Kathleen S. Lowney receives Regents' Teaching Excellence Award
By Thressea H. Boyd
Dr. Kathleen S. Lowney, professor of sociology at Valdosta State University, has unanimously been selected to receive the faculty 2013 Regents’ Teaching Excellence Award for regional and state universities. Each year, the University System of Georgia Board of Regents accepts nominations recognizing faculty from the 35 state colleges and universities.
Lowney will be officially recognized by the Board of Regents at the annual USG gala. The selection committee recognized the positive impact Lowney makes in the lives of her students and Valdosta State University. She was commended for her innovative teaching strategies and use of technology based on sound pedagogical rationale.
“In Dr. Lowney, we see the personification of that to which we aspire as teachers and scholars,” said VSU President William J. McKinney.
Lowney, who received VSU’s 2011 Excellence in Teaching Award, says that her teaching methods involve storytelling and bringing real-life experiences to the classroom.
“In class, I use a lot of stories. Sometimes they are personal stories or other people’s stories,” said Lowney, who grew up in Seattle, Wash. “I think especially in the introductory classes students can see themselves or a family member in a story.”
Lowney said that she enjoys creating new teaching methods to engage students in learning and how to use their sociological imaginations.
For example, in her Issues in Sociological Practice -- Domestic Violence course, Lowney examines the topic from the perspective of a shelter worker. The students construct a virtual shelter and work together to develop programs for the victims and their children and create policies, as they deal with real-life issues of domestic violence.
“We provide the sociological knowledge including the facts, the figures, and where to find them,” Lowney said. “Then we look at the practical knowledge of how to be a front-line shelter worker at a nonprofit agency. They will need to know about fundraising and grant writing, even if that is not their primary job, because in a shelter they need to know how to do all these things.”
Lowney, who came to Valdosta State in 1987, said that she is always trying to create new learning experiences for her students and herself.
“I think now I have a more flexible teaching style and a better sense of what I do well,” she said. “I tailor my classes to play to my strengths and theirs and what the students need to know to be applied sociologists out in the field.”
When asked three years ago to teach one of the university’s large-section classes, Lowney said she accepted the challenge, even though it meant changing her teaching style.
“I had never used PowerPoint; instead I wrote on the board, filling it up several times per class, but in a big class the students in the back row would not be able to see,” the editor of the American Sociological Association’s journal, Teaching Sociology, said. “I knew I had to make the class interactive, even in a bigger classroom.”
Lowney is not afraid to try new teaching methods, especially if it helps to better engage her students in the learning process. This semester she has ventured further into the world of social media through the use of Twitter.
“I’ve used discussion boards in the course management system before, but for the first time this semester I am using Twitter,” said Lowney, who admits she is a novice tweeter. “I didn’t even have an account, as of this summer, but I reached out to John Bennett [VSU’s social media manager] and told him that I wanted to use Twitter as a teaching tool.”
Bennett helped Lowney learn to tweet and together they came up with a pedagogical strategy. Approximately 65 of her students this semester are tweeting after each class, processing class material and finding video examples which help them to solidify learning the sociological perspective.
“You have to try new things and as long as they are still linked to good pedagogy and good reasons why you are doing them, then give new pedagogical ideas a try,” she said “But don’t just jump on a band wagon if it doesn’t fit with your pedagogy and your teaching personality.”
The author of two books, Baring Our Souls: TV Talk Shows and the Religion of Recovery and Passport to Heaven: Gender Roles and the Unification Church, Lowney is currently working on her third book with Dr. Maxine Atkinson, from North Carolina State University. The book, which is tentatively titled In the Trenches: How to Teach Sociology, is under contract with W.W. Norton.
Within the Valdosta community, Lowney is a member of the Mayor’s Council for Persons with Disabilities, which raises awareness of the issues faced by people with disabilities and works to enhance accessibility. She has also served as a member of the board of directors for The Haven, a nonprofit agency that provides emergency shelter and services for victims of family violence and sexual assault in nine South Georgia counties, and on the local Habitat for Humanity board of directors.