Teaching Excellence Awards

 Year Awarded: 2016

Faculty Award winner

Beatriz Reyes-Foster

 College of Sciences

 Anthropology

Making the Normal Strange: Cultivating Critical Thinking

President Hitt's goal of offering the best undergraduate education in Florida goes hand in hand with the goal of making UCF more inclusive and diverse; the very foundations of anthropology are premised on inclusivity and diversity. To me, teaching Anthropology is about "making the familiar strange and the strange familiar." Much of the material I use in my classes is already conducive to challenging students' previously unquestioned assumptions about concepts like "gender," "race" and "language." I want students to walk away from my classes with a keener understanding of the world around them, both in their immediate lived experiences and in a global sense. Understanding that there are multiple ways of seeing the world - and that one's own way is not necessarily better - opens students' minds to the richness and possibilities of the human experience. My courses demand that students question their assumptions. This results in the promotion of critical thinking and reflection. By "making the normal strange," I try to turn my students into engaged citizens better prepared to live in a globalized society, what I consider to be the ultimate goal of an undergraduate education.

By the same token, challenging students' unquestioned assumptions at times results in discomfort. Although discomfort is necessary for personal and intellectual growth, I also strive to foster an environment of curiosity, intellectual engagement, inclusion, and respect in my classroom, thus supporting the goal of making UCF more inclusive and diverse. I want my students to see my classroom as a challenging yet safe environment where every voice is heard but every opinion must be supported by evidence. I design my classroom curricula with these learning objectives: 1) recognize the culturally constructed nature of most social institutions 2) develop the ability to evaluate information using critical thinking 3) to design, execute and write up research and 4) to apply the concepts learned in class to their own lives and immediate realities.

Leveraging Research and Technology for Authentic Learning

UCF offers a unique opportunity to leverage technology to design effective online and offline teaching strategies. As an anthropologist, I believe in designing evidence-based assignments and in systematically researching their effectiveness. This has led me to conduct Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) research in my classroom, allowing me to continually update and improve my assignments and assessments. Tools available on the Webcourses Learning Management System allow me to design creative assignments that engage students in new and unexpected ways. Moreover, my assignment and assessment design is informed by the principles of Universal Design for Learning, a pedagogical approach that is inclusive of different learning styles and abilities. Thus, assessment in courses is evenly divided between exams, written assignments, and graded discussions, and I present information in the form of in-class lectures, online module content, and audio-visual materials. I also strive to make all my teaching materials as accessible as possible.