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Steven Bednarski wins innovation award for teaching

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Prof. Steven Bednarski has won the Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education’s prestigious D2L Innovation Award in Teaching and Learning. This is the second year in a row that the Society has bestowed this prize upon a faculty member from the University of Waterloo.

Steven Bednarski is a social historian of late medieval crime, gender, and natural environment at St. Jerome’s University, a public Roman Catholic university federated within the University of Waterloo, where he also Co-Directs the Medieval Studies Program.

In 2012, Bednarski developed a student-driven process that led to the production of his second book, A Poisoned Past: The Life and Times of Margarida de Portu, a Fourteenth-Century Accused Poisoner (University of Toronto Press, 2014). This book proposed and pioneered a new genre of historical writing, pedagogical microhistory: gripping historical narrative, grounded in rigorous academic research, written with the learner and reader in mind.

In 2013, he applied for and obtained a large Partnership Development Grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), which formed a dynamic research partnership between St. Jerome’s, uWaterloo, Queen’s University (Kingston), and the Bader International Study Centre (BISC) at Herstmonceux Castle, East Sussex.

Through this research Partnership, Bednarski has funded about fifty trips for Canadian students to Herstmonceux Castle, where they learn about the past by doing. These “junior research partners” acquire important skills working on a live archaeological site and training in local archives.

Bednarski and his team’s goal is to understand how medieval climate change affected the ways in which people lived six centuries ago.

To ensure that students continue to learn once they return to Canada, Bednarski, with the support of St. Jerome’s University, designed and launched the Medieval D.R.A.G.E.N. Lab (Digital Research in Arts and Graphical Environmental Networks) last September.

In the D.R.A.G.E.N. Lab, a team of undergraduate research interns works alongside MA and PhD candidates. They are supervised by faculty members on a variety of advanced research projects.

This is the first of its kind digital research lab for Medieval Studies and Medieval Environmental History. Lab members, including young undergraduate students, collaborate in teams; they apply for grants and deliver public conferences (they hosted a two-day Climates of Change Symposium with SSHRC support last October at the Delta Hotel, Waterloo and delivered the keynote address last month at Sir Wilfrid Laurier’s Forward into the Past conference). Most importantly, Bednarski’s students also contribute to the writing process, working on teams to co-author print and digital publications.

Bednarski’s approach is revolutionizing the teaching and learning of history. It adopts a Science model, which underscores that people learn best by doing. This means going out into the world, encountering the past, and sharing it with others.

In recognition for his work, Bednarski is the recipient of a 2017 D2L Teaching Innovation Award. He will receive the award at a ceremony hosted by the Society for Teaching and Learning in Halifax, on 21 June 2017. Previously, Bednarski won the University of Waterloo’s Distinguished Teacher Award in 2011.

For more on the D2L Innovation in Teaching and Learning award, please visit https://www.stlhe.ca/awards/brightspace-innovation-award/2017-recipients/

Article and image source: St Jerome's University.

2014 experiential learning adventure students at Herstmonceux Castle, East Sussex, UK

2014 Experiential Learning Adventure Students at Herstmonceux Castle, East Sussex, UK. Professor Bednarski is front row, centre.