Massey names its top teachers for 2011

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Dr Mark Henrickson

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Dr Nigel Parsons

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Dr Gina Salapata

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Neil Ward

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Dr Brennon Wood

The Vice-Chancellor’s Awards for Teaching Excellence 2011 have been announced. There are three winners of sustained commitment to teaching excellence awards – Dr Mark Henrickson, Dr Nigel Parsons and Dr Gina Salapata – who are the University’s nominees for this year’s National Tertiary Teaching Excellence Awards.

The other award winners are: Professor Tony Signal, for excellence in teaching first-year students, Neil Ward, for excellence in teaching support, and Dr Brennon Wood, the Darrylin O’Dea Award in the field of e-learning.

Dr Mark Henrickson, from the School of Health and Social Services in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, has a portfolio that documents a commitment to social work education based on 20 years experience as a clinician and manager in health and mental health social work, and a passion to develop students as authentic practitioners.

The awards judging panels says authenticity, integrity and respect are core values for Dr Henrickson, and he models these values in the classroom to inspire his students to achieve and be more than they thought possible. Students recognise Dr Henrickson’s passionate commitment to their learning, welfare, and development. He has been nominated as Albany lecturer of the year every year since 2006, and his students express their deepest admiration for his teaching through formal feedback channels, unsolicited emails, and other recommendations. One student writes: “Your treatment of the subject of change, loss, grief and death was stunning. Stunning in its content, its sensitivity, and most of all in the way you made yourself transparent in your sharing of your personal times of grief.”

Perhaps the most moving testimonies came from international students who describe Dr Henrickson’s support for their learning as a lifeline: “During those darkest periods, it was Mark Henrickson who lit a candle for me to escape…Because of his teaching, I learnt how I could transfer my distressful experiences as an Asian immigrant to use my unique strengths.”

Dr Henrickson’s portfolio demonstrates his use of innovative learning and assessment tools. Moreover, he endeavours to create a safe environment that enables students to bring their own life experience to classroom activities. His colleagues attest to his organisation and efficiency, and his contribution to the programme as a whole, his leadership in pedagogy and curriculum design, and his willingness to go the extra mile for colleagues and students.

It is clear from the students’ comments and those of his colleagues that Dr Henrickson brings a unique presence to the classroom that makes him an exceptional teacher.

Dr Nigel Parsons, from the School of People, Environment and Planning in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, describes his teaching style as informed by experience, training, “irresistible” course material, and an aspiration to empower his students. His teaching portfolio documents the achievements of a gifted teacher, whose classes are relevant, informative, research-driven, well-conceived and tremendous fun. His students respond with genuine enthusiasm and delight. Voted Massey University Students Association [Manawatu campus] lecturer of the year in 2009, comments about him included: “He’s the best teacher ever” and “This course rocks!”

Dr Parsons aims to equip his students with a conceptual toolkit and an appreciation of local and international politics. He develops interactive classroom activities, such as debates, role play, vocabulary games, quizzes and online activities, and has applied unique classroom activities such as “the board rush” and “backs-to-the-board”. He has shared these activities with his colleagues in different disciplines, who report back with enthusiasm on their impact in their classrooms.

Dr Parsons has taken a leadership role in reconceptualising the politics curriculum. He contributes to the University’s teaching and learning circles, and also supports activities outside the classroom, such as the students’ association politics club.

A senior colleague comments that Dr Parsons is “one of the most brilliant teachers I have encountered” and the awards judging panel concurred, seeing in Dr Parsons an engaging, thoughtful, and inspirational teacher. In presenting the Vice-Chancellor’s award for Sustained Commitment to Teaching Excellence, the panel also has pleasure in nominating Dr Parsons as a Massey nominee for a National Tertiary Teaching Excellence Award.

Dr Gina Salapata, from the School of History, Philosophy and Classics in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, is described as an innovative and creative teacher who strives to pass on to her students her own delight in the ancient world. She sees classical studies as a subject that opens students' minds to new ways of seeing the world, enabling them to "expand their intellectual horizons and enrich their lives by gleaning new meanings from old materials”.

She uses a variety of strategies to engage students. She has designed unique online tools and humorous cartoons, and uses artefacts, sculpture charades and modelling of ancient dress to convey, in a tactile fashion, the experience of ancient cultures.

Her assessments are equally innovative: in one course, students design "spells", and in another, students have the option of submitting drawings of modern events using the conventions of the Geometric style of painting. Such assessments not only develop students' critical skills, they also engage their creativity and ability to think laterally.

