Category Archives: Teaching English

Two English faculty honoured at Convocation

David Wilson receiving teaching award, Convocation 2017

David Wilson received the MSVU Alumnae Part-time Teaching Award

Congratulations to David Wilson, who received the MSVU Alumnae Part-time Teaching Award at Convocation in May. An instructor in both our English and Writing programs, he was commended for his engaging style and for his innovative online courses. You can see one of the videos he developed for his online ENGL 1171 course here.


Susan Drain Convocation 2017

Dr. Susan Drain was awarded the rank of Professor Emerita at Convocation

At the same Convocation, Dr. Susan Drain, who retired last December, was awarded the rank of Professor Emerita. Dr. Drain has served in many positions in her career, such as the English Department Writing Co-ordinator, Department Chair, Secretary of Senate, Faculty Association executive — to name only a few. She is also a multiple teaching award winner, including the prestigious 3M Teaching Fellowship (the only Mount faculty to hold that distinction). Her current research project is Percy’s War, a daily blog about the experiences of a Canadian gunner in WWI.

Congratulations to both David and Susan!

Photos from the Mount Flickr album


Spray Paint Signatures: an ENGL 4446 project

Terms of Engagement: Teaching & Learning in the English Department

This term begins with a new display on our Student Research bulletin board (Seton 5th floor, English Corner). Katrina Haight’s “Spray Paint Signatures” was created for Dr. Graham Fraser’s Contemporary Culture course in 2014.  If you haven’t seen the bulletin board, you can view excerpts from her project in today’s post.

Dr. Fraser’s explanation of this innovative assignment is followed by Katrina Haight’s text and images.

(And in case you missed last term’s display, an assignment by Shelby MacGregor, you can view it here).


English 4446 Contemporary Culture:
Psychogeographies: Wandering, Lostness, the City as Text

by Graham Fraser

[T]hey are walkers…whose bodies follow the thicks and thins of an urban ‘text’ they write without being able to read it.…The networks of these moving intersecting writings compose a manifold story that has neither author nor spectator, shaped out of fragments of trajectories and alternations of spaces…. The act of walking is to the urban system what the speech act is to language.   
                                                                      — Michel DeCerteau, “Walking in the City”

Walking is a way of seeing – a way of knowing.  Since ancient times, peripatetic literature equated walking with the practices of thinking and writing that underscore literature itself.  The rise of the modern city brought about a corresponding body of literature and theory to express the particular experience of the pedestrian exploration of the urban environment, from the Parisian flâneur of Baudelaire and Benjamin to the psychogeographical experiments of the situationists’ dérive.  English 4446: Psychogeographies explores these ideas, investigating urban walking as an embodied metaphor of the acts of reading, writing, thinking, knowing and not-knowing in contemporary culture.

Having studied the cultural theory of urban pedestrianism, the poetics of cartography, the aesthetics of collage, and the semiotics and politics of urban design, and after reading novels, zines, journalism, records of performance art, and creative non-fiction documenting the streetscapes of New York, London, Paris, Johannesburg, Venice, and Boylan Heights North Carolina, students then took the opportunity to put their reading and theory into practice by undertaking their own psychogeographical exploration of Halifax.

The work presented here is Katrina Haight’s record of a graffiti-reading tour of the North End of Halifax in the form of an intertextual palimpsest/collage that reflects the nature of graffiti itself.

(Please note: all photos and text: copyright Katrina Haight 2014)


Spray Paint Signatures:
A Psychogeographic study of North End Halifax’s Public Art

by Katrina Haight

Spray Paint Signatures: A Psychogeographic study of North End Halifax`s Public Art by Katrina HaightSpray Paint Signatures: I explored a section of the North End of Halifax one early morning before class. I wanted to see what the voices that spoke from murals and signs on the walls of cafés, pubs, alleyways, parking lots and restaurants had to say about their city. I found that these numerous artistic expressions each fit into a certain theme. This walk revealed to me such a layered, colourful portrait of just a small part of Halifax.

