Awards mark passion of academic staff

University of Otago Teaching Excellence Awards recipients (from left) Associate Prof Craig Rodger...
University of Otago Teaching Excellence Awards recipients (from left) Associate Prof Craig Rodger, Dr James Maclaurin and Tony Zaharic. Photo by Jane Dawber.
Three University of Otago academic staff who aim to spark excitement in their respective students have won the University of Otago's latest annual Teaching Excellence Awards.

Dr James Maclaurin, who heads the philosophy department, physicist Associate Prof Craig Rodger, and biochemistry Senior Teaching Fellow Tony Zaharic received their awards at a university ceremony this week.

The winners - who are also notable for their willingness to experiment in their approaches to teaching - each received $7500, to support learning and teaching.

They have also been selected as Otago University nominees for national tertiary teaching excellence awards, which recognise excellence in tertiary education, and will be announced in August.

Dr Maclaurin was delighted to receive the Otago award.

"If you're enthusiastic about teaching you try lots of things out," he said.

"I really enjoy being in a room with people getting that sense of dialogue, getting them to feel comfortable with interrupting and throwing ideas out there and making something of those ideas in that room." He was continuing to learn from "all the wonderful teachers" around him, including his departmental colleagues. Teachers also learned a great deal from their students.

Asked about the key to successful teaching, Dr Maclaurin, who is a former professional actor, said "you have to be an enthusiast".

"If you're not enjoying it, you're not doing it right."

Space physicist Prof Rodger said the award was a "huge honour" and "quite a surprise".

He was "really excited by physics as a whole".

"There are big things going on in physics. Its just fascinating. I really, really want students to get excited about physics so they go away and start learning about it for themselves."

Some students clearly had an "inherent interest" in physics, but for others it was crucial that their teachers sparked a fire of enthusiasm in them.

"Being enthusiastic, I move and I dance as I teach."

Mr Zaharic is "really chuffed" about his award, which he says stems from loving teaching, trying hard to do it well and believing its important.

"I love being in front of a class and I love it when the students think its cool to be there," he said.

"A lecture is an opportunity to share what I think is the most amazing science.

"Depth of knowledge is built outside the lecture theatre, but instilling the desire to seek that depth of knowledge is what should occur within one," he said.

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