2020 TEACHING AWARD WINNERS
The University of North Carolina Board of Governors has selected 17 outstanding faculty members to receive the 2020 Awards for Excellence in Teaching. The recipients, who represent all 16 of North Carolina’s public universities and the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics, were nominated by special committees at each institution and selected by the Board of Governors Committee on Educational Planning, Policies, and Programs. Established by the Board in 1993 to highlight the importance of teaching, the award recognizes the extraordinary contributions of faculty members System wide.
Appalachian State University
Jennifer Sterling Snodgrass
Professor of Music Theory in the Hayes School of Music
Department of Music
I grew up in a home filled with music. My parents were amateur songwriters; my father played the guitar and my mother, the piano. I don’t remember a time when I didn’t sing. My life changed at age seven when I checked out my first Beverly Sills album. I listened to that album and fell in love with opera and all things classical music. My parents found a voice teacher who would take me at the age of seven and I spent the next eleven years learning languages, librettos, and technique. I auditioned for the Virginia Opera in the 4th grade and became one of the children that performed during the entire season. Those four years spent with the opera company were life-altering for me and left me with the dream to be a professional opera singer.
I had an abundance of performance and academic opportunities during my undergraduate career and I traveled to New York for lessons with a well-known voice teacher. It was during a lesson that I heard the words that every singer fears: “Go have your cords scoped.” Within two weeks, I was diagnosed with pre-nodules, my voice professor failed me on my recital hearing, and I had to drop out of opera due to mandatory voice rest. I found myself in a place of not knowing my purpose as a musician. My theory professor, Dr. Anthony Vaglio, encouraged me to replace some of the hours of voice classes and lessons with independent studies in analysis and pedagogy. I began to tutor and became enthralled with the learning process - how students worked through a problem, how to say things in multiple ways in order for students to understand the concept, how a student could have that lightbulb moment based on making connections to sound and symbol. I was hooked. One evening while tutoring a freshman, I was so excited about going through basic analysis that I erased the board with my hands because I didn’t want to take the time to find the eraser. When I got in the elevator that night to go back to my dorm, I studied all of the marks on my hands. I knew at that moment that my future was in music theory and teaching.
Immediately following graduation, I walked into my first ear training course at the University of Tennessee. I was a brand-new masters student assigned to teach a class of eight young men who had failed the semester before. Within one day, I realized that these men felt rejected and unworthy because of previous grades. I found myself teaching more about self-confidence and how to study and practice than I did about ear training.
Experimentation with many different pedagogical approaches was required before I found one that related to these students. It was this challenge that propelled me into an interest in pedagogy. After earning my Ph.D. in music theory, I joined the faculty at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) where I taught from 2002-2005. Each semester, I taught six or seven classes in music theory, ear training, popular music, voice, and music technology. While this course load was extremely difficult, I learned to work with a diverse population of students who brought little to no experience in traditional music instruction. I learned that every student is unique and that it is my responsibility to teach each person in the room, regardless of background or skill level.
However, it is here at Appalachian State where I have found my dedication to teaching and learning truly supported. My students are challenged to immerse themselves into the material while thinking critically, both inside and outside the classroom. My teaching celebrates humanity and inquisitiveness and fosters learning opportunities through exploration; both the students and I learn how to expect more and give more. A main objective in teaching music theory and aural skills is to instill within a student the steps needed to solve a given task, such as an analysis of a piece or a difficult passage in a sight singing selection. Students must have the ability to take information given to them in class and apply this knowledge to other situations. A majority of my classes emphasize process, rather than the correct answer. I am always pleased to learn that the process I find the simplest is often replaced by a student’s solution. By encouraging this method, students must find the approach which work best for their individual learning style or situation.
Personal interaction with my students is the key element to my teaching style. I make myself available to students outside of the classroom and maintain an open-door policy with all of my classes to discuss any matters they may choose. I respect my students and truly care about their academic struggles and successes. My motto is “empower the undergraduate;” I believe that students have the ability to achieve great things when they are given the right tools, mentorship, and opportunities.
Several years ago, I was asked to create a playlist that described my teaching philosophy. This playlist and the short commentary accompanying each song best describes my growth, development, and core values as a teacher.
- He Leadeth Me- (Humility) This acapella hymn reminds me of learning how to sing harmony with my family in my youth. It was in my childhood home that I began to fall in love with music.
- Desperado- (Relationships) Personal interaction with my students is incredibly significant throughout my teaching development and thus, philosophy. I firmly believe that it takes a village to achieve most anything. The lyrics say it best: “And freedom, oh freedom, well that’s just some people talkin’, your prison is walking through this world all alone.”
- The River- (Taking chances and thinking outside the box) I experiment with different teaching approaches and ask my students to continually get out of their comfort zone with lessons in improvisation, composition, and analysis. This song includes the line “So don’t you sit upon the shoreline and say you’re satisfied, choose to chance the rapids and dare to dance that tide.” I would like to think I am “chancing rapids” and demonstrating to my students what is possible when you take the road less traveled.
- A Little More Homework from Thirteen- (Becoming a life-long learner) We all still have homework to do, no matter where we are in our career. There is always more to learn.
"But I’m not ready to put down my pencil just yet
There are too many answers that I didn’t get
I need a little less pressure and a little more time
I’m trying to follow
I’m trying to lead
I’m trying to find what is true
But if you’re going to stand with me
Then you have to concede
That we all have a little more homework to do"
East Carolina University
William E. Allen
Associate Professor of Organic Chemistry
Department of Chemistry
Engaging the unconvinced.
In my tenth year at ECU, I was assigned to teach my first 1000-level course. CHEM 1120 was not my top choice among the available options. Enrollment counts were routinely above 200, the students were new to college, and there were no chemistry majors among them. I was even more concerned when my senior colleagues said that “1120” students were lazy.
I found those colleagues, all since departed from ECU, to be wrong. But what had made them feel that way? Why were they cynical? The vast majority of people taking the course, then and now, plan to enter the nursing field. I can’t think of a more demanding career. Intended nurses aren’t lazy. However, I can understand why someone pursing an applied major might be hesitant to embrace ideas that they perceive as irrelevant to their “real life.” I know that chemistry is of fundamental importance to health care, but I can’t assume that 19-year-olds do. Teaching first year students has permanently changed my approach to lectures. First, it’s made me ruthless and unsentimental about cutting out content. If mastery of a particular concept won’t make students better human beings, better practitioners of science, or at least curious to learn more, we’ll move on. We’re left with things that matter, and with enough time to cover them with the rigor that they deserve. Second, I never come to class empty handed. Students have heard that liquid nitrogen is used to freeze off warts, but until they’ve seen a frozen banana shatter like glass, it’s difficult for them to appreciate just how dangerously cold –196 ˚C really is. When a demonstration isn’t feasible, I’ll fall back on handing out a half-page sheet of exam-like problems to be worked in groups.
These are not innovative practices, but they’re effective at coaxing out the feedback I most want to hear: “I’m glad I came to class today.”
When I think about the people who shaped my own professional development, I’m hard-pressed to remember a single scientific fact or technique that they taught me. I remember, instead, how working with them made me feel valued and confident. I want my research students to feel the same way. Whenever someone new joins my group, I don’t hand them a pre-baked project. I start by asking them what they find fascinating. For a recent graduate from my laboratory, it was infectious diseases. This particular student wanted to develop new treatments for tuberculosis. I knew almost nothing about TB. Two years later, her hard work in this area resulted in a paper that’s been cited multiple times (Bioorganic and Medicinal Chemistry, 2016, 24, 1045-1049). She recently completed medical school. Her experience is not unique—all of my past and current group members have had significant input into the initial conception of their projects. With fresh lines of inquiry almost every year, I’m constantly learning alongside them. I recognize that this is not the most efficient way to generate scientific publications. It is, however, the most efficient way to generate scientists. When my peers ask how I’ve been so lucky to recruit productive, independent individuals, I tell them that there’s no luck involved. I’ve made a conscious choice to let my students take me where they want to go.
Elizabeth City State University
Charles V. Reed
Associate Professor of History
Department of Social Sciences
“Love is at the root at everything, all learning, all relationships, love or the lack of it.” – Fred Rogers
I grew up twenty miles from WQED Studios in Pittsburgh, where the iconic children’s show Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was filmed. While my father died when I was very young, my mother and grandparents provided a loving and supportive environment. My grandfather, a member of the Greatest Generation, not known for their outwardly expressions of sentimentality or affection, would tell me, always, “Grandpap loves you.” When I wasn’t reading (you won’t be surprised to hear that a future historian consumed books in great quantities), you would probably find me watching my beloved Mister Rogers. Rogers would look into the camera, at me, and say, “I like you, just the way you are.” For a child who was loved but quite unsure about his place in the world, this meant everything. The older I grow, and the longer I engage with students, the more I realize that I have embraced the worldview of Fred Rogers -- the basic dignity, value, and potential of every person, no matter where they are in their journey; the centrality of empathy and love to all relationships and learning; and the need to engage people with authenticity and to understand the experiences, feelings, and worldviews of others as authentic human expressions, no matter how those may relate to one’s own.
The professors who mentored me as an undergraduate and as a graduate student expressed genuine interest in my personal and intellectual development, and I embrace their holistic approach to education in my own teaching. This means getting to know my students — their aspirations and interests, their strengths and weaknesses, the challenges and complications that they face outside of the classroom. I establish and develop long-term relationships with my students that last beyond their time in my classroom and their time at ECSU. My students know that I care about them, that I am available and open-minded, and that I will do anything within reason to help them succeed academically and in life. For me, support of and rapport with students is the essential base of any effective pedagogy, without which expertise, content knowledge, and great classroom teaching are of little use. Every student deserves to be loved (this does not mean that we must like all of our students). Every student deserves to have her or his humanity recognized, respected, and valued. Part of my approach focuses on an understanding that every student brings something of value and meaning to their experience in my class, that every student has something to offer. What that contribution or “light” is may not be evident from the beginning, or the middle (or the end!) of a course. But part of my job is to help every student find that thing that that she or he brings to the experience of my class. Doing so requires me to recognize, accept, and embrace the fact that what the student brings may not conform to my preconceptions of what it means to contribute to the class. Accepting students “just the way [they] are” is not an embrace of low expectations or stasis but an effort toward helping them grow and understand what they have to offer.
I also place considerable value on empathy. As a historian, I want to know where students are coming from, as people. As teachers, we frequently encounter students who are disconnected, bored, sometimes even hostile. Students are often unprepared or underprepared for the lessons that we want to teach them. It’s easy enough for us to cast the blame on the student, to say that she or he needs to work harder, embrace a better attitude, and so on. And these are often reasonable and valid suggestions. But rarely are things so simple. Rarely can students solve their problems by pure act of will. I try -- as best as I can -- to understand where students are coming from and help them work through challenges and complications. This might mean talking, helping them connect to campus or community resources, providing some extra help or extra time. I don’t adjust or lower my expectations of a student based on her or his situation, but I do everything in my power to help them rise to those expectations. Sometimes (often), I fail, and don’t get through to a student, but I hope that I have knocked out a brick of two of that facade -- of whatever is preventing them from fulfilling their potential. And hopefully I will encounter them again, or another instructor (or family member or pastor or friend) will carry on my work.
