Richard Powers, professor at the Institute of Literary Studies and Educational Sciences at the University of Stuttgart and an expert in online teaching, received the 2021 Teaching Award. The students appreciate Powers for his motivational and engaging nature. In an interview, Powers explains what makes his teaching so special and why it has not lost any of its quality even during the pandemic semesters.
Mr. Powers, congratulations to the Teaching Award. What is your core area and what excites you about it?
Thank you! I am a scholar of British and American Literatur researching and teaching 17th to 19th Century American literature. I have spent more than 30 years teaching both British and American literature and composition at Stuttgart University. In 1991, I began training faculty to teach literature, business communications and composition online. A third academic area is quality assurance for online teaching and learning design. Composition and learning design fascinate me because they are ways to include all people in learning and access to knowledge. It empowers me to help classroom professors transition to effective online professors because it rekindles their passions for teaching and learning and how they see their role in learning.
Students appreciate your methodological diversity and that you motivate and enable them to engage in guided self-learning phases as well as active reflection and use of digital tools. What do you think you were awarded the Teaching Award for?
This award is not only for me; it represents the students’ calling out for transformation in their university education and the success of online teaching. It’s a win for online teaching and digitalization. We’re still using romantic 19th century models of teaching at the university - all “chalk and talk” or PowerPoint presentations for 90 minutes once a week with a summative test at the end of the semester. Today’s students are different, and today’s world is different: we need a full range of teaching and learning options that are designed and delivered understanding neuroeducation and the full range of neurodiverse learners in our classes.
I had already been teaching online with blended learning courses before the pandemic because research and best practices demonstrated it was more effective than just the classroom, and I worked with American soldiers taking evening classes to finish their bachelor and master’s degrees. They deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq and Kuwait and the Gulf War and needed ways to keep studying and learning. This experience teaching online during crisis and war helped me see how important online education is, also in peacetime.
During the pandemic, there wasn’t a chance for good online courses because the courses didn’t exist and the professors weren’t trained. When the pandemic hit, nothing changed with my classes. In my classes, students experienced well-structured courses developed over years delivered by an experienced trained professor.
I am very happy about this award of the students. We have the best students ever here at Stuttgart Uni, and learning with them is a daily highlight!
When you were nominated, the students particularly highlighted your seminar "Project-Based Learning with eTwinning for Interculturality" as being especially lively. What makes this course stand out? What is eTwinning about?
Since 2005, eTwinning offers a digital platform for a school in one European country to do a digital project with another school in Europe. I first came across eTwinning in 2017. Two years later, the platform became available to student teachers at universities through the Professional School of Education (PSE). In my class the students get to know the system, how to find partners, how to run projects and network as student teachers. When they become teachers, they enter schools already trained and experienced in transnational projects and are immediately assets to their schools. What’s better than that?
The Teaching Award is endowed with 10,000 euros. What plans do you now want to tackle with it? What are your goals?
My ideas concclude funding the literary magazine called Cogito. This year students from Stuttgart University and the Kunst Academy put together the first edition of a combined digital literary magazine "Cogito". It’s exciting to me to think we can now fund and support a second edition. And I would love to bring dynamic international guest speakers for a series of webinars on teaching and learning to Stuttgart University.
My goals are to keep the strong foundation I’ve built with blended learning courses, eTwinning and international engagement going because to end it would be counter-productive and sad.
What does excellent teaching mean to you?
Excellent teaching is sincerely caring about students’ educational visions and goals, being part of their community to understand and respect who they are, and then designing and delivering courses and lessons free from as many learning barriers as possible so as many students as possible reach their amazing potentials as human beings and make their worlds better places every day.