Virginia Tech Teacher of the Week
The Center for Instructional Development and Educational Research (CIDER) recognizes Mark Cline, assistant professor of Animal and Poultry Sciences, for his commitment to utilizing research to enhance his teaching while simultaneously making important contributions to science.
According to Dr. Cline, the formula for successful teaching is simple. “First, be genuinely excited about the material, and let that enthusiasm always show; always be animated and entertaining; second, relate material to the students’ everyday lives whenever possible and allow students to share their experiences and knowledge with the entire class in order to promote a more active, fully-involved educational environment; thirdly, always be compassionate and approach students more like colleagues rather than subordinates; and lastly, sometimes failures are the best learning experiences, and most failures can be molded into success. It’s the educator’s role to guide the student perspective on perceived failure, to focus on and learn from the positives, not dwell on the negatives.”
Dr. Cline’s true passion for teaching and use of the above formula is evidenced every day in his courses; he is an animated lecturer who interjects humor as a teaching device, remains humble while retaining confidence, and incorporates his students into his lectures instead of lecturing at them. His classroom is designed as a mixture of traditional lecture and very short activities designed to stimulate student engagement. As evidenced by one of his students, “Dr. Cline is an excellent teacher. He really cares about presenting the material so that it is clear and actively involves the students in lecture.” Some past examples of Dr. Cline’s unique approach to teaching include: using a few minutes before 8:00 a.m. classes begin to play energetic popular music to help students become more alert, bringing refreshments to exams to ease test anxiety and to “provide fuel for thought,” and having students act out physiological phenomena in class to facilitate understanding. Intense debates surrounding biological issues are also used as teaching tools, which engage students to seek out information outside of that presented in class. These approaches appear quite effective; despite not having an attendance policy, his students are consistently present for his class. One student remarked, “Dr. Cline is a great professor, probably the best I’ve ever had. I’ve learned so much, and actually enjoyed coming to his class.” Students who are not enrolled in his class have been known to sit in on his lectures, and his sections are usually filled beyond capacity.
Remembering his own struggles as a student, Dr. Cline has developed a compassion for students who sometimes need extra encouragement outside of class. He retains a Physics exam that he took as a freshman in college, using his own grade of a 56 as an example for struggling students: despite having to work harder than his classmates and facing many difficulties along the way, his determination and persistence allowed him to earn a Ph.D. He tells his students that he is willing to put forth an equal amount of effort as they, and has stayed as late as 11:30 pm helping students the night before an exam, assuring them that hard work and determination usually prevail. This strategy has proven successful, as several students that have failed Dr. Cline’s first lecture exam have finished his course near or at the top. It is also important for science majors to appreciate the relevance and need for discovery. Last semester in Animal Physiology and Anatomy he devoted a partial laboratory session to discussing research and scientific literature. Research articles provided by colleagues within the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences were distributed and students were asked to present an article from the perspective of the lead scientist. The intent of this activity was to enhance student awareness of CALS research and inspire them to pursue research opportunities during their undergraduate education. The impact of Dr. Cline’s instruction is evident, as one of his students noted, “because of this class, I have changed my major and decided to be a Biology professor.”
Last year, he also incorporated a novel research project into his Neuroscience I course (APSC 4994). Dr. Cline used this as a means to discuss research and demonstrate how scientific knowledge is acquired; they discussed experimental design, statistical analysis, interpretation of results and scientific literature. A study was conducted and each student used the data to prepare a research manuscript. Students with the best manuscripts and those that contributed to the laboratory research became authors of a manuscript that was submitted to General and Comparative Endocrinology and accepted for publication last month. Dr. Cline is also outstanding at teaching potential teachers, as evidenced in this excerpt from a colleague: “Mark Cline is an inspiration to junior faculty in our department striving to become better teachers. I have adopted many of his teaching tools in my classes in order to better engage my students and enhance their learning experience. There is no other teacher in the world more passionate about teaching and dedicated to their students than Dr. Cline. Mark Cline was born to teach.” The undergraduate and graduate teaching assistants for his classes prepare lectures, lead discussions in class and lab sessions, and also guide undergraduate projects.
Mark Cline is the recipient of the Radford University Foundation Distinguished Creative Scholar Award, 2008 and the J. Shelton Horsley Research Award, Virginia Academy of Science, 2008. He has more than 40 refereed journal articles in which his undergraduate students from classes are authors (mostly lead authors). One of his undergraduate students was awarded the Barry Goldwater Scholarship in 2012. Dr. Cline was one of Radford University’s nominees for the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) Outstanding Faculty Awards in 2011, as well as Radford University’s nominee in the Rising Star category for the SCHEV Outstanding Faculty Awards in 2008, 2009, and 2010.
Resource: Teaching Philosophy