Spray Paint Signatures copyright Katrina Haight

Spray Paint Signatures © Katrina Haight

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Love and Solidarity: As I began to leave the slightly more suburban section of Agricola Street, I came across some graffiti with a particularly positive, constructive message. Spray-painted on a fence in red and blue were the words, “HELP EACH OTHER.” It was an appeal for compassion, and it really caught my attention. Farther down Agricola, I notice someone has written in black permanent marker next to someone’s front door, “I love you,” which is a terribly intimate thing to leave on someone’s front door.

When I get to Gottingen Street, I wander down near the corner of Cornwallis and Gottingen. Across from Menz Bar near Alteregos Café, I see the memorial “healing garden” made for Raymond Taavel, a gay rights activist who was beaten to death after trying to break up a fight outside Menz Bar between a patron and a man who was severely mentally ill. Not far off is a sign spray-painted on a wall that says “EACH SMALL ACT IS A REBELLION – WE ARE STRONGER TOGETHER – WE CAN WIN.” Both Raymond’s memorial garden and this spray-painted message offer a sense of solidarity for those who might feel alone.

Vibrant City

Vibrant Expressions Katrina Haight

Vibrant Expressions © Katrina Haight

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 Walking around Halifax early in the morning when the sun has only just risen really brings out the vibrant colours painted on the walls. Before stopping for a coffee at Alteregos Café on Gottingen Street, I notice a bright and surreal mural of an old woman in a mask covering the entire side wall of the café. Serving as the backdrop for the Raymond Taavel memorial garden, the mural is so striking, because it is simultaneously so bizarre and so beautiful. It is one of the many example of gorgeous public art around Halifax. ….

Street Calligraphy

Street Calligraphy Katrina Haight

Street Calligraphy © Katrina Haight

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Gottingen Street is full of elaborate, colourful examples of graffiti signatures. While I found the writing difficult to decipher, I could appreciate it for its aesthetic value. Often done in bright blues, greens, yellows and pinks, these signs brought the street to life through how colourful and unique they were. Each served as a testament to the artistic skill of the tagger with crisp lines and vibrant colour schemes that made the sign practically jump out at pedestrians as they walked past.

Curves of the Road

Curves of the Road Katrina Haight

Curves of the Road © Katrina Haight

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On Gottingen Street, there are a number of murals of beautiful women. In some of these paintings, the women stand at about twenty feet, accented by a tag beside her or in the background. As I noticed these women when I looked around, I was reminded of how Gail Scott paid particular attention to the women of Paris, as though her fascination and love for the city and her intrigue and lust for Parisian women were interchangeable. Here, on Gottingen, the beauty of women and femininity can literally be seen in the streets.

Layers of a City

Each piece of street art, from the small signatures to the large scale murals, illustrates an element of Halifax’s culture. A small written message on a wall in an alley might give insight into the struggles of a complete stranger. Vibrant murals make us appreciate the way the city comes alive in the sunlight. A simple spray-painted message may attempt to appeal to someone’s sense of compassion and remind them that they are not alone. Each serves its purpose and contributes to the city’s sense of identity.

—Katrina Haight


Betty Peterson’s Protest Buttons: an ENGL 2242 project

Terms of Engagement: Teaching & Learning in the English Department by Anna Smol

Peterson Protest Buttons postersIf you’ve walked along the fifth floor of Seton or through the tunnel linking Evaristus and Rosaria, you might have noticed a series of posters called “Pieces of Activist History: Betty Peterson Protest Buttons.” Produced by students in English 2242 (Themes in Women’s Writing), these posters are the result of a collaborative process in which students in this Winter 2014 course learned something about a remarkable Nova Scotian activist while practising their research and communication skills.

Betty Peterson, from Women Social Activists of Atlantic Canada site

Betty Peterson (photo from Women Social Activists of Atlantic Canada website)

Frankly, I did not know what to expect when I assigned this group project. The theme of our course was “protest and polemics” and some of the reading material, such as Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique, focused our attention on Second Wave feminism. I knew that the Mount Library had received a donation of protest buttons from Betty Peterson, a well-known activist who has been involved in feminist, peace, civil rights and aboriginal rights issues from the time she lived in the States in the 1950s to her years of residence in Nova Scotia from 1975 to the present. Because the buttons represented many of the issues that we would be reading about, I took a chance that we as a class could find a meeting point between our texts and Betty’s buttons. At the very least I was certain that the example of Betty Peterson’s activities and achievements would demonstrate the movement of women into activism in the Second Wave and the intersections of gender, class, and race in the issues that many feminists espoused.

