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Paula is currently teaching in the Department of Health Sciences at Brock University. She also teaches in the Master of Public Health program.


Click here to see a list of courses she's teaching including course descriptions and syllabi.


Paula is currently teaching in the Department of Health Sciences at Brock University. To see other courses she's taught, click the links below.


"Through her research and the practice of beginning each class with a short meditation, Gardner is finding the classroom environment has become more enhanced."

Teaching Approach
Pedagogical (Teaching) Approach / Perspectives:

The course content, format, evaluation scheme and learning processes that Paula employs through her pedagogical approaches are informed by the following schools of thought:


  1. Critical Reflexive Inquiry is a complex form of higher order reasoning that integrates critical thinking (making sense of things through questioning) and reflexivity (active consideration of personal and epistemological beliefs and values).

  2. Participatory Pedagogy is an educational approach in which multiple perspectives, opinions, and active creation on the part of learners all contribute to the final context of the learner experience. From this perspective, knowledge exchange is considered a shared responsibility among all participants (i.e. instructor and all students).

  3. Experiential Learning is often referred to as ‘learning through action’. In this approach, educators purposefully engage students in direct experience and focused reflection in order to increase knowledge, develop skills and clarify values.

  4. Mindfulness is a style of teaching that infuses learning with the experience of present awareness. As a particular method of instruction, mindfulness assists students and educators in awakening and opening their minds to new learning possibilities and more effective ways of being in the classroom.

Learning and Teaching Qualitative Research in Ontario: A Resource Guide

Centre for Critical Qualitative Health Research


Learning and Teaching Qualitative Research in Ontario: A Resource Guide is a dynamic, interdisciplinary repository of qualitative research methods-related information, designed to facilitate qualitative research methods training and accessibility of methods courses in the health sciences across Ontario universities. The publication is aimed at diverse audiences including graduate students and postdoctoral fellows who may not have any qualitative training or who want additional or advanced training, and masters-prepared healthcare practitioners who want to enhance their opportunities for research collaborations and expand their repertoire of research skills. The book is designed to familiarise users with qualitative research methodologies and methods and course offerings and how to register for them. An orientation to qualitative methods in the health sciences is included, along with lists of introductory and advanced courses, educational and support materials in the form of videos and selected preparatory readings on qualitative research as well as examples of substantive contributions of qualitative methods to the health sciences.


Dr. Paula Gardner delves into teaching qualitative research methods in her chapter "Qualitative Interviewing: More than asking questions and getting answers."

Centre for Critical Qualitative Health Research, Facey, M., Gastaldo, D., Gladstone, B., & Gagnon, M. (2018). Learning and Teaching Qualitative Research in Ontario: A Resource Guide. Toronto: eCampusOntario. Retrieved from


Gardner, P. (August 15, 2018). Qualitative Interviewing: More than asking questions and getting answers [video file]. Retrieved from:


"Experience is at the root of understanding."​

- Paula Gardner


“Falling down is a part of life. Getting up is living.” (Anonymous)


I was the kid who always had to do it – “hey, let me try!" While doing so often got me into trouble, my ‘mis’-adventures never deterred me from my need to experience something in order to make sense of it.


Feeling myself flying through the air as I jumped from a very high tree branch towards the trampoline in my friend’s backyard I learned about the physicality of my body, the pull of gravity, the physics of velocity… in addition to the laws of motion and force as I then bounced right over the fence and landed face down in the neighbour's garden.


Experience--and the mistakes that inevitably follow--are not just a part of life, they are life.  Understanding, as I know it, is an embodied experience; it is only through corporeal adventures that the richness and depth required to ‘really’ understand a phenomenon are possible.  


We are learning from researchers that embodied experiences become lodged deep within us. For example, even when cognition is severely impaired among people with Alzheimer’s disease, their embodied experiences are preserved in ways that allow them to continue performing personal daily practices such as knitting, flashing a peace sign when saying goodbye, or putting a napkin on their lap at the dinner table.


It is this “embodied selfhood”, this awareness that from our lived experience emerges a deep and remembered understanding that is critical to who we are and how we engage with the world and others, that drives how I teach, what I teach, and why I teach the way that I do.



“What you can do, or dream you can do, begin it; Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.” (Goethe)


My purpose, as such, is to ensure that experience ‘happens’ through my teaching; I am the facilitator providing opportunities for students to gain relevant real-world, hands-on, embodied experiences that enhance their learning.


I use a wide range of teaching and learning strategies to accomplish this goal. For example, in my Mental Health and Addictions course I partnered with a Brock staff member who is a Mental Health First Aid trainer (Sandy Howe) to provide an intensive 4-week training session within the course. All students in the class receive their Mental Health First Aid – Youth Certification from the Mental Health Commission of Canada as part of the course. 


