By: Diane Stirling
For professors who regard their role as guiding students to bring forward their own best character traits, and teaching students how to learn, it’s often a surprise when others attribute student success to the style and philosophy of those teachers.
Such is the case this year for the two faculty members at the School of Information Studies selected by undergraduates for outstanding teaching honors. Deborah L. Nosky, assistant professor of practice, was honored with this year’s Jeffrey Katzer Professor of the Year Award. John Liddy, an adjunct faculty member at the School, was given the Outstanding Part-Time Faculty of the Year Award.
As a faculty member, Nosky has taught IST 359, Introduction to Database Management Systems, and GET 487, Global Technology for the past two years, and other courses prior to that. Liddy teaches IDS 403, Startup Sandbox, as well as two entrepreneurship immersion courses, EntreTechNYC and Spring Break in Silicon Valley.
Though surprised at their selection, both faculty members are deeply appreciative of the recognition and the meaningfulness of their efforts to students, Nosky and Liddy said. “The award is a real honor because it says to me that I made a difference to them!” Nosky enthused, “and that means a tremendous amount.”
Accepting the honors on the stage, Nosky discussed the reality that all graduates face. While their college commencement day is truly a life-stage celebration, it’s also a moment that signifies it is time to move on, she said. Within days, and for the rest of their careers, the graduates will be in charge of their own learning, she told them. “Congratulations for getting to this point in life today, but that message ends on Monday – when you now become the person in charge of your own self-directed learning.” She said that while, “your boss might help you with some ideas on how to approach an assignment at work, or a colleague may be willing to get you started on a project, by and large it is time to move away from the idea that someone else decides how you learn.”
That’s the point at which Nosky hopes her students will go back to the lessons she tried to impart, she said: “the three basic skills–observation, listening, and reflection. These will help them continue to identify their weaknesses and how to go about improving them. It’s your own natural curiosity and ability to learn that has taken you forward, and your own belief that you can do it,” she recounted. “I hope to have helped them learn to become good observers, thinkers, listeners, and perhaps have imparted a few IT skills that will help them today, but mostly tomorrow, in such a rapidly changing field,” she said.
Student Discovery Process
Liddy noted that just as he teaches about customer discovery, and building products and services that precisely reflect what the customer wants rather than what someone else thinks they want, “I take that same thought process and apply it to what I’m teaching.” He said he begins classes “with a framework of what I think [students] need, and as we progress and a level of comfort emerges, I go back to them, asking, ‘Are we giving you what you need out of this class?”
Meeting those interests and needs are his primary concern, he noted. “We want people to be able to have conversations about how the course pertains to their own needs. We’re doing more and more of flipped classroom, where students get what they need out of entrepreneurship–to ensure that we have a broad framework for venture creation, and to tie to things that meet individual needs. Anytime the student has a feeling that we’re meeting their needs head-on, then we’re going to be successful,” he added.
Liddy, who is noted for teaching by asking “lots and lots of questions…so you feel that you own the solution,” said his goal is “to create entrepreneurial thinkers, not ventures, and the ventures are outcroppings of that.”
Liddy’s award was presented by Daniel Lev Goldberg, a graduating senior who has developed his fledging startup into a nationally recognized business success in the two years since he transferred into the iSchool.
Goldberg said Liddy’s teaching “changed my life. Most professors teach, some inspire, and few do both. John is one of the few professors from all my years in college who has done both. I remember walking into the Sandbox for the first time…and the first thing he asked is, “What can I do to help you?” It is such a simple question, but not asked often enough. And unlike some professors that just ask it, he meant it. And for the next two years, he did everything in his power to help me grow as an entrepreneur and an individual. There for me when I needed it most, and there for me just checking in from time to time.” Goldberg said the word “entrepreneur” is one that “will define me, and I truly believe if it were not for John Liddy, I would not be where I am today.”
The presenter of Nosky’s award, graduating senior Thaney Cockrell, spoke on behalf of the senior class, citing Nosky’s passion for the School, for technology, her leadership abilities, and her willingness to personally engage with students as the qualities that made her deserving of the Faculty of the Year award.
Cockrell noted, “She inspires us, challenges us, and even teases us when we forget that semicolon that broke our code. She embodies not only what it means to be a professor, but also what it means to be a leader of this iSchool family. Moving forward she will be taking on a new role that will allow her to use her passion for the iSchool and technology to foster curriculum for future students.”