It’s quite likely that most of my students were also wondering how this project would connect to the more conventional English literature syllabus that they were used to. Sarah Vallis remembers that at first,  “The idea of the buttons serving as a catalyst for research…seemed so abstract to me; I’ve become very accustomed to researching for essays based on questions provided either by myself or a professor. This project seemed to have a lot of room for both creativity and error. “ I have to admit that the same thoughts were running through my head.

Betty Peterson protest button collection (photo by Jessie Lawrence)So, with none of us really knowing what to expect, early in the term we went to the library to look at the protest buttons. Roger Gillis, the Mount archivist, laid out most of this large, fascinating collection for us to browse through. I asked students to pick two or three buttons that they found interesting because of their slogans and/or their designs and to note down which ones they’d chosen. Cell phones were soon pulled out as people clicked pictures of their favorite buttons. After a brief research workshop with a librarian, students were asked to spend the next few weeks finding out whatever they could about what their buttons represented. To help answer their questions about Betty Peterson and how she could have amassed all these buttons, students were given links to an article about Betty Peterson on the Women Social Activists of Atlantic Canada website and to an interview on the Nova Scotia Voice of Women site. I also provided a link to Jo Freeman’s website, which has a section on protest buttons and specifically, feminist buttons.

After several weeks of research time, students presented to the class what they had discovered about one or two of their selections, along with an annotated bibliography of their sources. We learned a few things at that time, such as how many registered midwives were practicing in Nova Scotia; who was the Mi’kmaq activist Anna Mae Aquash; what percentage of Canadian women hold policy-making positions today; and where did our “take back the night” marches originate.

(Click on the posters for a slightly clearer view.)

Poster by Jacqueline Duggan and Sarah Vallis

Poster by Jacqueline Duggan and Sarah Vallis

Poster by Cassadie Day

Poster by Cassadie Day

Poster by Kaitlyn Bowdridge

Poster by Kaitlyn Bowdridge

Poster by Jessie Lawrence

Poster by Jessie Lawrence

Our next task was to decide how to communicate some of this to the Mount community. I suggested some possibilities: create a brochure, design a poster, develop a learning kit. The class, which was quite small, quickly came to a consensus that they would all design a series of posters. Originally, we wanted to create and provide a link to a webpage, possibly on Pinterest, but we had to cut back on this plan as time was tight (students were also working on a major research essay during the same period and we were falling behind in our syllabus). Instead, Roger Gillis provided some information on the Betty Peterson Protest Button Collection page.

To give students some guidance on visual design principles, I directed them to the Purdue Online Writing Lab’s section on visual rhetoric. Using a portion of class time and in some discussions outside of class, students designed rough drafts of their posters and then presented them. We discussed the strong points in each unique poster draft, putting into practice some of the visual design principles we had looked at. Although some of the drafts were very professional looking, we needed one template that each group or individual could use, so we created a collaborative design, selecting strong elements from each draft such as the poster logo, the title, the font choices, and the coloured bands.

Poster by Duaa Chamsi Basha and Amanda Thurber

Poster by Duaa Chamsi Basha and Amanda Thurber

Button selection by Jessie Lawrence and Andrew Potter

Button selection by Jessie Lawrence and Andrew Potter

Button selection by Bonita LeBlanc

Button selection by Bonita Le Blanc

In the end, some of the buttons research connected explicitly with our readings; for example, research on reproductive rights, midwifery, and “take back the night” protests found its way into discussions of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. But even if the button choices did not specifically relate to our readings or essay topics, some students were able to see a more general applicability. For example, Kaitlyn Bowdridge pointed out, “While my paper does not have to do explicitly with my protest button … it does deal with the agency of women, which was ultimately the underlying goal of the button” while Sarah Vallis identified “empowerment through knowledge” as another theme and commented that the “question authority” button was widely applicable to our readings.

