Jamaica (University of The West Indies) The UWI guardian life premium teaching award goes to Dr Dacia Leslie

Dr Dacia Leslie, Research Fellow at the Sir Arthur Lewis Institute of Social and Economic Studies (SALISES) at The University of the West Indies (The UWI), Mona, has copped one of the most coveted awards among academics – The UWI/Guardian Life Premium Teaching Award for Excellence in University Teaching. This prestigious Award, recognizes and celebrates excellence in university pedagogical practice.

The UWI/Guardian Life Premium Teaching Award Ceremony is scheduled to be held on Thursday, November 24, 2022, at 5:00 pm in the Exhibition Room, Faculty of Medical Sciences’ Research and Teaching Complex.

Coordinated by the Centre for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETL), this year Dr Leslie and two runners – up, Dr Leighton Ellis, Senior Lecturer and Deputy Dean in the Faculty of Engineer and Dr Therese Ferguson-Murray, Senior Lecturer and Deputy Dean in the Faculty of Humanities and Education – will be awarded for their commitment to excellence in pedagogical practice.

University teaching awards are done to recognize the significant contributions made by faculty to enhance the academic lives of students and colleagues through pedagogy.  It is now acknowledged that faculty can learn to teach and learn to teach well. Further, research in the learning sciences and other evidence-based research has provided information on how we can strive for pedagogical excellence.

Speaking to the hosting of this year’s event, Dr Mervin Chisholm, manager and coordinator for the CETL as well as chairman of the Award Ceremony Committee said, the Centre aims to showcase the university as a centre for excellence in university teaching and learning and in this institution. “We also want to position The UWI as an institution that rewards excellence in teaching in higher education,” he said.

The UWI/Guardian Life Limited Premium Teaching Excellence Lecture and Award was established in 2004 following the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between Guardian Life Limited (GLL) and The UWI Mona Campus to be the co-sponsor of a lecture series on excellence in university teaching and an award for teaching excellence.

Dr Chisholm pointed out that the decision to work towards establishing an Award specifically for teaching at The UWI arose from the concern of the coordinators of the then Instructional Development Unit (IDU – now Centre for Excellence in Teaching and Learning) on all three landed campuses (at the time) that the teaching function was not given the attention and value it deserves in the institution. The coordinators, he said,  saw the need to increase the awareness of The UWI faculty, staff, students, and the public that there are measures of good teaching and more specifically, that the UWI attaches great importance to good teaching.

“The prevailing view was that it was difficult, if not impossible to judge good teaching. However, there was recognition that the use of a teaching portfolio or dossier was gaining prominence on university campuses across the world and was becoming the preferred approach taken by many universities to judge teaching and teaching excellence for awards. It was decided to use this approach in The UWI/Guardian Life Premium Teaching Award,” he stated.

Initially, he continued, Guardian Life agreed to assist with faculty development workshops for the training of faculty in developing appropriate teaching portfolios; it was also agreed that the panel of judges for the Award should be external to The UWI.

History – The UWI/Guardian Life Premium Teaching Award for Excellence

Speaking to the historical underpinning of the Award, Dr Chisholm informed that in 1998, Mrs. Betty Rohlehr, the then Coordinator of the IDU at the St. Augustine Campus was successful in getting Guardian Life to sponsor a Premium Teaching Award for that campus. This was initially extended by Guardian Life to the other two landed campuses. Unfortunately, the Award in Barbados was short-lived but it persisted in Trinidad and Jamaica.

“From those early days, it was decided that a Teaching Excellence Award could be offered every other year beginning in 2000 and a prominent and outstanding guest lecturer focusing on aspects of teaching in the intervening year. Awardees would be selected and evaluated on the basis of a Teaching Portfolio articulating a personal philosophy of teaching, aspects of pedagogy embraced by the lecturer, and of course, evidence for one’s professional engagements.”

This approach was chosen because the teaching portfolio was understood to be a self-reflective document that forced a university lecturer to evaluate his or her teaching and provide supporting documentation as evidence of good teaching. It was also decided that the portfolio would be objectively judged by academics having no acquaintance with the nominees and they would also operate from other universities overseas. Following the successful implementation of the Award in St. Augustine and the indication that Guardian Life would be interested in funding a similar programme at Mona, the CETL in February 2002 submitted a proposal to Mrs. Maria McMillan, then Manager, Corporate Communications, of Guardian Life Trinidad. In August 2002, we received confirmation of sponsorship, and a Memorandum of Agreement was signed in January 2003.

Growth of The UWI/Guardian Life Premium Teaching Award for Excellence in University Teaching

The first award was held in 2004 with the sole recipient of the Premium Teaching Award being Dr. Willard Pinnock, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Chemistry. This was followed by a Premium Teaching Lecture in 2005 and we have alternated between Premium Teaching Excellence Award and Premium Teaching Lecture until 2015 when Guardian Life ceased sponsoring the lecture.  Since 2016 we have only had two Premium Teaching Excellence Awards in 2016 and 2018.

Unfortunately, no award was held in 2020 due to the pandemic.