An inspiration in the classroom
Students who take a biology course with Prof. Daniel Lefebvre don’t go to class expecting to sit and listen to a one-hour lecture. The students usually do more talking than the professor.
Lefebvre likes to chat for 10 or 15 minutes and then pose a question. It’s up to the students to work together to research and debate possible answers. It’s all a part of interactive learning.“It seems to come to them as a bit of a surprise. But after a few weeks of classes, they are working well together in groups. What I want them to discover is the better they work together, the better their answers will be,” he says.
Lefebvre tries to instill a sense of wonder in his students and create a desire to learn. And judging by the reaction, it is working. Praise from his current and former students is a key reason Lefebvre is the winner of this year’s Alumni Award for Excellence in Teaching. The award, which carries with it a $5,000 cash prize, is given by the Queen’s University Alumni Association to recognize a Queen’s teacher who shows outstanding knowledge, teaching ability, and accessibility to students.His students have ranked Lefebvre’s Biology 102 course one of the top courses in the Biology Department every year for the past decade.
However, if you want a real sense of the impact of a great teacher, read some of the course evaluation feedback from Lefebvre’s undergraduate students. His work has been described in glowing terms. “Professor Lefebvre is enthusiastic and passionate. He makes learning fun,” wrote one student. “He is a very jolly, caring man who loves the students and his job,” wrote another.One student went out of her way to send Daniel an unsolicited thank-you letter. You really made me like biology … I think what I liked best about your lectures is that it was clear you wanted to be there, which made me really want to be there, too,” the student wrote.
Lefebvre says he doesn’t teach to win awards; however, he’s happy to be recognized and know that the students appreciate his efforts.
And it is a lot of effort and goes far beyond simply taking the time to prepare interesting lectures. He is the type of professor who tries to learn the names of his students to make participating in class easier and more enjoyable. He likes to connect to students by talking to them outside the classroom about non-academic issues.
Prof. Mel Robertson, the former Biology Department head who recommended Lefebvre for the award, says he’s delighted that Lefebvre is getting some public recognition.
“It is great to see Daniel recognized with this award after all these years of inspiring students and getting them to truly understand and enjoy biology,” says Robertson.
“Daniel is a pioneer at our school in terms of innovative teaching techniques. He always seems willing to try something new to engage his students.”
In 2010, Lefebvre was one of the first professors at Queen’s to work with the Queen’s Centre for Teaching and Learning to embrace video lecture capture – having a lecture recorded and made available to students on the Internet. It allows students to learn anywhere and at any time.
Lefebvre was also one of the first people at Queen’s to embrace personal response units in the classroom, which allow students to use a clicker to anonymously answer multiple-choice or true/false questions asked by the professor.
“Being an early adopter of technology takes a bit of effort. Some people have to stick their necks out and try these things,” says Lefebvre.