By Shannon Boklaschuk
A University of Saskatchewan (USask) faculty member says he felt “truly overjoyed” when he learned he was chosen to receive an award for teaching.
Dr. Ulrich Teucher (PhD), an associate professor in the Department of Psychology in USask’s College of Arts and Science, is a winner of a 2021 Provost’s College Award. The Provost’s College Awards for Outstanding Teaching annually recognize an outstanding teacher in each USask college. Teucher was one of three College of Arts and Science faculty members to be honoured on April 30, 2021, during USask’s online Celebration of Teaching ceremony, along with Dr. Joanne Leow (PhD) and Dr. Jeanette Lynes (PhD).
Teucher was aware that his colleague, Dr. Marla Mickleborough (PhD), had taken the lead on nominating him for an award. He was also particularly proud of a health studies course he taught in the fall term that examined the COVID-19 pandemic from interdisciplinary perspectives. Still, Teucher felt “taken by complete surprise” when he learned that he had officially won a Provost’s College Award via a letter from USask Provost Dr. Airini (PhD) and Dr. Patti McDougall (PhD), Vice-Provost Teaching, Learning and Student Experience.
“I was truly overjoyed and immediately called my nominator, Dr. Mickleborough, and my family,” Teucher said. “And it was something else again when I later got to read the nomination file with the letters that our students had put forward. I felt a great sense of validation that the class and the different assignments—including movement as well as art—had been speaking to the students and must have spoken to the college and the university teaching awards committees.”
Teucher, who was born in Bern, Switzerland, first worked as a pediatric nurse (RN equivalent) in oncology in Hamburg before immigrating to Canada. Pursuing interdisciplinary interests, he completed a PhD in comparative literature at the University of British Columbia (UBC), combining his nursing background and coursework in literature and psychology to write his doctoral thesis on a tri-partite “Therapeutic Psychopoetics” of metaphor use in cancer discourse. Following postdoctoral years in child-developmental research at UBC and the University of Nottingham (UK), he joined the Department of Psychology at USask in the summer of 2005.
At first, Teucher taught introductory psychology courses, as well as child and adolescent development and a graduate course on human development. He has also taught introductory courses on medicine and society in USask’s College of Medicine as well as patient and family narrative seminars to health science students. However, since the undergraduate health studies (HLST) program opened in 2015 in the College of Arts and Science, he has focused on teaching the program’s four core courses. He has also supervised graduate students in USask’s departments of psychology and community health and epidemiology.
“In my broad interdisciplinary interests, I often find myself not quite belonging, always somewhere in between. The interdisciplinary breadth of the health studies program speaks to my broad range of interests as it combines my training and work as a pediatric nurse in oncology, and my academic training in the humanities, in comparative literature, and social sciences, in psychology,” he said.
“I find myself at my most comfortable when I can think up interdisciplinary health projects that involve different perspectives, find colleagues who might speak to these perspectives in my classes, and convene panels or assemble the intricate mosaic of guest speakers for a health studies course, for example, on the pandemic or, this upcoming fall, on ecology and climate change. To be selected for this award allows me to both belong and lose myself into a long row of colleagues with whom I can share the joy of teaching.”
Teucher said typically he enjoys being “a host of teaching,” offering beverages and food to his students, creating a comfortable atmosphere and facilitating opportunities for interaction and group work. The best part of teaching for Teucher “is, ironically, when interactions elevate from interactions between students through the teacher as a hub, to student-centred conversations that no longer require the teacher.”
“I also thoroughly enjoy brainstorming with our prospective honours students about what they might want to do for their thesis, then think about possible supervisors and then say, ‘Let’s walk over to their office and introduce you and see if they are available.’ There is this sprit of discovery and building trust when meeting the possible supervisor,” Teucher said.
“Of course, this is more difficult at the moment due to the pandemic,” he added. “I also love helping the students through seemingly complex intellectual problems and resolving such tensions of scholarship in a good laugh.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed teaching and learning at USask, with most classes currently being taught remotely to help protect the safety of faculty, students and staff. Teucher was concerned that undergraduate students would be “hardest hit” by the pandemic by losing the usual in-person social aspects associated with attending university and by learning online while physically distanced.
“Therefore, I felt that teaching and learning needed to involve not only cognitive but also affective dimensions that acknowledge the distancing and anxieties that are part of this pandemic,” he said.
“This would require using online platforms with enough bandwidth to enable visual contact during synchronous class and the possibility of breakout rooms where students could reflect with each other on the class subject of the day in relation to the pandemic and how this might affect their own lives. Naturally, since the health studies program is centred around health, it was not difficult to develop or enrich existing course contents and adapt assignments with regards to the pandemic. It also felt wonderfully creative to develop novel assignments that would combine cognitive and affective aspects of learning in the pandemic.”