Eileen Wood Integrates Life & Learning in Psychology Classrooms
The Russian-born American Rabbi, Morris Adler once said: "The purpose of learning is growth, and our minds, unlike our bodies, can continue growing as we continue to live."
For Dr. Eileen Wood, who just received the Wilfrid Laurier University 2010 Award for Teaching Excellence in the full-time faculty category, those words echo loud and clear. "My classes are full of people who are thinkers, but who all think uniquely," says Dr. Wood, a professor in the department of Psychology who has worked at Laurier for the past 20 years. "They come from policing, nursing, biology, they're artists, and they bring this diversity of backgrounds into my classroom that creates this cosmopolitan environment in terms of knowledge -- and it's fabulous, because they can discuss the topics from very different viewpoints.
"Then my job is to re-direct that knowledge into an area where they may not have expertise in, which is my area, so they may draw on that as I get them to use what they already know."
Success in her chosen field -- earning an Honour's degree in Psychology and a Master's degree in Developmental Psychology at the University of Western Ontario, then her Doctorate at Simon Fraser University in the area of Instructional Psychology -- is something Wood attributes to instructors who made a difference in her life, according to a recent Laurier press release. "I'm fortunate to have had great role models whose commitment to excellence in instruction excited my own interest in educational research and my desire to become a good educator," Wood is quoted.
While excelling at her craft and engaging classrooms ranging in size from 20 students to 400-seat lecture halls, Wood is also prolific in her research with over 50 publications along with 11 books written/edited to her credit. In her research, she examines how children and adults acquire, retain and understand information presented through traditional text-based delivery systems and digital media -- specifically computers and the Internet.
In addition, her research looks at the social and cognitive outcomes of learners as they engage technology in formal educational environments like classrooms, along with informal environments that include gaming, blogs, and interacting on Facebook.
"I try to introduce topics by talking about everyday experiences, and psychology is fabulous for that because we all make observations about other people, and often we don't share those observations," Wood explained. "Then I'll address those observations by asking my class, 'How many of you have ever done this? Or seen this? Or had this reaction?' So, once I have them putting their hands up, they start laughing because they know they've done exactly that. Then I show them how that fits in with the topic we're covering and why that's important.
"I think a sense of humour is probably your strongest ally in doing anything," Wood says with a laugh.
Humour, along with patience, are what Wood integrates into her carefully crafted classroom environment, as one student nomination concurred in the press release: "Dr. Wood delivers the material in her class with enthusiasm and passion. She's extremely patient, and is willing to explain a concept multiple times to ensure that everyone has understood it."
"I always try to explain the (psychology) jargon by keeping the language at a level that is comfortable for everybody, so they don't have to get out their dictionaries to figure out what I'm saying to them," says Wood. "And that's really important to me, to be casual with them so they can ask questions in their normal language -- not feeling like they have to ask these 'smart questions' -- and that they're comfortable asking me any questions.
"And that's the key, to introduce those big terms slowly, one word at a time, and then use it over and over again by showing them multiple different ways with different definitions -- and then they're good."
So good, in fact, that not only students praise her teaching strategies, but also peers like Laurier colleague Dr. Kim Roberts, who considers Wood a mentor: "(Wood) excels in teaching at both the undergraduate and graduate levels...and even educates educators! She has committed her career to helping people learn."
"Some people think that a degree comes in a little box, or in the form of a little plaque, or that knowledge exists in the books on the shelf -- but it doesn't," Wood concluded. "For me, learning is life, and I'm hoping to make all my students life-long learners."