How Are We Different?


Head, Hands, and Heart

Amongst his various contributions to the department, SPSC faculty member Alan Chin (retired) is most well-known for his learn-by-doing model, the instructive method practiced by the SPSC department then and today.

Article on Alan’s Learn-by-Doing method

Learn-by-Doing: The Origins

When he was a student, Alan went through the standard learning process: lectures, memorization, regurgitation – but no one taught how to apply this knowledge as teachers or coaches. Having experienced this and feeling there was room for improvement, Alan sought to improve the status quo. He asked himself:

“Well, how would I change this? How would I have best learned?”

To this question, Alan started developing anatomy labs (such as the skeleton model example above) and physiology labs that incorporated the learn-by-doing method. He developed these labs at York University, where he spent the first ten years of his academic career after obtaining his PhD. When he came to Douglas, Alan took these labs and models he developed and introduced them into the SPSC department – and the rest was history.

The Competency-based Learning Model

The learn-by-doing method, when it was first introduced, was very much ahead of its time.

In the early 90s, a method called the competency-based learning model became increasingly prominent. This model is conceptually similar to Alan’s learn-by-doing, emphasizing practical application and the development of functional skills for real-life work environments.

Article on Alan’s Learn-by-Doing method (in the Douglas Dialogue)

The learn-by-doing method involves three components: 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.

  • The activity also creates laughter (such as when a student puts the arm bone in the hip), which creates bonding experiences. This leads smoothly into the next component:

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.”

Kaleidoscope 2000 (in the Douglas Dialogue)

Kaleidoscope 2000

Kaleidoscope 2000, a conference for innovative methods in post-secondary education, was held at SFU from April 30 to May 2, 2000. Alan, along with three students and a media production technician, presented the learn-by-doing method at the conference. The presentation was a highlight of the conference, and was documented in the College newspaper (details in images above).

While the SPSC department has been integrating these practices through the learn-by-doing model well before the introduction of competency-based learning, Alan’s model was mostly contained within the department itself. The CBL model is part of a larger trend as academic institutions and programs like the NCCP, at large, were shifting their philosophies from a content-based approach to a competency-based approach.

On the CBL model, Alan humorously recollects:

“There was a big international education meeting…they [the College representative] came back and were describing…self-directed learning and self-concept learning, and I’m sitting here and laughing. And [they] said: ‘Why are you laughing?’ …[A]nd I said: ‘We already do that in Sport Science; that’s our entire program!’ [laughs]”

Alan, on the cbl model