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04/12/94

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Four honored for teaching with Bing Fellowships

STANFORD -- Four Stanford University faculty members have been recognized for excellence in teaching with Bing teaching awards, Provost Condoleezza Rice has announced.

Honored as the third group of Bing Fellows are Harry Elam, associate professor of drama; David Freyberg, associate professor of civil engineering; Robert Waymouth, associate professor of chemistry; and Philip Zimbardo, professor of psychology.

The awards recognize excellence in teaching, with an emphasis on the teaching of undergraduates. The awards are for a three-year term, from July 1994 though July 1997.

The fellowships carry a stipend of $10,000 a year. The winners can use one-third of the money for any purpose, while two-thirds is designated for support of a project or projects designed to improve teaching or the curriculum.

The fellows were selected from nominations made by faculty in the three Stanford schools that teach undergraduates: Humanities and Sciences, Earth Sciences, and Engineering. Final recommendations to the provost were made by a committee of the deans of the three schools.

In 1991, Stanford trustee Peter Bing and his wife, Helen, gave the university a $5-million endowment to establish the Bing Fund for Teaching, which is being used to offer a variety of incentives for improved teaching.

In addition to the Bing Awards, the Hoagland Prize, given at junior convocation, and the Gores Award, given at commencement, also recognize outstanding levels of teaching throughout Stanford.

Profiles of the four new Bing Fellows follow in alphabetical order.

Elam: Drama professor teaches in classroom and on stage

Harry Elam, associate professor of drama and director of the Committee on Black Performing Arts, takes what he terms an "interactive" approach to teaching.

"I don't spend all my time lecturing," Elam said. "I don't want the students to just sit there like sponges, taking notes. Especially at Stanford, where students have such good minds, I want them to interact with me so we both gain something."

Students should not view him as the "embodiment of knowledge," he said, so Elam is not afraid to interject humor or to say, in response to a student's question, "I don't know, but I'll find out." Or, he might suggest that the student research his or her own question and report the findings to the class.

As a teacher of drama, Elam said, he wants to make his material exciting to the students. That doesn't necessarily mean giving a classroom "performance," but when he thinks back to his student days, he recalls that the teachers who most impressed him were those who brought a sense of passion to their subjects.

Since Elam often teaches classes that draw a large number of non-drama majors, he feels it is important to provide background and context "so that the students, whether they are majoring in engineering or English literature, can see how drama relates to them. I aim to be inclusive, rather than exclusive."

Not all of Elam's teaching is done in the classroom. He directs campus plays and notes that while in the professional theater the final product is all that matters, in university productions the process of getting to that final product is equally important.

As a director, he said, it is his job to get students involved in analyzing the play and the characters. When directing a play set in the past, for example, Elam will discuss the historic conditions prevailing at the time, and will require the student-actors to do research on various aspects of the period.

Elam also enjoys the role of adviser, which allows him to work with students on a one-to-one basis. "It's wonderful to see the growth and development of an idea," he said, whether that idea is expressed in an undergraduate's honors thesis or a graduate student's doctoral dissertation.

He is continuing to advise students this year, which he is spending as a fellow at the Stanford Humanities Center. There he is working on a book, Reconfiguring History: The Past as Present in Contemporary African American Drama. He will examine nine plays, all of which use the past as subject matter or setting, and look at the question of the playwrights' use of the past and how that relates to present-day struggles.

Elam may use some of his Bing prize money to assist the East Palo Alto Project, sponsored by the Committee on Black Performing Arts. Stanford students and faculty are collaborating with East Palo Alto residents on the project, which will research the history of East Palo Alto. Professional playwrights OyamO and Cherrie Moraga will use the material to create two one-act plays. In addition, the project will produce a 30-minute video.

Elam said he also would like to use some of his prize money for projects under consideration in the Drama Department. "The department has been very good to me," he said, "and I'd like to be able to return that support."

--By Mary Ann Seawell

Freyberg known for innovative classes

STANFORD -- "I was a competitive swimmer. I went into hydrology because I spent much of my youth in water," said David Freyberg, associate professor of civil engineering and a specialist in the behavior of water in the environment.

After graduation from Dartmouth and three years' work as an environmental engineer, he came to Stanford in 1976, expecting to spend a year getting a master's degree in hydrology. He stayed on for a doctorate and was asked to join the faculty in 1980.

"I discovered I love to teach," he said. "That's what turned it around."

Freyberg has earned major honors with his research, including a Presidential Young Investigator award in 1985-90. But he never loses his enthusiasm for teaching. He said his main goal for his 1993-94 sabbatical has been "to think carefully about what I want to do next."

With the impetus of the Bing Fellowship, one of the next steps will be new work in curriculum and teaching.

"Teaching and research feed upon one another," he said. "I almost always learn something about my subject technically when I'm teaching. People ask new questions from new perspectives.

