Judith Poë (1993)

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Citation: Trained as a bioinorganic chemist, Judith’s current research and scholarly activity is in the area of chemical education. She is developing materials for and studying the effectiveness of the Problem-Based Learning of chemistry. PBL is a process of inquiry and investigation in which students are confronted with problems whose solutions require certain information and skills, most of which they do not possess. This required knowledge that they identify then defines their curriculum. Immediately students realize, on a need to know basis, the reasons for including certain material in their curriculum. The key feature of PBL is that the learning process is initiated and directed by the problem before any preparation or study has occurred.

While PBL activities can be done individually, they are normally done in small groups and such activities have been incorporated into Judith’s upper year courses. Seeing that this small group work approach was less successful in the large, 1st-year course with its heterogeneous population, Judith has developed a web based platform for PBL to support a larger team approach to the activities. Virtual PBL allows study groups to emerge from the active participants on the web and enables the “silent lurkers” to learn from the active participants.

Judith is also actively involved in other areas of web enhanced teaching and learning. She supplements regular office hours by communicating with her 1st-year class of 800 students through a Virtual Office Hours system. VOH supports both confidential and public communication between the students and their professor. Publicly posted questions and their answers are available to the entire class, meaning that FAQs need to be answered less frequently, thus freeing the professor to address a wider range of students’ concerns. The use of VOH has significantly increased the opportunity for all students to engage in dialogue with Judith and in particular it has provided a line of communication used by those students who are initially too shy to seek face-to-face interaction and for part-time students for whom regular office hours may be impossible to attend. As well, the requirement for students to communicate in writing has noticeably improved this communications skill for many. About 50% of the class post questions on the public VOH pages and close to 90% of the students regularly browse through the questions of other students and their answers and report significant learning from them. Final examination results, as compared to those of previous years, bears this out. According to student surveys, VOH has been the most unique and significant learning aid in their 1st-year experience at university.

In addition to her pedagogical research, Judith has made contributions to the field of chemical education both nationally and internationally through her activity in professional societies. She has served the Canadian Society for Chemistry on its Board of Directors as the Director of Chemical Education and Student Affairs from 1994-1998, the Vice-President in 1998-1999 and was President of the CSC in 1999-2000 (the first person to hold this position whose primary interests and research are in chemical education). In this capacity Judith has lobbied MPs and bureaucrats from Industry Canada regarding the need for federal funding of research in science education. Her aim is to convince the NSERC of its responsibility to support research in science education as it does the other branches of science. Most recently she has been appointed to the Educational Strategy Development Committee of the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry. She currently chairs the Chemical Education Trust of the Chemical Institute of Canada.

In 1996 Judith was named as one of the University of Toronto’s “Popular Profs” in The Maclean’s Guide to Canadian Universities. She is clearly that and more. She is the consummate university educator who has contributed greatly to the development of innovative curricula and novel teaching approaches. Judith’s leadership in 1st-year teaching has provided the foundation for the undergraduate programs in chemistry at Erindale College and the student evaluations of her work are clearly outstanding. In addition she has taught biological, inorganic and physical chemistry and as such is unique in her Department for not only the quality but also the breadth of her teaching. She is widely known for the mentoring of her colleagues in the art and science of fine teaching and for her advocacy of science education nationally and internationally. And, of course, she is a genuinely outstanding educator herself. In addition to the 3M Fellowship, Judith received the first Erindale College Teaching Excellence Award in 1991, the Ontario Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Teaching Excellence in 1993, the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations (OCUFA) Teaching Award in 2000, and the Union Carbide Award for Chemical Education in 2001. Also in 2001, she was elected a Fellow of the Chemical Institute of Canada. In 2007 she received the University of Toronto President’s Teaching Award and became a member of the University’s Teaching Academy. She was also an inaugural recipient of the Ontario Government’s Leadership in Faculty Teaching (LIFT) Award.