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Emotional education

By Heidi Wicks

Two Memorial graduates will receive Master’s Thesis Project Awards for their work from the Canadian Society for the Study of Higher Education (CSSHE) in Montreal on May 31. Both Albert Johnson’s and Monique Bourgeois’ research explores themes of emotion in education.

Both feel the award confirms that their research is indicative of the concerns many have about education.

Mr. Johnson’s research explores post-secondary students’ perceptions of effective teaching.

“The emotional versus logical domains are not as separate as people think,” he said. “Philosophically, animal is emotional and man is reasonable, but it’s not anywhere as simple as that.”

He began his research by simply asking students what they thought was effective teaching.

“We asked them to identify five characteristics of effective on-campus teaching, and to tell why they’re important and how instructors demonstrate that characteristic. And we asked them to rank those characteristics.” He added that the study was completed for both on-campus and distance students.

Those characteristics turned out to be (in order) respectful, knowledgeable, approachable, engaging, communicative, organized, responsive, professional and humorous – all emotionally charged qualities.

While the results varied slightly for distance students, the bottom line seems to highlight the importance of emotion in teaching.

“Students have to feel safe to learn,” said Mr. Johnson.

Ms. Bourgeois, a Stephenville native, was prompted to explore the impact of a liberal arts degree on females’ confidence levels when searching for employment when she herself experienced the same setbacks.

“Growing up I had certain ideas of what I could do with my education, and certain things that were not possible,” she explained. “I sort of felt like a liberal arts education may not have been one of those things that could be seen as beneficial to me.”

She set out to find out if others like her felt the same way. She interviewed women from rural areas across Newfoundland, asking them about the experiences and feelings they had while completing a liberal arts degree.

“I wanted to find out how they came to the decisions to study, what it meant to them, the way they felt about their degrees. I also analyzed the provincial policy document on post-secondary education, and I wanted to get a sense of whether the way the provincial government felt about post-secondary education matched up with the feelings of the women I interviewed,” she said.

She discovered that the document demonstrated a strong sense of economic purpose for post-secondary education, but that the social and personal benefits to a post-secondary education are not mentioned.

“A lot of the women talked about how happy an education made them. There are some representatives from the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) involved in creating these policy documents, but it’s mostly members of the legislature. Policy documents don’t involve students as much as they probably should,” she concluded.

Neither recipient used practical method for their research, meaning that instead of using the Likert Scale, they personally interviewed their subjects. There were no rating scales involved.

According to Albert Johnson, that’s a pretty big deal.

“What’s really positive about the award,” he said, “is that it’s saying, ‘Yes, your method is fine.’ People are accepting the story now. Accepting narrative as viable research. It may be a renaissance in teaching. And I’ve been waiting for that for 30 years.”