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​Award-winning lecturer puts emphasis on teaching and learning

LeBron James has the basketball court and Taylor Swift the stage, but Matthew Stoltzfus is the headliner in a classroom filled with more than 300 students.

Stoltzfus, senior lecturer for the department of chemistry, is the star in 1000 McPherson Chemical Laboratory. He teaches Chemistry 1210 and 1220, the first two semesters of general chemistry for science majors, to classes that include hundreds of students.

“So the challenge is how do you teach in a lecture hall that has fixed seating? How do you effectively try to engage students in an environment like that?” he asked.

For Stoltzfus, the answer is an approach known as the inverted, or flipped, classroom. Students are assigned pre-lecture homework problems to complete before class. They also have the option of reading the text or watching pre-lecture videos, leaving classroom time open for more hands-on work. That classroom activity is a mix of problem solving, instant quizzes and students working in small teams to understand the material.

Alexis McQuade, a first-year in civil engineering, said she enjoys the teaching approach used by Stoltzfus.

“I learn better by reading and practicing on my own rather than just listening. So for me it works well,” she said. “[Stoltzfus] is really easy to approach and work with. I like the way he explains things.”

“I think it’s really important as an instructor to look at research-based practices and figure out how to execute them in your environment. My environment is a large lecture hall,” Stoltzfus said.

Stoltzfus is originally from southeastern Pennsylvania. He is a first generation college graduate from Millersville University of Pennsylvania, where he started with the goal of becoming a high school teacher.

“Teaching was what I wanted to do and that was my passion,” he said.

His freshman chemistry professor encouraged Stoltzfus to go to graduate school and teach in college.

“Serving as a teaching assistant here at Ohio State fueled my interest in becoming an instructor. Teaching has always been my passion,” he said.

That passion has been recognized by Ohio State. Stoltzfus won the Provost’s Award for Distinguished Teaching by a Lecturer in 2013, the first year of the award.

Stoltzfus and undergraduate teachers like him are helping the university gain national attention. In its 2018 Best Colleges guidebook, U.S. News & World Report lists the university among those with an unusually strong commitment to undergraduate teaching. Ohio State is No. 8 among public universities and No. 17 nationally for Best Undergraduate Teaching.

Teaching and learning are key components of the university’s strategic plan. Ohio State launched its University Institute for Teaching and Learning in August 2016. The institute is designed to help instructors share successful teaching techniques and lead to increased adoption of modern methods that enhance student learning.

For Stoltzfus that’s always the goal.

“It’s about helping others in the classroom and trying to figure out what their career is and how they can navigate towards it. That’s something that’s always been at the forefront of what I want to do.”