Tanner Awards for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching by Graduate Teaching Assistants
In 1990, the University expanded the purview of the Tanner Awards to recognize excellence in the teaching of undergraduates by graduate teaching assistants. Each of the five winners receives a one-time stipend of $5,000 and a framed citation.
Graduate Teaching Fellow
Faculty member since what year?
I started grad school at Carolina in the fall of 2015 and worked as a teaching assistant for my first few years. I started teaching my own sections as a teaching fellow in the Summer of 2018 or so.
Hometown? Beaverdam, Virginia
Excerpt from award citation:
“Zach is the absolute feedback king. This class is my only class this semester where the turnaround time for grades was less than one week. The feedback along with the grade assigned allowed me to critique my own work and grow.”
Who was the best teacher you ever had and why?
When I was an undergraduate at James Madison University, I took a developmental psychology class taught by Dr. Krisztina Jakobsen. She used a team-based learning design, somewhat like a flipped classroom, that utilized a variety of evidence-based components, like individual and team quizzes, frequent group activities, and problem-based learning. Krisztina was such an exceptional teacher that I wound up asking her to be my advisor. For my honors thesis, we researched the potential effect of class structure (team-based vs. typical lecture) on student critical thinking skills. Her commitment to using evidence-based teaching techniques has had a long-lasting effect on my interest in the science of learning.
What is something you’ve learned from your students?
My students have taught me how impactful individual differences (e.g., student background, prior knowledge, time constraints and motivation) can be on ultimate learning and course performance. Because some of these differences are less obvious than others, student-teacher communication is critical to understanding the actual reason for a skipped class, a well-written paper, a late assignment, etc.
What is something people would be surprised to learn about you?
I successfully completed a giant burger eating challenge up in Indiana that had been featured on Man v. Food (a Travel Channel TV series).
What does it take to be a good professor in 2020?
I think a good instructor is ready and willing to change their teaching/courses to align with a variety of dynamic factors. For example, it is important for instructors to not only stay up to date on the latest educational research, but also to incorporate those evidence-based strategies into their teaching. Additionally, a good instructor understands that a specific technique or assignment that worked well in the past may not always work well in the future. Each semester brings with it a new group of students and good instructors are ready to adapt their course if necessary.
What’s the most creative thing you’ve done to engage your students?
In all my courses, I emphasize the relevance of scientific research and try to get my students interested in seeking out answers to everyday questions. One way I do this is by presenting a series of statements on the first day of class and have my students rate their endorsements of each. The statements are all widespread scientific misconceptions and we discuss their opinions and the research on each as a class (e.g., despite high rates of endorsement, research indicates that we use much more than 10% of our brain, that learning is not enhanced when taught via your individual “learning style,” that no bats are actually blind, and that you can’t see the Great Wall of China from space). To keep them engaged and interested throughout the semester, I introduce a new misconception at the beginning of every class.