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April 18, 2012 — Winners: Outstanding Teaching Awards

by Christine Elias — Friday, Apr 20, 2012

By Christine Elias

Five faculty members from across Arts & Science are this year’s recipients of the Outstanding Teaching Awards. Established in 1993, the awards highlight the value the Faculty places on excellence in teaching. Recipients are selected based on nominations by peers and students.

This year’s recipients are: 

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Abdel-Khalig Ali of Near & Middle Eastern Civilizations is an outstanding classroom teacher who uniquely tailors his lessons to the varying abilities and needs of his students — a critical but exceedingly difficult challenge in effective language instruction.

Since joining the Faculty in 2005, Ali has transformed the Arabic language program resulting in a dramatic increase in enrolment. In addition, his retake rate is nearly 100 per cent and his evaluation scores average in the high six range.

Ali's pedagogical contributions also extend to the development of innovative methods for language study — including the use of e-learning aids and resources. He also created a modern Arabic workbook for students that he is currently developing into a textbook — one that promises to become the standard in the field.


Edward (Ted) Banning's career embodies many of the ideals of U of T – he has integrated students into his research and provided them with innovative and rigorous instruction.

To name just two of his major achievements: Banning developed the Archaeological Laboratory course (ARC312) which is a cornerstone of the archeology curriculum and established of a field methods course (ARCH 306) taught on campus during the summer term. Banning also has a consistent record of including students at all levels in his laboratory and field research and was the driving force behind the establishment of the interdisciplinary undergraduate program in archeology, an initiative showed true vision, as it anticipated the emerging focus on facilitating interdisciplinary study.

Much of U of T’s strength in archaeology today is due to Banning's leadership. He's made – and continues to make – an enduring impression on generations of students. His capacity to actively influence future research leaders is perhaps the best testament to his capacity as an instructor.

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Alison Gibbs joined the Department of Statistics in 2002. Since then, she has not only proven herself to be an architect of statistics education but a leading innovator in the department. In fact, Gibbs has been at the centre of all novel curriculum development in statistics. Gibbs took the lead in creating the applied statistics specialist program and created a new CRIF-funded course –Statistical Consultation, Communication and Collaboration – to promote collaboration between fourth-year statistics students and those in other disciplines.

She was also the prime force behind efforts to have the courses in statistics accredited by the Statistical Society of Canada.

Widely recognized as a leader in statistical education, Alison is generous in sharing her teaching expertise and experience. But her true vocation is teaching — her numerical evaluations are among the best in the department and she receives stellar student evaluations.

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Anne Urbancic of Italian Studies has done much to advance the quality of undergraduate teaching over the course of her career, but the foremost example is her work in the Vic One program, where she is credited as an absolutely integral element of the program’s success.

Urbancic is also a leader in connecting teaching and research. In her second-year and third-year undergraduate research courses, she has involved her students in advanced scholarship on Italian author Mario Pratesi. Combining philological scholarship with the latest electronic technology, Urbancic created a rich database of Pratesi’s correspondence, a tremendous resource for scholars and students alike.

Over the years, Urbancic has earned the praises and respect of generations of students and her nomination dossier included many pages of student comments — far too many to mention individually — but taken as a whole, are an incredible testament to her teaching.

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Aaron Wheeler joined Chemistry as an assistant professor in 2005 and has served as an associate professor since 2010. During his time in the department, Wheeler has consistently been a top-rated instructor in student evaluations.

His students credit him with being accessible, charismatic, unfailingly patient and approachable. Wheeler also has a knack for breaking down complicated concepts and ideas into simpler components. As one student put it “at the end of the day you realize that you’ve learned the whole.” Another wrote “I was so inspired to learn more about chemistry that I actually obtained copies of his publications and read them – just out of curiosity.”

As quoted in the ASSU Anti-Calendar, "Wheeler was an amazing instructor. Without exception, all comments on him were positive. He gave excellent lecture notes that were well organized. He did fun demonstrations and provided real-life examples to go with his lectures."


Meric Gertler, dean of the Faculty of Arts & Science, presented the awards on Tuesday, April 17.