Aquinian, Canada, Feature, St. Thomas University

Are MOOCs the future of education?

Imagine if you could lay in bed all day, not have to talk to people, pick and choose what you want to learn, and still get an education at your own pace – for free.

Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs, are kind of like that. They are online university courses open to the masses and accessible online. To some, MOOC sounds like the name of a goofy cartoon character, but to many, these are considered to be the future of higher education.

Full story here.

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Arts, Feature, Fredericton, Opinion, Review, St. Thomas University, Students, Theatre, Theatre St. Thomas

The Bacchae: Lisa Anne Ross tackles gender fluidity and moral extremes

Don’t mess with the gods: advice that is heeded by humans in the latest Theatre St. Thomas production. Enter demi-god Dionysus, son of Zeus, self-indulgent and self-assured as he towers over his cult of sexually spell-bound followers who huff and puff in ecstasy with his every move. Now, enter Pentheus, king of Thebes – the city that Dionysus craves revenge over for disbelieving him as a god. Its ruler is the only one who dares to look Dionysus in the eye without being overcome with the erotic infection the demi-god has begun to spread across the land. Soon, the king will find out that his raging testosterone and prison chains hold no power over the unleashed Dionysian powers.

The Euripides tragic play is over 2400 years old, but feels revived and oddly fit for 2016 with director Lisa Anne Ross’ take on it. Even with the long, complex Grecian dialogues the actors and actresses spit out effortlessly, the audience is pulled in by more than just the story.

Dionysus, portrayed by the uncomfortably captivating Alex Rioux, walks into the first scene from behind the disarrayed walls of the Black Box Theatre. He is dressed in a skin-tight black garment and a lacy black top, embellished with a black sparkly corset, matching elbow-length gloves, Mary Jane-style platform heels, and devil horns. He summons his animalistic followers, the Bacchae, into a dance routine to M.I.A.’s “Bad Girls” – something that leaves the audiences wondering how it made its way out of the strip club and into STU’s campus. We are not sure what or who he is, but we cannot look away.

The Bacchae constantly grunt, moan, and sway their hips rousingly at the sight and sound of their beloved Dionysus. Clad in lace, chains, fur and lipstick – though not much else – they look like they’re on their way to a burlesque show or a gothic-themed rave. They murder to the sounds of remixed-Fleetwood Mac and perform rituals to “The Sound of Music.” The group lures in outsiders via sexual summoning and sing and dance in ways that are reminiscent of a tribal cult. They are bad but, for whatever reason, no one can overcome them.

Though the Bacchic frenzy and exploration of movement can be distracting, it doesn’t take away from the messages the story offers. Obvious tones of gender fluidity and homoeroticism reveal themselves. The relationship of religion and sex – and how they overpower or seduce in similar ways – is out in the open for all to see. The riff between Dionysus and Pentheus demonstrates law and order, but also extremes of morals and the ambiguity of madness. The Euripides-meets-Lady-Gaga play suggests that too much madness and excess cause chaos, but not accepting it or maintaining moderation is just as bad. Basically, they’re trying to tell us that extremism of any kind never leads to any good – something that is just as relevant today as it was 2400 years ago.

The Bacchae is not for the faint of heart. It is not for those who are uncomfortable being made to feel uncomfortable. But it is for those who enjoy distorted views of reality and answers to questions they don’t want to ask.

Originally written for a class at St. Thomas University.

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Christmas, Feature, Holidays, News, Remembrance Day, Thought scoop

Christmas fever: where do we draw the line?

Halloween has crept by and poppies are in full bloom for Remembrance Day, but some shoppers in rural New Brunswick are noticing something that does not belong – signs of Christmas.

Megan Fila, a daycare worker in Minto, says that she has already seen signs of Christmas in her hometown.

“From Christmas decorations to Christmas wrapping paper, the stores have them right by the Halloween decorations and costumes,” she said. “I feel that Christmas fever always starts with the months that end in ‘-ber’ – September, October, November, December. Christmas is a huge holiday that everyone loves.”

