Emory Report

April 13, 1998

 Volume 50, No. 28

Three college faculty
honored as excellent teachers

Perhaps even more valuable than the $2,000 prize given to this year's Excellence in Teaching Award recipients are the accompanying parking spaces each will receive as part of the honor. "Everybody knows parking places at Emory have more value than money," said English professor Walter Reed, director of the Center for Teaching and Curriculum.

More seriously, he said of the second annual awards, "We recognize the value of the Emory Williams Awards, but since those awards have been based on balloting of former students, we wanted to create a new set of awards that would ask for evaluation of faculty by their peers. We wanted to draw on the peer evaluation already going on in some departments and encourage other departments who aren't yet doing that to start."

This year's recipients, Chemistry's Preetha Ram, Political Science's Thomas Lancaster and Theater Studies' Tim McDonough, each use different styles of instruction but personify good teaching at Emory-and elsewhere. The professors represent the award catagories for the natural sciences, social sciences and humanities, respectively.

A lecturer in chemistry, Ram impressed the selection committee with the "intelligent and energetic innovation [she has] brought to laboratory instruction . . . [and with her] growing reputation among colleagues in other disciplines in the field of problem-based learning."

Ram said her teaching style continues to evolve as "I learn about students, I learn about teaching and I learn about myself. I've come to believe it's a very active process." In classes such as Chemistry 226L, in which her students instruct high school students as part of the "Pebbles Water Quality Project," Ram teaches problem-solving skills as students master their subject matter and prepare to share newfound knowledge with their younger counterparts. This technique works well for smaller, seminar-type classes, but Ram said she'd like to use it in her freshman chemistry class of 150 students. "It's important to start the process of inquiry and discovery in that very first year. That's not really easy to do because of the large number of students, but I'm working on that and hoping something will come out of it."

The award committee was impressed by "the range and rigor" of Thomas Lancaster's political science courses and with "the breadth of [his] commitment to students' learning well beyond the departmental classroom." In addition to his duties as associate professor, Lancaster has been involved with Freshman Seminar for 10 years, Oxford's Study Abroad program for five years and is helping develop a special Language Across the Curriculum course for next spring.

Lancaster likes to use the formal classroom as a basis for other types of instruction. For example, to show his students that politics is "collective decision-making," Lancaster might have them read Shantung Compound, a book that describes the types of structural systems Japanese-captured prisoners of war developed in Chinese internment camps during World War II, or they might screen the little-known Tyrone Power movie Abandon Ship (a film about "lifeboat ethics," Lancaster said) and the better-known Twelve Angry Men to illustrate the concept.

Thomas finds a "healthy tension" balancing the demands of teaching and research. "It may rattle the nerves, but professionally I think it's very healthy," he said.

Theater Studies Associate Professor Tim McDonough is on sabbatical this semester and was out of the country for a monthlong sojourn when this article was written. In awarding his prize, the award committee cited the "enthusiastic testimony" of McDonough's colleagues and students about the ways in which his teaching has transformed them as performers both in the classroom and on the stage. He was praised for his service to the TATTO graduate teacher-training program as well.

While on leave, McDonough took the opportunity to perform the lead in Theatre Gael's production of Sebastian Barry's The Steward of Christendom in February. "This is what I'm refurbishing myself with, what I'll learn from and what I'll bring back to my teaching," he said in a February 16 Emory Report article.

-Stacey Jones

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