The class was certainly impressed by the collection and the collector. Cassadie Day wrote, “I had no idea we had such a fascinating piece of history tucked away in our library.” Most of the class felt that they had learned a lot about the specific issues that they had researched. More generally, Jacqueline Duggan found the activism of Betty Peterson inspirational for her future career goals, and Cassadie Day said that after doing her buttons research and learning about Betty Peterson, she realized “There are so many possibilities as to what I can choose to do, or that women in general can do.” Amanda Thurber expressed the sentiments of the class when she wrote that Betty Peterson “is truly a remarkable woman.”

I wasn’t sure how my students would react to a public project, but they seemed to enjoy the idea of showing their work to others. As Sarah Vallis put it, “Perhaps what I like most about this project is the fact that it has a practical application outside of class. The posters will be seen by MSVU students, unlike essays, which are usually only read by professors. It is rewarding to work towards something in class that will actually be seen by other people.” A few students, such as Duaa Chamsi Basha, commented on how they enjoyed the creativity and the teamwork that the project called for. As one student in the class put it:  “With the buttons project, I have begun to think more creatively again, and to express myself more confidently.”

This is the first time the buttons collection has been used in a class project, although a few years ago, then-English-student Laura de Palma did some work helping to document the collection and studying some of the issues it raised. I believe the collection has great potential for student projects in many disciplines. Roger Gillis, who was a great help in our project through all of its stages, would be happy to talk to faculty, students, and other researchers about their ideas for working with the collection.

Finally, our class would like to thank Betty Peterson for her valuable donation to the Mount Archives and for her personal example of courage and commitment to issues of social justice. We are pleased to note that in 2000 the Mount awarded her an honorary doctorate, one of the  well-deserved awards she has garnered in her lifetime. She is truly an inspirational example to all of us.

For further reading:

Betty Peterson, a.k.a. Kukuminash.” Women Social Activists of Atlantic Canada: Profiles of Wisdom.

Betty Peterson Protest Button Collection.  Mount Saint Vincent University Archives.

Nova Scotia Voice of Women: A Walk Down Memory Lane. An Interview with Muriel Duckworth and Betty Peterson.”  Linda MacDonald and Jeanne Sarson.  3 July 2008. [pdf]

For a general account of the Voice of Women in Nova Scotia, you can read Sarah Morgan’s M.A. thesis (in Women & Gender Studies) on “How women take up political space: Through the eyes of the women in the peace movement.” Mount Saint Vincent e-Commons.

3rd Annual Rhetorical Race

Terms of Engagement: Teaching & Learning in the English DepartmentDavid Wilson sends us this announcement about his Writing to Influence class:

The 3rd annual Rhetorical Race was held in WRIT/ENGL 2220 on Monday, March 24. Teams of MSVU students competed for the coveted Plato Cup. The competition involved answering a series of questions about the art of persuasion.

The winners enjoyed bragging rights for the remainder of the term and a trophy filled with chocolate Easter eggs.

Winning team, 3rd annual rhetorical race
The winning team, from left to right:
Michelle Pegg, Samantha Wentzell, Emily Munro, Molly Ross

Videoconferencing and Guest Speakers

Terms of Engagement: Teaching & Learning in the English Department

– by Hilary Doda

One major drawback to bringing guest experts in to a classroom is the logistics of the endeavour: do we pay stipends, pay for travel and housing, time used? The organizational and financial complexities can sometimes be major obstacles between instructors and the types of classes we would like to teach.

I tried an experiment this year with Writing 2222 – Introduction to Editing – that helped to break some of those barriers down. My goal was to give the class a chance to interview some professional editors, to get a sense of what the profession was like from a variety of expert sources. The problem? The most enthusiastic potential interviewees I knew were in NYC. Videoconferencing is simpler than ever, however, with the technology available in most classrooms. It took less than five minutes of technical setup in March – far less time than the emails back and forth to work out arrangements – and we were able to have live interviews, in-class, with industry professionals both in New York City (March 13th) and Toronto (March 20th).

Students had a preparatory assignment due the class before the scheduled interviews, requiring a short industry profile of the publisher whose reps we were interviewing, as well as one to four questions they would like to have answered during the session. Putting points on that assignment meant that the students came to the interviews prepared to talk, and setting the date a few days prior meant that I was able to send the questions to the interviewees in advance so they could discuss and prepare their answers.

