Award-winning teacher shares top tips for educators and students

Posted on Friday, May 20, 2022

a closeup of microscope lenses

“By keeping communications flowing with the students, I can assess the effectiveness of my teaching [and] actively craft my approach to resonate with them.”

- Dr. Lisa D'Ambrosio, assistant professor, Translational and Molecular Medicine program

By Michelle Read

The following story was originally posted on March 23, 2021.

Update May 20, 2022:

Dr. Lisa D’Ambrosio receives APUO award for excellence in teaching

After only six years working at the University of Ottawa Faculty of Medicine, Dr. Lisa D’Ambrosio has now received a university-level teaching award, having previously won at the departmental and Faculty levels*.

Dr. D’Ambrosio was recently selected as the recipient of the University of Ottawa Award for Excellence in Teaching by the Teaching Award Committee of the Association of Professors of the University of Ottawa (APUO) for her excellence in teaching and education. Created in 1976, the award recognizes one professor each year for outstanding contributions to university teaching.

Dr. D’Ambrosio’s exceptional teaching and pedagogical approach is considered a prime reason the TMM program is uOttawa’s most successful undergraduate program in terms of student satisfaction. Student evaluations of her performance have always been of the highest calibre, presenting Dr. D’Ambrosio as an exceptional educator who is very much appreciated by the student body. Learner comments reflect her passion for teaching, her innovative methods, and clear and helpful resources and material; and students value her educational approach and overall personality, which places their learning and success above all else.

As a highly sought-after educator at the Faculty, Dr. D’Ambrosio was essential in the Faculty’s pivot to online teaching when COVID-19 hit.

“The delivery of virtual courses required that I strengthen my commitment to providing organized course structures, as well as frequent opportunities for students to apply their knowledge,” she says. “Most importantly, I have remained focused on the student perspective and incorporating them in the teaching and learning process.”

Constantly on the lookout for novel teaching tools as an innovator in education, she lent her assistance and expertise to other professors in the program and Department to adapt their teaching to a new reality for the benefit of stable learning solutions for students.

Dr. D’Ambrosio will be formally presented with her award in February 2023 at the Reception for Excellence in Research and Teaching, organized by the Office of the President.

* see story below

In just five short years with the Faculty of Medicine, Dr. Lisa D’Ambrosio has become a popular teacher among students, earning two teaching awards along the way.

The secret, she says, lies in staying connected with her students.

“By keeping communications flowing with the students, I can assess the effectiveness of my teaching,” she says. “This way, I can actively craft my approach to resonate with them.”

Beloved by students

In 2018, just two years after joining the Faculty, Dr. D’Ambrosio received the Denis Williamson Teaching Award for Excellence in Teaching from the Department of Biochemistry, Microbiology and Immunology (BMI). Late last year, she won the Faculty’s 2020 Award of Excellence for Educator of the Year in Basic Sciences.

“It’s humbling to know I’m helping students reach their academic goals,” says Dr. D’Ambrosio, an assistant professor in the Faculty’s Translational and Molecular Medicine program. “It’s a reflection that in some small way, I’m contributing to the foundations of their careers.”

Or, maybe not so small. As BMI’s award write-up explains, “her courses and teaching are consistently rated the best science course taken by the students.”

A professor receives an award from another professor.

In 2018, Dr. Lisa D’Ambrosio received the Denis Williamson Teaching Award for Excellence in Teaching from the Department of Biochemistry, Microbiology and Immunology. L-r: Dr. Daniel Figeys, then-chair of the Department; Dr. D'Ambrosio. Photo credit : University of Ottawa Faculty of Medicine

A unique approach to teaching

Part of the reason for her high ratings could be the way she encourages her students to get directly involved in learning the material.

“Taking ownership of their own learning gets them directly invested,” she says. “I’m always integrating opportunities for my students to put what they’ve learned into practice.”

When the TMM program launched in 2016, the year Dr. D’Ambrosio joined the Faculty, she collaborated in planning several of the courses, designing the curricula and activities to establish learning engagement. She currently teaches a diverse range of subjects, such as molecular biology, biomedical research, microbiology, immunology and chromosome biology.

