The votes are in for the University of Alberta’s Last Lecture and the students have selected Faculty of Kinesiology, Sport, and Recreation alumnus (BKin ‘16) and current instructor, Adam Pinkoski. Not only is Adam the youngest instructor to receive the honour of presenting at the Last Lecture—a series that features a current UAlberta instructor who goes beyond the conventional ways of teaching to deliver class content in an engaging, memorable manner—but his presentation is the fastest to sell out in the event’s history.
Over the course of three years, Adam has taught KIN 100 - Human Anatomy, KIN 203 - Skill Acquisition and Performance and KIN 400 - Human Gross Anatomy. He was also a teacher’s assistant for the Cadaver Anatomy for Physical Therapy lab when he was a fourth year Bachelor of Kinesiology (BKin) student. His unique teaching style has been subject of a number of social media posts from KSR students, most notably, his human anatomy-based lyrics to Eminem’s, Without Me
or that time his entire class dressed up as him for Halloween
Adam’s refreshing spin to teaching some fairly intense content is rooted in his experiences as a student. Throughout his undergraduate degree, Adam always appreciated the guidance and teaching styles of his instructors, specifically Brian Maraj and Gordon Bell. Adam was one of the first students to take the embedded undergraduate Research Certificate in Kinesiology, where he worked in Martin Ferguson-Pell’s Rehabilitation Robotics Lab. It was here where he started to see the important role kinesiologists can play in rehabilitation robotics. Shortly after he graduated with his BKin degree in 2016, Adam crossed the Atlantic to take his Masters of Science in Musculoskeletal Sport Science and Health at Loughborough University. Growing up in Leicestershire, England--the same county Loughborough University is located--Adam always planned on returning to further his education. The intense year-long MSc program saw Adam develop a fitness tracker for wheelchair users--a device that was validated and used by the Great Britain Wheelchair Basketball team.
Adam returned to Canada, and the University of Alberta, in 2018 where he worked as a research assistant in the Rehabilitation Robotics Lab. He also began teaching with KSR, and eventually took a role as a research associate with Rehabtronics Inc.—a local tech company specializing in rehabilitation technology.
We sat down with Adam to learn a bit more about his unique teaching style, his background and what it means to him to be the 2019 Last Lecture presenter.
Q: Your unique teaching style has been highlighted by students on social media in a number of ways. Where does your teaching style come from?
A: My teaching style is a product of being an okay student. When I was a student, I was never a great student; I was a good student. The classes I excelled at were those where the material was explained in a manner where we started very, very simply—even though we would go over an incredibly complex concept, and the material was voluminous—we would start from a common ground where everyone could agree on and we could work from there progressively getting to the overarching concept. That’s one of the things that I find is very useful in teaching; no matter what, no matter how simple or complex the concept seems to be, I just start as simply as possible and work my way from there.
I also really like GIFs. Especially with anatomy, there are a lot of animations of a single muscle contracting, showing its actions, or a nerve travelling from the spinal cord from the brain down to the muscle to show how impulses work. I like to embed these GIFs into my presentations. Having demonstrations like this really helps explain how various functions work. It’s not just a picture—you can actually see the muscle or nerve in action.
Q: What was your first teaching job?
A: I taught KIN 203 - Skill Acquisition and Performance last winter, and it was the first class I had ever taught. Brian Maraj asked me to teach his class when he was on sabbatical. Brian puts a lot of emphasis on blind faith, and this was definitely one of those instances. He didn’t know that I had any teaching assistant (TA) experience—which I had as I was TAing for the Cadaver Anatomy for Physical Therapy lab at the time, but Brian didn’t know that when he asked me.
Q: Have you been inspired by any of your teachers?
A: Brian Maraj is definitely one of them. He taught me KIN 203 in the winter when I was a student. I initially took it in the previous fall semester and I was not doing so well on the class. I actually withdrew from the fall class and took it in the winter when he was teaching it, and I did infinitely better. So, Brian is definitely one of them, just in terms of his passion and enthusiasm that he brings. He has a way of looking at the material in anything but a conventional way encourages students to look at applications in a completely unconventional way.
