Reaching Beyond: OCUFA Teaching Awards
On June 10, 2005, two University of Windsor faculty, Education Professor Ian Crawford and Biological Sciences Professor Jon Lovett-Doust, were named among Ontario’s six most outstanding university teachers in a province-wide competition adjudicated by the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations (OCUFA) Awards Committee.
“OCUFA has been recognizing excellence in our universities with teaching awards since 1973, and it is unusual for two professors from a single university to share such an honour,” says OCUFA president Michael Doucet. “Clearly something special is happening in Windsor.”
Dr. Lovett-Doust agrees that something special is indeed happening in Windsor but states that “it’s not so unusual for two winners from one university – especially at the University of Windsor! It turns out there have been many occasions at Windsor when multiple winners were recognized: two of us in 2004, but also two in 1989, 1984, and 1979, and in the inaugural year of the award, 1973, Windsor had four awards, establishing its strong record of teaching.
“There are indeed many individually excellent teachers here, including Ian Crawford and Pat Rogers, both of whom, fortunately, teach the teachers. Pat, and Ralph Johnson, in Philosophy, are past winners of the 3M Prize which, in Canadian university teaching, is the Nobel equivalent, sadly sans the million dollars. There have been some 22 winners of the OCUFA Teaching Award at Windsor and this overall record is excellent, better in fact than other, larger places. For example, Carleton has 18, OISE 16, McMaster 14, Queen’s nine, and Waterloo eight. We hold sixth place amongst all of the twenty Ontario universities that have won at least once – so yes, Windsor is doing something right, as well as having its share of good teachers.
“What is Windsor doing right, beyond good teachers? First and foremost I think is learner centrism, which really does seem to me to be institutional. And I would also say the CFL. This is an excellent adjunct office, facilitating the technical delivery of pedagogy, and to some extent coordinating and helping build the teaching milieu. Having this resource puts us into an upper echelon of teaching institutions. Yet it should be further fostered. Institutionally, I feel we need to be doing so much more to promote this culture of teaching. Minimally, we should have many more opportunities for organized learning about teaching.
“Teaching is primus inter pares among the professorial responsibilities, ahead even of the research endeavour itself, which I also love and which, surely, underpins why many of us chose this business in the first place. The OCUFA Award is satisfying because it means to me that my teaching philosophy is appreciated.”
“Related to this, what I suggest we still need to do more of institutionally at Windsor is somehow to consolidate further our particular take on learner centrism, and then to bring that purposefully into our institutional branding behaviour, to say nothing of bringing it into our mandate and infrastructure. Obviously ‘branding’ is how things are moving in the university business, and our own emerging brand is developing nicely so far. What we are discussing here, however, involves our teaching, and pedagogical enrichment. Until recently this has not played an especially significant part in marketing Ontario universities, aside from some evidence in favour of the smalls over the not-smalls. We have an opportunity here to seize the day.”
In terms of Lovett-Doust’s own particular brand of teaching, one of his students says she looks forward to his classes because he is an “amazing lecturer” and “there [is] never a dull moment.”
“I try to see things as much as I can in terms of how students will be seeing the things that I talk about, and care about,” says Lovett-Doust. “And I have constantly to remind myself that each year the undergraduates, at least, remain nineteen to twenty-four, even as I age inexorably into fogeydom; this means that one is constantly wanting to update the hooks and other contextual references which will, hopefully, bring any initial relevance that there may be to the material. Students come into our teaching factory relatively naïve, seeking meaning. I try to feed that desire for meaning, and for intellectual worth and validation, by referring in the first instance to familiar notions and realities that already have some meaning for them.
“Receiving the OCUFA Teaching Award was deeply meaningful and satisfying to me, and also a very pleasant experience at the ceremony in Toronto, where I felt alternately impressed and humbled by the other five awardees, including Windsor’s Ian Crawford in particular. For me as a professor, it is especially nice to be recognized for my teaching, given the importance to me of the art and craft of teaching. Teaching is primus inter pares among the professorial responsibilities, ahead even of the research endeavour itself, which I also love and which, surely, underpins why many of us chose this business in the first place. The OCUFA Award is satisfying because it means to me that my teaching philosophy is appreciated.
