Special Section: Metro Learning Curve


Among Prof. Beth Agnew’s humorous pursuits is the sport of extreme ironing. Participants iron on mountaintops, under water, and generally any place where no one has been brave enough to iron before. See www.extremeironing.com.

Prof. Beth Agnew is a self-proclaimed “ham on wry.” Which is to say that she’s not exactly the stone-faced type you’d expect in a technical and business communications lecturer.

In fact Agnew, whose laughter is contagious, is referred to throughout the halls of Seneca College as a “favourite prof” and the “no-stress professor.”

“I’m colourful. I’m entertaining. I’m an individual. I am passionate about my subjects and I love teaching,” she explains.

Agnew brings more than 30 years experience as an educator and company owner to her classroom. Less traditionally, she also brings her qualification as a “laughter leader” certified by the Yoga Clubs International, which lets her run workshops with both students and clients on how to laugh and the benefits of laughter.

Being a favourite professor is a badge she wears with honour. “You can’t learn in an environment of threat. Many students (especially international ones) have extremely high expectations for success ... (including) stress from parents to succeed,” she says.

In two of her courses — Interpersonnel Communication For Software Developers, and Technology And The Culture Of Wealth — Agnew tries to inject the curriculum with humour, real-life examples and popular culture tie-ins to break up the monotony of textbook learning.

“I usually start my class with a little update on what’s going on in Beth’s world,” she laughs.

“Learning has to be interactive and students have to feel safe to ask any questions or give any answers knowing that there are no wrong responses, only different perspectives.”

Agnew will often place a dollar sign on the chalkboard to start a dialogue with her students. “The better your communication skills, the more money you’ll make,” she says.

She also encourages students to take responsibility for their learning by outlining exactly what’s expected for each grade point for every project.

“Once someone knows what is expected of them, they can make the choice whether or not to commit to it. If you do the hard things first (tackling problems head-on) life is easy. If you do the easy things first, life is hard,” says Agnew.

“Life happens and I believe in flexibility with students but students also have to be open to discuss issues before the day the assignment is due.”

Visit www.bethagnew.biz, or http://people.senecac.on.ca/beth.agnew.

laughter in the classroom

Seneca professor Beth Agnew, who is a "laughter leader" certified by the Yoga Clubs International, has appeared on W Network's Style By Jury to help people find or make over their laugh. In front of her classes, Agnew uses ice-breakers such as greeting students on the first day of school by saying "Welcome to Fashion 101," and taking "laugh breaks." These have proven to be a great way to begin building an approachable, fun relationship with students, and can often break through the barriers of shyness and even cultural diversity in the classroom. "Children laugh hundreds of times a day, but by the time we become adults we'd be lucky if we laugh three or four times a day," Agnew says. She says laughter benefits your health by:

  • Releasing endorphins.

  • Oxygenating your blood.

  • Providing a great massage for your internal organs.

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