Last modified: Friday, March 20, 2009
Edwina L. Helton
The Frederic Bachman Lieber Memorial Award
Professor of English
Department of English
School of Humanities and Social Sciences
Indiana University East
Appointed to IU faculty, 1995
B.S., University of Maryland, European Division, U.K. , 1988
B.A., University of Akron , 1989
M.A., University of Akron , 1991
Ph.D., Miami University , 1995
Luck has nothing to do with the seven teaching awards that Edwina Helton has received in her time at IU East. Since joining the faculty as an English professor in 1997, Helton has distinguished herself time and again as an educator who exemplifies the very best of her field. It's only fitting that the next award crowding her mantel be university-wide.
"Edwina's absolute commitment to her teaching themes of multiculturalism, critical thinking through application and mentoring is exemplary," wrote colleagues in her nominating letter. "While some discuss philosophical themes without relation to teaching, Edwina brings them to life. Of particular note is the individualized instruction she gives to students. This is evidenced in the opportunity for students to select textbooks and to identify assignments most meaningful to their career development."
Take her use of podcasts in her online courses, for instance. Sensing a need to strengthen her presence in online discussions and individual correspondence, Helton supplemented lecture notes with podcast mini-lectures. Doing so allowed her to integrate her "voice" into the virtual classroom on topics such as "Women's Authorship" and "Marriage, Family and Education." The podcasts were so successful that she began to create participatory podcasts, in which students would press "pause" on their audio player and complete short writing prompts. Helton has received positive student and collegial feedback on this use of technology. One student writes, "Her attached lectures are wonderful, and I learned from a wide variety of sources and authors that I never would have known about."
Clearly, students are at the center of Helton's teaching universe. But this wasn't always the case. Early in her teaching career, she recalled, she employed a strategy of active learning in which "noisy, happy classrooms sustained my enthusiasm for teaching and fueled the energy needed to gain comfort with different types of courses." She often felt that something was missing in these environments, and it wasn't until she shifted her focus from learning to the learners that she fulfilled her teaching potential. "In watching and learning from my students, I realized the best I could impart in my teaching enables students to see that the power to learn lies within the student," she said.
Such power is often realized by participants in IU East's Professional Experience Program, which Helton created shortly after becoming writing program director. The program recruits top English and English education graduates to teach at the college level, specifically IU East's undergraduate composition courses. The program has been a great success for all those involved, according to TJ Rivard, dean of the IU East School of Humanities and Social Science. In addition to testing the waters of college-level teaching, participants get the chance to work closely with a mentor on classroom and teaching issues—and as a bonus, said Rivard, "The program has made our graduates highly competitive when they apply to graduate schools across the country." In Rivard's opinion, Helton is a natural choice for this teaching award: "She is constantly placing student learning at the center of her career, everything she does reflects that focus; and everything she does reminds me of why I am here."
Students are equally effusive in their praise. Wrote one, "When it was time for me to teach my first class, I felt confident that I was qualified to do so not only because of what she taught me, but how she taught me. What I remember most is that she had faith in me. I tried my best to be deserving of that faith, and to be the kind of teacher she is. She is knowledgeable, detail-oriented (nothing gets by her!) and shows a genuine concern and caring for the success of her students."
Although luck has nothing to do with Helton's many awards and accomplishments, her students say that they are indeed lucky to have her as a teacher and mentor.