Duff Roberts

Duff Roberts




MCML 241

University of British Columbia, MA, English Literature, 2005

University of British Columbia, BA, English Literature, 2003

Langara College, Diploma, Arts & Sciences, 2001

FRST 150 (soon to be NRES 150): Scholarly Writing and Argumentation in Forestry

LFS 150: Scholarly Writing and Argumentation in LFS

Mentor for the LFS Mentorship Program (2022-Present)

Forestry Jumpstart Faculty Fellow (2023)

Large TLEF co-applicant (PI Lindsay Cuff, co-applicant Candice Rideout): “Flexible hybrid writing instruction throughout undergraduate curricula: Fostering students' growth, persistence, and identity as writers in scholarly communities and beyond”

  • Will redesign FRST/LFS 150 into amazing hybrid writing courses, courses that will “strengthen first-year students’ foundation in scholarly writing skills by redesigning LFS 150 and FRST 150 to create impactful hybrid learning experiences & support ongoing development of scholarly writing skills throughout undergraduate studies by creating context-specific online learning resources for key upper-year courses in LFS and Forestry.”

Teaching Philosophy:

One of the key elements of UBC’s current strategic plan is “place and promise.” Thomas King claims that “the truth about stories is that that’s all we are.” Northrop Frye thinks that Canadian identity “is less perplexed by the question ‘Who am I?’ than by some such riddle as ‘Where is here?’”, suggesting that if you know where you belong, you know who you are. I begin my statement of teaching philosophy with these two thoughts because they laterally suggest, when mapped onto the art of teaching, that stories and environment (the classroom) are equally important to effective teaching. I’ve been thinking back on a 18 year teaching career, the story of it – 140 courses, 89 composition classes – and how I got to be the teacher I am today. There are so many things a teacher needs to account for; so many things matter; and teaching and learning is the best when all these things – course design, teaching strategies, teaching persona, students laughing, students telling the stories of their learning, students mastering university level writing skills, students belonging in their learning – are created in a classroom that’s inclusive, fun, collaborative, learner-centric (Antón 1999), and ultimately a kind and generous community of learning.

Lang’s (2016) Small Teaching, and especially his “big teaching” SoTL suggestions about motivating and “growth mindset” teaching, inform the teaching I do today. First, I respect and like my students. Lang is right: when sharing enthusiasm for the subject, when showing compassion, and when rewarding student growth, learning happens best. Second, I support students through the significant challenges that constitute a higher education degree and first year university life, and specifically in demanding writing classes, writing classes where students need to feel that their own commitment to the material and to their learning is matched by my own. I realize that mastering the writing skills in a composition class is always already challenging, and therefore the craft of teaching should be supporting those challenges with humor, championing students’ growth, and making the learning as fun as possible along the way. Enjoying school and the process of learning, however hard, helps us through those challenges. I see my role as an educator to be creating an enjoyable learning environment, one where the challenges are shared; this is the craft of student-centric teaching.

Teaching is about students, about meeting their learning needs, about giving them reasons to be in class, about supporting and nurturing their learning. So, my teaching philosophy is to walk in their shoes—to respect their place—which is to say care about their experiences as students and to listen with compassion to their stories. In part, I’m calling here on Frisby and Martin’s (2010) “rapport” in teaching. Ultimately, I’m thinking here about a classroom environment as a place where students belong, and if students feel like they belong, they’re more likely to learn. Students can belong in fragile ways, especially during midterms at UBC and when work piles up and gets really, really hard, and even more especially in writing classes (Solomon, Lawson, Croft 2011). I remind students that they belong at UBC, that they’re not dumber now than when they got here (no matter how bad their midterms make them feel), that they earned their place at UBC.

