Trio of educators concoct winning formula
Michael Brown & Noreen Remtulla
In just one year, the group saw students’ ratings of the new and improved introductory class in biochemistry jump up to the 75th percentile this year from the 50th percentile rank it received in 2009.
Professors Rachel Milner, Jonathon Parrish and Adrienne Wright, who were recently awarded with the University of Alberta Teaching Unit Award—an award designed to recognize teaching excellence as a result of the collaboration of instructors—have spent the past five years improving the curriculum and presentation of the 200- and 300-level biochemistry classes. Organized as a teaching unit to bring consistency across every class, the trio says they try to emphasize the preparation of students for the higher-level courses and also get them to truly enjoy learning how the science of biochemistry leads to better medical treatments.
“You can never be good enough,” said Wright. “We have to listen to the students and keep moving and changing to improve the course.”
“You have to always encourage your students to improve, go further and jump higher.”
Parrish agreed, adding the Teaching Unit Award is about the Biochemistry Student Services group working together. “It gives us a new standard to maintain and exceed,” he said.
Milner, who is also this year’s recipient of the William Hardy Alexander Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching, which recognizes excellence in undergraduate teaching by academic staff, says learning comes by ways of sharing and conversation.
“Teaching is a conversation—you do better when you have people off whom to bounce ideas.”
Milner adds it is also important to hear oneself from the student’s perspective, to get some feedback while teaching and to make sure of effective communication.“I try to let the students know what is expected of them, and help them get there, with encouragement or whatever else is necessary to try and help them to achieve or meet expectations,” said Milner. “I want to make sure the students feel they have someone to talk to them and discuss things with them.”
At the University of Alberta Teaching Awards reception held on May 4 in the Timms Centre for the Arts, Carl Amrhein, provost and vice-president (academic) said the positive impact that excellence in teaching has on everyone is invaluable.
“[Teaching] is hard work. It demands energy, passion and continuing commitment. When it’s done well, teaching instills a zest for learning, which in turn instills a zest for life, a curiosity and a sense of purpose,” said Amrhein.