Finally, I embrace creativity. There are many of-the-moment phrases that describe non-traditional teaching methods: active learning, hands-on learning, experiential learning. At the core of all of these philosophies, approaches, and ideas is an effort to engage students in ways that go beyond the bounds of a traditional classroom environment. I do lecture and lead discussions -- albeit in ways that maximize to the best of my abilities student engagement. But I also embrace the idea of play -- in Reacting to the Past roleplaying games, for example, where students read important historical texts and play out the past -- and that learning can and should be enjoyable and exciting. I frequently ask students to invent societies or circumstances or to make or interpret a creative work (using Black Panther to make sense of the history of colonialism, for instance) to make sense of the past or present. An embrace of creativity and imagination, to imagine and reimagine the world past, present, and future, is not only the world of Early Childhood Education or the Neighborhood of Make-Believe; it is also about having our students create, perform, and play as part of their learning in our courses.
Fayetteville State University
Peter M. Eley
Professor of Mathematics Education
Interim Chair of Health, Physical & Secondary Education
Department of Health, Physical and Secondary Education
Students always rise to the levels of expectation of the teacher. If you expect less, you will receive less. I believe and expect each student that I teach to learn and achieve at a level beyond their wildest dreams. I have a driver personality, and as a result, I drive each student to pass their perceived personal limitations to realize the greatness that is inside of each of them. Furthermore, as a math educator professor, I have learned to teach math; you must understand it from a conceptual point of view and ground it in reality, pedagogies.
My pedagogical methods included teaching my students to avoid rote memorization strategies. However, I work with students to consider learning from a conceptual understanding point of view. Learning from a theoretical understanding point of view allows students to become problem solvers and equips them with tools. Additionally, I show them the best practices techniques and how to apply them to specific situations. As educators, we are often preparing students for careers that do not even exist; therefore, it is vitally important to ensure they leave with a robust foundational set of skills. To accomplish this, I create an academically open and engaging atmosphere that makes students comfortable. Once students feel comfortable, they feel free to ask questions, and this leads to a very active learning environment in my classes.
Technology is the catalysis that propels me forward in what I do. It is clear that technology has changed the landscape of how we educate. Furthermore, those who understand its power and how to harness it will have a significant advantage over others. As a result, I use technology in my classes as much as I can. I encourage students to utilize it to enhance what they already know and work more efficiently. Technology does not replace educators. It just helps us do what we do faster, smarter, and efficiently. I teach my students how to use various technologies as they become available such as iPads, cell phones, video analysis of student learning, webinars, and multiple other learning platforms. Teachers who do not have a solid understanding of educational technologies and how they work will be a teacher who is less competitive for employment, especially in the global competition of education. My teaching strategies employ various methods in the form of active lectures and discussions with daily opportunities to do math in the classroom. I usually give brief quizzes, projects, and team-building exercises that reinforce students to do math and assess the students' mastery of content. To temper the harshness of exams and to encourage an exchange of ideas, I occasionally have guest lectures, which incorporate social learning to my teaching strategies. These strategies allow students to hear from another voice besides my own.
Student learning is why I do what I do. If the students are not learning, you have to stop and question why you are doing what you are doing. Student learning is not a thing that is always easy to assess, especially working with a diverse population that has different learning styles. Along with student learning, I promote regular student assessments so that students understand where they are and what they need to improve on. Utilizing this strategy gives the students, accountability of their learning and offers an intrinsic motivation to continue to learn for life versus just for the moment. Therefore, I work hard outside of class to keep my teaching interesting. I am always trying to improve and expand my teaching that is informed by research and my student evaluations. Additionally, my teaching continues to grow because I review my assessment and listen to student feedback. As a result, I utilize a host of technologies to teach students and reach the various learning styles of students.
As a professor, I can only be as good as the information that I have to understand and give to my students. I have participated in numerous professional development activities. I have traveled across the county to make myself a better-informed teacher. Furthermore, I expose students to these experiences to gain exposure and experience. It is hard to determine teacher effectiveness in teacher education until your students are out teaching. I am a firm believer that my students are a result of my teaching and mentorship. Students in my courses have done well in the classroom, and I have had a significant impact on them. Sometimes as a teacher, you will never understand the effect that you can have on a student.
North Carolina A&T State University
Jenora Denise Waterman
Department of Animal Sciences
My goal as an effective teacher is to develop two of the most essential skills needed in today’s global workspace: good communication and critical thinking skills. Solid written and verbal communication skills are necessary for virtually every career path, especially science technology engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. Critical thinking is defined as a systematic way of conceptualizing, evaluating, analyzing, and synthesizing, information gathered from or by observing and/or experimenting to decide the validity of a claim. Naturally, as a scientist, I believe the scientific method is the ideal way to teach critical thinking skills, as it is broadly applicable to virtually everything. At N.C. A&T, I have taught several science courses including Cellular Pathobiology, Environmental Toxicology and Principles of Toxicology; and team-taught Physiology of Domestic Animals with two colleagues from 2010-2016. It has been rewarding to use critical thinking activities in my courses. My students engage in unique written and verbal commination activities that build their confidence and skills as burgeoning scientists.
Instructional Vision Statement
Since joining the faculty at N.C. A&T in 2008, I have had the opportunity to interact with distinguished colleagues, supportive staff and amazing undergraduate and graduate students. My passion for teaching motivates me to strive for absolute excellence in the classroom. About seven years ago, I participated in a workshop sponsored by the Academy of Teaching and Learning (ATL) where a session on ‘engaged learning’ was offered. As a part of the session, participants were challenged to draft an instructional vision statement on-the-spot…share it with our table…and develop it later. This was inspiring to me because a vision is essentially a destination and a mission would be the road map. Thus, I developed the ever-evolving vision statement below:
The ‘perfect class’ is one in which students are life-long learners who are self-motivated and motivating. Students’ desire to learn is deeply rooted in a passion for gaining knowledge and thus they fully devote their time, talents and resources to mastering the subject matter. The students are able to translate the abstract concepts they have learned into practical use. The students are responsible, career-driven individuals who are positive investors in our local, regional, national and international societies. The instructor is a mission-oriented, vision-driven individual who aspires to realize her vision of a ‘perfect class’ every time she engages students in her class. The instructor is a valuable resource for the students and is committed to helping students reach their full potential in this course and beyond.
This statement appears on my course syllabi and I read it on the first day of school each semester. I truly strive to realize this vision each time I engage my students. With this vision in mind I only give assignments that enhance critical thinking and good communication skills amongst my students. For example, in my Environmental Toxicology course, students conduct an independent experiment and develop a conference-style abstract from their results. For some students, this class activity represents their first ‘research’ experience…and they love it! My students often say, “Dr. Waterman, can we do the experiment one more time and change another variable?” This teaching approach has been a wonderful experience for my students and me. Thus, as an effective teacher I utilize a host of instructional techniques and assessment tools to ensure that engage and inspire my students.
My approach to teaching good communication and critical thinking skills is accomplished by helping my students develop practical skills they can apply now and in their future career. The content of my courses and associated assessments are all designed to build strong communication and critical thinking skills. The first step I take in designing a course to identify the student population and why they are taking my course. Then I develop course learning objectives and relevant assessments that will achieve the goals of teaching solid communication and critical thinking skills. For example, students taking my ANSC 637 Environmental Toxicology lecture and lab courses learn how to conduct an independent research project (i.e., including hypothesis generation, experimental design, implementation, data collection, analysis and reporting) and prepare a structured, conference-style abstract and a 10-minute oral presentation. To garner student engagement and enthusiasm, they are asked to bring in a household chemical (e.g., detergent, mouthwash, cleaning products, etc.) to investigate using a seed bioassay. Students are guided through the process with relevant short milestone assignments and rubrics. Students are provided with examples of completed project for clarity of expectations. The skills learned in the ANSC 637 course can be readily applied in their thesis research projects, in preparation for a conference presentation and in the future if they plan to attend graduate/professional school, pursue a career in research or in a myriad of ways. My lecture notes always begin with objectives that are related to the course learning objectives.
North Carolina Central University
Shauntae Brown White
Department of Mass Communication
Great teachers and professors in my formative years, college and later graduate school, have not only stimulated my intellectual growth, but also my personal growth. I aspire to do the same for my students. I am concerned with contributing to their holistic growth and development. I have three goals for my students: (1) They gain more knowledge and understanding about a subject matter through active learning; (2) They develop skills associated with higher education such as critical thinking, stronger writing, speaking, and problem-solving skills; and (3) They can use goals one and two to transcend the classroom and contribute to their growth and development in their personal and professional lives, and as citizens of the world. I also believe that an institution of higher learning is a place where new ideas are explored, and old ones can be challenged. Students can only do that when instructors provide a safe place to do so. Authentic learning can only take place when a student is engaged in the material. My role is to help facilitate the process of learning, and I believe I do that best through active learning. The two approaches I use most often are collaborative learning (small teams of four work together toward a common goal) and problem-based learning (students work to solve real-world, complex problems). With each course syllabus, I include the student learning outcomes, and I ensure that each assignment relates to those outcomes. Most of my courses are discussion, seminar-style format. I am skilled in encouraging students to participate in the discussion, and it is through their own contributions that the material becomes relevant not only to them, but to the other students.
Problem-based learning (PBL) is one of the most innovative approaches I’ve used in the classroom. This approach to learning has been an especially effective way to engage the students. With the use of PBL, students are presented with a complex, real-world problem, and a query or puzzle to solve. PBL learning achieves four personal objectives I have identified for all of my courses, and I believe all college students should master upon graduation: 1) critical thinking and problem solving skills; 2) the ability to work productively with others; 3) competent speaking and writing skills, and; 4) the identification, evaluation, and use of appropriate learning resources. Problem-based learning is an excellent means to stimulate intellectual engagement, collaborative learning, critical thinking skills and the retention of both knowledge and understanding. In every course that I teach, there is at least one assignment, if not multiple, which require students to work collaboratively. Usually, the class works in a team of four. I use Individual Readiness Tests (IRAT) and Group Readiness Tests (GRAT) in MSCM 4605: Mass Media Law. Before we discuss a chapter, students take the IRAT individually.
After they’ve completed it, they take the same quiz as a group (GRAT) using a scratch card where the correct answer has a star on it after its been scratched. They earn the most points (3 points) for each question, if they answer correctly on the first try; two points if it takes two tries; 1 point if it takes three tries and no points if they don’t answer correctly. The individual quiz is worth 2/3 of the points, which means students cannot pass the quiz if they did not prepare for the IRAT. After we finish the IRAT/GRAT, I begin the lecture/discussion. This method has been useful in encouraging students to come to class prepared having read the text, forcing them to explain their answers to the group during the GRAT, and primes them to give attention to the things they got wrong or didn’t understand during the lecture/discussion.
In addition to using PBLs and IRAT/GRAT, I also have collaborative assignments. In Media Law, I’ve assigned mock trials, with attorneys for the plaintiff and defense, witness, etc., using real-life cases, which have no at verdict at the time of the assignment (i.e. Kathryn Stockett, author of The Help, was sued by her brother’s maid for appropriation and invasion of privacy or showrunner Mara Brock Akil was sue for copyright infringement for the television series The Game.). I’ve used hypothetical cases as well. But, when the case is real and a verdict has not been rendered, it is easier for the students to research the context and make predictions on how they think the case will be decided. In addition, as a team, they have to request documents, which should be public from private and public colleges and universities in North Carolina, and one government agency. Students are surprised to learn what information they have a right to request and should be available to citizens under the Freedom of Information Act. I have always believed that college graduates should know how to write and speak well, and I have required my students to do both. Thus, I incorporate multiple writing and speaking assignments in all of my courses throughout the semester.
