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2004 Award for Teaching Excellence
Religion and Culture's Carol Duncan takes award for full-time faculty
Dr. Carol B. Duncan, an assistant professor in Laurier’s Department of Religion and Culture, has been honoured with the 2004 Wilfrid Laurier University Award for Teaching Excellence for full-time faculty.
This “feels like a great big thank you for the work that I do,” says Duncan, about receiving the award. “As a teacher you are never quite sure how students are going to interact with your material, so getting an award like this is an affirmation for the work that I do. I’m very thankful.”
Educational studies, especially critical pedagogy, is important to Duncan, whose primary research interests focus on the religion and culture of the African diaspora, Caribbean religions, especially the Spiritual Baptist and Orisha religions, postcolonialism, cultural studies and women’s studies. She has been dedicated to the scholarship of teaching since she first entered the classroom as a teaching assistant while a graduate student at York University. “I wanted to be conscientious about it and to do a good job at it, so I decided to work on teaching at that point.” At York, she was involved with the Centre for the Support of Teaching for eight years and completed the university’s teaching practicum.
“Teaching is an integral part of what I do as a professor,” says Duncan. “I really take very seriously my role as a teacher scholar and I see these things working in tandem with each other.”
Duncan says her goal in the classroom is “to excite students about learning and about their own possibilities. The subject matter, of course, is one concern; to become familiar with certain concepts and ideas, to have read certain texts, those are the immediate goals of a course. But the more longer-term goals for me involve an excitement about learning, their own learning. To be able to develop critical skills that students can employ, not just in my course but in other courses and perhaps elsewhere in their lives: how to read critically, how to go to a library and access information that they need, how to write, how to do research, and to see the value in doing that kind of investigation.
“The aim, after all, is to get students to do this work, not to please me as a teacher or to get the grade, but to do the work for some other objective that is ultimately going to last beyond the life of the course.”
To keep her courses fresh, Duncan supports her lectures with presentations by guest speakers from the community and popular texts, films and documentary videos. Debate, dialogue and critical discussion are central to her teaching practice. “Some of the most enlightening classes are when there is lively discussion about a particular topic and people are bringing themselves and their experiences and their divergent perspectives to it,” she says.
She has embraced technology in the classroom, because she says it has allowed her to “introduce certain visual materials and audio materials in the classroom in really effective and immediate ways. It’s one thing to talk about the importance of visual images in popular culture and to show still images, and it’s another to be able to access these things right on the Internet in the classroom with the students and have the discussion. It’s a way of meeting students on their grounds; using the fantastic visual skills that they’ve honed through watching television and movies and video games, and by participating in on-line chat rooms to help them to learn.”
Curriculum development has also been a priority, in part because her area of research is an emerging area of religious studies. Since her arrival at Laurier in 1997, Duncan has designed and taught 10 undergraduate and graduate courses that reflect her research interests, including Religion and Social Change, Religion and Cultural Studies and Religion and the Culture of the African diaspora. And she never teaches the same course, the same way, twice. “I like to keep it interesting for myself and for my students, and I like to integrate new ideas and perspectives, new texts that I may come across, different speakers.”
Duncan continues her research in pedagogy. In 2001, she was one of 15 faculty members from across North America to participate in a year-long workshop at the Wabash Center for Teaching in Religion and Theology to discuss pedagogical practices in teaching religious studies. Last year, she was invited to be co-investigator on a two-year project funded by the Wabash Center that will bring together African-American religious studies and theological studies teachers to discuss pedagogy and identity. One of the outcomes of the project, entitled “Being Black/Teaching Black: An African-American Dialogue Concerning the Influences of Blackness in Theological Education Teaching Practices,” will be an anthology of papers written by the participants. She is co-authoring a textbook on Black Church Studies that will be published by Abingdon Press in 2007, is co-editor of a series of books on Black Church Studies, and is co-authoring a book in this series on sociological approaches to the study of Black Church, culture and society.
That Duncan has succeeded in her goal of exciting her students is reflected in the comments of the students, current and former, who supported her nomination for the teaching excellence award.
“Dr. Duncan has been a wonderful instructor, mentor and resource for me in my undergraduate education here at Wilfrid Laurier University,” wrote one. “She has helped me to become a stronger, more confident scholar who is engaged in his work in a way I did not always think possible.”
“As I am nearing the end of my doctoral work and beginning to do more of my own teaching, I realize what a gift I have been given in the example of Carol Duncan. I have tried to follow her model of providing a teaching space which allows for rigorous scholarship as well as personal concern for students. If I manage to do half as well as Carol I will become a good teacher. Carol, however, is a phenomenal teacher,” said another, a former student.
This is not the first time Duncan has been honoured for excellence as an educator. While a graduate student at York she received three teaching awards, and this January she was named the Laurier Faculty of Arts Teaching Scholar. She will receive the Wilfrid Laurier University Award for Teaching Excellence at Spring Convocation in June.
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