'Everybody's favourite teacher'
Dana Lee, a professor in the RTA School of Media and manager of the media production program, approached teaching the same way he lived his life – filled with curiosity.
"I try new things all the time and sometimes I am not certain about whether it will work out or not," Lee once said in a Q&A session with Ryerson University's Learning and Teaching Office. "As educators, there’s a temptation to do the safe thing. But we have to keep moving, keep trying something new, trying something a little different."
Sadly, Lee died of cancer earlier this month at age 61. During his 20-plus years at Ryerson, however, his educational leadership and commitment to innovation earned him multiple awards, including the President’s Award for Teaching Excellence and the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations' Teaching Award. Lee, who graduated from Radio and Television Arts in ’77, will posthumously receive the Chancellor’s Award of Distinction during Ryerson's Awards Night on March 28.
"Dana was one of the good guys," says Charles Falzon, dean of Ryerson's Faculty of Communication & Design. "His skill at teaching came from the simple fact that he was a great human being. He was kind and caring, and he believed learning could be fun."
Before joining the RTA School of Media in the mid-1990s, Lee worked for 12 years at the City television network and CHUM Television. As the operations supervisor of MuchMusic, he specialized in live event television and used his extensive technical knowledge to bring imaginative concepts to life.
Lee further honed that skill at Ryerson. Dedicated to nurturing students' talents, he sought new ways to make learning more engaging, effective and accessible. For instance, long before universities and colleges began offering e-learning courses, Lee introduced online office hours and developed internet-based tutorials to help students struggling to understand concepts taught in the classroom.
Lee also ran a popular YouTube channel, external link, with more than 3,500 subscribers and 2.6 million views. In addition to posting material about media technical theory for his students, he uploaded content for those who would appreciate, in his words, "a bit of strangeness." Samples included lecture outtakes, vacation videos and even a time-lapse recording of a DIY kitchen renovation.
"Dana was one of the most positive people I've ever met, and he was always experimenting with technology, taking things apart and building new things," says fellow RTA professor Lori Beckstead. Those traits, she says, were on full display during an overseas humanitarian trip that she organized in 2013.
Lee was one of five RTA professors who, together with several students, travelled to a rural community in Ghana to build a school and local radio station. Despite the area's lack of electricity, Lee collected and hacked equipment that would enable residents to participate in call-in radio shows, a vital source of community information.
"He always loved to help people," says Beckstead. And last September, his students and colleagues returned the favour.
Standing on the lawn of Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, where Lee was receiving palliative care, approximately 200 RTA professors, students and alumni held signs of support for him to see from the windows above. What's more, throughout the fall and winter, students continued to organize weekly trips to visit Lee in hospital.
"He was everybody's favourite teacher," Beckstead says. "He mentored and shared his knowledge with thousands of students over the years, and I take comfort in knowing there's a lot of Dana out there in the world."
Dana Lee is one of a number of excellent teachers who are being recognized with a 2018 teaching award on March 28 at the Ryerson Awards Night.