of Chinese-Origin through Political Participation.” It is outstanding.

    Yuehua Zhu with her University of Windsor thesis committee members,
    Dr. Clayton Smith, Dr. George Zhou, and Dr. Zhenzhong Ma

    -Clayton Smith

    Crossing the Border

    Dr. Smith with visiting students and faculty from Western Michigan University's Higher Education and Student Affairs Leadership program
    Dr. Smith with visiting students and faculty from Western Michigan University’s Higher Education and Student Affairs Leadership program during their study abroad trip to Ontario, 2019.

    This week I, along with Windsor colleagues (Dr. Ken Montgomery, Dean, Faculty of Education; Ryan Flannagan, Associate Vice-President, Student Experience), welcomed graduate students and faculty to the University of Windsor from Western Michigan University’s Higher Education and Student Affairs Leadership program during their study abroad trip through Ontario. As a dual citizen (both US and Canadian), it was my pleasure to share a bit about Canadian higher education.

    As Canadians often do, we opened our dialogue on the state of the weather, which was 9 degrees Celsius and with a forecast of light snow mixed with rain.  Keep in mind this was April 10th!  We then talked about geography.  Some were surprised that they had traveled south as they came into Canada and that Windsor is the southern most part of Canada, with a good portion of the US north of us.

    I was, of course, glad to see some adventurous students try poutine in our cafeteria, a made-for-students delicacy composed of fresh-cut french-fries topped with cheese curds and gravy.  They loved it!

    The visiting students and faculty were very interested in the similarities and differences between the educational systems and the challenges and opportunities facing the Canadian and Ontario higher education systems.  This, of course, led to some discussion of the political system in Canada since higher education is mostly funded and controlled by the provinces.

    Our conversation touched on many topics, but two were of particular interest: international education and student mental health.

    On international education, we discussed the growing international student population on Canadian campuses, including the University of Windsor, and the stalled and declining enrolment of international students at many American colleges and universities.

    Mental health for both American and Canadian institutions is a growing concern.  Some were surprised to learn that mental health support at our campus is greater than it is in the community.

    We then took a short tour of our student services, snapped a picture, and wished them well as they travelld to other Ontario colleges and universities.

    My guess is they will head home with a richer understanding of Canadian higher education and a sense of some of the things we can do together in the years to come.

    A pleasure!

    Clayton Smith

    Potluck, Posters, & Loads of Fun

    Listening to students speak about their poster at the end-of-semester Research in Education poster fair, 2019
    Listening to students speak about their poster at the end-of-semester Research in Education poster fair, 2019

    For the past few semesters, I have ended my smaller classes with potluck food and beverage sharing, a poster fair, and a chance to end the semester with loads of fun.  I thought I’d share a bit about this in case this may be something other teachers might want to try.

    The students plan the potluck.  I just ask that they try to mix it up a bit so we don’t get all chips and poutine!  This year students brought food items in from their home culture, as well as what could readily be found in nearby bakeries and grocery stores.  What is important is that everyone contribute.  The added benefit is that there is almost always food left over, and this results in the sharing continuing even after class finishes.  I see the potluck as a key outcome of the course.  Students will engage with each other (and me!) around the potluck table in some wonderfully engaging ways.

    The poster fair is a great match for any class in which a major project is completed.  I have done it for my Research in Education Class, a first-year graduate level class in which students prepare a research proposal.  Students in my Theories of Individual and Collective Learning, an undergraduate course in our Minor in Organizational Learning and Teaching, also prepare posters.  During the poster fair, students listen to each other’s poster presentations and provide peer review at the end, including an opportunity to engage collectively in a topic of the individual students’ choice.  It is a great reflective experience that provides students with a truly authentic learning experience.

    The loads of fun part comes as we engage each other, take a class photo, and then assemble an end-of-class mind map on the class topic.  Lots of moving around, wonderful smiles, and a chance to put the course into practice.

    You might think this approach is best with one type of student or class.  Actually, it works for undergraduate and graduate classes.  Size matters, with the best results being when the students know each other.  But my guess is it could also work in a larger class.  Maybe I will try that next year!

    Clayton Smith