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University of Otago Teaching Excellence Awards Announced

Students taking notes in a lecture

Monday, 20 June 2011 10:17am

Winners of Teaching awards 2011
Mr Tony Zaharic, Dr James Maclaurin and Associate Professor Craig Rodger

Excitement and experimentation are key factors in the teaching styles of the three recipients of this year’s University of Otago Teaching Excellence Awards.

Dr James Maclaurin (Department of Philosophy), Associate Professor Craig Rodger (Department of Physics) and Mr Tony Zaharic (Department of Biochemistry) received their awards at a University ceremony this afternoon.

Dr Maclaurin says he was delighted and honoured to receive the award.

“If you’re enthusiastic about teaching you try lots of things out,” he says. “I really enjoy being in a room with people getting that sense of dialogue, getting them to feel comfortable with interrupting and throwing ideas out there and making something of those ideas in that room. It’s an exciting thing; that’s the way it should be.”

Dr Maclaurin has been a university lecturer for 11 years and is also Head of the Department of Philosophy. He says his key interests lie in the philosophy of the life sciences. His popular Critical Thinking courses are taught to students across the university, from law to science to commerce.

Departmental colleague Professor Alan Musgrave says, “Before he was a philosopher, James was a professional actor. As a result, all of his lectures are dramatic performances - as well as being interesting, well-researched and profound. Philosophy can be distant and difficult - James's determination to make it accessible to all is a credit to him, and to us.”

Space physicist Associate Professor Craig Rodger says, “I’m really excited by physics as a whole. There are big things going on in Physics. It’s full of gigantic explosions. It’s just fascinating. I really, really want students to get excited about physics so they go away and start learning about it for themselves.

“Being enthusiastic, I move and I dance as I teach. I try and create mental pictures to get across the ideas, using stories and cartoons, pictures and models. It all helps students remember what I’m saying.”

Head of the Department of Physics Professor Rob Ballagh says, “There is no risk of being bored in one of Craig’s lectures. You can be sure it will be lively and energetic, and Craig's enthusiasm rubs off on the students. Craig brings a total commitment to every aspect of his teaching, including lecturing, organisation, and marking. The students greatly appreciate this. We are very lucky to have Craig. He is a great teacher.”

A “really chuffed” Tony Zaharic says his award all stems from loving teaching, trying really hard to do it well and believing it’s important.

“I love being in front of a class and I love it when the students think it’s cool to be there,” he says. “A lecture is an opportunity to share what I think is the most amazing science. Depth of knowledge is built outside the lecture theatre, but instilling the desire to seek that depth of knowledge is what should occur within one.”

As a Biochemistry Senior Teaching Fellow, Mr Zaharic invests much of his time in researching what works and what doesn’t for the students, supporting the development of other lecturers’ teaching skills, and improving his own teaching style in the process.

Biochemistry Head of Department Professor Kurt Krause says, “I can truly say I have never encountered any other instructor with such a gift for connecting with and reaching students.

“Each year Tony experiments with and introduces new learner strategies such as podcasting, peer-to-peer tutoring, on-line instruction and video lectures. Each new strategy is tested and evaluated in research projects that Tony coordinates to make sure that they are working. To me it’s a demonstration of how modern teaching should be done.”

For more information, contact

Dr James Maclaurin
Tel 64 3 479 8719
Email james.maclaurin@otago.ac.nz

Associate Professor Craig Rodger
Tel 64 3 479 4120
Email crodger@physics.otago.ac.nz

Mr Tony Zaharic
Tel 64 3 479 5628
Email tony.zaharic@otago.ac.nz