By Emily Cook, TLS staff writer

How do you keep students awake in an evening course? Sometimes all it takes is a simple combination of a football, camera phone and laser pointer.

Christopher Dieni is a contract instructor with Carleton’s Institute of Biochemistry and a research assistant in the Storey Lab. This year, he was honoured with a 2016 Capital Educators’ Award for excellence in teaching, thanks in part to his ability to make his classes engaging and his efforts in mentoring his students.

A number of Dieni’s courses were in the evening, so he says he got creative engaging students to keep them awake. One method involved using slinkies and having students pretend to be atoms. Another used a football to show the technique of fluorescent polarization.

“I realized, I literally need to get their blood pumping, I need to make sure they’re physically awake,” he says.

When he taught third and fourth year courses, Dieni says he chose to use textbooks sparingly, focusing rather on primary literature and review articles to demonstrate applications of course material.

“I think at one point you really need to go past that theoretical, abstract textbook context, and show the students what’s in the lab,” he says.

Dieni says mentoring students has always developed organically for him, and probably comes from him encouraging in-person interaction with students.

“I don’t know that it’s really any kind of development or conscious effort on my part. It’s just really being there for them, being receptive to little shy questions which end up growing over time,” he says.

When teaching, Dieni says he always hopes to bring students from the classroom into real-world applications.

“I think that a lot of students can attempt to teach themselves. Where a teacher is important is being a guide to them.”