Teaching Associate Professor of Biology Jennifer Hollander is the recipient of this year's Paul and Judy Bible Teaching Excellence Award. The award recognizes outstanding teaching by faculty at the University, and Hollander's students enthusiastically earned her the title by way of their numerous nominations. The selection process for this award is highly rigorous. After receiving the students' nomination, Hollander was observed in lecture by previous award winners and top teaching faculty from around the University and her teaching portfolio was examined. Hollander learned that she received the award, during a surprise class visit from College of Science Dean Katherine McCall; Provost Jeff Thompson; the award committee members, professors Sarah Cummings, Anne Marie Vollstedt and Scott Mensing; and two of Hollander's students.
Hollander's exceptional teaching was recognized in 2019 with the Nevada Regents' Teaching Award, and her receiving this award in 2021 is evidence of her continued passion for her job and her students. Below, Hollander answers a few questions about her teaching style, the challenges of teaching during this past year, and more.
Can you describe your teaching style?
If I had to describe my teaching style in one word it would be “enthusiastic”. I love this material, and I genuinely enjoy describing how the body works to anyone who will listen. It is difficult, however, to sum up my teaching style as being one type or method, since I change things up throughout each semester based on how I feel the students are responding to the current material. My teaching modalities change depending also on the body system or physiological process that we are covering. Sometimes I focus on drawing something, sometimes I do a demonstration, sometimes a discussion after questions, whatever it takes. The constant is that I remain enthusiastic and keep the atmosphere as upbeat and engaging as possible.
From virtual classes to drastically altered lab courses, this past year has presented a number of unexpected obstacles for our professors. How did you overcome the challenges that arose during the COVID-19 global pandemic?
I often do demonstrations during in-person lecture, and one positive thing about teaching from home on Zoom meant I could do even more of those. I would use household items or anything I could think of to demonstrate a physiological mechanism – such as grabbing a sponge and some water to demonstrate stroke volume of the heart.
Well, in March 2020 when we first switched to online, we expected it to be short-term, so I had the goal of keeping things as “normal” as possible for my classes by just delivering the same material via Zoom. Since then, I have updated how I deliver material every semester in response to feedback from students and by just reading the cues and reactions they have. For example, I started getting very behind on the material I could usually cover in one class session because my students were extremely active in the Chat room on Zoom, which I encouraged. Students in my large lectures obviously feel more comfortable asking questions using the Chat feature, and I knew they needed more connectivity with me and with each other since we were virtual. Therefore, I created more pre-recorded lecture material on introductory information for them to watch prior to our Zoom sessions, which freed up more class time to discuss the difficult concepts and have class discussions. I also purchased an Apple pencil so I could keep doing the drawings I am used to doing. I often do demonstrations during in-person lecture, and one positive thing about teaching from home on Zoom meant I could do even more of those. I would use household items or anything I could think of to demonstrate a physiological mechanism – such as grabbing a sponge and some water to demonstrate stroke volume of the heart.
How do you get your students excited and engaged in complex subjects such as anatomy and physiology?
For me, the best way to get students excited about this subject is to coach them through having ownership of these physiological processes – this is what is happening in their own bodies. I tell a lot of stories and give a lot of examples that they can relate to, and then walk them through the physiological process controlling that example, such as why you feel dizzy when you “stand up too fast” and then how your body responds to keep you from passing out. There is generally a lot of interest in many of the topics in I teach in Biology 224 (Anatomy and Physiology II) because the processes are easily applicable to their lives. Students very often ask questions about their own and their family and friend’s experiences (or diagnoses), which shows me that they are actively relating the material to their lives.
What does receiving the Paul and Judy Bible Teaching Excellence Award mean to you?
It is such an honor to receive this award, especially since it is student-nominated. I can’t explain how much that means to me. When the Provost, Dean and award committee joined my Zoom class to tell me I had won the award, I was overcome by all the positive comments from my students in the Chat. It was amazing! I try to create a welcoming and fun environment in class while we learn anatomy and physiology, and I am thrilled that students are engaged and responsive to that.
What is your favorite thing about teaching undergraduate science students?
My favorite thing is when students become engaged in the material instead of only thinking or worrying about grades. With the anatomy and physiology courses, students tend to be very grade-obsessed because many of them are competing for spots in professional schools such as medical, dental, nursing, etc. I understand why, but it really takes the fun and motivation out of learning for the sake of understanding. But, when they embrace the learning process and focus on understanding (not just memorizing) the material, they usually end up leaving with the ability to apply the content to their everyday lives and future careers. I feel like students develop a love for human physiology just like me.
Over the years, I have had the pleasure of interacting with amazing students, many of which I keep in contact with. I am so proud of their accomplishments and love to hear about them.
By teaching courses such as the SCI 110 course and the WiSE Freshman Experience course, you are very often a support person for our first-year students just starting out in often incredibly challenging degree programs. What advice do you have for incoming students hoping to do well?
A degree is a wonderful stepping stone to get to the next step professionally, but I want freshmen to build a love for learning and education.
Think of your college experience as a privilege. Go to class! Sit up front, pay attention, be engaged. Even if you think your professor is boring, treat it like a job that you do not want to get fired from and would always show up for. A degree is a wonderful stepping stone to get to the next step professionally, but I want freshmen to build a love for learning and education. I am proud to have some of my students learn to love the process of learning itself and share that enjoyment rather than just worrying about their metric standing. Students should be excited about what they’re going to school for. Any way that they can find excitement for those topics will be valuable in not only their long-term enjoyment of the major but in learning the topics that are related to their future careers.
Anything else you’d like to add?
One of the things I remain most proud of is the Advanced Human Dissection Team, which is a peer-instruction program in which undergraduates get to dissect human cadavers (a rare experience for undergraduates, it is usually reserved for medical or other professional students), and then assist with teaching one of the 32 sections of anatomy labs. These students must apply to be accepted into this program and it can be competitive (this year we had 73 applicants for 30 positions). We have grown the program as our course enrollments, and number of lab sections, have increased. Many of these students go on to medical or other professional programs, and the feedback we hear from them is always positive as they feel more prepared than most of their peers. So not only is a benefit for them and their future, but our program and the students enrolled in labs benefit from the dissected cadavers and specimens, as well as the instruction from their peers. Watching this group at work during Friday dissections is always a highlight of my week.