Western celebrates excellence in teaching

Eleven winners, representing five different faculties, have been awarded Western’s highest honours for inspiring active and deep learning in their students. 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 be awarded based on evidence of outstanding contributions in the area of classroom, laboratory or clinical instruction. The award was later named after Physiology professor and Educational Development Office coordinator Marilyn Robinson, who became captivated with the idea of exciting students by means of active learning and problem solving.

New this year, faculty members were recognized with the Western Award for Innovations in Technology Enhanced Teaching; the Vice-Provost (Academic Programs) Award for Excellence in Collaborative Teaching and the Vice-Provost (Academic Programs) Award for Excellence in Online Teaching and Learning.

Continuing these traditions today, we present the 2017 awards for excellence in teaching.

Edward G. Pleva Award for Excellence in Teaching


Margaret Jane (MJ) Kidnie

Department of English and Writing Studies

MJ Kidnie has been a passionate advocate of a humanities education for more than 15 years. Students and colleagues speak of her energy, passion and enthusiasm in the classroom and describe her as a “wonderfully dramatic, larger-than life teacher of Shakespearean drama.” Both her learning activities and her assessment methods engage students in performance daily.

The impact of Kidnie’s passion for education reaches far beyond the classroom. Her essays on reading Shakespeare have helped thousands of students at Western and other institutions navigate the challenging language of Renaissance plays, and make 400-year-old texts relevant and meaningful to today’s students.

Working with professor Kim Solga, Kidnie designed a new, interdisciplinary Theatre Studies Program and created a unique, experiential “destination theatre” course which takes students to London, England to attend seminars at the Royal Shakespeare Company, tour archives and theatres, write performance reviews and explore the intersection of place and theatre.

In her role as a graduate development and placement officer, she created a workshop series on professionalization that has been a model for other departments across campus, addressing preparation for both academic and non-academic careers for graduate students in English.



Jacqueline Specht

Faculty of Education

What are the qualities of an excellent professor, one deserving of the most prestigious award for excellence in teaching at Western? According to her nominators, Jacqueline Specht exemplifies the qualities in “spades.”

Her teaching philosophy is simple, but profound – she interacts with her students like adult people; she goes beyond the call of duty, not only to enrich their learning experience, but to ensure they are successful in all realms of life. She ensures they are not only knowledgeable about the subject material, but develop a passion for it and, most importantly, she understands her students and ensures their concerns are met with dignity and respect.

These qualities have been instrumental in Specht receiving numerous prestigious teaching awards over the past 20 years. She is a passionate spokesperson and researcher for the inclusion of children and adult students with exceptionalities in all spheres of life. Specht’s powerful commitment to inclusive education has not only drawn students to her courses, but engaged them in research that has the potential to enact change.

To inspire students to go on to make a difference in the lives of others is Specht’s legacy as an educator.


Quazi Rahman

Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering

Quazi Rahman has been teaching at Western for the past 12 years. According to his nominators, he is an accomplished teacher and a passionate mentor who deeply cares for his students. He has already received a number of teaching accolades, the most notable being the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance Teaching Award.

Students and colleagues alike state Rahman is an artful and influential teacher who uses multiple tools to enhance student engagement and learning. His passion for teaching and his teaching style is admired by his former and current students. The first-year Computer Programming course Rahman teaches has influenced many Engineering students to choose their career path. One former student said, “Once I took his first-year Computer Programming course, I knew I found my passion.” Another wrote, “As I embark on my own teaching career, I have started to draw up on the many positive learning experiences I had with Dr. Rahman.”

Rahman’s mentorship goes beyond Western. He is the co-director and leader of SHAD-Western Program, a national educational outreach program to attract exceptionally talented high school students in Canada to the fields of Science and Engineering. This grassroots outreach activity is a four-week live-in summer camp operated at 13 Canadian university campuses, including Western.

Marilyn Robinson Award for Excellence in Teaching


Dan Bousfield

Department of Political Science

Dan Bousfield combines a passion for political science with a commitment to active learning and problem solving to provide students with an extraordinary teaching experience. An innovator and trailblazer, Bousfield was the first in the department to provide students with the opportunity to partner with community organizations to produce real deliverables, such as a policy brief, community planning or lobbying activities. These vivid and memorable experiences showed students how political science can make a real-world difference.

Bousfield is a strong advocate for student-centred learning. In his class, students play an active role in selecting the topics to be covered, as well as in choosing the method of evaluation. As one student said, “Very often it feels, even in classes of 90 or more students, that Dan has an individual lesson plan for all of us.”

Bousfield reaches out to students in a variety of formats – in person, email groups, Skype and Twitter. He is known for challenging students to aim high and, in so doing, he unleashes their potential with uniformly positive results.



Miranda Green-Barteet

Department of Women’s Studies and Feminist Research

Miranda Green-Barteet “stands out for her passionate commitment to equality in the classroom, to empowering her students to question everything and to resist impositions of authority and inequity,” according to one of her nominators. But her impact extends well beyond the confines of the classroom.

