Personality of a problem solver

November 21, 2016

Ross Shaw receives 2016 Distinguished Teaching Award

Four faculty members received one of MacEwan University’s highest honours in 2016 for outstanding teaching and their commitment to education leadership. Raymond Baril, Constanza Pacher, Holly Symonds-Brown and Ross Shaw are the most recent Distinguished Teaching Award recipients.

Your prof could be next! Nominations for 2017 Distinguished Teaching Awards are open until December 15, 2016.

story_image-DTA_Ross_ShawRoss Shaw’s first teaching experiences were in veterinary school, leading a lab of vet students as they studied cat anatomy, and in a health fish lab at the University of Maine. The university enrolled graduate students like Ross in a two-year intensive program learning how to teach. He says teaching in lab settings is different than teaching in a classroom because of the direct interaction with students.

Or maybe it has more to do with how the Biological Sciences assistant professor approaches teaching—after all, he did receive a 2016 Distinguished Teaching Award. 

“Every day we see living things, and we all have a basic interest in that,” he says. “When the material relates to us as individuals, we’re interested and more likely to engage with the information we’re learning.”

He says that witnessing the success that comes from igniting a student’s interest in biology is what he enjoys the most. “People call it the light bulb going on, but it’s much more than that. If I have students in other disciplines become so interested they want to pursue studies in my field, ultimately that’s one of the most rewarding experiences for me.”

With any reward, there are challenges, like teaching multiple classes of students who ask exactly the same questions. Fortunately, Ross is a problem solver. “If you keep getting common questions, you have to ask yourself, ‘Where’s the break in communication?’ Often it’s how we’re getting the information to them.”

The key to student success is ... teaching each other.” ROSS SHAW 

So Ross has some clever ways of presenting information to his students, like using FAQs and encouraging students to teach each other.

“Peer teaching has been shown in research to be very effective,” he says. “The key to their success is not only talking to me or other faculty members, but teaching each other.”

Students form study groups, work through class material and quiz each other. Students write group exams or two-stage exams in all his courses now. An individual student takes an exam on their own, then joins their exam group to re-write the same exam in the same exam time period. Students learn “what they didn’t know” immediately, and retain the information much more effectively.

“They are doing the same things that they do in an exam, but it’s in a social situation. They want to do well. While they may not know all the material, afterwards, they are more likely to remember the things they didn’t know because they learn from their mistakes.”

Students (and how their faculty members connect with them) change over time, so Ross says it’s important to stay student focused.

“One of the key things is relating to students—asking them how and what they are thinking, and helping them feel comfortable. As students change over time, you should be willing to follow with that change and adapt to find ways that address how they are interested in learning.”

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