Posted on April 6, 2009 by Dylan Anderson

Dr. Ian Blokland is receiving the prestigious Provost’s Award for Early Achievement of Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching

by Kara Blizzard

Augustana physics and math professor Dr. Ian Blokland is receiving the prestigious Provost’s Award for Early Achievement of Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching. The award has only existed for two years, and it is given to a University of Alberta professor who has been teaching for less than five years. Some of the criteria include planning and organization, enthusiasm for the subject matter, and concern for students’ progress. According to Dr. Paula Marentette, Associate Dean of Teaching and Research, to receive this award is quite an accomplishment: “Learning to teach takes a really long time,” she said. “There’s not necessarily a lot of support for that at graduate school, so being such an excellent teacher so soon into your teaching career is an incredible thing.”

Blokland has been a professor at Augustana for four years. He teaches mostly physics, and some mathematics. As for his teaching style, he stated that it is important to “have energy, bring in some demonstrations, and be very clear and organized.” Class sizes for senior classes tend to be relatively small, and this enables Blokland to organize lessons according to the personalities and learning tendencies of his students.

I spoke with Gordon Naylor, one of Blokland’s students. Naylor is a third-year math and physics major at Augustana, and he has taken five courses with Ian Blokland so far. Naylor commented on his professor’s organizational skills, and his thorough knowledge of the subjects that he teaches. “He takes his teaching seriously,” said Naylor. He also stated that Blokland is “very good with analogies, and he makes really abstract concepts seem quite simple.”

Augustana’s Dean, Dr. Roger Epp, commended Blokland’s teaching style by saying, “he’s one of those people that brings energy, passion, creativity, and a real commitment to students to the classroom.” Blokland plans classes thoroughly, and he often uses creative demonstrations to teach concepts. The dean also discussed Blokland’s endeavours outside of the classroom: he has helped students to find summer research positions across Western Canada. Blokland’s dedication to students shows both inside and outside of his classroom. According to Epp, “at four years into Ian’s first university position he is not only a promising teacher; he’s a very accomplished one.”

Dr. Jonathan Mohr, the Chair of Augustana’s Science department, has sat in on some of Blokland’s classes. Blokland often includes demonstrations in his lessons, like an air hockey table with objects floating across it to simulate collisions. He has recently started using clicker technology, and Mohr described this process to me: Blokland puts forward a multiple-choice question, and students answer with their clickers. A bar graph of results is projected, and then students discuss why they have different answers, and how to get the correct one. As a result of these discussions, said Mohr, “the students are actively involved in the learning process.” Mohr also mentioned that “students comment on Ian’s availability and his dedication to his students. He is always encouraging them to come see him for help, and he is always available to answer their questions.”

After he was nominated for the award, Ian Blokland had to put together a dossier of his teaching materials, to be assessed by reviewers across Canada. Many of these reviewers then wrote letters of support. Paula Marentette went over some of the highlights of these letters, which included Blokland’s use of examples that students can connect to their own lives. Marentette stated that Blokland is a good recipient for the teaching award because “he’s passionate about science, and teaching students about science. He does a lot of work to prepare for classes. He thinks about what students need in order to allow them to engage with the material.”

In addition to being an accomplishment for Blokland, the award says a lot about Augustana in general. “To me,” Blokland said, “it’s a reflection of our campus.” Augustana has long been dedicated to providing good teachers for its students. Marentette suggested that the Provost’s Award for Early Achievement of Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching “showcases the importance of undergraduate teaching at this institution.”

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