Eileen Wood finds her students learn best when they don’t realize they’re learning at all.
“I need to know what’s interesting to them,” says Wood, an award-winning professor of Psychology at Laurier. “Sometimes it’s more about play. Can we play with this idea? And I mean really play. Because a lot of learning is based on play.”
From interactive games to the use of technology, Wood tries her best to make teaching active and engaging, rooting lessons in fun and experience.
“I think we learn best when we’re having fun,” she says. “Learning is natural. So I always think that if I can put material in a context that looks familiar, that doesn’t feel intimidating, it’s more approachable and students can realize, ‘Oh, that’s not that hard.’”
Wood, who has taught at Laurier for more than 25 years, recently received a prestigious 3M National Teaching Fellowship, Canada’s highest teaching honour. It’s just the latest recognition of her commitment to teaching excellence. Other honours include: Laurier’s Teaching Excellence Award; an Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations Teaching Award; the Hoffman-Little Award for Faculty, awarded by the Laurier Alumni Association; and being named one of Laurier’s Teaching Fellows.
Her passion for teaching goes back to her days as a graduate student, when she studied instructional psychology. Studying how children acquire and access knowledge in classroom settings, Wood realized that the principles underlying her early research findings likely applied to students in her university classes as well.
“I think we learn best when we’re having fun.”
Wood’s approach to teaching has evolved over the years as she has learned more about what resonates with students. One of the major changes has been the widespread introduction of technology into the classroom, which she has embraced.
“Technology can be very engaging, but I quickly found out how hard it is to teach when the students are using technology and you’re not,” says Wood. “I found that you have to be flexible, you have to change your style to make it work.”
Students in Wood’s classes use a range of technologies and hands-on activities to achieve learning goals. For example, she has students use laptops and mobile phones to complete online lab experiments, with the results fuelling subsequent work in small groups.
“Instead of just giving my class a data set, I made them generate it themselves and that makes the question and outcomes more interesting to them,” Wood says.
Getting students active is one of Wood’s key teaching strategies, whether it’s through group discussions, games such as charades or physical activities, like illustrating the actions of neurotransmitters by having students perform the actions involved, an activity that has students running across the front of the classroom.
“I could just tell them what these concepts are, but this way, they have fun, they learn and they’re more likely to remember it,” Wood explains.
Wood readily admits that not every strategy she’s tried has worked. She says each class takes on its own persona and finding a teaching strategy that works for a specific class is crucial.
“Some classes are very quiet, so I can’t have them acting or playing charades, I can’t make that demand of them, so in that case I do more peer-to-peer,” she says. “And my students will tell me when something isn’t working, but they give me latitude to try different things because they know I’m trying.”
Laurier prides itself on a culture that fosters, supports and celebrates teaching excellence. Learn about Laurier’s other award-winning teachers and how they engage students and inspire a love of learning.
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