This month’s Faculty Spotlight is Laura Benninger whose love of science and technology developed into a passion for teaching.

Benninger earned an undergraduate degree as well as a master’s degree at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (Ontario Tech). She then went on to work as a teaching assistant and a research lab technician.

“When I was working on finishing my undergraduate degree, I started [working as a] TA and then during my master’s, I was also doing TA work. That led me to really enjoy teaching and education,” Benninger explains. “After that, I worked as a technician while contract teaching as well.”

Benninger now works as a professor and program coordinator in the School of Science and Engineering Technology at Durham College (DC).

Benninger sat on a panel of judges at Ontario Tech’s Science Magic camp, which took place in July 2014. The camp is targeted at girls ages 8-13 to inspire more female interest in STEM programs.

“I sat on as a panelist, just as a judge basically, to give them feedback on their creations,” says Benninger. “It was really neat to see what they came up with and their enthusiasm and how they presented their work.”

More recently, Benninger worked with the CAFE to develop an interactive module used to teach students different lab techniques. This module is used to allow students to practice before doing live labs in class.

“It’s an e-lab where the students are able to go in and actually see techniques being done. It’s interactive; they have to kind of ‘choose your adventure,’” says Benninger. “Students have to pick the correct thing in order to proceed through the steps.”

Benninger says by providing students with an online learning opportunity, they learn the skills first before using them. She also says the e-lab was developed for the fast-track program and is intended to be used as a complement to other live lab courses.

“The course online has a lot of techniques, but students needed to be able to actually see them before they could apply them in their other labs,” she says. Benninger adds that professors reported seeing less of a learning curve after students used the e-lab, highlighting the importance of practice.

Chemical Lab Interactive Module Preview
Chemical Lab Interactive Module

Benninger worked with the CAFE’s own Erin Banit and Tanya Wakelin to develop the e-lab, which uses guided visuals as well as audio to lead students through the steps of the lab. Students must complete the lab in the correct sequence: starting with washing their hands, choosing the correct weighing vessel, and so on.

She says she also likes to take students through the e-lab in her lectures.

“So, in the lecture, we go through it so that when they’ve gone into the lab virtually – they have already seen it once. It’s easier for them to replicate it and understand and ask questions when they can visually see what’s happening,” she says. “We utilize this technology in particular, as well as other videos, just to ensure that they all have the same technique – proper live technique – going in and to refresh.”

For the future, Benninger hopes to continue to see her students grow and is looking forward to continuing to facilitate their learning.

“I love teaching. I love seeing that the ‘aha’ moments where they take something that they’ve never seen before and they have that moment of seeing how it works or understanding how it goes together,” she says. “I’m just looking forward to continuing to do so.”

Written By: Jacklynne Graves, Third Year , Journalism – Mass Media Student