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Creatively inspiring young minds

Thursday, October 11, 2012

JERRY BATTISTA CONTINUES TO REINVENT HIS APPROACH TO TEACHING TO REACH HIS STUDENTS

By Jennifer Parraga

Visionary, mentor, researcher and teacher, Jerry Battista, PhD, Chair, Medical Biophysics, Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry wears many hats throughout the day. Regardless of the role he plays—or hat he dons, his commitment to creativity, excellence and innovation remains at the core of all he does and inspires his students and colleagues to reach new heights.

This year, his commitment to innovation in teaching led him to presenting a graduate course in radiation biology without once stepping foot in a classroom.

Preparing months ahead of time, he adapted the course to the web, creating slides and then audio dubbing his voice over the slides to produce lectures. Students could then take the course using their iPad, iPod, BlackBerry or laptop. The result: enrollment almost doubled in the course, and one student attained the highest level of achievement ever in the course’s history.

For the nationally recognized professor, becoming a better teacher is a never ending and creative process. “Whenever someone thinks they reached the end of the road and they are really good at this—they haven’t looked hard enough,” he says.

Teaching since 1988, Battista began with no formal training in didactic teaching or pedagogy. His greatest challenge, early in his career, was learning how to distill complicated topics down to the essential features and how to focus on the fundamentals rather than the exceptions to the rules.

Today, teaching is very different than it was at the beginning of his career. While students’ attitudes are ever changing, challenging teachers to adapt, he believes the biggest difference is the amount of information students have at their fingertips through the web.

He also believes that the learning process will continue to change, and universities will have to continue to innovate. “The idea of getting up in front of a lecture room, filling a whiteboard full of equations while echoing a book is dead,” he says. “It has to be much more animated, interactive, engaging, and include video components.”

Living true to his belief, Battista recently created a Mini Computed Tomography (CT) scanner and began using it as a teaching tool in undergraduate medical imaging classes.

The miniature version of the CT which safely uses light instead of x-rays, sits on a table top and rolls right into the classroom, negating the need for students to have to travel to hospitals after hours to learn how the machine works. Its effectiveness was put to the test, when Battista taught high school students a physics and chemistry class. After a one hour lecture using the Mini CT they understood the imaging process. And now, his ingenuity and commitment to teaching is going global; the Mini CT is being manufactured and has sold to universities in Canada, the United States and Asia.

In the coming year, he will be introducing miniature versions of single-photon emission computed tomography (SPECT) and ultrasound technology into additional medical imaging courses.

And this past year, Battista integrated his love of music and his hobby of playing jazz music into a lecture that demonstrates the parallels between musical instruments with vibrating strings and a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machine using a guitar as an analogy. The lecture entitled “MRI and Guitars: Stay Tuned” has been delivered at Western, Dalhousie, Calgary and Queen’s Universities.

In the end, the greatest rewards for Battista are, seeing the glitter in his students’ eyes when they understand something that he has taught, and then seeing those same students ten years later when they are involved in research and teaching and being recognized for their achievements.


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