Ontario profs battle to be the best

University of Toronto leads TVO competition with eight nominations

TVO, Ontario’s provincial public broadcaster, announced the final 20 contenders for the title of Ontario’s Best Lecturer today.

The lecturers, drawn from nine university campuses and Canadore College, represent diverse faculties such as English, Biological Sciences, Law, and Kinesiology.

“There is no question about it. Whether teaching the fundamentals of genetics, Milton’s Paradise Lost or separation anxiety, this group shows that to be a great lecturer it’s important to love one’s subject and be able to transmit it with an energy that does it justice,” says Big Ideas Best Lecturer Competition producer Wodek Szemberg.

The final 20 were drawn from list of 160 professors. The professors were nominated by students at Ontario’s colleges and universities. From a list of 160, the TVO Big Ideas production team narrowed the field to the final 20, who will be further narrowed to the final 10 by a three-person panel of judges.

The judges are Donna Bailey Nurse, literary journalist, lecturer, and book reviewer; Jesse Hirsh, broadcaster, researcher and internet evangelist; and Suanne Kelman, writer, broadcaster and professor of journalism at Ryerson University.

The final 10 lecturers will deliver complete lectures that will be televised on TVO starting Feb. 28, 2009. Viewers will vote on the lectures to assist the three judges in deciding who gets the title of “Ontario’s Best Lecturer.”

James Allard, a professor of English at Brock University, is one of the nominees. He is also the winner of the 2006 Polanyi Prize for Literature. The Polanyi prize is the province’s most prestigious award for young research and carry a value of $15,000 each.

Contrary to a widely-held view, Allard says his research helps him be a great lecturer.

“To be a good teacher at the university level means that you have to stay engaged in the scholarly community through writing and conferencing,” he says.

“While the specifics of my research projects don’t always make it into undergraduate classrooms, I can always find ways to treat entirely novel ideas that I would only hear at the recent conferences, read in the most recent articles, or discovered while engaging in my own work. Showing the students that they are part of something bigger, that they are part of a conversation, is vital at this stage.”

Asked for the secret of his success as a teacher, Allard says an important part is not being tied to scripted lectures or notes. He says it’s important to “have a sense of where we are, where we need to go, and what the dynamic of the room is like on that particular day, and then proceed from there” when teaching a class.

For more information about the competition and watch video submissions from the top 20, go to

The 3M Teaching Fellowships, awarded each year to Canada’s best university teachers, will be announced in the annual University Student Issue of Maclean’s in early February.

– Photo courtesy of Ed Schipul