Finally, in order to provide a safe space, it is not only important for me to know my students, but for them to know each other. Collaborative approaches to learning encourage just that. I think speaking for your group can be less intimidating than speaking for yourself. Additionally, I aim to serve as a role model of the process of interpersonal communication by demonstrating healthy interactions with my students and by establishing a positive classroom climate. I firmly believe it is important to create a safe space for each student to participate. That space is shaped by my focus on mutual respect, which entails not only that I know my students (their names, interests, and majors), but that they know one another and learn that everyone’s ideas are to be affirmed as we explore them together. It is through my understanding of education and learning and my approach to teaching that I believe my students leave my courses more knowledgeable about the subject matter. I also hope that I have contributed to their personal growth and development as learners, as people in relationships with others, and as citizens of the world.
North Carolina State University
Hollylynne S. Lee
Professor of Mathematics and Statistics Education
NC State University Scholar
Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Education
I am an educational designer. NC State’s focus on innovating, enacting research, developing leaders of tomorrow, and serving the constituents of NC provides the perfect opportunity for me to actively participate as a designer to provide high quality educational experiences for students. I am a designer of research, a designer of curricula, a designer of technology tools, a designer of learning opportunities, and an educator of K-12 teachers and university faculty who learn to create design spaces for their future students. Over my 20-year career at NC State, I have embraced the teaching mission in ways that naturally intersect with my research and service. For context, I rotate through teaching courses at the undergraduate, masters, and doctoral levels. My students at NC State are future teachers, practicing teachers, and future university faculty developing their own research agendas and abilities. Through courses and research, I value the opportunity to work with graduate students from a myriad of disciplines such as mathematics education, mathematics, statistics, industrial engineering, forestry, educational psychology, instructional technology, computer science, and science education. I served as graduate coordinator for the Mathematics Education programs in 2006-2014, Fall 2015, and 2017-18. My research focuses on teaching and learning with technology, particularly secondary and undergraduate mathematics and statistics content, and much of my published work focuses on the learning of preservice teachers. Most of my NSF funding has been through the Division of Undergraduate Education (> $6.5 million). I have developed and co-designed apps for learning statistics that are used in K-12 classrooms and university faculty worldwide.
My teaching philosophy is rooted in two concurrent aspects: design, and equitable and compassionate learning experiences for all students. Teaching is an opportunity for me to purposely apply my understanding of cutting edge research about learning, technologies, and pedagogies to design learning experiences for students that will empower them in their careers. Every pedagogical decision I make is designed to enhance the development of a community of learners that can work together to utilize technology tools to investigate problems, communicate results, design their own learning tools and tasks for others. I believe students learn best when actively engaged in meaningful tasks and discussions that can perturb their current perspectives on learning, equity, and social justice, and allow space for their ideas to emerge and flourish. I desire for my students to experience a safe space where differing opinions and approaches to learning and teaching are valued. For example, I design learning opportunities in some of my courses to allow space for students to play with mathematical and statistical ideas (typically utilizing dynamic technology tools), often in ways they may not have previously experienced, and consider how other learners may also engage (and perhaps struggle) with the same concepts. This leads to critical conversations about how choices in pedagogical elements such as: task design, the contextualization of concepts in the real world, tools used, questions posed, positioning of authority of knowledge, grouping and seating arrangements, and sequencing of classroom conversations about students’ work. These elements all greatly impact the learning environment and learning potential of students. For example, I have captured videos of myself teaching in middle and high school classrooms that I use in my courses. In this way, I open up my own practices as a teacher for inspection by the educators that I teach. While episodes in these videos at times illustrate expert moves that lead to positive outcomes for students, there are also instances of teaching decisions that give my students plenty of fodder for discussion as to how different decisions or language could have led to different opportunities and outcomes for students.
As a scholarly teacher, my philosophy drives me to research and understand the best ways to utilize technological tools to engage learners. I purposely read scholarly works by others about various uses of technology in education, and I contribute to that literature through my own scholarly inquiry about students’ learning with technology and teachers’ learning and teaching practices with technology (see CV). In my courses, advanced technologies are used to facilitate small and whole group discussions (e.g., electronic sticky note pages, SmartBoard tools, Blackboard Collaborate), design interactivity (embed whiteboards, use Play Posit to create interactive videos), and foster engaging discussion forums where students use audio, images, and video as part of their responses (see c. Sample materials). I use tools specific to mathematics and statistics (GeoGebra, Desmos, CODAP), as well as web 2.0 tools such as screencasts, wikis, mindmap tools, Google docs, animation software (e.g., Powtoon) and reference managers. Small group work and projects are used to bring together and build upon students’ varying expertise and perspectives. Assignments and projects are designed for students to pursue meaningful designs where they must architect and justify why they are using a particular approach and tools to create learning opportunities for their students. This facilitates a process of developing a deep understanding of how every choice they make as a teacher has real implications for students’ learning.
Embedded in my teaching philosophy and mission as a faculty member is my desire to impact the opportunity for as many K-12 students and teachers to learn mathematics and statistics in meaningful ways. I enact this mission by extending my teaching in scholarly ways. Several of my past and current NSF grants have focused on designing, and examining the effects of, curricula materials for preservice secondary mathematics teachers, typically students enrolled in undergraduate Mathematics Education degree programs. The curricula is designed to assist teachers in conceiving of the most powerful ways to harness technology for learning and teaching mathematics and statistics. For five years, faculty from institutions across North America attended summer institutes here at NC State to learn about our materials. These curricula materials have been used at over 200 institutions and are a regular part of courses at NC State (EMS 480/580, EMS 472, EMS 490); thus, impacting over 6000 preservice teachers (graduate and undergraduate students). My CV illustrates a variety of my publications related to research with these materials. The materials are housed in a free web portal where faculty can access digital materials, interactive applets, and embedded videos (http://go.ncsu.edu/ptmt). The project team recently interviewed and observed alumna from our undergraduate program about how they use technology in their classrooms. Compilations of these interviews and classroom episodes are now on the portal (Voices from the Field) and used in EMS 480. Two current NSF projects (ESTEEM $1.5 million, PTMT-ESP $1.8 million) are extending this work to develop and test e-modules designed to work with the most common learning management systems and to create more video cases to integrate into materials. These projects support workshops for faculty from different institutions to learn and use materials in their courses for our field tests and research.
My teaching philosophy is rooted strongly in a belief that all students deserve a high-quality mathematics teacher. My design of curricula and personal teaching in NC State courses help to achieve this. A particular focus has been my mentoring of 38 preservice teachers committed to social justice and equity through teaching mathematics in high needs schools. From 2007-2017, about $2 million from my NSF grants (Noyce Mathematics Education Teaching Scholars) was used to support scholarships and benefits for these 38 future secondary mathematics teachers. We provided travel to conferences and classroom materials, mentorship, and weekly seminars (outside teaching load) to prepare them to meet the needs of all learners. We continued to provide support while they were in their first few years teaching. Several of these teachers returned to NC State to pursue graduate studies.
My teaching philosophy embraces risk taking to try new approaches and pedagogies to further develop myself as an educator and scholar. Stepping outside my current comfort zone leads to creative high quality work. In May 2014, I joined the ongoing efforts at the Friday Institute for Educational Innovation to develop and teach two Massive Open Online Courses for Educators (MOOC-Ed) focused on innovative approaches to Teaching Statistics (see NCSU news article about MOOC efforts, and Intro video at http://go.ncsu.edu/tsir), and assisted in design and implementation of another (Teaching Mathematics with Technology). We developed 12 micro-credentials for educators to earn continuing education units by demonstrating their understanding and skills in the practice of teaching. Designing and teaching open online courses to educators from around the world (over 6000 to date) made me a completely different designer of learning opportunities in an online environment. My MOOC experiences taught me ways to use technological solutions and strategies to bring high quality engagement and interaction into online environments. In the past two years, I have successfully re-imagined and designed two online courses: EMS/ST 519 Teaching and Learning Statistical Thinking and EMS 480/580 Teaching Mathematics with Technology.
I enact my teaching philosophy through a strong commitment to developing my students as scholarly educators. Whether in my office in Poe Hall or my collaborative space at the Friday Institute, a passerby will notice me working with students analyzing data, writing manuscripts, organizing equipment to take into schools for data collection, planning for an outreach event for K-12 students or teachers, and designing multimedia teacher education curriculum materials. My masters and doctoral students have co-authored 40 publications and been co-presenters on over 65 conference presentations with me. After graduation, I continue collaborations, in publications, grant projects, and informal gatherings at conferences. These all speak to the strong relationships I establish with students as co-scholars. Several of my doctoral and masters students have won awards at the University Graduate Student Research Symposium and been recognized with Outstanding Dissertation Awards within the College of Education. Within their first two years as Assistant Professors, five of my former doctoral students were chosen to be part of the Service, Teaching and Research (STaR) Fellows program, an NSF-sponsored mentoring program for new faculty in mathematics education. My doctoral students are widely known for being very well prepared and many have been formally recognized for their research and teaching. For example, Dr. Jennifer Lovett was awarded the National Technology Leadership Initiative (NTLI) Fellowship Award for Mathematics Education given by the Association of Mathematics Teacher Education for outstanding research in 2016 (as a graduate student) and then again in 2018 (see article). Dr. Rachel Kenney was recognized in 2012 at Purdue University for her Outstanding Contributions to Undergraduate Teaching by an Assistant Professor. Dr. Sarah Ives won a Teaching Excellence Award in 2011 in the Texas A&M University System and most recently in 2018 as an Outstanding Techer at Sacramento State (see article). My former master’s students serve in leadership roles in schools and school systems, and work in curriculum and technology development. Most go on to pursue a doctoral degree.
My teaching philosophy is strongly enacted in relationships I build with doctoral students. Doctoral studies can be one of the most intense period of one’s life. I am a firm believer that a strong community of graduate students and faculty makes doctoral work more rewarding and compassionate. Graduate students are often dealing with issues of family, health, international visa status, finances, etc. I have used external grant funding to provide financial support for 34 graduate students (many are not students whom I chair for their dissertation/thesis). I strive to make sure our work together feels like family. My graduate students and post-docs are age diverse (24-52), often have families (many with young children), and are from out-of-state (e.g., Indiana, Maine, Ohio, Puerto Rico) or international locations (e.g., Philippines, Turkey, Qatar, Iran, China, Vietnam). We share cultural events and traditions, including pot-luck meals during research meetings or to celebrate milestones, and take time during team meetings to share personal stories and struggles. My students’ children (as well as my own) are always welcome to accompany them to meetings when a child is sick, school is out, or child care just did not work out that day. I keep toys in my office and we regularly use video conferencing for remote participation. I often have graduate students in my home for research meetings and celebrations.
My teaching is tightly connected with my work as an educational researcher and designer and my commitment to education as social justice. My educational designs are disseminated in innovative ways that impact faculty and students way beyond my work with NC State students. By applying my design perspective to every aspect of my teaching, I am able to enact NC State’s “Think and Do” mission.
