Teaching Spotlight

2013 Metcalf Cup and Prize Awardee

Deborah Vaughan

School of Medicine, Anatomy and Neurobiology

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Vaughan (GRS’72) pioneered computer-based exams at MED and early on adopted other technology to quiz students in lectures and discussion groups. Now, conveying old-fashioned medical professionalism while seizing new-fashioned technology has won the professor of anatomy and neurobiology the 2013 Metcalf Cup and Prize, the University’s highest teaching honor.

“I was astonished” to learn of the award, says Vaughan, director of MED’s course in medical histology, the microscopic study of tissues. In addition to recognizing her innovations, she says, the award reflects “the strong support of MED for teaching, and especially the support of our talented educational technology personnel.”

For Vaughan, the human touch is every bit as important as machines are. Also MED’s assistant dean for admissions, she tries to meet personally with students, many of whom “have not previously experienced a faculty member who reaches out to them,” she says. And although she holds a PhD rather than an MD, she believes she can still “model the professionalism we attempt to develop in our students. I am available to them, I communicate readily and in a timely manner, and the respect I have for all my students is apparent to them.…I invite struggling students to meet with me, a request they appreciate and to which they respond favorably.”

Vaughan “is one of the select few who embrace change, especially when it is for the betterment of curriculum and/or for students’ learning,” according to a letter from colleagues nominating her for the Metcalf Cup and Prize. “It is more than common to receive enthusiastic emails from her before the sun rises as she beams about the latest tool she’s using to augment her course for the better.”

She has used technology to modernize histology, a course formerly involving lectures and laboratory sessions in which students examined glass microscope slides with a high-resolution light microscope. Students now learn topics in three steps—self-study of tissue images; an interactive, small group discussion led by faculty; and a large lecture. “The three steps incorporate different learning approaches in different social contexts,” says Vaughan. “This design keeps the curious student engaged, while building on previously acquired knowledge.”

2013 Metcalf Award for Excellence in Teaching

Carol Jenkins

School of Education, Elementary Education

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For the past 23 years, Jenkins, program director of SED’s Elementary Education program, has prepared hundreds of undergraduates and graduate students to become teachers.

Her goal, she says, is to see that her students “leave with a commitment to make sure there’s a joyful learning climate in their classroom, that their kids are excited to be in their classrooms.” The pressure teachers face over standardized testing is unlikely to change any time soon, she says, and “we have to try to strike that balance where joyful learning is at the heart of what we do, along with the relationships that you build with your kids, because that’s everything. Relationships, relationships, relationships.”

Jenkins has earned plaudits from her students for her innovative methods in the classroom. She is not afraid to put on a costume and role-play if it helps drive home a point. But Jenkins’ most important legacy may be the introduction of what she calls “situated learning” into the elementary education curriculum at BU. Putting students in an actual school, where they learn how to teach writing by working with elementary school teachers, allows them to observe firsthand how to get children excited about writing, and what works and what doesn’t.

Students routinely describe her as “inspiring,” “passionate,” and “a role model.” “Carol represents the courage and authenticity that it takes to be a great educator,” says Hardin Coleman, dean of SED. “She teaches and mentors with her whole body and soul.” Coleman credits Jenkins’ collaboration with the Trotter Elementary School, a poor urban school in Dorchester, Mass., and the site of her situated learning model, for better preparing “educators to work in hard needs schools.”

John Finnerty

College of Arts & Sciences, Biology

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Praised by his colleagues for his creativity, accessibility, humor, and passion for the scientific method, Finnerty has played a major role in shaping the CAS Core Curriculum, developing popular new courses, among them Biodiversity, Causes and Consequences, which integrates earth science, biochemistry, molecular biology, genetics, developmental biology, evolution, ecology, and anthropology. His goal, he says, is “to get students to think like scientists.” Favoring primary scientific literature and hands-on learning over standard textbooks, Finnerty designs lessons that endure, teaching nuanced concepts like the genetic code so they’ll be well understood and never forgotten.

“I start almost every class by telling students that six months after graduating college I had a really hard time remembering some classes, while others never left me,” he says. “I’m grateful for those moments.” His aim is to impart insights so his students will gain “a competency they never had before.”

Finnerty also teaches one of BUMP’s monthlong “module” courses, where students learn to do research projects, and he is one of his department’s most admired mentors. “Students gravitate to him,” one of his colleagues told the nominating committee. And Finnerty has nothing but praise for his BUMP students. “The program attracts students who want to make a difference,” he says.

“John has put extraordinary effort into all his teaching activities and has made major contributions to the CAS Core Curriculum and the BU Marine Program,” says Michael Sorenson, a CAS professor and chair of biology. “More importantly,” he adds, “he succeeds in engaging students with his creativity, humor, and enthusiasm without sacrificing one iota of scientific rigor.”

