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Trent University announces recipient of 2013-2014 Symons Award for Excellence in Teaching

Trent University

Dr. Mark Dickinson incorporates Indigenous pedagogies into Prof. John Wadland’s iconic Canadian Studies Course

Recognized for his transformative teaching methods which have been significantly influenced by Indigenous concepts, Dr. Mark Dickinson, an instructor in the Canadian Studies Department, has been named the 2013-2014 recipient of the Symons Award for Excellence in Teaching by Trent University.

“This award recognizes Dr. Dickinson for encouraging his students to form unique and individual responses to educational material, and for his efforts to create seamless connections between history, current affairs, and our lived experiences,” said Dr. Steven E. Franklin, president and vice-chancellor of Trent. “He fosters a careful exploration of multiple levels of knowledge and perspectives so that each student may reach new boundaries in their understanding of Canada and its land.”

Trent University is consistently recognized nationally and internationally for award-winning faculty who are committed to the success of the individual student. The Symons Award for Excellence in Teaching is named for Professor T.H.B. Symons, the founding president of Trent, and is presented annually to a faculty or staff member who displays exemplary teaching and concern for students.

Dr. Dickinson received his Ph.D. in Canadian Studies at Trent in 2007, and has been teaching at the University for the past seven years. He spent two years as a course instructor in Indigenous Studies, which he credits as being crucial to the development of his teaching philosophy. While completing his doctorate, Dr. Dickinson worked as a teaching assistant for Dr. John Wadland, a widely-renowned Trent professor and the first-ever recipient of the Symons Award in 1976. Professor Wadland’s signature course, “Canada: the Land,” established in 1972, became one of the best known and most influential courses in the humanities. After Prof. Wadland retired, Dr. Dickinson was given the task of carrying on one of Trent’s flagship courses.

“John was a brilliant teacher, so I wanted to honour the spirit and preserve the integrity of that classic course,” said Dr. Dickinson. “I also wanted to update the course for a new reality and a new generation of students, and to share the insights that I gained from my time in indigenous studies.”

Dr. Dickinson has built classroom environments that are lauded for their benefit to student learning, through his purposeful efforts to build community within both larger lecture and smaller seminar environments. He aims to treat students as co-discoverers in their own learning, while providing an engaging, high-intensity learning environment. “I approach the classroom as ceremony,” he said. “Learning becomes a collaborative project where we can all learn together, and gather as a community, break bread as a community, and talk to each other on a personal and human level.”

Holly Barclay, one of Dr. Dickinson’s former students, describes his teaching style as unique. Ms. Barclay received her Bachelor degree in Canadian Studies in 2012 and will soon complete her Masters degree in English (Public Texts) at Trent. She credits Dr. Dickinson’s approach to seminars, in which students are asked to lead two-hour classes, as immensely helpful in preparing her for graduate school presentations and teaching. “He encourages students to ask questions about our place in the world, and allows us to follow that learning in creative ways,” she said.

In addition to his reputation as an excellent teacher, Dr. Dickinson is also an acclaimed researcher and writer.  A book based on his doctoral research, entitled Canadian Primal: Poet-Thinkers and the Rediscovery of Earth, will soon be published. In the book, he writes about the idea that Canadian “poet-thinkers” such as Robert Bringhurst, Dennis Lee, Tim Lilburn, Don McKay and Jan Zwicky are reconstituting a kind of wisdom tradition, expressed in verse, by which we might come to know the earth as more than simply natural resources. “They are opening up a window onto an entirely different way of being on earth,” Dr. Dickinson said.

Dr. Dickinson will receive his award at Trent’s spring Convocation. He will also be recognized at a Celebration of Teaching Excellence event, which will take place on Monday, March 31 from 4:00 to 6:00 pm in Champlain College’s Great Hall to pay tribute to this year’s teaching award recipients. Honourees from previous years will also be present as those who exemplify Trent’s commitment to teaching are celebrated. Community members are welcome to attend.

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