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Past Winners of the Teacher of the Week

Zach Dresser

   

The Center for Instructional Development and Educational Research (CIDER) recognizes Zach Dresser, visiting assistant professor of Religion and Culture, for creating a classroom based on collegiality and a common project of inquiry through student-centered active learning.

In his courses on religion, culture, and history, commonly focused on the U.S. context, Dr. Dresser combines introducing new ways of thinking about topics with activities and assignments designed to build critical thinking and communication skills. The key to success in these endeavors is fostering active engagement among the students through a variety of measures. Responding to studies about learning and attention span, he structures each course to include a variety of activities—from reflective writing, to small group discussion, to interactive lecture. Variety is also evident in the course materials, which include deep scholarly writing, film, music, and even the occasional bad writing (one of the best discussions was a critique of why Eat, Pray, Love is a bad book). He also ensures that his courses succeed through public reflection on pedagogy and course goals, sustained throughout the semester. Explaining why he runs the course as he does seems to give students a sense of agency in a collective project. He also tailors writing assignments to reflect on course materials while having clear skill-building, real world applicability. For instance, students in Religion and the Modern World write an explanation, geared toward an imagined Collegiate Times audience, of Pope Francis’s significance in light of a unit on global Christianities and the recent history of world Catholicism.

Student evaluations, observations by faculty colleagues, and a Favorite Faculty Award in 2014 all demonstrate Dr. Dresser’s successful impact as a teacher. One student in his Religion in American Life class wrote about his ability to connect with students where they are, saying, “He treated us as equals. He was really personal. Very upbeat and friendly, excited to hear about our experiences. And he was always willing to help and give constructive criticism.” Another student reflected on the lasting impact of the course, which “challenged my understandings of not only religion, but also my worldview.” Students also commonly remark about his success in teaching critical thinking and communication skills in comments such as “He fostered an atmosphere of independent thinking” and “He gives the BEST feedback on papers, which have tremendously helped me become a better communicator.” One colleague noted in an observation of his teaching about Thomas Jefferson in the founding of the American nation, ”These eighteen-year-olds learn about religion, culture, and American history because they are doing American history…. They were all engaged. Every single one.”

Homepage: http://liberalarts.vt.edu/faculty-directory/religion-and-culture-faculty/zach-dresser.html





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