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Honoring a Teacher of Teachers

Judy Miller's first cooperative learning experiment, ironically, was not a success. In the late 1980s she and fellow professor Ron Cheetham were charged with revamping introductory biology. "The way we were teaching was boring," says Miller. "So we threw out all the lectures and tests." The next semester they asked students to design a closed life-support system for long-term space flight. "Needless to say, they were a bit disoriented," she remembers, "and I got the worst course evaluations of my career!"

Yet Miller knew she was on to something: students learn best when they are actively engaged. Thus began her commitment to cooperative learning--for students and for teachers. She was honored for her work this past November when she was named Massachusetts Teacher of the Year by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. The program salutes the most outstanding undergraduate instructors in the country--those who influence the lives and careers of their students. "I like to think I have an effect on many students I have never met through helping their teachers improve," says Miller, a member of the WPI faculty for 25 years.

She divides her time between teaching biology and directing the Center for Educational Development, Technology and Assessment. She might give a workshop on teaching methods in the morning and spend her afternoon helping students test and explore microbial fuel cells. Miller also directs assessment efforts for WPI educational projects funded by the Davis Educational Foundation. She is currently assessing a Davis-funded program to improve the first year for undergraduate students through experiences that create community and a culture of learning.

"I wouldn't have won this award without the long-term support of WPI," says Miller. And without Judy Miller, WPI wouldn't be such a dynamic place to learn.

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Last modified: Sep 02, 2004, 10:03 EDT
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