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Professor Robert Huish teaches a development and activism class at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, September 17, 2012. (PAUL DARROW/GLOBE AND MAIL)
Professor Robert Huish teaches a development and activism class at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, September 17, 2012. (PAUL DARROW/GLOBE AND MAIL)

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What if creating social change was your school assignment? Add to ...

Robert Huish encourages his students to dissent.

Every course that he teaches at Dalhousie University includes an activism component – it does not necessarily involve students marching on the streets (although they have), but rather is focused on building communication skills that lead to social change.

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For Dr. Huish, that’s the essence of a changing university education: The shoehorning of students into lecture halls is an outdated model that needs to be replaced with experiential learning that reminds students they have power to elicit powerful responses.

"We need to go beyond the traditional lecture and the textbooks," said Dr. Huish, an assistant professor of international development. "This is a great opportunity to get students together and organize [based] on their interests, what motivates them, and where do they want to act and why."

Students in one of his classes raised awareness of global food and hunger issues, visiting elementary and high schools, writing to a Member of Parliament and, in this particular case, marching on the streets of Halifax. Another class raised $9,000 for earthquake relief in Haiti. The students are graded on the organization of their project, such as formulating a coherent message.

Between five classes, Dr. Huish teaches more than 420 students. His classes are popular: Three of those classes had long waitlists.

"I think too often we assume that the qualifications of students will just suddenly be rendered whenever they get their diploma in hand," Dr. Huish said. "But during the four years they come to campus they get to engage with each other, they get to engage with faculty, and they get to experience all sorts of important organizational skills."

"They start to see their place within a broader tradition of advocacy and social movements."

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