It's a common sight on campus—students clustered around a bulletin board, anxiously scanning posted lists to see how they rank in the latest exam or term marks.
However, in the Department of Economics a t the U of A, it's not only students who have the results of thier performance posted. When he was chair of the Department of Economics from 1972 to 1977, Bruce Wilkinson, '61 MA, instituted the ongoing practice of posting the results of the teaching evaluations conducted by the department each year, for both instructors and students to see. "I thought it was the best way to improve teaching," says Wilkinson, one of this year's recipients of a Rutherford Award for excellence in undergraduate teaching at the University. "Letting people see how they compare to the department average often gives them an incentive to improve."
Wilkinson's own evaluation scores have been well above average over the years, even in the daunting mass lectures he teaches to introductory economics students. Those classes regularly pack the "Tory Turtle" lecture hall, which seats 495. Classes this big require teaching on a grand scale: two overhead projectors, microphones, and myriad charts and diagrams to enhance the presentation. But Wilkinson says that's incidental — the key to good teaching is connecting with individual students. "Even though they're large classes I encourage students to come see me in my office if they're beginning to have problems."
Despite a busy schedule that includes reviewing for various academic journals, participating on university and department committees, and consulting for economic research organizations, Wilkinson makes the time to see as many students as possible. He also finds time for his colleagues, who benefit from his involvement as a peer evaluator for University Teaching Services.
An international trade expert and a high-profile commentator in the debate over the Canada-U.S. and the subsequent North American free trade agreements, Wilkinson finds it useful to "relate economics to the real world" in his courses. For instance, "last year I talked about government deficits and budgets a good deal," he says with a chuckle.
Government cuts to education funding are of particular interest to Wilkinson. He examined the economics of education fo his PhD from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and in an upcoming monograph he advocates educational choice for children and their parents. (Wilkinson himself is the parent of three U of A graduates — a son who is now a veterinarian and two daughters, a nurse and a teacher.)
Before coming to Edmonton for graduate school, Wilkinson had completed his BCom at the University of Saskatchewan and worked for several years in the oil industry. The Rutherford Award winner says that when they arrived in Edmonton, he and his wife knew they wanted to make their permanent home in the city. Wilkinson completed his master's in 1961, and after a six-year interlude, during which he pursued doctoral studies at MIT and had teaching stints at the Universities of Saskatchewan and Western Ontario, the couple were able to return to Edmonton when Wilkinson received a U of A faculty appointment in 1967.
He and his wife have been happy to remain in Edmonton ever since, says Wilkinson, who from his seventh-floor office in the Tory Building has had a pan)ramic view the "phenomenal story of growth" that has unfolded in the city and on campus since the late 1960s.
Although this 1994 Rutherford Award recipient also received a Faculty of Arts Teaching Award recently, he says he hasn't been using any new pyrotechnics to garner this favorable attention to his I teaching. And, indeed, when he received the Rutherford Award, Wilkinson was commended in particular for the continuity and consistent level of excellence he has maintained in more than 25 years of teaching on campus.
"I'm not some new flash in the pan," he says with a smile.
Published Autumn 1994.