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Teaching Students to Think

Spring 2011 | By Mackenzie Greenwell. Photo by Mark Simons.


"My interaction with students is most rewarding when I feel like I am helping to equip them for the next chapter in their lives."

-Josh Boyd

Teaching Students to Think

Like all great teachers, Liberal Arts faculty members Josh Boyd and Keith Dickson share not only a passion for learning, but also a unique devotion to their students.

Those qualities were formally recognized last year at the University’s Celebration of Teaching Excellence, where Boyd and Dickson were honored with 2010 Outstanding Undergraduate Teaching Awards in Memory of Charles B. Murphy and inducted into Purdue’s Teaching Academy.

Boyd, associate professor of communication, is praised by students who take Critical Perspectives on Communication, a course he created and has taught himself since 2002. This large-lecture, writing-intensive class is required for prospective communication majors. Boyd’s goal is for his students to learn how to express their ideas persuasively in writing.

“My primary goal is certainly to help students learn,” Boyd says. “But in most of my classes I also focus on helping students gain skills that will equip them in life — thinking critically, writing cleanly and clearly, and examining and interpreting messages thoughtfully.”

Each semester, he invites his top students to dinner at his house, and later adjusts his courses based on their suggestions and critiques.

“My interaction with students is most rewarding when I feel like I am helping to equip them for the next chapter in their lives,” he says. “For me, this goes far beyond the lessons and concepts taught in class.”

Dickson, associate professor of classics, also encourages students to take a different approach to learning. His memorable lectures on everything from comparative and classical mythology to science, medicine, and magic have been inspiring undergraduates for more than 20 years.

The classroom provides a stage for Dickson to perform. “I enjoy playing with ideas in front of audiences,” he says. “It entertains me, and I have hope that it’s also useful for my students.”

Dickson’s integration of multimedia and Internet sources to supplement course teachings is notable. He maintains one of the largest online image databases for Greek, Mesopotamian, Mesoamerican, Hindu, Chinese, and Celtic myths as well as the most comprehensive bibliography of texts on comparative mythology available online at http://web.ics.purdue.edu/~kdickson/mythbibl.html.

For Dickson, a “willingness on the part of both teacher and student to take risks” is the most important part of any great lesson or lecture. “The most valuable kind of learning is often learning to unlearn what you’ve been taught,” he says. “I hope my students will learn from me how to question what I tell them.”

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