Teaching excellence honoured at awards celebration

Jessica Clark’s students have spoken.

When asked to give feedback on her classroom style, they provided Clark with a top grade.

Out of 237 anonymous surveys, 233 of Clark’s students gave her a five out of five when evaluating her as an instructor. The unprecedented rating was just one factor that contributed to Clark receiving the Brock University Award for Excellence in Teaching for Early Career Faculty.

For Clark, an assistant professor in Brock’s History Department, students represent far more than just a form of affirmation.

“Brock students are a daily source of inspiration,” she said. “They’re curious, engaged and eager to take a deep dive into materials.”

This enthusiasm, and the engaged conversations that go with it, have led Clark to fluidly develop her own teaching and continue to improve as a professor.

“Our discussions often make me think about historical developments in new ways,” she said, “which is always an exciting thing.”

Though Nadine Brundrett teaches a different subject than Clark, her experience with Brock students and her commitment to teaching excellence is similar.

“The opportunity to connect in the classroom and beyond always stimulates my own enthusiasm for learning and discovery,” she said.

Brundrett is this year’s recipient of the Clarke Thomson Award for Excellence in Sessional Teaching.

As a part-time instructor in Brock’s Classics Department, Brundrett contrasts the study of the ancient with new and innovative ways of communicating the course material.

“I have always sought to create an engaging and challenging learning environment by utilizing innovative ideas and strategies whenever possible,” she said. “But I also consider myself to be a storyteller, and I love to employ engaging narratives and anecdotes to provide interest and link course material together.”

Simon Black is also fond of incorporating unconventional learning activities into his classes, which often contain more than 300 students.

Black’s commitment to getting all of his students involved, regardless of the size of the course, has earned him this year’s Don Ursino Award for Excellence in the Teaching of Large Classes.

“I am a proponent of active learning, an approach to instruction in which students engage with the material they study through reading, writing, talking, listening and reflecting,” said Black. “Large classes pose some barriers to this approach. However, I do my best to integrate active learning strategies.”

An assistant professor in the Department of Labour Studies, Black uses exercises such as peer assessment, brainstorming and peer-to-peer teaching of key concepts and points to keep his classes engaged.

Black, Clark and Brundrett were all presented with their awards at this year’s Centre for Pedagogical Innovation (CPI) Tribute to Teaching Reception on Dec. 6, which featured an address, The Call to Teach in the Era of Trump, from David Hutchison, the University’s 2017 Distinguished Teaching Award winner.

CPI’s Director Jill Grose explained there are similarities in the teaching styles of all of the award winners.

“The recipients tend to be reflective about teaching,” she said. “They try new ways of connecting with and engaging students and they get feedback about what works and what doesn’t. And they value their students.”

Grose emphasized the need for teaching awards to continue to recognize and inspire the Brock community.

“Awards for teaching help us to recognize the outstanding work undertaken by so many Brock instructors,” she said. “It’s about recognition and celebration, but the nomination dossiers also provide evidence and documentation related to the impact a nominee has on student learning. In addition, the faculty who serve on the adjudication committees read about some amazing strategies and assignments. The process involved in an awards program gets people talking about teaching and this in turn promotes a culture that values teaching and teachers.”

Award recipients each received a framed certificate and a monetary prize.

More information on the Brock University Award for Excellence in Teaching for Early Career Faculty, the Clarke Thomson Award for Excellence in Sessional Teaching and the Don Ursino Award for Excellence in the Teaching of Large Classes awards is available on the CPI website.

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