Hamilton named 2011-12 Newell innovative teaching award winner

By Whitney Jones, News Editor

While most World Literature II students had their noses buried in works by William Blake or Molière, a few were asked to engage with Eastern literature and chronicle their fall break travels, an assignment earning Dr. Patricia Hamilton the Newell Innovative Teaching Award.

Hamilton, associate professor of English, said she wanted to be creative in teaching the core English class and asked her students to imitate — an Eastern learning method — instead of simply analyze the work of master storytellers.

The assignment for Hamilton’s class included studying “The Narrow Road of the Interior” by Matsuo Basho, a 17th-century Japanese poet and master of haiku, and applying his style of writing to students’ own travel narratives.

“I was bringing together Eastern and Western modes in this assignment by having them read the master, understand the master and go imitate the master,” Hamilton said. “But the twist is I didn’t want them to absorb Basho’s values, I wanted them to reflect on their own values in a very conscious way.”

Requirements for the Newell award include creating a new way of teaching that changes the way an entire subject, not just one class, is taught.

The work must have occurred during the academic year for which the award is given, and professors must submit a proposal of their innovative teaching method to be considered for the award.

Nancy Thomas, associate director of the center for faculty development, said every Newell award winner must also be effective in his or her innovative teaching method.

Winning the award requires more than being just creative and fresh in the classroom.

“It can’t just be a good idea,” Thomas said. “It has to be a good idea that actually communicates.”

Hamilton’s approach accomplished exactly that. In fact, her proposal noted that one of her students who had made a D on her first analysis paper in the class significantly improved and received an A on her road trip paper.

Hamilton said she received a positive response from students on the imitation assignment, which required them to incorporate haiku, reflections on their beliefs or nature and literary allusions or song lyrics into their travel narratives.

She added that she was so surprised by her students’ writing improvements that she secretly entered all of their haiku poems in a contest judged by Josh Garcia, senior English major, and the members of Ink, a writing organization on campus.

When the students gathered to take their final exam, Hamilton gave them a handout with the winning haiku.

This Newell award is not the first for Hamilton. She won in 2006 and was awarded honorable mentions in 2003 and 2004.

This year’s honorable mentions included the following:

  • Dr. C. Ben Mitchell, Graves professor of moral philosophy, and almost a dozen others for “Using Ethics Scenarios in High-Fidelity Patient Simulation”
  • Dr. Chris Blair, associate professor of communication arts and coordinator of digital media studies, Ashley Blair, assistant professor of communication arts, and Cam Tracy, web development agent for university communications, for “COMUnion: Fostering Collaboration and Creativity in Interactive Media”
  • Dr. Joshua Veltman, associate professor of music, for “Real-Time Shared Document Editing in the Classroom”

Dr. Howard Newell, university professor of business administration and the award’s namesake, said the award was established to recognize faculty for teaching in unexpected and effective ways.

“New ways of thinking produce new ways of learning … So the idea is to recognize faculty who are interested in enabling students to learn in magnificent new ways,” Newell said.

The award winner receives $500, and each honorable mention receives $250. The Newell award was first given in 1993 when Newell was an associate provost.

He said the award’s name has no connection to him except that Dr. Carla Sanderson, provost and executive vice president with whom he worked to establish the award, chose to name it after him when the honor was created.

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