Guest speakers, and in particular those working within the field, are regular visitors in all of my courses. Rather than have them simply come to class and tell students what they do, however, I meet with them ahead of time to encourage and guide them to instead show students what they do. In my Public Health & Society course, health broker Lara Lorge (Niagara Region Public Health) provided the mammogram workshop to my students in the same way she does with women in her community.


As students made (and then ate) their “mammograhams” Lara explained how this kind of informal workshop breaks down barriers and opens up a space to discuss breast cancer screening with women in priority communities. I’m quite sure this was an experience they will all – and in particular the males in the class - remember for a long time!


I also build experiential learning into course assignments. The major assignment in my Developing Healthy Communities course consisted of a research project where students were paired with seniors in the community. Student teams interviewed the seniors in their homes and traveled with them through their neighbourhoods to understand and assess the ‘age-friendliness’ of these environments. The results of this project, as well as videos showing the experience of the students and seniors, is captured on our course website at


Experiential learning helps students make important connections with community organizations and potential employers, builds their confidence, and teaches them the value of taking risks, making mistakes, and trying stuff in order to understand it.


Mindfulness in Teaching and Learning

“My experience is what I agree to attend to.” (William James)


My teaching is also informed by the philosophy of mindfulness. Mindfulness means being aware, present and paying attention to the present moment. Posted on the corner of my computer is a note that reads “What does this moment require of me?” Together my students and I use this and other strategies including meditation, accepting and encouraging pauses and silences, and engaging in active and non-judgemental listening – to remind ourselves that while in class what is required of us is simply that – to be in class; to pay attention to what we are hearing, saying, thinking, and learning. Collectively we practice a present moment awareness to fully immerse ourselves in the material – a process that serves to enrich not only our own learning, but that of others.


We also learn how to take these practices ‘off the mat’ and out of the classroom so we can use them in other aspects of our life. Research has demonstrated how mindfulness and meditation builds compassion and improves relationships – critical skills for anyone hoping to work in the health professions. Importantly for today’s university students, mindfulness has also been found to facilitate positive emotions and help individuals cope with stress.


A key strategy for implementing mindfulness into my courses is by beginning all of my classes with a short meditation. In “The Mindfulness Experiment” my students and I are exploring the impact of integrating mindfulness and meditation into post-secondary education. The results so far suggest this is a very positive practice, as 91% of students (n-139) completing the anonymous evaluation reported feeling more focused in class, 71% felt they were better listeners, and 77% thought they were less anxious about life as a result of this practice. An unanticipated result of this weekly practice was that students described feeling cared for as students.


My courses and classroom have been described as ‘organized chaos’ and to this I heartily agree. It is just not possible to integrate mindfulness practices with experiential learning opportunities within an intensive and highly comprehensive curriculum charged with ambitious learning outcomes for an important and substantive topic area without winging it a bit! And laughing a lot!



"The work only finds completion in the what it inspires in each of us.” (Jeff Koons, Artist)


The experience we gain together in these courses helps to build knowledge and understanding in ways that enable students to draw on them and apply them when they need it in other courses, in their first job after graduation, in their future careers, and daily personal lives.


My work, I believe, only finds its completion much later and my success is best evaluated in the ways in which it impacts the lives and work of my students far beyond my classroom. Experiential and mindfulness-based learning fosters curious, creative problem solvers, compassionate citizens and lifelong learners – qualities I have observed as a gerontologist that play a significant role in our ability to live a rich and meaningful life.

Student Impressions of Professor Gardner's Teaching

Nicole Bochen, Hunter College graduate from the Community Health Program, compiled the following 2 minute video outlining student impressions of Paula's pedagogy. 

Convo Plate
Helping break stigma with Convo Plates

Passing on the plate.

"I was honoured to receive a convo plate during the spring of 2017, and passed it along to two of my students, Josh and Isabella. They're both doing their own amazing work breaking mental health stigma on Brock University's campus. "


Created by the Paul Hansell Foundation, #ConvoPlate is a hand painted stoneware plate circulated around the community to get people talking about mental health. Each convo plate is different and was created by a member of the local community with their own special message and meaning.


The goal of Convo Plates is to help make mental health part of our everyday conversation. Just like eating right and exercising supports physical health, we all need to take active steps to support our mental health, too.


The hope is that the #ConvoPlate movement inspires people to have more conversations about mental health. If we can keep the conversation going, we can break the stigma and increase the number of youth who access mental health services.


Through education and awareness, the Paul Hansell Foundation aims to break down barriers and establish a proactive and preventative dialogue that puts mental health on an equal footing with all other forms of health. The foundation operates as a not for profit registered in the province of Ontario. Charitable contributions are held in the Paul Hansell Foundation Fund and administrated be the Burlington Foundation.

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