Brett McCollum, a professor in the Department of Chemistry and Physics at Calgary’s Mount Royal University and a regular contributor on chemistry education for Canadian Chemical News, has become a 2019 3M National Teaching Fellow (NTF). The honour, which this year went to 10 individuals across the country, has been described as the Stanley Cup of university teaching. Created in 1986 through a collaboration between the multinational corporation 3M and the Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education (STLHE), the award recognizes exceptional contribution to teaching and undergraduate education.
That description more than measures up to what colleagues and students have observed about McCollum’s approach to the classroom, where he oversees courses in a number of areas of chemistry, including general introductory, organic, inorganic, physical, nuclear, and spectroscopy.
“He has a dedicated curiosity about pedagogy, and he brings imagination and courage in probing all elements of the learning process,” said Jonathan Withey, dean of Mount Royal’s Faculty of Science and Technology, in a letter of recommendation to the 3M NTF Selection Committee. “This has inspired Brett to question everything from the fate of lectures and textbooks to the nature of problem solving. He is an individual willing to tamper with the style and content of scientific education, such that the overall quality of the science itself might be improved.”
Withey offered specific examples of McCollum’s pedagogical accomplishments, such as his work on improving the reading habits of students, developing on-line collaborative networks for students as well as his fellow academics, and his current role as chair of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Canada (SoTL Canada), a national organization dedicated to advancing research-proven methods for teaching in higher education.
As a tribute to the esteem he has found on campus, the university library named him as one of several faculty who were invited to “test drive” its new Active Learning Classroom. The design and execution of this facility, which features an instructor workstation centred in the classroom, fosters dialogue and discussion that flows back and forth as opposed to the typical one-way lecture format. In his columns for Canadian Chemical News, McCollum has regularly contrasted this traditional “sage on the stage” approach to teaching with his preferred style, “the guide on the side”. The latter nurtures the ability of students to find their own way through even the most challenging course material, something that brings out the best in them.
“Convincing students of their role in the classroom is one of the biggest challenges I have, and the biggest responsibility,” he explains. “Clearly, because they’ve chosen to come to a university, they want human interaction and I can facilitate that. I found that the Active Learning Classroom was a great space for me to model with them — and for them to model for each other — different strategies for engaging in course material so they can improve their success.”
McCollum joins more than 300 recipients who form the Council of 3M National Teaching Fellows and becomes a lifetime member of STLHE. Later this year he will also take part in an intense teaching and learning retreat at Montebello, QC.
“The Mount Royal community is passionate about teaching, passionate about student learning,” he concludes. “I’m excited to be a representative from Mount Royal to a national conversation about teaching and learning.”