2021 Don Ursino Award for Excellence in the Teaching of Large Classes Recipient

Martin Dragan, Faculty of Applied Health Sciences

Described as a “staple” in the Department of Health Sciences, Dr. Dragan has been teaching at Brock as a sessional instructor since 2014 in both the Faculty of Applied Health Sciences and the Faculty of Social Sciences. As the instructor of the HLSC 1F90 Introduction to Health Sciences and Senior Lab Demonstrator of the Faculty’s Human Systems Anatomy courses (KINE 1P90 and HLSC 2P95), thousands of students have the pleasure of learning from Martin early in their academic careers each year. While the reputation of large, mandatory introductory courses may be that they are impersonal and intimidating, colleagues and students alike remark on Martin’s passion and commitment for making learning personal, interactive, and engaging both in-person and online.  His instruction is infused with humour, a signature feature of Martin’s teaching style, while maintaining rigour and high expectations for his students. According to colleagues in the Faculty of Applied Health Sciences, these foundational courses “demand educators and mentors that can deliver a broad-based curriculum to incoming students in a way that will set them off on a positive academic trajectory. Dr. Dragan is that educator and mentor, placing the students first … This translates into individual student success not only in first year but beyond.”

A defining feature of Dr. Dragan’s teaching philosophy is his commitment to innovation – “[I] keep learning and trying to improve on my strategies as an instructor, not because I want the content to be continually updated or the jokes to be funnier – but to more effectively connect and empathise with students. … There’s a new opportunity to connect with students each time I teach, and even if the content may be similar, I’m always looking for a way to make that content seem fresh, exciting, and always engaging.” Many students echo that Dr. Dragan’s ability to make course content personally relevant is particularly meaningful to not only succeeding in his large lecture and lab courses, but to also to building a foundation of knowledge for success in their programs. As one student commented, “through his teaching techniques and comparative explanations to everyday life and activities, Dr. Dragan has been able to make the complex seem simple while helping students understand complex concepts rather than simply memorize their names and functions.”

While teaching thousands of students is challenging in its own right, quickly pivoting to online teaching and learning in response to the pandemic presented new and unprecedented challenges for instructors. Dr. Dragan’s commitment to teaching and to his students did not waiver in these moments. His students resoundingly expressed that it was his teaching style, compassion, and innovations that made them feel comfortable, confident, and supported during these unsettling and stressful times. In response to the pandemic, Martin rapidly developed and refined the Human Anatomy laboratory manual to include both in-person and online interactive learning activities, including personally recording numerous laboratory demonstration videos to ensure students had access to anatomy lab content while learning remotely. Furthermore, he deftly designed high quality online content for his courses including lecture videos and offered ‘live’ synchronous sessions to give students the opportunity to ask questions, discuss course content, and interact with each other (key considerations during what might otherwise have been an isolating learning environment). This commitment to designing and facilitating encouraging, welcoming, and active instructional spaces online speaks to Dr. Dragan’s empathetic nature and willingness to support his students in a variety of ways. These efforts were appreciated by his students and supported their learning – “Dr. Dragan’s sense of humour made his lecture videos something to look forward to and motivate you. It got to the point that as soon as I would click play and hear the starting music to his presentations I was already beginning to smile. Talking to fellow students in the same Health Sciences classes such as myself has assured me that I was not the only student to benefit from his efforts to make learning all that much easier.” In addition to the design and delivery of his courses, students were thoroughly impressed and grateful for the efforts that Martin took to support them individually. Students remarked again and again on his reputation for quickly replying to emails with detailed and thoughtful responses, being available and welcoming conversations after class, and offering guidance on learning strategies as defining characteristics that set his teaching apart.

Martin’s commitment to student learning extends beyond the classroom as he is instrumental in the team facilitating the Human Anatomy peer-leader program in which approximately 40 senior students act as peer-leaders for students currently in the Faculty of Applied Health Sciences Anatomy courses. This dedication to mentoring student leaders is on top of the over 20 graduate teaching assistants that Dr. Dragan supervises between his teaching and lab coordinator roles. Additionally, Dr. Dragan is committed to the scholarship of teaching and learning related to large class pedagogy and understanding student and educator preferences for online vs in-person learning in human anatomy. In 2020, Martin was part of a team from the Faculty of Applied Health Sciences who received Brock’s Chancellor Chair in Teaching Excellence to support their research in this area of inquiry. Beyond this, many colleagues have expressed their gratitude for Martin’s help with online course design and educational technologies during the pandemic which he offered with patience and generosity.

Overall, Dr. Dragan demonstrates that he genuinely cares about his students and their well-being inside and outside the classroom regardless of the number of students that he is teaching. In his words, he is dedicated to “providing a consistent, positive, and dynamic experience for all students, regardless of what course I am teaching. I believe that this goes beyond just demonstrating my scope of knowledge, but my passion for sharing what I know in the best way I know how.”