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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.

Honored as the fourth group of Bing Fellows are the team of Christopher Chidsey and Daniel Stack, associate and assistant professors, respectively, of chemistry; Jeffrey Koseff, associate professor of civil engineering; and Susan Okin, professor of political science.

The awards, announced April 25 during an address by John Shoven, dean of the School of Humanities and Sciences, recognize excellence in teaching, with an emphasis on the teaching of undergraduates. The awards are for a three-year term, from July 1995 through July 1998.

The fellowships carry a stipend of $10,000 a year. Winners can use one-third of the money for any purpose, while two-thirds is designated for the 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 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 alumnus and 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. The gift also established the Bing Centennial Teaching Professorship. Provost Condoleezza Rice also announced the reappointment of Professor Bradley Osgood, mathematics, to that chair for another two years, acting on the recommendation of the three school deans. Osgood was the first scholar to be named to that chair in 1992. The extension recognizes the role Osgood plays in undergraduate education at Stanford, the deans said.

Osgood's most recent service has been as chairman of the Science Core Design Committee, which is developing a new interdisciplinary science sequence for non-science majors. He also served on the presidential Commission on Undergraduate Education, which recommended such a core for undergraduates.

Osgood has receivedd numerous honors for his teaching, including the Walter J. Gores Award, given at commencement in 1988.

Chidsey and Stack: Doubling up on the basics of chemistry

A team approach to teaching undergraduates led Chemistry Department Chairman Robert Pecora to make a joint nomination for the Bing Teaching Fellowship for Associate Professor Christopher Chidsey and Assistant Professor Daniel Stack.

In a multi-year initiative, Chidsey and Stack are renovating the two laboratory courses in analytical and physical chemistry that are essential for every chemistry major at Stanford. Meanwhile, the two have combined their sections of Chemistry 31, the first science course taken by most Stanford freshmen. In these and other innovations, Pecora wrote in his nominating letter, "the theme that runs through all the activities of these two teachers is their effort to energize the undergraduate experience."

Chidsey is an inorganic chemist who earned his doctorate at Stanford and was a scientist at AT&T Bell Laboratories before joining the Stanford faculty. His research looks at the interface between solids and molecular materials, in problems such as how biochemical sensors might work. Stack, a physical chemist whose degree is from Harvard, studies the metals found in biological systems and the way oxygen is activated by small molecules.

The two said they took on the reform of Chemistry 134 and 174, the two laboratory courses required for all chemistry majors, with the idea of teaching the techniques of chemistry in a coordinated sequence aimed at giving students the laboratory skills that they could build on throughout their careers.

"The whole department agreed these were pretty archaic courses," Chidsey said. Even when lab equipment was modern, it was often a "black box," operated by a skilled technician, capable of spitting out an answer in response to the push of a few buttons. Instead, the two have designed exercises where students can "see the moving parts" of the experiment.

A favorite lab exercise teaches infrared Fourier transform spectroscopy. Students learn to take raw data, use a programming tool to produce what Chidsey calls "an incredible spectrum" and interpret the spectrum to find the fundamental consistency of a molecule. "This is a powerful technique," Chidsey said. "It completely dominates the observation of the movements of molecules, the oscillations and wiggling of the atoms.

"We asked, how could you teach the core skills that chemists need, not just the content?" Chidsey said. "Once you know how to do a titration, a data analysis, an error analysis, you can do all sorts of experiments with them. We try to teach the conceptual tools of doing experimental science."

With support from the Bing Foundation and the Dreyfus Foundation, the pair bring undergraduates into their laboratories each summer to help them test out and prepare new sets of laboratory exercises that can be added to the renovation of the course.

Stack said that Chemistry 31 is "a fast-paced, blitzkrieg introduction to general chemistry in one quarter." Well over one-third of the freshman class takes the course each year; for most, the only reason to take it is to fulfill a pre-med requirement.

A measure of the success of their approach to the course comes from mid-term evaluations in which freshmen praise the instructors for giving difficult tests. Stack and Chidsey's philosophy is that most freshmen have not been exposed to tests in which they don't already know the answers, and rigorous analysis of hard intellectual problems is the only way to pass. So they start two weeks into the quarter with a difficult exam that has a minimal effect on the students' grades.

The team approach to teaching means the two can combine resources and take more time to develop ideas, trying out new ideas with confidence. "The students grow, and so do you," said Stack.

With two professors for one course, they also can increase their emphasis on live demonstrations to illustrate chemical principles. The ideal demonstration, said Stack, is "very visual, very audible, makes a lot of noise." He has a particular favorite that involves a number of balloons. Details cannot be revealed without spoiling the "aha!" moment of learning and surprise: To see the result, sign up for Chem 31.

Stack said they will use their Bing Teaching Fellowship funds for two projects: to improve facilities for live demonstrations in chemistry classes, and to make it easier for chemistry professors to put announcements, problem sets and other class materials online via the World Wide Web.

