Dietram Scheufele, a professor in the Department of Life Sciences Communication at UW- Madison, is one of five UW faculty members who are being awarded the Chancellor’s Distinguished Teaching Award for outstanding teaching in 2022. One of his most popular courses, LSC 251: Science, Media, and Society, deals with how to best communicate controversial scientific topics such as artificial intelligence or gene drives with a public that is often skeptical of emerging technologies. Many students appreciate Scheufele’s remarkable ability to create meaningful discussions and learning that acknowledges and respects different opinions. One student said, “the topics discussed are appropriate, relevant, and interesting. The course has a good structure and allows for everyone to express their thoughts and points of view on the different topics. The instructor is very knowledgeable, and always promoted an environment of respectful and stimulating discussions. I learned a lot from this course, it’s one of the most interesting courses I’ve taken.”
Scheufele sees his students as the foundation in his teaching success. They are vital to bringing original ideas and perspectives to class. “Many of these ideas students raise are ones that I would have never considered because I come from a different generation, background, or perspective. LSC students have a completely different take on how to communicate complex and fast-changing science topics.”
With rapidly changing technology, LSC 251 also has to keep up to date with new media forms. TikTok, a new entertainment media where people create and post short videos, is only one example. But as COVID-19 has demonstrated powerfully, algorithmically curated information environments determine if and how many of us decide to get vaccinated or wear masks. Many of these questions come down to disagreements about competing values – individual liberties, protecting the most vulnerable groups in society, and reopening our economy as quickly as possible. As a result, Scheufele encourages students to challenge each other, as well as Scheufele. “Civil and productive conversations are the soul of what college education should be,” Scheufele says, “since not everyone will have the same opinion on a topic. It allows people to see different perspectives; it’s an important skill to practice.”
Scheufele’s excellence and creativity in teaching undergraduate and graduate classes goes back to when he first arrived at UW-Madison in 2004. Scheufele has taught 10 different courses at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Many study ideas have been generated by students in his courses and end up being presented as conference proceedings or published as journal articles, further enhancing his reputation as an exceptional mentor and teacher.
Upon receiving this award, Scheufele says, “it highlights how essential student learning and undergraduate teaching is to all of us in LSC. Faculty and teaching assistants in this department work very hard every single day to help students succeed by constantly pushing the boundaries of creative teaching that focuses on student growth.” Scheufele adds that it’s important to recognize that not everyone who deserves an award will receive one. He says, “It’s an honor to have this award, but there are so many other teachers at UW who haven’t received an award like this yet but who are absolutely stellar teachers. The fact that we have these awards shows how dedicated everyone at UW-Madison is to serving our students.”
Each year twelve faculty members are given teaching awards to recognize distinguished educators at the university. Check out this year’s other distinguished teachers here.
Story by Sarah Kubiak, LSC B.S. ’22 and LSC’s 2021-2022 Lenore Landry Scholar