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L: Drawing of a London coffeehouse, c. 1690–1700, British Museum; R: Students role-play a coffeehouse in immersive learning course, Literature of the Restoration and Eighteenth Century.

L: Drawing of a London coffeehouse, c. 1690–1700, British Museum; R: Students role-play a coffeehouse in immersive learning course, Literature of the Restoration and Eighteenth Century.

Connection, passion drive teaching and learning at UM

December 9, 2020 — 

Coffee. No fancy version of it, just coffee with grounds that stain mugs and teeth and tongues. Tea, of course you can have that. There may be some chocolate on hand and tobacco, if you desire. Just sit down at the big table and listen to something seditious. No need to be quiet. This is a raucous affair. You’re in a Restoration coffeehouse, act like it.

Of course, you could just read about English coffeehouses that began opening up in the 1600s. Books describe these bright, boisterous dens that invited anyone and everyone to come and hear the local news and gossip told by travellers, and to engage in debate on any topic. But wouldn’t it be more enriching to live it?

That’s what Dr. Erin Keating thought. She’s a professor in the department of English, theatre, film & media at the University of Manitoba.

In 2019 she inspired her students to organize their own pop-up Restoration coffeehouse.

The students eagerly researched, planned and re-enacted an event, inviting the public to join in. Based on their research, the students role-played as typical coffeehouse patrons—quack doctors, snobbish aristocrats, authors, merchants—and performed debates, short skits and literature readings.

“It’s natural to ask why you are learning about something and why it is important,” says Alexa Watson, a student in Keating’s Literature of the Restoration and Eighteenth Century course who helped organize the replica coffeehouse.

“By making this pop-up coffeehouse, we not only got to ask those questions but answer them ourselves. There are copious amounts of texts and documents that describe the coffeehouse, but just reading off of a page does not provide the multi-sensory, embodied experience that our re-creation allowed.”

This is what Professor Keating is after: empowering and inspiring students to make a deep connection to the material and to discover their untapped enthusiasm for learning and critical thinking.

Her teaching approach immerses students in the worlds of the texts they are studying through “Reacting to the Past,” a role-playing, game-based method of researching and examining texts within their historical contexts.

Challenging, inspiring, connecting

Her ability to inspire and connect is why she is one of many beloved instructors at UM. It’s why she has received three teaching awards, including one of UM’s highest teaching honours, the Olive Beatrice Stanton Award for Excellence in Teaching, which she won this year.

Dr. Keating challenges students to step outside their comfort zones, and they love her for it. One of her former graduate students describes her as “unparalleled in her passion for her work and her care for her students.”

“I love literature, and I love sharing that with my students, but what I really love about teaching is getting feedback from my students. I just love what they bring,” Keating says.

“Every class is so different, and they’re bringing these different ideas and they’re understanding material in different ways. I firmly believe that most professors are professors because they just want a lifetime of learning. And teaching brings you that, either from your students, or from scholarship, or from learning how to be a better professor. It’s just a community of constant learning and interactivity.”

One of her former graduate students describes her as ‘unparalleled in her passion for her work and her care for her students.’

When public health lockdowns came into effect and classes moved online, Keating saw how hungry her students were for community. In response, she adapted her second-year Beyond High Fantasy course, based on a popular genre of storytelling that includes mythology and fairy tales, and modern examples such as Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones. Instead of only reading and discussing texts, students played a (virtual) fantasy game together and critically examined aspects of it.

Outstanding teaching and learning

Suddenly moving online was a significant challenge, but not an unfamiliar one for the University of Manitoba. UM pioneered virtual learning by developing Massive Online Open Courses, or MOOCs, in 2008, and by 2012 renowned post-secondary institutions followed, including Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

UM has long been a leader in creating outstanding teaching and learning spaces—online and in person—and in 2013 it opened its Centre for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning to help instructors implement new technologies and methods to motivate students to excel.

As the province’s premier research-based university and its only institution accredited to award Medical Doctoral degrees, the University of Manitoba offers a vast array of learning and career opportunities for students.

“Our dedicated faculty members are passionate about teaching and challenging students to expand their knowledge and worldviews,” says Dr. Janice Ristock, Provost and Vice-President (Academic) at UM.

“And in every one of our programs,” she adds, “you will find inspired people sharing invigorating ideas and mentoring students to become independent thinkers and enlivened, active contributors to the health of our communities, our city and province. The University of Manitoba really is a special place.”


To learn more about how students can discover their own learning and career paths, visit UM Commons online.

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