James Madison University

Dr. Charles Harris Recognized with Award

By: Dina Manco
Posted: February 9, 2015

PHOTO:Charles Harris

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In October, JMU professor Dr. Charles Harris was awarded the first ever Charles Harris Award of Distinction at the Center for Instructional Technology’s (CIT) Teaching and Learning with Technology Conference. The award was created by CIT to identify JMU faculty who utilize their services and employ instructional technology in their teaching. In his 45th year of teaching, Harris is an avid proponent of all the services CIT offers.

With a Ph.D. from Ohio State University, Harris was a member of the first Clearing House on Assessment and Evaluation of Educational Resources Information Center (ERIC).  This established clearing houses for research theories in varying disciplines. Harris began teaching at what was then Madison College (JMU) in 1970. He is also no stranger to awards for his work; in 1993 he was named Teacher of the Year and a year later received the Distinguished Teaching Award.

Harris is well-known for being the first to experiment with various instructional technologies at JMU. He began incorporating technology in his teaching in 1990 when he suggested to then President Carrier the idea of electronic student response systems in classrooms. A year later, Blackwell Auditorium (nicknamed the 21st century classroom) was born with clickers embedded at each student’s desk. The clickers enable all students to respond to the professor’s questions electronically and have a poll of their answers display on one of the two presentation screens. Harris was also a member of the first Summer Institute for Online Teaching in 2003 where he initiated the first online version of GPSYCH 160: Life Span Development. Twelve years later, Harris is still teaching the course online during the summer. In 2007, he created the first hybrid version of the class to teach throughout the school year. A hybrid course is 80% online with Harris meeting with students once a week in a classroom setting, while a blended course is 50% online and 50% in-class. Tools he uses to instruct students online include podcasts, instructional blogs, and web lectures. “Hybrid is a win-win-win situation. The technology we use today facilitate both instructors and students. [Also,] I teach 4 sections but occupy space that would typically require half the physical classroom space,” Harris comments. Such expansive experience in instructional technology has allowed Harris to act as a mentor to other instructors looking to convert their courses into blended, hybrid, or completely online formats.
Shenghua Zha, CIT’s Instructional Technologist for Distance Learning, comments, “Dr. Harris has been passionate in exploring the innovative technologies and their effectiveness. He has taken CIT immersive programs and workshops and learned those technologies…at the same time he conducts experimental studies to identify effective methods of using those technologies in his class.” She adds, “For example, we have collaborated on a series of studies on the effective use of concept mapping tools on students’ learning in an introductory psychology class. Findings from our studies were immediately used in his class to improve students’ critical thinking skills.”

Harris largely encourages the use of the CIT department and all their available services: “Here’s the situation: I have an educational objective I want to achieve with students, so I approach CIT and they inform me how to achieve it and mentor, then turn around and give me an award. In perspective, we have this exemplary division within JMU and it’s the reason I’m still here in my 45th year.” Harris states he has no plans to leave teaching or the use of instructional technology any time in the near future. “Retirement is a word I recognize, but I am not considering it -- I say, ‘Why?’ This is too much fun!”