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Dr. Robert Gebotys wins 2005 Award for Teaching Excellence for full-time faculty
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Dr. Robert Gebotys, an associate professor in Laurier’s Psychology Department, will receive the 2005 Award for Teaching Excellence for full-time faculty at the June 3 convocation.
The award is especially notable because Gebotys teaches statistics – probably the most universally feared and dreaded courses on any university campus.
Gebotys’ students are “not statistics or physics majors,” he says.
“They’re psychology or social work students (he also teaches statistics as a cognate professor in the Faculty of Social Work). Maybe the last time they saw math was in high school. Yet this is the hoop they have to jump through for their degree and yes, without a doubt, they’re somewhat apprehensive.”
Gebotys didn’t set out to be a statistics professor. His BA and MA degrees are in psychology and he was one year into a PhD in psychology when he found that he enjoyed his statistics courses so much that he switched to a PhD in statistics. He graduated from the University of Toronto in 1984 and joined Laurier in 1984.
All Gebotys’ courses are Web-based. Students have access to notes, manuals, labs, exercises and lecture material.
“I’ve put together a package that’s logically sound in terms of steps and building blocks,” he says, “and I use the best technology available at the university.
“You develop these things over the years. You refine the notes so students can have access to all the theory.”
The idea is for students to go to the appropriate website, read the notes for the upcoming class, do the exercises and simulations, and make note of the questions or problems they’ll want to have addressed in class. Using WebCT, they can work through examples, exchange emails with TAs, or enter chat rooms run by the TAs.
“They really enjoy having the notes” on the Web, says Gebotys. There are weekly assignments that build on each other, and he uses real-life examples (such as studies of how much male social workers are paid compared to female social workers) to bring statistics to life and give them meaning.
And while technology is a great enabler and tool, it is not a complete replacement for face-to-face time with students.
“I try to be available outside of office hours. I try to keep my door open, as well,” he says.
And how does he know if his teaching is clicking, that his students are getting it?
“When they ask you questions. When they ask for clarification or want to discuss things. That’s how you know.”
In addition to extremely positive formal teaching evaluations, Gebotys receives numerous emails and other personal communications from students who appreciate his teaching skills.
Student letters included in his nomination package for the teaching award included the following statements:
“Regardless of how busy his schedule remains, he always offers his support, his knowledge, and his warmth to students in need. Every question or concern I have had has always not only been treated with the utmost respect but also answered, providing a clear, comprehensible, and enlightening answer … In my opinion and experience, Dr. Gebotys exemplifies what every teacher strives to be: knowledgeable, engaging, and a motivational force behind his/her students’ academic and personal life.”
“Dr. Gebotys has this amazing ability to make statistics seem extremely straightforward and simple. One of the ways he does this is by only teaching his students the absolute essentials of what they need to know in order to understand the statistical procedure and when it is applicable … I actually learn better and feel much more comfortable and confident in my statistical abilities than I ever have before … I even want to take more graduate level statistics courses next year because I think Dr. Gebotys is such an outstanding statistics professor!”
“He is always clear in his teachings and regularly asks for feedback from the class in order to adjust the pace if necessary (a few times every lecture!). My experience has also been that he takes the time to incorporate the latest psychological findings in his lectures on statistics in order for us to learn from the most relevant, up-to-date sources … Statistics is an anxiety-provoking subject for many students and it is often very challenging. Dr. Gebotys recognizes this and incorporates humour appropriately in his lectures. I found that I was always excited for his class because he was so animated, not to mention entertaining!”
In addition to being a noteworthy teacher, Gebotys is an active researcher with many refereed journal articles to his credit, plus dozens of presentations at professional meetings.