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Chitra RanganPhysics professor Chitra Rangan is this year’s winner of the Educational Leadership Award.

Physics professor recognized for educational leadership

Physics professor Chitra Rangan’s sustained commitment to students has had an impact across the University of Windsor, the Windsor community, and other institutions.

Now that commitment has earned her the Educational Leadership Award, the Office of the Provost and the Centre for Teaching and Learning have announced.

The selection committee noted Dr. Rangan’s attention to inclusion — from the development of “Women of Physics” baseball cards to the incorporation of different perspectives and inclusion of Indigenous content in physics courses, as well as her work on course and curriculum initiatives to enhance student engagement.

One such initiative, PEARLS (Promoters of Experiential and Active, Research-based Learning in Science), is a community of practice, developing curricular projects that promote scholarly teaching across the Faculty of Science.

PEARLS offers opportunities for participants to discuss innovative, evidence-based models of experiential and active learning, access to grants and research support, and workshops featuring expert speakers sharing their experiences in high-impact science teaching pedagogies.

Rangan was inspired by a paper demonstrating how professors who use active learning methods in science courses were able to decrease student failures and withdrawals, and show an average improvement of one full letter grade by students.

“One quote that stuck with me from this paper was that if we, knowing what we know now, do not use active learning to teach, we're committing academic malpractice,” Rangan said.

Feeling bolstered by this research, Rangan started PEARLS in 2012 with support from the University of Windsor Teaching Leadership Chairs program to help interested professors facilitate a smooth transition to active learning. When funding ran out, and with proven success, she applied for and secured faculty funding to re-commit to PEARLS, and other projects that helped her fellow instructors to grow in their own teaching.

Other such initiatives Rangan developed include the Online Physics Education Network (OPEN) and the First-Year Seminar (FYS) program. OPEN involves pooling together core graduate courses in the physics departments of Windsor, York, and Trent universities, thus increasing the number of courses available to students across institutions.

“These initiatives are all essentially trying to make the system work better for students,” she said. “In the case of the FYS program, studies show that it is a demonstrated retention strategy and that students who go through a first-year seminar are able to maintain their grades for four years.”

She was also involved in the development of a UWindsor guide to assist department heads in evaluating teaching; led the development of an honours certificate in physics; and created online modules, templates, and resources used by high school teachers, and course materials adopted by other institutions.

Chris Houser, dean of the Faculty of Science, said the award was well-deserved.

“Dr. Rangan has provided exceptional leadership in the Faculty of Science, helping to build a community of practice committed to curricular initiatives across the faculty and across campus,” he said.

Rangan has been recognized for her work in the past receiving the Dr. Alan Wright Award for Exemplary Online & Technology-Enhanced Teaching (2019), the Canadian Association of Physicists Medal for Excellence in Teaching Undergraduate Physics (2015), and the Roger Thibert Teaching Excellence Award (2011).

The Educational Leadership Award honours the contributions of individuals who have led significant and sustained initiatives to improve teaching, curriculum, teaching spaces and resources, and policies and procedures that promote effective teaching. Rangan will also receive a grant of $5,000 to support ongoing educational leadership activities.

Rangan, along with other University of Windsor professors, will be honoured at the 16th annual Celebration of Teaching Excellence, March 8, 2022.

—Peter Marval

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