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WVU recognizes three faculty members with 2023 Foundation Outstanding Teaching Awards

Congratulations to Sarah Morris on your 2023 Outstanding Teaching Award

Each spring, West Virginia University recognizes selected faculty members for their exceptional and innovative teaching. This year, the 2023 WVU Foundation Awards for Outstanding Teaching honor three faculty members:

• Erin Goodykoontz, teaching associate professor in the School of Mathematical and Data Sciences, Eberly College of Arts and Sciences

• Paul Miller, teaching professor and associate chair in the Department Physics and Astronomy, Eberly College of Arts and Sciences

• Sarah Morris, assistant professor of English and coordinator of the Undergraduate Writing Program in the Department of English, Eberly College of Arts and Sciences.

Established in 1985 by the WVU Foundation, the Outstanding Teaching Awards recognize faculty who are particularly effective and inspiring teachers, as well as those who have established patterns of exceptional innovation in their teaching methods, course and curriculum design and instructional tools. 

“Each spring awards season, we celebrate our exceptional faculty for their teaching, research and service efforts,” Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Maryanne Reed said. “These three faculty members, however, have earned our most prestigious award recognizing their tireless commitment to innovative teaching, real-world application and student success. I am proud to call them colleagues.”

Goodykoontz has a strong passion for math, teaching and learning. She explains difficult concepts in simple ways in some of the most difficult math courses on campus — the introductory to math concepts course, Math 121, and the applied calculus course, Math 150, for non-STEM students. Students often find these courses challenging due to their large size between 125-200 students, and perhaps their sometimes negative high school experiences with math. Some students simply cannot see the everyday usefulness of math or calculus. To combat this, Goodykoontz ensures that every math class is interactive, keeps students interested in the materials and provides real-life example situations that help connect the course materials to day-to-day activities. 

Students consistently provide very high evaluation scores of her teaching approach due to her responsiveness and ability to connect with students to ensure they understand and succeed. Goodykoontz’s students finish her courses with increased confidence, motivation and skills, and she continues to enhance students’ success without sacrificing standards. 

For many years, she has engaged in an iterative process to improve her own courses. For example, Goodykoontz revised 1,000 PowerPoint slides after her first-time teaching Math 121 to increase clarity and promote student understanding. More recently, she has developed and implemented student-centered modifications for the Math 121 and 150 curriculum such as smaller class sizes, dedicated teaching assistants to help students during and outside of class time, and the use of adaptive software that allows individual pacing and enhances student engagement with the course content during class time.

In addition, she created an online version of the Math 121 course complete with video lectures for all content to facilitate outreach to high school students across the state. These and other changes have helped improve exam and final averages and lowered the drop-fail-withdraw rate in these courses. In addition, Goodykoontz has published at least nine scholarship of teaching and learning products, including the custom textbook she helped create for the Math 150 course.

Miller is recognized for his long-standing exceptional teaching effectiveness in the introductory physics courses at WVU. He is known for creating engaging and meaningful active learning classroom experiences that have lasting positive impacts on students. Miller started his higher education teaching career at WVU in 2009 and has since taught 84 sections of eight different courses. He specializes in and actively seeks out opportunities to teach large-enrollment courses and has directly taught more than 7,000 students. 

One of the more challenging courses Miller teaches is general physics, Physics 111, the calculus-based physics course taken by many engineering and science students who are in their first year at WVU. Another course in conceptual physics, Physics 105, is designed for elementary education majors who aren’t necessarily versed in advanced sciences. 

Miller presents these courses with an emphasis on conceptual understanding, student interactions and frequent self-reflection. He also focuses more on the reasoning behind the answers instead of the answers simply being “right” or “wrong.” Both the high student evaluations and data from a longitudinal study of physics learning indicate that students enjoy Miller’s courses and that the average learning gains in his courses are consistently high. These high learning gains are present even when comparing WVU students’ learning to their peers at elite public universities.

Miller is seen as an educational leader in his department through his roles as academic adviser, undergraduate assessment committee chair and associate chair. He has also been recognized as a national leader for his educational reform and programmatic changes. Miller has served as a co-principal investigator on $1.2 million in National Science Foundation funded projects to support and improve physics education, was selected to serve in key leadership roles on national collaborative STEM education projects, and has five STEM education publications focusing on the teaching and learning of physics. 

A recent grant supports Miller’s work to bring self-regulated learning instruction to the physics sequence at WVU. This work could have profound ripple effects as first-year students are taught how to monitor and improve their study skills.

Morris is recognized for her teaching effectiveness as a teacher-educator, her inclusive pedagogy and diverse practices, innovative teaching methods, significant curricular contributions, and efforts to support her students and colleagues during and after the COVID-19 pandemic. She is an equally effective and exceptional teacher in small- and medium-sized classes, as well as in face-to-face and asynchronous learning environments with undergraduate and graduate students, and in professional development sessions for local teachers. 

She continually engages in an iterative process of modifying and adjusting her courses to ensure students gain an appreciation of the relevance and necessity of writing as well as a range of skills for writing, thinking and engaging in the world. Morris’ teaching strategies for creating a content-driven, student-centered learning environment include a reflective approach that values student voice, agency and choice in how students present assignments, utilization of an identity-based and place-based pedagogy, new literacy learning and multi-modality, and care as a foundational principle. 

Morris has been recognized for her success across a long history of different types of teaching in very diverse contexts — as a high school English teacher, an advising specialist, a teaching assistant professor, an undergraduate writing coordinator, a  tenure-track faculty member at WVU and as co-director of the National Writing Project at WVU. 

She has been recognized for her exceptional teaching as Morgan County Teacher of the Year, West Virginia State Teacher of the Year, a Japan Fulbright Memorial Teacher Exchange participant, WVU Humanities Center Fellow and Eberly College Outstanding Teacher. Morris also regularly presents her research on teaching writing, has published five teaching and learning articles, and has a book project in progress: “'Take Me Home, Country Roads' as Appalachian Rhetoric,” a chapter of which focuses on its purpose in the writing classroom in increasing student engagement and investment. 

Faculty members must be nominated by their college leadership to be eligible for the WVU Foundation Award for Outstanding Teaching. Each of the honorees will receive $5,000 in professional development monies from the WVU Foundation.

Award recipients will be recognized during a faculty and staff awards reception at Blaney House April 26.

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