Teaching Excellence Awards

 Year Awarded: 2004

Faculty Award winner

Jane Waterman

 College of Arts and Sciences

 Biology

Science is like a mystery novel; one looks for the solutions to puzzles. I try to bring science alive to my classes, to show them that science is always a work in progress and that it is exciting. I think it is important to integrate my own research into the classroom, as research and teaching are synergistic activities, and I often use data I have personally collected to illustrate topics being covered in class. My passion and enthusiasm for what I study and the research questions I address help excite students about class material. My philosophy is that even though the student may be taking my class to learn specifics about a particular topic in Biology, they will also leave the course with a greater understanding of how good science is done, how to design experiments and how to critically evaluate the evidence given to support or reject a hypothesis. Teaching such critical thinking skills not only helps students to evaluate what they are learning currently, but also provides greater self-confidence in their own reasoning abilities.

My teaching methods emphasize interaction with and among students through cooperative learning, class discussion, and encouraging active student input. Learning should not be a passive activity, and students respond positively when they are encouraged to participate more actively in the learning process. I work hard to create an environment where students feel comfortable verbalizing their thoughts. Encouraging them to ask questions will help them develop scientifically because that is what scientists do, ask questions. Even in my large lecture classes, I still use group discussion. When students can vocalize their ideas to a peer before the entire class discusses the topic, they are more confident in participating in the overall class discussion. Promoting a more active classroom keeps students attentive, focused, and interested, which helps them to process and integrate new material. Synthesis is important. Too often students see their courses as separate entities and do not put the pieces together in the larger puzzle of science. In classes like General Biology, where many non-majors students are required to take the course, I emphasize real world examples and relate what I am teaching to their lives. Giving students the chance to synthesize, evaluate, and integrate ideas and concepts at any stage of their university experience will help them to grow and develop intellectually.

Regardless of the course topic I am teaching, I approach lectures with a sense of humor and spontaneity. The biggest compliment I have ever received for my teaching occurred last spring, when I had students attending General Biology that were not registered in the course. At first they attended because they enjoyed my sense of humor but some of them stayed because they enjoyed learning about biology. Motivating students to learn is my primary role as a teacher, and I work hard at this challenge.