Julie Luft, Athletic Association Professor of Science Education in the department of mathematics and science education, recently received the 2017 Creative Teaching Award from UGA's Office of the Vice President for Instruction.
Along with three other faculty members, Luft was recognized for her excellence in developing and implementing creative teaching strategies to improve student learning and encourage instructional excellence.
"Faculty have an obligation to draw upon research in the area of learning and teaching in order to guide their instructional approaches," said Luft. "Fortunately, we know more than we have ever known before about the learning and teaching of undergraduates. Examining this research is essential if we are going to support the learning of our students, especially in STEM areas."
Luft and Kristen Miller, director of biological sciences, collaborated on a course that prepares undergraduate students to be Peer Learning Assistants (PLAs). Although other faculty have used PLAs in the past, they created an innovative course to give advanced students the pedagogical training needed to better help other students succeed in math and science classes.
"Students need to engage in productive conversation to improve or enhance their knowledge," said Luft. "We tried to figure out how to help our students engage in more productive discussions in a data-driven manner."
One class, for instance, required students to think about how they interact with other undergraduate students. Luft and Miller asked them to consider the quality of their questions and what their peers' answers told them about their emerging knowledge.
"Our students analyzed their discourse, and they realized that they were often telling students the answers as opposed to helping them create their own knowledge," said Luft. "Just telling students about the content will not support student learning."
Additionally, their course allows PLA students to master course content, put learning into action and attain vital communication skills. Their assistance also gives faculty more time to focus on teaching and improving student outcomes.
The Creative Teaching Awards are sponsored inpart by the Office of the Vice President for Instruction, the Office of the Provost and the Center for Teaching and Learning.