Faculty members lauded for use of innovative solutions

In part two of a three-part series, we celebrate and honor recipients of the Innovation in Teaching Award, one of three categories from the Provost’s Teaching Awards.
Faculty members lauded for use of innovative solutions

More so than ever, the past academic year has proven that exceptional teaching extends far beyond the classroom. University of Miami faculty members worked tirelessly during the pandemic to pivot their approach to learning and teaching while expanding their support to students. To signal the importance of their dedication to providing exemplary education and the commitment to growth, the inaugural Provost’s Teaching Awards recognizes individuals who continue to remain at the forefront of the evolution of education. 

In a three-part series, we're sharing pivotal career perspectives from 13 faculty members being recognized in the following categories: Luis Glaser Mentorship Award, Innovation in Teaching Award, and the Excellence in Experiential Teaching Award.

Innovation in Teaching Award—Provost’s Teaching Awards

In part two of the Provost’s Teaching Award series, recipients shared how innovation led them to overcome challenges.

The Innovation in Teaching Award recognizes a full-time faculty member or a small team that has overcome a difficult course-related problem with a novel and enduring approach to teaching, engagement, and learning activities.The innovation may be made through technology or involve adopting a new teaching format, the creation of new learning activities, or engagement with external entities.

“We are constantly reminded that innovation is at the core of all that we do at the University. As an institution, we have an extraordinary opportunity to advance student knowledge and define future learning outcomes through innovative approaches in the classroom,” said Jeffrey Duerk, executive vice president for Academic Affairs and provost. “Our faculty continue to innovate in many areas and their work is deserving of our respect and our recognition.”

Margie Oleksiak, former associate dean of undergraduate education and professor in the Department of Marine Biology and Ecology, Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science 

“Overall, undergraduates are told how science is done, yet they often do not translate this information into functional or practical use,” shared Margie Oleksiak. “There is a disconnect between reading about science and doing science.”

As part of her research, Oleksiak focuses on the importance of biological variation and how populations adapt to environmental change, addressing the fundamental importance of the variation among individuals and populations and how species adapt to environmental change. Much of her work relies on authentic research and, because of her personal experience, she understands the value of involving students in every part of the research process, including the possibility of making mistakes. 

“Having students conduct authentic research shows that science may fail at times and that it will not deliver a predefined answer,” said Oleksiak. “This is the premise of creating the Saltwater Semester courses (SWS).” In the SWS courses, practical laboratory experiences are integrated into brief lectures. And students are expected to be involved in experimental design, data collection and analysis, and the communication of results. “This differs from our typical laboratory courses in that the experiments can last the entire semester rather than one or a few classes,” she added. “Thus, there is time for mistakes.”

Oleksiak explained that the impact of the SWS program has enhanced the career goals and possibilities for undergraduate students and has had a larger impact on future students by accelerating the need for additional SWS courses. “One of the most gratifying experiences is the transformation of undergraduates as they realize that they are excited and want to continue to pursue scientific research,” she said.

Andrew Porter, assistant professor of clinical, School of Nursing and Health Studies 

Given the current social justice climate and the role that the University of Miami and its students play in building a culture of belonging in the classroom and beyond, Andrew Porter has worked diligently to address possible blind spots that make authentic and vulnerable conversations about pressing public health issues difficult or silent.

“With a myriad of social justice issues at the forefront of news, politics, and policy, it is more important than ever to have students able to engage in constructive dialog. Perhaps even more importantly, many courses can have homogenous majors, which can lead to echo chambers and a lack of interprofessional communication,” said Porter. “In order to address these problems and foster a student body with more empathy, active position-taking, and interdisciplinary conversations, I made significant pedagogical changes to three of my courses over the past year using a variety of activities, techniques, and assessments.”

As part of Porter’s approach to creating change in coursework and interdisciplinary dialogue, he developed an educational-edutainment podcast that addresses gaps in sexuality education and health disparities in the U.S. He fosters student interaction as teams and with worldwide audiences through social media. Additionally, among many adjustments to coursework, he implemented a book club that focused on issues of social justice, where students from nursing and public health discussed global issues to help eliminate ethnocentric views on various issues related to timely topics and global health challenges. 

Porter shared that, while concepts such as podcasts and book clubs are not novel ideas, the implementation supported a multitude of changes that were being made to the courses.

“For the first time, students were humanizing and empathizing with their topics. Instead of another stat-filled research paper, they made connections talking about real issues that people face worldwide,” said Porter. “I am fortunate to have instructed many students across all three courses. It is exciting to see them get better at having difficult conversations.”

Derin Ural, professor of practice in the Department of Civil, Architectural, and Environmental Engineering and associate dean of Student Affairs, College of Engineering 

When students in the College of Engineering shared feedback regarding their interest in diversifying the delivery methods of engineering courses, Derin Ural and a team of colleagues set out to change the way in which teaching and learning was conducted within the college. 

Transforming the way we teach requires innovation tied to three main pillars: providing professional development for faculty and teaching assistants, restructuring classrooms to serve as ‘active’ learning spaces, and fostering a culture of excellence in teaching to address the need for innovative teaching and learning,” said Ural.

She explained that accomplishing the change did not come overnight. The work began in 2018 with comprehensive workshops and training for faculty members and teaching assistants, including sessions with the University of Miami’s Information Technology team, which focused on active learning. Additionally, renovations and repurposing of work spaces allowed students to engage differently, collaborating and solving problems more effectively in the enhanced learning environment. Finally, Ural and team worked closely with colleagues from the Development and Alumni Relations to seek alumni support to implement cutting-edge technology into newly converted learning spaces. 

“I would like to acknowledge the support of University leadership; Allan Gyorke and the academic technologies team; Rick Ramos, Blackboard help desk supervisor; and James Sobczak, STEM Librarian. Building a culture of excellence in teaching and learning in engineering required cross-disciplinary support from faculty and staff across our University,” said Ural. 

Congratulations to awardees of the Innovation in Teaching Awards. Learn more about the Provost’s Teaching Awards, including the Luis Glaser Mentorship Award and the Excellence in Experiential Teaching Award. 

The Provost’s Teaching Awards is featured in News@TheU as a three-part series.