illustration of head filled with mechanical gears

UTM faculty recognized for excellence in the classroom

Thursday, April 2, 2015 - 11:52am
Blake Eligh

Innovation in the classroom has earned well-deserved accolades for three U of T Mississauga faculty members who won three of six Early Career Teaching Awards presented to U of T faculty last week. Biology lecturer and associate chair Fiona Rawle and historical studies assistant professor Kyle Smith each received Early Career Teaching Awards, and English and drama lecturer Chester Scoville was recognized with a Teaching Fellowship.

The awards recognize faculty who demonstrate an exceptional commitment to student learning, pedagogical engagement and teaching innovation at U of T. Candidates must be within their first five years of their academic appointment, and have completed two years of teaching at U of T.

“The UTM community should be very proud that three of its own have been honoured by the University of Toronto for their teaching,” said Amy Mullin, Vice-Principal, Academic and Dean. “Nominations were received on behalf of faculty in many divisions across our university, and the process of selection was very competitive.”

Fiona RawleFiona Rawle - Early Career Teaching Award

Biology lecturer Fiona Rawle, who teaches about 1,400 students every year in genetics and molecular pathology courses at UTM, was lauded for her commitment to science outreach and education. Known for her keen interest in understanding how students learn about science, Rawle says she takes an evidence-based approach to her work, incorporating teaching methods that have been proven effective in the classroom and designing courses that are engaging, relevant and fun. In an exercise in her genetics course, students create a DNA molecule with their bodies—a gymnastic endeavour that ensures students will never forget the lesson. She holds “walking office hours” and invites students to discuss their concerns on outdoor strolls around the UTM campus. Rawle created a professional development program for biology students, and a program to help first year science students with the transition to university life. “She consistently incorporates case studies and other means of active learning in her teaching,” Mullin says. “These projects, and her commitment to strenuous review of curricular matters, have led her to make important contributions to the scholarship of teaching and learning.”

Rawle hopes to inspire future researchers who can take on big issues, like climate change, through science. “Science isn’t a collection of facts you need to memorize—it’s a way of learning about the world around you,” she says. “My hope is to inspire students to study these areas and come up with solutions to these challenges.”


Kyle SmithKyle Smith - Early Career Teaching Award

Kyle Smith, an assistant professor with UTM’s Historical Studies department, was recognized for his multi-media approach to teaching. Smith, whose research focus is early Christianity and martyrdom, is only half-joking when he says he models his teaching style on Daily Show comedian Jon Stewart. He says using comic relief in the classroom helps to explore difficult questions and ensures his course content is relevant to modern students.

“He has significantly reshaped how Christianity is taught at UTM, and never forgets that Christianity is a geographically as well as religiously diverse tradition,” Mullin says of Smith’s work. “He aims in his teaching to encourage students to follow their curiosity into becoming increasingly disciplined thinkers, readers and writers.”

Smith’s course materials link the ancient to the modern, and might use clips of modern-day beauty makeover shows to help explain the gender constructs of ancient Greek texts about harlots. He has also developed a second-year introduction to Christianity course that is delivered entirely online, but he cautions against mistaking information for education. “Content is the cracker upon which the caviar—thinking, reading and writing—is served,” he says. “If students acquire the means to ask the bigger historical questions and make connections, then I will have done my job.”


Chester Scoville – Teaching Fellowship

Chester ScovilleEnglish and drama lecturer Chester Scoville was recognized with one of two teaching fellowships. The fellowship, which will run as a pilot project during the 2015/2016 academic year, includes a $2,500 grant and a year-long residency at the Centre for Teaching Support & Innovation. The residency is meant to help faculty members to develop and cultivate leadership and mentoring skills, capacity-building to support teaching effectiveness, pedagogical innovation and pedagogical research.

Scoville will use the fellowship to revamp an existing second-year course on rhetoric. He plans to develop a web-based textbook that will take advantage of the active learning classrooms currently in the Davis Building and planned for the second phase of the Deerfield Hall redevelopment. “The classrooms have enormous possibilities, but there’s not a lot of material developed for their use,” he says. The new course will incorporate new technology, interactive exercises and student-built wikis which Scoville says will encourage the interactive problem-solving and group work that he sees as vital to humanities study.

“It’s important to adapt the pedagogy to new surroundings to take advantage of the technology and geography of the new classroom spaces,” he says. “In humanities, we interpret cultural artifacts, such as texts, but that’s done best on a small scale. I want to help students think through the process of interpreting cultural artifacts and find a way to communicate with their peers.” Scoville plans to test the revised course in the classroom in Spring 2016.

“He is a superlative teacher at all levels of the English curriculum, from his large first year courses in narrative or literature to smaller upper year courses on writers such as Chaucer,” says Mullin. “We expect his work to be a model for highly interactive, digitally enriched classroom education in the humanities and more broadly at UTM.”