University of North Carolina at Asheville
Tiece M. Ruffin
Associate Professor of Africana Studies and Education
Department of Africana Studies and Education
Philosophical Statement on Teaching & Learning
The Teaching and Learning Cycle in my classroom is centered on equity, inclusion, social reconstuctionism, and constructivism. My socio-cultural upbringing in Washington, DC, and early life experiences shaped this lens of teaching. As a young girl, I watched my grandmother care for her baby brother, one with an intellectual disability and down syndrome, who was denied and excluded from public schools in the 1960s due to his difference in ability.
Also, I remember a peer, my same-aged next door neighbor with an intellectual disability, who often experienced stigma in our community for her difference in ability. They both inspired me to become a special educator, and pursue my lifelong mission and advocacy for inclusive education systems for all, where marginalization, disenfranchisement, and oppression were non-existent. I view inclusive education as a human rights-based education, with an education system that is just and equitable, which provides needed opportunities for all to realize their potential. Growing up in ‘inner city’ DC, in a neighborhood with significant violence and crime, coupled with the low educational attainment and socioeconomic status of my parents, I considered the socio-political construct of schools and its teachers as key to social mobility. In order for social mobility via education to occur, it must be a just and equitable system with the opportunity to learn for all, without discrimination and barriers. I value teachers and teaching, as teachers believed in me, held me to high expectations, and provided me with the opportunities to succeed. Inevitably, the discipline of education chose me and teaching was my calling, a vocation to walk in my purpose and fulfill my destiny. I concur with Charles McKay, ‘teachers impact the destiny of nations’. The power of a teacher to make a difference in the lives and futures of their students is what I bring to my students every day in the classroom. Teachers make a difference in the lives and futures of their students, and I treasure the noble title of Teacher with the opportunity to engage students that will lead in our complex and diverse world.
Equity is paramount to the teaching and learning cycle as it is about fairness and providing multiple resources or avenues for students to thrive, not simply survive or have access. Furthermore, equity focuses on progress and real achievement. Inclusion is more than mere integration, it requires systemic reform with a vision to serve all students with an equitable learning experience. This equitable system removes barriers with systemic reform and systemic solutions where students are provided multiple avenues to learning. I believe that equity and inclusion are central to a just society for all. I strive to be equitable and inclusive in my teaching practices. For instance, I plan lessons based on professional standards, have high expectations for my students, not the soft bigotry of low expectations, use a variety of texts (print, and multimedia) from multiple viewpoints or perspectives, especially from non-dominant cultures. Additionally, I teach with Universal Design in mind, employing multiple pathways to learning based on the three primary networks of the brain, continuously assess student learning, analyze data, reflect and adapt when necessary, for authentic and meaningful learning to occur.
Social reconstructionism is key to teaching and learning as well. It encourages a focus on reducing prevalent social inequities and reorganizing or rebuilding society into a new and more just social order. It believes people learn from meaningful social experiences. It is incorporated into my teaching and learning scaffold as my students are invited to view their roles as teachers as change agents and activists in the socio-political institution of school who view injustices as societal problems needing to be fixed. They engage in problem-solving activities where they analyze educational needs from a political, social, and economic framework so that may see the relevance, importance, and need to problem solve and reshape the education system. For instance, in one of my classes, I require students to be actively involved in schools through diverse field experiences, ie. 3-4 different teachers in different settings regarding diverse learners, and to extend their knowledge through required co-curricular professional development opportunities in the community or on campus. These experiences are experiential learning opportunities, hands on learning, which are represented, in part, by the following sayings:
I hear and I forget
I see and I remember
I DO and I UNDERSTAND
- Chinese proverb
Tell Me and I will forget
Show me and I will learn
Involve me and I will understand
- Teton Lakota (Indian saying)
Ultimately, experiential learning activities emphasized in my courses are rooted in the educational philosophy of social reconstructionism in order for students to act as partners and problem solvers in dismantling inequities in education systems. Students are partners that problem-solve with various stakeholders for collective impact - in order to effectively and efficiently meet the needs of the people in its community. My role as a social reconstructionist teacher is to be a facilitator of analysis and change and educator as social activist. These three principles, equity, inclusion, and social reconstructionism are the overarching principles of my teaching and learning framework.
Other educational philosophies that guide my teaching at UNC Asheville are constructivism, essentialism, progressivism, and behaviorism. As written throughout this statement thus far, you see that I am an eclecticist, not a purist, I draw from multiple ideas and apply both student-centered and teacher-centered philosophies in my approach to teaching and learning. My own philosophy on learning and the basis of my preferred learning theory are rooted in principles of constructivism. My interpretation and implementation of the student-centered theory of constructivism consist of the following: focuses on authentic learning, active learning, challenging assumptions, critical thinking, experiential learning, project-based learning, scaffolded learning, and the incorporation of instructional activities that challenge and extend a student’s insight. I believe that real knowledge is not given, but constructed, so I consider my role as a guide and facilitator. I expect students to come to class prepared, ready to engage in discussion, application and/or analysis of concepts, evaluation, and/or creation. In my role as a facilitator-educator of learning I wish for students to comprehend fundamental concepts related to the course I am facilitating; therefore, I am committed to the precept that understanding develops and endures through mental construction.
Thus, in my courses, students are expected to assume a high level of mental activity and responsibility for their own learning. In addition to constructivism, I firmly believe that students should possess a core body of knowledge and skills as educators and certain terms, concepts, and pedagogical practices are paramount to all educators; therefore, I ascribe to essentialism as well. As a progressivist, I infuse problem-based learning that requires higher-order thinking skills and problem-solving skills and strategies. Also, integrated curricula combining multiple disciplines, cooperative learning, and learning built on multiple intelligences are integral practices to my progressivist philosophy as well. The Socratic method and discussions are also important and evident in my courses through the use of questioning and discussion of opposing views or perspectives. Furthermore, my teaching and learning scaffold, or framework, is also grounded in behaviorism. I often utilize praise, encouragement, and other positive reinforcement tools to promote learning. Also, I often employ a system of reinforcement to promote desired learning and I connect learning with pleasure and reward (eg. making class active, engaging, and sometimes a lot of fun).
Other practices integrated within my teaching and learning framework include culturally appropriate practice, multi-sensory learning, cooperative learning, and differentiated instruction and assessment. For example, I believe that an active engaging environment is crucial to learning, that all learning preferences and/or styles should be considered and incorporated into teaching/learning sessions when possible, student learning is enhanced through social interaction, and that multiple options in instruction and assessment should be incorporated into the teaching and learning enterprise. As a teacher-scholar, I assess student interest, aptitude, readiness, and learning profile throughout the teaching and learning cycle. My students are required to submit a student information form on the second day of class and complete a pre-assessment based on course concepts via Moodle during the first week of class. These assessments provide data on students’ perceived interest in course topics, preferred learning styles and multiple intelligences, and current knowledge on course topics. Ultimately, this data allows me to differentiate instruction by tailoring instruction to the needs of my students. I continually assess throughout class by using pre- and post-assessments, announced or unannounced quizzes, projects, and observation during in-class activities to continually assess students’ levels of understanding and to guide instruction. All in all, my teaching style emphasizes an active learning environment with opportunities to engage in course content through lectures, discussion, multi-media, practical hands-on activities, and various critical thinking activities.
Overall, the teaching and learning cycle in my classes are girded and rooted in three principles, equity, inclusion, and social reconstructionism; and as an eclecticist, constructivism, essentialism, progressivism, and behaviorism guide my teaching along with other theories and practices such as culturally appropriate practice, multi-sensory learning, cooperative learning, and differentiated instruction and assessment.
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Glen H. Elder, Jr., Distinguished Professor
Department of Chemistry
I primarily teach organic chemistry, which is a service course with generally only about 10% chemistry majors, with the rest being pre-health students, and it has the reputation of being the dreaded gatekeeper to medical school. The majority of the students does not want to be there but feels pressure to earn an A. Thus, my first goal is to not only get them over their anxiety about the material, but to get them excited about it and understand its relevance to their own goals. Every day I tie the material back to something in the real world, and particularly to health-related issues. For example, I connected the importance of molecular shape to birth defects caused by a morning sickness drug in the 1960’s that resulted from the mixture of shapes it can adopt. I also suggest how they might be able to apply this knowledge some day in the future, to make the next life-saving medicine, for example, to encourage them to think beyond learning the material for an exam.
Getting students excited about the material is just the start to engaging them in the material. To master the material, I work to teach them strategies for approaching and applying it. For example, another significant challenge is that students try to memorize the material without really being able to apply it. To counter this approach, I start the semester telling my students that organic chemistry is more like math than anatomy in that we learn a set of rules and apply them to problems we’ve never seen before. It is critical to differentiate understanding the rules from developing strategies. I make analogies to sports and games, such as soccer and chess, to get this point across. Understanding the rules is not the same as having a strategy to win the game. While this sets the stage for how to approach the class, students still tend to resort to memorization when the material gets hard. I actively work against this by always asking them to explain their reasoning, whether in class, at office hours, problem solving sessions, or on exams. Moreover, when introducing a new concept, I not only spend class time having them working problems via clicker or by think-pair-share; we also break down the process by which they used to solve it; by articulating the series of steps that the students used to achieve the answer, they can reflect on their strategy, refine it, and apply it in exams in a deliberate manner. We also discuss the significant underlying information they needed to know to get to the answer. This has helped counteract the common problem that students feel that they understand the material presented to them, but can’t apply it themselves. My goal is for them not only to be able to provide an answer, but to understand the process for getting there, so that they can apply that process to new problems. I use a wide range of evidence-based methods in the classroom, including high structure classroom with pre-class reading assignments, and online assignments before each class, a weekly self-test, clicker and think-pair-share methods mixed with short periods of lecture-style teaching. I provide pre-class slides for the class to bring and annotate. I annotate the slides in class and post them on Sakai after class. In this way, nothing is “lost in translation” – they can look back at exactly what was discussed. Beyond the classroom, I offer a group problem-solving session in place of one of my office hours to provide further practice with the material every week.
As part of an underrepresented group in the field of chemistry, I am personally aware of what it is like to be the only person of a particular group in the room and hence have a very personal desire to make my classroom inclusive. I am sensitive to the fact that underrepresented groups are less likely to speak out in class for fear of making a mistake and being judged for it. Strategies such as clicker questions and think-pair-share can help, giving student anonymity in the former, and reassurance from a peer in the other. I even ask students to write questions on index cards and hand them in for me to read and discuss, so that students can remain anonymous. Indeed, this can be extremely helpful for me to see my own blind spots in covering material –I often learn that many students have the same question, and I can then clarify the topic. I also work increase students’ confidence in answering questions in the class by walking around first and talking one-one-one with them and validate their answer privately, then ask them to share their answers with the class.
