April 20-26, 2001
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How teachers draw their students in
Using new technology brings major changes to arts precinct classrooms
Architecture team designs high-tech Wright model
Hot Links -- Va.Garden Week
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How teachers draw their students in

For the first time this year, two professors were recognized for teaching University Seminars for first-year students and received Outstanding Teaching Awards.

In this issue, Inside UVA looks at what makes them award-winning teachers. We also include the last of the five faculty members who received the 2001 All-University Outstanding Teaching Awards. See http://www.virginia.edu/insideuva/awards.html for other award winners.

Sarah Farrell

Sarah Farrell
Rebecca Arrington
Sarah Farrell

As an alumna of U.Va., Nursing professor Sarah Farrell was once a first-year student herself. Now, she’s been awarded for teaching her first-year University Seminar, “Be the Spider, Not the Fly: Health Care Resources on the Internet.”

It’s not just a catchy title: in response to the proliferation of information on the Web, Farrell teaches her students to be savvy consumers. From this course, she wants students to “gain experience in evaluating and using health care resources.” They also develop their own Web pages, including content and critique on a health care topic of their choice.

USEMs are designed to be small classes — to modify the all too common experience of large lectures for first-year students — but it’s a welcome format for the teachers, too. Farrell said only her graduate classes are that small. Offering the course for the fourth time, there was so much demand, she opted to offer two sections.

Her innovative teaching methods also landed her the first USEM Sabbatical Research Award, which she’ll take this fall.

Because it’s a USEM, Farrell said she can focus more on teaching critical thinking and incorporate adult learning techniques, where everyone participates in posing questions and considering various possibilities and outcomes.

Her goal is to encourage students to “think about how the emerging information technologies are changing health care, how health care is similar to and different from other e-commerce and what the future might look like.”

According to one student’s evaluation, “the course was presented with more depth and sophistication than expected. Not only did I learn a thing or two about health care on the Internet, I created my first Web site.”

“Sarah is highly creative. She has been one of the pioneers in introducing us to information technology,” said Jeanette Lancaster, Dean of the Nursing School. “She has always been a little bit ahead of the trend and she uses that to teach and excite students.”

— Adam Bronstein

Cynthia Walls

Cynthia Wall
Rebecca Arrington
Cynthia Wall

Cynthia Wall’s expertise in the Restoration and 18th Century literature has continually inspired her classes. And now she has received one of the first outstanding teaching awards for her USEM, “Spies and Voyeurs.”

“She has been a very popular teacher even though she’s teaching in an area that’s not customarily popular with students,” said colleague Patricia Meyer Spacks, the Edgar F. Shannon Professor of English. “She is one of the most innovative members of the faculty.”

“One of the many things I enjoy about teaching USEMs is the chance to play a little outside one’s usual boundaries,” Wall said. “It’s the concept, not the ‘field,’ that’s at issue — how to use an idea or image to get students to think critically about the acts of thinking, reading and writing.”

She includes on the reading list books she often teaches from her field, such as Daniel Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year, but can include others outside 18th century, such as Ian Fleming’s You Only Live Twice.

Wall has her students go through the course as if they were playing spies. “I ask the students how the act of reading is conceptually related to espionage — how do we pay attention to details, question assumptions, watch behaviors, test boundaries, look for hidden meanings and inhabit different identities, different cultures? Every student keeps a spy journal and they begin with the assumption that they are pretending to be themselves — pretend you are an agent sent to the University of Virginia in the character of [your name here]. How do you put on a convincing performance of yourself?” It’s a great exercise in point of view, she said.

It obviously has left her students with an appreciative point of view for her creativity. In one course evaluation, a student wrote that Wall “is the only part that I need to comment about because she totally made this course for me. She was amazing and an awesome discussion leader!”

— Adam Bronstein

Tim Wilson

Tim Wilson
Rebecca Arrington
Tim Wilson

The week word leaked out that psychology professor Tim Wilson had been nominated for a teaching award, several students a day stopped by chair Peter Brunjes’ office, offering to write recommendations.

“In Wilson’s classes, I came to view human behavior as a mystery to be solved,” wrote former student Dawn Moeller. “His love of psychology was absolutely contagious.”

“The courses he so magically orchestrates encourage students to become totally absorbed in learning and thinking,” wrote Toni Wegner, former director of undergraduate studies in psychology. “It just doesn’t get any better than that!”

For introductory courses, Wilson said he prepares detailed outlines for each lecture, illustrates each topic with video clips and demonstrations and uses concrete examples to make course material relevant to students’ lives.

He also encourages discussion, proffering his students a rare gift — “absolute respect for their ideas,” according to former student Dana Dunn. “He has a quiet way of encouraging students to speak and, when necessary, gently guiding them to consider other possible ideas or interpretations.”

In smaller classes, Wilson assigns projects in which students attempt to apply what they have learned to improving their own self-knowledge, including analyzing their dreams and tracking their moods over several weeks, trying to identify how factors such as sleep, exercise and weather affect them.

“He encouraged us to explore our own actions and feelings in light of the principles we were learning; and he supported us in the process,” wrote Moeller.

Several expressed appreciation regarding Wilson’s efforts on behalf of his department. As director of graduate studies, Wilson “changed the position forever,” coming up with guidelines that all TAs, graders and faculty could abide, Brunjes wrote.

Wilson is also a first-rate scholar, having enjoyed continuous support of his social psychology research program from the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health for more than 20 years.

The author of Social Psychology, a popular textbook currently in its third edition, his forthcoming book is Strangers to Ourselves: Self-Insight and the Adaptive Unconscious.

—Nancy Hurrelbrinck


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