Questions on the days of ranged from technical aspects of the industry – numbers of available positions and hiring procedures – to more casual fare. We heard anecdotes about working with authors and marketing departments, stories about industry conferences and directed advice about breaking into the industry. The class discussed tips for aspiring authors, and were able to get directed and individual advice on career arcs and current trends.

IT&S has webcameras for loan with built-in-microphones which can pick up questions from about half the way back into the seats in Seton 306. With that plugged into a USB port, and the use of Skype, a video-calling program already installed on all classroom computers, we were able to dial in to the interviewee’s computers on their pre-arranged Skype accounts at the interview time. By placing the webcam to face the classroom and running the signal through the classroom projector, we got as close to a face-to-face meeting as was possible without the expense of plane tickets.

The role of the arts in teaching and learning: discussion panel

The Mount’s Centre for the Arts in Research and Teaching sponsors discussions and workshops throughout the year exploring scholarship informed by the arts. In a panel discussion on Thursday, March 6, the topic will turn to the role of the arts in teaching, with panelists from English, Education, Sociology/Women’s Studies, and Applied Human Nutrition. Faculty and students are welcome to attend.

Thursday, March 6
Don McNeil Room (Rosaria 401)
4:30 p.m.

The English Department’s Anna Smol will be discussing how a creative project such as a painting, a sculpture, or a dramatic performance can become part of an English student’s analysis of a text.  Alan Brown (Sociology/Women’s Studies) will show two assignments, the Clothesline project and  “if men posed like women,” and discuss how these projects encourage the link between theory, practice, and reflection. Terrah Keener (Education) will demonstrate an ongoing tapestry project in which students respond visually to critical readings, while Daphne Lordly (Applied Human Nutrition) will speak about a body-mapping activity she has introduced in a graduate-level course for international students, designed to establish a communication frame for the class.

CAIRT: Role of the Arts in Teaching


An opinion piece by Dr. Susan Drain

george_eliot_640An article in yesterday’s Globe and Mail reports that a visiting professor at the University of Toronto has remarked that he doesn’t teach women writers because “he only teaches writers he truly loves, none of whom ‘happen to be Chinese, or women. Except for Virginia Woolf.’”

Not surprisingly for an institution dedicated to the advancement of women, we at the Mount have been teaching women writers as a intentional part of our program for well over thirty years. Not only do our courses foreground issues of gender, and seek to represent women writers even in historical periods when their voices were barely acknowledged, but we have taught courses focusing entirely on women writers, beginning in the early eighties with the “Women in Literature” course our then president, Margaret Fulton, taught in addition to her administrative responsibilities. That course has morphed over the years through “Women’s Literary Traditions” to its current “Themes in Women’s Writing.” Curiously, interest, as demonstrated by enrolments, has been steadily dropping over that period, but that may well be the result of the fact that our initiative to integrate women writers into our program has been so successful that few feel the need for an additional focus. But that’s another blog.

Questioned about his remarks, the professor in question, David Gilmour, said that he wasn’t saying that women writers couldn’t be or weren’t good writers, but that Alice Munro would never speak to him the way Thomas Pynchon could. (Perhaps he feels that he is a better teacher when he can be more passionate and enthusiastic about his subject.) The UofT department has subsequently gone on record to say that teachers have a responsibility to explore all sorts of areas of their field, rather than indulging their own tastes exclusively. Obviously there is flexibility in deciding set texts: I may want to teach Middlemarch one year, and Mill on the Floss another, but I wouldn’t, even if I disliked George Eliot, leave her off a Victorian novel course.

Part of the difficulty is that GIlmour’s stance is seen as privileging white heterosexual male experience, with the result that while he is supremely comfortable in his class, not having to deal with writers who don’t speak to him, his students may be less comfortable, having to deal with writers who don’t speak to them.

The word comfort always makes me uncomfortable when it comes to education. Part of our task is to push people out of their so-called comfort zones, to take them to the edge of their familiar territory and thereby gain a different perspective. On the other hand, anyone in a position of privilege and power, like a professor in a classroom, must be very careful about afflicting the comfortable, when there are populations in the classroom who are already not very comfortable in a traditional institution, rarely seeing their own experience reflected or even acknowledged in the curriculum or the conversation, or being marginalized for any number of reasons.

Any comments? How comfortable are our classrooms and our curriculum? And is that a good thing?