Awards celebrate teaching excellence

Seven winners representing four different faculties have been awarded Western’s top honour for its highest calling. This year’s winners join a company of teachers nearly a quarter century in the making.

Established in 1980-81, the University Awards for Excellence in Teaching were named in 1987 in honour of Edward Gustav Pleva, Western’s first Geography teacher in 1938 and head of the department from 1948-68.

Established in 1989-90, the Award for Excellence in Teaching by Part-Time Faculty was renamed in 2003 in honour of Angela Mary Armitt, BA’36, MA’67, LLD’87, a champion of life-long learning, and Western’s first dean of the faculty of Part-Time and Continuing Education.

Established in 1996-97, the Award for Excellence in Teaching was established to celebrate outstanding contributions in the area of classroom, laboratory or clinical instruction. The award was later named after Physiology professor and Educational Development Office c-ordinator Marilyn Robinson.

And new this year, the Award for Innovations in Technology-Enhanced Teaching honours those who significantly improved the experience and outcomes of their students through the intentional incorporation of technology into their teaching.

Continuing – and, in one case, starting – these traditions today, we present the 2015-16 Awards for Excellence in Teaching.


Management and Organizational Studies, Social Science
Edward G. Pleva Award for Excellence in Teaching

Innovative in designing taxation courses, Ann Bigelow has turned unpopular, tedious and difficult courses around by teaching them in a fun way. Instead of teaching from prepared slides, her ‘flipped classroom’ approach solicits student questions based on readings assigned prior to lectures and then bases her lectures on those questions.

Students adore Bigelow and have consistently given her the highest course evaluation scores in her department. As a beloved mentor to current and former students, she is always available outside the classroom and helps students find the thing in life they feel most passionate about.

Bigelow’s mentorship extends to colleagues whom she helps with teaching technology, like running multiple-section courses more effectively. Furthermore, Bigelow has led the way with the Accounting curriculum and new graduate GDip program by developing courses accredited by the (Canadian) Chartered Professional Accountants. While only in its first year, GDip program is already at maximum enrolment with Bigelow as director.

She dedicates herself to student life-long learning, supports their career development, and inspires them as a role model, while mentoring her peers as a highly respected colleague.


Edward G. Pleva Award for Excellence in Teaching

Teaching and learning mathematics has its stereotypes – but in this daunting world of numbers there is only one George Gadanidis, a transformative educator who uniquely spotlights the discipline as a human experience. Gadanidis is equally accomplished in undergraduate and graduate education with students at both levels describing him as exceptional, passionate, available, inspirational and transformational.

Yet, his unique pedagogy reaches far beyond his already impressive presence in the classroom. His ‘Math Music’ program includes math songs and video performances provided to elementary students across Ontario. He received funding from 2009-14 to support the Mathematics Performance Festival. Gadanidis has also developed a large number of open-access materials, ranging from classroom resources to online tools for educators and parents. He has facilitated continuing teacher education by working with the Fields Institute to develop three online short courses.

He has a passionate, almost messianic, commitment to improving Mathematics education for both students and teachers.


Women’s Studies and Feminist Research, Arts & Humanities
Edward G. Pleva Award for Excellence in Teaching

For more than 30 years, Wendy Pearson has been building communities of teaching and learning that are transformative for her students, colleagues and the world. Her teaching and research engage a range of fields, including film studies, feminist theory, cultural studies, queer theory, science fiction and Indigenous Studies.

Pearson supports her students as they confront difficult topics and works to create a comfortable learning environment, even in large classes. She responds to the diversity of her students’ learning styles with an equally diverse spectrum of teaching methods and forms of evaluation. In all, she has successfully developed more than 22 new courses at Western, in which her student-centred pedagogy has made an intellectual home for many who might otherwise feel marginalized on a university campus.

Beyond the classroom, she organized an annual Queer Research Day and serves as faculty advisor for the student-initiated annual Queer Arts Festival, Emergence.

Pearson transforms the lives of students, she challenges the ways we think about teaching, and she has made Western’s campus and community a more welcoming space for all of its diverse members.


