The Fine Art of Teaching

Five Win 1995 Distinguished Teaching Awards

This year's Distinguished Teaching Award will go to a professor who treats his students "as young colleagues," a lecturer who zeroes in on their problems, a third who inspires humanity in law students, another who never lets a student leave his office unsure of the answer and a veteran who makes a lecture class of 1,000 a special experience for each student.

The Distinguished Teaching Award, given annually by the Academic Senate Committee on Teaching since 1959, recognizes excellence in teaching on the Berkeley campus.

This year's recipients are Gary Firestone of molecular and cellular biology, Brian Harvey of computer science, Rachel Moran of law, Andrew Packard of mechanical engineering and Vincent Resh of environmental science, policy and management.

In addition, the Undergraduate Instrumentation and Image Processing Laboratory in the Department of Astronomy is the recipient of the Educational Initiatives Award.

The award was created in 1993 to recognize a department or a unit that has created an outstanding program or initiative that could serve as a model. The laboratory will be profiled in the April 12 Berkeleyan.

Distingushed Teachers

Vincent Resh

Students enthralled by Professor Vincent Resh's general biology course have his son to thank.

"I started teaching the course when my son was in college and I found I prepared better lectures if I thought about what I would want him to know about biology and about how I would want it presented to him," says the professor of entomology

A specialist in aquatic entomology and author or co-author of nearly 200 articles and papers, Resh teaches general biology, biology of aquatic insects, presentation and publication of biological research, and the biology and geomorphology of tropical islands.

Much of the teaching he does, with both undergraduates and graduates, is done at Strawberry Creek. Resh has even produced a popular walking tour guide for the creek.

The general biology course, he says, is a particularly challenging experience, especially because enrollment often runs to between 800 and 1,000 students. Yet it is anything but an impersonal experience for his students.

In general biology, for example, he tries "to approach teaching evolution and ecology by including the philosophical underpinnings that influence biological movements and the implications that evolution and ecology have in each of our lives."

Resh often steps away from the podium and into the aisles of the auditorium. "I have found," he says, "that leaving the stage when expanding on a point or asking and answering questions puts me and the students in the same physical space, which in turn creates the feeling that we are all in this together."

The effect, however, goes beyond that. "Sometimes I got the feeling that I was at a revival," says one student.

Resh, a member of the Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management, joined the faculty in 1975. He received his BA in Biology and Philosophy from Georgetown University in 1967 and his PhD from the University of Louisville (Kentucky) in water resources in 1973.

Andrew Packard

Associate Professor Andrew Packard received perhaps the highest praise a student can give. He is, said the student, "unbelievably good at making an 8 a.m. lecture interesting." And this for a professor who teaches such courses as automatic controls, engineering mechanics and robust multivariable control system design.

"As I look back at my life as a graduate student, and the events and people that have shaped my professional and personal life, Professor Andrew Packard stands out as a rare gentleman and a true scholar who was a principal architect of my career," says another student.

Packard says his success as a teacher is dependent upon his being well-prepared and enthusiastic for each lecture. "I truly feel that the quality of my lecture is improved if I do not rely on notes, but rather move cohesively from concept to theory to example in a natural and unbroken manner."

A former National Science Foundation Presidential Young Investigator Award recipient, he has been cited as being among the top researchers in the world of "robust" control systems.

Yet his love of teaching comes up again and again. "His enthusiasm and energy for the subject he teaches can be infectious, and thus he stimulates in his students a sense of intellectual quest and creativity," says one fan.

Perhaps the most common comment from students is that Packard is accessible.

"I believe that patience is the most important virtue one could have during office hours. I will spend as much time as necessary to clear up the questions. Since the student has taken the initiative to come to my office, the least I can do is reciprocate with my time and honest effort," says Packard.

Packard joined the Department of Mechanical Engineering faculty in 1990. He received his BS in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Illinois, Urbana, in 1982 and his PhD in Mechanical Engineering from Berkeley in 1988.

Rachel Moran

Law professor Rachel Moran is a specialist in educational law and policy, and personal injury law and is one of the leading U.S. scholars on issues of bilingualism and the law.

She is also, according to one student, "a brilliant teacher: clear, incisive, precise, direct, dramatic, eloquent, utterly compelling."

