UT molecular biosciences professor receives UT System Regents’ Outstanding Teaching Award

Jessica Harden

A UT professor received the UT System Regents’ Outstanding Teaching Award last month after creating and distributing resources to help professors transition to an effective online learning environment during the pandemic.

Molecular biosciences professor Janice Fischer has taught a Zoom night class since 2018, so when classes moved online because of the pandemic in 2020, she created a Zoom manual with suggestions about how to keep students engaged online.  

“Most of it is about me loosening up my own ideas of what a rigorous course is and giving the students more of a break,” Fischer said. “As much as you’re freaking out about having to use this new technology, imagine the students whose grades depend on it.” 

Some of Fischer’s suggestions included having some synchronous meetings that require students to have their cameras on to increase engagement, keeping class as simple as possible and avoiding proctoring online exams. Fischer said she recommended professors to use breakout rooms where students could work in teams.

“A big part of my job during spring break was to help (other professors) not panic and give them some suggestions based on my own experience,” Fischer said. “I did have experience in this, so I was able to give people technical advice. I think I was able to tell everyone that it was absolutely easy and it was no big deal, just do this and it’ll work.” 

Fischer said she felt validated for receiving the award. Following the pandemic, Fischer made several adjustments to her classes to fit her students’ needs, such as ending attendance requirements, creating lecture notes and offering more extra credit opportunities.

“She’s teaching pre-med students, (and) a lot of times that means it’s very cutthroat and people are always competing against each other, and she’s trying not to create that environment,” said Marin Guthrie, Fischer’s teaching assistant and health and society junior.

Roosh Bhosale, another one of Fischer’s teaching assistants, said Fischer’s class feels different from other classes at UT because she puts passion into it. 

“All of the big classes that I have taken at UT … the professors were just kind of throwing information at me, and their learning style wasn’t really that focused on learning,” said Bhosale, a Plan II and history junior. “That’s what I really appreciate about Dr. Fischer’s class is that she’s very genuinely passionate about genetics. She walks in with a smile on her face and she’s so excited to teach.”