Sherry McKay, SALA

Sherry McKay, an Associate Professor at the School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture (SALA) has been teaching at UBC since 1995. She regularly teaches in Lasserre 102 — one of the four renovated classroom spaces in the Frederic Lasserre Building. We sat down with Sherry to learn more about how her teaching experience has been affected by the renovated space.

How long have you been at UBC?

I started at UBC in 1995 as an assistant professor. Before that, I taught as an adjunct or sessional professor, and was a student here. So, over the years I’ve seen many changes to the UBC Vancouver campus.

What do you teach at UBC?

I teach architectural history and theory. My position here is primarily as a historian, which means that I have to make connections with design. I work closely with students on their graduation projects as well, so having discussions and conversations with students is an important part of teaching for me.

What were your initial thoughts on the renovated LASR 102 classroom?

When LASR 102 was completed, I was concerned with how the classroom looked because of all the long tables and chairs. It looked less like a lecture theatre and more like a laboratory! But, the room was much brighter with lighter coloured walls and wood paneling. The space was refreshing compared to the previous room, which was darker — almost like teaching in a cave.

What do you enjoy about the new renovated LASR 102?

I enjoy being able to walk up the middle of the room, so that I am not just standing at the front. It allows me to make a better connection with my students, facilitate discussions, and ask provoking questions. It’s quite different than standing at the front of a lecture theatre disseminating knowledge — students can see that on the internet.

I still do lectures, but they are now shorter. I try to provide my students with the tools and time to encourage a critical attitude to what they are reading and seeing.

The new classroom also makes it much easier for group discussions. The seats are much more comfortable than the small lecture theatre desks and students can raise their seats in the front and turn around to the table behind them. It would be interesting to know what the students think, but my experience is that they like the new space as well.

How has teaching changed for you over the years?

We started introducing a seminar component within the lectures and to break students into groups that can facilitate discussion and drive engagement. We found that the previous, traditional lecture theatre was not in keeping with this evolution and could be a difficult place to facilitate group discussions. As a result, we would often book the architectural drawing room upstairs, which worked well for group work, but was not the best for lectures — and it was not always available in conjunction with the lecture theatre. So, the flexibility for lecturing and group discussions in LASR 102 works well for me.

Have you noticed differences in student behavior teaching in LASR 102?

Definitely! I noticed that students are asking more questions during the lecture. In the old lecture theatre, students tended to ask questions at the end of the session. It’s always great to hear their thoughts and ideas as we go through the material.

The lectures will continue to help set up the structure of the classes, but students seem to be more engaged and the classroom allows for a more interactive way of teaching — I can use one screen or two screens, I can show two different images at the same time, and I can use videos. This helps capture the student’s interest and attention.

Is there anything you miss about the old lecture theatre?

Well, I do miss dimming the lights, and then bringing them back up just slightly when the lecture is about to start. In the old lecture theatre, the lights would usually be turned on when the students enter the room. When the lecture is about to begin, I would dim the lights just enough so that they could see the projector and write their notes. We still have the ability to adjust the lights in the new space, but most students have laptops and devices to take notes now, and we can see the displays without dimming the lights.

I haven’t quite figured out that kind of dramatic start to a lecture in the new space, but there are many ways to start and end a class. For me, I like to start with an inexplicable image that captures the students’ attention and invites them to start thinking about why I put up this image.

Overall, what do you think about the new classroom format?

Over the years, a lot of ideas about history and history theory in relationship to the profession have changed. We constantly try to find ways to make the material more proactive so that students are engaged — because, well, it’s history... and we’re always trying to find ways to make it more relevant for them. With this classroom, having flexibility for group discussions and interactive capabilities has really helped support teaching and learning.

Sherry McKay will be retiring at the end of this year and plans to travel and write historical fiction. We want to thank Sherry for taking the time to sit down with us to chat about her experience teaching at UBC and wish her all the best in her new journey. Stay tuned for her new book!


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