Moran invests enormous effort into her teaching. "I feel that if I do not 're-create' the material each year, my lectures will sound like stale recitations of last year's notes. By regularly revisiting the issues present, I believe my courses can evolve in dynamic and interesting ways," she says.

A colleague points out that in class, Moran "moves through a variety of teaching styles, from review of previous material, to Socratic a role-playing exercise."

Moran herself says that she tries to strike a balance between structure and fluidity which "gives students the foundation upon which to develop their own unique approaches to legal problem solving."

Recalls one former student: "She made a point of being readily available in her office to walk us through difficult concepts a second or third time.... She instigated and attended a class dinner party, and she offered personal advice about our... careers."

Moran also sits on the Admissions Committee and is adviser to the La Raza Law Journal, treating "all her responsibilities with the same interest, care, and warm good humor."

"In the end," says Moran, learning is not just about objectified principles that reside outside students and teachers, but is part of a complex process of integrating insights about the outside world into students' own identities."

Moran joined the faculty in 1982. She received her BA in psychology from Stanford in 1978 and her JD from Yale Law School in 1981.

Brian Harvey

Computer sciences lecturer Brian Harvey, "seems to have a knack for zeroing in on students' real problems," says a former student.

Harvey is the author of several highly regarded books on computer science, including "Simply Scheme: Introducing Computer Science," co-authored with an undergraduate. The effort "is a marvel of making important, and often seemingly impenetrable, concepts understandable to people without prior programming experience," says a colleague in the Computer Science Division of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences.

Harvey's first teaching job was in 1979 when he was asked to set up a computer facility at a high school. There, he developed the motto "autonomy, community, excellence," his guiding principle in teaching. "I've put a lot of effort into cooperative learning," he says. "This is the large-class version of the 'community' part of my slogan. Students work in groups."

Harvey's credo goes beyond the classroom, too. One colleague points out that "he spends endless hours meeting with students, dealing with whatever problems they may have."

The Committee on Teaching commended Harvey for his sensitivity to students' needs and his willingness to incorporate their ideas and concerns into his classes.

Harvey's impact can be seen in the number of his students who apply to be lab assistants. "Since I loved the course so much," says one, "I wanted a second time through the material, to get a deeper understanding of the ideas that appeal to me so much. Twenty or 30 students felt the same way I did about the course material and the chance to teach."

Students who have been his lab assistants praise the weekly meetings with assistants to discuss how to help students when they get stuck.

Harvey joined the department in 1987. He received his BS in Mathematics from MIT in 1969 and his PhD in Science and Mathematics Education from Berkeley in 1985.

Gary Firestone

Gary Firestone, professor of cell and developmental biology, is a prolific researcher who says one of the challenges teaching in the biological sciences is that the field is constantly evolving through new concepts and new technologies.

One of the distinguishing features of Firestone's approach--he teaches cell biology, mechanisms of hormone signal transduction, and molecular endocrinology--is that he teaches biological concepts through an interactive, Socratic format.

After providing background information and specific experimental designs and research results, he opens the discussion encouraging students to "think creatively about the given topic, to critically evaluate and interpret the presented facts and to learn how to design rigorous experimental strategies for testing a particular hypothesis."

"Most exhilarating for me," he says," are the times when students construct better experiments in class than those previously published." Students cite Firestone's command of his material. "He can engage a class of 300 students to actively participate in the lecture material," says one former student.

The Committee on Teaching was impressed with the way Firestone could, within 10 minutes, make a class his own--establishing rapport and involving students in looking at current research as current events.

Firestone joined the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology faculty in 1983. He received his BA in Chemistry from Bucknell in 1974 and his PhD in Biochemistry from the University of Iowa in 1980.

A former National Science Foundation Presidential Young Investigator, Firestone is a specialist in molecular endocrinology and tumor biology and is a Research Molecular Endocrinologist at the Berkeley Cancer Research Laboratory.


This year's recipients for Distinguished Teaching and Educational Initiative awards will be honored Tuesday, April 18, at 5 p.m. in the Zellerbach Playhouse. The program will feature a narrated slide presentation.

The campus community is invited to attend.

The ceremony is sponsored by the California Alumni Association, the Committee on Teaching and the Office of the Assistant Vice Chancellor for Educational Development. A reception will follow at Alumni House.


Copyright 1995, The Regents of the University of California.
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