Last modified: Thursday, March 30, 2006
Lieber Associate Instructor Award
Doctoral Student in Sociology
Indiana University Bloomington
B.S., Wright State University, 1999
M.A., Indiana University, 2001
On the first day of class, students anxiously awaiting the arrival of their instructor are shocked when a man wearing a suit begins to pace around the room frantically, screaming, "What are you all looking at me for? What are you all staring at?"
Before anyone can gather composure to respond, Jeff Dixon begins to explain to his students the concept of societal norms. It's a concept essential to sociology and one that, having been so graphically demonstrated to them by Dixon's erratic behavior, students are not likely to forget.
Jeff Dixon goes beyond the predictable with creative and passionate teaching that truly engages his students. He challenges his students to think critically, always trying to present course material in a balanced manner. He takes the time to get to know his students, establishing rapport and respect. But most apparent is Dixon's infectious enthusiasm that entertains and enlightens even the most cynical of students in Dixon's 8 a.m. Introduction to Sociology course.
Dixon encourages participation in his classroom, creating an environment where students feel comfortable expressing ideas. "[I am] naturally shy, so it should speak volumes that I participated frequently in class discussions, despite the large class size," said former student Justin Long. "He also demonstrated an uncanny ability to bring a fresh, exciting perspective to the seemingly driest of sociological concepts."
Students often comment on Dixon's high level of care and concern. "He facilitated critical thinking and held the attention of a room better than I have ever seen," said Megan Monahan, a former student. "He would literally get on his knees and plead with us to come to his office hours if we had questions," says former student Michelle Rosera.
Dixon not only entertains and engages his students, but does so while teaching complex subject matter in a clear and comprehensible manner.
"Rarely have I seen an instructor deliver a lecture with such a high level of enthusiasm or clarity," said Brian Powell, Allen D. and Polly S.Grimshaw Professor of Sociology. "Jeff can take difficult and obtuse theoretical concepts and make them easily accessible to students. This talent is matched by the laudably high level of connectedness that he has with his students. Students obviously respect Jeff and have an exceptionally high level of rapport with him."
Building rapport is an important part of Dixon's teaching philosophy, and he also emphasizes having energy in the classroom.
"Teaching Introductory sociology energizes and excites me precisely because the sociological perspective is so unfamiliar to students," he says. To be an effective teacher, he feels he must do more than disseminate knowledge; he must make that knowledge comprehensible to students, be excited about the course content, and take time to know the students and their learning styles. "Effective teachers do not merely instruct: they get excited about the course content," he says.
"Jeff may be the most charismatic instructor I've ever seen—and he's able to use this to draw students into the material," says Robert V. Robinson, Chancellor's Professor and Chair of the IU Department of Sociology.
In reviewing evaluations from Dixon's first introductory sociology course, Robinson says, "I had never seen anyone do as well as he did. In their written evaluations, students raved about his enthusiasm, clarity, knowledge of the material, ability to get the class involved in discussion, and openness to both sides of an issue."
Dixon's ingenuity in teaching and research has not gone unnoticed. Dixon received a Scholarship of Teaching and Learning grant in 2005; is a past recipient of the Edwin J. Sutherland Teaching Award, which is conferred annually to the outstanding Associate Instructor in the Department of Sociology; and has won numerous awards for research papers. He has published or forthcoming articles that explore issues of racial prejudice in Social Science Quarterly and, Social Forces and co-wrote an article on students' perceptions of the extent to which their instructors are presenting "balanced" perspectives in the classroom that is forthcoming in Teaching Sociology. He also co-edited Teaching Sociology of Education: Syllabi and Instructional Materials for the American Sociological Association.
"Jeff is a highly effective and gifted teacher," said William A. Corsaro, Robert. H. Shaffer Class of 1967 Endowed Professor of Sociology. "From quantitative and written evaluations it is clear that Jeff is especially adept at building an atmosphere of trust, enthusiasm, and excitement in his classes—which is highly conducive to student learning."