Ian Rowlands: Breathing Fire

Ian Rowlands: Breathing Fire

Ian Rowlands

Ian Rowlands, Environment & Resource Studies

Written by Hina Ahmed, Special Projects (Teaching Stories), CTE. 

A successful contestant on CBC’s Dragons’ Den – a reality-based show in which up-and-coming entrepreneurs are given a few minutes to pitch their business ideas to real investors – needs to be poised, persuasive, and mentally agile. One could argue that these character attributes come naturally to some people and not to others. However, for Dr. Ian Rowlands, these traits are definitely transferable and teachable, and they are ones that he strives to cultivate in his students.

In his course, Corporate Sustainability, Rowlands gives students the opportunity to make a 90-second pitch as a green business entrepreneur in a classroom version of Dragons’ Den. Other students assume alternative roles such as VP of Sustainability, or they advocate a particular policy position or interest-group perspective. This interactive role-playing gets students to fully engage with the issue, encouraging them to develop their capacity to listen, persuade, and negotiate, but doing so in a professional and supportive environment.

Rowlands, a Distinguished Teacher Award recipient, makes it easy for students to connect with their course content.  In his course, Energy Decision-Making, Rowlands asks students to express their knowledge via a popular medium of their choice, such as a policy brief, a public-service commercial, a YouTube video, an Op-Ed cartoon, or any other media intended for a non-specialist audience. By letting students choose research topics that interest them, and by giving them multiple avenues to communicate their understanding, Rowlands puts the students in the driver’s seat of their own academic success.

Rowlands, who is currently Acting Executive Director of the Waterloo Institute for Sustainable Energy, reinforces student learning by weaving themes and ideas across lectures, tutorials, and assignments, all while providing theory, history and multiple perspectives around an issue. As Environment and Business student Kate Koplovich states: “Professor Rowlands’ courses are extremely integrated -- they reinforce each concept numerous times.” Even after teaching for 23 years, Rowlands prefers to lead his own tutorials. He uses this more intimate environment as a safe space for students to discuss, assess, and share ideas. “Professor Rowlands creates a supportive environment for discussion, where no one is left behind,” says former student Lexi Salt. Another student, Julian Harmsen, remarks that Rowlands' continued passion for his discipline is what inspires students: “He conveys a constant desire to learn.”

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CTE has developed more than 100 Teaching Tips. Each one is a succinct document that conveys useful ideas and practical methods for effective teaching. Some of the Teaching Tips that are relevant to the strategies mentioned in this Teaching Story include the following: