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DeKalb, IL 60115
The late Richard Feynman, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist, once described a litmus test on whether he – or anyone else – truly grasped what they claimed to comprehend.
He “argued that one does not understand a complicated subject unless one can clearly explain it to a class of freshmen,” says Brianno Coller, a professor of mechanical engineering at NIU who joins Michael Kolb from the Department of Anthropology and Kristen Myers from the Department of Sociology as this year’s Presidential Teaching Professors.
Coller tried to follow Feynman’s advice.
“When I first started teaching, I focused primarily on presentation,” he says. “How could I most clearly explain the course material? What sort of memorable analogies could I make? What types of impactful demonstrations could I bring in to the classroom?”
Yet it wasn’t working. Disappointing test results told the story.
So Coller explored the literature and himself, making changes to convert his classroom into a “learning environment.” A main ingredient? Video games.
“Play is an important part of learning that transcends species. Children play. Puppies play. Birds play. Many scholars argue that play is an essential mechanism through which we develop an understanding of the world and our place within it,” Coller says.
“In the learning environments I design, I strive to find a balance of work and play,” he adds. “I, myself, have tremendous fun developing these environments.”
The Presidential Teaching Professorship designation was established in 1991 to recognize outstanding teachers who have demonstrated that:
Each receives budgetary support and release time for the enhancement of his or her teaching skills. After four years as a Presidential Teaching Professor, each is designated a Distinguished Teaching Professor.
“Were we to ask people for their definitions of ‘teaching,’ I would bet that a great majority would describe what amounts to a simple transfer of information from instructor to learner. That’s an outdated philosophy,” Interim Provost Lisa Freeman says.
“Our three Presidential Teaching Professors know that what students need is not just a lecture or a demonstration but the opportunity to build knowledge themselves. They need to engage with teachers and classmates to draw lines from what they already know to what they’re seeing, hearing and experiencing,” Freeman adds. “Brianno Coller, Michael Kolb and Kristen Myers are dynamic educators who are not only active partners in the intellectual growth of their students but also promoters of ‘Student Career Success’ who shape curious, lifelong learners.”
The NIU Presidential Teaching Professorships were established in 1991 to recognize and support faculty who excel in the practice of teaching.
Recipients of this award have demonstrated their commitment to and success in the many activities associated with outstanding teaching. The recipients receive budgetary support and release time for the enhancement of their teaching skills.
After four years as a Presidential Teaching Professor, each of these eminent faculty members is designated a Distinguished Teaching Professor.