Christmas fever is something that many holiday-fanatics experience. The emotion is named after its characteristic of an intense or excessive need to get into the holiday spirit ahead of time, whether by decorating or buying presents months in advance, or listening to Christmas music, among other activities.

The debate about how early is too early to decorate and play Christmas music is an unsettling one for many people. This is especially true when “too early” means getting festive before Halloween or Remembrance Day goes by.

Colleen Mooren, a flower shop owner in Chipman, says that she disagrees with decorating before Remembrance Day.

“After a visit to Holland and all the war memorial sites and veterans cemeteries, I think our veterans deserve their [own] day,” she said. “[At my business] I emphasize decorating for the holidays, but I will wait until after November 11.”

Though the debate continues, so does the premature decorating and buying. The Christmas fever that so many people experience is becoming a question of whether it is more than just a few arguably disrespectful decorating choices. Many believe it is driven by consumerism and the commercialization of the holiday season.

Ronna Gauthier, a teacher at Minto Memorial High School, said that consumerism is something she believes creates a lot of anxiety and guilt in people.

“[It creates] anxiety over getting started, ‘Keeping up with the Joneses’, it creates the ‘I wants…’ in children and guilt over doing ‘enough’ for your family,” she said.

She agrees with Helen Powers, a resident of both Minto and Fredericton, who said that most people who begin their shopping months in advance do it to get their shopping done early. She says that when she does it, she feels so proud that she’s done, but it gets worse from there.

“You can’t help yourself. It’s this Christmas thingy,” she said. “It keeps you buying right up until Christmas Eve. I’m not sure why – maybe it’s the Christmas spirit – so you end up spending more than you planned to.”

Mynra Brideau, marketing manager for the Regent Mall, said that even though the holidays are their biggest retail season, Santa always arrives the Sunday after Remembrance Day.

“This gives us approximately five weeks of Christmas,” she said. “It takes two to three weeks for our small team to set up our elaborate Christmas décor.  Our décor is set up by our in-house Operations Team. In addition to preparing for Christmas, they have to continue with their daily obligations.”

Brideau said that one important thing to note is that the mall never turns their Christmas music on until after Nov. 11, although she cannot speak for specific stores.

Taylor MacIntyre, a former employee of Kent Building Supplies in Fredericton, said that the holidays were a stressful time to work in retail.

“Most customers don’t realize how much time and effort it takes to pack away all the summer stock and reorganize the shelves to start planning for Christmas,” said MacIntyre. “It takes months of planning, and I know at Kent’s that’s why we bring out Christmas decorations early – it’s such a headache to wait so close to Christmas.”

MacIntyre said that the opinions of customers would vary per person about whether the holiday items should be out months in advance or not.

“Some would come in and be excited to see the Christmas spirit start so early,” she said. “Others would come in and be extremely upset because we were decorating and ornaments were out before Remembrance Day. They often believed it was disrespectful.”

After working in retail for four years, MacIntyre said that she believes Christmas fever is a real emotion that many experience, but admits that even she herself gets it. Though she believes that the commercialization of Christmas pulls people in, she believes it is a means to an end of something greater.

“I believe people go crazy with gifts because it gives them the sense of love, hope and happiness,” she said. “Love, because they are surrounded by family and friends; hope, because everyone has to have a little hope or faith; and happiness, because who isn’t happy when they are getting gifts and having awesome food for Christmas?”

Though she believes that consumerism is a driving factor in it all, Gauthier added that Christmas fever isn’t something that should be condemned out of fear of being disrespectful.

“Anyone who is keen spirited enough to decorate is obviously doing it out of spirit of the season and not out of disrespect for our veterans,” she said. “It’s okay to wear a poppy and a snowman pin on your jacket together. It’s okay to spend November 11 honouring our veterans and putting up your artificial tree.”

Gauthier also said she doesn’t think that anyone who decorates or shops early has any disregard for our veterans.

“On the contrary, I bet they are some of our most grateful and respectful Canadians… thankful for the freedoms earned for us by our military forces.”

Originally written for a class at St. Thomas University.

