Master of fun in class

As a teacher, Barb Phillips keeps herself grounded with a simple reminder: “For a lot of students, even the best class is not as good as a cancelled class. So that keeps me humble.”

By Kris Foster

It also keeps Phillips, a marketing professor in the Edwards School of Business and the most recent recipient of the U of S Master Teacher Award, working to make sure each class is better than the last.

"I figure out what my objectives are for each class, what students need to know, and I convey that information, but I think learning through practice is more important than me just explaining topics and concepts," she explained. "I try to make learning fun so that the lessons will stick with them."

Bringing fun into the class—something Phillips has been doing at the U of S for 16 years—is part of the reason the Rawlco Scholar in Advertising was selected as a master teacher.

"Making it fun is not dumbing it down," explained Phillips, who is known across campus for her collection of advertising spokes-characters, like Tony the Tiger and the M&M candies, that line the shelves of her office. "Making it fun makes students want to come to learn."

Getting students to class is one thing, but making it an engaging learning environment is another, she said, stressing the importance of practicing concepts in class. "Telling is not teaching. Although it is important to get across concepts and definitions, students need to also learn concepts through practice in real settings."

To that end, Phillips integrates many experiential learning opportunities into her coursework. In one class she teaches, her students learn marketing concepts by creating a real advertising campaign from start to finish for a non-profit organization in Saskatoon. "Students develop strategies, create ads and even pitch their campaigns to the organization."

In another class, students might look at real-life examples of marketing to learn concepts—like how McDonald's introducing a line of premium coffee, McCafe, might affect the coffee house industry. "I am always looking for ways to do more experiential learning and less lecturing in class."

But being a master teacher goes beyond the classroom; it also entails being a mentor, and that is something Phillips takes a great deal of pride in. "I have some experience and I enjoy sharing it with colleagues and giving advice on what works and what doesn't. But I also like to see what others are doing. We are always learning and, whether through colleagues or seminars, I am always looking for new methods to try in class."

Although this award is not the first time Phillips' dedication to her students has been recognized, she was especially honoured by her selection as a master teacher. "I think it's awesome. I was honoured. This one really mattered because you are selected by other master teachers and I know the quality of teaching at the U of S."