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June 1, 2018

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Jennifer Murdock
Jennifer Murdock
(Photo: Gabriella Murdock Damiano)
Associate professor Jennifer Murdock has been awarded the highest honour for teaching bestowed by the University of Toronto, the President’s Teaching Award (PTA), which recognizes faculty who have demonstrated a substantial commitment to teaching innovation and excellence. As a recipient, Murdock is designated by U of T as a member of the Teaching Academy for a five-year period, and will then be eligible for re-nomination. She receives an open grant of $10,000 for each of the five years of the appointment, to support her research and teaching activities.

About the Academy

Members of the Teaching Academy advise the Vice-President & Provost and the Director of the Centre for Teaching Support & Innovation (CTSI), assist in teaching assessment when required, and are advocates for excellence in teaching at the University and beyond. Academy members may be requested to deliver one public lecture each year on a subject of their choice, or to give a convocation address or speak at other events.

About Jennifer Murdock

Professor Murdock earned her PhD in Economics from Yale in 2002 and joined the department as a teaching-stream faculty member in 2004. She has previously been awarded the Faculty of Arts & Science Outstanding Teaching Award (2014), the Dean’s Excellence Award (2010, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017) and the Dean’s Small Group Award (2007, 2008, 2010, 2013, 2015, 2016 and 2017). She teaches and coordinates ECO 220, the multiple-section, large-enrolment, and program-required undergraduate quantitative methods course and an elective, ECO 410, that draws heavily on her competition policy experience. At the graduate level, Murdock mentors and trains 10-12 graduate student teaching assistants each year.

Her teaching philosophy centres on maximizing learning by explicitly incentivizing students’ sustained best efforts and directing those efforts towards authentic applications that she pairs with original course materials to support learning. She led the reimagining and restructuring of teaching stream recruiting in economics, building the collegial and rigorous search framework upon which the department now relies, regularly engages in professional development and disseminates her teaching expertise via presentations, workshops, reports, and one-on-one mentoring.

The nomination

In nominating Murdock for this PTA, fellow faculty members remarked on her excellence being evident in her course coordination, organization and design, in addition to students regularly commenting on “her passion, enthusiasm for teaching and the material, and the support she provides for their learning. While students acknowledge the complexity of the material that Jennifer teaches, words like ‘phenomenal’, ‘awesome’, ‘amazing’, and ‘fantastic’ are commonplace throughout her evaluations – a testament to her exceptional teaching and ability to further her students’ learning experience.”

Murdock was also integral to the departmental effort that resulted in the establishment of the Economics Study Centre, where academically successful third and fourth year students mentor first and second year students who are having difficulties with our courses. Drawing on her own experience working as a peer mentor when she was an undergraduate, she was an important element in the conceptualization and implementation of our study centre, working in close collaboration with the chair at the time (Arthur Hosios), faculty members and administrative staff.

Very much instrumental in implementing more intensive writing assignments into our economics courses, Murdock has worked to build writing into her courses through a range of assignments. The increased attention to writing across the economics curriculum has been critical: as Murdock notes, “Economists write and write often”.

In her own words

On being closely involved in teaching stream recruiting:
  • “Hands down, nothing affects our students’ learning more than the professors leading their courses.”

Considering perspective in curricular redesign and enhancement
  • “As professors, we experience our undergraduate programs differently from our students: they take nearly 40 courses while we teach at most a few of them. Time spent zooming out from our own courses and thinking about curricular coherence and depth is well spent.”

Keeping it real:
  • “Interesting and authentic materials can single-handedly cultivate intrinsic motivation for some students. For all students, requiring time and attention on course materials capitalizes on the human tendency to like and to be interested in the familiar. Some initially reluctant students even surprise themselves by deciding to take further econometrics or to pursue a career in competition policy.”

The social side of learning:
  • “To maximize learning output, I stimulate positive peer effects. Graded class participation prompts face-to- face interactions among peers, which is especially important at U of T where most students live off campus.”

Teaching is learning, too:
  • “Graded work provides corrective experiences not only for students but also for me. The primary means to reflect on my teaching effectiveness is how well students do on graded work. Looking directly at what students have learned invariably prompts at least some sober reflection on how I can support and incentivize them to learn more. … Assessing students’ work directly, quantitatively analyzing marks, and reviewing survey/interview results highlight not only triumphs, but also challenges. Students’ work provides particularly potent corrective experiences for me. Fortunately, I love the challenging and creative task of doing better and I always bounce back and look forward to the coming academic year with enthusiasm.”

Many congratulations to Professor Murdock on this much-deserved accolade!

→ Read more at the Office of the Vice-President & Provost