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Past Winners of the Teacher of the Week

Kathryne Drezek McConnell


The Center for Instructional Development and Educational Research (CIDER) recognizes Kathryne Drezek McConnell, adjunct professor of Learning Sciences and Technologies, for creating an environment that allows students to actively explore ideas and construct their own knowledge, and one in which each student's contributions are welcomed and valued.

Kate has taught several graduate-level courses for Virginia Tech’s educational psychology program, including Constructivism in Education, College Teaching, Cognitive Processes, and Sociocultural Influences on Education. She is also the assistant director of the Office of Assessment and Evaluation, specializing in First Year Experience and Quality Improvement Plan Assessment, SCHEV Core Competency Assessment, and VALUE rubrics.

Kate facilitates in a truly student-centered, collaborative environment. Her students are given the chance to display their understanding in multiple formats, from discussion in class to short writing assignments to digital recordings of their thoughts (i.e., “Oral Explanations”) designed to prepare students not only with the course material, but to become articulate, concise professionals. Kate's courses also encourage students to engage with primary sources of information on constructivism, cognitive processes, sociocultural theories, and simply good pedagogy from K-12 to the realm of higher education. Collaborative and whole-group discussion and interactive activities during class time make students analyze and critique these pieces with their peers, leading to deeper understanding of the content and co-construction of knowledge. Overall, her classes are formulated in a way that is an honest representation of the constructivist, cognitive, and pedagogical principles being taught. As a result, not only are her classes effective and informative, they are also highly engaging and enjoyable.

Kate’s students agree that her instructional plan and course activities are extremely interesting and effective, provide multiple opportunities for student success, and are truly a model of effective pedagogical practice. Kate supports her students as they explore relationships between various theories and analogies to aid in student understand of new material.

Kate was recently recognized as an Emerging Leader by PDK International, an organization of professional educators tasked with recognizing top educators under the age of 40 worldwide. In addition, Kate’s students have much to say of her teaching. Her clear focus on increasing not only the content learned, but also her students’ critical thinking skills is evident in the following:

"It's hard to make a 7pm class engaging, and Kate did this with skill. I learned something mind-bending in every class, something I wouldn't have been able to discern on my own from the readings. She really made use of all the brain-power in the room and got us collaborating."

“Kate framed our class in such a way that it pushed me to think deeply and work toward putting my thoughts into words.”

“We used [10 minute] oral explanations to create a vlog that synthesized our learning. I quickly caught on that you need to work hard to understand something well enough to explain the concept in less than 10 minutes. I sat in my room drafting notes, reading, rereading, jotting more notes, and then it was gratifying to see how the self-taped oral explanation really did use that whole preparation process as it all came together when speaking. Beyond improving my oral skills, she helped me understand peer reviewed research articles through activities planned that helped us learn from each group member’s ‘take always’ from the reading. “

"This class was made enjoyable even with the difficulty of the readings and theory. The discussion was engaging enough to keep people going in a class that is really late at night but not too complex where students wouldn't be able to follow along."

Not only the breadth of learning that takes place, but also her attitude and general demeanor excites Kate’s students. Past and present students describe her as truly taking hold the title of ‘teacher’ and expanding its traditional meaning by creating seamless, subtle boundaries that guide and move students’ learning processes through the appropriate path, yet remaining a facilitator that maintains a fluid environment so that each and every student has the opportunity to create meaning through deep reflection and exploration, ultimately leading to transformation of the mind. This is apparent in her students’ comments:

“Kate is a fantastic, thoughtful, engaging, and motivating teacher. . . . Kate always brought our class up to her level of positivity and passion for pedagogical practices. Every evening I left Kate’s [Cognitive Processes] class with a new lens of looking at the creation of knowledge, ways to enhance and adapt my own teaching philosophy, and practical steps to take the newfound knowledge and put it into practice.”

“Cognitive Processes was not on my plan of study, but when one of my courses was dropped, I added McConnell's and I'm so glad that I did! She was challenging, encouraging, and personable. Even after our late-night class that ended at 9:50 p.m., she was open (usually as we walked out to our cars) to talk about how I was connecting the material and applying it to my work at VT in teaching and learning. I think it is her collegial approach to working with graduate students that makes her so approachable. Also, she presents herself in a manner that shows she sets high expectations for herself, and this presence makes you want to rise to the occasion in her class.”

"I was really not looking forward to this [required] class. Kate's teaching changed all that."


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