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Kurt Hoffman

Kurt Hoffman, Ph.D.

Senior Instructor and Director of Undergraduate Studies in the Department of Psychology

Excellence in Teaching Award by the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning at Virginia Tech

The award, presented by the center to approximately nine Virginia Tech faculty members each academic year, recognizes a faculty member's effective, engaged, and dynamic approaches and achievements as an educator.

Among the goals of the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning are advancing experiential learning at Virginia Tech and improving student learning through research-based instructional practices and student-centered design. According to Hoffman, his approach to teaching focuses on fostering student engagement and maintaining an organized class structure: “On the less exciting side, in any course I teach, I want to be very organized and predictable with respect to the structure of the course. I don't want students to be surprised by due dates, or anything we are talking about or doing on a particular day. On the more exciting side, like any instructor, I want students to be excited about and engaged in the material we are discussing. I try to keep them engaged by choosing topics that I think will interest them, being excited myself, and asking them THEIR perspectives on topics we are discussing. I think a big part of my job in classes is to get an idea of what they know already (about a particular topic) and what the source of that knowledge is, and then support it or gently challenge it, and get them to think about it on a deeper level.”

When asked to recall his most memorable and meaningful moment as a teacher, Hoffman said, “In some classes, through discussion, a student will make a comment that pretty much steals something I was about to say, and it sets up a scenario where students are basically teaching other students. For example, in my environmental class, I can ask a very simple question like "is recycling a good practice," and maybe for many people the answer is simply "yes." But I can always count on at least 4-5 students saying that "it depends," and listing the many factors that it depends on. They can also help their colleagues understand the question through a historical lens, like pointing out that what happens to the materials we recycle today is often different from what happened to them just 5 years ago. So for students in the class with a relatively limited prior knowledge base on the topic, they quickly learn that what seems like a pretty straightforward question is actually very complicated.”

Hoffman has also been involved in creating and updating several courses in the Psychology department: “I created our department's First Year Experience course, and updated a couple others. For instance, I took an older course called Environmental Psychology and turned it into a course focusing on our relationship with the natural world. This includes topics like human involvement in climate change, how culture and upbringing influence our attitudes on the natural world, and how animals, plants, and weather impact our health and wellness. I have also created online versions of a couple of our courses, and worked with TLOS and other groups to explore strategies to convey information effectively and enhance student engagement in the online format.”

Katherine D'Ercole, one of Hoffman’s former students and advisees, explained how Hoffman has been one of her biggest supporters: “Throughout my time at Virginia Tech, I was lucky enough to take multiple classes from Kurt, as well as receive advice from him as my advisor. In each class, he created a welcoming and encouraging atmosphere that fostered not only learning but true discussion. He helped me learn how to use my voice and articulate my opinions, which I still use to this day. He has been one of my biggest supporters, even after I graduated; I could not appreciate him more. Kurt is most deserving of this award, I know each of his students would agree.”

One of Hoffman’s colleagues, Scott Geller, co-instructs Introductory Psychology with Hoffman. When asked to provide a quote regarding Hoffman, Geller responded by saying, “Since 2006, Kurt Hoffman and I have been co-instructors for our two large Introductory Psychology classes with 500-600 students per class. Kurt teaches the first half of the semester on the basic principles of psychological science, and I teach the second half on the applications of psychological science. I have observed Kurt’s lectures on several occasions and every time I was impressed with his competence to thoughtfully integrate concepts from multiple chapters of our textbook, while cleverly integrating real-world examples and illustrations to maintain student interest and facilitate the learning of various psychological concepts and principles—from developmental psychology, sensation perception, neuropsychology, stages of sleep, and consciousness to the impact of hypnosis, meditation, and psychotropic drugs. For each topic, he explains research evidence to support a particular relation between an environmental or biological variable and human behavior or cognition. Perhaps the best personal testament I can offer for Dr. Hoffman’s inspirational teaching excellence is that I am always a bit stressed to take over the two intro psych classes after him. Why, because Kurt Hoffman is indeed a tough act to follow, having raised the teaching/learning standard in our Introductory psychology course, from the time he started teaching this class in 2006. And he has continuously improved his teaching skills every semester. Bottom-line: Kurt Hoffman is an inspirational teacher at VT who deserves special recognition for his remarkable instructional talents and passionate dedication.”

Hoffman provided the following advice for new college teachers: “My main advice would be to enjoy your college students! These are enthusiastic and bright young adults who are there to talk about topics that you like talking about. Enjoy and benefit from their energy. Enjoy the good days and weeks, like the beginning of fall semester where everyone seems eager and attendance is 100% (I call it the honeymoon period). Give them your energy as well – – all you got. Relatedly, it's great when you can choose lecture topics that YOU are interested in and passionate about. If you are engaged and excited, that will rub off on them. If you are viewing a particular topic or lecture as a chore, they will notice that as well.”