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Past Winners of the Teacher of the Week

Tim Baird


The Center for Instructional Development and Educational Research (CIDER) recognizes Tim Baird , assistant professor of Geography, for his exceptional instruction in courses that investigate the nuances of sustainability. Housed in the Department of Geography, Dr. Tim Baird's Seeking Sustainability course (NR 1115 & 1116) is one of the introductory courses in the College of Natural Resources and the Environment.

The course requires the careful integration of lessons from the social and natural sciences including themes and theories from political ecology, conservation biology, and sustainability studies. Dr. Baird facilitates the delicate exercise of mixing a diverse group of students (who have different motives and disciplinary backgrounds) and broad subject matter by dedicating himself to be a dynamic and prepared instructor. His dynamic instructional style is evident in the wide range of innovative strategies he uses to engage students in intellectual conversations. For example, this past year he sought to implement a classroom intervention to promote intrinsic motivation. By mixing inquiry-based learning (IBL) and learner self-evaluation, Dr. Baird offered an opportunity for students to, as he puts it, “skip class, do whatever they want, and give themselves a grade.” In more detail, the students were given the chance on three separate occasions to pursue their own sustainability interests instead of meeting during the class period. The students were charged with putting these small periods of time to best use (e.g., developing ideas to change the syllabus, working on a local sustainability project at [university name], sorting and/or studying trash, profiling green products at a local merchant). Students were then responsible for sharing and assessing their own effort.

Dr. Baird has an admirable desire to develop creative efforts to harness students’ interests and senses of themselves, and to place these squarely within the purview of the course. Of particular merit is his ability to help students understand the personal value of education. Students clearly appreciate his efforts. One student complimented his attention to detail, noting he paid attention to “their needs and ways of learning” and that they consequently came away from his class better understanding how to learn. Many students recognized his ability to create an environment of mutual respect, with another student further adding, “he made each student feel important,” which ultimately helped students “to think on their own by the end of the semester.” Finally, one student praised Dr. Baird in that “he constantly changed his teaching method, which not only kept the class interesting, but encouraged us to think critically about the material that we were learning. He also encouraged us to apply the theories that we learned in class to the rest of our lives. He was very eager to answer all of our questions and to encourage us to question him.”

Tim recognizes that teachable moments require more than stressing the power of critical thinking. In his courses he aims to make learning cyclical, where each learning event (idea, question, piece of information) can represent a new beginning (or perhaps the closure) of a line of inquiry. This is a demanding proposition for an instructor because conversations can quickly move from a discussion of the economics of soil science to the importance of political history. Tim really cares about teaching and puts great thought and effort into developing his courses; he is constantly seeking and sharing ideas, advice and strategies to improve both the structure and content of the course as well as ways to better engage students of diverse backgrounds and interests. In short, while Tim is a naturally gifted teacher, he is also a prepared teacher, having committed himself to become a better instructor while he was at UNC-CH by participating in the Future Faculty Fellowship, Center for Teaching and Learning and now here at Virginia Tech through an active involvement in CIDER.


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