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UTSC's Joordens wins best teacher award

Steve Joordens won a teaching award for his innovative and effective teaching style. (Photo by Ken Jones)

When Steve Joordens teaches, he doesn’t only want to convey information. He also wants to impart thinking and writing skills that students will be able to use for the rest of their lives.

“It’s the difference between knowing a lot about the guitar and being able to play the guitar,” says Joordens.

That philosophy, along with his engaging and approachable style, led the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations to award Joordens its 2011-12 Teaching Award last week.

“Prof. Joordens has received recognition at the University of Toronto and throughout North America for his innovative contributions to teaching,” says Constance Adamson, president of OCUFA, in announcing the OCUFA Teaching Award. “He is an innovator, an explorer, and a challenger.”

"Steve's an innovative and engaging teacher, and this is an award he richly deserves,” says UTSC Dean Rick Halpern. “The award also highlights UTSC's commitment to excellence in teaching. We're extremely proud."

Joordens is a professor of psychology at UTSC. He’s well-known because of his Introductory Psychology course, which often includes up to 1800 students at a time. He’s also celebrated on campus as an especially skillful and engaging professor.

“During our first class, he told us, ‘I’m going to make you love psychology’,” recalls Khyati Gupta, a third-year management specialist who was taking the class as an elective. “I said, ‘Yeah, right.’” By the end of the class, she had decided to add a psychology minor.

“He really knows his stuff,” says Rajani Sellathurai, a second-year psychology major. “He knows how to communicate well. He teaches in a way you can relate to and understand.”

Joordens says that one advantage he has is that psychology is relevant and potentially interesting to everybody. Nevertheless, it’s evident that he also works hard to get his lessons across.

“I really enjoy the performance aspect of it,” he says. “From early on I was always trying to figure out what worked.”

For instance, he tries to always start a lecture by playing a piece of music which illustrates a theme – for instance, he’ll use “Spirits in the Material World” by The Police to launch into a discussion of mind/body dualism in the history of psychology.

But even more important than lecturing, he thinks, is the ability to teach a student to think critically, organize those thoughts, and express them well. Because the classes he teaches are so large, he’s been developing novel tools to try to do that.

One of those tools is peerScholar, which he developed with PhD student Dwayne Pare. The computerized system requires a student to submit his or her work for review by other classmates, and also to submit comments on the work of other students. The feedback allows students to almost immediately receive feedback on their work, something that would be difficult or impossible in the typical large lecture course.

 “I want to create these tools, and convince other universities and colleges that they should use them too,” Joordens says.

The award is only the most recent of many. Joordens is a recipient of the President’s Teaching Award, was a finalist for the TVO Best Lecturer Award, and received a National Technology Innovation Award.


© University of Toronto Scarborough