Top teachers set the stage for education

One of the campuses top teachers wants students to know you can look foolish and still make a point

by Hilary Thomson staff writer

A unique hybrid of improvisational theatre and speech language pathology is what students can expect to find in Barbara Bernhardt's classes.

An associate professor in the School of Audiology and Speech Sciences, Bernhardt is one of 22 faculty members to receive University Killam Teaching Prizes during Spring Congregation.

Losing inhibitions and learning to take risks to help children overcome communication disorders is a critical skill for speech language pathologists, says Bernhardt.

That's where the `Good Speech Fairy' comes in.

Bernhardt uses the costumed character, complete with magic wand, to foster students' creativity.

"They need to know you can look foolish and still make a point," says Bernhardt, who was a clinical speech pathologist before joining the school in 1990. "When they're working with kids, they'll need that spontaneity and sense of fun."

A regular student at improv theatre classes, she uses the mental and verbal agility learned there to teach students how to incorporate fun role-playing into their interactions with kids.

In addition to the `Good Speech Fairy,' she uses the `Fun Lab,' a light-hearted title for the phonetics lab. The lab sees students engaging each other in activities that teach children how to produce the phonetics or sounds of adult language.

Speech language pathology includes a broad scope of communication disorders ranging from structural problems such as cleft palate to cognitive difficulties or impairment from hearing loss. Many clients are children.

Determined to tie real-life interactions to theoretical frameworks, Bernhardt recently brought children and parents into the classroom to work with pairs of students over a period of three months. Students ordinarily do not become actively involved in assessment and treatment with clients until their external placements after first year.

"I'm committed to the philosophy that you learn what you do," says the teacher of three graduate courses. "I wanted to take students to a level beyond a discussion of case studies."

Students, parents and children responded enthusiastically to the experiment, she adds.

Self-described as "far off the norm as an academic," Bernhardt initially studied modern languages but was encouraged by one of her professors to find her social conscience. Speech language pathology offered her a helping career and teaching has allowed her to positively influence others, she says.

Outside the classroom, Bernhardt maintains a small clinical practice and collaborates with community groups in researching the effectiveness of speech therapies for children. She is also involved in UBC interdisciplinary studies looking at issues such as the role of computer technology in speech language pathology.

Killam Teaching Prize winners are selected by their faculties based on recommendations from students and colleagues. A prize of $5,000 from endowment sources is given to each winner.

Prize citations offer a snapshot of teaching at UBC:

Genetics ethicist Prof. Michael Burgess of Graduate Studies is said to epitomize the interdisciplinary vision of the faculty. Graduate students from areas ranging from nursing to philosophy say Burgess shows that ethics is not just about theorizing, but how we live.

Revolutionizing the way in which conversational Italian is taught at UBC is how students describe the work of Luisa Canuto, sessional instructor in French, Hispanic and Italian Studies.

Forestry Assoc. Prof. Scott Hinch passionately believes that students must become stewards of all natural resources, not just trees. He was instrumental in expanding the aquatic ecology and fisheries conservation curriculum.

Serguei Novocelskii, a sessional instructor in the Dept. of Mathematics, was an award-winning university teacher in Russia who has given many UBC students a mathematical awakening, helped them overcome anxieties and develop a passion for mathematics.

Asian Studies Prof. Daniel Overmyer has been known to conduct tutorials on Chinese funeral practices from his sickbed and is respected by students for his promotion of empathetic thinking.

Other Killam Teaching Prize recipients for 2000 include:

Faculty of Applied Science: Avrum Soudack, Electrical and Computer Engineering; Kevin Smith, Chemical Engineering * Faculty of Arts: Thomas Kemple, Anthropology and Sociology; Peter Loeffler, Theatre, Film and Creative Writing; Robert McDonald, History * Faculty of Commerce and Business Administration: Keith Head * Faculty of Dentistry: Edward Putnins, Oral Biological and Medical Sciences * Faculty of Education: Marilyn Chapman, Language and Literacy Education; Linda Farr Darling, Curriculum Studies * Faculty of Graduate Studies: Kenneth Craig, Psychology * Faculty of Law: Liz Edinger, associate dean * Faculty of Medicine: Andrew Seal, Surgery; Niamh Kelly, Pathology and Laboratory Medicine * Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences: Mary Ensom * Faculty of Science: Geoffrey Herring, Chemistry; Philip Loewen, Mathematics.