July 30, 2020

By Tammi Bush

David Porter, an instructor with Johns Hopkins Engineering for Professionals (EP) Applied Physics program, was selected as a 2020 Blackboard Catalyst Award winner in the Teaching and Learning category for his graduate-level online course, Introduction to Oceanography, offered through EP. A longtime chief scientist in Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory’s Force Projection Sector, he retired from APL in early June.

Founded in 2005, the annual Catalyst Awards honor innovation and excellence in the Blackboard global education community of practice. Porter’s award recognizes those who have adopted flexible, distance and online delivery, including using mobile technologies, to positively impact the educational experience.

Porter had taught different variations of an oceanography course at the Johns Hopkins Whiting School of Engineering since 1989. In 2017, however, it was decided the course should transition to online instruction—a change to which Porter initially bristled. Then he was paired with Margo Williams, an instructional designer from EP’s Center for Learning Design, who taught him how to construct the course and set him on this award-winning path.

I’m humbled by this award; we are one of a few U.S. awardees, and I owe a lot to Margo because she really helped make it look fabulous, he said. It has been more fun than I could have ever imagined, and I feel like I know my students better than I ever have. Now, given the choice, I’d opt for online. I was really amazed at how much I liked it.

Porter credits Williams for guidance on how to on set up the 14-week course comprising 14 modules and up to five lectures. It includes the use of PowerPoint voiceovers, Explain Everything equation derivations employing an iPad, use of Lightboard, and a weekly discussion. Chartroom chat meetings were also established to allow students to review questions, projects, or homework, and to discuss career aspirations.

Porter enjoyed online teaching so much that he worked with Nathaniel Winstead, an APL meteorologist, to develop a second virtual course, Physics of Climate.

Professors teaching these courses are on the cutting edge of research, so students taking these courses benefit from their knowledge, he said. About half of students who take our courses are in the military, and even if they don’t work at APL, they know what the lab is providing them.

For Porter, teaching is a labor of love.

I plan to teach until I run out of students or steam, he said. Receiving this award on June 5, the day I decided to retire as a full-time APL employee, was the cherry on top. I love teaching, and this award is very special to me. My 32 years at APL have been phenomenal and I’ve done so many amazing things. It has been a fabulous run.

The Blackboard Catalyst Awards included winners in the following categories: Leading Change, Community Engagement, Teaching and Learning, Inclusive Education, Optimizing Student Experience, Training and Professional Development, and Student Success. Award winners were recognized July 21 and 22 during the BbWorld 2020, Blackboard’s annual user conference, which will be held virtually this year.