Lessons in law

Ron Cuming began his career as a professor at the College of Law 48 years ago, before many of us were born, but his teaching techniques are anything but old school.

This spring, he was honoured with the U of S Master Teacher Award, a special recognition for faculty members who make outstanding contributions to the learning and working environments of the university.

So what exactly can we learn from this Master Teacher?

1. Wake up early

Cuming wakes up at 5:30 am each day ready to take on his role as professor at the College of Law. "If at all possible, I schedule my classes for 8:30 am," he said. "It helps me organize the day and then I'm free afterwards to meet with students and carry out research."

But he admits that not everyone shares his early-bird-gets-the-worm mentality. "Many students have told me they would love to take my class, but they just can't do 8:30 am."

2. Be the facilitator

"I respect my students as adults who have invested a great deal of time, hard work and financial resources into acquiring a legal education," he said.

It is that respect that has led Cuming to take on more of a facilitator role in the classroom. "The hard work and dedication to the task must come from them, but at the same time I do my best to create an open, non-threatening atmosphere in all my relationships with students. I tell every class at the first meeting that no question is a bad or foolish question."

3. Bring along your enthusiasm

You may not be able to name many people who find the nature of contemporary Canadian and international law intellectually stimulating or challenging, but if you need to know the name of someone who does, it's Ron Cuming.

"I attempt to bring my enthusiasm and fascination with law and its role in society into the classroom. My experience is that some of this enthusiasm is adopted by my students."

4. Technology: If you've got it, flaunt it

Cuming takes a lead role at the College of Law when it comes to using podcasts and Blackboard to enhance the learning experience for his students. "All of my course materials including cases, statutes and supplemental materials are available to my students via Blackboard." He also records all of his lectures as podcasts. "If students have been sick or away I will give them access to the podcasts and then three weeks before the final, everyone is given access to all of the recorded lectures."

5. Go beyond the text

Most of the areas of law addressed in Cuming's courses are statute based, but he encourages students to look beyond the strict wording of a statute to the social and economic conditions it was designed to address.

"Law in a modern, democratic society is a social science that reflects the history, culture and hopes of the society that adopts it. It cannot be under stood in the absence of an appreciation of these factors, so I encourage students to think about the adequacy of the law in addressing contemporary social and economic needs of society. In this process we consider what changes are needed if these needs are not being met."

6. Teach what you learn

Law reform at the provincial, national and international levels has been an important aspect of Cuming's academic career as he has had the opportunity to participate in the development and modernization of most of the areas of law he teaches. "As a result of my law reform activities, I am able to bring into the classroom information with respect to not only the factors that prompted an examination of a particular area of the law, but also the processes involved in bringing a proposal for change to the stage of enacted law."

And Cuming's final thought on receiving the Master Teacher Award: "It's a great honour to me to be recognized for doing something I love to do. I consider myself to have one of the best jobs in the country."

Sarah Trefiak is communications and alumni officer in the College of Law.
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