Recently, at the annual DTA dinner, the university celebrated the teaching of three academics: Professor John Higgins of the Department of English Literature, Dr Jeremy Wanderer of the Department of Philosophy, and Dr Zenda Woodman of the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology.
Each of the recipients brought something special to the lecture and tutorial room, it was pointed out.
Wanderer's students have credited him for helping them "think outside the box" or, starting with the basics, teaching them "how to think".
We asked the three lecturers just what drives and inspires their teaching. Below are selected excerpts from their responses.
It's been said that teaching is often considered something of an add-on for academics, research taking centre stage. How have you managed to maintain your interest in the teaching part of the job at an institution that places such stock in research?
Jeremy Wanderer: It is possible for academic life to be set up institutionally in a manner that does not lead academics to experience a tension between teaching and research. Unfortunately, much of the current academic climate - at UCT and beyond - is such that these activities are rewarded and spoken of in different ways, making it all but impossible not to feel that the two activities are in competition for the scarce resources of one's time and energies. For much of my early career I was caught up in this way of thinking, and struggled to find a suitable balance. Luckily I am in a supportive department where everyone - from faculty to tutors to administrators - takes both activities seriously and in a unified manner, and this has helped me see ways of overcoming this way of thinking.
What is your teaching philosophy?
JW: Although this may sound strange from a philosopher, I am pretty sure I do not have a teaching philosophy, and I am not convinced that having one is desirable. The idea seems too rigid and too abstract to encourage anything but spitting out generic platitudes that are divorced from the realities of challenging and diverse teaching environments. At best, I have developed some varied practices that seem to work well for me given my personality and interests, practices that get modified and developed to suit the particular subject and students that I am teaching at any given time. The one constant in my teaching is the fact that I constantly alter style and content, both to improve the quality of the experience and to avoid boredom.
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The Distinguished Teacher Award is the highest accolade awarded to teaching staff at all levels within the university. Through the award, the University of Cape Town acknowledges the primary place of teaching and learning in the university’s work.