Health Studies, Health Sciences
Marilyn Robinson Award for Excellence in Teaching

Even in large classes, Shauna Burke engages her students through the use of relevant video clips, discussions, health bites (current student-relevant health information) and even student-led yoga breaks. She is a versatile and passionate educator who reaches all students, whether in her large class of nearly 500 students, smaller advanced graduate level classes or in a mentorship role with her graduate students. She is known to “aid them in navigating their way through many obstacles they face both academically and personally.”

For Burke, teaching is not a one-way street – she not only teaches, but also learns from her students. Most impressive about her philosophy is the constant reflection she has on her teaching that inspires and motivates her to improve lectures and supervisory strategies. Interactions with students remind her to remain open-minded and accepting of different viewpoints, and she is grateful for the opportunity and privilege of education she and her students share.



Angela Armitt Award for Excellence in Teaching by Part-Time Faculty

Early in her career, Jane Edwards mentored teacher candidates who were placed in her elementary classroom. She was recognized for her exceptional skill by receiving the faculty’s highly competitive Associate Teacher’s Award of Excellence in 1996. In 1999, she joined Education as a limited duties instructor to teach in the Continuing Teacher Education program. Soon, she was given responsibility for teaching and updating online courses in accordance with curriculum changes required by the Ontario College of Teachers. She was hired to teach in the Elementary School Teacher Education Program in 2005.

Her success in the classroom has been nothing short of spectacular. She is recognized as a truly inspiring educator, who is charismatic, knowledgeable and engaging. Students describe her as respectful, inspirational, warm, accessible, enthusiastic, generous and caring. She is a lifelong learner who has a passion for developing leadership qualities in her students and sharing her knowledge of the classroom with others. Thus, it is not surprising that she has excelled in her roles as faculty liaison with the community, faculty advisor and practicum consultant.

Edwards is a teacher in the fullest understanding of the word – it is not a job to her, but a way of life.


Physical Therapy, Health Sciences
Angela Armitt Award for Excellence in Teaching by Part-Time Faculty

As a practicing physical therapist, Heather Gillis is dedicated to ensuring all students, regardless of their educational background, get educational materials which are both foundational and engaging. To this end, she has developed a number of instructional videos to educate students outside the classroom. Students cite her instruction style as one which is “challenging, yet rewarding.”

Gillis’ dedication to education goes beyond the classroom. She does not hesitate to volunteer her time to education, whether in answering student questions outside class or through committee work to enhance the instruction. Behind the scenes, she has been invaluable in advocating for a stronger clinical reasoning base behind the course delivery. She is one of 20 examiners nationwide on the Orthopaedic Division of the Canadian Physiotherapy Association, that evaluates students with post-graduate courses on their practical skills.

Gillis pushes her students outside of their comfort zones so they develop the autonomy and critical thinking necessary in their future careers.


Nursing, Health Sciences
Award for Innovations in Technology-enhancedTeaching

Barbara Sinclair’s patient ‘Nancy’ is resting on a bed. Her hair is disheveled, she is ailing and her family is in the room anxiously awaiting a diagnosis. Some nursing students enter the room and the class begins.

Nancy is a life-size simulator that can be programmed to breathe, talk, respond to treatment and even die. Simulators do not come equipped with wigs, families, personalities or bodily waste, Sinclair has added these features to “create a learning environment that is uncannily close to reality as possible.” But the patient is not the only technological part of the students’ training.

Sinclair designed and developed the Simulated Medication Administration Record Technology (SMART) system and an Electronic Health Record simulation, with the assistance of fellow faculty members Michele Hancock, Jessica Timbrell and Holly Relouw. Together, the software systems, the life-like patient and Sinclair’s creative Simulation Education Suites transform a simple role-playing exercise into an experience that “feels like a shift in a hospital”.

She has also been a pioneer in developing authentic mental health simulations (20 to date) for standardized patients (living role-players). She has been on the University Students’ Council honour roll four times and has earned 10 Faculty of Health Sciences’ Recognition of Excellence Awards.