Record nominations for teaching award

Students inspired by the passion and prowess of professors and teaching assistants at the University of Calgary have turned in record nominations for the Students’ Union’s annual Teaching Excellence Awards.  

Since the awards’ inception in 1984, the SU collects nominations every year for outstanding instructors at the U of C.

According to the SU website, “excellent teachers are chosen for their ability to communicate broad and accurate knowledge of the subject matter, as well as on self-confidence, ability to create enthusiasm, success at challenging students, ability to cultivate creative thinking on the part of students, availability for consultation outside of class, and the fairness and consistency of their grading.”

“It’s the only institution-wide recognition of teaching,” said SU vice-president academic Meg Martin. “The direct student feedback is the most important aspect of the teaching excellence award. We know that the people who get it are exceptional because students take the time and effort to nominate them.”

Martin also cited the award’s status during faculty promotion committees.

“To be nominated or to receive a teaching excellence award is a mark of distinction,” said Martin.

According to Martin this year’s nominations reached 1,275, a “record number” that the SU has never seen before. Martin attributes the record amount of nominations to a greater awareness among students.

“I’m not sure it means that we have better teachers than before, I think we’ve always had people who are quite good,” said Martin. “I think there are more students who know about the program.”

Currently the SU awards one award per faculty, but with the amalgamation of the new Arts Faculty that is about the change. According to Martin the Faculty of Arts will receive four awards in order to better reflect the new governance structure of the SU to incorporate better proportional representation.

“[As a] large faculty that serves more students they should be giving recognition to more than one person,” said Martin. “We do and keep it somewhat equalized, some faculties nominate more than others.”

Recipients are chosen by a committee of students.

“I’ve opened it up this year so any student can sit on it,” said Martin.

In previous years the number of students has been capped.

“These committee members look through students’ subjective comments in an evaluation package,” said Martin. “We rank based on the number ratings students have given. Sort through and look through the subjective comments.”

Also new to the award this year is the “Hall of Fame.” Any instructor who has received the award three times will be inducted and no longer be eligible for the TEA.

“It is true that we have several juggernaut people who win over and over and over again, which means that it’s more difficult for more junior faculty members to win,” said Martin.

One such “juggernaut” is communication and culture professor Ron Glasberg, who has won the award 10 times and received four honourable mentions.

“It’s one of the greatest honours you can get,” said Glasberg. “I try and ask how it appears from the eyes of students.”

What is Glasberg’s secret to success?

“I try and challenge the notion that education has to be a game of only getting through,” said Glasberg. “I try to give the impression that I really care.”

Glasberg says he tries to identify with a “deeper need to be truly educated” by “creating a safe environment, expanding their consciousness and getting pleasure out of broadening student horizons.”

The awards given out by the SU are also accompanied by a monetary donation to an area of the instructor’s choice.

Martin noted she has heard that the U of C’s own institutional award “is coming.”

“I’ve heard that there is a non-monetary award distributed through research services that will not involve student feedback, they will be nominated by a department head,” said Martin.

Professors aren’t the only ones eligible for the honour. The SU has expanded it’s Teaching Excellence Award program to include Outstanding Teaching Assistant Awards.  These awards are conferred to TA’s based on the same criteria as the Teaching Excellence Awards.

“There is a recognition on our part that, in some lectures, TA’s play a large part in interacting directly with students and that a really good TA can make or break your experience in a class depending on the class format,” said Martin. “They are also given a lot of responsibility by course coordinators and instructors.”

“The number of TAs getting nominated is escalating, it’s getting bigger every year,” said Martin. “Rewarding them early ensures that they continue to make teaching excellence a priority.”

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