Beyond the classroom, I am extremely proud of the effort I led to standardize both content and assessment in classes that offer multiple sections each semester. Up until four years ago, the only required common feature in multiple-section courses was that the same chapters from the same book were taught in all sections. The specific content, depth of coverage of the material, and grading scale could vary significantly from class to class – this was neither beneficial nor fair to our students. As chair of the Education committee, I addressed this issue starting with general chemistry. With the end goal of common assessment across all sections, we established common night exams for all sections (approximately 1500 students per semester). Common exams meant that the faculty teaching the courses had to have common grading policies and point distributions, cover the same material to the same level of depth and at the same pace, and had to agree on content, such that a team-teaching approach was necessary. I recruited a set both term- and tenure-track faculty to implement this plan four years ago. Not only did we accomplish our goals of achieving standardized learning outcomes and assessments across multiple sections, it has provided numerous additional positive outcomes in the department, including increased discussion among faculty about content and approaches, increased shared resources, increased use of evidence-based methods, and increased communication between term- and tenure-track faculty, as well as more hands-on mentorship for junior faculty in the classroom. We are now in the process of expanding this approach to all of our multi-section courses. In addition to my classroom and committee endeavors, between 2-5 undergraduates do independent research in my lab at a time. Connecting classroom teaching with independent research is critical to the development of a scientist, and so I provide as many opportunities as I can to students. I also engage students in communicating science to the public, and have organized a booth at the UNC Science Expo for the last two years, entitled “What does Organic mean to a Chemist?” (see Figure). The booth was run by myself, graduate students, and undergraduates from my intermediate organic chemistry class (including women and under-represented minorities). Kids loved learning about molecular shape and its influence on flavor, and adults were challenged to think about the difference between “organic” in terms of food and chemistry. The most active discussion was around the fact that natural and artificial vanilla have the same main component. This was a valuable learning experience regarding the information gap between scientists and nonscientists for both the attendees and for the students running our booth.
In summary, I am passionate about not just teaching the material of organic chemistry, but inspiring students to be curious, to think deeply about the material, and to consider it in an Organic Chemistry Booth at the UNC Science Expo in April 2018. In a broader context, I am a strong advocate of equity in the classroom and fairness in assessment. I plan to continue my efforts to improve my own teaching and advance our undergraduate educational mission within the department as well as continuing my efforts beyond the scope of the classroom.
University of North Carolina at Charlotte
Jennifer B. Webb
Department of Psychological Science
Teaching and Mentoring Statement
From a stance of compassionate rigor, I strive to engage students with respect, fairness, transparency, and authenticity whether in the context of 1-on-1 advising or amidst a class size of 50 or more students acknowledging that we are co-creators in the process of learning. This broader theme evident in my teaching philosophy is well-aligned with an overall positive psychology value orientation in my roles as a course instructor and academic advisor. This holistic approach to teaching and instruction asserts that it is essential to establish a core foundation of trust, care, and respect for diversity that naturally gives rise to a more optimal working relationship with students in defining purposeful instructional goals that enhance student motivation and learning. Collectively, the amalgam of these experiential ingredients generates the hope in students that bridges achieving their personal educational goals with the desire to make a positive impact in the larger society (Snyder, Lopez, & Pedrotti, 2011).
As in my research program, I believe students should experience interdisciplinary approaches to the topics at hand that serve to bolster their overall scientific literacy and multicultural inclusion in their thinking, research, and action whether at the undergraduate or graduate level. Therefore, I routinely combine exposure to both qualitative and quantitative instructional content; for instance, students read and discuss personal memoirs and/or other narrative-based works (e.g., The Mindful Athlete, Yoga Rising, Like a Mother, Cinderella Ate My Daughter, Fat Politics) compiled by scholars and practitioners from diverse disciplines (e.g., Women and Gender Studies, History, Sociology, Medicine, Nursing, Communication Studies, Public Health, Journalism, etc.). These works, along with integrating other instructional technologies (e.g., documentaries, contemporary media excerpts, and film clips), really help bring concepts alive and are often a great complement to examining traditional empirical research for applying scientific principles to real world concerns. I do not believe in lecturing at students. I view the classroom as a creative space for our collective wisdom to dynamically unfold through lively exchanges in which we can comfortably debate the merits of multiple sides of an issue (e.g., Is weightism a consequence of healthism values in contemporary Western culture? Is diet culture to blame for weight cycling and metabolic dysregulation? Is binge eating maladaptive if it is occurring in the context of poverty and food insecurity?). Engaging this critical lens supports students’ consciousness-raising capacities and cognitive flexibility as personal resources. Additionally, I find that incorporating community engagement/social justice/advocacy themes through student team projects a key component to advancing students’ ability to synergize their collective personal strengths in a meaningful way to help strengthen campus/community resources. For instance, my Introduction to Clinical Psychology class culminates in a college mental health campus awareness and advocacy team project. Similarly, my Introduction to Positive Psychology undergraduate course has a Pay it Forward team project in which groups decide how they want to extend and apply the principles they are learning beyond their individual knowledge and benefit. Moreover, across the continuum of academic development, I believe it is essential to expose students to evidence-based strategies for enhancing self-care (e.g., mindfulness meditation, self-compassion, and other Positive Psychology-informed exercises). Therefore, efforts to nurture personal resilience go hand-in-hand with minimizing risk for burnout, sustaining motivation for learning, and equipping students with stress management skills that can transcend their course experience.
Relatedly, the infusion of modern technological platforms also serves as a core pedagogical tool that complements other multimedia formats implemented to engage the learning process experientially. For example, not only are doctoral students in my Topics in Psychological Treatment course reading and interrogating the academic literature on the potential psychological benefits of the popular mindfulness-based smartphone app Headspace® as a possible resource to introduce to their future clients but they are also gaining personal experience by using the app themselves throughout the semester. This strategy allows students the opportunity to critically evaluate the app firsthand and to anticipate and problem-solve around potential barriers clients may encounter when working with this behavioral health promotion technology. Notably, I have a former doctoral student who chose to focus her final course presentation on discussing the scholarship behind mindfulness-based apps to thank for inspiring me to experiment with introducing current students to Headspace® this semester. This decision is an example of how I remain open and responsive to the contemporary culture and its implications for refining a course I had taught previously and for enhancing the current competency-based training experiences (e.g., incorporating evidence-based technology within clinical practice) of our doctoral students.
The favorable feedback from previous faculty peer observations of both my undergraduate and graduate teaching has been well-aligned with the students’ evaluations for the most part over more than a decade of teaching at UNC Charlotte. I feel fortunate that I have generally received positive ratings as an instructor, which I again attribute to an interpersonal style that is open, caring, compassionate, and fair. Students routinely express appreciation for the high level of enthusiasm and energy I embody when presenting/discussing course material and gratitude for being able to apply the evidence-based content to their own lives with tangible benefits. At the same time, I continue to recognize the challenges students encounter in meeting the demands of my courses in the context of their broader life responsibilities as well as other courses they are enrolled in. Thus, in being responsive to students’ constructive feedback in earlier terms, I have made efforts to periodically have students use a portion of class time to work on group assignments as well as to condense some of the course material such that students can focus more deeply on specific topics within chapters instead of requiring that they are responsible for all of the content in every chapter. I believe these strategies strike a reasonable balance given the limited class time and the routine incorporation of non-textbook related content as well as the discussion of personal experiences relevant to the material being covered from the required texts.
In response to earlier feedback, I have also more recently incorporated an optional review of doctoral students’ outlines for a final course paper earlier in the semester. The evolution of the Introduction to Positive Psychology course is a relevant example of how I negotiated the challenges of introducing a new content area while attempting to effectively present the material at varying course level offerings, which also corresponded with significant fluctuations in class size. What I found is that I still aspire to create an atmosphere that is conducive to class discussions with 75 students at the same level of rapport as I experienced with 15 or 30. One of the ways I have found useful in fostering this congenial climate is my mission to learn all of the students’ names within the first few classes so that when they participate I can call on them by name. In addition, as an alternative to the conventional relatively fixed position/standing behind the podium lecturing style, you will often find me moving around the classroom often towards students who are sharing their perspectives. In the current iteration of Introduction to Positive Psychology I have students engage in some low-stakes writing assignments (versus the longer more formal research proposals and academic journal article critiques required in the earlier more advanced versions of the course with smaller class sizes) that still allows them the opportunity to demonstrate an integration of scientific-mindedness with real world applications (e.g., how scientific literacy enhances media literacy). I have also recently prioritized offering students more active engagement with a larger class size using the Top Hat classroom response system software. This technology additionally provides the opportunity to integrate daily brief quizzes in class, which are helpful low stakes assessments to reinforce concepts from the previous class and motivate students’ attendance and participation.
I firmly believe that I would not be where I am today without the benefit of having received strong mentorship from my undergraduate years through the present day. As such, I take my role as an advisor quite seriously and view it along with being a teacher as a privilege. During my time at UNC Charlotte I have had the highly enriching opportunity to work with undergraduate, post-baccalaureate, master’s and doctoral students both within and outside of my discipline in my capacity as an academic mentor. It has also been quite exciting to have been invited to collaborate with respected colleagues at external institutions both in the United States and abroad by serving on their students’ dissertation committees. I am particularly eager to further my development as a leader in research mentoring beginning later this fall by serving as program faculty for a recently awarded NIH R25 grant to the American Psychological Association’s Minority Fellowship Program aiming to enhance the early-career research training opportunities for post-doctoral scholars of color. I have additionally greatly benefitted from serving as a new faculty mentor through the ADVANCE Office over the last several years in which a recent mentoring relationship has evolved into a research partnership on forthcoming scholarly projects. As a complement to these more formal mentoring relationships, I also thoroughly enjoy the times I am able to sit with a student more informally who comes to me either during or outside of office hours to grapple with questions about which pathway to take in the next stage of their career trajectory or who would like a sounding board for an emerging research idea they are really enthused about further developing. Indeed, it was quite humbling and gratifying to have been recognized as an instructor and mentor through receiving both the student-nominated 2010 Magical Mentor Award, given by the UNC Charlotte Mentoring Works Program and the Bonnie E. Cone Early-Career Professorship in Teaching Award in 2017, being nominated for the university’s most prestigious and well-regarded Bank of America Award for Teaching Excellence in 2018 and 2019 and being selected as the 2019 recipient, and by being invited to represent the Health Psychology Ph.D. Program in the Graduate School’s Even Higher Education marketing campaign in 2013 with one of my former doctoral student advisees. I have also been deeply moved by the unexpected accolade of being identified as the one person that students believe has significantly positively influenced their academic experience at UNC Charlotte on the last several senior survey results. It has been quite rewarding to witness the growth and development of my student advising and mentorship skills, particularly in the realm of research dissemination. I have had the pleasure of partnering with highly motivated young women in the intensive Charlotte Research Scholars Program in four previous summers. Three students’ projects ended up being published in leading journals in the field of body image and eating behavior. The findings from the most recently mentored student’s project will be submitted for possible publication as part of a larger project in the coming year. Additionally, I routinely work with my honors thesis students to translate their papers into poster presentations at local conferences (e.g., Central Carolinas Conference in Psychology, UNC Charlotte Undergraduate Research Conference, North Carolina Psychological Foundation’s Conference). Lastly, I encourage my doctoral student advisees to present at national conferences on an annual basis (e.g., Society of Behavioral Medicine, American Psychological Association, American Psychosomatic Society) and internationally on a biennial basis (e.g., Appearance Matters in Bath, UK). We regularly transition the posters or papers they have presented into manuscripts for possible publication in well-respected scholarly journals.
