Faculty Spotlight – Sheldon Koufman

Sheldon Koufman is a marketing faculty member in the School of Business, IT and Management. Sheldon speaks about vulnerability: being vulnerable with your program team, colleagues, and with your students.

The reason? Koufman believes that being comfortable with your own vulnerability creates a safe space for students to learn and share their ideas with the class, deepening their learning. This safe space is one way that he gets students engaged in the learning process, as well as building connections with each other and with him. He facilitates this by being his authentic self, maintaining a sense of self-deprecating humour, telling stories about his own life, and learning more about what his students like to do outside of school. This approach allows him to bring their interests into learning about marketing concepts and principles with examples from real life. For example, if a student expresses interest in gaming, he’ll share case studies on marketing to gamers.

Joining Sheldon’s class, even remotely, you’ll hear music of the day chosen by students at the beginning of the class and during breaks. Some days you might hear Korean pop, other days it might be classical or jazz, and maybe a bit of rap. Students comment that they love it, and they feel appreciated for their individuality.

Sheldon organizes students into small groups early in the semester by creating private channels in his Microsoft (MS) Team group: a space for just those students, in addition to facilitating breakout rooms in MS Teams during class time to mix the group members up. When checking in on group work, he has noticed that students seem more comfortable turning on their cameras when there is just five of them on the call with him than in the larger class. Sheldon feels this connection is important, especially while remote, to support student’s mental health and create access to the faculty member. He also often checks in with the class and talks openly about the mental health services available to students. An approach in which an atmosphere of openness creates a safe space.

Sheldon describes his teaching style as Socratic, and active questioning. He asks questions to his students and provides opportunities for them to develop critical thinking skills.

“I think if I’ve talked a lot during a class, I’ve made a mistake. A student observed that “You didn’t teach; you just asked us questions”.”

This is an important element to have students reflect and think deeply about the ideas that are being taught.

Teaching remotely, Sheldon continues to embed his teaching style in his synchronous sessions, grounded in ensuring his course is a safe space for students to be vulnerable. He encourages students to participate independently and will facilitate “cold calling” where he’ll ask a specific question to a student. Students have the option to “pass”, knowing it’s okay to pass on responding.

Being remote, Sheldon understands that it is okay for there to be silence to allow students to think. Like many other faculty, Koufman’s chat is filled with discussion from more introverted students, who may not have spoken up in a face-to-face-class. The virtual learning space may draw those students out, as they express their opinions and ideas online.

Sheldon highlights how much his own skills in DC Connect have improved, including integrating DC Connect quizzes, which are more organized and consistent, and using the DC Connect template. The recording of synchronous sessions is helpful for students who couldn’t attend or wanted to refresh their memory, “You can’t rewind a live class; that’s huge for some students!”. He’s also using technology to work as a class community to solve case studies – he’ll present the case study and ask questions for their ideas and then students can upvote their suggested approach.

Sheldon has also been working to build community within the MKTG1200 team of ten part-time and full-time faculty, a common first-semester course. The MKTG1200 team has regular meetings to discuss best practices and lessons learned so the team can learn from each other. He notes that many students are dealing with personal challenges including caring for parents and/or children, and/or job loss; these personal challenges highlight the importance of sharing student-centred resources with each other to support our students.

“None of us are going to be the best remote teacher the first time. Things are going to go sideways and if they go sideways, learn from it”.