“Going viral” typically has a very different meaning in Biological Sciences courses, often focused on medical afflictions.
But, in Lori MacNeil’s classes, the term relates not only to the course content, but also the results of her innovative teaching approach.
In December, her creative take on a holiday icebreaker for her third-year genetics class — just one in a series of videos the Assistant Professor of Biology has produced — reached more than three million people and made national headlines.
Delivering innovative and engaging lessons that tap into youth culture and new learning styles is what inspired the Faculty of Mathematics and Science (FMS) to recognize MacNeil with its 2021 Teaching Excellence award. She was honoured during Brock’s Virtual Spring Convocation on Friday, June 18.
“Great professors strive to connect with their students and spend countless hours perfecting their craft,” said Mathematics and Science Dean Ejaz Ahmed. “Lori’s ability to reach students on their level and inspire their hard work is impressive and her awards are well deserved.”
MacNeil has achieved a trifecta of honours this year.
In addition to the Faculty’s Teaching Excellence award, she was awarded the Mathematics and Science Council Excellence in Teaching and Student Engagement award — a title she has won twice in five years — and received the Teaching Excellence award presented through Brock’s Centre for Pedagogical Innovation (CPI).
“I spend a lot of time thinking about how students learn and what will resonate with them,” said MacNeil, who has continued to make videos following her viral post. “My goal is to connect with them, understand how they learn and help them achieve the learning outcomes of the course in a fun and memorable way.”
MacNeil has heard from students that her approach makes them feel comfortable and engaged in lectures, with jokes and memes mixed in with regular content to entertain and boost energy. Challenging content becomes easier to retain and learn through this novel approach, she said.
“Dr. MacNeil has a reputation for superior teaching, given her expertise, enthusiasm and her ability to engage with students,” said Lauren Stone (BSc ’20), MacNeil’s former student who was her teaching assistant during Fall Term. “She has been a mentor to me (and many others) as a student, an educator and a human being.”
MacNeil teaches an exceptionally wide range of topics from introductory biology, to genetic inheritance, misinformation, biostatistics, human genetics and the origin of life. Her teaching and mentoring excellence, particularly during the ongoing pandemic, has provided a boost to her students’ academic lives at a critically important time.
“I came from a molecular genetics research background, so teaching has been a skill set I wanted to understand and grow to the best possible level,” MacNeil said. “I find that getting as much feedback as possible from direct experiences with students works best. The more I interact and connect with them, the more we all succeed.”
For a historical list of Faculty of Mathematics and Science Teaching Excellence award winners, click here