The winner of the 2019 Excellence in Course Design Award is:

  • Ashley Cureton Turner, PhD 2019, School of Social Service Administration & Human Rights Program,
    Stolen Childhoods: The Human Rights of Child Migrants and Refugee Youth

Honorable mention:

  • Russell Johnson, Divinity School, Star Wars and Religion
  • Trish Kahle, History, The Environmental History of Work in the United States
  • Emily Lyons, Comparative Human Development, Gender in the Classroom
  • Erin McFee, Comparative Human Development, Peacebuilding



Excellence in Course Design Award

The annual Excellence in Course Design Award acknowledges the achievements of University of Chicago graduate students in the area of course design. It offers graduate students formal recognition of their pedagogical development and reflection on student-centered and inclusive teaching during the period of their doctoral studies. All graduate students who have taught a course of their own design, at University of Chicago or elsewhere, are eligible to apply. Winners are recognized on our website and their syllabi are made available to other UChicago graduate students in our online materials bank and used as examples in workshops on course design.

The Excellence in Course Design Award aims to heighten awareness of some of the key components of student-centered and inclusive teaching:

  • Transparency: Articulating clear and SMAART course goals for student learning, expectations for how students will meet these course goals, and standards and criteria for how students’ progress will be assessed.
  • Alignment: Teaching methods, class activities, graded and ungraded assignments, should align with course goals, i.e. provide opportunities to develop and practice the skills and concepts necessary to achieve the course goals. It is also important that the teacher communicate to the students how these methods, activities, and assignments relate to these course goals.
  • Engagement: Effective courses engage students and enable them to connect the learning they are doing in the classroom to their personal interests and/or experiences. Moreover, they engage all students in learning that is meaningful, relevant, and accessible.
  • Reflection: Effective teachers should be able to assess the effectiveness of their teaching methods and assessments in relation to student learning and to make changes to address challenges or barriers to student learning.


Nomination Procedures and Application Deadline 

Candidates for the Award nominate themselves by submitting a dossier of course documents (described in detail below) via an online submission form. The online application is available each year at the beginning of Spring Quarter. 


Requirements for Nominees 

You are a current graduate student at the University of Chicago.
You have been the instructor of record for a course of your own design, at UChicago or at another college or university. If the course is one in which there is a common syllabus (e.g. UChicago Core), any changes introduced by the candidate should be graphically noted and explained in footnotes. Furthermore, the case for how such revisions affected learning in the course should be addressed in the Reflective Essay (see below).


From educational research we know that good teaching produces tangible evidence that is measurable not only by students in the course, but by the instructor themselves and other institutional observers. Accordingly, we require graduate student candidates for the Excellence in Course Design Award to submit a dossier of evidence supporting the effectiveness of their course design. Please submit these documents in PDF and upload to the online application in the requisite places.


Dossier Documents: 

1. A Comprehensive Course Syllabus

A comprehensive course syllabus should include a header containing (with course title, teacher, location, meeting times, office hours, contact info, etc.), a course description, course goals/ learning objectives, requirements/assessments (required texts, all assignments, if participation is assessed a description of what constitutes participation), and a course calendar with readings, and dates of any major events or assignments. A comprehensive course syllabus may also include course policies, information on resources, and more. See Nilson “The Comprehensive Course Syllabus.”  Please submit the original syllabus given to students in the course. If you made changes mid-way through the course, please note these changes in your essay. If there are things that you would change in a future iteration of this course, you have an opportunity to discuss them in the Reflective Essay.


2. Assignments and Rubrics that were Distributed to Students

Please include a copy of all major assignments as well as any rubrics you used to assess these assignments as provided to students. Major assignments include anything listed in the assessments section of the syllabus. For example, if you assigned in-class presentations, you might include in your dossier a copy of the assignment as it was posted on Canvas along with the rubric or grading criteria that you provided to students. Alternatively, if you assigned in-class presentations but did not provide any formal description of this assignment beyond an oral explanation and did not provide any rubric, you should not create one now. We only want to see materials that were circulated directly to students. Another example, if you assigned a paper prompt and used a rubric to grade it, but did not provide the rubric to the students, we do not want to see the rubric, only the prompt that you distributed to the students.


3. Student Evaluations
Please submit original copies of the student evaluations.


4. Reflective Essay
A 1,000-1,500 word essay (approx. 2-3 pages single-spaced) reflecting on the extent to which the course achieved the student learning objectives articulated in the syllabus. It should be an argument-driven essay that explicitly connects the work produced by students in the course to the learning goals articulated in the syllabus, using at least one graded assignment as a specific example. In other words, did the sequence of course assignments produce tangible evidence that students had mastered the intended learning outcomes? Be sure to mention both successes and challenges you encountered while teaching the course.  Are there things you would do differently?

The purpose of the essay is to demonstrate

  • what you have learned about student-centered and inclusive teaching by explaining how the choices you made (readings, assignments, grading rubrics, etc.) helped or hindered student progress in the course, and
  • your ability to assess your own growth as a teacher by evaluating how effective your teaching methods and assignments were in supporting student learning.

The mark of an excellent teacher is not perfection, but an ability to cultivate insight into student learning, and to learn how to adapt a course to students’ needs. Here are some additional questions you might consider: Which of the assignments were most successful in enabling students to make progress toward the stated goals? What, if anything, was altered during the course to support student learning?  What would you change the next time you taught the course?


5. External Feedback (suggested but not required)
Please include any feedback you may have on the class from an outside observer. This can be a letter, report, or other document from a peer, faculty member, or CCT teaching consultant or staff member (e.g. MCR or ITC report). You may also submit any documents that represents feedback you have solicited from your students (e.g. your own mid-course review, responses from a minute-paper). Please be sure to note in your Reflective Essay any changes you made as a result of this feedback. 


Review Process and Feedback 

The review committee is comprised of CCT Staff and graduate students serving in the Teaching Consultants and CCT Fellows programs. All submitted dossiers will receive constructive feedback. The Winner and Honorable Mention Recipient(s) will be announced by August 1.