Sunday May 28, 2011

UFV News

2011 Teaching Excellence Award 

Bertram blends teaching and research to ignite interest of UFV kinesiology students

Released by Anne Russell, UFV/ website photo


r. Chris Bertram started his post-secondary education in a small, student-focused institution that featured lots of student-faculty interaction, and he has ended up teaching in a similar place.

Bertram, who lives in Chilliwack and teaches in Abbotsford, and who has been teaching kinesiology at the University of the Fraser Valley since 2003, is this year's winner of the UFV Teaching Excellence award.

His educational journey led him from the Athletic Therapy diploma program at Calgary's Mount Royal College (with an original goal of becoming a sports medicine physician), through a bachelor's and master's degree in science at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and a PhD in kinesiology at Simon Fraser University.

"I take my role as an educator very seriously, so it is a huge honour for me to receive this award," notes Bertram, who in addition to his teaching is actively involved in several research projects at UFV.

The small class sizes and opportunity to work closely with students offered by UFV suits Bertram's teaching style and philosophy.

"The one thing I have learned about effective teaching is that you simply cannot fake it. If you aren't 100 percent excited and committed to the message you are trying to convey, you will lose the room. The best teachers I had in school were the ones who brought passion and enthusiasm to their classes, and I suppose that I got lucky that I found an area that I am genuinely passionate about," he says.

"What I am striving for in the classroom is a conversation, and thankfully, the smaller classes we have at UFV make that possible. The ideal situation for me is when I am listening as much to the students' ideas as they are to mine. When I walk out of the classroom and my head is buzzing with new ideas, I know it's been a good day of teaching."

He finds UFV, which is a teaching-focused university that also supports faculty research initiatives, to be the perfect fit for him.

"I see my research as adding value to my teaching. Some would contend that research and teaching are mutually exclusive and that time devoted to research is at the expense of teaching. I find, however, that it helps me to get inspired about teaching when I can walk into the classroom and talk about things that we're finding out in our research, in an open and exciting environment. The students get interested and inspired by research that's going on right here at UFV."

Indeed, it was a kinesiology professor at the University of Nevada who inspired Bertram to alter his career goal from medicine to research into motor control.

"A professor changed my thinking within one hour of being his class. His teaching style and research interests enthralled me and I decided almost on the spot to pursue academia as a career.

The primary project in which Bertram is involved is a multi-partner, multi-year, investigation into motor skills of children with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder. The project brings children with FASD together with UFV student workers for twice-a-week motor skill sessions at a local school gym. The project, which has brought in well over half a million dollars in provincial and federal funding, is driven by an innovative concept that allows children with disabilities to work on their individual areas of strength.

Bertram notes that the FASD research project had its beginnings in a student research project. A student working on an undergraduate thesis was interested in Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, and the local Child Development Centre was likewise interested in facilitating research in this area.

"So that was a perfect example of how teaching can lead to research which then leads to more-inspired teaching and so on. We've now employed and engaged the enthusiasm of more than 50 UFV students in this project, giving them experience that will come in very useful for grad school or enhancing their job prospects after graduation."

Bertram's teaching and research specialty is motor behaviour, which he defines as the study of how the brain develops in childhood, how we learn new things as we develop, and how the brain is involved in controlling information and making subtle changes as it learns new things, and also how we lose brain function as we age.

One of Bertram's other passions is golf. He is the coach of the very successful UFV men's golf team (and BC Collegiate coach of the year), and also conducts research on methods of improving the golf swing in partnership with Cleveland Golf/Srixon Canada.

"I love the technical and psychological side of golf," he notes.

He also loves the technical side of education, embracing the use of new technologies in the classroom.

"We are in a brave new world when it comes to the role of technology in education these days, particularly when it comes to wireless technologies. We have reached the point now where students are carrying multiple devices that have them connected to the internet at all times. This is providing access to information like never before, and I am firm believer that this trend needs to be embraced. Rather than fighting the current, we should instead be turning to paddle with it. A good start would be to begin our classes by saying 'before we start today, please take a second and turn your cell phones ON.'"

In 2008, Bertram had an experience that not many professors have with their students. He and 10 students were just starting a study tour at a university in northern China when the Sichuan earthquake struck.

"That experience changed me in some pretty fundamental ways, not the least of which was having to re-set every default position I had on the lengths people will go to help one another in times of need. We had Chinese people going out of their way to help us when they were uncertain as to whether their own families had survived. And in turn, the remarkable group of students I took from UFV looked for every opportunity - from giving blood to donating blankets - to try and help the Chinese people. It really was life-changing for every one of us."

Many of his students from the past several years supported his nomination for the Teaching Excellence award.
"Dr. Bertram is an exceptional professor with infectious enthusiasm to educate UFV students, and he brings out the best in people," noted former student Bassam Khaleel, who nominated him. "He promises to equip his students with the skills to succeed professionally and he truly delivers. He is without a doubt the best teacher, mentor, and colleague that a student could have."

"Chris is the type of professor who makes you forget you're sitting in a classroom," said kinesiology alumnus Ryan Konarski. "He creates an environment that feels natural, one in which he incorporates each individual and combines current events and personal experiences in order to enrich and enhance the learning experience."

Bertram recently became Kinesiology department head at UFV. He will receive his award at the Friday, June 10, afternoon UFV convocation ceremony at 2:30 pm at the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre.


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