I recently received an invitation to attend my 50th year High School reunion in Cedar Rapids, Iowa this summer. The invitation came with a request to provide answers to questions like, “What was your most embarrassing moment in high school?” “Who was your favorite teacher?” and “What was the worst advice you’ve ever received?” As I was completing the form, it brought to mind a related question, “What was the best advice I ever received?” It struck me that perhaps the best advice I’ve received was when I was going to college and wondering what courses to take. My father suggested that I find some good teachers and simply take any course that they taught!
Reflecting back over the 50 years since high school (surely I graduated when I was 5), I remember a number of excellent teachers in high school and college that had a profound effect on my life. In high school, Mr. Braze was able to teach advanced algebra to nearly anyone, while Mrs. Canney turned bashful Iowa boys into keen debaters and Mr. Marsh (a retired marine and Olympic-level swimmer) taught both the theory and practical aspects of physics. In college, Mr. Blue was able to make this physics major appreciate and enjoy English literature; in graduate school, Professor Richard Blade, who received his Ph.D. under the Nobel laureate, Richard Feynman, made advanced mathematics and quantum mechanics very understandable.
Not every good teacher is entertaining or charismatic. However, all good teachers share some common characteristics: they are passionate and knowledgeable about their subject matter, they genuinely care about their students and want them to learn and succeed, and they continuously seek to improve their “craft” of teaching.
I’m pleased that our college has a tradition of encouraging and celebrating teaching excellence. Our annual George McMurtry Excellence in Teaching and Learning award, named after George McMurtry, the founding Dean of the College of IST, recognizes faculty members who provide an exceptional learning environment for undergraduates in the classroom or online through their innovative teaching, commitment to student learning, and creative interface with students. IST Faculty who have won this award include Dr. Lynette Kvasny, Col. Jake Graham, Dr. Will McGill, Dr. Gerry Santoro, Dr. Rosalie Ocker, Dr. Shawn Clark, Dr. Irene Petrick, Dr. Fred Fonseca, Dr. Brain Cameron, and Dr. Dave Mudgett. For the past two years, we have celebrated the McMurtry awardees by asking them to give a McMurtry lecture describing their teaching methods and innovations.
Our excellent teachers have also gained recognition outside the college. On March 24, Dr. Kvasny was recognized as a Penn State Teaching Fellow (the Penn State Alumni Association Award for Excellence in Teaching). This prestigious award is given to only a fraction of one percent of all Penn State faculty. On March 27, Col. Jake Graham presented an invited lecture at the Washington, D.C. National Press Club titled, “From the Pentagon to the Podium,” describing his journey from being an active-duty U. S. Marine Colonel to being a Professor of Practice in IST. Our faculty have also been highlighted by the Penn State Schreyer Honors College for their teaching excellence.
We strive for continual improvement in our teaching and learning effectiveness. Dr. Jack Carroll recently edited a book published by Springer called, Innovative Practices in Teaching Information Sciences and Technology: Experience Reports and Reflections (2014). The book contains 18 chapters, each authored by one or more IST faculty, describing innovations in teaching topics in information sciences and technology.
Other college commitments include our co-sponsorship of a new university research center, the Center for Online Innovation in Learning (COIL). This center conducts research and funds seed projects in areas such as inverted classrooms, virtual laboratories, hybrid learning, the use of social media in the classroom, and many other topics for both online and resident education.
Finally, our new director of undergraduate academic affairs, Dr. Lisa Lenze, heads a department that focuses on continual evaluation of teaching effectiveness, utilization of learning assistants (LAs) to improve classroom interaction and performance for large classes, and development of new methods to ensure student success.
Excellent teachers have a life-long impact on their students. I will remember my teachers of 50 years ago when I attend my reunion this summer. While I doubt that any of my teachers will be present, I will talk with my former classmates about our times at Prairie High.
I suspect that when I meet each classmate, three thoughts will come to mind: 1) Who are you? 2) Wow, how you’ve aged! and 3) Thank God I haven’t!
I’d look forward to seeing my old high school girlfriends, but then I remember that I was a nerd who didn’t actually have any high school girlfriends.