Green-Barteet has embraced the full diversity of in-person and on-line teaching tools and strategies, and seizes every opportunity to capture teachable moments. As one of her former students explained, she serves not as a figure of authority but, instead, positions herself as an equal.

In just a few years, Green-Barteet has taught 10 different courses across three disciplines: Women’s Studies, English and Writing. She is perhaps best known for her Reading the City course, for which she obtained a $17,000 International Curriculum Development Grant to fund experiential learning trips to New York.

Her work in developing the curriculum for Girlhood Studies was so successful it spawned the addition of a graduate course. Green-Barteet is well known for doing everything she can to help others reach their full potential. In the words of one of her nominators, “the classroom is not a closed space” for Green-Barteet. “Instead, teaching and learning are ways of engaging with the world.

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


Wendy Crocker

Faculty of Education

Wendy Crocker is described by her students as a fantastic educator who has the ability to engage, inspire and empower her students. Her classroom is much more than an instructor and students; it’s a learning community. She uses inclusive language to foster a learning community, such as “our class” and “we expect,” reflecting Crocker’s belief that we are all learners, even herself.

Crocker has made a long-lasting impact on the faculty and its students with her contribution to designing and implementing a fully online graduate program – the Masters of Professional Education. In particular, Crocker took a leading role in the design and development of the curriculum, and all of the courses, in the area of Early Childhood Education.

Crocker’s impact on education at Western extends far beyond her faculty. As a member of Western’s Teaching Support Centre, she has hosted curriculum design workshops for countless departments and faculties. A true legacy she has had on education at Western is her visionary leadership and innovation in the creation of the Western Active Learning Space. Thanks to Crocker, what was once a dream, is now a state-of-the-art learning space that benefits students and faculty from nearly all disciplines on campus.

Western Award for Innovations in Technology Enhanced Teaching


Anita Woods

Department of Physiology and Pharmacology

Although large classes can often be a challenging environment for both students and instructors, with limited interaction, Anita Woods’ use of technology in classrooms has begun to close this gap. Over the past five years, Woods conceived, developed and popularized the use of a three-dimensional augmented reality (AR) software for the study of human organs in higher education. The program allows students to view and directly manipulate organs in augmented reality to further their understanding of how the structure of organs affects function.

After garnering overwhelmingly positive feedback on campus, the program sparked Wood’s partnership with Pearson Solutions and distributed the models to institutions beyond Western. Her ongoing work with the project is now focused on refining the software so it can be used on Google’s Cardboard virtual reality viewer, a more cost-effective and accessible alternative.

Beyond her work with AR software, Woods has also developed a highly interactive library of online competency modules that expose students to a virtual lab that aims to help students develop essential skills for future careers in research.

The Vice-Provost (Academic Programs) Award for Excellence in Collaborative Teaching



Andrew Walsh and Ian Colquhoun

Department of Anthropology


Alex Totomarovario

Department of Applied Linguistics (L’Université d’Antsiranana)

Since 2007, Andrew Walsh, Ian Colquhoun, and Alex Totomarovario have worked together to forge positive teaching and research relationships between undergraduate students at Western and students at the Université d’Antsiranana in Madagascar.

As the leaders of this collaboration, they offer Western students in their Environmental Anthropology field course the chance to learn about Malagasy culture, language, and the socio-economic and political issues surrounding conservation and development in Madagascar. The field school involves partnering Western and Malagasy students on research projects that meet the complex needs and social issues of people and communities in Madagascar. All students are introduced to the complexities of cross-cultural collaboration, anthropological research methods and collaborative research.

A striking characteristic of the Western/Université d’Antsiranana teaching collaboration is some Malagasy students also have the opportunity to visit Western to engage in courses, ongoing research activities and experience everyday life on a Canadian campus. In the words of one Malagasy student, “This project was not just a collaborative experience, but a human experience.”

By establishing a cooperative teaching and learning experience that not only partners institutions and students, but also focuses on collaborative research, the trio models a wonderful example of collaboration on multiple levels.

The Vice-Provost (Academic Programs) Award for Excellence in Online Teaching and Learning


Brenton Faubert

Faculty of Education

The students in Brenton Faubert’s Aims of Educational Leadership course are deeply absorbed in debating the topic at hand. Gathered in small breakout discussions – each working with peers to integrate the course material – in many ways, they are modelling the kind of intellectually rigorous engagement that takes place in graduate seminars across Western’s campus.

What is remarkable, however, is these students’ classroom is virtual and they are each logged on to a BlackBoard Collaborate classroom from locations around Ontario, Canada and the world.

Faubert’s students and colleagues recognize the impact of his approach to online teaching. Students say through his ability to create an engaging, student-centred classroom, the perceived limitations of the online learning environment disappear. His courses consistently receive the highest evaluation scores in the program and his approach to online teaching is spreading beyond his own courses. Faubert’s work has become a model for other instructors across the faculty’s online graduate programs.

In his own words, Faubert said, “great care goes into selecting the technology that will allow me to put into practice my teaching principles, as I believe these tools should be the means through which humans connect and achieve with together.”