"The key thing in teaching is that you are working with a person," Freyberg said. "There is a personal interaction, and the output, the product you create, is a student who is more capable and more powerful in his or her own right. The excitement is watching someone grow and learn and change in response to what you do."

Freyberg's classes are known for field trips and in-class exercises. "They actually go to dams and see the turbines, penstocks and spillways that they have been designing in class," said Dean of Engineering James Gibbons. "I marvel at his ability to dream up practical, hands-on exercises for his students that teach and excite them."

"Part of what I do with the Bing award will be linked to hands-on teaching methods in one way or another," Freyberg said.

"I like to force students to collect data, to actually go out and gather information instead of just reading about it," he said. "It helps ground people in the realities. That's when you get them, intellectually; they're vulnerable to learning new things because they're seeing things that are real.

"Everybody at some level has an interest in water," he said. Many students take his class because of a sense of concern about the environment; many of those who have gone on to advanced degrees are now working in the field of water resources.

"It's fair to say that graduates of Stanford's program in environmental and water studies make a pretty big impact in the area of water," he said. "It's nice to have an opportunity to help them go out and make a difference."

He would like to create more ways of making students active, perhaps using interactive video and other tools to bring the world into the classroom. "More and more students now learn better in formats other than the lecture. But it takes some resources and a lot of time to think these things out and do them right," he said.

Freyberg spent four years as associate dean for undergraduate education in the School of Engineering and is now an active member of the National Research Council's board on engineering education. While he said there is no simple answer for improving college-level education, there is a clear need for new formats of learning that go beyond the lecture.

He said he has hopes for the recommendations to come from Stanford's Commission on Undergraduate Education, formed last year by President Gerhard Casper.

"There are a lot of people at Stanford who put a lot of talent and energy into their teaching," Freyberg said. "But as an institution, we're made up of a lot of individual operators. The question is, how do we take the strengths that come from a very productive and talented research faculty and use that to shape an undergraduate education appropriate for our institution?"

- By Janet Basu

Waymouth tackles largest chemistry courses with aplomb

Robert M. Waymouth, associate professor of chemistry, is one of those rare individuals who excel at teaching very large introductory classes.

As one of the regular teachers of Chemistry 31, the first chemistry course that most Stanford undergraduates encounter, Waymouth successfully introduces the principles of chemistry to 300 students at a time, many of whom are pre-med majors who take the class only because it is required.

"He's very good at teaching these classes, which can be very intimidating," said Robert Pecora, professor and chairman of chemistry. Even when dealing with them in wholesale numbers, Waymouth is "very open to the students and always willing to explain things," Pecora said.

Many of Waymouth's students appear to agree with this assessment. In 1993, he received the Phi Beta Kappa Teaching Prize. One of the students who nominated him wrote: "He took the time to explain a certain problem three different ways - just so each of us could decide which method was the one that tapped into our 'chemical sense.' " Another said: "I will be forever grateful to [Waymouth] for lending a helping hand when others turned me away, and for making my research experience a wonderful one."

"The biggest trick with these large classes is to make the students feel that they are part of it," Waymouth said. He makes extensive use of simple demonstrations like "rope tricks" to help the students visualize chemical processes. And to make the material relevant, he adds extra credit questions on subjects like the nature of ozone or why red wine turns into vinegar but whiskey doesn't.

The chemist is also exploring advanced technology to improve instruction. He has put an introductory chemistry textbook online as a hypertext stack that allows students to explore different relationships between the subject matter. He is also developing three-dimensional computer animations of chemical reactions. "Because chemistry is so visual, this is where the future lies," he said.

Waymouth also believes that the days of taking tests with paper and pencil are drawing to an end. Already, he and some colleagues have put the freshman chemistry placement test online.

"You can't really learn science in a classroom," Waymouth said. So he has been active in promoting personal interaction between faculty and undergraduates. For example, he serves as director of the Chemistry Fellowship Program, a pilot summer research program for undergraduates, and maintains an active undergraduate research program in his laboratory. With the additional funding from the Bing award, he hopes to establish an undergraduate research symposium to allow undergraduate researchers to share their experiences and achievements with fellow students.

In addition to his demonstrated teaching ability, colleagues consider Waymouth to be a brilliant young polymer chemist. In 1992, he was one of six Stanford researchers who were named National Science Foundation Young Investigators, a national award "intended to highlight and enhance the research and teaching careers of outstanding beginning faculty."

Waymouth, in what colleagues have described as "one of the great accomplishments in polymer chemistry," has developed a way to make predominantly right-handed or left-handed versions of polymers - large, chainlike molecules commonly called plastics. Most synthetic processes produce both right- and left-handed versions of molecules. Living organisms produce and utilize large numbers of right- and left-handed molecules, because they can have substantially different properties. So the capability to produce one-handed molecules provides a new avenue for exploring biochemical structures.

