2024 Distinguished Teaching Award Recipients

Distinguished Teaching Award

Five UC Berkeley faculty have been selected as recipients of the 2024 Distinguished Teaching Award, the campus’s most prestigious honor for teaching. The award recognizes teaching that incites intellectual curiosity in students, engages them thoroughly in the enterprise of learning, and has a lifelong impact. The Academic Senate’s Committee on Teaching has selected:

Kristen Holmquist, Law

I began my teaching career as an academic support teacher, and that foundation continues to inform my goals. Academic support is what it sounds like — curricular and co-curricular programs and pedagogies designed to help students succeed in the classroom. For some students, the traditional approach to teaching does not work well. These students often describe themselves as confused by what professors are looking for in their written answers and oral exchanges. An effective law school academic support teacher — which, on my best days, I am — makes explicit the intellectual, psychological, and cultural patterns at play in “thinking like a lawyer.” What exactly do lawyers think about and do when they make a legal argument?

I have come to believe that this approach not only helps students do well on law school exams, but it also creates more inclusive classrooms. I think that’s true for two reasons. First, transparent teaching, teaching that makes clear at every stage exactly what we’re talking about and why, invites students in. At the start of the semester when I ask a question about a case, I’ll often get an answer that begins, “I’m not sure this is what you’re looking for, but ....” By the end of the semester, my students no longer hedge like that. They’ve taken ownership of the picking-apart process because they know to what end we are picking. The students’ ownership of their learning makes for a less hierarchical classroom.

Second, it’s impossible to talk about effective arguments without acknowledging all the reasons why they might be effective and persuasive, and to whom. That means we talk about race and gender and inequity and power in ways that confirm the students’ suspicions that those things matter an awful lot in the law and in the profession. Students tell us that conversations like these create a more inclusive classroom and enhance their learning.

Peter Jenks, Linguistics

Over the past 12 years at Berkeley, my understanding of my role as a professor has undergone a gradual transformation. Early in my career, my goal was rigorous formal training, enabling the best students to achieve at the highest level. Twelve years later, I now seek to empower my students, to actualize their intellectual potential, and to activate the interest of every student in the class. To do this, I keep three general design principles in mind.

First, I try to make the material accessible — and good grades achievable — for every student. One valuable tool has been to gradually reduce the focus on stressful summative assessments, such as midterms and final exams, in favor of smaller formative assessments throughout the semester. A second design principle is to provide students the opportunity for independent research and knowledge creation. When I was head undergraduate adviser, I studied exit survey data on CalAnswers for linguistics graduates and discovered that while student satisfaction was high, we also were providing fewer opportunities for research, writing, and presentation skills than students in other majors. In 2019 I added a final research paper to my syntax class, in where students developed a formal analysis of an unfamiliar language based on a descriptive grammar. Students enthusiastically dove into the unfamiliar territory, past the confines of the textbook and lecture, producing excellent original analysis of unfamiliar languages. 

The third design principle is to think of my courses as instruments for positive social change. In Linguistics 100, this means including significant portions on language profiling, linguistic discrimination in the courts, language variation, and the relationships between language standardization and power. Additionally, in my syntax course this semester, I am redeveloping all of my slides to replace English data with a parallel emphasis on Spanish, Mandarin, and Hindi. My goal is to center languages that have been historically marginalized in California, while improving access and interest in syntax from a broader range of students. 

David Marno, English

When I walked into my first class at Berkeley, I thought my job was to impart knowledge to students. By the end of the semester, I realized that I could do so only if I learned who my students were. That process is never-ending because it starts over with every new class and student. 

Since the first pandemic semester, I have been using a version of the “flipped classroom” method in most of my classes, especially in larger lecture classes. In essence, this means that I post written lecture notes and ask students in return to post brief questions or comments about the primary text and/or about my lecture notes. Then, in our actual meeting, I lecture in response to the questions submitted, synthesizing some of their main concerns and interests as well as addressing particularly interesting and unique queries. 

