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Center for Teaching Excellence

East Tennessee State University

Featured Teacher Archive

Past Featured Teachers

Spring 2019: Jennifer Hunt

Featured Teacher: Jennifer HuntDr. Stacy Brown

Jennifer Hunt, MPH, CMRP (AHA-CC), RHA/ACLFA works with the College of Public Health as a Lecturer and MPH Advisor.

A turning point in Jennifer Hunt’s teaching came when she began to see teaching as a kind of conversation. In a conversation, both sides play an important role. Though the teacher may do more of the talking, the students have an important say as well. The conversational approach helps Hunt come out from behind the podium, meet students where they are and help them make meaningful connections with class content and each other. Conversation is also about caring. Jennifer puts a lot of attention into making her classroom one students want to walk into, one in which they feel immediately welcome and safe. Creating this kind of environment allows the messy but real elements of learning to emerge. This involves equal parts humility and humor. “I admit my own mistakes and limitations and show them I am human just like them. This helps them see they can do this too, and we can have some fun along the way!”

In her four years with the College of Public Health she has rarely done the same thing twice. As soon as she began teaching she poured herself into professional development opportunities and soon found a rich vein of research and best-practices to consider and adapt to her teaching. “It is a bit overwhelming at first, but every year I get a little braver in making small changes.” These changes are always in the direction of increasing student engagement and active learning. Small changes might be a new way of organizing groups, presenting examples from the field, incentivizing participation, or just getting students to talk. She typically follows the fifteen minute rule, chunking content lectures and interspersing opportunities for student feedback and activity. Sometimes small changes lead to larger innovation projects, such as when she successfully flipped a strategic planning class often perceived as rather tedious by students. The flipped class model allows teachers to devote more class time to problem solving, discussion, and structured group work.

Group work is one of the most important parts of any class Hunt teaches and she devotes considerable attention and organizational acumen to making students in her groups work well with each other. Using online survey tools and spreadsheets, she brings together individuals whose interests, personalities, and schedules sufficiently overlap. Within groups, each member is assigned a role and held accountable by having other members do peer evaluations which are figured into the overall grade for the project. One reason she goes to such lengths is that she knows from experience the importance of “soft skills” employers seek from graduates and she wants to give her students ample opportunity to develop these essential communication and empathy skills.
Graduation Cap RibbonHer experiences working in various roles in the healthcare industry informs her teaching practice. Graduates from Public Health go on to careers in roles such as hospital management, healthcare marketing, public health departments, and nonprofits. Hunt believes the time for students to start thinking and acting like professionals is now and so she designs her classes to include practical applications, case studies, and current events. Her guiding question for course design is: “What would I want to see if I was a student in this course?” One senior level course she has taught focused on current events in healthcare management and policy. Her approach here was to spend one class period introducing a particular issue and pre-assessing student background knowledge. For the next session an invited guest speaker with related professional experience would present their perspectives and invite discussion. Toward the end of the semester, students would group up and focus on an issue important to them and present it to the class.

The work Jennifer does in the classroom extends far beyond it. As both a lecturer and graduate advisor, she mentors and guides students both inside and outside the classroom, and students love her for it. As undergraduate Public Health major Casey Lunceford says, “Ms. Hunt goes beyond the normal duties of an instructor to ensure we, as students, are getting a world-class education. I have had the privilege of having her not only as a professor, but as a mentor and role-model during my academic career. No matter the situation or circumstances, Ms. Hunt works hard to make us successful students in-and-outside-of the classroom by acknowledging our academic and personal lives and feats. She embodies the true qualities of a great professor."


By Phil Smith

Fall 2018: Stacy Brown

Featured Teacher: Dr. Stacy Brown

Dr. Brown, PhD, is Associate Professor with the Bill Gatton College of Pharmacy. She has often been recognized for her teaching excellence and awarded the college's Outstanding Teacher Award twice. 

Dr. Stacy Brown portrait

Considering all the teaching awards she has accumulated over the last ten years, it is hard to believe there was a time Dr. Stacy Brown was considering abandoning teaching. She had a passion for chemistry and pharmacy which she wanted to share with students but standing in front a class lecturing from PowerPoints held little excitement for neither her nor her students. Fortunately, a colleague recommended she explore other teaching methods before quitting and it was then she attended a conference and learned about POGIL.

