The School of Arts and Sciences wants to know what students think makes a good teacher.
Nominations opened this week for the 2015 SAS Teaching Awards, a set of awards given to professors and TAs who go beyond the call of duty in their roles. The Daily Pennsylvanian asked past winners to sound off on what they think constitutes exceptional teaching.
Justin Bleich, a statistics TA and 2013 award winner mentioned the importance of keeping the material not only relevant but also useful for post-college life. “I taught from the perspective of wanting to build a toolbox that [students] can take out in the real world,” he explained. “I realized that most students aren’t going to take more statistics courses so how can I give a toolset to all these kids?”
“I think I have always felt it was really important to bring knowledge and hard thinking to class so that I am really not that concerned with being popular in class,” Timothy Corrigan, a 2014 award winner, said. But Corrigan said that even in his larger lectures he strives to learn the names of all his students.
“This is so that the class becomes about me knowing who you are, knowing your work, knowing what your strengths and weaknesses are,” Corrigan said. “There’s a really important personal dimension to [teaching] as well.”
Amongst all the possible traits that constitute a “good” instructor, Gwendolyn Shaw, who received the Dean’s Award for Innovation in Teaching last year, believes that the most important attribute for her is to “be constantly willing to try new things and … respond to what works well in different class situations.”
Shaw has used resources at Weigle Information Commons to introduce her students to relevant technologies and advocated the use of social media for students to share their traveling photos and experiences. “Some of the classes that I love to teach the most are the ones that offer students hands on experience with the world,” she said.
For graduate student and mathematics TA Torin Greenwood, one of the most important traits for a teacher is accessibility. Greenwood has won teaching awards for his work at Penn in each of the last three years . “I think no matter what, I always feel the pressure from students that I have a responsibility to them to make sure that they learn.” Greenwood stressed that his main objective is to get the students to “actually work through problems” and does so by opening various channels of communication, including an all-day email policy and online discussion boards.
Also for Bleich, accessibility was a key component to the effectiveness of his recitations. Instead of hosting regular office hours, he offered an additional, optional recitation that advocated a lecture-style environment where students could freely ask questions. “It would be like a review of the week’s lecture so that they had an opportunity to see the material again,” Bleich explained. “I found that students want to ask questions but they don’t know the questions they want to ask.”
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