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University of Otago Teaching Excellence Awards reward inspiring lecturers

Clocktower clock

Tuesday 25 June 2013 9:40am

The 2013 winners of the University's Teaching Excellence Awards, from left, Professor Rachel Spronken-Smith, Associate Professor Gordon Sanderson and Dr Moyra Sweetnam Evans. Photo: Sharron Bennett

All three lecturers receiving this year’s University of Otago Teaching Excellence Awards say their efforts are inspired by the pleasure of seeing students understanding and being empowered by new concepts.

Professor Rachel Spronken-Smith, who teaches higher education, Associate Professor Gordon Sanderson, who teaches ophthalmology and Dr Moyra Sweetnam Evans, who teaches applied linguistics, received their awards yesterday in the University of Otago Clocktower Building.

In January 2013 Professor Spronken-Smith became Dean of Otago’s Graduate Research School. While leading and teaching doctoral students and supervisors within the School, she also continues her previous teaching within Otago’s Higher Education Development Centre (HEDC) and the Department of Geography. Her academic development work in HEDC sees her teaching lecturers as well as students.

"I have a genuine desire to improve learning for students and staff, and to demonstrate leadership in teaching and learning,” says Professor Spronken-Smith.
"I love seeing students and staff being inspired and empowered. The students I teach through an inquiry approach often comment about the range of skills being developed - – not just in research and inquiry – but also increased confidence, communication and interpersonal skills.”

HEDC Head Associate Professor Tony Harland says, "Rachel is a committed and talented teacher who is both creative and inspirational for many of her students. She excels in postgraduate supervision, an area that involves teaching as much as research. When working in academic development, one’s students are colleagues and the level of engagement and understanding of the academic as a learner requires a high level of speciality and a special person. Rachel manages to teach right across the spectrum.”

Associate Professor Gordon Sanderson has taught ophthalmology within the Dunedin School of Medicine since his arrival from England in 1972.

"I still enjoy teaching at the ripe old age of 67,” Associate Professor Sanderson says. "I still get a buzz out of the students. You get that lovely glow of understanding, that vibration when a group catches on at the same time.”

Associate Professor Sanderson’s aim as a teacher is straightforward: "When I teach I am looking at future doctors. I aim to ensure that the ones who aren’t going to be ophthalmology specialists are going to be safe and know what they are looking at. There are over 250 systemic diseases you can diagnose by looking at someone’s eyes – diabetes, hypertension, thyroid issues... In just a few hours each year I need to teach them to make the correct diagnoses and do the right thing.”

Dunedin School of Medicine Dean Dr John Adams, says, "Associate Professor Sanderson has made a huge contribution and commitment to generations of both undergraduate and postgraduate students. He is one of the most innovative teachers in the School. He is always willing to help and will take any opportunity to develop the capacity to teach, be it creating direct opportunities for clinical teaching of students, setting up material in the Skills Lab, or using the huge untapped potential of the electronic age.”

Dr Moyra Sweetnam Evans’s teaching within the Department of English and Linguistics involves training future teachers of English as a second language (TESOL). She says her enthusiasm stems from seeing her students learn and develop as teachers.

"I am highly motivated by the fact that I am providing my students with knowledge and opportunities to build skills that they can put to use in their own lives,” Dr Sweetnam Evans says. "Applied linguistics is such an inter-disciplinary domain that my students and I are never bored.

My students tell me they appreciate the fact that they have opportunities to give their own opinions and to develop their own skills. They also say that my classes are fun because we do so much more than just traditional lectures. They get opportunities for group work, for practical teaching of their peers and other students, to give class presentations and to critique one another,” says Dr Sweetnam Evans.

Linguistics Programme Coordinator Dr Anne Feryok, says many of Dr Sweetnam Evans’s students are really inspired by her classes. "Most of the TESOL minor students that are in her classes don't have any experience except as students, so taking her classes makes TESOL not just a dream but a genuine possibility,” she says.

Vice-Chancellor Professor Harlene Hayne presented the awards and congratulated the three winners for their success.

"Professor Spronken-Smith, Associate Professor Sanderson and Dr Sweetnam Evans are outstanding teachers who richly deserve today’s awards. They are inspiring educators and their ability to teach to an outstanding standard ensures that Otago students are well prepared to go on to excel in the chosen careers.”

For more information:

Professor Rachel Spronken-Smith
University of Otago Graduate Research School
Tel 3 479 5655 or 3 479 8929

Associate Professor Gordon Sanderson
Dunedin School of Medicine
Tel 3 474 0999 ext. 8308
Mob 64 327 451 3097

Dr Moyra Sweetnam Evans
Department of English and Linguistics
Tel 3 479 8614

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