Process-Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning is an active teaching technique in which students work in small groups exploring models or cases which require immediate application of course content to arrive at their own conclusions and hypotheses. In a course designed around POGIL the instructor comes out from behind the podium and circulates amongst the groups checking progress and giving feedback. In the integrated series course for pharmacy, the three or four hour block course moves briskly to the rhythm of background content "mini-lectures" followed by the guided inquiry activities followed by reflection and discussion which leads to the next round. 

This approach not only reinvigorated her passion for teaching, it is also a better way to introduce students to real scenarios and challenge them to think more deeply about foundational ideas in chemistry. As new drugs are developed and released, says Dr. Brown, "I want to give them the skills that look at the chemistry of these drugs and be able to understand the new medication at a high level."

Dr. Brown's enthusiasm for active teaching informs her research as well.

"I love exposing pharmacy students to the world of both basic and applied science, forcing them to see some of the roots of the clinical sciences in which they are so engrossed. Especially fulfilling to me is seeing a student switch to a different mindset, finally seeing him or herself as both a scientist and a clinician, which I believe will ultimately make him or her better in the practice of pharmacy."

Last semester (Spring 2018), the CTE featured Dr. Brown's colleague Dr. Melton who also uses innovative techniques such as Team-Based Learning (TBL). In fact, they are two parts of an integrated series of courses in which POGIL and TBL are natural complements, both involving active learning in teams and minimal lecture. One big difference between the two is what happens outside the classroom. "A student who shows up, pays attention, and works hard will get almost everything they need in class", says Brown of POGIL. "Whereas TBL usually requires some reading before class and begins class with readiness assessments." This is another reason students enjoy POGIL, very little homework!

Looking back, Dr. Brown has come a long way out from behind the PowerPoint podium. When she came to the Bill Gatton College of Pharmacy as part of the inaugural faculty in 2007, she was able to fully roll out the POGIL method with the new curriculum. But making a transition to more active learning techniques does not require starting from scratch. "After I heard about POGIL, I began using exercises and tests from a handbook. There is some discomfort with any change but once students see the value and realize they are learning more and actually enjoying it, it gets easier to keep moving in that direction."  

Fall 2018: Kathryn Sharp

Featured Teacher: Dr. Kathryn SharpDr. Kathryn Sharp

The Center for Teaching Excellence presents Featured Teacher Dr. Kathryn Sharp, Professor in the department of Early Childhood Education in the Clemmer College

Dr. Sharp holds high expectations for all her students. While this may be daunting at first, they always come around and end up thanking her for it. Not every teacher makes it onto the graduation caps of her students. WWDSD: “What would Dr. Sharp do?” can be seen emblazoned on many a happy grad cap, a testament to the integrity and rigor of her teaching philosophy. As one recent graduate writes, “The expectations that Dr. Sharp had for me as a student molded me to become the teacher I am today. Not only was her instruction impactful and meaningful during my undergraduate studies and residency, but also in my professional teaching to date.”

Through many changes and roles, literacy has remained the focus of her career. Dr. Sharp came to higher education after several years teaching kindergarten and second grade in Memphis city schools. As is often the case, the challenges faced by many of the students in these schools goes beyond academics. Many of her students were coming from unstable homes in high poverty areas and were more worried about where their next meal was coming from than reading and the writing. “When you have second graders who cannot even read their own names yet, your priorities shift. You have to work to meet students where they are and build connections from there,” she says of her strategy. Difficult experiences like these were the crucible in which her teaching philosophy was formed and which continues to inform her work with students in higher education. She also has lots of stories to share.Graduation Cap RibbonStories are central to Dr. Sharp’s approach in the classroom. Though she questions the merits of “edutainment” where the teacher is supposed to entertain students, she understands and values how stories are inherently engaging and help students make personal connections to the concepts they are learning, which in turn helps transfer to long-term memory. “People remember stories. Stories help make the connection between a little piece of something students are learning about and the bigger picture which they may not yet fully grasp.” 

The active structure of her class sessions reflects her notion that learning is not a spectator sport. Though students might like to sit back and take in a lecture, she may begin class with a quiz over the readings or recalling and restating previous learning. Dilemmas are another active learning approach. Drawing from her rich experiences in the classroom, these dilemmas put students in tough situations so they can see how core concepts relate to real life.

Teaching is both an art and science for Dr. Sharp. As Gail Godwin said, “Good teaching is one-fourth preparation and three-fourths pure theatre.” She believes artful presentation and personal connections are the best way to present content knowledge and best practices in teaching to students.


