Donald J. Orth, the Thomas H. Jones Professor in the Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation in the College of Natural Resources and Environment at Virginia Tech, has received the university's 2014 Diggs Teaching Scholars Award.

Sponsored by the Center for Instructional Development and Educational Research, the Diggs Teaching Scholars Award was established in 1992 and is presented annually to up to three Virginia Tech faculty members to recognize exceptional contributions to the teaching program and learning environment. A cash award is given to each recipient and their academic department. Diggs Teaching Scholars are invited to lead the Diggs Roundtable – a series of presentations and a discussion of their innovative teaching – a year after receiving the award.

The award is supported by an endowed fund from an estate gift by the late Edward S. and Hattie Wilson Diggs. Edward Diggs was a 1914 graduate of Virginia Tech.

Also honored with the William E. Wine Award for his teaching excellence this year, Orth will use his Diggs Teaching Scholars Award to develop faculty workshops to help teaching colleagues to integrate narrative writing in their courses through digital storytelling. The “On Becoming” project would encourage faculty to engage in conversations about how and what students are “becoming” and provide instruction for interested instructors when first experimenting with digital storytelling and/or ePortfolios in their teaching.

“I have been working with committees in two of our professional societies to assess what knowledge and skills contribute most to the career success of young professionals in fisheries and wildlife conservation,” wrote Steve McMullin, associate professor and interim head of the Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation. “A consistent theme that has emerged is that critical thinking and communication skills contribute far more to career success than knowledge in any academic area. His proposal should help students and other faculty to enhance those skills.”

“Reflection is a powerful pedagogy that I have used with students to reflect on their learning with respect to particular learning activities,” said Orth. “Digital storytelling and ePortfolio pedagogies are maturing and there are many unrealized potentials that should be discussed in the Diggs Teaching Roundtable format.”

Orth has made several other contributions to teaching at Virginia Tech. Among them, he led the effort to revise his college’s First-year Experience Program, Invent the Sustainable Future, which resulted in a University Exemplary Program Award this past fall.

He also revised the curriculum of Ichthyology, the introductory class on the study of fishes. Today, the course includes drawing, annotating, photography, essays, and reflective writings. He incorporated the use of Flickr for archiving, tagging, and annotating photos of fishes.

His teaching has been previously recognized with several college awards. He has received his college’s Outstanding Faculty Award three times as well as a Certificate of Teaching Excellence two times.

Orth received a bachelor’s degree from Eastern Illinois University, and a master’s degree and Ph.D. from Oklahoma State University.

Dedicated to its motto, Ut Prosim (That I May Serve), Virginia Tech takes a hands-on, engaging approach to education, preparing scholars to be leaders in their fields and communities. As the commonwealth’s most comprehensive university and its leading research institution, Virginia Tech offers 240 undergraduate and graduate degree programs to more than 31,000 students and manages a research portfolio of $513 million. The university fulfills its land-grant mission of transforming knowledge to practice through technological leadership and by fueling economic growth and job creation locally, regionally, and across Virginia.

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