Tim Murphy is fearless when it comes to conquering the fear and anxiety his students come up against.
If that means acting a little silly, so be it says the Brock Psychology professor who for more than 20 years has taught the Introductory Statistics and Research Methods course to thousands of students, many of whom approach the course with trepidation.
He enlists a variety of creative teaching methods to help take the edge off of challenging course work. That includes standing in front of classes coaxing students to join him in a round of jingle singing — his way of reinforcing one of the basic course concepts that often stumps students.
He also holds ‘stats improv’ sessions in which students pitch their best questions at him to solve on the spot.
“Improvising on questions from students does two things — it demonstrates the process and shows students that there is no magic involved, and it also lets them see what happens when you make mistakes,” he says. “I like to think that I bring a little enjoyment to my students. As a teacher, you have to find a way to enjoy what you’re doing because if you don’t enjoy what you do, how can anyone enjoy doing it with you?”
Murphy, the 2018 recipient of the Brock University Award for Distinguished Teaching, shared these strategies and other teaching insights during an address at the 12th annual Tribute to Teaching reception held recently by the Centre for Pedagogical Innovation (CPI).
Murphy’s single-most important teaching principle is to establish an equal playing field with students to help them understand their role and responsibility in being part of a university’s community of scholars.
“I still clearly remember being a new student in the fall of 1977 and attending an introduction to university session. We were told ‘this isn’t high school anymore, this is about being part of a community of scholars.’ That stuck with me,” he said.
Murphy also cautions teachers not to waste time and energy lamenting that too many students are coming out of high school ill-prepared for university studies. Instead, he encourages his colleagues to focus attention on training “the people we are given” by developing new and accessible learning tools and resources.
This year’s celebration of teaching excellence featured the presentation of five awards across three categories to recognize outstanding contributions by Brock teachers.
Divya Joshi and Brian de Ruiter were co-winners of the Clarke Thomson Award for Excellence in Sessional Teaching.
Over the last 12 years, Joshi has taught undergraduate and graduate students in her roles as a teaching assistant, lab demonstrator and course instructor. She teaches some of the most difficult courses in the Faculty of Applied Health Sciences curricula including second- and third-year Biostatistics. Her teaching style allows students to develop strong, independent learning skills they can apply as they move on to any healthcare profession.
A sessional instructor since 2008, de Ruiter has been teaching across multiple academic units at Brock, including the Centre for Digital Humanities, Department of History, the Centre of Intercultural Studies and the Centre for Canadian Studies. As the instructor of the online content credit course, Being Human in a Digital World, with enrolments of up to 700 students, students praise de Ruiter for helping them to realize their individual impact and contributions to a variety of global issues.
Aleksandar Necakov and Rebecca MacPherson were named co-recipients of the Excellence in Teaching for Early Career Faculty Award.
Necakov, Assistant Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences since 2016, teaches and supervises undergraduate and graduate students. He spent the past two years organizing the first-ever Brock University team to participate in the International Genetically Engineered Machine competition at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where Brock was awarded a bronze medal.
MacPherson, has been a Department of Health Sciences Assistant Professor since 2016. In her first year of teaching at Brock, she established a partnership between Brock and McMaster Medical School to provide students in the Human Anatomy and Human Pathology course the opportunity for hands-on experiential interaction with real human specimens in the McMaster Medical School cadaver lab.
Nancy Cook, Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology, received the Don Ursino Award for Excellence in the Teaching of Large Classes. For the past 10 years, Cook has taught the first-year Introduction to Sociology course, one of the largest courses in the Faculty of Social Sciences. With class sizes of a maximum of 495 students, Cook is committed to helping students understand the subtle and diverse structure of the social world.
Anna Lathrop, Vice-Provost, Teaching, Learning and Student Success, congratulated the winners while recognizing all of the teaching colleagues in attendance, including many past award winners, for their dedication and commitment to learning at Brock. She also thanked CPI for its outstanding support to Brock’s approximately 600 faculty and 19,000 students.
“This is one of the highlights of my year when I come together with like-minded colleagues who care deeply about teaching, research and the student experience,” she said. “It takes a university as a community to value and celebrate teaching.”
Award recipients each receive a framed certificate and a monetary prize.