By Phil Smith

Spring 2018: Sarah Melton

Featured Teacher: Dr. Sarah MeltonDr. Sarah Melton

The Center for Teaching Excellence presents Featured Teacher Dr. Sarah Melton, Professor of Pharmacy Practice at the Gatton College of Pharmacy

Dr. Melton has a passion for teaching and sharing knowledge that really shows in the classroom. Her drive for teaching excellence has led her to explore and adopt emerging teaching strategies best supported by research, experience, and simple observation of what helps students learn best in the classroom. She puts the learner at the center of her teaching efforts just has she encourages her students to put the patient at the center of their clinical care.

She puts these ideas into action in an integrated series of three courses in Neurologic & Psychiatric Pharmacy she coordinates. When the curriculum was redesigned a few years ago, Dr. Melton pioneered a Team-Based Learning (TBL) approach for the series. In TBL, students work in small teams on active learning exercises such clinical case studies which require them to recall and apply concepts and information from readings they must complete before class. There is minimal lecture, instead students spend class time actively engaged with problems designed to reinforce application of content. Initially, students unfamiliar with TBL may resist it since it requires a lot of work upfront and there is no hiding in the crowd of a lecture hall. But once they get into it, students report higher levels of engagement which their grades reflect.

Dr. Melton TBL “Students love this type of learning, come to class prepared, and are able to apply their learning to real-life clinical scenarios in the classroom. This leads to long-term retention and application of knowledge.” 

Authentic assessment is integral part of TBL. Since students must be accountable for a lot of material before class, sessions begin with RATs and TRATs. That’s Readiness Assessment Tests and Team Readiness Assessment Tests. These are short low-stakes quizzes on the content students are to read before class. It functions both to motivate them to do the readings and give the instructor a quick overview of how well the students understand the material and where any problems may be. Students take the RAT alone, then team up and work through the TRAT together. The repeated retrieval and discussion of content helps make it stick. The higher stakes exams in the course follow the same pattern, tests are taken individually and then in teams. The final grade factors in both individual and group test attempts. Teams also do peer assessments of each other’s team performance.

Dr. Melton's teaching philosophy is concerned with the heart as well as the head of learners. The integrated series also includes experiences that foster greater self-knowledge and empathy in students by challenging them to focus on the patient before the disease. To this end, Dr. Melton hosts lunch and learns where students and patients from the community can talk and ask questions of each other. “By meeting the patient before learning about the disease, the patient is forefront in the student’s mind.” Though voluntary, lunch and learns are always very well attended. Students also read books written by or from the patient perspective in order to reflect on their own feelings and presuppositions about the disease or condition. They write and discuss how the book has changed their perspective. 

These innovative teaching efforts and her many related service and research projects make Dr. Melton a highly regarded and sought after teacher. She is a local resource for TBL which she notes can be applied in many disciplines beyond pharmacy and medicine.

Learn more about Dr. Melton's numerous service and research projects on her faculty profile.

By Phil Smith

Spring 2018: Alison Barton

Featured Teacher: Dr. Alison Barton

The first featured teacher this year is the new Faculty Fellow for the Center for Teaching Excellence.

Alison Barton

Dr. Alison Barton, Associate Professor in the Department of Educational Foundations & Special Education, is already well known around campus as an advocate for innovative teaching and learning practices. In addition to teaching undergraduate and graduate classes, you may recognize her from the many training workshops she offers through ATS and HR on various instructional practices such as critical thinking, motivation, guided learning and online discussions.

In her new role as CTE faculty fellow, Dr. Barton will be able to expand the reach of her expertise and offer workshops and personal consultations on issues related to teaching and learning, course design, and assessment. “My objective when providing these evaluations is to positively support those practices which are already in place that lead to student learning and engagement, and then to offer suggestions that might further improve the course.”

Dr. Barton’s research interests converge with her passion for teaching and learning excellence. She is currently engaged in collaborative research with other ETSU faculty on the efficacy of online guided-inquiry and the role of mindset. She is also keenly aware of the importance of engaging the whole learner and will be leading sessions on applying mindfulness techniques in the classroom.

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"I am fortunate in that much of the subject matter I teach is about learning and the best practices for teaching that follow. As I teach this information, I have realized that I need to be a good model of those practices. I work continuously to learn and model best instructional practices for my own students, both in on-ground and online settings." 


