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Washington State University
CAS Connect January 2015

Innovative educators join WSU Teaching Academy

Teaching innovation comes in many shapes and forms. Whether it’s an impromptu trip to an archaeological dig or insects offered for entomology students to taste, innovations in and outside the classroom motivate students to excel.

Teaching Academy medal
New WSU Teaching Academy members received medallions at the recent induction ceremony.

Ten College of Arts and Sciences educators were recognized recently for their innovative and passionate approaches to teaching and were inducted to WSU’s prestigious Teaching Academy.

Established in 2004, the academy’s mission is to recognize teaching excellence at WSU and to provide University-wide advocacy for an outstanding undergraduate educational experience at a research university. The 10 CAS faculty were among 25 members inducted this year.

“The members of the Teaching Academy make a difference each day to the thousands of students they teach and the other faculty members they mentor,” said Daniel Bernardo, WSU provost and executive vice president, as he welcomed the inductees.

“Each of you has that unique component to your instruction that motivates your students,” Bernardo said. “All of the members exemplify teaching excellence.”

CAS educators inducted into the Teaching Academy
  • Andrea Aebersold, clinical assistant professor, English (Tri-Cities)
  • Cassandra Gulam, instructor, Spanish language and culture (Vancouver)
  • Clif Stratton, assistant clinical professor, history (Pullman)
  • Donelle “Dee” Posey, clinical assistant professor, psychology (Pullman)
  • Kate Watts, instructor, English, (Pullman)
  • Mark Swanson, associate professor, environment (Pullman)
  • Nick Cerruti, senior instructor, physics and astronomy (Pullman)
  • Sabine Davis, instructor, foreign languages and cultures (Pullman)
  • Samantha Swindell, clinical associate professor, psychology (Pullman)
  • Sheila Converse, clinical assistant professor, music (Pullman)

The December induction ceremony marked the first time in seven years new members were admitted to the academy. Applicant requirements included at least three years of WSU teaching experience, two letters of recommendation, a teaching-effectiveness summary, and two short anecdotes about funny experiences, eye-opening epiphanies, and/or lessons learned from teaching failures.

Here’s what a few of the new Teaching Academy members from CAS had to say:

Donelle “Dee” Posey, clinical assistant professor, psychology

donelle_posey_110x165Because teaching is a human endeavor, it will inherently lead to the occasional mistake. I was preparing for an in-class activity in the statistical comparison between distributions by asking students to make a list of psychology related terms.  It was important that the lists vary in length and accuracy. I agreed to a student’s request to consult one of their textbooks before considering that they would all generate longer and more accurate lists. It was too late to reverse and I was at a loss as to how I might salvage the activity. I had to think fast. At last, it hit me! The same statistical concept the original activity was meant to illustrate could be addressed using a mock fantasy football league. Students drew players randomly from a hat to form their fantasy football teams. Using statistical analyses, they compared their teams’ performance to determine a winner. It was a hit with the students and has been in my teaching repertoire ever since. The lesson from this is that by having an appreciation for the material that one teaches and an interest and investment in students’ learning, even a failed activity can be revised to achieve one’s goals of effective teaching.

Cliff Stratton, assistant clinical professor, history

Clif StrattonIn fall 2013, I assigned students to small groups of five for the semester, mostly for the purposes of facilitating in-class discussion. But groups were also to complete a visual historical timeline that integrated all of the topics and processes we’d covered during the semester. The evening before their first draft was due, I visited the residence hall where most of my First Year Focus students resided to check in on their progress. I showed up in casual attire —jeans, a flannel shirt, and Converse—as opposed to my usual suit. Most groups were hard at work, discussing layout, etc. Some students recognized me immediately, but as I made my rounds, it took several of them a long time to notice that it was their professor who was in the room. One student was so taken aback, they remarked: “Whoa, you’re like a real person.” The lesson here is that fake people wear suits.

Kate Watts, instructor, English

Katie WattsWhile in graduate school, I had the opportunity to teach English 101 and 102 at the University of Idaho. On the first day of class—my first day as a teacher—a young man in my 101 section proudly revealed that he had never read an entire book. When I analyzed his announcement later, I realized my naivety. Not everyone reads for pleasure. And, not everyone connects naturally with books. Not every student is thrilled to begin researching and drafting an essay. On some level, I knew that students don’t love writing and reading the way I do, but the comment, dripping with disdain and a hint of a challenge, spurred me to rethink my curriculum and to rethink daily lesson plans.  While initially dismayed by that young man’s comment, I wish I could go back and thank him for his honesty. I knew, from the beginning, that some students saw my course as another hoop to jump through and as something not worth their time. His candor saved me from several blunders.

Spring events

Teaching Academy events this spring will include several faculty-led workshops about e-learning as a way to improve student outcomes.

The recently academy presented its annual Graduate Teaching Workshop, sponsored by the WSU Graduate School, which focuses on classroom strategies, leadership in laboratory instruction, teaching large classes, and how to assess student performance.