Jim Gamble - by Kim Nohr
“Trades is the best ticket,” he says with a no-nonsense tone. “I was always drawn to electrical.”
Part of his attraction to electrical is dealing with something that many people are uncomfortable with, as well as the constant change with new technology. He is never bored.
His life in trades eventually took him to instructing, starting at Durham College in Ontario and in 2004 Jim joined Okanagan College in Kelowna as an instructor. He and his wife wanted to return to the West, and teaching at Okanagan College offered him the opportunity. He is now a Chair in Trades as well as their ILLT founding fellow. Since his election as Chair, the Electro Mechanical Building Trades (EMBT) department has grown to encompass plumbing, sheet metal, and refrigeration. The need for Trades is growing and the Okanagan College Trades Department is growing with it.
I ask him about his role in the ILLT and just like when he talks about being an electrician, he is enthusiastic. “When I heard it the first time,” he says, “I had to look in up in Google.” What he found made sense to him because Trades has always been a learner-centred process that is supported by a culture the ILLT has as its mandate.
“You start in a trade and a journeyperson will show you how things are done. And you progress, learning from success and failure. You take greater responsibility until you are a journeyperson as well.” Jim believes it is something built in to Trades, and this is just attaching descriptors to it. He worried that “learner-centred” would be a tough sell to Trades because once something is given an academic description, there is automatic resistance. “Why is an academic giving this term?” he asks rhetorically. To him, Trades is learner-centred inherently and the ILLT program will only enhance what is already there.
“Academia is used to having the top down model, learner-centred means it’s being fed from the bottom up. Change is naturally resisted. Does adopting this mean more work or less control of the integrity of the courses? Being learner-centred is a win-win. Today’s students deserve to have ownership of their education. The working world is expecting them to network to improve performance. The sooner we introduce them to collaborative thinking, the greater service we’re providing our graduates.”
His primary hope with his ILLT involvement is to create a shift in culture that would empower people and encourage staff and students to take risks and implement new ways of thinking. Part of that shift is to promote innovative thinking for problem solving. To be innovative people need to know new ideas and change will not be negatively scrutinized but nurtured, then they aren’t afraid to offer alternative ideas.
Jim feels that the ILLT will be a mechanism to address that culture and help mentor people through the process. For example, rather than having an instructor pass on the knowledge or deliver it in lectures, learner-centered groups would be assigned and afterwards students would do a peer assessment as part of the grading process. Within the group does everyone deserve the same grade for their contribution to the end product? This holds the individuals accountable to the entire community. He says, “They can’t [just] take from their peers…the group knows how much each individual contributed to the project. [But] traditionally the onus is on the instructor and I don’t think that’s fair. The instructor grades the final product but they’re not there all the time to see how the group worked and the contribution of each individual within the group.”
This bottom-up environment establishes individual student’s accountability to the classroom community. The instructor facilitates students and helps create a culture that encourages the development of a classroom community. Animated by what he’s discussing he finds an analogy that puts the whole process in perspective. He considers the process like taking a long road trip to Toronto. You drive your car block by block and eventually you get to Toronto, but how did you get there? Can you repeat it? Can you tell others how to get there as well? What did you learn from the right and the wrong turns in the trip? Working together to find that route will make it easier and will support a culture that’s collaborative and collegial. Everyone is driving the road trip together.
As our interview winds down, I ask him how he feels about his role with the ILLT and he is hopeful. “Your students want you to succeed as much as you want them to succeed. Everyone’s goal is the same in successful learning.” He urges other instructors to focus on the positive students that work hard and are interested in learning. They are a source of inspiration.
Another source of inspiration for him is the people who supported the development of the ILLT. He finishes our interview with a few parting words, “In a time when budgets are restrained it’s tough to implement new thinking. This college has taken some bold steps forward and put its support behind the ILLT initiative. The steering community and the fellows are an extremely special group. They are really inspiring and I draw from that energy.”
I can’t help but be inspired by him as well.