A comment by fellow chemistry Professor John Brauman about Waymouth says it all: "Bob represents exactly the kind of person one hopes young colleagues will turn into."

- By David F. Salisbury

Zimbardo: Constant course development

Developing a reputation as a wonderful teacher brings its own challenges. Take, for example, psychology Professor Philip Zimbardo, whose success in the classroom has led to criticism from some students that there isn't enough of him to go around.

A constant developer of new courses and teaching techniques, the 25-year veteran of Stanford classrooms responded to such criticism from students in 1991-92 by taking his sabbatical year to develop techniques to personalize the ubiquitous large, introductory lecture course.

Procedures can be developed for these large lecture courses, he concluded last year, that "make students feel noticed as individuals and intellectually special" without jeopardizing the professor's ability to still have time for research and teaching smaller, more advanced courses.

Zimbardo's introductory course in psychology, which typically draws 250 or more students, and his even more popular course on the psychology of mind control have been highly recommended from one generation of Stanford students to the next, perhaps because his lectures are like "learning the encyclopedia while riding a roller coaster," in the words of Felicia Pratto, assistant professor of psychiatry.

"There is so much energy, enthusiasm and drama in Phil's classes," Pratto wrote about her colleague, "that everyone, even students in the back row, are on the edge of their seats. . . . Indeed, were Phil Zimbardo the popular image of the professor, the ivory tower stereotype would never have arisen."

Zimbardo is also "widely known for having produced more, and more thoughtful and effective, support materials for those teaching the introductory course [in psychology] than anyone in the country," said Mark Lepper, chair of the psychology department.

Yet, when Zimbardo introduced one of his award-winning support materials - his public television series "Discovering Psychology" - to his 1990 introductory psychology class, a Stanford Daily columnist lamented "the magnitude of the loss" to students when their "opportunities for direct classroom interaction with such a gifted teacher are reduced."

Since his sabbatical to personalize the course, Zimbardo has not eliminated the television component. He believes it is valuable because it contains footage of experiments that he could only talk about in class, and evaluations suggest that many students agree. Now, however, he lectures in person at half the class sessions, has guest experts for the other half, and requires the students to view the 12-hour TV portion of the course on their own schedules in their residence halls.

Options are an important part of personalizing a large class, Zimbardo has found. About half the students opt to take his course for six credits instead of five, which gives them an additional small-class section with a teaching assistant - a graduate or undergraduate simultaneously enrolled in Zimbardo's "Practicum in Teaching" course. The student-teachers meet weekly with him to discuss how to teach the session effectively, and their students offer periodic evaluations so that adjustments can be made as the course progresses.

Students are provided with other options too, including the opportunity not only to study with a partner but to test with him or her.

For the test, student partners each get a set of questions but have only a single response sheet for which they both receive the same grade.

"The idea here is that knowledge is not to be hoarded but shared, and that is the way it is utilized in the real world once one leaves academia," Zimbardo said.

"I have done systematic research on this process with Lisa Butler [a recent doctoral graduate] over the past five years and have found that peer testing improves grades significantly and reduces the variance in the distribution by eliminating the low end of the curve; along with that gain goes very positive attitudes toward the learning process and testing method itself," he said.

Zimbardo writes personal letters to commend the best and motivate the worst-performing students after the first exam, about 50 letters in all. He hosts small-group office lunches for the students receiving the highest grades and acknowledges their outstanding performance in the public glare of the lecture hall.

The students doing poorly in the first part of the course are also challenged in personal notes to do better. To some, Zimbardo suggests they team up with a partner. He also reminds them of his office hours and the availability of teaching assistants for personalized guidance.

Of the 14 students who got a D or F initially, he said, four ended the course with a B, seven with a C, two with a "pass" grade and one dropped the course. Two of these students went on to win prizes for the best essays in the class.

Students elect to write essays or term papers in three generally broad areas, with cash prizes in each category and lunches with Zimbardo for the best authors.

The informal luncheons "provide an occasion for us to get to know each other more personally," said Zimbardo, who also said his best and most lasting friendships are with former students.

Zimbardo also commits to personally reading all the essays on the final examinations and gives each student personal feedback. Teaching assistants read the term papers, but he re-reads all those the assistants evaluate as special and makes personal comments.

"I know I have been criticized by colleagues as a showperson and entertainer," Zimbardo said, "but I don't mind at all because I know my students come out mastering a large amount of material."

For example, he said, Introduction to Psychology students are required to read 1,000 pages, plus do exercises in a study guide, take three exams and write an essay.

On surveys, two-thirds say the course is more work than their other courses.

Zimbardo aims to show students, he said, "that you can love something even though it's hard work," and he believes hard work makes a course more memorable.

-- By Kathleen O'Toole

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