Winston-Salem State University
2016 Excellence in Teaching Awards: Manjunatha Bhat, Winston-Salem State University
Manjunatha Bhat is an associate professor of physiology in the Department of Biological Sciences at Winston-Salem State University. He has been a faculty member at WSSU since January 2008, where he teaches courses in anatomy and physiology, biology and neuroscience to undergraduate students majoring in biology and allied health sciences. Bhat views his role inside and outside of the classroom more as a facilitator of student learning rather than as a traditional teacher and focuses on guiding his students through the learning process providing them with a variety of resources and tools to help them understand concepts and self-assess their learning.
Bhat is a strong believer in the use of “high tech and high touch” approaches to improve both student learning experience and outcomes. These include digital learning resources such as active and adaptive learning tools, data analytics and metacognitive analysis to monitor student learning, as well as innovative pedagogical practice and peer to peer teaching and mentoring. Bhat is regarded as an expert in the use of teaching and learning technologies to engage students both inside and outside the classroom. He not only helps his colleagues but also trains faculty at other institutions in the best practices of using these tools to improve student success. He conducts both face-to-face and virtual workshops and presents seminars on the use of teaching and learning technologies.
In addition to teaching, Bhat is actively involved in advising freshman students in the general education curriculum. He also serves on the University of North Carolina General Administration advising committee for WSSU and helps with campus-wide implementation of GradesFirst, a web-based student performance monitoring system used to provide support services to students.
Bhat has mentored more than 15 undergraduate research scholars in his laboratory, involving them in his research projects. He has published over 30 peer-reviewed publications and his research students have presented at local and national meetings.
Bhat received his undergraduate degree in veterinary medicine from the University of Agricultural Sciences, Bangalore, India. He obtained a master’s in pharmacology at Indian Veterinary Research Institute, in Izatnagar, Bareilly, India and an MS in pharmacology from the University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada. After getting his Ph.D. in physiology & biophysics at Case Western Reserve University, he worked at the Cleveland Clinic, where he established his current research on understanding the role of calcium in acute and chronic pain.
Q. The Teaching Awards were established in 1994 to underscore the importance of teaching and to encourage, identify, recognize, reward, and support good teaching within the University. What does this award mean to you?
A. I consider this recognition humbling and a great honor, especially because it is from my students and peers. It also means that some of the innovative teaching and learning methods that I have been using in my courses are having a positive impact for our students in a meaningful way. I consider this award as a motivating factor to continue to improve as a facilitator of learning to help our students succeed and reach their educational and career goals. As I regularly tell my students, I cannot do the learning for them but I can provide them with a variety of tools that they can use to master the topics and I am there to guide them both during in-class discussions and during office visits. I believe that this award recognizes my efforts in this regard and my willingness to constantly adapt as an instructor to educate the current generation of students.
Q. What was your path into teaching?
A. While growing up, my family had a plan for me to become a priest. With guidance, support and sacrifice from my two older brothers, I completed my training in veterinary medicine. I watched first-hand my brother’s dedication and passion for education both at school, where he was a teacher, and at home. Although I wanted to be a practicing veterinarian, one of my professors encouraged me to pursue post-graduate education. It is at this stage that my instinct to pursue an academic career and passion for teaching and research solidified. My first faculty job was at a university hospital, where I pursued biomedical research full time. I did take advantage of opportunities to mentor and teach a small number of undergraduate and high school students in my laboratory during the summer. A chance encounter with a friend and current colleague at a conference led me to join WSSU, where I currently enjoy teaching and mentoring undergraduate students in biomedical research.
Q. Besides this award, is there one particular achievement in your career that makes you especially proud?
A. In addition to teaching, I also advise students from a variety of disciplines as they progress through their academic curriculum from the time they enter WSSU until they graduate. I especially take pride in my involvement in advising freshman students as they navigate the general education curriculum. I have been part of this since we implemented the general education curriculum in 2010.
Q. What teaching methods do you use to engage students?
A. I use a combination of “high touch and high tech” approaches to engage students both inside and outside the classroom. Through the use of an interactive electronic textbook (SmartBook), students experience “adaptive and personalized learning”. By prompting students to self-assess their understanding of topics as they read through the chapter, the “SmartBook” adapts to individual student’s progress and identifies topics that they have mastered and those they need to study. Using this strategy, students complete short “reading assignments” before every class period so they would have learned basic terms and concepts before I teach them. This helps me spend my face to face class time with students to discuss topics that they need help with by using what is called just-in time teaching.
I also use active learning strategies to keep students focused and to engage them in class discussions. This is done with the use of “clickers”, which help me to quickly assess their understanding of topics as they are being discussed. We also use peer to peer instruction model to help students. Students who completed the course successfully in previous semesters serve as undergraduate teaching/learning assistants. They meet with small groups of students outside of the class period to clarify doubts and answer questions as well as conduct review sessions before exams. Overall, the use of adaptive learning technology and peer support system have helped in improving the student learning experience.