Outstanding Language Arts Educator

A University of Dayton professor who studies the impact of digital media and devices on people's ability to communicate has earned top honors from the Ohio Council of Teachers of English Language Arts.

Patrick Thomas, associate professor of English, will receive the 2018 OCTELA Outstanding Language Arts Educator Award in the college division Saturday, Feb. 24, at the organization’s annual spring conference in Columbus.

The award recognizes excellence in language arts teaching at the elementary, middle school, high school and university levels. Award recipients demonstrate excellence in and out of the classroom through leadership in and advocacy for the language arts and focused efforts to improve student learning.

“Through his portfolio and letters of recommendation from students and colleagues, it is clear that Patrick’s work has a profound impact on teachers and students and the teaching profession,” said Virginia McCormac, OCTELA past-president.

Thomas, who joined the University faculty in 2011, looks at people’s writing on social media and in the workplace to understand how that writing can inform the ways writing is taught in the classroom.

“We are in a time of massive communicative change and that is happening at a rapid pace,” Thomas said. “So, understanding the impacts that has on both our cognitive abilities to read and write, as well as our social abilities to communicate, is really what I see as the heart of my research.”

In recent years, Thomas has seen increased interest in writing among students, because it plays a bigger role in how they accomplish things in the world. For example, students send text messages more than they talk on the phone, and they are more likely to email a professor than to visit during office hours.

“We might see those things as detriments to their social lives or at least how they interact with us, but on the other hand students in my classes are taking writing very seriously now,” he said. “They seem to have a closer relationship to it than when I started teaching 17 years ago, where writing was primarily seen as something that’s done just in classrooms. Students are more interested in what writing can do for them now. In that way, it’s really exciting.”

Judges evaluated Thomas' portfolio of work in language arts leadership and advocacy, distinguished teaching and continued professional growth. It focused on his community engagement projects with students, client-based work in the University writing program, and professional development work with English department faculty in critical digital pedagogy, which explores the role and application of digital technology in teaching.

Thomas presented at the OCTELA conference in each of the last five years and recently ended his three-year term as editor of the organization’s professional journal, the Ohio Journal of English Language Arts. Published twice per year, the journal circulates to more than 2,000 language arts teachers of elementary, secondary and college students. During his tenure, it was twice honored with the National Council of Teachers of English’s Affiliate Journal of Excellence Award.

Thomas said OCTELA helped him develop connections with classroom teachers at all education levels, which keeps him abreast of the education culture in Ohio beyond his own classroom as he instructs future English language arts teachers.

“Patrick is a dedicated teacher who works closely with students,” said Andrew Slade, associate professor and English department chair. “He supports their research and their projects and he brings them into his own work. This award is well-deserved recognition for his ongoing commitments as an educator and professional. The department hopes to cultivate this excellence across our faculty and we take great pride in Patrick's accomplishments and are honored to count him among our colleagues.”

Thomas teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in digital writing, business communication, report and proposal writing, and writing for the web. He served on the University’s host committee for the 11th Biennial Feminisms and Rhetorics conference, which attracted nearly 450 participants to campus in October 2017.

He holds doctoral and master’s degrees in literacy, rhetoric and social practice from Kent State University, and a bachelor’s in English education from Mercyhurst University.

- Dave Larsen, communication coordinator, College of Arts and Sciences

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