Tom Carter wins outstanding faculty award for excellence in teaching


Alison Pfaff (Asst. Photo Editor)

2018 Outstanding Faculty Member Tom Carter during a class lecture on April 5

Vandy Manyeh, News Editor

It’s Thursday morning in Physics Professor Tom Carter’s Physics 2111 class, and students are excited to learn about rotational kinetic energy.

The class started with a typical icebreaker for physics students: Which letter are we clicking today?

Several students shouted “E.”

Carter agrees and gives everyone enough time to click “E” on their iClickers for attendance. The device makes taking accurate attendance as simple as clicking a button.

Carter then wants his students to compare the magnitudes of the accelerations of objects. So there is set of multiple choice questions students in the class must answer. Again, they had to click. When Carter saw their responses, he decided to take another approach.

“Let’s do my favorite thing in the world,” Carter said. “I’ll draw a free-body diagram.” The diagram helps students to see the relative magnitude and direction of all forces acting upon an object.

After drawing and explaining the diagram, Carter asked his students to give the questions another shot. He wants students to rethink their assumptions. This time, he’s satisfied with their responses.

This is the purpose of the iClicker. The polling device helps instructors and students dynamically interact through questions and answers in real time. The instructor and students get immediate feedback about learning in the classroom.

Vandy Manyeh
iClickers helps instructors and students dynamically interact through questions and answers in real time.

For pioneering the use of this electronic student response system, Carter has distinguished himself. On April 2, College of DuPage (COD) named Carter the 2018 College-wide Outstanding Full-time Faculty Member.

“The first two things that pop into my head about my feelings are ‘humbled’ and ‘there must be some mistake,”’ Carter said. “Past recipients of this award have included some of my role models.  The first year I taught here, Chris Petersen from biology won this award and I remember thinking that I would never be able to have the same positive effect on my students that Chris did.”

Over the years, Carter has implemented FlipIt Physics, a low-cost, online tutoring system for physics students. The system allows students to watch “prelectures” that are narrated with embedded questions. There is a “checkpoint” assessment students complete before class. The feedback from the “checkpoint” gives instructors the information they need to target in their lectures.

Carter isn’t just interested in what happens in the classroom. He helps arrange summer internships for students at Argonne National Laboratory (ANL). And he supports the COD Robotics Team and the Society of Women Engineers.

“I’d also like to thank all the great students I’ve had over the years that have made this so rewarding and fun,” added Carter. “I can easily think of two dozen names and faces of students that meant a lot, from the guy who seemed so angry and bored sitting in the back, right-hand corner of my first physics class to the officers of this year’s robotics team.  If I tried to list all their names, I’d miss a few. So I won’t try.”

Carter received his doctorate degree in physics from Duke University, a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from the University of Missouri-Rolla and a bachelor’s in mathematics from Drury College.

Every year, students have the opportunity to nominate a full- or part-time instructor, or librarian who made an impact on their academic endeavors. The recipient of the Outstanding Faculty Member award is then selected by a committee (faculty, administration, students and a trustee) from a pool of faculty who were nominated by the college at large.