Beyond the Books
Alan was hired by the College in 1988. He is the pioneer of the instructive model practiced by the SPSC department then and today: learn-by-doing.
At the start of his time at Douglas, Alan noticed that the College largely adhered to the conventional cycle of memorize-and-test as its method of instruction. Classes consisted of only listening to tape three times a week: students would take notes, memorize the information, and regurgitate the material during exams – but no one knew how to apply the information they learned in actual practice. Alan sought to change this status quo; in its stead, he introduced the learn-by-doing model.
Head, Hands, and Heart
The basis of Alan’s learn-by-doing method involves three tenets: the head, the hands, and the heart.
The “head” engages the traditional aspects of academic instruction: students learn the theories and technical knowledge of human biology, physiology, and so on. The “hands” translate this knowledge into practical application. Alan gives his anatomy classes as an example: he would have his students build a model skeleton from its bones, encouraging the students to apply the knowledge they have learned about human anatomy in the skeleton’s construction. Instead of only being taught the names of each bone, students practice and refine their knowledge with the hands-on experience of putting the bones together. Lastly, the “heart” focuses on building interpersonal relationships and deconstructing social barriers: one must be able to communicate with their client, student, coach, therapist, and so on – as Alan says: “People don’t care what you know, until they know that you care.”
Read more about Alan’s learn-by-doing model here.
Fun With a Purpose
Alongside the principle of learn-by-doing, Alan also sought to deliver lessons in a manner that was informational, but also creative and engaging for the students: fun with a purpose. The concept worked hand-in-hand with learn-by-doing.
As Alan says: “If the students were having fun, they would learn even better.”
In application, Alan would use a “hook” at the start of the lesson – humour, cartoons, little sayings (“pearls of wisdom”) he collected over time – to grab the students’ attention. For their major projects, he encouraged students to investigate areas of their own interest rather than assigning pre-determined topics. This explorational freedom, paired with the requirement that the topics have to be presented with the learn-by-doing method in mind, ensured that the projects were a genuine source of fun while still being academically and practically productive.
Example in Action
As the concept of creating learning videos gained steam in the 70s and 80s, Alan’s project for one of his courses – now called Physical Growth and Motor Development (SPSC 1195) – was for the students to make a five-minute learning video on a topic of their interest. The students branched out in various ways: they taught how to shoot a basketball or kick a soccer ball, created programs for physical rehabilitation, and so on.
But beyond delivering only the topic’s theory, the students would think of ways to make the videos engaging, show the dynamics of what they were teaching, and have a series of activities that would reinforce learning. After each presentation, all of the students would practice what had just been taught; the involvement of the entire classroom created a shared learning experience for the students and instructor alike. In this way, the project engaged all the tenants of learn-by-doing: the head, the hands, and the heart – while still being fun.
Apart from introducing the learn-by-doing method, Alan, along with Tim, was one of the first figures to integrate considerations of inclusion into courses.
Instead of focusing on acquiring a particular skill, Alan believed that developing one’s larger self-concept was much more valuable. He sought to build students’ self-esteem using simple games, redesigning them to include rather than exclude people. Often, he transformed the games’ traditionally competitive concept of “winners and losers” to “inclusion.” Along with Tim, Alan also acquired wheelchairs to be used for extracurricular activities and in-class education, and actively promoted awareness for disability and those with special needs.
Read more on Alan’s role in inclusive education here.
Pearls of Wisdom
Alan has a collection of proverbs accrued from Chinese philosophy and various figures he has come across in life. He calls these proverbs “pearls of wisdom,” and incorporates many of their messages into his teaching.
Alan retired in 2006 at 65 years old, but continued part-time to assist with the development of the BPEC degree (then just coming into existence). He officially left the College in 2009.
“You know, find your passion – it’ll give you power and purpose for your life. I was one of the fortunate people who got directed in life to what I love to do, and do what I love.”
– Alan, on his time teaching at Douglas College