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Terry honored as professor of the year
October 13, 1998
The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching has selected Thomas Terry as 1998-99 Connecticut Professor of the Year.
The award was announced last week.
Terry, an associate professor of molecular and cell biology who has taught at UConn since 1969, specializes in using technology - especially the World Wide Web - in his undergraduate courses. These courses include introductory biology courses for major and non-majors and microbiology for upperclassmen.
The award, part of the U.S. Professors of the Year Program administered by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education, is given to outstanding teachers of undergraduates, who excel as teachers and who influence the lives and careers of their students. Colleagues nominate candidates for the award. Carnegie selects one professor in each state.
Previous UConn winners of the Connecticut Professor of the Year award are Charles Vinsonhaler, professor of mathematics, in 1992, and Frank W. Ballard, professor of dramatic arts, puppetry and scenic design, in 1988.
In this year's competition, seven colleges and universities in Connecticut submitted entries.
"Tom's award is entirely in keeping with what he has done," said Susan Steele, vice provost for undergraduate education and instruction. "He's played an important role in the development of undergraduate education."
Steele said Terry is recognized not only for his innovative techniques but also for his outreach. "Teaching can be an individual and isolating experience," she said. "Tom makes it so much more a public experience. He takes items he uses in class and makes them accessible to people on the outside."
Keith Barker, director of the Institute for Teaching and Learning, agreed. "Tom is respected by his peers and by his students," he said. "He helps people across the country who come to him for advice on Web-based education. He's approachable and readily agrees to help."
Terry's research is directed toward the application of technology in education - especially through use of the World Wide Web.
"I have a learning-oriented philosophy," Terry said. "It's not just to make us better teachers, but how to make students learn better."
He considers the Web to be superior to other technology such as CD-ROMs or laser disks is because it provides a "universal multi-media forum" - materials produced on one computer can be displayed on another one.
For example, he said, the Web provides a good way for students to be able to go back and look at visuals displayed for a few seconds during lectures.
"Sometimes you see a slide show in class that's very illustrative," he says, "but if you fell asleep or weren't there, you missed them. Once they're gone, they're gone. With the Web, it's possible to take all those visual materials so students can go back and review them as much as they want."
He also uses interactive technology on the Web so students can, for example, drag and pull items to create images of things such as molecules. Terry can then see if the students understand the principles involved.
Terry uses the Web to provide material such as lecture notes, visuals, practice exams, study guides and excursions to other sites he has found useful.
"Given that students learn in different ways by using different stratagems, the idea is to provide a multiplicity of possibilities. Some students will grab hold of this, some will grab hold of that. The overall effect, I hope, is cumulative," Terry says. If you provide a wider variety of options you're going to get more students who are going to gain real mastery of the material. That is my goal."
Despite his use of the Web and other technology, Terry doesn't believe technology is the answer to better education.
"It's one answer," he says. "But without an instructor there who cares and who works hard and who tries to work with students in personal and very direct ways, I don't think the technology itself is going to help at all."
Terry also uses such classroom devices as group assignments in some large lecture classes and "shared" exams, where students spend part of an exam hour taking the test and then work on it together in small groups.
"The group score is added to the individual score. It's a win-win situation. It gives students a chance to improve their scores, but in the process of going over the exam and arguing, they actually learn from it, which delights me."
Terry shares his course materials with other educators who may be looking for ideas. The URL is.