Professor Steven Penney honoured with Hon. Tevie H. Miller Award for 2020

Criminal law professor earns UAlberta Law's highest accolade for teaching excellence

Sarah Kent - 7 May 2020

For Professor Steven Penney, an expert in criminal law at the University of Alberta Faculty of Law, teaching doesn't end in the classroom and that dedication to student learning has earned him the 2020 Hon. Tevie H. Miller Teaching Excellence Award.

Inside the classroom, Penney isn't afraid to shake things up.

His innovative teaching methods include the flipped classroom model in upper-year courses on criminal procedure and evidence, and creative assignments in his first-year criminal law class.

The flipped classroom model builds on Penney's strengths - his ability to clearly explain material to students and encourage energetic discussions.

In his flipped classroom model, students learn the core concepts before class by engaging with Penney's online video lectures. The class time is then devoted to discussion, active learning and problem solving with Penney posing thought-provoking and challenging questions.

"I was inspired initially by my colleague Peter Sankoff who was the first law professor in Canada to adopt a flipped classroom model for his evidence class," said Penney.

Part of the success of Penney's teaching strategy is how it caters to different learning styles. Students who are visual learners are entertained by the dynamic images on his slides, auditory learners are engaged by his carefully constructed videos, and hands-on learners benefit from the interactive elements of his class discussion.

Technology in the classroom also keeps students actively learning in Penney's classes. He regularly uses Top Hat, a teaching app with features such as live polling, to encourage participation and assess learning.

Assignments and class activities for Penney's first-year class range from a skit in which students act out a Supreme Court of Canada case to a creative video project for which students explain a topic in criminal law.

One of the videos that students made this past year was so technically and comedically impressive that Penney showed it to judges at a continuing education conference, engendering considerable laughter.

Beyond The Class

Penney is just as committed to learning outside the classroom. He hosts regular Q&A sessions at Hello My Friend Cafe in the Law Centre, where students can drop by to ask Penney questions over a coffee.

"It is another tool for students to get together in a low-pressure environment," said Penney.

Students ask for help on everything from course material to career advice thanks to the welcoming atmosphere that Penney creates.

The Honourable Tevie H. Miller Teaching Excellence Award was established in honour of Justice Tevie H. Miller, Associate Chief Justice of the Court of Queen's Bench (1984-1993) and a former Chancellor of the University of Alberta. He was also a great friend and supporter of the university, serving as Students' Union president, president of the Alumni Association, as a member of the Senate, member of the Board of Governors and as chancellor. The award celebrates excellence in teaching by a full-time faculty member at the University of Alberta Faculty of Law.

Although the COVID-19 pandemic delayed a formal celebration of the teaching awards, the Faculty hopes to host an event later in 2020.