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 Some members of the Academic of Distinguished Teachers at a 2004 retreat.

Some of the academy members at the annual ADT retreat in October 2004.

Supporting great teaching

By Gayla Marty

From Brief, April 20, 2005
Updated April 21, 2005

With a grand total of more than 65,000 students across four campuses, teaching is the University's main event, and excellent teaching has to be a priority. How does an instructor or faculty member engage students...not just once but nearly every day? Not just in the classroom, but in the lab and beyond?

Teaching will take center stage on Monday, April 25, at the McNamara Alumni Center in Minneapolis at a conference open to "all who are interested in teaching and learning." For most of a day, participants will choose from more than 20 presentations by U faculty and staff on topics like using criminal-incident enactment to stimulate critical and logical thinking in a criminal studies course (Crookston), how to develop a distance course that engages faculty as well as students (Duluth), best practices for creating sustainable service-learning opportunities (Morris), transforming large-lecture classes with active-learning methods (Twin Cities), and multicultural science teaching and learning (extension).

The conference, this year called "Pedagogical Approaches for Engaging Students," is a biennial event sponsored by the University's Academy of Distinguished Teachers (ADT). Founded in 1999, the ADT includes winners of the University's highest teaching awards: the Morse-Alumni Undergraduate Teaching Award and the Award for Contributions to Postbaccalaureate, Graduate, and Professional Education.

Profile of a 2005 teaching award winner

English professor and poet Michael Dennis Browne, Twin Cities campus, is one of the 14 faculty members who will receive a distinguished teaching award and become part of the Academy of Distinguished Teachers on April 25. Revered for passionate commitment to his craft, Browne seeks to give students his full attention. Read a profile of Browne, "To be an expert and friend."

"Contrary to its somewhat formal and stuffy title, it's a group of the most down-to-earth, caring teachers I have ever had the honor to work with," says academy member Ann Bergeron, professor of theater at the Duluth campus. "I believe something we all have in common is that we have been humbled by the recognition of the teaching awards we have received and have a sincere commitment to improve our own teaching. It's wonderful to share insights and discoveries with [others] who are truly passionate about teaching."

Morse-Alumni Undergraduate Teaching Awards have been honoring faculty members since 1965. Named for the late Horace T. Morse, first dean of General College (1934-60) and a national leader in undergraduate education, these awards recognize excellence in contributing to student learning through teaching, research, creative activities, advising, development of academic programs, and educational leadership.

The Award for Contributions to Postbaccalaureate, Graduate, and Professional Education was conceived by the Senate Committee on Educational Policy (SCEP). It recognizes excellence in faculty contributions to education at the graduate level through instruction, program development, intellectual distinction, advising and mentoring, scholarship, and professional development of students.

SCEP was planning to introduce the graduate and professional education awards when then-president Mark Yudof proposed creation of a teaching academy, according to associate vice provost Laura Coffin Koch, who chaired SCEP at the time.

"The academy has been a good way to acknowledge the importance of the Morse-Alumni teaching awards and the use of that group," she says.

A few other universities across the country have an academy or something similar. But very few of those have such active groups or strong institutional support.

Academy members say the group is valuable for learning from each other, sharing experiences, creating opportunities to collaborate, and showing the University's commitment to teaching.

"It's a terrific resource and vital to the health of this university," says Tom Isbell, associate professor of theater at Duluth. "It gives a voice to the faculty, and, to the administration's great credit, [it] seems to respect and value that voice."

Many in the ADT are also active in university service, so discussions work their way into the governance processes, says Jeffrey Ratliff-Crain, associate professor of psychology at Morris. Others are also engaged in issues such as undergraduate research and the role of teaching in tenure and promotion, but the academy has been able to expand the discussion outside of administrative and committee structures.

"The academy has served as a teaching conscience for the University," says Ratliff-Crain.

"All of this is bound to have favorable effects on the quality of teaching within the U," says Morris psychology professor Eric Klinger, a Morse-Alumni award winner in 1971-72.

After the conference next week, 14 new members will join the academy, bringing the total close to 200. They now represent all the U campuses and most Twin Cities campus colleges.

To learn more about the Academy of Distinguished Teachers, see the ADT Web site at http://www.adt.umn.edu.

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