Distinguished Teaching Award-Winning Professor Inspires Students to Think Critically
Demonstrations on our color vision, sweet receptors on your tongue and laboratory rats’ blood pressure are just a few tactics John Johnson, Ph.D., biology professor at Kent State University, uses in his classroom to keep his students engaged. And it works.
Current medical student and Kent State alumnus Justin Kaufmann, ’14, who nominated Johnson for this award, found those demonstrations beneficial and interesting.
“In nearly every lecture, he gave a sensory example that allowed the class to participate and drive his lesson home,” Kaufmann says.
Another student said in a nomination letter that the “structures of his lectures were great. I liked how there were parts of every class in which visuals, real-life examples, illusions were used.”
This is one of the many reasons why Johnson was selected as a recipient of the 2014 Distinguished Teaching Award. The Distinguished Teaching Award is sponsored by the Kent State University Alumni Association and is the university’s most prestigious honor for tenured or tenured-track faculty.
Johnson says when he first started teaching at Kent State in 2007, he wasn’t that great of a teacher. He said his course was on a DFW list (because of the number of students who received Ds, Fs or withdrew from a course), but after sitting in on other professors’ lectures, he changed his style of teaching.
“The teaching style I started with was much more lecture based and talking at students,” Johnson says. “Then I started thinking about how to go about teaching the material, which changed my style of teaching from a pure lecture — just giving the students the information — to making sure the students really understand and process the information.”
Johnson hopes to inspire innate curiosity in all of his students by the end of each semester.
Johnson says students can expect an interactive classroom with discussion-based lectures and many questions.
“I do a lot of demos to create those flashbulb memories,” Johnson says. “Students tend to remember those demonstrations.”
In addition to Johnson’s exceptional teaching in the classroom, Johnson genuinely cares about his students.
“Teaching involves more than just classroom teaching,” Johnson says. “Quite often we (as professors) are very focused on teaching a class than doing our own research. I think making sure we prepare students for careers instead of just seeing if students understand a topic is very important.”
As the pre-med coordinator in Kent State’s Department of Biological Sciences, Johnson is responsible for writing letters of recommendation, evaluating all students who apply to medical school and helping students with the application process.
“Dr. Johnson took this job very seriously,” Kaufmann says. “You could tell he took a personal interest in each student and really wanted to help students get accepted into medical school and achieve their goals.”
Kaufmann says there is a lot of anxiety and uncertainty for pre-medical students when applying to medical schools, but Johnson was able to provide his students with confidence.
Other students could not agree more with Kaufman.
One student said in a thank-you letter to Johnson, “I’m so appreciative of every letter and the feedback you’ve given me; your support and advice has played a leading role into my medical school acceptance.”
Another student said, “A huge thank you for all you have done over the years. I couldn’t have done it without your words of encouragement. I am very excited to start my career!”
For more information about Kent State’s Department of Biological Sciences, visit the department website.