Content in college courses does not really change year-to-year, but different ways of presenting that content can be developed.
That’s one goal of the Governor’s Teaching Fellows (GTF) program, an outreach initiative carried out by the University of Georgia’s Institute of Higher Learning annually. Dr. Hasitha Mahabaduge, an assistant professor of physics at Georgia College, gained entry to the GTF program earlier this year, and is already seeing some results in his own classroom after attending just one event attached to the statewide fellowship.
The Sri Lanka native is one of 18 college educators to be chosen as a 2019-20 Governor’s Teaching Fellow. Each year, professors across the state are selected to participate in the program that seeks to show them new and innovative ways of teaching their respective concentration areas in the classroom. GTF has been in place for 25 years. Through it more than 600 fellows, representing more than 75 teaching areas, from over 70 public and private statewide institutions have come together to take part in the annual program. The fact that the group has a diverse background each year was a big draw for Mahabaduge.
“The thing I really like about statewide fellowships and initiatives is that I get to work with different types of people from different backgrounds. With my research background in physics we only do what we call quantitative research, but I hadn’t heard of the term qualitative research before doing one of these statewide fellowships. That’s the important thing — getting exposed to other types of research.”
The GC assistant professor of physics obtained his bachelor’s degree while still in his home country of Sri Lanka before coming to the United States. He received his Ph. D. from the University of Toledo in Ohio and followed that up with a couple years of post-doctoral research at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Colorado, which is the only lab dedicated to renewable energy research in the world. He accepted a position on the Georgia College faculty in 2016 and has been in Milledgeville ever since.
A colleague pointed Mahabaduge in the direction of the Governor’s Teaching Fellow program, and he applied earlier this year. The application process is two-fold — colleges may only nominate one candidate so it is an institution-wide competition to begin with. Mahabaduge was selected as Georgia College’s nominee and chosen to the statewide program in April. GTF cycles new fellows in each academic year.
Mahabaduge and his fellow fellows convened earlier this month at the University of Georgia for an introductory symposium to begin this year’s program. They will meet five more times throughout the year and work together as a cohort to create new ways of reaching their students. One tactic learned at that first symposium is already paying dividends for Mahabaduge in his physics classroom. At the end of a lecture he used to ask his students if they had any questions, but now he instead asks, “What questions do you have?” A slight change in wording has increased student engagement.
“I’m already seeing an impact,” he said. “It’s a very minor thing — just changing the wording slightly. That’s something I can apply directly at this point, and there are many things I need to think through and apply in future courses.”
Mahabaduge hopes to come away from GTF at the end of the year with many more helpful, intensive ways of creating an even more positive learning environment.