Excellence in Teaching Winners
By Hattie Bernstein
Elane Johnson teaches creative writing. Dr. David Sze teaches mathematics and statistics.
The distance between their specialties doesn’t reflect what the two recipients of SNHU’s 2016 Excellence in Teaching Award have in common.
When it comes to effectiveness, compassion, commitment and the willingness to go the extra mile for their students, Johnson and Sze, both instructors in the College of Online and Continuing Education, are cut from the same cloth.
Johnson, a COCE adjunct instructor since 2014, began her career as a high school English teacher, transitioned to middle school and, before losing her hearing due to progressive nerve loss, taught writing at every level, from first grade through college.
Finding her way into online teaching “was a godsend,” she says.
“I completely love it,” she says. “I love the students — a lot who are nontraditional and need support and pushing. I’m really good at the cheerleader thing.”
There are times when Johnson misses the face-to-face contact she enjoyed in the classroom. But online chats through a Facebook forum she created called “The Coffee Klatchers” provides an opportunity to engage outside the classroom.
Johnson, who is known to her students as “Professor U,” the first letter of her husband’s surname, says she’s obsessed with her work and what she can do to encourage every student to succeed.
“I’m always thinking about what somebody might need,” she says. “Many have two jobs, families, and they’ve never had anybody support them their entire life.”
Sze, a full-time faculty lead for STEM in the College of Online and Continuing Education, had worked in business for 22 years when he entered the world of online higher education. He feared learning mathematics and statistics online would be difficult for some students.
So he decided to make videos to put his students at ease and show them how to proceed.
“I could break up problems into smaller chunks, take the same questions asked each term, common problems,” Sze says. who has been teaching at SNHU for 14 years. “I’d show step by step how I’d do it, and for students it was a lot easier to understand.”
The instructor says his approach was “slower” and covered less material than in a typical textbook.
“I’m much pickier,” Sze says.
His pickiness paid off.
“Students tell me it wasn’t nearly as bad as they thought it would be; they say they never enjoyed math so much,” Sze says. “So many were worried about the course before they took it.”
The instructor’s videos have had far-reaching influence across SNHU’s online community, where thousands of students take Applied Statistics each year and many are surprised to find the material both interesting and fun.
In an online class covering hypothesis, a central topic in statistics that involves assessing whether a guess is reasonable or not, a group of women tested out the claim that it would take a classmate 90 minutes to get ready for work in the morning.
“They had to prove it was true from a statistical point of view; to set it up, use statistical terms, analyze the data and summarize it,” Sze says. “This was definitely not standard statistics-oriented, but it was so
casual and personal that the topic felt comfortable.”
Students who nominated the instructor for the Excellence in Teaching award described his patience and kindness — qualities that allayed their worries as they dug into an intimidating subject.
The positive regard is mutual.
“What’s most rewarding is seeing students succeeding,” Sze says. “In business, my responsibility was for an organization. In teaching, you have a classroom, and success is measured by how well each individual student learns.”