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School of Molecular Sciences faculty recognized for excellence in teaching


SMS Faculty Recognized for Excellence in Teaching

Professor Ron Briggs (left) and Professor Anne Jones with School of Molecular Sciences Director Neal Woodbury at The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences spring 2019 convocation.

May 08, 2019

Each year, The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Arizona State University recognizes exceptional teaching that inspires intellectual curiosity and academic excellence with the Zebulon Pearce Distinguished Teaching Award and the Outstanding Lecturer Award. This year, the recipient of the Zebulon Pearce Distinguished Teaching Award in the Natural Sciences is Professor Anne Jones, and the recipient of the Outstanding Lecturer Award is Ron Briggs, both from the School of Molecular Sciences.

Jones's teaching philosophy embraces the idea that learning needs to be active and contextualized to promote student interest. She brings a Socratic and a "learning by doing" approach to a wide range of classes, from freshman general chemistry through a senior-level course in inorganic chemistry to a popular graduate-level, scientific writing course.

A former student said, “Dr. Jones was one of the best teachers I have had in my life. Her lectures were engaging and versatile, and I never felt bored or stagnant in this course. She is truly an expert in her field and a fantastic professor. I feel very well-prepared for chemistry courses to come.”

As School of Molecular Sciences associate director of academic affairs, Jones has led several recent major teaching innovations. She guided the creation of a massive open online course (MOOC) in General Chemistry for Engineers as part of ASU’s Global Freshman Academy. The course was based on a completely new contextualized curriculum and active learning principles. She also spearheaded the launch of the first online biochemistry degree in the United States. In less than two years, the new online degree program has attracted more than 650 majors. The online degree offers opportunity to students seeking career advancement who are otherwise excluded from higher education. Jones is also redesigning the freshman general chemistry courses for chemistry and biochemistry majors, to make them more inclusive and relevant to students.

“Professor Jones's work in rethinking and implementing our chemistry curriculum has resulted in a program that both better meets the intellectual needs of our students and is accessible to many, many more learners,” said Neal Woodbury, director of the School of Molecular Sciences. "We are tremendously indebted to her efforts.”

Briggs, a principal lecturer in the School of Molecular Sciences, has enjoyed a distinguished 15-year teaching career at ASU. In addition to bringing creativity and excitement for chemistry into his classroom, he coordinates the general chemistry program at the Tempe campus. In this capacity, he helps guide the curriculum and manage instructional resources for over 5,000 students per year. This is the second time he has been honored with the Outstanding Lecturer Award, previously receiving it in 2007.

Briggs consistently receives teaching reviews that are among the highest in the school. One former student stated, "He possesses many outstanding personal, academic and professional qualities that enable him to be one of the best, if not the best professor I have ever had. He has the unique ability to completely engage the students in the learning process and give them the self-belief that they are able to succeed in the course and their major."

Briggs’s teaching is characterized by his students as dynamic, entertaining and humorous. He sets the tone at the beginning of each class with a funny video clip from “Saturday Night Live” or a David Hasselhoff music video. He finds this gets students to class early and wakes their brains, making them more receptive to learning. His lectures are supplemented by group activities and multimedia content from television and movies that relate chemistry to everyday life with a pop culture or entertainment twist. Before each exam, he holds unique review sessions in the form of game shows.

“The most popular is ‘Who Wants To Be a Chemmillionaire,’” Briggs said, “in which I incorporate commercial parodies at each break, bring in special lighting, and even have a 'professional' announcer on hand for my introduction. Instructors in neighboring lecture halls are always inquisitive when they hear the loud cheering, applause and laughter. I enjoy the looks on their faces when I tell them what was going on and when they ask how they can get their own students that engaged in a review session.”

Briggs has a record of sustained implementation of new teaching techniques and modifications to course content. He helped develop and implement recitation and laboratory programs that maintain a student-centered approach, where teaching assistants and instructors are facilitators, allowing students to develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills.

“Dr. Briggs’ leadership of our general chemistry program and his own experience and skills in the classroom have allowed us to provide thousands of students each semester with the solid background in fundamental chemical principles that they need," Woodbury said. "His attention to detail and focus on maintaining consistent quality in a dynamic and complex set of classes is essential to the smooth operation of the program.”

Jones's and Briggs’s efforts were honored at The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences convocation on May 7 in Wells Fargo Arena.

Written by Ian Gould, iangould@asu.edu.

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