Dr. Mary Fowler and Dr. Kathryn Frazier pose by a podium

George I. Alden Excellence in Teaching awardees on teaching in challenging times

March 29, 2022
By: Rebecca Cross

In her online classes, Dr. Mary Fowler has started using videos of herself demonstrating math problems to give anxious students “privacy in their place of most vulnerability.” At the beginning of the semester, Dr. Kathryn Frazier has started giving her students formative assessments to determine what they do and don’t know about the subject matter, asking students to “trust me as someone they can tell when they don’t know something.”

Both techniques are examples of agile teaching, which was the topic of the George I. Alden Excellence in Teaching Award Lecture, “Agile Teaching: Developing Our Practice and Supporting Students in Pandemic Times and Beyond,” presented by Mary Fowler, Ph.D., a professor in Worcester State University’s Mathematics Department, Kathryn Frazier, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Psychology Department. The two honorees addressed fellow faculty members at the March 25 talk sponsored by the Center for Teaching and Learning, and invited discussion of teaching methods that had worked – and ones that didn’t.

Faculty attending in person and online shared stories of posting videos demonstrating the flow of electrons on Blackboard and teaching more challenging math concepts at the start of the semester to give students more time to absorb them before exams. They also shared concerns about the benefits and drawbacks of postponing tests and how best to support students whose personal challenges have started to affect their attendance.

Throughout the presentation and discussion, Frazier and Fowler emphasized flexibility and humanity – two principles that have become especially vital in the era of Covid. When discussing the necessity of being flexible, Fowler shared how she had to adapt her methods and then adapt them again, saying, “All the stuff that worked in the pandemic really didn’t in person.” Frazier talked about the importance of allowing students a measure of autonomy, for instance, letting them choose how to demonstrate learning, and of developing policies that recognize that “students have complex lives.”

The George I. Alden Excellence in Teaching Award is awarded annually to a professor who is nominated by his or her students and was established with support from the George I. Alden Foundation. “This year’s recipients of the George I Alden Excellence in Teaching Awards delivered a lecture which truly exemplified the best of teaching at WSU: a spirit of innovation, flexibility, and meeting the moment of challenge for our students during a pandemic,” Provost Lois Wims said.

Because the pandemic has had an immeasurable impact on the lives and well-being of students and faculty alike, the professors devoted the final half hour of the lecture to trauma-informed teaching and the value of practicing mindfulness and other forms of self care and student support. Self-kindness and recognizing our common humanity were important aspects of this support.

Photo (left to right): Dr. Mary Fowler and Dr. Kathryn Frazier

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