Have you ever heard the saying “up a creek without a paddle?” It is an idiom that describes a lost or hopeless situation. However, Dr. Zachary Abram has literally been up a creek without a paddle! The incident happened early on in his career, when he worked at a summer camp for teens and was tasked with teaching students English as a second language. During a canoe excursion, a boat full of students accidentally knocked the paddle from Zac’s hands.
He remarked to his students that “the metaphor is a little too on the nose,” and made it a teachable moment. Occasions like this helped to define his teaching style: turn circumstance into a spontaneous learning opportunity, and try to keep a sense of humour.
Dr. Abram teaches a variety of writing and literature courses at both the undergraduate and graduate level. He said that “We write as someone who knows something but must convey it to someone who does not know that something. Writing is a radical act of empathy… you are inhabiting someone else’s perspective.”
While he admits that writing is “not everyone’s favourite class,” Abram uses a process-based approach to help students write. “We do not always get to write about things that we are passionate about,” he said. In lieu of inspiration, “you can rely on a process to create a strong piece.”
Abram also employs “collaborative learning,” tasking students to absorb, share and then present information, resulting in more active classroom participants. As a recipient of the 2018 Award for Distinguished Teaching, it’s clear that Abram’s approach is working.
“I am immensely grateful and humbled to be nominated by my students,” said Abrams, who also expressed his gratitude to his colleagues at the McGill Writing Centre.
Thanks to his efforts, his students will seldom find themselves “up a creek” when it comes to writing.
“I’ve been nominated [for the Award for Distinguished Teaching] a few times, and each time was humbling,” says Georges Bryson. “But winning this year was even more humbling.”
Receiving the Award, whose nominees are put forward by the School’s students, was only Bryson’s most recent career highlight. Previous milestones include serving as the vice-president of the Montreal chapter of the IIBA (International Institute of Business Analysis) for 10 years; co-creating, with Bob Abbott, a successful course in Comprehensive Business Analysis; seeing that single course expanded to create a six-course Professional Development Certificate in Business Analysis, as well as seeing his former students go on to serve as volunteer board members for the IIBA and instruct courses at the School.
“To see them perform well not only in the classroom, but in the professional world as well, is extremely gratifying.”
When asked about his teaching philosophy, Bryson frequently used the world “adaptive.” He not only tries to adapt course material based on his students’ prior experience, but also strives to provide his students with feedback that is tailored to what they wish to get out of the course.
Bryson theorizes that that personalized feedback may be one of the reasons students nominated him for the Award. “It does take time, but they get a good return on investment from their learning experience.” Bryson also believes that students appreciate the course materials, which are custom-created for the School and based on the Guide to the Business Analysis Body of Knowledge® (BABOK Guide®), which is considered the industry standard.
Bryson undoubtedly earned the award due to his students’ respect, but the feeling is mutual. “I’m always amazed at the quality of our students at the school. My classes have included engineers, a pharmacist, business people, bankers. They’re people from such diverse walks of life, and from as far away as Quebec City and Ottawa. I often think, wow, they are pretty amazing.”