Dr Salapata's commitment to extending understanding of the ancient world goes beyond the university classroom: she has organised classical tours, Greek dancing classes, and has initiated and led Classics Days for Year 13 students.

One of the things Dr Salapata tells her students as she encourages them to sharpen their observation skills is that "looking is not as easy as it looks". Students and colleagues alike are fulsome in their praise of her dedication and skill as a teacher. The panel saw in Dr Salapata a teacher of outstanding stature.

Professor Tony Signal, from the Institute of Fundamental Sciences in the College of Sciences, has a teaching portfolio that documents the development of a careful, thoughtful teacher faced with the difficult task of teaching a challenging subject to a large class of first-year students. Observing that students come into his classes with a range of preparedness and motivation, and often with negative experiences and expectation of what physics involves, Professor Signal eschews traditional teaching methods in favour of interactive classes, activities designed to promote student engagement, and large doses of humour.

His belief that education is about more than just gaining information and technical skills has led Professor Signal to design his courses to engage his students in discussion about the role of science and technology in transforming human society.

He sees demonstrations as an essential method of making concepts more concrete in students’ minds. One example involves using a black belt martial arts expert to throw him over his shoulder during a lecture and the judging panel thought Professor Signal’s comment, that “the sight of this lecturer being flipped over is quite memorable for students, and reinforces the concept of torque in a spectacular fashion”, was probably something of an understatement. Student comments concur: “Great class interaction. Good explanations when asked for help. Awesome demonstrations, especially getting flipped to the floor!” Another student said: “He communicated well, was inspiring, funny, and let us know exactly what was expected of us.”

Professor Signal is thoughtful and creative in his use of technology, especially in his pioneering use of clicker technology to promote student engagement and peer instruction.

Overall, the panel was impressed by Professor Signal’s devotion to student engagement, his commitment and ability to convey his love of his subject to his students, and his thoughtful approach to a challenging but rewarding task.

Neil Ward, from the Institute of Veterinary, Animal and Biomedical Sciences in the College of Sciences, has a portfolio that documents a career of more than 40 years, in which he has provided support to several generations of academic staff in the college.

His initiatives are extensive. He has been involved in developing and improving student practical work for a wide range of courses, and designed and developed new equipment for exercise science practical work. He led a group of technicians, who were early adopters of technology in teaching and research laboratories, and has overseen and managed the development of virtual experiments. He developed an anatomy museum, and has recently initiated the development of a website which shares computer-assisted learning resources with other teaching institutions.

A primary concern for Mr Ward has been the care and welfare of animals in laboratory work, and he has been innovative in the use of new technologies that reduce the number of animals needed for teaching. In 2007, he received an award from the Australia and New Zealand Council for the Care of Animals for the significant contribution he has made to the welfare of animals used in teaching and research.

While Mr Ward always maintains that he works in a team to develop and support teaching, his colleagues’ assessment of his contribution to those teams suggests that he goes well beyond the call of duty. He is described as “the cornerstone for the development and delivery of laboratory-based physiology teaching” and “the glue that holds our labs together”. Another colleague comments: “Without Neil’s continuing enthusiasm, expertise and commitment to teaching and learning, our group would be unable to offer our students the quality of science education that they currently receive.”

The panel, in assessing Mr Ward’s commitment to teaching support, felt that there could not be a more worthy recipient of this award and commended his dedication, his willingness to design innovative teaching solutions to teaching problems, and his support of his colleagues.

Dr Brennon Wood, from the School of People, Environment and Planning in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, describes his vision of e-learning as one “that respects the autonomy of natural individuals and unlocks the pleasures and powers of this collaboration”.

He has set the standard for how the University’s e-learning platform, Stream, can be used to provide students with a fully integrated online learning experience, and his work has been showcased as exemplary practice in multiple contexts such as the Vice-Chancellor’s Symposia on teaching, the Vice Chancellor’s Roadshow, and Massey University’s professional development programme. Dr Wood’s portfolio demonstrates why his work in e-learning is held in such high regard. He uses Stream to promote collaboration between teachers, to deliver blended learning in innovative ways, and to provide flexible, personalised teaching with multiple pathways.

Using Stream to develop innovative forms of assessment, Dr Wood prefers brief but frequent online assessments over more traditional forms of assessment. Of particular note is his use of a glossary to publish student work and create a resource for the entire class.  He says digital media do not, in themselves, produce quality, but are powerful tools, which create new moments in which teachers and students encounter one another. The judging panel noted that his portfolio demonstrates not only a commitment to e-learning but also a commitment to learning as a social process, with the relationship between teacher and student at the heart of it.

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