2012 Metcalf Cup and Prize Awardee

Andrew Duffy

College of Arts & Sciences, Physics

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From self-developed videos to class votes on the correct answer to a problem to spinning on tables, Duffy deploys every unorthodox or interactive arrow in his quiver to demystify physics. There’s method to all this motion, he says: research shows “how ineffective the traditional lecture method of teaching is. Students learn and retain much more when they are actively engaged in the learning process.” In physics, that means, for example, talking to one another during a lecture, working out problems and clicking their answers to questions.

“Sometimes I ask a sequence of questions,” Duffy says, “and you can see the learning taking place in front of you, as the responses start with a close-to-random distribution of answers”; as the students gradually grasp the concept he’s teaching, “they progress to a large majority getting the right answer.”

“Dr. Duffy explicates the world around us with flair and insight, and provides the tools to improve physics education,” his Metcalf citation reads. Judging by their raves to the Metcalf selection committee, students agree. “He is the god of Physics,” wrote one, while another enthused, “Dr. Duffy is the best professor I have ever had.” A third described (aptly for a physics teacher) his “incredible energy.”

Duffy, who came to BU in 1995, says he was incredulous when President Robert A. Brown and Provost Jean Morrison first notified him that he had won the award. “As someone who cares deeply about teaching, winning the Metcalf has been a dream,” he says, “but it’s a rare occasion when a dream that big comes true.”

He cares so deeply that he evangelizes for better physics and physical science instruction for students before they ever make it to college. As principal investigator for the Physics Teacher Education Coalition, a collaboration of universities and the National Science Foundation, Duffy helps recruit and train future high school science teachers. He has taught science and physics to secondary school teachers and developed courses for them with colleague Peter Garik, a School of Education clinical associate professor.

2012 Metcalf Award for Excellence in Teaching

Marisa Milanese

College of Arts & Sciences, Writing

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Milanese, who is also curriculum coordinator and a mentor to fellow writing faculty (the program is home to more than 100 faculty, tutors, and staff), is the winner of one of this year’s two Metcalf Awards for Excellence in Teaching, announced May 3 at the Senior Breakfast.

Citing her “irrepressible enthusiasm” for teaching a required course, program director Joseph Bizup, a CAS associate professor, refers to her as “a shining star” on the writing faculty, who “illuminates everything around her.” She has earned a reputation not just as a gifted teacher, but as a caring mentor, generous colleague, and asset to the community with her outreach work for English High School and the educational initiative Success Boston, a program designed to double the college completion rate for Boston public school students.

In her seven years at BU, Milanese has elevated the writing class, sometimes referred to casually as “freshman comp,” to one that captivates students from aspiring poets who mastered AP English to those majoring in mechanical engineering or hospitality administration, from students who already love to write to those who, she says, “never want to write anything more than an email.” Milanese has to hook all of them. “I’m teaching a skill that not all of them understand or appreciate the relevance of,” she says. “I have to explain the assignments and their broader relevance.” Her main goal is “to transform students’ understanding of the writing process” and give them skills “that are broadly applicable to their careers at BU and beyond.” The idea of freshman composition “can feel a little remedial. But that’s not the way we teach our courses; they are very engaging, challenging seminars.”

Robert Lowe

Medical School, Gastroenterology

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Lowe, or “Doc,” as he prefers to be called, stresses the importance of empathy in medicine. He’s read the studies showing that medical students’ idealism dulls as they are exposed to the mental and emotional stresses inherent in medical school. He tries to counteract that by paying careful attention to how students talk or act in front of patients, leading by example and letting them know that even the smallest things they say or do may have huge impacts.

“There’s always been a tendency in medicine to tell students to dissociate themselves emotionally in order to maintain a certain calm,” he says. “But it’s a balancing act. You have to actually feel the emotions and control them. Getting rid of the emotions does not help. Patients do not appreciate unemotional doctors.”

Lowe has been cited for his skill as a physician as well as for his teaching. He has been named one of Boston’s Top Doctors three times by Boston magazine, most recently this year. Not surprisingly, he loves being a doctor.

“It allows you to actually help people as part of your daily life,” he says. “Many jobs in the world involve you succeeding at the expense of someone else. You win; they lose. You get something; someone else gives something. Here it’s not like that. Everybody wins and loses together essentially.”

His students’ admiration and respect for his devotion to medicine and teaching come across clearly in their letters recommending Lowe for a Metcalf award. “Dr. Lowe is awesome—he makes you marvel at the physiology of the GI tract!” wrote one. “He is an effective, compassionate, and knowledgeable physician,” said another. “He demonstrates how empathy itself can be healing,” from yet another. And last, but not least: “He is exactly the kind of physician I would hope to be in a few years.”

For more information about the Metcalf Award, please visit:  http://www.bu.edu/provost/awards/metcalf/