Indeed, as you will note on my CV the majority of my scholarly dissemination efforts include student collaborators, which I believe actualizes my deep commitment to fostering their own development as scholars in this discipline. Another related vehicle for supporting students’ professional development as researchers has involved having them apply for both internal (e.g., CLAS Summer Graduate Fellowship, The Graduate School’s Summer Fellowship, Giles’ Dissertation Fellowship) and external funding (e.g., Ford Foundation Pre-doctoral Fellowship, American Psychological Association’s Minority Fellowship Program, NSF Predoctoral Fellowship, NIH G-SOAR Program). These experiences provide a rich and intensive opportunity for students to start deeply considering the scope of their desired research trajectory during their tenure with us along with scaffolding their emerging grant-writing skills. I am happy and proud to note that some of my students have been recognized for their past efforts and future promise as emerging scholars by having been recipients of the Health Psychology Ph.D. Program’s Outstanding Student Researcher Award and Summer Research Fellowship Award, the Research in Women’s Health Interest Group’s Student Poster Award, the Thomas L. Reynolds Graduate Student Research Award, the NIH G-SOAR summer research fellowship, and an honorable mention for an NSF Predoctoral Fellowship award application submission.
In closing, it has been important to find opportunities to challenge myself to create even more synergy among teaching, research, and professional service so that there are ways to further impact the broader community beyond the traditional classroom environment. For example, I have been grateful to have been invited to serve as a committee member and then chair of the selection committee for the CLAS Award for the Integration of Teaching and Research. Most recently, in the coming months I eagerly anticipate joining and contributing to the privileged work undertaken by the UNC Charlotte Teaching Excellence Awards Committee. Additionally, I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to participate as one of our department’s speakers for a highenergy, brief TED-style “Excite and Engage Series Talk” on the topic of size-inclusive yoga from a Health at Every Size®, social justice perspective on health promotion. I have also collaborated with students on campus to host a community event on eating disorder recovery and positive body image during the annual Love Your Body Week last year. Lastly, I have been fortunate to participate in recent media interviews on the topic of women, body image, and health in an effort to bring greater awareness to these issues to the general public. In the years to come I will continue to actively seek out and pursue additional avenues for further developing and utilizing my skills as an instructor and mentor to keep “paying it forward” to my students, colleagues, and the public at large.
University of North Carolina at Greensboro
Carmen T. Sotomayor
Professor of Spanish
Associate Department Head of the Department of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures
Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures
My Teaching Background
I distinctly remember my first day of classes, as I began my teaching experience in the USA. I was a newly arrived teaching assistant and it was a cold September morning. It was, after all, Michigan State University, a university almost twice the size of my hometown. I was hoping that my SPA 101 language students would not be able to differentiate between my being cold and shaking due to my nervousness at being for the first time in front of a class of some twenty students, all by myself. I felt “as red as a crab” (as we say in Spain) or “as pink as a German Johnson tomato,” as we could say in North Carolina. To my delight, the students were very supportive and helpful, and within minutes I felt comfortable and encouraged in front of people who were hardly much younger than I was. My students on that first day of classes were supportive of me in my new role, and they helped to reassure me that I could succeed. Empathy has been since then a guiding principle in my teaching as well as in my role as a leader. Since then, I have had the pleasure to teach many courses, ranging from language classes to advanced topics seminars for students pursuing the Spanish concentration in our Languages, Literatures, and Cultures MA program. One of the highlights of my teaching experience has also been taking or encouraging students to study in Spain and Latin America, so that they could experience first-hand the broadening of horizons that a cultural exposure entails, particularly at a young age. Throughout my tenure at UNCG (and especially between 2003-2011 in my role as department head), I have devoted considerable time and effort to the pedagogical development of my colleagues on campus and beyond.
My approach to teaching
I believe in the classroom experience as a transformational one: I feel very fortunate to be able to teach about topics that I feel passionate about. Language is inseparable from culture and it opens the learner to different modes of conceptualizing the world around them. Language is therefore a reflection of a peoples’ past, with its successes and failures. No matter which course I may teach, I make every effort to imbue them with content and relevance to my students. As a teacher, I consider my biggest accomplishment to be instilling in my students a sense of wonder and discovery of different cultures that I am familiar with, knowing how this process informs their own cultural perceptions, and expands their horizons. This is the reason that I have also dedicated a great deal of my professional life to study abroad, whether in the form of programs that I have organized or simply in my listening to students who have come back from, say, South Africa or China and who are anxious to share their experiences, as we discuss more matter of fact issues, such as course transfer of credits. The intercultural skill sets that students develop during their study abroad experiences are a key element to help them become engaged citizens of the world, a most relevant tool in today’s society.
I believe in the need to make the classroom experience a motivational one: Knowing the facts is only the first step towards a successful teaching experience. One of the key elements to foster learning includes the creation of a motivational context for the students. This requires careful preparation of class materials and activities that induce students to prepare for class and apply their learning inside and outside of the classroom. Increasing student involvement requires careful course planning and the preparation of a multitude of activities. Cooperative learning techniques help students to engage in active learning and in interaction with others in the classroom. The preparation of rubrics to accompany students’ assignments is essential, as it provides them a guide and helps them to be responsible and accountable for their work. I try to make materials and assignments relevant to their lives and previous cultural experiences.
I believe in teaching as my most important learning experience: This learning experience takes place at two levels. First, preparing for my courses motivates me to continue learning about the topics of the course. For that matter, I strive to integrate my own research interests into my courses, using those interests to guide and support the learning goals. Second, each new course is a challenge as I continue to learn more about the field of teaching and learning and how to use different techniques to engage my students. The availability of new technologies in the classroom has informed my teaching in recent years. For instance, I have developed a growing number of PowerPoint presentations to use in my classes, including many visual elements. Since the majority of students do not share the cultural background(s) under study, it is vital to use posters, photographic materials as well as films and documentaries to illustrate relevant aspects of the cultures considered.
I believe in keeping the standards high and trying to bring all students to those standards: While I firmly believe in empathy as a credo for my professional as well as my personal life, I also believe that students must be held to challenging, but reasonable expectations. I maintain professional standards for my students as well as for myself. I believe in combining a high learning bar with appropriate classroom techniques and assignments to make the learning goals reachable. Although the content of most of my courses is linguistically, culturally, and (in upperlevel classes) conceptually “foreign” to the vast majority of students, I try hard to lower their anxiety by using a variety of positive techniques, such as humor, personal attention, fairness and displaying a sincere interest in their learning, all while emphasizing the life-related relevance of their learning.
I am a faculty member at UNCG because I like my students: To me this is an essential point to make and recognize. I have always maintained an open-door policy. I enjoy interacting with my students, and I try my best to make them understand how relevant they are to me as a person and as a learner. I seek to graduate students who are strongly prepared in their field of study and ready to enter the workforce with the confidence necessary to employ their skills in second languages.
When made aware of the learning needs of some students that did not do well in our regular language courses, I spearheaded the creation of the Modified Foreign Language Program, a unique and very exclusive program available at a limited number of universities in the U.S. The MFLP has been designed to meet the needs of at-risk foreign language students and to help them to achieve their goal of successfully completing their study of a foreign language.
In recent years, UNCG has experienced the growing presence of Latino students on campus. I have devoted my time to working collaboratively with the Office of Latino Education Affairs. As a matter of fact, I am the advisor for Ritmo Latino, a student organization that seeks to enhance relationships among students and their cultural understanding by means of Latino dance. I am also the faculty advisor for UNCG’s Zeta Omega Chapter of Lambda Theta Alpha Latin Sorority, a Latino sorority on campus.
Methods Used to Achieve Student Learning Goals
I employ multiple methods to achieve the learning goals described in my course syllabi. My teaching strategies continue to evolve, and my interest in the field of teaching and learning has aided me in developing new or improved teaching strategies. Within the past few years, for example, I have embraced the concept of cooperative learning, and I have developed class materials to help me to engage the students in more profound ways. While I continue to involve students in general class discussions (including exchanges with other students and teacherstudent), I have developed an increasing number of group work materials. I have designed and implemented rubrics for all classroom activities, written and oral, and a number of materials to guide students through requirements regarding those activities. Written and oral assignments in my courses are typically a two-part process, involving the revision of a first draft or first performance, with comments and constructive corrections. I utilize a number of methods to evaluate and guide student work, including some traditional ones as well as revisable term papers and oral presentations. In some classes, I combine those methods with portfolio assignments, particularly in conversation ones. Portfolios allow students to prepare and keep their work sequentially and to include self-reflective papers to help them understand the relevance of their assignments and to persuade them to make their learning and class requirements more relevant to their life experiences and future needs as professionals.
Description and Scope of Teaching Responsibilities
Since joining UNCG in 1987, I have always conceived and visualized my mission as a web of contributions that equally affect my teaching, my research and my service. As a member of the Spanish Program, I have taught a wide range of subjects from courses in our Basic Language Program through 600-level graduate classes. I have taught many different courses (some falling under the same number in the case of topics courses). My teaching accomplishments are broad and include contributions at the graduate level, as well as for the majors and the Basic Language Programs. My teaching responsibilities have intersected my research initiatives and my service responsibilities through the years. My professional development in teaching reveals my devotion to my primary goal as an educator and a facilitator of a positive academic experience for our students. The intersection of teaching and service is reflected in a number of initiatives, including Maintenance and enhancement of the Basic Language Programs at all levels: I have led several departmental initiatives to improve the curriculum and teaching of the Basic Language Programs. These initiatives included organizing a Romance Languages Friday Forum and supporting and/or co-organizing the Romance Languages Language Learning Series Workshops. More recently, I have assisted the Director of Language Instruction in Spanish as she developed three new 100/200 level courses in the Spanish curriculum. In Fall 2018, I prepared an update of course descriptions for all of the language courses in the LLC Dept. (100 and 200 level courses in eight languages). Up to this date, I continue to be involved as a mentor and an active contributor to the Spanish Program curriculum.
University of North Carolina at Pembroke
English, Theatre and Foreign Languages
I see my role in the classroom as a way to express curiosity about the world in which we live. My approach to teaching is interdisciplinary in scope, using multiple perspectives to confront often difficult contemporary topics such as mass incarceration, environmental racism, economic precarity, and other social inequities to engage students in dialogue about the complex connections between the past and the present. Discomfort about such topics is expected, but not guilt or blame; therefore, to make the classroom a safe space to begin asking questions, my students and I craft discussion guidelines during the first two weeks of classes, including the use of a signal if a topic becomes too much to handle. This shared activity sets the tone for class participation from the outset, encouraging students to talk openly and delve into topics that may be otherwise off-limits in other social settings. The unpredictability of class discussion—that conversation would evolve organically rather than by a set agenda—is challenging for everyone, including myself, but a necessary part of gaining an understanding of the ways in which privilege operates systemically in culture and society. Exploring sites of resistance, then, in my composition and literature courses helps to raise awareness and instill accountability about sociopolitical concerns within a local, national, and global context.
