September 26, 2018

Dr. Ubaraj Katawal Honored with Presidential Excellence Award for Online Teaching

Pictured left to right are President Richard A. Carvajal, Dr. Ubaraj Katawal, and Dr. Robert Smith, provost and vice president for Academic Affairs.

VALDOSTA — Dr. Ubaraj Katawal is the recipient of Valdosta State University’s 2018 Presidential Excellence Award for Online Teaching.

The Presidential Excellence Award for Online Teaching recognizes a faculty member who demonstrates a strong commitment to quality online teaching and learning; employs innovative online teaching practices; and develops rapport with individual learners in and beyond the virtual classroom.

Katawal, associate professor of English, was chosen for his student-friendly course designs; his consistent and intentional accessibility to students; and his ability to facilitate in-depth discussions and nuanced learning in an online setting.

Katawal, who joined VSU in 2013, has extensive experience and training in teaching both undergraduate and graduate online courses. His course repertoire ranges from Introduction to Literature to Multicultural Literature and World Literature III: Development of Modern Thought.

A key to his success in the online environment has been designing courses that are straightforward and easy to navigate.

“So much of student success depends on how easily and clearly they are provided with the course information,” he said. “Since online students do not have the same opportunity that face-to-face students have if they need any information to be clarified, an online instructor should provide information as clearly and accessibly as possible.”

Feedback from students and colleagues shows that Katawal is overwhelmingly successful in making course information and content easy to find and understand.

Katawal also clearly articulates the learning outcomes and objectives for the course and informs students exactly what is expected of them. Throughout the course, he explains how all the content, assignments, and activities align with those overall goals. Many assignments and assessments also act as building blocks to future coursework.

“Dr. Katawal’s assignments are in-depth and require complicated theoretical strategies to be applied to the readings with original thoughts and ideas,” said Dr. Deborah Hall, associate professor of English. “By the time students arrive at the final paper, they are well-quipped by many discussions to apply theoretical concepts in a critical and academic manner.”

Another hallmark of Katawal’s courses is his constant accessibility.

“Dr. Katawal works hard to establish a presence in his online classes, providing easily accessible materials and responding quickly and thoroughly to students,” said Donna Sewell, head of the Department of English.

To build student-teacher rapport, Katawal provides a “Questions for the Instructor” forum to his online students and is active in his course discussion boards, always providing a well-developed introductory post on himself and encouraging students to do the same.

When students post analyses of literary works to the discussion board, Katawal regularly responds with thought-provoking comments and questions, adding to the conversation while also prompting students to think more deeply about the subject matter.

“Students regularly praise Dr. Katawal’s knowledge of his topic, his affable demeanor, and his thoroughness in responding to discussion posts,” Sewell said.

Katawal also makes it a priority to accommodate students from diverse backgrounds. To do so, he diversifies his reading materials so students are able to find stories they relate to.

He also takes into account various learning styles, utilizing several types of activities, including peer critiquing where students are grouped based on research interests, to keep students engaged.

“I often try to think of suggestions to give to my fellow faculty when I observe their courses, but in the case of Dr. Katawal, I found little to suggest and much to praise,” said Maren Clegg-Hyer, professor of English. “In his online classrooms, Dr. Katawal is responsible and well-organized, insightful and engaging as both a teacher and facilitator, and responsive and accessible to students. He has designed straightforward and effective courses in his online learning environment. I have observed students preparing well for their exams and actively engaging with excellent content, one another, and Dr. Katawal ....”

Katawal is constantly exploring new ways to utilize technology to improve the educational experience for his students.

“Modern technology has revolutionized the teaching profession, and we as teachers should embrace it,” he said. “Online teaching is good for a lot of people because it gives them flexibility. They can work on their own schedule without compromising the rigor. I work for my students, and if online teaching is something that helps them, then I’m happy to be involved.”

The driving motivation behind Katawal’s extensive efforts to provide excellent online teaching is his passion for English.

“A lot of people don’t realize how important English is,” he said. “I think there are five important skills that students have to learn — critical thinking skills, creative thinking skills, practical thinking skills, writing skills, and the skill to appreciate and understand different perspectives and cultures. All these skills are so important in the world today. Whatever jobs students are looking for, they still need these skills, and they learn these skills in English.

“I teach English and am passionate about it because, to me, a good work of literature is a window to the world. I don’t have to travel to Japan to understand their life and culture. I can do that by reading a good piece of Japanese literature. I can accomplish a lot by reading stories and poems. Imagination is something we all need.”

Katawal has published numerous professional articles, as well as a book chapter in “Plants and Literature: Essays in Critical Plant Studies.” He is currently researching, among other things, literary violence in contemporary postcolonial fiction. He regularly connects his research to his teaching and shares his specialty areas with students, allowing them to see the field from an insider’s perspective.

Katawal has guided several graduate students through the thesis writing process and is currently chairman of the Department of English’s Master’s Thesis Committee. He is also a member of his department’s World Literature Committee and Contemporary Writing and Contemporary Literature Committee.

At the university level, Katawal serves on the Faculty Senate, Undergraduate Research Council, and Academic Scheduling and Procedures Committee.

Katawal holds a Doctor of Philosophy in English from Binghamton University in Binghamton, New York; a Master of Arts in English from Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts; and a Bachelor of Arts in English from Tribhuvan University in Kathmandu, Nepal.

Each year, VSU continues its tradition of honoring faculty excellence with five awards recognizing the diverse talents and contributions of its innovative and active faculty. Awards are given for excellence in teaching, research, service, online teaching, and scholarship of teaching and learning. The 2018-2019 recipients were publicly recognized at the fall convocation and received a monetary prize of $1,000.

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