Faculty in Focus: Teaching is a learning journey for Kyle Danielson

A recent PhD graduate in developmental psychology, Kyle Danielson brings passion and experience to his teaching. For Danielson, one of the new Lecturers in UBC’s Department of Psychology, teaching has always been the most important part of his career – and something he has wanted to do since childhood.

He teaches psychology undergraduate courses at UBC and was a Grade 7 school teacher between his undergraduate and graduate studies. He has devoted much of his time to teaching assistantships and to instructing his own courses, both at UBC and at Quest in Squamish.

Prior to completing his PhD at UBC, Danielson received his BA in Linguistics at Duke University, and his MSc in Linguistics at the University of Alberta.

He is a member of the research team in Dr. Janet Werker’s Infant Studies Centre and his research focuses on language acquisition and the development of speech perception throughout the lifespan.

We sit down with Danielson to learn more about his approach to teaching and what he does outside of the classroom.

First of all, what attracted you to teaching?

This is a tough question for me to answer! I have wanted to be a teacher since childhood, so it seems like something I’ve been after forever. My little sister and I even used to pretend that I was the teacher and she was the student! For me, there is nothing more exhilarating than learning. Learning changes our perspectives about the world, about each other, and about ourselves. It makes us better people. And it’s permanent! So I love being able to facilitate learning for others. Plus, I have found over years of teaching that one of the best ways for me to learn new things is to teach them. It’s such a joy to help people acquire new skills and knowledge while also acquiring those things myself.

How would you describe your approach to teaching?

My approach to teaching is very communal. I don’t consider myself to be ‘in charge’ of my classroom or an expert on everything that I teach. Rather, I hope that each course that I teach can be a learning journey for my students and myself. I know that my students have as much knowledge and expertise to offer each other as I do, and that my role is to guide and scaffold that learning so that it can be as effective as possible. In so doing, I hope that my approach to teaching makes students comfortable enough with me and with each other that they can live up to their own potential as educators.

What can you learn from your students?

So much. I am certain that I’ve learned more from my students over the years than I learned when I was a student myself. Students bring their vast experiences to the classroom, and enrich discussions in ways that I—just one person—could never do myself. Students have taught me how to explain things in ways that are accessible to a diverse audience. They have also taught me the importance of being flexible. Sometimes, no matter how much work I have put into a syllabus or an assignment, it just doesn’t work for a particular group of students. Being willing to change things so that they have the best opportunity for success has been a huge lesson that I’ve learned from my students.

What learning or studying advice do you have for your students?

This question is one that gets asked countless times of every instructor and teaching assistant. I think that the best advice I can give—as obvious as it may seem—is to come to class. Treat school like a job. Don’t miss it unless you absolutely have to, and be sure to make up for missed time if you do. Another great piece of advice is to attempt to relate each concept in a course to a real-life scenario that you (or someone you know) has experienced. This strategy is particularly helpful in Psychology, as we each have remarkable insights into our own thoughts, perceptions, behaviours, emotions, and relationships. If you can apply the scientific concepts from your coursework to real-life experiences, the knowledge that you gain in the course will be better cemented for later in life (and for exams!).

What are your research interests?

My primary area of research is in language acquisition in young infants. I investigate how infants use both auditory and visual information when perceiving speech from the first months of life, and how they learn to match the seen and heard information of their native language(s) and from languages that they’ve never heard before. I’m also quite interested in how bilingual kids (who grow up learning more than one language) differ from and are similar to their monolingual peers both linguistically and socially. 

Why did you choose UBC for your graduate studies?

UBC has one of the best psychology graduate programs in the world, so coming here was a no-brainer. Moreover, UBC is well known for its work in language science (check out the new UBC Language Sciences Initiative!), with ground-breaking linguistic research taking place in many departments, including Psychology, across campus. Plus, Vancouver is one of the best places in the world to live! 

And what has attracted you to stay at UBC?

I have been lucky enough to have the opportunity to teach at UBC throughout graduate school, and it has been a life-changing experience. I have realized that teaching is my favourite part of my job, and I know that my positive experience at UBC is what makes that true. So I’m delighted to have the new opportunity to stay on at UBC, now teaching full-time! I am also lucky to work with a big department full of supportive, collaborative colleagues, who made the decision to stay that much easier.

Do you have a motto or favourite quote?

I don’t have one! Send me suggestions at @KyleD_UBC

What do you like to do in your free time?

I love being outside, and Vancouver has taught me to love it even when it’s been raining for weeks. My favourite things to do in my free time include hiking, biking, going to the beach, throwing a frisbee around with my friends, watching planes land at the airport, and going on road trips to Vancouver Island. When it’s just too wet to be enjoyable out there, I love cooking French and Indian food and reading about Canadian political science.

You can find Kyle on Twitter:@KyleD_UBC and Instagram: kyled817