Cassling Innovation Awards honor faculty
Before COVID-19 broke out, Professor of Biology Eric Cole had worked hard to wean himself off instructional technology. He feared relying too heavily on video presentations and websites to support his lectures had made his students more passive learners.
So, in the lab, he developed a “training and doing” approach to engage students more deeply in observation. Students recreated whiteboard illustrations of embryos and microorganisms in their notes and learned instrumentation by hand in the labs.
But when COVID-19 broke out, Cole and his colleagues were left with hard questions. How do you teach students now learning worldwide with varied spaces, access, and available time for online education? How do you best enable students to learn?
“We were cut off from each other, from our laboratory bench and organisms, and from the creative process of live experimental research,” says Cole. “How do you get students to work with organisms in an experimental setting now? How do you get them to discover their hands?”
For a solution, Cole turned back to tech. He used an interactive pen display to recreate his illustrated lecture experience online. He also devised a way to conduct live microscopy sessions with his research students.
The outbreak has required us to rethink how we teach and learn together – I am happy we can honor the accomplishments of some of our exceptional teachers this way.Marci Sortor, Provost and Dean of the College
“Students designed the experiments, recipes, and protocols,” says Cole. “I performed their experiments from the school lab and my daughter Liana ’21 (a biology major) learned to do the same from a basement lab we set up at home. Working as avatars, we fed real-time cell-phone images of our hands and microscope digital images to our remote partners via Zoom.”
Following the closure of campus last spring, this fall Cole and five other faculty received another surprise. They were the recipients of new Cassling Faculty Innovation Awards – a special recognition made possible by Randy and Lori Cassling P ’12.
Awards of $2,500 each were provided to six recipients who exercised creativity and innovation as they tackled the challenges of online teaching. Recipients were selected from over 30 faculty who were nominated by their peers. Leadership from St. Olaf’s academic and instructional technology teams selected the finalists. In addition to Cole recipients include:
“I am grateful for this chance the Casslings gave us to recognize faculty for their ingenuity and dedication,” says Marci Sortor, Provost and Dean of the College. “The outbreak has required us to rethink how we teach and learn together – I am happy we can honor the accomplishments of some of our exceptional teachers this way.”
Randy and Lori Cassling made the awards to honor the experience faculty provided their daughter Kyle Cassling ’12, a biology and sociology/anthropology major. Kyle is now in the fifth year of her residency in general surgery at Vanderbilt University.
Professors make such an impact on the students. They’re the ones that flip the right switch to make us who we are and what we become. Helping give back to the people that get us there is an important thing.Randy Cassling P ’12
“The driving force behind all of this is just how much St. Olaf and its faculty changed our daughter,” says Randy. “Professors make such an impact on the students. They’re the ones that flip the right switch to make us who we are and what we become. Helping give back to the people that get us there is an important thing.”