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Past Winners of the Teacher of the Week

April Few-Demo

   

The Center for Instructional Development and Educational Research (CIDER) recognizes April Few-Demo, associate professor of Human Development, for her ability to provoke students to challenge old paradigms, to think globally, and to practice active engagement in the classroom and community.

In the classroom, Dr. Few-Demo integrates theory and practical examples that illustrate the interconnectedness of communities in which we live to those beyond our state and national borders. Teaching about difference and how difference can empower or perpetuate the marginalization of some individuals and families is an objective that she accomplishes by integrating scholarship from a variety of disciplines: family studies, sociology, history, women’s studies, theology, and political science. She teaches the Human Sexuality (HD 2314) and Gender & Family Diversity (HD 4364) undergraduate courses. Dr. Few-Demo teaches the largest section of HD 2314, which has ranged from 88 to 290 students, and HD 4364, which is generally capped at 80 students.

Given that she teaches about gender and sexual identity diversity, Dr. Few-Demo feels compelled to challenge students to think outside of their comfort zone of uninterrogated beliefs through the use of threaded discussions online, role play, the inclusion of various media technologies, and group activities. Critical evaluation is an essential learning skill that must be practiced in both undergraduate and graduate courses. Much like our university’s mission, one of her goals in teaching is to contribute to the process of molding competitive global citizens who are sensitive to diversity issues. Dr. Few-Demo's teaching style requires that she remain actively engaged in research in order to be optimally prepared to discuss the latest developments in family studies and to mentor students. During class, she frequently peppers her lecture with discussion questions about methodological, theoretical, and ethical issues pertinent to the day’s learning objectives. For example, Dr. Few-Demo may provide case studies that require students to work together in order to apply theory to a cutting-edge topic in the field or community, develop alternate research designs, and synthesize course content from her course and other related courses. She encourages students to speak from a place of confidence while situating their responses or questions in research and/or practice. Dr. Few-Demo facilitates student involvement in lecture by two means. First, she utilizes her graduate teaching assistants to help facilitate discussion among several groups. No one can stand still in a large classroom. Second, Dr. Few-Demo uses text message (SMS) polling apps and clickers in the classroom.

Active engagement also involves mentoring graduate teaching apprentices/instructors and interested undergraduates (teaching assistants). Dr. Few-Demo's graduate teaching apprentices maintain a journal of their experiences to discuss during bi-weekly meetings. Her goal is to assist them in developing their own pedagogical approaches that best suit their personalities and personal strengths. She encourages her apprentices to give presentations in the community to gain outreach experience and practice teaching diverse students. Dr. Few-Demo noted that it is a rewarding journey to watch these students mature as teachers. As a life-long learner and teacher-scholar, Dr. Few-Demo explained that she has found that engaging students at multiple levels is an opportunity for renewal, affirmation, connection, and celebration. She also believes that it is important to engage her graduate teaching apprentices in the scholarship of teaching. Examples of doing so include: two CIDER presentations with two of her apprentices (i.e., online pedagogy, postmodern feminist pedagogy and power in the classroom) and one symposium involving five teaching apprentices at a national conference. This symposium focused on teaching apprentices sharing lessons from the field teaching human sexuality. Dr. Few-Demo is currently working on manuscripts about teaching with three former apprentices. These manuscripts involve self-reflexivity, documenting the creation of a course for building a research team for graduate students and faculty, and delineating strategies for fostering transformative learning in online courses.

Dr. Few-Demo has only just started to apply for teaching awards. At Virginia Tech, she was a recipient of the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences Certificate of Teaching Excellence (2010), the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences Diversity Award (2007), and the Favorite Faculty Award (a student-nominated award sponsored by Housing and Residential Life). Last year, she was invited to be a panelist in an interactive symposium, Strategies in Teaching about LGBTQ, Sexuality, and Family Issues at the University Level with a few of the leading LGBTQ scholars in the country. Dr. Few-Demo expressed that it was an honor and privilege for her to have had a discussion about teaching controversial topics with those whose scholarship she integrates in her human sexuality course. She also considers it an honor to have written a manuscript with her Human Development colleagues titled "Transforming the Master’s Degree in Human Development and Family Science." Dr. Few-Demo recently explained that she is in a department where she has many award-winning mentors who have pushed her to be a better teacher with each passing year because they are also passionate about teaching.

Quotations from students:

"Dr. Few-Demo reinforces comprehension by showing how the content is put into practice and how students can utilize the information as future professionals."

"I appreciate your cultural sensitivity and guidance in class. Not many teachers include research from my country."

"Dr. Few-Demo does not just talk about diversity, but she incorporates diversity initiatives into everything that she does. Dr. Few-Demo conducts much needed research regarding minority populations, mentors minority students, advocates for her students, and makes an effort to increase minority recruitment at Virginia Tech."

"I always admire her gift of being able to make complex subjects understandable. She is a humble and approachable person who loves to share her extensive knowledge with others, her students in particular."

Quotes from Virginia Tech faculty:

Dr. Arthur Buikema wrote: "There is no question that Dr. Few-Demo puts much effort into preparing her class lectures, much less a guest lecture which is always professional, current and forthright. I look forward to learning new perspectives and information every time I hear her speak to my classes. She effectively utilizes Socratic questioning to engage students and she responds to every question students ask. When students present their misconceptions about various issues relating to men and women, she treats them with respect and responds thoughtfully and with enough facts to support her response. Even if a student is extremely naive, she does not embarrass them. Regardless, she seriously tries to not only understand an individual’s point of view but attempts to integrate their misconceptions into her response. This is a rare and respectful talent."

Dr. Katherine Allen wrote: "Dr. Few-Demo brings extraordinary gifts as a teacher, scholar, advisor, and mentor to students in Human Development. Her pedagogical effectiveness and academic influence extend not only in her classrooms on campus, but also in the national arena, where she is highly respected as an interpreter and synthesizer of knowledge about family diversity, domestic violence, and the politics of intersectionality. She balances academic rigor and interpersonal connection in every arena—the mark of an excellent teacher. She challenges students on all levels—what they know, how they know it, and who they believe themselves to be. She asks them to reflect on their assumptions about individuals and families over the life course, and this reflection places their own lives in the center of inquiry--not a comfortable stance for many teachers or students. Dr. Few-Demo handles reflective practice with grace and skill. Her sense of justice and her ability to articulate her pedagogical goals resonate with her subject matter."

Homepage: http://www.humandevelopment.vt.edu/fewdemo.html





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