April 29, 2011
It is award season on campus, and all of the outstanding teachers at the U of S walked the “red carpet” on April 27 at the Celebration of Teaching event.
Hosted by the Office of the Vice-Provost Teaching and Learning and the Gwenna Moss Centre for Teaching Effectiveness, the event was an opportunity to recognize the commitment U of S instructors make both in and out of the classroom, explained Angela Ward, acting vice-provost teaching and learning.
“Learning is what students come to university for and our teacher-scholars are a major part of student life at the university,” said Ward. “Rewarding and recognizing how important teachers are needs to happen in a significant way and teaching awards are a central part of that.”
This year’s celebration honoured the recipients of the Provost’s Teaching Awards in categories including Aboriginal education, international teaching, innovation in learning, new teacher and graduate student teacher. Teaching awards were also handed out in each college and the three divisions in arts and science. Also getting a moment in the spotlight were master teachers, USSU Teaching Excellence Award winners, 3M National Teaching Fellows and the sessional lecturer award winners.
This year’s celebration had a slight twist to it, said Ward. “Of course the award winners were recognized, and teaching and learning were celebrated. Another aspect focused on the Learning Charter that highlights the commitment that teachers, students and the institution make to all of this. Members of our campus community—the provost, a 3M fellow, a master teacher, myself and student leaders—reflected upon the new Learning Charter and discussed what it means.
“We are committed to students and the student experience,” she explained. “These are high priorities at the university, and the role that our teachers play in those commitments is an important one and one that students and the community recognize. The teaching quality, which is good at the university, is something that students talk to each other about as do their parents in the community.”
Ward also hopes that it is something teachers on campus start to talk about and that this event contributes to a strong teaching community at the university. “We absolutely encourage a teacher-scholar network on campus that lasts beyond this event. Teachers at different points in the careers and from different disciplines who are collaborating and sharing ideas can only improve the quality of teaching at the U of S.”
By Kris foster
Innovation typically conjures thoughts of robots, computers or beamlines. For Ken Van Rees, he found innovation through the combination of art and science, and his discovery landed him the Provost’s Award for Outstanding Innovation in Learning.
“I was a science guy. I never really had a lot of interest in art,” explained Van Rees, professor in the College of Agriculture and Bioresources. “But when the department felt that students needed more field experience for hands-on learning, I started thinking of ways to teach a new field course on soils in boreal landscapes.”
What the agroforestry expert came up with, with the help of his art-teaching sister-in-law, was a new way to observe landscapes for science students.
“Since 2004, we have taken classes to different boreal ecosystems, anywhere from Emma Lake to the Precambrian shield, where they observe the landscape as scientists, but also as artists who paint and draw what they see,” he explained, adding that the program would not have happened without the facilities and resources of the Emma Lake Kenderdine Campus. “This course provides a varied experience to look at the landscape, vegetation and soil profiles from very different perspectives, and the art and science aspects provide a unique way of connecting with the landscape.”
This program helps achieve two of Van Rees’s goals as a teacher. “Most important is that the students develop the skills needed to continue into a career. But also, they need to enjoy the time they spend at the U of S. Teaching, in and out of class, is what I am passionate about. My relationship with students has a part in shaping them for the future. That is the part that lasts.”
By Lynne Gunville
When Vikram Misra was asked to describe his teaching philosophy, the Western College of Veterinary Medicine (WCVM) professor of virology and molecular biology had no idea what to write.
“I thought for a while and realized that I enjoy teaching because I’m horribly lazy. The most efficient way to keep up with the literature in my field or find out about new, exciting things is to teach others about them.”
One look at Misra’s hectic schedule proves there is a lot more than laziness behind his selection as this year’s WCVM recipient of the Provost’s College Award for Outstanding Teaching. Besides being head of the college’s Department of Veterinary Microbiology and acting head of its Department of Veterinary Pathology, Misra is a prolific researcher who teaches a variety of undergraduate and graduate classes.
While Misra has trouble describing his teaching philosophy, he is very clear about his guiding principle as a teacher: the effort students put into a course should benefit others as well. That belief has led to his designing undergraduate and graduate courses that give students the opportunity to present their work in venues like web pages and electronic peer-reviewed journals
After three decades of teaching, the young-at-heart professor considers teaching more of a hobby than actual work. “I just have a lot of fun doing it. All the students I teach are very keen, and so it’s just gratifying to impart the excitement involved in looking for new things. And sometimes I think I learn more than the students do.”
Lynne Gunville is a Saskatoon freelance writer.
By Kris Foster
From the courtroom to the classroom was the trajectory Michaela Keet’s career followed. It was a path that makes complete sense to the winner of the 2011 Provost’s College Award for Outstanding Teaching (College of Law).
“Absolutely there are similarities between the two professions,” explained Keet. “A lot of people choose to become lawyers to make a difference and improve how people experience the justice system. That was my motivation and that is exactly what I strive to support in the classroom. Having an impact on law students and their future clients is an amazing experience.”
A faculty member since 1997, Keet previously worked as a mediator and lawyer focused on labour, employment and administrative law. That experience formed the foundation of her teaching and research focus on dispute resolution. Since arriving at the U of S, Keet has been responsible for developing the college’s dispute resolution program and designing—not to mention teaching— a number of the dispute resolution courses.
“I love teaching and contributing to skill development,” explained Keet, who also teaches advanced courses in negotiation and mediation. “It’s the engagement with students that I love most about teaching. I approach each course as a dynamic process in which we learn from each other—but am still surprised at how much I take away from each teaching experience.”
Keet is quick to dismiss herself as an “outstanding teacher,” pointing to hundreds of other worthy teachers on campus and in the College of Law who are equally committed to the profession and, more importantly, to the students who she builds relationships with.
My students are the out-standing ones. I try to make class enjoyable for them. When they enjoy class you start to get a reputation as a good teacher.”
Since joining the Department of Computer Science in 2003, Mark Eramian said his most important mentors have not necessarily been fellow academics or senior university leaders, but instead the very students he has taught for the past eight years.
Although Eramian, recipient of the 2011 Provost’s College Award for Outstanding Teaching (Arts and Science, science), certainly learned from the example set by his father—an award-winning professor as well—he said the comments he receives on teaching evaluations have proved invaluable. He said rarely, if ever, has heeding students’ advice been a mistake. Eramian teaches upper year and graduate courses in his research area of image processing and analysis, as well as introductory courses on data structures and algorithms.
The aspect of teaching Eramian said he finds most rewarding are those “Aha!” moments—when a student who was previously struggling with a certain concept suddenly “gets it,” or when their minds open to the wider consequences of a subtle point.
As for the advice he would pass on to new university professors, he credits being willing and able to adapt as his key to a successful teaching career thus far. “Every class of students, even year-over-year in the same course, is a little bit different. Be prepared to adapt your style to what works best.”
Kirk Sibbald is a communications officer in the College of Arts and Science.
Office of Communications, University of Saskatchewan