Teaching & Courses
This page clarifies my teaching philosophy and course policies. If you want to know what motivates my course policies, including how I structure my courses, read further. If you are thinking of asking me for a letter of recommendation, read this page first and then decide if I am still an appropriate person to ask.
What am I paid to do?
As a professor, one of my responsibilities is to teach and supervise undergraduate and graduate students. This comprises forty percent of my workload. Research takes up another forty percent. Service is the final twenty percent. Most people may be surprised by this. We faculty do not get summers off, though in many ways we make our own hours so long as we meet our targets. We tenured and tenure-track (and frankly, most sessional and limited-term appointments) conduct research as a contribution to a larger community of scholars --- a discipline --- interested in asking and answering similar questions. We also engage in service work in the university and beyond it. Service inside the university means working in the various formal and informal committees that keep the university functioning, as well as those that anticipate change in how it functions. Service outside the university means working with and amongst the communities surrounding the university, as well as communities much further away. Service outside the university is more likely to draw on our research and teaching interests, whereas service inside the university is less so.
What philosophy guides how I teach?
My teaching philosophy guides how I organize my courses. It is simple. I recognize that students attend university for many reasons. Some attend university for the joy of learning. Others want to meet new people and expand their social networks. Still others just want to learn something that leads to a 'decent' job. Regardless of their motivations, all will enter a volatile labor market after graduating. Given this context, my obligation is to provide students with the metacognitive skills to become life-long learners and the general skills needed to compete for entry-level information-handling positions and be reasonably informed voters or public officials. In the process of teaching these skills, I also teach discipline-specific knowledge, revealing the linkage between students' local circumstances and more global processes.
Expectations are a two-way street.
I expect a lot from my students. I expect students to come to class prepared and ready to engage with the material in a mature, thoughtful manner. I expect them to submit material on time. I expect them to write clearly and concisely. I expect that the assignment they just turned in is a second or third draft. I expect them to put in the hours needed to understand the material to the best of their ability. I expect them to have questions about the material not yet understood after they have pondered it some time. I expect them to read reserve material, including practice homework questions. I expect them to take notes --- not just in class, but also of their readings. I expect them to come to exam reviews with questions. I expect them to read the post-mortems I post regarding common problems in completed assignments. I expect them to incorporate margin comments in later revisions of a paper. I expect them to read and follow assignment directions. I expect that students will begin an assignment days --- not hours --- before it is due. I expect students to submit their own, unplagiarized work. I expect students to treat their peers, my colleagues and me with respect.
Given these high expectations, it is only fair that students should expect a lot out of me. They should expect my courses be well-organized. They should expect me to explicitly model a range of metacogntive skills. They should expect not busy-work, but instead activities that deepen their knowledge and ability. They should expect me to hold everyone to the same deadlines and expectations. They should expect me to treat each student fairly and with respect. They should expect timely feedback on all assignments. They should expect responses to email and phone calls within 72 hours. They should expect feedback that helps them overcome their past mistakes and identify their current strengths. They should expect me to mark fairly. They should expect detailed directions for assignments. They should expect exam review guides. They should expect carefully chosen reading lists. They should expect that I have hired competent teaching assistants. Through these pedagogical decisions, I show my respect to not just students, but also my discipline and taxpayers.
Students pay for an opportunity to earn a degree, not to buy high marks.
Students pay for two things. Firstly, they pay for me to set a series of tasks before them that expand their competencies, so long as they do the work. Secondly, they pay for me to evaluate their ability to complete these competence-expanding tasks. In doing this, my students learn to set higher and higher standards for themselves. At semester's end, their mark approximates their current mastery of these evaluated tasks.
Put more bluntly, students do not pay for high marks. Instead, they pay for opportunities to earn high marks by showing me that they have mastered the material. If they do not master it, they are marked accordingly. It cheapens their degree and Brock's reputation to hand out unearned marks. Therefore, if you are one of my students, do not ask me to 'bump your mark up' just so you can get into medical school, teacher's college, etc. If your marks need bumped to get into teacher's college, I don't want you teaching anyone's kid. Likewise, if your marks need bumped up to get into medical school, I don't want you treating anyone's injuries. If the final mark in my one course is that important for your career as a skilled professional, take the course over.
Taxpayers subsidize student tuition, too.
As an aside, Brock's undergraduate students pay only about one-third of the total cost of their education. The remainder is made up by the larger taxpaying public. At Brock, this public accounts for circa two-thirds of all the university's revenue. In the 21st Century, this is a fairly privileged position. In many countries university tuition is not subsidized at this high level for so many students. As a result of these significant subsidies, I feel an additional obligation to taxpayers. Taxpayers favor subsidizing higher education because they believe it has value. Part of this value is providing a stream of competent, industrious future-taxpayers who will take positions in various information-handling positions that will fund current taxpayers' later social security and healthcare costs. Providing this stream of competent, industrious future-taxpayers also involves weeding-out students who ---put bluntly --- are not a good return on investment. I therefore fail students who do not meet minimum degree requirements and prosecute students who cheat. Faculty who do not do the same are simply shirking their obligation. Administrators who do not support this position likewise are shirking their duty to the public. (On a related note, if a student wants to take a course without being evaluated, they can audit it. They can also elect to be evaluated on a pass/fail basis. In my mind, both are perfectly acceptable options for students). This obligation likewise compels me to speak out on university (and other organizations') practices that deliver little or no public return on taxpayers' investments.
Cheating harms students, too.
Part of my teaching workload involves evaluating student performance by marking and assigning final grades. When students cheat, they obscure their true performance. They cheat themselves of learning what they really know. If I catch them, my whole evaluation of their work goes out the window, and they lose 10% or more of their final mark in the course. If they get away with it, their degree is a sham. Later on, when they find a job, they will probably perform incompetently. As a result, their employer will likely just assume that any other student from the same program in the same university will be just as incompetent. The employer will likewise share this information with others in her network. The next time a graduate from Brock applies with that same employer (or another in her network), they will discount the competence of the Brock graduate, looking instead for candidates from other universities. Thus, cheating is not a 'victimless crime.' In the parlance of public-goods theory, cheating creates negative externalities. It also tarnishes the reputation of all Brock students and damages their employment prospects.
My policy on letters of recommendation
I write letters of recommendation for students who have earned a 75 or higher in one or more of my courses and who I have never caught cheating. If you have not earned a 75 or higher in my course, or you have have been caught cheating in one of my courses, please contact another faculty member for a letter of recommendation.
Courses recently taught
While I have many interests, my current course topics center on quantitative techniques, regional political economy and cultural industries. While I teach quantitative techniques in all my courses, GEOG 2P12 Quantitative Research Design and Methodology introduces students to the basics of quantitative analysis in geography. GEOG 5P03 Quantitative Analysis in Geography is a graduatelevel course focusing on common spatial statistics and corresponding research designs. GEOG 2P02 Economic Geography and GEOG 3P93 Niagara's Changing Economic Geography deal with regional political economy, the first focusing on the evolution of the world economy whereas the second examines Niagara's contemporary economy. GEOG/COMM/PCUL 3P99 and GEOG 5P20 Geographies of the Cultural Economy focus on the locational dynamics of cultural industries (e.g., book publishing, video games, fashion, motion pictures, music), as well as the larger debates and trends framing this topic.