- By Janet Basu

Koseff: Five keys to effective teaching

Koseff, an associate professor of civil engineering, has five key words that guide him when teaching his courses in environmental fluid mechanics: challenge, empathy, humor, imagery and energy.

"I believe in challenging students and assigning lots of work, but only as long as they know they can get a lot of help if they need it," he said.

At the same time, the award-winning fluid mechanician tries to maintain some empathy with his students: "I try to be sensitive to the fact that students are taking other courses that they must spend time on, that they are growing up and working out their love lives at the same time that they are trying to get a degree."

Humor helps break down the barrier between teacher and students, and helps keep the classroom atmosphere from deteriorating into that of a dentist's waiting room, he said.

Coming up with dramatic images to illustrate course content is also important to Koseff.

"When I was a graduate student at Stanford, several of the people who made the strongest impression on me taught me that it is all right to almost make a fool of yourself to create an image that will stay with students for the rest of their lives," he said.

Fortunately, his subject lends itself to that kind of approach. For example, he uses a picture of the explosion of Mount St. Helens to illustrate turbulent flows.

These basic approaches, combined with an energetic presentation, characterize Koseff's teaching style. He intends to use the funding from the fellowship to support the civil engineering department's current effort to shift its approach to teaching design from the traditional, textbook-based style to a more dynamic, multimedia-based approach, he said.

This is Koseff's fourth award for teaching. He has previously received the School of Engineering's Tau Beta Pi Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching, the ASSU Outstanding Teaching Award, and the Lillian and Thomas B. Rhodes Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching.

As director of the Environmental Fluid Mechanics Laboratory, Koseff has published extensively on matters such as a simple model of wind-driven flows in natural bodies of water and density stratification. He also has studied how water flows affect marine organisms like clams.

- By David Salisbury

Okin: Helping students shape ideas

One of the most rewarding forms of teaching for political science Professor Susan Okin is also hard work -- advising undergraduates who are doing honors' theses.

Students from a wide variety of majors come to her in her role as director of Stanford's Ethics in Society Program, she said, because they have a "driving urge" to look at the moral dimensions of a topic that interests them. This year, for example, she has a student who is writing a utilitarian defense of legalizing some types of drugs, another writing about quilt-making as a political activity and a third writing about the ethics of legalized abortions.

"You can see that there is a huge range of things here, and I certainly don't know everything that is to be said about any of them," Okin said. "But [a professor] can help them to shape the thesis and try to prevent them from going off on wild tangents. When it works well, both the student and professor learn a lot in the process."

Students apparently appreciate her willingness to work with their ideas as well. In many of her teaching evaluations, the theme is either Okin's willingness to adapt her lectures to students' interests or her approachability and helpfulness in developing students' own arguments.

Okin returns the compliment: Teaching is more enjoyable since she came to Stanford five years ago, she said, because a greater proportion of the students in her classes "are really interested and want to learn about the subject." They are also "well balanced," she said, with huge numbers participating in athletics, arts, theater or community service, as well as academics.

In nominating Okin for the Bing Teaching award, Lucius Barker, chair of political science, noted that she is widely recognized among colleagues and students in their department as an effective and devoted teacher.

"Most notably, she was instrumental in initiating a sequence of undergraduate lecture courses on the history of political thought that assures that our department provides complete coverage of every year of political theory from Plato to the 20th century," Barker said. "Her course on feminist political theory, a field in which she is one of the foremost authorities, attracted an extraordinarily large audience and was widely praised by students."

Okin points out, however, that the political theory sequence would not be possible without senior lecturer Elizabeth Hansot and Assistant Professor Mark Tunick. And she wants to make sure Debra Satz, assistant professor of philosophy, also is mentioned as a key player in the teaching of political theory and moral philosophy at Stanford.

As for students in her feminist theory class, she says some of them complained about the course after it was approved by university committees to count for two distribution requirements for graduation. The course, which had drawn about 40 students before, now draws 150 to 190 students each time, some of whom resent being there, she said. The size has changed the dynamics of the class, she said, but not necessarily for the worse.

"Good teaching assistants become crucial for these large courses, because it's very important that students have discussion groups," she said. "I'm a little distressed by the news that we will have [10 percent] larger sections [in the School of Humanities and Sciences] next year. I wouldn't like to see the trend go any further."

Asked what she will do with her Bing award, Okin says she isn't sure yet, but one idea would be to use it pay the salary of a graduate student to co-teach a new course with her. "That would enable you to teach a course you may not be quite ready to teach yourself, and it would be good for the graduate student too."

In addition to the obvious, Okin considers two things as being key elements of her teaching effort -- the ability to convince graduate students that they can complete a disstertation in two or three years, and arranging lectures that are open to the campus community.

As director of the Ethics in Society Program, Okin organizes the committees that select the topics and invite speakers for the Tanner Lectures in Human Values, the Wesson Lecture on Problems in Democracy and an Ethics in Society series.

- By Kathleen O'Toole



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