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Wilfrid Laurier University Leaf
December 19, 2014

Canadian Excellence



Educational Development old

Andrew Thomson - A Storyteller in the Classroom

Oct 13/10

Andrew Thomson is a storyteller

"I'm also a ham," he unabashedly admits, "I love to pace back and forth in front of a big group of people and tell stories."

For over 20 years, Laurier instructor, Andrew Thomson has been dispelling the notion that Canadian history is boring. "Excitement is key, and that has to begin with the instructor being excited about the topic -- and I really enjoy telling people about Canadian history," says Thomson, who has extensive experience teaching everything from general survey courses to specialized studies in Canadian business and French Canada. "A lot of people, I think, have had a bad experience at some point in their life with somebody teaching them Canadian history.

"If my wife and I are at a party and someone asks me what I teach, they often respond, 'Oh, I didn't like history,' and I always say, 'Oh, that's because nobody caught your imagination with it," says Thomson with a laugh. "So, at the beginning of a course, I always tell the students that Canadian history is interesting, and that there are a lot of important events and important people that we're going to have some fun talking about.

"I'm a firm believer in the idea that the word 'story' is in the word 'history' for a reason," says Thomson, who has also taught courses for the Laurier Association for Lifelong Learning (LALL). "And the way to understand these important developments in Canada is to say, for example, 'Let's talk about the creation of Canada, and let's talk about it in the context of this guy, John A. Macdonald. The compromises, the deals, and all those sorts of things are about everyday life at that time and the stories revolve around the people, so let's talk about them,' I say."

It was Thomson's enthusiasm and dedication to Canadian Business History that led to his election as the Academic Reviewer for the Business History Division of the Administrative Sciences Association (ASAC) of Canada. That focus, which he continues to research, in Canadian Business History began while working towards his PhD in History at the University of Waterloo, where he graduated in 1992. Prior to his time at UW, Thomson completed both his BA and MA at Laurier. "I'm a lifer at that institution," enthused Thomson, who for the past several years has organized a series of lectures in Canadian Military History sponsored by the Laurier Centre for Military Security and Disarmament Studies (LCMSDS) and the Guelph Museums.

"For all the things I've been through over the years, Laurier is still very important to me," he adds. "Thought I did my PhD with John English at UW, Laurier is my home school."

So it's not surprising that Thomson -- who also teaches for Online Learning -- feels most at home on campus, teaching classrooms ranging in size from 30 to 200 students. "I think I may be unusual in this, but I love to teach first and second year classes because I get to say to them, 'This is history, and it's really special and exciting stuff.'"

"It's important from the outset to reassure students that you care about what you're doing, and that you're enthusiastic about it -- and I always am," says Thomson, who also teaches at the Schulich School of Business at York University. A former President of the Guelph Historical Society, Thomson lives with his wife "in a suitably historic stone cottage" in Guelph. "I taught my first class more than 20 years ago, and I'm still excited -- and still a bit nervous -- every time I go into a lecture, because it's fun.

"Canadian history is perceived as being small, as we obviously battle the big country next door in telling our story" he says, reflecting on two decades of teaching Canadian history. "But my students learn that there is lots that's interesting and important -- all the good and the bad in Canadian history -- and it helps them to understand the country in which they live.

"Then I see them get an appetite for it, once they're convinced that I'm not simply going to just read them the same boring stuff that maybe they got in high school. But rather, they're going to be engaged in the process and as a result, they're going to be motivated to spend some time with you as their instructor.

"I really love being in the classroom," Thomson concluded, "And that's my story."

Marshall Ward was a studio instructor for five years in the Fine Arts Program at Laurier, and was the recipient of the 2007 Wilfrid Laurier University Award for Teaching Excellence, Part-Time Contract Academic Staff. He is a weekly columnist with the Waterloo Chronicle and contributing writer for SLAM! Wrestling (Canoe/Sun Media).

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