Emeritus Professor Bette Davidowitz
“ good teaching means that faculty, as scholars, are also learners. All too often, teachers transmit information that students are expected to memorize and then, perhaps, recall. While well-prepared lectures surely have a place, teaching, at its best, means not only transmitting knowledge, but transforming and extending it as well. Through reading, through classroom discussion, and surely through comments and questions posed by students, professors themselves will be pushed in creative new directions. “ (Boyer 1990: 24).
Last year we saw the retirement of ADP stalwart Associate Professor Bette Davidowitz, fondly known as Dr Dee whose teaching philosophy has been greatly informed by Boyer. Emeritus professor Bette Davidowitz obtained her first degree at UCT in 1973, completing a PhD in chemistry 11 years later. Being at UCT at the inception of the Academic Development Programme she has been instrumental in shaping the offering in chemistry specifically, and science more broadly. Her passion for chemistry education has resulted in a number of awards for teaching excellence including a UCT Distinguished Teacher Award, the South African Chemical Institute Medal for Chemical Education and a certificate of commendation awarded at the National Excellence in Teaching and Learning Awards. She was also a collaborator in the development of the Chemistry Competence Tests, a diagnostic test developed to assess proficiencies of first-time entering students to South African universities.
Already a highly experienced teacher, Dr Dee took up the post of chemistry lecturer for the first-year chemistry course in the Extended Degree Programme (EDP) in science in 2000 in which capacity she continued until retirement. One might wonder how it is possible to exude the same gusto after 17 years of teaching the same course. Dr Dee says “Shifting the focus to the student and realising that each year marks the start of an exciting journey with a new student cohort has become the motivating factor in my teaching”.
She measures the greatest success of this course as the impressive number of her students that go on to major in and complete postgraduate studies in Chemistry. Extending capacity building through research, Bette’s postgraduate students have completed masters and PhD theses in a variety of topics around chemistry teaching, learning and education; the results of which continue to impact these enterprises both at UCT and other institutions.
Dr Davidowitz has used her interest in student learning to shape not just a reflective teaching practice but also her research, which is deliberately contextual. Here she has used her access to students in the classroom to better understand not just how they learn but also why some do and some don’t i.e. the external factors that inhibit learning. With both a national and international publication record it is clear that her contribution to teaching and learning in science education leaves a wide reaching and lasting legacy.
While we wish Dr Dee a restful retirement we know that her passion and bountiful energy will continue to contribute significantly to science education and we look forward to seeing her around the corridors.