University-Wide Teaching Awards celebrate excellence

Effective, empowering, enthusiastic, exceptional and passionate are just some of the words used to describe four members of York’s community, winners of this year’s University-Wide Teaching Awards (UWTA), who have demonstrated innovation and commitment in enhancing the quality of learning for their students.

Chosen out of four categories, senior full time, full time, contract & adjunct, and teaching assistant, and selected by the Senate Committee on Teaching & Learning (SCOTL), the recipients will have their names engraved on the UWTA plaques in Vari Hall. They will also be recognized at this spring’s convocation ceremonies.

York women’s studies Professor Andrea O’Reilly (right), founder and director of the Association for Research on Mothering (ARM), the first feminist research association on the topic of mothering-motherhood, is the recipient of the UWTA in the senior full time category. O’Reilly is the author of Toni Morrison and Motherhood: A Politics of the Heart (SUNY Press, 2004) and Rocking the Cradle: Thoughts on Motherhood, Feminism and the Possibility of Empowered Mothering (Demeter Press, 2006). She is also the co-editor or editor of 12 books on motherhood, including her latest book, Feminist Mothering (SUNY Press, 2008), which is an exploration of how feminist mothers are challenging and changing the current norms surrounding motherhood. Recently, O’Reilly was invited to serve as general editor for the first-ever Encyclopedia of Mothering. The three volume encyclopedia will be published by Sage Press in 2010.

Nominator Ayla Lefkowich (BA Hons. ’08) says O’Reilly “is an incredible scholar, teacher and mentor. The overwhelmingly feedback from Andrea’s former students and colleagues has been astoundingly positive and confirms my impressions of Andrea as an exceptional teacher and mentor.” Students find O’Reilly open, approachable and accommodating. “She makes it clear that she respects her students and really listens to what people have to say.”

O’Reilly says that a commitment to critical thinking is a central tenet of her teaching. She encourages students to doubt, question and challenge the truth as it is presented to them in the dominant culture.

Policy Professor Jean Adams (left) (PhD ’05), of York’s Schulich School of Business, is the recipient of the UWTA in the full time category. She is currently exploring the use of tablets for promoting collaborative learning in the classroom through the e-Powering Tomorrow’s Leaders research project funded by an HP Technology for Teaching Grant. Adams was also the lead researcher on the Blended Learning for Soft Skills Development: Testing a Four-Level Framework for Integrating Work & Learning to Maximize Personal Practice & Job Performance research project, funded by Canadian Council on Learning Adult Learning grant. Adams is the co-author of the resource book Teaching Organization Theory: An Instructor’s Manual to Accompany Images of Organization (Sage Publications, 2006). In 2005, Adams won a Governor General’s Gold Medal, awarded by the Senate Committee on Admissions, Recruitment & Student Assistance in recognition of the highest distinction in scholarship during graduate studies at York.

“When one thinks of the typical large lecture hall experience, one often visualizes a ‘talking head’ at the front of the class, struggling to keep the students engaged in the lecture, competing with the students chatting amongst themselves or even sleeping in the back. If you visited Dr. Adams’ MGMT 1000 class, you would be amazed by how she has created a highly interactive classroom that defies the traditional constraints of the large lecture hall setting,” says finance Professor Elizabeth Maynes, director of the Schulich Schoool of Business Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) and International BBA Programs, in her nomination of Adams.

“Driven by her desire to create the most effective learning environment possible, Dr. Adams has experimented with different types of technology in the classroom…. Dr. Adams’ innovations are not limited to the lecture hall experience. She is driven by the desire to empower student learning both as individuals and also as part of a team. She is not satisfied unless the students take ownership of their own education. To achieve this goal, Dr. Adams has developed a huge variety of learning experiences,” says Maynes.

Reginald Khokher (BA Hons. ’99, MA ’03) (right), a doctoral candidate in the Department of English, Faculty of Arts, is the winner of the UWTA in the teaching assistant category. He has been teaching since 2004, has taught courses at the first-, second- and third-year level, and worked in the Department of English and Division of Humanities.

Khokher’s teaching philosophy is to make sure all his students are treated equally and with compassion and respect. He also likes to connect the assigned readings to popular music, film or television to engage his students and help them to better understand the material.

“Regi Khokher is the kind of teacher who changes students’ lives and helps them to achieve goals worthy of their aspirations. In a department that ranks its teachers among the best, Regi has numerical scores like none I have ever seen, two separate years ranking 4.94 out of 5. That’s almost perfect! He is the type of teacher that an award like the SCOTL was designed to recognize and it is a great pleasure and a great honour to nominate him,” says English Professor Kym Bird, SCOTL Award Winner and Division of Humanities Excellence in Teaching Award winner, both in 1997.

“Regi takes the time and the trouble with his students, which for him is no trouble at all. He meets with them, mentors them and keeps them rapt in his classes…. He brings to his work a compelling set of skills at the heart of which is a performative teaching style, a love of his chosen fields of study, literature and theatre, and a deep compassion for the students as human beings and as learners,” Bird says.

Deborah Clipperton (MA ’95) (left), of the Division of Humanities in the Faculty of Arts, is the UWTA recipient in the contract & adjunct category. She has taught Body in Performance, Feminist Cultural Theory, “Be Who You Are”: Issues of Identity in Contemporary Culture, and Concepts of Male and Female in the West.

Clipperton believes her job is to teach students to question everything, understand the concept of critical thought, be aware of vested interests and develop values based on careful and informed judgment.

“It is clear from the courses Deborah has been developing over the last several years, as well as the work that she has done in Concepts of Male and Female in the West, that she has a deep commitment to challenging dominant discourses and the production of new knowledge,” says nominator and humanities Professor Deborah Orr. In addition, Clipperton’s work is considered innovative, opening up new areas of research and knowledge production. 

“I do not exaggerate when I say that I have seen students simply enthralled by the material she was presenting. This passion for what one is doing is the most potent teaching tool there is; it is one that flows quite naturally from Deborah’s interest in her work and consequently that she uses to great effect in the classroom," says Orr.

The purpose of the University-Wide Teaching Awards is to provide significant recognition for excellence in teaching, to encourage its pursuit, to publicize such excellence when achieved across the University and in the wider community, and to promote informed discussion of teaching and its improvement. The awards demonstrate the value York attaches to teaching.