Best teaching staff awards of 2021

Based on the submitted proposals, a committee formed by the University of Tartu Student Union has chosen the recipients of the best teaching staff awards of 2021. 

According to Vice President of the Student Union Hanna Britt Soots, choosing the best teaching staff members was very difficult, as there were so many nominations supported by very good reasons why they deserve the title. “The reasons given show that good teaching staff members are excited about their subject and teach it with passion, inspiring students to learn. Students also value a clear structure of the course as well as specific and justified requirements, which encourage learners to work hard,” Soots added. 

According to Vice Rector for Academic Affairs Aune Valk, a recurring topic in this year’s nominations was dialogue. “Dialogue was referred to in various meanings. An excellent teaching staff member is in dialogue with students, respects and takes their opinion and life experience into account, and takes feedback seriously. An excellent teaching staff member is also in dialogue with real life by giving examples, involving practitioners, being able to cope with different situations flexibly, and staying positive,” Valk added.

At the Faculty of Arts and Humanities, the teaching staff of the year award is given to Antonina Kostina, Teacher of Norwegian Language of the College of Foreign Languages and Cultures. According to students, she consciously creates a supportive and open learning atmosphere, where students are not afraid to experiment or make mistakes. She makes sure that the subject matter she teaches is clearly justified and connected to real life. Transferable skills are mentioned in the learning outcomes of her courses and modules not simply because it is trendy, but these are dealt with throughout studies. Thus, in addition to language skills and in-depth knowledge of Scandinavian literature, history and the structure of the language, Kostina’s students acquire public speaking skills, analytical and critical thinking, teamwork skills and the necessary digital competencies for research in the humanities. By constantly improving her knowledge, Antonina Kostina serves as a role model of a lifelong learner for students. She notices every student and is interested in how they are really doing. She is loved and appreciated by students and colleagues alike.  

Other nominees at the Faculty of Arts and Humanities: 

  • Olga Schihalejev, Associate Professor of Religious Education, School of Theology and Religious Studies 
  • Külli Habicht, Associate Professor of Estonian Language, Institute of Estonian and General Linguistics 
  • Nelly Mäekivi, Research Fellow in Semiotics, Institute of Philosophy and Semiotics 
  • Elo-Hanna Seljamaa, Associate Professor of Estonian and Comparative Folklore,  Institute of Cultural Research
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Antonina Kostina. Photo Andres Tennus 

At the Faculty of Social Sciences, the teaching staff of the year award is given to Triin Vihalemm, Professor of Communication Studies of the Institute of Social Studies. Students say that she is an excellent teaching staff member. She makes an effort to know what each member of the course and the entire group is doing. Learners’ individual development is supported by appraisal interviews taking place once a semester. Triin Vihalemm gives students the opportunity to contribute to the development of Estonia already at the university. Her lectures are interesting, up-to-date, solution-centred and student-friendly, foster exciting discussions and involve activity breaks. Her feedback is always precise and constructive, inspiring and explicit, making the students feel that they are seen and understood and that their ideas are important and accepted. Triin Vihalemm manages to calmly guide difficult people in difficult times. Despite the challenges involved in distance learning, students feel they receive high-quality and cutting-edge instruction. 

Other nominees at the Faculty of Social Sciences: 

  • Ingrid Koni, Lecturer in General Education, Institute of Education 
  • Emanuele Bardone, Associate Professor of Educational Technology, Institute of Education 
  • Mario Truu, Junior Lecturer in Criminal Law, School of Law 
  • David Ilmar Lepasaar Beecher, Lecturer in Political Thought and Cultural History, Johan Skytte Institute of Political Studies
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Triin Vihalemm. Photo Andres Tennus   

At the Faculty of Medicine, the teaching staff of the year award is given to Külli Kingo, Professor in Dermatology and Venereology of the Institute of Clinical Medicine. Students describe her as a very thorough, intelligent and student-friendly teaching staff member, who is clearly the biggest fan of her specialisation, which also sparks interest in students. She uses various teaching and assessment methods that support learning (making a short overview of the topic, checking the acquisition of previous topics, case studies as home assignments, etc.). If the student is in doubt, she is happy to provide additional explanations. Professor Kingo is an excellent communicator, helps to solve problems and explains the material excellently. She makes sure students meet patients. Students have said they learn more in her courses than ever before.  

Other nominees at the Faculty of Medicine: 

  • Jana Kivastik, Associate Professor in Human Physiology, Institute of Biomedicine and Translational Medicine     
  • Rando Porosk, Research Fellow of Medical Biochemistry, Institute of Biomedicine and Translational Medicine     
  • Meeme Utt, Lecturer in Pharmaceutical Chemistry, Institute of Pharmacy, and Associate Professor in Immunology, Institute of Biomedicine and Translational Medicine      
  • Raivo Puhke, Lecturer in Functional Morphology, Institute of Sport Sciences and Physiotherapy
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Külli Kingo. Photo Andres Tennus   

At the Faculty of Science and Technology, the teaching staff of the year award is given to Ene Kook, Lecturer of Botany of the Institute of Ecology and Earth Sciences. According to students, she stands out for her exceptional wealth of knowledge, helpfulness and a clear mission to spark interest even in students who hate plants. In the annual field practices, students are amazed about how it is possible to know the characteristics and the Estonian and Latin names of nearly every plant she comes across. All her courses are organised exceptionally, and there are never problems with understanding deadlines, the material and the general organisation. Ene Kook always takes students’ feedback, requests and recommendations into account. She supports self-study and lets students work out a solution. She shows links between different topics, courses and everyday life, which increases the value of teaching. She is adequately strict and demanding, so everyone must work hard to pass her course. But most importantly, she loves and enjoys what she does.  

Other nominees at the Faculty of Science and Technology: 

  • Meelis Kull, Associate Professor in Machine Learning, Institute of Computer Science 
  • Angela Ivask, Professor in Genetics, Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology 
  • Ella Puman, Associate Professor in Theoretical Mechanics, Institute of Mathematics and Statistics 
  • Tauno Palts, Lecturer in Informatics Didactics, Institute of Computer Science
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Ene Kook. Photo private collection 

The University of Tartu best teaching staff award is granted to recognise one teaching staff member in each faculty for outstanding teaching skills in the previous year. The evaluation proceeds from the Good practice of teaching. The student council of each faculty chooses the best five teaching staff members of their faculty, from among whom the evaluation committee of the University of Tartu Student Union decides the recipient of the award. This time, 222 proposals were made to recognise the best teaching staff awards, and in total, 179 teaching staff members were nominated. 

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