The 3M Fellowship – Making a Difference?

The 3M Fellowship – Making a Difference?

Alex L.A. Middleton
1989 3M Teaching Fellow

was just coming through a particularly difficult time in my academic career. My role as the Coordinator for Instructional Development, a seconded, halftime position, in the Office for Educational Practice had proved too frustrating to continue. As a result I resigned from the position, which I had taken up with so much eager anticipation, and returned to full-time activities in my home department (Zoology) . I was exhausted, disillusioned and discouraged. Although I enjoyed being freed of the frustrations, I also felt jaded by the whole academic enterprise, including my teaching. I still had ideas about how my courses could be improved, but I had no energy to make the necessary changes. Besides, no one seemed to care. But a surprise was in store. I was nominated for a 3M Teaching Fellowship!

The nomination couldn’t have come at a better time. I realized that at least some of my students and colleagues had valued what I had striven for over many years, both in the classroom and beyond. As a result, my self-confidence was restored and I regained my enthusiasm for teaching. Regardless of whether or not the nomination would be successful, I vigorously set about revising my senior ornithology course, including the labs which had become stale. Also, I began working on a plan to revamp our introductory zoology course, unchanged over many years. The nomination pushed me over the hump and I approached my work with renewed joy and passion. But there was more to come.

At my own university the formal recognition of the award was made at a reception hosted by the Provost, and with the news now out in the open, attitudes towards me changed. Virtually overnight I gained a credibility that was previously wanting! No longer was I seen as the hopelessly naïve.

This resulted in my being appointed to a host of advisory committees. I was asked to lead and participate in workshops for new and experienced faculty on a variety of teaching-related issues and to chair my own department’s curriculum committee. Further, I was given encouragement and resources by my own department, including some release time, to get on with the revision of the introductory course. After many years of lonely struggle it seemed that my efforts had not been in vain.

Did the award of the 3M Teaching Fellowship make a difference? My students, I hope, benefitted from the many revisions that I made to my courses. I hope, also, that my department, college and university benefitted from the work that I contributed towards curriculum development and faculty development, and to the wider discussion of teaching and learning issues on campus.

The Fellowship gave me quiet satisfaction and a renewed faith in my abilities. On the larger scale, it was an important factor in my promotion to the rank of Professor in 1991. This promotion sent a signal to colleagues that effort devoted to teaching and learning is not wasted effort, is a worthy academic pursuit, and, if done well, it will be recognized.