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Teaching by Questioning

Fall 2013 | By Elizabeth Hudson. Photos by John Underwood..

Nancy Gabin

At the core of exceptional teaching are dedicated faculty members who recognize the value of sharing their knowledge with undergraduates. As one of Purdue’s best teachers, associate professor of history and interim director of the American Studies program Nancy Gabin also recognizes the value in asking questions. “It is important for me to teach courses that can be troubling for students,” she explains, adding that it is also her goal “to provide the safe space to work out their ideas about those troubling problems.”

In her course “Women in America since 1870,” Gabin challenges students to learn about gender, race, politics, and culture—and how these topics have been represented in relation to women. Addressing these topics in the classroom helps students face big questions in their own lives, she says.Gabin and her colleague Mariko Moroishi Wei, associate professor of Japanese and linguistics, are the two most recent Liberal Arts recipients of the Outstanding Undergraduate Teaching Awards in Memory of Charles B. Murphy, in 2012 and 2013, respectively.

Mariko Moroishi Wei

Wei mentors students of Japanese inside and outside the classroom as they search for opportunities to explore the culture. “Students want two things,” Wei says, “to study abroad and to get a job. Also, many of my students go on to graduate school to study East Asian studies.” Wei frequently advises her students, helping them choose schools or companies in Japan where they can best use their education. She’s happy to help, and grateful that her students are passionate, hard working, and interested in her native culture.

Both Gabin and Wei like to use primary materials in the classroom to immerse their students in the topics up for discussion. Gabin brings old editorial cartoons and illustrations and asks students to discuss the representation of women in her samples. Students in Wei’s 400-level reading course are challenged to watch and read Japanese news and then discuss the content with the class.

“It is very rewarding to see students succeed,” Wei says. Gabin, who hopes to engage her students in solving and analyzing historical problems, echoes this sentiment: “What I like most about teaching is when I can see the light bulb go on,” she says.

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