Dr. Barbara Jo White Wins 2009 SoTL Award
By Cynthia Gallinger
This Scholarship of Teaching award is one of the top awards granted at Western Carolina University. This year, it was presented to Barbara Jo White, assistant professor of Computer Information Systems, for her classroom research that analyzes the value of assigning students digital media presentations instead of traditional written reports.
“Research is a process of gathering data and arranging it to display results. This can be done digitally as well as on paper. I was interested in seeing how students respond to learning this way.” White says.
Dr. White has always been interested in finding out how teaching and learning work. After graduating from UNC Chapel Hill with a BA in Botany and Journalism, she worked at Nature’s Classroom, a pioneer in environmental education in New England. With a new school group each week to experiment on, White could quickly observe the effect of different teaching techniques. Later, during her 8 years at Sound to Sea, a North Carolina based another environmental education program here in North Carolina, she developed a peer observation program about teaching and learning with her instructors.
“Environmental education is where I first started trying out new ideas and discussing them with others. And that is what the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning is about here at Western, except that SoTL adds a research component, allowing us to share our experiences in a scholarly way.”
Although SoTL has been at WCU for less than a decade, Western Carolina is one of the pioneers in the field. The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning initiative, established through an endowment from Myron L Coulter, promotes the recognition of faculty for their research in the field of teaching and learning.
“It is a win-win situation,” says White. “Using our research abilities to study our teaching methods helps us and our students.”
In other institutions, faculty need to conduct research in their field to be considered for tenure. Western Carolina is one of the first universities to allow faculty to fulfill this obligation with research about teaching and learning.
“If teaching was just a set of steps, it could be put in a book and we could all learn how to do it perfectly, but it is not just about the teacher, it is also about the student,” White says. “As students change, teaching must also change.”
Dr. White was granted the 2009 Scholarship of Teaching and Learning award for a study she did with her freshman seminar class, The Information Society at Work. Students were required to conduct video interviews with people over 50 years old to see how they felt technology had affected culture.
“The students would get together to work on their projects down the hall from my office. It was nice to hear how much fun they were having working together on their own time,” says White.
Barbara Jo White has a history of getting people together. While working for the Peace Corps, she initiated a map-making project that is still in existence today. She authored a manual that helps Peace Corps Volunteers participate in community development by engaging host country nationals in the construction of large-scale, hand-painted world maps.
“I created a website for the World Map Project (http://sites.google.com/site/theworldmapproject/home) that has great pictures from all over the world. Now, after reading a book about Twitter, I’m trying to link to Peace Corps Volunteers through Twitter.
Working with not for-profits fostered Dr. White’s interest in business. “When I first started working at Sound to Sea, everything was written on a paper calendar. I thought – there has to be a better way, so I built a database.”
After earning an MA and an MBA from East Carolina University, Dr. White went on to earn a PhD in Business Administration (with a major in Management Information Systems) from the University of Mississippi. She has been at Western Carolina University since 2005.
Dr White continues to study new teaching and learning techniques. Feedback from her students about their video project provided some additional insights that she has already responded to.
“They said that they would have liked more information on how to use the video software. [As a result] I now have all kinds of video how-tos that my students can use.”
Dr. White feels that SoTL provides an important avenue to formally present this type of finding to the academic community. It is a way to use research and writing skills to publish on a topic that is of general interest to the faculty.
“Teaching and Learning is one thing that unites all faculty. We each have our own fields, but we are all educators.”
You can contact Barbara Jo (BJ) White at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information about the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning at WCU, go to http://www.wcu.edu/7066.asp or contact the faculty fellow for SoTL, Laura Cruz at email@example.com .