University of Wisconsin–Madison Department of Biochemistry Professor Samuel Butcher is a recipient of a 2020 Distinguished Teaching Award, an honor given out since 1953 to recognize the university’s finest educators.
Butcher, who earned the Chancellor’s Distinguished Teaching Award, has taught Biochemistry 501: Introduction to Biochemistry for 19 years. During that time, the course has grown from enrolling 200 students per semester to more than 600 and is now also available during summer session.
“I think teaching is a privilege and the highest impact thing I do,” Butcher says. “I identify as a scientist but also as a teacher and being able to make an impact on over a thousand students every year is a great responsibility.”
The course is one of the largest on campus and highly visible since it is required for students pursuing careers in medicine, nursing, dentistry, industry, and scientific research in graduate school. It’s a team-taught class that includes Butcher, Rick Amasino, Jill Wildonger and Mario Pennella.
“Our goal is to teach students how to think like a scientist,” he adds. “We want them to gain the background necessary to understand biochemistry in the course and beyond as they continue to further their education and enter a career.”
Biochem 501 has also been at the forefront of accessibility and the instructors have been early adopters of education technology. Back in 2001, with help from Robin Davies of Biochemistry’s MediaLab, they started making podcasts out of lectures for students to listen to. The group also started making videos of lectures available well before the technology was available in most classrooms. Butcher says this kind of technology has been the biggest game changer for student learning because students can pause and rewind a lecture and watch later or re-watch.
He also says his teaching philosophy includes helping students connect concepts they are learning in class to everyday life and current events, as well as prioritizing active learning in the classroom.
“We feel good about giving students a state-of-the-art education because students expect these capabilities,” Butcher says. “We are also always thinking about what the next innovation will be.”