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Dr. Jonathan Rose

[Jonathan Rose photo]

Jonathan Rose on the panel of the Classroom of the
Future project

Associate Professor
Department of Political Studies

Every child has natural curiosity.
A good teacher brings out that curiosity and motivates and encourages it.

Political scientist Jonathan Rose was fortunate to grow up in a house that valued learning. "My mother, a teacher with a love of words and language, would use moments in regular conversation as teaching moments. If there was a news story about some country, and I asked about it, we immediately went to the atlas to find out about it. She encouraged our natural curiosity. The idea that learning can be serendipitous got me excited about teaching."

Rose's love of all things political was apparent at the age of 10, when he volunteered on his first political campaign. He was further inspired by his University of Toronto political science professor - S.J. Coleman. "He had the passion and enthusiasm of someone right out of graduate school, even though he was a seasoned professor. It was infectious to be around someone who was that excited, interested and knowledgeable about his field. He was able to communicate that enthusiasm. I still think of him when I'm in the classroom. I still think – what would Professor Coleman do?"

Linking classroom discussion to real life...

Like his mother did for him, Rose tries to foster his students' natural curiosity. He uses current news stories to start discussions among his students. When Omar Khadr was in the news, Rose booked an auditorium for a seminar/discussion about this issue, linking it to the concepts of power and authority that his students were studying at the time. He expected only a handful of students, but more than 150 showed up for the lively discussion.

"That was an 'a-ha' moment - tying what I was teaching in class to what was happening in real life. Using that example brought the concepts alive. If I can link abstract concepts to the practice of politics, I make the subject come alive and draw on students' natural interests. Whether it's Palestine seeking statehood or the results of a provincial election, we talk about it and its relevance to what we are studying."

Rose purposefully never shies away from controversy in the classroom. "Diversity and different points of view make for an incredible learning environment. People have different assumptions of what matters in politics and bring it to class. Diversity of thought is a necessary precondition for learning. It's also important to be respectful and hear different perspectives. I tell my first year classes that, if at the end of the year, they hold the same opinions about ideas and theories at the end as now, I will have failed."

On technology and simplicity...

[Jonathan Rose teaching image]

Rose, like many professors, wrestles with the pluses and minuses of technology in the classroom. He still uses decidedly low-tech methods, like a "Question of the Day" box in the class, but he was also one of the first to pioneer lecture-capture (where lectures and accompanying notes or slide presentations are videotaped together). He feels that it frees up students from taking notes.

"It's changed the way students learn in the classroom. They can listen and absorb and engage in a conversation with me, rather than writing furiously the whole time."

He happily discovered, too, that even though these lectures are posted online, class attendance is still 80-90%. "It's still all about making connections, understanding networks of ideas and using a lecture as an opportunity for engagement with the material at a deeper level."

Ultimately though, in the end, it's not really the technology or lack of it that makes the difference. "After all, a good instructor is like an orchestra leader, " Rose says. "He makes sure all the parts are in tune, but allows each individual to learn at his/her own pace and to master their own instrument literally and metaphorically."

Rose also uses the clicker remote control response system to get class feedback and begin conversations. He might show a photo of the Governor-General and a pop star to gauge who is better known. This jump-starts a discussion of why people know more about popular culture than politics.

"In a large class, using a clicker, I can also ask students if they want me to continue or to recap. They vote and we see the results. So the students learn that their views matter, and even in a large class setting they have the opportunity to participate. For me that is essential to reinforce that learning is not a one-way dynamic."

Rose once had his lectures tested on an audience of Adult Literacy Educators. Their comments were enlightening. "They suggested not using jargon when simple language would do and that ideas be supplemented with metaphorical images. So now, in my communications course, I teach students who are making presentations to be austere with text, to use a well-placed image to engage the audience with visuals, and to think about graphics in a way that communicates what they want to say." 

In his seminar on communications for fourth year students, Rose has them study political speeches and presentations. "I point out that long after they leave the university, they will need the skills of presentation as much as essay writing."

A former student, Andrew Lockhart (now studying political management at Carleton) says, "Professor Rose was my favourite professor by far...he's the kind of prof you don't want to disappoint, so you always put in that extra effort. He genuinely cares about his students and makes a real effort to get to know us outside of the class as well."

The importance of field work...

And because what goes on in his class is so strongly linked to what happens in the world, Rose makes it a point to work out in the field too. In 2006/2007, he was the Academic Director of the Ontario Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform – a government-created body of 103 randomly selected citizens from around the province. This independent body was created to study ways in which we might change the electoral system.

"It was essentially a classroom of everyone from seniors to college students, from the employed to the unemployed and so on. My job was to teach them how we elect our politicians. In doing this, I really learned about the wisdom of crowds and saw that different perspectives enhance learning and help to create true deliberation – the thinking through consequences and reasoning together. That's what an ideal class should be."

Rose takes his voice out into the world even further with TV Ontario's "Civics 101" program, in the hope of creating an interest in politics from the ground up.

Like many highly praised professors, Rose still finds his work immensely rewarding. He is now an Educator in Residence at the Centre of Teaching and Learning at Queens's, and is Chair of a teaching space building committee that is looking at designing ideal learning spaces on campus. In between all these teaching opportunities, he straps on his running shoes and trains for marathons!.

"It is a privilege to work at a great university with amazing students who energize me. There is still no greater thrill than to be walking around the city and have a student come up and say they were in my class five years ago and that it got them interested in the politics they are now studying at the graduate level. You realize then that you really do have a modest impact on a student's intellectual journey."

Profile by Patricia Henderson