It’s 9:30 a.m. on Tuesday, and the second-floor laboratory at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry is brimming with energy – students are engaging with their lab and one another. At first glance, it’s hard to spot Nicole Campbell, PhD, the faculty member teaching a Medical Sciences laboratory course. Taking a closer look you can find her at the centre of a group of students.
It’s exactly where Campbell likes to be – amongst her students, listening to them, encouraging them, and providing them with feedback.
“I really try to create an environment in the classroom where we are developing professional relationships,” said Campbell. “I encourage students to have a voice and I make sure they know they are a valuable member of the community and that they are making meaningful contributions.”
Campbell’s education leadership was formally recognized in 2018. She was named a 2018 Western University Teaching Fellow and more recently received the Marilyn Robinson Award for Excellence in Teaching.
Campbell is one of 11 faculty members across campus who currently hold a fellowship. Together, they have formed a highly engaged cohort who, during the course of the next three years, will individually design and implement an education project and assess innovations in education while offering professional development in their faculties. As a group, the Fellows are meeting monthly, discussing innovation, planning educational opportunities for their peers and learning from one another.
“I believe that we, as faculty members, often expect students to do tasks, but we don’t always provide mentorship or teach or assess them on what we expect them to do,” she said.
Campbell’s project is focused on Western’s institutional core competencies and building an awareness of them with students. Campbell then wants to take it a step further and will be working to identify how to build confidence and empower students to better understand, value and articulate the skills they have gained so they are prepared for the next phase of their educational journey or career path.
The idea for this project stems from Campbell’s own master’s level educational experience just a few years ago, where she noticed significant differences from her previous educational experiences.
“One of the things I noticed was the increase in expectations of students today, compared to even 10 years ago,” she said. “The world is so competitive and it’s hard to stand out, and have an identity, especially for students graduating with their first undergraduate degree. By providing more mentorship and empowering students to know themselves better, I believe students will be better prepared for their futures.”
Campbell is an assistant professor and teaches third- and fourth-year students for the Interdisciplinary Medical Sciences module of the Bachelor of Medical Sciences Program. She has initiated her project with her students and emphasizes reflection.
At the beginning of the term, the competencies are shared with students, who are asked to evaluate themselves and their own skills based on the competencies. They indicate areas for growth and development, and they set a goal for the semester. Campbell encourages students to identify an area of growth that is meaningful for their future goals.
Nicole Campbell, PhD
Students submit progress reports throughout the semester, which consist of a critical reflection that is connected, contextualized, continuous and challenges their current thinking. Students are encouraged to be creative in delivering their reflections and can use video, audio or written submissions. There is a clear expectation that the reflections will be honest and critical in terms of where each student sees themselves in their development. These reflections provide Campbell with insight about her students and allow her to create opportunities for the students to grow. At the end of the term, students submit a cover letter and a video showcasing their skills and speaking to their own growth.
While some students are skeptical about the process at first, they see the benefits as the term progresses. Some students have even gone on to use their cover letters when applying for jobs or completing a program application.
“I’ll admit to getting quite a few puzzled looks from students when I tell them what we are doing on the first day of class,” said Campbell with a smile. “They begin to see and experience the value pretty quickly, however.”
Campbell is known for her student-centred approach to teaching and can most often be found amongst her students in the classroom as she works to create an environment that aligns with those found in professional settings. She uses her tutorials for discussion purposes providing opportunities for students to find and use their voice while engaging with them and their peers on topics about medical science research.
“We all know that grades are a student’s currency, but I want them to realize that eventually they will be in a program or in a workplace where team work, critical thinking and communication skills are going to be essential, and I want them to succeed,” Campbell said. “I’ve been very purposeful in how I design my courses, how I assess my students, and it seems to really be resonating with them.”