UVic Torch -- Fall 2004
Autumn 2005,
Volume 26, Number 2

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Two of a kind: Psychology Prof. Martin Smith and School of Music Instructor David Clenman.
Photography by VINCE KLASSEN

What makes a great lecture? These winners of the Alumni Awards for Excellence in Teaching deliver the goods with originality and imagination.

When Prof. Martin Smith walked into the David Lam Auditorium for his first Psychology 100 lecture in September he was met by a diverse, possibly daunting sea of more than 300 faces. But this is where he thrives. He’s made it his professional quest to overcome the challenge of bringing a large group of students into a learning experience that feels inclusive and personal.

As the weeks go by, he’ll have memorized most of the names and faces in the crowd. He’ll use multimedia tools to keep the lecture moving at a quick pace. And he’ll roam the aisles, asking questions, engaging the whole group—even those seated way in the back of the spacious room. He calls it the Cheers effect, quoting from the theme song of the old TV sitcom: “You want to go where everybody knows your name.”

One of his tricks of the trade is to invite students to provide digital photos of themselves at the start of the year so that he can memorize faces and involve students in class discussions by calling them by name. “It’s a simple thing but studies have proven that when students are called by name it encourages learning and they feel like part of the process.”

Students in David Clenman’s survey course on the history of music start the term with a surprise guest from the past, way back in the past. From the beginning of music theory, through the classroom door comes none other than Pythagoras—the Greek mathematician and first to link numerical ratios with the musical scale.

Of course it’s not really Pythagoras but Clenman, in one of several guises he’ll don during lectures that are incredibly popular with his students. A discussion about music of the Renaissance will begin with him entering class in full, 15th-century armour. A lecture on Stravinsky’s ballet music sees him in a ballerina’s tutu. Big and bearded, it’s not a pretty sight. But he makes his point. And with gusto.

Clenman, a sessional instructor, exudes enthusiasm for teaching that is matched only by the seriousness with which he approaches his lectures. If the student is trying but not learning, Clenman takes it as his own failure. So he does whatever he can to bring the course material alive, to make it sing.

“Learning should be fun and I try to make it as experiential as possible,” he says. “But don’t be mistaken—it’s not all fun and entertainment.” Clenman assigns a heavy load of required reading and listening. And to be a member of his class is to be a full participant. “I don’t want students to be spectators. So, I’ll bring in costumes, or get them to dance or sing or play instruments.”

Smith and Clenman will be honoured Nov. 22 at the Legacy Awards. Their portraits will also be hung in the main stairway of the McPherson Gallery, along with more than 30 previous recipients of the Alumni Award for Excellence in Teaching.

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