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Faculty of Law
UNB Fredericton

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Commitment, collaboration and accessibility win Benjamin Perryman Teaching Excellence Award

Professor Benjamin Perryman has received UNB Law’s top teaching honour, the Faculty of Law Teaching Excellence Award (2021-22). He was recognized for his giving nature, commitment to student success, collaborative approach to teaching and learning, and for his accessibility and responsiveness to student feedback.

Prof. Perryman joined the faculty in January of 2020 and had just a few months to get acquainted with the law school before the world was turned upside down by the pandemic. Forced to reinvent the classroom experience on very short notice—and with considerable uncertainty—he saw this as an opportunity to experiment.

“The pandemic created space to try new things; incorporating Zoom, for example. As much as that wasn't part of the plan, it has proven to be an effective tool. It is much easier to do small breakout groups virtually than in the physical classroom, just from a sound perspective, but also from a privacy perspective. I saw students expressing ideas that they might not share in the larger classroom.”

Prof. Perryman also used the pandemic as an opportunity to experiment with asynchronous teaching and the idea of a flipped classroom. This involved producing multimedia presentations that students could view on their own time, and then creating quasi-experiential practice problems that students would complete as a group.

“The idea here is to spend more class time using and building on the key teachings from the materials rather than reviewing those materials. To do this well requires substantial inputs and a willingness to do things differently. I’m not sure I would have tried this in the absence of the pandemic, but aspects worked quite well and I’ll continue to use those in the future.”

A constant for Prof. Perryman throughout the pandemic and during the transition back to in-person learning is his commitment to ensuring the classroom is as inclusive and accommodating as possible. His coursework and delivery methods acknowledge the different types of learners and the different circumstances of students. His students will tell you that he demands a great deal from them but matches their effort at every opportunity.

“I meet my students where they are. If they need extra help and want to put in the work, then I will give them that. If they want more advanced work beyond what the course covers and want to put in the work, then I will meet them there. That matches up with what I try to do with accommodations. I figure out where a student is at and what they need to be successful.”

A big part of his work promoting inclusivity in the classroom involves ensuring it is a safe place for different viewpoints and open debate—especially around some of the thornier legal issues. 

“Rather than avoiding difficult topics, I turn into them and encourage open and respectful debate about pressing issues. My students learn, discuss, and debate the rules of evidence in sexual assault trials, the balance between freedom of speech and equality, and the role of race in police/citizen interactions. To make these debates both forthright and safe, I model reasoned disagreement and respect for divergent views.”

Prof. Perryman’s innovative approach to teaching includes the use of technology and multimedia to enhance student engagement. Online feedback and polling tools like PollEV and Kahoot allow him to anonymously test student understanding in real-time—and in a way that is fun and engaging. He regularly assigns relevant documentaries, podcasts, and webcasts of actual court hearings. This allows him to bring the people most affected by law into the classroom and to demonstrate abstract principles, showing how they are applied in current cases of significance. He also works to make the law current, by focusing on modern dilemmas and facts that form part of those dilemmas.

“One thing that's nice about teaching smart people is that they do so much of the work themselves. It is more about helping them get information in an efficient way and encouraging them to set their standards higher and higher. It's especially true in the first years. It's always remarkable the extent to which they come in knowing nothing about the law, and by the end of first year, they know way more than they ever imagined that they could at the beginning.”

A member of the selection committee, Dean Marin was struck by the overwhelmingly positive words of Prof. Perryman’s many students.

“I think what makes this award so special is the significant role the students play in the nomination process,” said Dean Marin. “It is the students’ own testimony that speaks to the value and positive contributions the nominees bring to the law classroom. In reading this feedback, it becomes clear that Prof. Perryman embodies UNB Law’s emphasis on high quality teaching.”

Congratulations to Prof. Perryman on this fantastic achievement and finalists Maria Panezi and George Filliter.

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