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Past Winners of the Teacher of the Week

Matthew Wisnioski


The Center for Instructional Development and Educational Research (CIDER) recognizes Matthew Wisnioski, associate professor of Science and Technology in Society, for bringing together students from widely different disciplinary backgrounds to understand how technology, society, and human imagination are inextricably connected.

Dr. Wisnioski believes that all students, regardless of where they come from, need to learn how to navigate the human-built world as it changes and it changes us. In his nine years at Virginia Tech, Dr. Wisnioski has taught a variety of classes and types of students from graduate seminars in the History of Science to undergraduate lectures that help engineers understand the power of culture. At the graduate level, he was one of the founders of Human-Centered Design IGEP, and, currently, he is collaborating in the creation of an Innovation Pathways Minor. This past year, as a co-chair of the Preparing Students focus of Virginia Tech’s Beyond Boundaries Initiative, Dr. Wisnioski had the opportunity to explore with a group of students, faculty, staff and administrators how education may change in the future; what may remain the same; and what are the core values worth defending in any possible future.

Increasingly, Dr. Wisnioski specializes in classes that bring together students from across the university to collaboratively question the meaning of innovation. In his classes, students engage with primary historical texts, use methodological tools from many disciplines, and undertake student-directed group research. Students have interviewed leading scientists and mothers in the farmer’s market to understand how society thinks about innovation. They have built video games that investigate the consequences of automation. And, his students have mediated contentious town-gown relationships. For work of this sort, Dr. Wisnioski’s and his students received the XCaliber Award in 2014.

Dr. Wisnioski’s courses have three principles in common. First, that we all share responsibility for building a learning environment in which each individual brings in their past experiences, expertise, interests, and goals. Second, staged collaboration across different backgrounds benefits individual participants and the collective production of knowledge. And third, that the products of our learning should have value beyond the confines of classrooms and semesters. These principles help students understand the challenges and rewards of collaboration. As one student wrote about the experience: “We live in a society that expects instant gratification. We expect everything immediately – data, information, change, outcome, etc. But in a course like “Origins of Innovation” . . . nothing should be expected immediate. I learned to be patient and to work with students from different departments, cultures, with a different level of commitment and experience, and different skills.” This environment can be risky, and it is often uncomfortable. But, as one student reflected, it can be liberating: “I could be much better than I think. I could be a good leader. My ideas are not always awful or worthless as I think. I have good ideas, sometimes great. I can speak up and say what I want. It's been a long time since I really had that confidence in myself.”


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