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Alberta, Canada, Feature, New Brunswick, Uncategorized

Alberta bound and tied

For Holly Phillips, life in New Brunswick – a broken province, as she calls it – gets harder every day.

“My husband is an industrial electrician at a potash mine in Saskatoon. He’s been out West for one year. He works two weeks away, one week at home… It’s hard without him here.”

Nowhere in Canada has the plunging price of petroleum affected life more than in Alberta. But that word – the “A” word – is a noun that has had Alberta-employee wives stinging and struggling to cope for the last two decades.

“It’s been difficult juggling,” said Phillips, a mother, full-time paramedic and part-time cosmetic sales rep. “We have little other choice but to live this way.”

Despite this, it hasn’t changed the effect the constant juggling of here-and-there that many rural NB families have to deal with.

Cathy Stewart, one of the many wives of an employee of a big-time Alberta company, says having a family member who comes and goes never gets easier, only harder.

“The person leaving sacrifices much more than those left behind. We have all the comforts of home and loved ones nearby – they get a single cot in a small camp room,” she said. “They miss birthdays, anniversaries, Valentines days… holidays and even funerals. They are not gone because they want to be but because they have to go. The person at home becomes accustomed to juggling extra but you learn to cope.”

For wives like Stewart, the hardships only begin with the absence of the men in their life. While salaries of West Coast construction workers may seem glamorous, a vast majority of the women back home still opt to work for themselves and their children who have also been left in New Brunswick. This is especially true for Holly Phillips.

“I work fulltime shift work and sell Younique also, so I have little free time and I never stop. Thankfully, my daughter has a great daycare and my parents are my neighbours. Even with that, I rarely sleep.”

New-Brunswickers-turned-Albertans like Tara Arsenault and her husband Albert failed to catch a break in what many refer to as a broken economy.

“There is no work in New Brunswick and the money is not the greatest there,” Arsenault said. “I wanted to move out here for a new adventure in my life and to start over. There are so much more things to do and see here… there are jobs if you want to work… I don’t think I’d move back to New Brunswick. I love it here. There is nothing back there but family and friends.”

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A number of families in New Brunswick who have been thrown into the middle of this lifestyle have grown tired of the constant juggling of leading two lives on each side of the country. For Ashley Bell’s family, living off the $18-an-hour wage common in New Brunswick was no longer an option. The only solution was to pack up everything they had left in NB and move it all out west – something that has never sat well with her.

“During one spring, we were really short on cash and [my parents] just had enough. Dad spent the whole summer applying anywhere out there,” she said. “Finally with the help of a neighbour, he got a job… I never had a problem with him being gone. I had no reason to. There was food on the table and bills were getting paid… We could have had a much better life in New Brunswick.”

However, Bell’s parents decided to relocate the summer before she entered Grade 12. Her whole world was turned upside down, but the good jobs with benefits, dependability, and opportunities quickly grew on her. Still, she finds herself longing for the familiarity of home.

“I miss the trees and how colorful it is [and] the hospitality you get back east. If I ever thought I could have the job and financial security I have here back east, I wouldn’t hesitate,” she said. “When I think about getting older and ‘growing up’, that’s where I want to do be.”

Bell says it’s heartbreaking that there isn’t enough financial security in New Brunswick. She does not want to put her future self and family through what she went through as a kid – the same situation that many other New Brunswick families are trying to avoid.

But now, after years of rapid growth in Alberta and struggling, tired families in New Brunswick, Alberta’s construction industry has already experienced and can expect more of an extended downturn. As a new report says, this will result in project delays, cancellations, and more job layoffs, forcing many of those from the East Coast to seek employment back home. This leaves many of those wives like Holly Oulton fearful.

“[The thought of] my husband having to come back to this province to work is terrifying. The economy [here] is terrible. The construction trades seem to slow more and more each year.”

When asked if they think there will ever be a chance for their husbands to come back home and have a successful, secure career in New Brunswick, most women have the same perspective as Holly:

“I hope everyday he will be able to,” she said. “We would figure something out for sure, but the future is pretty uncertain.”

Originally written for a class at St. Thomas University.  Published here.

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