Teaching Excellence Awards

 Year Awarded: 2015

Faculty Award winner

Alisha Janowsky

 College of Sciences

 Psychology

Students enter my classroom with intuitions about "why people do what they do." No matter the course modality or class enrollment, my goal is to challenge these ideas and get students thinking "like scientists." To that end, I encourage students to share and then reassess their theories in light of course content. I also find that making material self-relevant encourages students to critically evaluate what they are learning. Then, no matter how challenging they find the curriculum, students become enthusiastic about their learning, making their class experience more meaningful. To reach these objectives I reframe the classroom as a learning community by providing an environment where students feel comfortable sharing and exploring. My straightforward but approachable persona ensures students know course expectations, objectives, and policies. Students take responsibility for their education and take comfort that I will not make policy exceptions for one that are not made for all. With firm standards in place, I establish an atmosphere that is open, fair, exciting, entertaining, and informative; an environment which provides students the tools necessary to achieve their goals.

I embrace universal design ideals and accommodate multiple learning styles. I inject my own life experiences into discussions to encourage reciprocal self-disclosure. I use cartoons, current events, and YouTube clips to bring the "real world" into class discussions. Students analyze these examples in one-minute papers, online discussions, small groups, or as a whole and use anonymous polling technologies to encourage even shy students to participate. At first they are happy to have breaks from lectures, but they soon recognize that course concepts are applicable outside of the classroom. This moves the conversation to a higher level as they more critically consider how the class applies to their lives and communities. I utilize a myriad of assessment strategies from traditional testing to writing assignments, group discussions and projects, and peer review. Using this variety of assessment tools allows students to facilitate their own learning, appreciate working with a diverse population, improve their written and oral communication skills, and become informed consumers of information.

In sum, my philosophy is that educators need to move beyond the "sage on the stage" model. To reach our students we must engage them, establish rapport, hold their attention, and create an open learning atmosphere. To avoid the distance that can come from large and online classes, I create learning communities by sharing my life, humor, successes, failures, and general enthusiasm for my subject and profession and encourage students to do the same. By setting and maintaining high, consistent standards and encouraging critical thinking about psychology, students leave my classes with a knowledge and appreciation for research and diversity and on a path toward achieving their personal and professional goals.