Sarah Elwood Wins UW Distinguished Teaching Award

Submitted by Richard Roth on
Congratulations to Geography faculty member Sarah Elwood, winner of this year's Distinguished Teaching Award, the highest award the UW offers for oustanding teaching.  Sarah joined our faculty in 2006, after teaching at DePaul University and the University of Arizona. In her own words, 
My research intersects critical GIS, and urban and political geography.  I study the social and political impacts of spatial technologies such as GIS, and the changing practices and politics of local activism, community organizing, and other modes of civic engagement.   My current research focuses on emerging geospatial media – an ever-expanding range of interactive web-based technologies that enabling collection, compilation, mapping, and dissemination of spatial data by vast numbers of people.  With colleagues at UC-Santa Barbara and Ohio State University, I am currently studying these new forms of ‘volunteered geographic information’, examining their content and characteristics, methodologies for working with these data, and the social and political practices in which they are implicated. In a parallel project, Katharyne Mitchell and I  are examining the role that interactive geovisualization technologies might play in fostering collaborative learning, critical thinking and civic engagement among young teens. My research and teaching having long been structured around action research and university-community collaboration

Student characterizations of the effects of Sarah's teaching always seem to run to superlatives, emphasizing her commitment to student learning & engagement, and her inclusive, interactive classroom teaching style:

  • Prof. Elwood takes the time on a daily basis to mentor students. She has a unique approachability which allows her to gracefully adapt and personalize each lecture for the students in the class.  Prof. Elwood's discussion based lecture format is a cut above any other teaching style I have encountered at UW, making her a truly effective teacher
  • Sarah Elwood is time and time again a caring teacher who works with her students to help them understand even the seemingly simplest things and inspires her students to use their skills to better their communities.
  • Sarah seems to actually enjoy teaching. She's enthusiastic, incredibly understanding, and very easy to work with. She goes out of her way to be available to students, and creates an environment in which students feel encouraged to ask questions and learn.
  • Professor Elwood pushed our class to collaborate on and create much of the subject matter in class. She guided our discussions with thoughtful comments and insight, allowing for us to do our own learning. Fantastic energy, fantastic class, fantastic teacher
  • Professor Elwood encouraged my learning through her genuine enthusiasm and passion not just for the field of geography but for my own personal achievement and grasp of the curriculum. She makes classes enjoyable and engaging and encourages open and thoughtful discussion where anyone can contribute. She is accessible as a professor and as a person and I have thoroughly enjoyed every class I have taken with her. In all of my work she has added her input when asked and really encourages me to go above and beyond.
  • Professor Elwood is really a great teacher who cares about her students, whether we have learned anything from the course or not. She is always energetic, ready to teach, cheerful and helpful. I love having her as my professor and she makes me enjoy learning GIS.
  • Dr. Elwood's approach to my G490 is unlike any I have had at the UW. Much of the content is student directed, which I enjoy, and it ties a creativity aspect to putting ideas together
  • Of all of the professors I have had both within and outside of the Geography Department at UW, Sarah Elwood has stood out as an incredibly supportive and nurturing professor. Her approach to students in the classroom and one-on-one surpasses the energy and sincere responsiveness of many other professors I have had at UW, and she truly lives up to all that it means to be a university professor. In my experience, she has been a mentor, advisor, director, research boss, friend, and cohort member. Having her as a professor has made my time and experience in university and in the Geography department invaluable. For me, she is a real icon of the department
  • Professor Sarah Elwood is absolutely passionate about what she teaches. I've so far taken two GIS classes with her and definitely learned a lot from her. Her lectures are lively and she explains things well. People can ask her questions and share a lot of their experiences in class, as well, so it's a nice atmosphere. Tests and assignments are always fair and we are tested only on what we've discussed in class/lecture. One can easily see Elwood's passion and great knowledge of GIS. It encourages me to learn even more about the software and the social and technical aspects of it. Additionally, she cares a lot about her students learning. Overall, Sarah Elwood is awesome.
  • Professor Elwood's explanations and style of teaching is very clean, straightforward, and easy to understand. Simultaneously though, she is a joy to listen to. For me, the combination of these two things plus the fact that I was very interested in the content of the classes was hugely encouraging to my learning.
  • Sarah Elwood is one of the most positive and energetic professors that I have had at the UW. The community that she creates in her classroom reflects these qualities. Regardless of how tired or stressed I might be when I arrive to class, I consistently leave energized and excited about what I've learned!
  • Dr. Elwood offered practical advice I have taken to heart: "In the field of GIS, you have to be ready to constantly learn new tech."

Professor Elwood  is the fifth Geography faculty member to receive this award,  joining David Hodge, Vicky Lawson, Matt Sparke and Steve Herbert.

Click here for an extended Q & A with Professor Elwood on her views of teaching and learning.