I strive to create an inclusive, participatory, intellectually-engaged learning environment in the classroom—a dynamic space of mutual interaction and reflection where I work alongside my students to foster knowledge about the analysis of literary texts. Rather than reconcile competing positions, I encourage my students to think critically about what cannot be neatly resolved—to consider junctures of possibility as the more compelling outcome of the learning process rather than a single interpretation or conclusion. To this end, I teach many of the subjects that I explore in my own research to show students the significance of collaborative learning and the relevance of course content. While my survey literature courses examine writers from the 20th century through the present, my composition courses explore the relationship between social issues and civic engagement. One such course focused on work culture and the ways in which class shapes identity, social systems, and cultural expression. The documentary, Class Dismissed: How TV Frames the Working Class, an episode of South Park about migrant labor, and protest songs by Woody Guthrie, John Lennon, and Bruce Springsteen are just a few popular culture examples that students analyzed. Texts such as the novel Horrostör and the oral history narrative Studs Terkel's Working: A Graphic Adaption provide opportunities for students to explore the physical and psychological pressures of contemporary work. Indeed, students have much to say about the future of work in today's world and they appear genuinely interested in how the subject of labor connects to their lives now and after graduation.
The intersections among my teaching, scholarship, and service work toward the common goal of advocating for social justice not as an abstract ideal to read about in a textbook, but as a tangible approach to apply in a multitude of learning environments. This approach requires a certain amount of risk-taking and moving beyond one's comfort zone on the part of students as well as myself. I consistently challenge my students “to think outside the box”—a phrase cited repeatedly in my course evaluations—and they, in turn, appreciate my enthusiasm in introducing thematic courses that explore intersections among social factors such as race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, spirituality, language, and regional identity. It is this focus on the wide range of vulnerabilities inherent in everyday life—of how diversity and social justice intersect—that grounds my teaching and connects me to my students. It remains the driving force behind why I participate in organizing social justice workshops across campus as well as the annual Social Justice Symposium year after year.
As a strong advocate of student-based research, I embrace community-based experiential learning where students serve in key roles as co-leaders and co-researchers to explore the relationship between social issues and civic engagement, for example, promoting migrant farmworker justice or advocating to dismantle racism. Many of the courses I teach incorporate service-learning, and as a result, students participate in writing the IRB application, creating research questions, completing field research, and designing creative arts and promotional materials—experiences that increase students’ confidence, academic skills, and professional development. Writing and critical thinking, I explain to my students, can be a form of activism— a time of self-awareness and reflection to consider ideas and draw meaningful connections between course content and the social problems explored. Such a focus resonates with my students who face similar challenges in maintaining academic success as first generation college and, at times, financially-insecure students. For these reasons, I promote student and community engagement through a variety of assignments such as documentary filmmaking, oral history, and digital humanities projects. This kind of teaching—innovative, collaborative, and creative—is demanding, but extremely rewarding as students see themselves at the center of the learning process, producing a body of work that makes a difference in people's lives. Equally important, too, is how such projects provide a strong foundation for students recognizing their own positions of power and privilege as members of the university community and as research assistants asking the questions. However, I recognize (and identify with) the economic and familial responsibilities of first-generation, working-class, and adult students; as such, participating in campus life and student-related activities beyond the classroom may be difficult and could result in their experiencing a profound sense of unbelonging and disconnection with campus life. One way I overcome this challenge is by offering alternative assignments such as developing social media campaigns or designing promotional flyers and websites to ensure they can sustain direct involvement with community partners beyond their course schedule. This flexibility allows every student to participate in the process of transformative thinking, of learning to understand more fully how general educations courses such as contemporary literature enables personal and professional growth.
I am deeply committed to student engagement and success. In fact, mentoring undergraduate and graduate student research has played a significant role in my teaching, and I value the opportunities to see students present their work in progress at local and national conferences. My own research and professional development are connected to my teaching as illustrated in the description of course content in my syllabi—i.e., making visible the varied history and lived experiences of working-class people—as well as in my my commitment to public scholarship where I discuss pedagogy and the relevance of the humanities beyond the academy. These are the kind of discussions that frame how and what I teach in the classroom and, as I seek to mentor the next generation of future scholars and community leaders, I enthusiastically work alongside my students to lead by example.
University of North Carolina at Wilmington
Shawn Andrea Steele
Department of Art and Art History
Teaching Philosophy and Methodology
The success of my teaching is reflected in the work that my students create. Over the past 13 years I have developed a curriculum that gives students the skill and confidence to produce intriguing, well-crafted sculpture. The curriculum is a manifestation of my personal teaching philosophy and methodology:
- Students should begin with a strong understanding of the foundational elements and principles of design.
- Students should be using tools/equipment and developing technical skill early in the curriculum.
- Students should understand that the development of conceptual ideas is as important as technical skill.
- Students should participate in applied learning to simulate the experience of being a professional artist.
- Students should be part of a community within the classroom.
As the only full-time faculty member in the sculpture area, I am able to arrange the curriculum in all of my classes to build on each other. The foundational course, 3D Design, focuses on learning and applying the elements and principles of design. Since this is a studio class, we do this by making small reliefs and sculptures. This allows the students to become familiar with the vocabulary both visually—by physically applying the theory to make three-dimensional forms, and verbally—by observing and evaluating that application during critiques.
In order to create, even in a foundations class, students need to know how to use tools and equipment. Some professors do not teach these skills at a foundational level, but I firmly believe that gaining proficiency with the tools and equipment expands creative possibilities and gives the students a sense of confidence. Many of them have never used a drill, jigsaw or chop saw. It is exciting and enables them to do new things they did not realize they were capable of doing.
I build on this new-found confidence in the Beginning Sculpture class. This is a process-oriented class covering traditional sculpting techniques—casting, fabrication, and carving. The first part of the semester is focused on becoming proficient with these processes so later students have the skills to bring their ideas into reality.
The Intermediate Sculpture class offers a few new skills, including MIG welding and plasma cutting, but the focus is on expanding the students’ conceptual thinking—considering not only how to make art, but also why. They are given more freedom in their decision making but must be able to explain their choices based on their creative intent.
This concept is pushed further in the Advanced Sculpture class. At this point, most students begin to gravitate toward particular materials and processes and have identified conceptual interests. They are given projects with fewer parameters, so the work is guided by their ideas, not by my requirements. They have to express a clear intent and be able to explain their work, both in critique and in a written artist’s statement.
There are applied learning projects embedded into both the Intermediate and Advanced Sculpture classes. To date, the projects have included the construction of large-scaled sculptures to exhibit in the UNCW Sculpture Yard, commissioned sculptures for campus buildings, and juried exhibitions. I believe it is important for students to understand that being an artist is not just making art. Artists have to submit proposals, work with committees, and create within parameters set by a client or the law. Designing a sculpture for an office on campus is a similar experience to the commission process a working artist would go through; an excellent way for the students to apply their knowledge and gain insight into other aspects of being an artist.
While the content of the classes changes as students advance through the program, one thing is constant; my drive to develop a supportive community within the classroom. Students need to talk to each other and know each other’s names. They need to help each other. In sculpture, this is a necessity because at some point, everyone will need an extra hand to hold something, or extra strength to lift something. A sculpture studio is a communal environment. The necessity to work together encourages conversation; students become familiar with each other and each other’s work. This results in more communication and honest feedback in class and during critiques.
I give my students a firm foundation in design, training in multiple techniques and materials, challenging assignments that push their conceptual idea development, and applied learning opportunities that allow them to put all of their knowledge to use. The success of my methodology is evident in the sculptures my students produce, and the confidence they display, as they construct and speak about their work. They are not only learning how to make art; they are learning how to be successful artists.
University of North Carolina School of the Arts
R. Wade Wilson
Design and Production
Teaching and Artistic Philosophy
I’m in this for the students. They are my extended family. I let all of them know that I believe the pursuit of excellence in one’s life is a marathon, not a sprint. You get out of this life, what you put into it. This fundamental concept I convey at the beginning of the students’ time with me, and this basic notion sets the stage for our time together. I try to instill the concept that a journey of professional discovery, and striving for excellence in one’s career, is a lifelong commitment. Students must realize that whatever career they embark upon it will require continuous and rigorous engagement for years to become a master in the field. Realizing the value of curiosity and tenacity, not being bridled by the status-quo of current techniques and processes, revealing the possibilities of what tomorrow might hold, these are all core values I use to help shape the twenty-first century artist. These notions are at the foundation of my teaching philosophy.
In the classroom, I leverage hands on projects to teach techniques and processes that the students get directly from my professional experiences. I enthusiastically share my professional expertise with my students. This allows me to transfer the necessary skill set for high employability upon graduation. I use my industry wisdom to illustrate the art form of designing sound to tell stories for, computer entertainment, animation, film, themed entertainment, and the moving image arts. My industry experience allows me to introduce perspectives from real world scenarios that would otherwise be incredibly difficult for students to access. Learning the craft through a professional lens is invaluable to my students as they develop into the sound designers of the future.
I make it clear from the first day of class that students are responsible for their growth in the art form. I will open doors for them, however, it is up to them to explore the passages. I believe this proactive mindset accelerates their readiness for the professional environment. I believe without a doubt that teaching is most effective when it is done by example. That is why I take each student through my personal process of creating compelling sound design and then have them put the lectures to work through hands on class projects. They learn by doing.
I ask my students to…
see themselves as sound designers,
as sound designers to see themselves as storytellers,
as storytellers to see themselves as artists,
as artists to see themselves as offering something profound and meaningful to the world.
Western Carolina University
Jennifer S. Schiff
Associate Professor of Political Science
Department of Political Science and Public Affairs
A car stuck in the mud of Malaysia inspired me to learn about, and ultimately to teach, international politics. Many years ago, I had the opportunity to live in and travel throughout Southeast Asia. About a month after my arrival, as I was driving around looking for a train station, I took a wrong turn, and my car’s tire became mired in the mud of the dirt road I was traveling. So there I was – just a few months after the September 11 attacks – a young American woman who was stuck in the middle of the street in an impoverished Muslim neighborhood in a fairly rural area of Malaysia. I started to panic, as I realized that asking for help would probably require a more subtle navigation of cultural, economic, and political diplomacy than I felt capable of at that moment. Soon, several men walked by dressed in the white tunics that I’d come to associate with Friday prayers during my time there. They stopped when they saw me, and our brief conversation confirmed that, yes, I was an American. Yet despite the growing U.S.-Muslim animosities at the time, the men dug into the mud and successfully levered my car out of the rut. I offered to pay for replacement of their dirtied clothes as an expression of my gratitude, but to my surprise, they courteously, but steadfastly, declined payment, and we ended up going our separate ways.
This incident puzzled me more than any other during the time I lived in and traveled through Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand, begging the question of why governments can be so aggressive with each other when the people I met in each country were friendly and welcoming. This dichotomy between human behavior and the behavior of governments inspired me to study international relations when I returned to the United States. Today, the lessons I learned in Malaysia seem just as relevant as they were all those years ago, and I tell this story to my students each semester, so that they can understand why I have such a love for and interest in the subject I teach. Of course, in sharing my personal story with them, I hope that I can inspire the same interest and curiosity about the world in their own lives. Knowing what I want to convey to students is one thing, but the quest of my teaching career has been to capture the HOW? How can I translate effectively my own enthusiasm for international politics into student learning outcomes? The answer to that question has evolved over my years at Western. I’ve known from the start that I very much enjoy leading robust class discussions, and I view that approach as one of my pedagogical strengths. As my career has progressed, however, I have searched for supplemental strategies regarding student engagement. As a result, I’ve learned to integrate the guided discussion approach with a focus on experiential simulation exercises and peer evaluation. By harnessing the power of simulation, the power of peer evaluation, and the power of guided discussion, I try to build student confidence in their own abilities, as well as enhance their fundamental knowledge of international politics, and these are skills I hope will serve them well years into the future.