“Perhaps not surprisingly, the greatest number of OCUFA Awards go to professors from education – to those for whom teaching, including in particular its scholarly side, the researching and systematic probing of the art – is the job. We can all learn a great deal from these colleagues, and I am impressed by the focus of our own folks, those like Dr. Crawford, and the Dean of the Faculty of Education, Dr. Rogers.”
Education Professor Ian Crawford has been teaching for 35 years and is known for motivating his students by encouraging dialogue and reflection in the classroom.
“In general I focus my teaching strategies on six factors,” says Crawford, “student-centred instruction, hands-on/minds-on learning, authentic problem-based/issue-based learning, inquiry approaches, emphasis on communication skills, and ongoing, embedded, authentic assessment.”
Crawford’s students are especially appreciative of his use of reflective journals and in-class group discussions. A colleague says Crawford’s “teaching prowess is legendary among faculty, students and local teachers.”
“I view teaching as the creation of an environment in which students are engaged in their own learning,” states Crawford. “The constructivist philosophy is central to my teaching.”
“Within such an environment, students are exposed to different forms of instruction: direct, indirect, interactive, experiential and individual. Experiential instruction includes use of games, model building, simulations, skits, experiments, and dramatizations, while individual instruction might involve journaling, projects and reports. Interactive instruction, the kind that engages students, is particularly important in the classroom setting, and involves debates, role-playing, guided discussion, investigative groups, cooperative learning, forums, panels, buzz groups, and problem-solving groups.
“I believe that teaching must engage the student in the material, in the learning process, and in each other’s intellectual development. Engaged students begin to take responsibility for their own learning. Engaged students welcome opportunities to inquire and learn how “real-science” works. The ability to ask questions, hypothesize, and explore solutions is the foundation of every scientific discipline. Collaborative learning emulates “real-world” science. Memorization and unconnected snippets of knowledge do not lead to a scientifically literate individual. If students cannot grasp the Hows and Whys, in addition to the Whats, then their knowledge is of little use. Understanding how each concept taught fits into a larger picture and is directly connected to their lives helps students to construct knowledge for themselves.”
Dr. Lovett-Doust, too, believes this idea of collaboration is important among students, but perhaps equally so among and between faculty.
“I view teaching as the creation of an environment in which students are engaged in their own learning.”
“At Windsor, and maybe at most places,” he states, “one rarely experiences one’s colleagues in the classroom – in action, so to speak, making it that much harder to become more broadly experienced about it. Culturally, teaching has very low visibility on our campus, considering its overwhelming importance. This is a bit of a mystery to me, really. The CFL often runs programs for fewer than ten faculty members. The teaching culture needs more active academic leadership, and further support, to grow.
“We infrequently indulge in team teaching, or co-teaching with more than one faculty member in the classroom. Most of us do mostly solitary teaching. Yet team teaching, with two teachers in the classroom – for example, freshman-seminar leaders meeting collectively, or two professors sharing a course – is a highly effective teaching mode, where pedagogical payoffs can be non-linear. And it is a rich learning time for teachers; I learned important teaching tools from colleagues with whom I shared courses."
So, too, have Dr. Lovett-Doust’s students learned important tools from him. He is known in Windsor as an exceptional teacher and lifelong mentor. Another student, now an associate professor, says “I consider him as my teacher for life.”
“I value mentoring as much as the classroom pedagogy, though the numbers are obviously smaller,” says Lovett-Doust. “But these particular young people are the next generation of our professional thinkers. They are our institution’s purest products; and the path to a Ph.D. and then to an assistant professorship, and tenure, etcetera, is a very long and often difficult one. Mentoring is very important at every stage but mostly at the undergraduate stage, when young people are searching for inner light. Moreover, the maxim about ‘publish or perish’ is all too true, and early publication helps hugely. Later, the importance of securing support for your ideas from NSERC and SSHRC can be overwhelming. The friendship, support and guidance of someone who has been there, and who knows how things are, can be very important in sustaining and developing young people during the extended business of intellectual maturation. Plus, there’s the obvious: your students’ success represents your own success.
“Teaching is a terrific opportunity and I cherish it. Just today I got an email from a former student who has now nearly completed his doctorate and seeks a letter in support of his application for an assistant professorship at Toronto. This is a real thrill for me and represents a rewarding personal element of the job. Some of the ideas which that student will promulgate will be partly mine. We reach beyond.”
Laura Gould is a Windsor area writer, instructor, visual artist, and guest editor for this inaugural issue of reFLEXions.