The CTE is indebted to Dr. Barton for her service efforts. She was a core member of the Teaching Work Group from 2015 to 2017 whose many positive recommendations for improving teaching at ETSU led to the creation of the Center. Her teaching, research, and service all stem from a deep commitment to discovering and helping create the ideal conditions for learning and sharing and applying these insights at ETSU. A glimpse at her teaching philosophy reflects this well:

“I believe that teaching is about creating an environment wherein students actively develop their understanding of the information. I believe students learn best when they are given some sense of autonomy and a belief, through instructional support, that they can be successful. And I believe peak learning cannot happen if there is not a positive relationship between the instructor and the student, which is why my latest quest is to cultivate my own compassion as an instructor.”

Dr. Barton's many awards include The Clemmer College of Education Technology Award (2011-2012), and Teaching Award (2013-2014), and the ETSU Faculty Award for Teaching (2014-2015). She has also been designated an Online Master Teacher at ETSU (2017-2018).

By Phil Smith

The Center for Teaching Excellence will feature a different faculty member each month.  If you'd like to nominate a teacher to be featured on the site, contact .

Fall 2017: Michelle Hurley

Featured Teacher: Dr. Michelle Hurley

Authenticity and sensitivity are at the heart of Dr. Michelle Hurley’s teaching. 

Dr. Hurley

Dr. Hurley is the Assistant Project Director for the McNair Program which assists students from underrepresented segments of society to attain advanced graduate degrees. She also teaches several classes in psychology and human development as an adjunct for the Department of Counseling and Human Services.

Teaching to Create Competent Professionals

Such professionals have both their heart and their head in the game. “Some students come into human services related fields because of personal experiences with hardships. They tend to be self-motivated and intrinsically engaged. The challenge, though, is to get them to consider the necessary roles critical scholarship and evidence-based practices play in their professions.” Transferring skills gleaned from the theory and action research of the field into workplace skills is a main goal of her teaching.

One way this happens is with “show your work” thinking and writing. As in mathematical problem solving where the process is as important as the result, critical thinking involves carefully and slowly spelling out each step taken to arrive at a conclusion. Exercises such as this aim to expose how opinions often lack the more objective evidence required by professionals working in the field.

Dr. Hurley has other innovative techniques up her sleeve. In “Write like a question mark” students first write out a series of simple statements which they later revisit and transform into questions. Questioning is a key component of most class sessions as well. “Some questions have simple answers, right or wrong. More interesting questions elicit responses, which may not have a simple resolution and can lead to interesting discussions. Still other questions lead to more questions. Those are the really good questions!”

Atypical Classrooms

There may not be a typical day in Dr. Hurley’s classes. She teaches both on-ground and online but in whatever setting she starts with creating an inclusive environment by listening to the students and building connections to course content based on their level of understanding. This requires continual feedback, of which she is a big fan. As opposed to grades, such feedback is low stakes and formative, it can be a quick on-the-fly survey or show of hands. It may also be more in-depth and personalized. "The students I work with love feedback in any form. They are hungry for individualized responses to their work and are diligent about incorporating it in their future assignments."

She also loves case studies which are one of the most effective forms of active learning. By simulating real life scenarios they stimulate critical problem solving abilities in students. Not only does Dr. Hurley use them, she also creates her own tailored to class needs. Dealing with sensitive real life problems can trigger adverse reactions in students. While providing trigger warnings, she may also ask, “Would working with this client make you uncomfortable?” Getting students to be sensitive to their own emotional reactions is the first step in creating a caring empathetic environment with clients.

Trio of Interests

Dr. Hurley’s teaching is a natural extension of her research and service interests. One focus of her research is vicarious trauma, a sort of professional hazard of counseling professionals who may take on too much from their clients. This research serves her well in the classroom. In addition to the first hand experience conducting such research entails, it gives her a researcher’s mindset which she models for students all the time, both in her classes and for the student research projects she mentors. “Staying open, foregoing snap judgments, and developing a sense of neutrality to all points of view is very important in research and in the field.”

Doing what you expect your students to do

When it comes to evaluating and improving her own teaching practice, Dr. Hurley tries to take her own advice. “I do what I expect my students to do: Consult and evaluate resources for best practices, collaborate with colleagues across campus, and constantly seek fresh ways to present material and engage students."

Her advice for new teachers? First of all, “be a learning partner with your students.” She advocates for maintaining a down to earth approachable persona. “Don’t pose as an expert, even if you are one.” Students have to make their own connections in order to learn. Finally, “don’t over rely on the bells and whistles." Teaching technology can be cool if used effectively but never be afraid to be real and present with your students.

By Phil Smith

Fall 2017: Ryan Nivens

Featured Teacher: Dr. Ryan Nivens

Dr. Nivens

Mathematics teacher educator Dr. Ryan Nivens teaches teachers how to teach.

