It was more than ten years ago when I did my first guest lecture at the School of Continuing Studies at the University of Toronto. My friend was an instructor in a course about web strategies and I was the Director of Interactive for a well-known ad agency. Over the years, I have mentored quite a few people in my agency and marketing jobs, but I had no formal training as an educator at all.
And the first guest lecture didn’t go that well. The students looked bored and sullen for most of the hour. I presented some agency case studies and some strategic planning tools that seemed appropriate, but there wasn’t much palpable energy in the room, and I left relieved to be out of there but a little discouraged.
A few years later my friend asked me again, and this time I was working for a large entertainment company, working on large experiential installations in malls and airports. The work was interesting, and the renderings and animations in my presentation were beautiful and impressive. And, since all the screens and applications were remotely controlled and programmed over the Internet, the material was still relevant to the course.
Something clicked this time, the class was fully engaged and I thoroughly enjoyed myself. I could tell it was clicking and it felt good, so I started doing it every semester. And when the administration of the school asked me to attend a meeting on the curriculum development and program marketing I showed up and gave them my honest opinions.
So when I got an email last spring asking me to take a meeting about an upcoming course I wasn’t all that surprised. But when the School’s Program Director and Associate Director of Learning Innovation showed up at my media agency’s office, I didn’t really know what to expect.
It was about a new three-course online program at the school, covering brand journalism, content marketing, social media and storytelling. I was asked to join the development team and to be the instructor for the course. It was going to be developed on a new platform…rich with multimedia components and even including gamification features.
During the summer, I met and worked with a team of talented folks from different disciplines as we built the online curriculum. At first I was somewhat hesitant to give direction, but as time progressed and the course started to come alive, I shaped it to mimic the real life experiences, as I knew them, from developing a target persona, to the creative brief and eventual execution of a campaign. No media platform was ruled out: every new technology and social media platform was fair game.
The course started on September 22nd, and I was anxious about meeting the first group of learners enrolled. Over the summer, the School of Continuing Studies media campaign featured the upcoming course and plastered images of myself over buses, streetcars, and posters across Toronto. Who was going to sign up for a course that had never been offered on a platform that was never used at the School before?
As it turned out the people that became my first class triggered something I couldn’t have imagined. I was liberated. It was intensely visceral and incandescent in its power. Those many years of struggle to do good work, the constant embracing of emerging technology to tell stories and create campaigns, the mentoring and coaching, the tears and furtive fears…all that and more had given me the right tools to teach.
The course became a roadmap to examine and explore, with almost nothing out of bounds. The learners in the course were so smart, engaged and talented that it quickly became a learning experience for me also, turning their questions and observations into my own thesis for discovery. I have always been an empathetic person, so I leaned on that…culling out what I suspected each of them might need, and seeking the answers in myself. I was honest and supportive in all ways possible.
Teaching has become one of the most liberating experiences of my life, and now I can’t imagine not doing it. There is such a joy in enabling learning…of being a conduit to another person’s growth. And the most wonderful thing of all is that it gives me the most honest reason to keep learning myself.