The flipped classroom model gives enough space for students to feel and express their bewilderment about the antiquated materials and plenty of advance notice for me to know what issues appear to be the most pressing to students on any given day. In addition to the benefits that the model offers to students, however, it also makes teaching far more enjoyable. It is, in my experience, a way of adapting the model of the research university to the 21st century, cultivating disinterested discussions not by suppressing interest but by prioritizing it. 

In grading student essays, instead of applying objective standards, I take into consideration the writer’s existing skills and knowledge. The question I ask myself is, what is the best essay that the author could have written, and how does the essay that they did write compare to this ideal version? Using this method requires a lot of tact and consideration, which are precisely the virtues I associate with the humanities and try to cultivate in my classes.

Peter Marsden, Chemistry

Whenever I teach a course, I use a number of standards — and frequently ask myself if my current teaching meets each standard.

Whether the course is large or small, I want my students to feel comfortable asking questions in front of me and in front of their peers. The open dialogue between the students and their professor is something I value greatly and I think is frequently missing at larger universities. I also need my students to understand exactly what I want them to learn, and they also need to understand that many of these concepts are advanced and difficult. Class assignments correlate to lecture material, and assessments accurately test the concepts focused on during lecture. My homework sets, exams, and quizzes consistently assess similar material but at different levels of difficulty. Ungraded homework sets provide students with easy, medium, and hard examples of a given topic, while my graded quizzes tend to focus on the easy to medium aspects. 

Students are encouraged to work together. The courses I teach are not curved but have set grade bins. This setup encourages students to help each other understand material, because everyone can earn an A. They also have the chance to improve their scores. Whether teaching majors or non-majors, one of the goals of my courses is to increase overall science literacy in my students. We discuss why an experiment is run the way it is, and we brainstorm ways to control for variables. I also want my students excited to come to class and learn new material — and to feel comfortable with me outside of the lecture classroom. The more people struggling students can turn to for help, the better chance they have at success. 

Finally, I want my teaching assistants to feel confident in their ability to teach. Outside of teaching material, I want the TAs to know how much I truly value their time and their effort.

Victoria Robinson, Ethnic Studies

To be a member of the ethnic studies community means that teaching and learning across generations is a project of resistance and transformation, deeply wedded to the insights and inspiration that come from our communities outside of the university. Two of my assignments and a partnership with Berkeley Underground Scholars (BUS) explain my teaching philosophy.

The Revolutionary Imaginations Rebel Archive Zine is inspired by Prison Renaissance, an organization built in San Quentin to bring those who are incarcerated closer to communities that need them. Created from the art, poetry, and short stories that were part of Prison Renaissance projects, the zine was a breath of fresh air during COVID and since we came back to in-person instruction — with students attesting to the power of imagining their work in deeply creative ways. 

The development of the Data Justice module was driven by the interplay of undergraduate needs, future careers, disciplinary silos, and urgent contemporary applied ethnic studies. Data matters in securing justice and equity, and UC Berkeley is positioned to be unparalleled in forging data science research, learning, and practice at the nexus of social justice, change, and activism — and I “road-tested” this in the development of this module. Ethnic studies majors reported that the reticence they felt for computer science diminished after being introduced to data science within the class context, and data science students were equally interested in the applied context of the coding work. 

Lastly, I am honored to be a founding faculty member of the BUS program, built by and for formerly incarcerated and system-impacted students. A core element of BUS is the cross-enrollment program: ES21/22AC enrolls formerly incarcerated students who are students at community colleges and hoping to transfer to a four-year college. The program has a 90% success rate for formerly incarcerated students being accepted into the UC system, and the partnership with BUS influences every element of my teaching. 

DTA 2024 Ceremony 

The extraordinary expertise, curiosity, inclusiveness, and passion of this year’s recipients remind us that excellent teaching runs both deep and broad across Berkeley’s academic landscape.

The recipients will be celebrated at a public ceremony in the West Pauley Ballroom, MLK Student Center on Tuesday, April 23, 2024, 5:00 - 6:30 pm, followed by an open reception. All students, faculty, and staff are invited to celebrate these remarkable teachers.  

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