Gordon Bell (Professor Emeritus), who taught me exercise physiology, is another teacher who has inspired me. He was he was the best instructor I had in terms of providing anecdotal evidence. Every single time he'd be to be talking about certain exercise physiology concepts, he would be able to provide an example where he applied these concepts. He’d pull out all these different applications and all these different stories that he had acquired over a lifetime for work. I knew I always wanted to get into teaching and so I would always pay attention to my own experiences applying the knowledge to find examples that I can use when I start to teach. I never anticipated that I'd be teaching so soon so, at times I struggle to draw from my own experiences. When I'm in the middle of a lecture, I don't really think about the stories—it's hard to prep for the stories just by looking at the slides beforehand—but in the moment, I kind of think, “oh! I've got a great one!”. So, I have accrued enough practical experiences that I interlace it into my lectures when the right opportunity comes up.
Q: How long did it take you to come up with the alternate lyrics for Eminem’s ‘Without Me”?
A: That one was actually really easy. I put emphasis on “that one”, as there is an event coming up, and I don’t want to give too much away.
At the end of KIN 203, when I taught for Brian Maraj, I wanted to end on a positive note for my last lecture of the semester. I did a summary of the whole semester to Taylor Swift’s Long Live, because that's the song I would listen to before every single one of my exams over the course of my undergrad. But I barely got through that without breaking into tears, so I knew I couldn’t do that again, and needed to do something much more high-paced for next time. Over the course of the next semester I was actively thinking about it. I should add that it's one of those things that you don't do a performance like that unless you have an audience who's going to appreciate accept it. We had some very serious anatomy aficionados in that semester, and you could tell that they're passionate about the material, and would probably appreciate the performance. So, in seeing that, I spent two or three days over reading week to write it up, and then committed it to memory. It's actually surprisingly easy to learn all the lyrics to a song that you write.
Q: So, KIN 400 is a fourth-year course. Are any of the students in that class in their first year when you were still a student in the Faculty?
A: Yeah, I think so. There was a couple of them that are older than me. I also do the Cadaver Anatomy labs for Physical Therapy—that was actually my first gig, so I'm coming on doing that for the my fourth year now. They brought me on less than a year after I had taken KIN 400 as a student, and in that first physical therapy class, there were 10 other students who I took KIN 400 with who I was now teaching, so it was a little weird. And, because the labs are a professional program, the average age of the students is 25/26. When I started, I was 22, so there was a very steep difference. Over the years, students recognize that I am young, and because age and experience then to be viewed as being synonymous, it’s been an uphill battle, but one I don’t feel nearly as much anymore that I have proven myself. It’s still funny, however, as the students always say, “You’re so young!”, and I’m like, “Yeah, I used to be younger.”
Q: What does your role with Rehabtronics Inc. entail?
A: I’m a research associate there. Rehabtronics is a tech company established and based in Edmonton that designs technologies for individuals with stroke and spinal cord injury primarily, but really any neurological impairments that affects hand function. I'm an internal content expert on the side of kinesiology—so, anything related to biomechanics, physiology, anatomy and sport performance; that's really my realm of expertise. One of the things that I do and why was brought on is on the human-machine interface. If you're designing any sort of technology for a human user, you need to have the knowledge of how the human is actually using it, and to actually take feedback from the user to properly improve the technology. One of the things that I do is I'll go around to different clinics that utilize their devices and try the products with human users. If it works, great. If not, then we take their feedback and try to improve on the technology.
Q: What does it mean to you to not only be nominated for the Last Lecture, but to be selected AND to sell out?
A: I’m not too sure I’ve processed all of this just yet, but, it certainly means a lot. The fact that it’s something that is given from your peers and students is just really special. I think Brian put it the best in saying that the Last Lecture is the ultimate recognition that you’ve truly resonated with and made a meaningful impact with your students. It’s something a lot of people aim to achieve, and not many will have the opportunity. I actually remember watching Brian’s Last Lecture sitting in the third row, and thinking, “When I teach, that’s what I want to aim for. When I resonate with my students and truly deserve it, that’ll be me up there.” I just didn’t expect it to happen so soon. So it’s overwhelming, but also incredible.
Q: Can you give us any spoilers as to what your Last Lecture presentation will contain?
A: I don’t want to say too much, but be prepared for a lot of pop culture references and Britney Spears lyrics