Celebrating Teaching Excellence

Demian Hommel, PhD

Oregon State University, Senior Instructor
College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences


Past Spotlight Recipients 

February, 2017 Rebecca A. Hutchinson, PhD

What (or who) drew you to teaching?

I was fortunate to have several genuine, passionate teachers growing up—individuals who absolutely shaped the way I think or see the world. Most of them had similar qualities: curiosity, humor, skepticism and honesty, and all were ethically motivated to try and create a better world.  

I never planned on becoming a teacher—I wanted to conduct research—but I was asked to assist with field courses, and then in classes as a teaching assistant, and very early on in graduate school I was given my own class. At first, I was completely lost. I had no idea what I was doing. Practice, and thinking analytically about how to be better, slowly provided results. The few small successes were enough to keep me working at it, and here I am.

What would you tell other OSU faculty about the benefits of working with CTL?

To me, teaching is about exchange, risk and reward. And it’s like many things—it takes work to be successful. Especially in higher education it seems, teachers are often aware of a subject or discipline but are not always trained in—or aware of—methods of teaching, learning, communication and cognition. CTL provides thoughtful, evidence-based strategies and techniques that are aimed at revolutionizing the way we offer our courses. Further, these activities are done in a supportive, thoughtful, and non-judgemental way that allows growth to happen regardless of where someone might be on the learning-curve.

Are you not happy with the way you feel after finishing a lecture or course? Is there a gap between your expectations and reality in the way students respond or perform? Are you overwhelmed with the planning, performance or assessment in specific modules, or entire courses? Sign up for a CTL workshop and expect that you will leave with a clearer picture of what’s possible, and the steps you might take to resolving these kinds of challenges.

In what ways have your teaching practices evolved over time?

I’m less concerned with orchestrating the precise experience students have in my classes. Instead I’m more comfortable with a student-directed and student-centered experience. Feeling pressure to ‘get through’ content is not a sustainable strategy for me, and it generally doesn’t lead to effective learning.

I’m also much more interested in active rather than passive modes of teaching and learning. I lecture, but I try to integrate information-heavy moments with activities, discussions, low-stakes quizzes and multimedia. I want students to feel engaged in the learning process, and I genuinely believe that this happens best when they teach and learn from each other.

What stands out to students about your teaching?

One of the most common (positive) comments I consistently get in evals is that I’m “real.” I think this means students know I’ll tell them when I don’t know something, when I’m confused or conflicted. I also think they appreciate my honesty about the challenges of college, of finding a job, a career, and of making a meaningful life. I know they’re not often taking a Geography course because they’re fascinated with the topic—the vast majority of my students are taking my classes as electives for the baccalaureate core. I accept this as an opportunity to teach them more than they might learn in a course they feel they need for their major or career.

I’m not concerned that students agree with me about everything. Instead, I’m interested in them understanding the process through which I came to think the way I do. It’s then up to them to interpret information through their own frameworks.

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