Dr. D’Ambrosio maintains an ongoing dialogue with her students, encouraging feedback on whether they understand the content and find it relevant, her teaching practices and what they find helpful, and what they need to move forward with their learning.

In addition to listening to the group as a cohort, she strives to extend her teaching beyond the classroom (physical or virtual), keeping her door open for one-on-one discussion.

“I try to make a difference by providing an inclusive, supportive learning environment, and so I take a welcoming, individual approach to asking them questions,” she says. “No matter a student’s abilities or goals, my role as an educator is to help them reach those goals.”

Staying connected

Being present and engaging with the students extends even beyond teaching sessions for Dr. D’Ambrosio. She runs the social media platforms for the TMM program, acts as speaker and judge in various competitions, and helps promote student initiatives.

“In offering my support outside of class, I come to know them more individually, which helps me further assess their needs,” she says.

In today’s pandemic-induced online learning environment, Dr. D’Ambrosio encourages students to stay engaged with their learning by establishing a schedule to help balance their days.

“Pencil in learning sessions, study time, social time and breaks,” she says. “Also, stay connected with instructors and peers—come to virtual office hours, study groups and discussions, and continue to learn from each other in an online space.”

In this International Women’s Month, Dr. D’Ambrosio shares her thoughts on being a woman in science. “I discovered this myself,” she explains: “Instead of fitting into a mold, be authentic to who you are; you will be better able to share your talents and strengths with your peers.”

Ultimately, Dr. D’Ambrosio simply loves teaching—apparent in her bright and gregarious nature.

“Each day is an opportunity to help my students reach their goals,” she smiles, “and I embrace that perspective every day.”

Dr. Lisa D'Ambrosio

Dr. Lisa D'Ambrosio. Photo credit : University of Ottawa Faculty of Medicine

Educators and students: Looking to boost your teaching or your learning? Dr. Lisa D’Ambrosio, winner of two teaching awards at the Faculty of Medicine, shares her top tips below.

Educators: Tips for effective teaching

Establish clear learning objectives and reasonable, fair expectations.

Clearly communicate these objectives and expectations to your students so they are aware of what you want from them in the course and therefore what they need to do.

Align the learning objectives, curriculum and assessment method.

Consistency throughout the course is important. Directly matching the assessment to the learning objectives and what students have actually been learning helps avoid frustration.

Provide students with opportunities to engage in the curriculum and the learning process.

Rather than students sitting passively, get them directly involved in the lesson. Intersperse lectures with activities, discussions, case studies and anything that helps them start applying what they have been learning.

Maintain consistent communication with your learners.

Be transparent with changes or updates to assignments, assessments, the curriculum and any other element of the course, and in turn, welcome their feedback. Transparency builds trust that instructors are helping them achieve their academic goals and want them to do well.

Establish a genuine interest in helping students reach their academic potential.

Have a genuine interest in wanting to see them succeed. By going the extra mile to help them to reach those goals, keeping in communication between classes and opening your door for questions, you are demonstrating your interest in their success.

Students: Tips to enhance your educational success

Establish your goals and priorities.

Everybody's definition of success is different. Consider your own definition: Is it learning new concepts? Picking up a new skill? This can help you outline your academic goals and priorities.

Develop clear organization and time management skills.

Effective time management will contribute to achieving your goals and priorities by helping you carve out the time for those priorities.

Take ownership of your learning.

Take initiative, ask questions, and do independent research. If a particular topic interests you or you’re struggling a bit, dive in a bit more. See studying as not always ‘for the test,' but rather for your own ownership of that material. This lays the foundation for your professional skills: your future career whether in science or not, will benefit from your initiative and research skills.

Collaborate with peers and limit comparisons.

When you are surrounded by high achievers, comparing yourself to others can make you feel discouraged and inferior. Every student feels at some point they are the weakest or the only one who does not understand, but remember that you deserve to be here and are just as capable. Instead, collaborate with your peers, learn from them, and support them.

Be kind and patient with yourself.

With a lot on the go, students can be hard on themselves. Between courses, extracurriculars, external pressures and competing demands on their time, it's easy to get impatient or frustrated. Schedule breaks to recharge, spend time doing things that you enjoy, and remember that learning is a process.

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