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A non-profit publication of the Office of the University Relations of Virginia Tech,
including The Conductor, a special section of the Spectrum printed 4 times a year


Arthur Buikema

By Sally Harris

Spectrum Volume 18 Issue 28 - April 18, 1996

He teaches biology and ecology. He teaches about addictions and families. He teaches undergraduates and graduate students. He teaches other teachers more efficient methods. He teaches in the classroom. He teaches in Cyberschool.

For his dedication, his innovation, his "whirlwind of creative activity" as a teacher, Arthur L. Buikema is once again being honored, this time with the Alumni Award for Excellence in Teaching. Buikema has already received the College of Arts and Sciences Certificate of Teaching Excellence Award, the Sporn Award for Excellence in Teaching an Introductory Subject, the G. Burke Johnston "Renaissance Man" Award, the Diggs Teaching Scholar Award, the Outstanding Biology Teacher award, and membership in the Academy of Teaching Excellence. He has also won the International-National SETAC-ABC Labs Environmental Education Award

"A master teacher, he knows how to capture and challenge his audience, using a style that ranges from the Socratic method to computer-assisted instruction and Cyberschool," the nomination packet says. "Professor Buikema is widely admired by students and faculty members alike for his energy, his enthusiasm, and his interactive and investigative approach to teaching."

"I approach each class with two myths in mind," Buikema said. "First is the misconception that faculty members are responsible for the students' acquisition of knowledge. We are not; the student is responsible. This myth is based on the faculty illusion of control and power. At best, I am a role model of the learning process. The second myth is that our interpretation of facts is correct. Indeed, facts can be obstacles to truth. My goal is to break that paradigm by having students create new stories by reinterpreting the facts. My courses are non-lecture and student-assignment oriented to develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills."

Buikema has taught more than 20 different courses in Arts and Sciences, the Honors Program, Human Resources, Education, and Cyberschool. He has helped bring in $1 million in teaching-related grants.

Examples of Buikema's innovative teaching style include the following:

* He revived Honors Biology, making it a student-assignment-oriented course with no lectures and with emphasis on critical thinking, writing, and reading. Part of the course is taught online, and visiting poets, lecturers, philosophers, and others are brought in to demonstrate the interdisciplinary nature of the course and emphasize the role of research and the leadership role of women in the sciences.

* He helped design an honors colloquium on the Post-Modern Male on the issues of men in response to feminism.

* He has been instrumental in developing distance-learning courses at Virginia Tech.

* He is active in V-QUEST, an interdisciplinary project to improve the teaching in science and mathematics.

* He is one of five principal investigators for a Sloan Foundation grant of $200,000 to develop asynchronous communications courses.

Mary Beth Oliver

By Julie Kane

It is no surprise that Mary Beth Oliver has been chosen to receive Virginia Tech's 1996 Alumni Teaching Excellence Award. She has been winning teaching awards since graduate school at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1990. Last year, she was awarded a Certificate of Teaching Excellence from the College of Arts and Sciences.

With a bachelor's in communication studies at Virginia Tech and master's and Ph.D. degrees in communication arts from the University of Wisconsin, Oliver is well-prepared for her role. She has earned respect from students and colleagues for her course instruction, and she is consistently quoted by the news media as an expert in her field.

Directing up to 100 students per class, Oliver receives an A+ on students' ratings of her teaching, using words such as "enthusiastic," "thorough," "helpful," and "awesome" to describe her. Although conventional wisdom suggests that high scores are more easily earned in small classes, Oliver has earned an 3.8 or above on student evaluations.

Peer reviews further validate student comments. One reviewer wrote, "It is a rare talent to be able to translate complex behavioral theory into comprehensive principle for the undergraduate while, simultaneously, being able to pique the interest of a colleague."

Oliver is a leader in the use of technology in the classroom. She participated in the development of a distance-learning course for the College of Arts and Sciences Cyberspace classroom project. One student participant in the first class wrote: "I can unequivocally say that I have learned more from this class than any others I have taken thus far."

Last summer, Oliver received a faculty fellowship from the Center for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching to support her work and is now a consultant on an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation grant titled, "ACCESS: Asynchronous Communication Courses to Enable Student Success."

The members of the Communications Studies Teaching Committee were united in their opinion of Oliver, writing: She brings her knowledge and enthusiasm for her materials into the classroom. She creates connections between teaching and research outcomes. She imbues students with eagerness for learning. And she recognizes that instructional activity is not confined to the classroom.