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Last modified: Friday, April 13, 2012

Andy Oler

The Lieber Memorial Teaching Associate Award

Doctoral Student in English
Department of English
College of Arts and Sciences
Indiana University Bloomington
B.A., Wabash College, 2000
M.A., Indiana University, 2006

"Andy always puts his students first." So Courtney Anderson describes Department of English teaching fellow Andy Oler. It's a refrain echoed by many of Oler's students, both those enrolled in his composition and literature classes and those he has worked with as a tutor for the Groups Program and Writing Tutorial Services.

Student engagement is at the heart of Oler's pedagogy. Careful planning of course syllabi and lesson preparation, use of multiple teaching methods, attention to different learning styles and flexibility that allows for spontaneity characterize his instructional style. Particularly effective is Oler's ability to engage the whole class in a lively, structured discussion that always remains grounded in course goals and that builds students' skills and confidence.

Recalling a visit to Oler's class, his colleague Catherine Ozment says, "Students seemed to thrive in the relaxed, but intellectually demanding, atmosphere, and Andy facilitated a conversation that included, over the course of the hour, nearly all of the students in the room." His students echo this observation. "What we said mattered," writes one. "I always felt free to speak my mind without feeling stupid or awkward."

"My goal," Oler says, "is to help students see that good thinking and writing do not appear out of thin air but are derived from a rational process based on close attention and creative thinking about specific evidence." Inventive, varied class activities bring that process alive: playing Boggle to encourage creativity in a film analysis paper, or staging a competition in which groups of students explain what makes for a good thesis statement and argue why theirs is the best.

Oler's concern for his students doesn't end when class or office hours are over. Generous with his time and expertise, Oler demonstrates what student Preethi Manohar calls "his investment in the progress of individual students." It's an investment with dividends for students outside the Department of English as well. As a tutor and instructor in the Groups Program, and as a tutor at IU's Writing Tutorial Services, Oler has helped students in a variety of disciplines hone their skills as writers and has also acclimated pre-freshmen to the rigors of college life.

Of Groups, Oler writes, "a first-generation college student myself, I am glad to have had the opportunity to help some of those students prepare themselves for the massive change that can come to someone who doesn't know what to expect of the first year in college."

Many students have found navigating their college careers at IU easier thanks to Oler's guidance in and out of class. "Andy is truly dedicated to seeing his present and past students succeed at Indiana University and beyond," says student Gordon Lang.

Oler brought the same skill, enthusiasm and dedication evident in his teaching to his work mentoring new teachers. As an assistant director of the English department's First-Year Writing Program, Oler guided new associate instructors through their first semesters in the composition classroom. Culbertson Chair of Writing and Professor of English John Schilb considers Oler "an ideal mentor," and notes that "his resourcefulness as a teacher is a model for the rest of us, old and new faculty alike."

Mentees such as Beth Bevis second Schilb's praise. Of Oler's regular meetings with his group of AIs, she reports, "he modeled effective teaching strategies for us even while he was coaching us in concrete ways -- providing sample classroom activities, for example, or sharing materials from his own teaching that we were able to adapt to our own purposes."

Bevis best sums up all of Oler's efforts on behalf of students and teachers at IU: "The English department and its AIs are lucky to have him as an exemplar, and the undergraduates are lucky to have him as a teacher."