U of T Mississauga sociology professor Jayne Baker is among four U of T faculty awarded the 2017-2018 Early Career Teaching Award from the Office of the Vice-President & Provost. The annual award recognizes faculty members who demonstrate exceptional commitment to student learning, pedagogical engagement and teaching innovation.
Baker, who has been an assistant professor, teaching stream with UTM’s Department of Sociology since 2012, says she is delighted to receive the award, which will be bestowed at a ceremony in the fall of 2018. “I’m really honoured to be recognized for the work that I’m doing,” she says.
Baker was the first-ever teaching stream professor hired to the department and splits her time between teaching, research and curriculum development. Her expertise includes researching techniques to increase student learning in research and writing, developing strategies to prepare first year students for testing and design, and implementation of curriculum mapping. She is an active member of the sociology curriculum committee, leading course reviews and curriculum development. Through it all, her focus is on engaging sociology students and ensuring they have the best possible learning experience.
“I love to see students develop the same enthusiasm for the discipline that I have,” she says. “I never want them to think that they’re just a number.”
Baker characterizes her approach as “an enthusiasm-based” model of teaching. “I see a lot of students, from their first introduction to sociology all the way to their fourth year,” she says, noting that it’s an exciting challenge to tailor her course material to engage students at different stages of their education and in classes ranging from 12 to 500 students. “You have to think in creative ways to nurture that enthusiasm,” she says. “In a big group, there are structural constraints, so I have to be conscious of how I engage them. In a small room of upper year students who already have foundational knowledge to build from, I can focus on helping them to think about how they can apply the material to their personal experiences.”
Baker’s research into the scholarship of teaching and learning and the sociology of education allows her to study the results of tweaks to her classroom delivery and curriculum changes. A recent study investigated how facilitated pre-test preparation affects the outcome of test performance for first-year sociology students.
“For many of the students in the introductory course, the first test will be their first-ever university level test,” Baker says. “Part of the students’ anxiety involves what the questions are going to look like.” Baker developed facilitated pre-test tutorials where students worked with a teaching assistant on practice questions delivered on a lottery-style scratch card. Another group prepared for the test remotely, answering questions via an online quiz on Blackboard. Baker’s results showed that students who participated in the facilitated preparation sessions performed better on the actual test than students who did not participate in the program. “We found that participating does lead to better outcomes in test performance,” she says, adding that focus group interviews revealed that students found getting together in-person especially helpful.
She is always looking for new ways to involve undergraduate and graduate student researchers in her work, including students enrolled in UTM’s Research Opportunity Program. In one such project, Baker and her student research team reviewed Baker’s 200-level “Sociology of Education” course. “I was looking for ways to include more gender and sexual diversity,” she says. “I like to involve students, so they can experience a close association with the research process.”
Baker’s next project includes collaborating with UTM colleague Nathan Innocente, assistant professor, teaching stream. The duo are at work on an innovative new introduction to sociology text to be published by Nelson Education in 2020. Although the book will include a print run, Baker says the project is a “first-of-its-kind” publication with a “digital-first” focus on interactive exercises and videos to help students put their knowledge to the test.
“In a given year, I see about 1,500 students and manage 14 teaching assistants,” she says. “It’s busy, but I really like it, and hope that I’m engaging students in my own enthusiasm for the discipline, and facilitating their education as they move through UTM.”
“It’s always been about the teaching, for me,” says Baker, who originally thought she might become a high school English teacher. “I couldn’t have made a better job for myself. This award is the really big cherry on top of a huge sundae.”
Baker’s work is funded in part by the UTM Teaching Development and Innovation Grant and the UTM Teaching Development Travel Grant, both from the Office of the Vice-Principal, Academic and Dean. Baker’s Early Career Teaching Award also gives her $3,000 for professional development.