“If you want to be a blacksmith or perfect your curveball, you have to swing the hammer or throw the ball.” True enough, but when it comes to teaching you not only have to practice teaching, you have to learn how humans learn. You can’t just tell students how to learn, you have to create the conditions in which they can experience it for themselves. Experiential learning is the cornerstone of Nivens’ teaching philosophy.

A typical class session with Nivens begins with an activity such as error analysis of common math mistakes, for example adding fractions. Too often, teacher candidates only identify procedural errors in student work, but are unable to analyze and articulate how such errors show a lack of underlying mathematical knowledge. Class continues with hands on activities, discussion and group problem solving.

Nivens believes math education is undergoing a renaissance. “The way most students were taught math is not how we teach them to teach math now.” The emphasis now is on developing real mathematical knowledge rather than memorization of tables and formulas. This often involves teacher candidates learning to present mathematical concepts and problems in different forms and asking their students to explain steps they can take to solve them.

Assessment of teacher candidates reflects this shift. Noting that teacher candidates (and their students alike) can pass a test without really understanding the underlying concepts, Nivens describes the authentic assessment approaches his department uses to plumb the depths of their teacher candidates’ understanding. A capstone project for the “edTPA” which is required for teacher licensure, involves finding, implementing, and reflecting on lesson plans and curriculum. The result is a portfolio of work which describes each teacher candidate’s unique experience and growth as a teacher. Plus, it is impossible to plagiarize such a project, as any authentic learning experience is.

Nivens also mentors new faculty members. This semester he is leading a faculty learning community which helps acculturate new faculty to ETSU and the realities of the 21st century professoriate. “We focus on the three pillars: teaching, research, and service.” Nivens’ own research interests and experiences make him ideal for this role. He started doing professional development sessions on educational technology his first year as an 8th grade math teacher and has been involved with teacher training and development his entire career. His most recent publications address identifying quality scholarly publishing outlets in mathematics education. The changing dynamics of scholarly publishing is an issue of vital concern for new and established faculty alike.

Good teaching calls for continual reflection and improvement and Nivens believes maintaining high standards for yourself and your students is essential. The content we teach may not change much but we should differentiate between good and excellent when it comes to teaching.

By Phil Smith

Fall 2017: Robert Beeler

Featured Teacher: Dr. Robert Beeler

 Dr. Beeler

An associate professor in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics in the College of Arts and Sciences, Dr. Beeler won this year's Distinguished Faculty Award in Teaching. I sat down with him for a conversation to learn more about his thoughts on teaching.

On becoming a teacher

Like many faculty, Beeler began teaching as a graduate assistant with little formal training beyond a teaching seminar in graduate school. He soon warmed up to the role and sees his passion for mathematics and problem solving as central to his success as a teacher. "If you do what you love and come to class well prepared, your enthusiasm will be contagious and inspire students." There is also a lot of hard work involved with good teaching. Beeler advises new teachers to engage in continual introspection about their teaching. Be observant and reflective and always asking yourself questions about what is going on in the classroom: Are students engaged? How could the group activity today have gone smoother? How can I explain this concept or come up with a better example? Asking such questions and being willing to adapt to needed changes as the class unfolds makes for a richer experience for students and teacher alike.

On group work and active learning

Dr. Beeler discovered the power of group work almost by accident. Feeling a little under the weather but not willing to cancel class he was not able to lecture the whole period and so put groups to work solving problems. This turned out to be so beneficial that he incorporated it as a regular practice. Giving students a chance to work on a few homework problems during class helps them track their own understanding and ask questions before trying it on their own. 

On teaching and research

Teaching and research are sometimes seen as conflicting priorities for faculty, but Dr. Beeler sees them as interrelated and finds many ways to apply his research to his teaching. “Sometimes even if an idea or problem is not publishable, I can see how it would work well to illustrate a point with students.” Research inspires teaching, and questions that come up in the classroom sometimes inspire research. Another benefit of research is perspective. The messy complexities of research help him remember and empathize how challenging his courses may be for students.

On teaching as performance

Is teaching a kind of performance art? Does adapting a stage persona and using dramatic techniques help make you a more effective teacher? Beeler thinks there is something to this. Your passion and enthusiasm come through in your tone of voice, body language, and dramatic pauses. “I like to end class with a cliffhanger. I'll present some problem or question that piques their curiosity and gets them thinking and gives them something to look forward to next time.”

By Phil Smith

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