So, maybe it’s not radical to think that kindness is fundamental to teaching well, as part of the story and “place and promise” of teaching well. As discovered by Porta and Flores (2017), kindness creates a memorable culture of belonging, and a culture of belonging in a learning environment makes you invest in the skills you’re mastering. My kindness approach manifests during the semester in the following ways: lots of availability (student hours, previously known as “office hours”); total support and guidance and check-ins with TAs; lots of empathy for student and TA lives. I think kindness walks hand-in-hand with generosity. Kindness and generosity in the classroom happens when you call students by their names, when you check in with students who have disappeared (“I’ve noticed you’ve been absent for a few classes. Just checking in to see if you’re okay?), when you have Powerbars on hand when students are hungry, when you provide extensions on assignments for students who are overwhelmed (or even for the entire class). Kindness is also when you listen to their stories about school, when you take them for a walk outside during the stressful times of the term and ask that they put their faces to the sun (reminding them to practice self-care). I also remind my students to prioritize sleep because sleep in the mind’s fuel, and let them know that their voices matter (because they do!).

Kindness and support for my International students in Forestry and LFS are so important in teaching LFS and FRST 150. I provide extra support and encouragement to International students (and teaching a system of learning writing that doesn’t leave them confused and frustrated). Because many of my composition students are International students, and because my classes are multicultural, scholarship on cultural factors affecting academic learning (Brown and Huang 2009) and scholarship on ethnic identities and their impacts on efficacy and self-esteem and achievement (Jaret and Reitzes’ 2009) is necessary to make these students feel comfortable in their learning. Students matter; their past experiences matter; their learning experiences matter. I endeavor to have my LFS and FRST 150 composition classes be the most supportive, memorable class they take in first year, and to make my classes contributors to a culture of equity and inclusion at UBC.

Covid-19 has made us all—students, teachers—miss walking into the classroom as the place of community-based, collaborative learning. Political geographer John Agnew (Cresswell 2004) outlines the three fundamental aspects of place as a ‘meaningful location’, aspects which are location, locale, and sense of place. Location: a classroom in MacMillan or the FSC. Locale (“the material setting for social relations”): a classroom with chairs, desks, overhead projectors, white boards, and white board markers. Sense of place: a teacher’s job (my job) is to create that comfortable sense of place for students, to create students’ “emotional attachment” to the classroom. And even when international, Canadian, and Indigenous students all find UBC as home to mean different things, I want to make my classroom home for all students. That’s ultimately my teaching philosophy: learning as home. I obviously want my students to learn how to write for a University audience by the time they complete LFS 150 or FRST 150, to leave with the story and craft of Scholarly Writing and Argumentation in their disciplines, but I also want them to walk into my classroom (their classroom) as if it where home. The story of the “where is here?” and “place and promise” of my composition classrooms is kindness and belonging.

2014 Fairclough Teaching Prize – U.B.C. Department of English

Presentations & Guest Lectures:

  • JEDI Lunch and Learn (2022): A storied-approach to EDI-informed teaching and learning
  • Colloquy (2023): A.I. & shit MY people say: People Teaching People
  • CONS 200 Guest Lecture (2023): Joining the Conversation: Essay Writing Workshop
  • Lunch and Learn (2021): CLAS (Collaborative Learning Annotation System) is useful for modelling HOW to actively read
  • CTLC (2021): co-presenter “Together but Apart”: our experiences building community while teaching online during a pandemic

Before coming to teach at UBC full time in 2007, I taught at Colorado State University for one year, and Camosun College in Victoria, BC for a semester.

I taught literature classes in the Department of English Language and Literatures at UBC until May of 2021 - postcolonial literature, Canadian literature, Vancouver literature - focusing on feminist, ecocritical, and postcolonialist approaches to texts. With literature, and any course for that matter, I'm most interested in systems, and how individuals negotiate those systems.

I've been teaching composition my entire teaching career, 80+ composition classes and counting! I've been teaching for LFS and Forestry for the past 5 years or so, initially brought on to redesign the LFS 150 course (and now FRST 150). As of July 1st, 2021, I am the full time Lecturer attached to the LFS & Forestry 150 Writing Program, jointly appointed to Forestry and LFS.

I have a daughter (Lucy) who is 15 (in 2023), but it's probably more accurate to say we have each other.

Hobbies: chess, building balsa models, online poker, ALL the tv shows and movies, walking, canoeing, reading sci-fi and fantasy, Vancouver as palimpsest.