The Power of Simulation
It was one course, in particular, that changed my entire teaching perspective and led me to overhaul all of my future course designs. During my second year at Western, I created a Model United Nations (MUN) class for the political science curriculum. My motivation for creating the class was simply to diversify our international course offerings, and I did not anticipate just how much the MUN experience would inform the evolution of my entire teaching philosophy. My MUN course is completely simulation-based – I teach the students parliamentary procedure and negotiation skills, I help to critique and improve their work, and I facilitate in every way necessary, but ultimately, the students run the show. Throughout each semester, students play the role of a diplomat from an assigned country, and they must act as that diplomat in every respect, as they hammer out treaties with their fellow students to try and solve the world’s many political and economic problems. Of course, the role of a diplomat requires strong written and oral communication abilities, and as a result, my MUN class features collaborative writing, public speaking, and constant negotiation between parties. Witnessing the benefits of this kind of experiential approach changed the way in which I designed the other seven courses I teach, specifically by inspiring me to incorporate mini-simulations (taking anywhere from one day to two weeks) in each of them.
Students prepare for each of these mini-simulations by researching their country’s approach to the relevant policy issues and writing a position paper that translates their country’s domestic policy concerns into an international proposal that attempts to solve a particular global problem. Depending on the class, the diplomatic goal I give students ranges from creating a ceasefire for the Syrian civil war, to solving global water scarcity or the global refugee crisis, to restructuring the membership of the United Nations Security Council. Then during these mini-simulations, students play the role of their assigned country – debating each other’s positions, collaborating, forming consensus on treaty ideas, and trying to create a resolution that appeases enough members of the group to pass by a majority vote. In the process, students practice their research, writing, public speaking, and group collaboration skills, and they are also able to apply the theoretical material we’ve been learning throughout the semester to solve a very real problem in the current landscape global politics.
The Power of Peer Evaluation
My Model United Nations classes surprised me with another lesson along the way, and one that I have since adapted for my other classes. In MUN, students (acting as countries) form alliances with each other to debate publicly the problem at hand. Since they must work together so closely to promote their countries’ shared interests, I ask students to formally evaluate the work of their peers. Initially, I thought that students would be hesitant to participate in the public evaluation of themselves and their classmates, but I have been amazed at the ways in which I’ve seen their confidence grow as a result of the peer evaluation process.
The Ambassadorial Speech assignment I’ve created for my Model UN class serves as one of these confidence-building evaluation activities. For this assignment, each student is required to prepare a short speech on a political issue currently facing the country they are assigned to represent in class, and they must use a handheld prop to help make their point (the rule is that props must be something they have around the house or that they find in nature – no additional money should be spent). Once students finish their speech, they remain at the front of the classroom and listen as both their classmates and I compliment their performance and suggest specific improvements. I’ve completed this exercise with many Model UN classes over the years, and each semester, I’m amazed at how well the students perform under pressure and how open they are to accepting a very public critique from their classmates. The students take the critique component of this assignment very seriously, and it’s impressive how they thoughtfully, yet gently, critique their fellow classmates, while lauding them for the wonderful aspects of their presentations. This exercise makes evident that the students have such a high level of compassion and support for each other, and the ambassadorial speeches, more than any other assignment during the course of the semester, help to build camaraderie confidence, among our Model UN students. In the reflection papers they write at semester’s end, many students have mentioned that this particular exercise helped them overcome their fear of public speaking and gave them much more confidence voicing their opinion in front of others, which are skills that can last them a lifetime and contribute to their future career success. I couldn’t be more pleased that the students seem to gain so much from this activity.
My Model UN class convinced me of the power of peer evaluations, and so I’ve since introduced public peer critique into both the Intro and Capstone classes in International Studies. In the Intro class, for instance, the students and I discuss negotiation techniques as a precursor to our treaty simulation in the class. As a warm-up exercise, I pair up students, and each pair must practice salary negotiation in front of the class, with their fellow students offering them suggestions and accolades once the negotiation is finished. Similarly, in the Capstone class, each week students present the progress on their major research project for the semester, and the other students kindly, yet firmly, critique their findings or methodology and suggest new avenues of research.
The conversations regarding these projects often take on a life of their own and can last for much of the class, with ideas being debated and accepted or discarded. As a result, students feel more confident regarding their final capstone projects because those projects have already gone through a rigorous and peer-based evaluation process.
The Power of Guided Discussion
Many of my students have never traveled internationally (I hadn’t either when I was their age), and so when my Global Issues class discusses the current civil wars in Syria or South Sudan, forinstance, students can sometimes view these wars as a disaster happening in a far-off land, which will have zero effect on their own lives. One of my pedagogical goals, then, is to build empathy within my students, so that they, in turn, can develop a sense of global citizenship as they mature. Over my career, I’ve found that simulation, whether it is on a grand scale as in MUN or on a smaller mini-simulation scale as it would be in another class, allows for the growth of empathy – after all, students are role-playing a particular country and advocating for its perspective. As part of that process, they learn to at least understand why that country make the decisions it does, even if the student doesn’t personally agree with the outcome of those decisions.
Simulation, then, is one tool for building empathy, but guided discussion is also incredibly effective in this respect, and I employ it in every class I teach. To that end, each of my classes uses current events as a way to provide context for our class theoretical material, and students are assigned to either read or present a news article each week, which we then discuss as a group. As we discuss these articles, we focus part of our attention on how international relations theories help to explain or predict the events described by the article (thus, students develop practice at applying our class concepts to real situations). Then, we focus the rest of our attention on understanding how those distant events connect to the students’ lives.
As an example, my International Environmental Politics class spends several weeks discussing the different types of water scarcity occurring around the world, while they also become familiar with the policies countries are implementing to try and guarantee their citizens clean water access. As we discuss the world’s water problems, I see my students become shocked by the appalling water and sanitation conditions that face people in some areas of the globe, but at the same time, they seem to feel secure in the idea that this type of water scarcity could never happen in the United States. To build empathy, I view it as my role to help students connect global events to their own local lives, so that these events take on more tangible meaning. As part of this task, I then ask students to research and think critically about water access within the United States to see if they could draw any parallels to global water problems. Of course, the point of this exercise is that there are always parallels available to draw with the experiences of other countries. The last time I asked students this question, they cited the water issues in Flint, Michigan and the on-going physical water scarcity that has resulted from over-allocation of the Colorado River in the western United States. As the discussion continued, I could see the light bulbs going off over their heads, as they realized that their own country is not immune to the same kinds of water issues that affect our regional and global neighbors.
I’ve found that once students realize that the global is truly local, the course material seems more relevant to them, they become more engaged in it, and they become more empathetic to the plight of others. The beauty of the global v. local strategy is that it works with almost every topic in international politics – war, trade, terrorism, human rights, environmental issues, etc. If, through guided discussion, I can help students make a personal connection between their own lives and the lives of people in a different country, then all of sudden, events in other regions of the world take on a more urgent meaning.
Simulation as a means of engagement, building student confidence through peer evaluation, and utilizing guided discussion as a means of empathy development are the three ‘best practices’ that form the foundation of my teaching. Certainly, I believe they are all critically important tools for motivating students to embrace and better understand the world at large.
I would be remiss, though, if I didn’t mention that the fundamental principle forming the foundation of everything described above is an abiding respect for my students as individuals. I have learned so much from my students over the years – how important it is for me to listen as an instructor, rather than serve as the focal point of every class; how important it is for me to be flexible with the timeline or delivery of course content in order to allow students some control over their own learning process; and finally, how important it is for me to be present in each classroom moment to model the kind of attention and care I would like the students themselves to exhibit. They have earned my respect, and in turn, I work every day to earn theirs.
Over time, I’ve noticed that many people don’t realize that they are interested in global politics until they are able to immerse themselves fully in the material – and then they can’t turn away. Simulation, peer evaluation, and discussion are the means by which I create this immersion and bring the world to Cullowhee. Observing increased student engagement in global events is what it’s all about for me, and truly, in this respect, teaching serves as a source of great joy.
Winston-Salem State University
Scott J. Betz
Department of Art and Visual Studies
The Role of the Artist Educator to Higher Learning
Art is a body of knowledge that contributes to the richness of our culture. The artist educator, like educators in other disciplines, is committed to teaching (visual literacy), scholarship/research (creative production and exhibition/presentation), and service to communities (academic/artistic). Specifically, teaching visual literacy, creativity and collaboration prepares students for making responsible and sensitive contributions to society and making art with the skills, knowledge, and values necessary for the constant process of cultural renewal.
The best educator should understand the importance of their area of study. In my case this is the Visual Arts in an academic culture. The best educator should have the ability to teach it, be able to help others teach it well and be the unique combination of artist/administrator. This person needs to be dependable, articulate, and able to see though projects that can be great in scope and sometimes tedious in detail. I think my background, energy, enthusiasm, creativity and leadership skills warrant your attention in the application of this award
I have taught at three universities over the past 22 years. Over half of that time was here at WSSU. I have gained extensive experience in teaching and time to explore and test curricula. Art can be made at all levels of education; therefore, I would like to help cultivate in students more than just a portfolio, but an artist as well.
In my teaching, I have sought out ways to motivate young artists through the combination of both traditional and contemporary approaches to drawing and design. It is my goal to really teach someone how to draw, how to organize space and how to use color intelligently and effectively and to challenge the student’s notion of art processes and products. I understand and respect tradition and am also interested in how traditions contribute to evolving contemporary painting and drawing practices. This became clear to me when I was a graduate student teaching Introduction to Art History for the first time. That class and the following sections of Art History and Art Appreciation I taught framed the way I would teach studio classes later. My assigned problems build in a logical manner and allow technique, historical awareness, contemporary approaches and personal themes to develop intelligently. It is my intention to provide more than the student can absorb, push them beyond their limits, and always ask, “Now how could this be better?”
North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics
Jamie L. Lathan
Instructor of Humanities and Dean of Distance Education and Extended Programs
Department of Humanities
As a student-centered history educator, I believe teaching is a privilege and an opportunity to learn with and from my students. I embrace the diversity in academic preparation, socioeconomic background, cultural heritage, and life experiences of my students and allow them to bring all of who they are into my classroom. I teach history as local and global, grassroots and institutional, personal and collaborative. I help students uncover stories of marginalized people groups of the past and empower students to tell their own stories and know their place in the historical narrative. I am committed to teaching history that is relevant to the lives and cultures of my students. I believe that history instruction must connect to present issues that students face -- otherwise, it is only trivia.
Rather than being a gatekeeper of knowledge, I am a partner in learning in my classroom. I believe that teaching is a lifelong process of learning from and being sharpened by students, colleagues, and the broader community of educators and professionals. I collaborate with students to model curiosity, scholarship, and risk-taking in intellectual pursuits in the classroom.
I create a positive and safe community within the learning space of my classrooms. I encourage students to accept themselves and embrace the differences in others. I value and practice empathy toward others across cultures, generations, and historical time periods.
Last, I believe that knowledge is meant to be shared and not hoarded. With that in mind, I use distance education technologies as a conduit for expanding opportunities and access to all students.