Dear colleagues and students
As educators we perform a range of tasks, one of the most important of which is how we guide our students to become the best possible versions of themselves. There are many who go above and beyond the call of duty to help their students fulfil their highest potential, and we as a university must acknowledge these individuals for their hard work and dedication.
One way of recognising such colleagues is through the coveted Distinguished Teacher Award (DTA). This is an institutional award that rewards outstanding teaching at UCT and acknowledges the recipient’s contribution to the promotion of teaching and learning excellence at our university.
Every year the DTA committee receives a large number of nominations from across the university for this highest accolade for teaching staff at all levels. Because of everything that teaching entails, and the many nominees, the evaluation process takes an entire semester.
During this time the committee considers each teaching portfolio and examines the evidence for excellence in teaching over a number of years, focusing on factors such as the nominee’s teaching philosophy; contribution to curriculum renewal, transformation and innovation in teaching and learning; publications and research projects; the lasting positive impact on students, beyond formal teaching time; and the positive impact on the teaching and learning approaches of colleagues.
I am pleased to announce that, after a thorough process, the 2018 awardees are Associate Professor Jeff Murugan and Dr Anneliese Schauerte, both from the Department of Mathematics and Applied Mathematics.
Associate Professor Jeff Murugan
Department of Mathematics and Applied Mathematics
Associate Professor Murugan has taught from first-year to master’s level at UCT. His lectures are described as beautifully choreographed performances that generate awe and mutual respect between him and his students.
In addition to his passion for his subject, easy-going rapport with students, humour, heartfelt encouragement and clear impact on students’ lived experiences of applied mathematics, Associate Professor Murugan’s students attest to him being able to draw in all his students, changing the teaching environment to accommodate diverse groups of students.
He has also had a significant impact on senior postgraduate students, cultivating groups of master’s and PhD students to develop them into strong, independent researchers. Associate Professor Murugan’s teaching methodology and curriculum development interests are clearly linked to addressing the teaching challenges of the higher education context in South Africa. He actively seeks to build inclusive teaching environments and change the way that students experience difficult disciplines. He manages to transport students on a journey of complex topics that he is able to translate into content that is accessible to them.
The DTA committee commended his early innovation and development of language resources in communicating his subject. One of his achievements in this regard has been through recordings in students’ mother tongues. He has also developed a textbook, Tools for Mathematical Physics, that is based on his redesign of second- and third-year courses and which he plans to make freely available in electronic format to students.
His teaching endeavour speaks to his desire to bring the scientific world to heterogeneous groups of young people. This is underscored in his own words when he states: “Increasing diversity in the sciences, especially in mathematics and physics, can only be a good thing. We have to understand that it is something that absolutely needs to happen if we are ever to convince society that science is an essentially human endeavour that belongs to everyone.”
Dr Anneliese Schauerte
Department of Mathematics and Applied Mathematics
Dr Schauerte has a long record of excellent teaching in mathematics at UCT. Her methodology, as attested to by her students, is designed to develop a deep understanding of the content and ensure that content is understood in a way that enables her students to use it and move forward with it on their own. This is summed up in her statement: “It is not easy to present mathematics clearly and logically, while still getting across to your audience what is so intriguing about it, conveying the plot line and narrative. But this is what I strive to do, and believe I excel at it.”
She shows strengths for some of the overlooked aspects of excellent teaching, including preparation, materials development, organisation and course administration. She teaches on service courses, and she is particularly renowned for enthusing students in large-class teaching, as indicated by the student commentary on her teaching, which frequently refers to her rapport with students, her passion and natural ability.
Dr Schauerte is often referred to as “the best teacher encountered”. She relies on simple techniques and tools to mediate concepts and is clearly successful in doing this. The committee was impressed by the synergy between her teaching methodology and student and staff reception of her, and noted her high student success rates in challenging courses.
While she stands out in a classroom, she demonstrates sound strengths in her assessment practices, which she uses with great care and as fundamental to the learning process. Opportunity for intervention is provided through her use of continuous checking on students, a strategy she also capitalises on for exam preparation. Testimony to Dr Schauerte’s teaching indicates that she is dedicated to developing mathematicians – she encourages and motivates inside and outside of the class to the extent that she has been instrumental in students choosing mathematics as a major and postgraduate stream.
It was deeply encouraging for the committee to realise that she stands out in a field dominated by males and is a role model to female students.
We congratulate both colleagues in attaining one of the highest academic accolades at UCT.
Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng
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