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February 16, 2017

Professor’s innovative teaching earns Harvey-Spangler Award

Written By: Katie Leung


Industrial and Systems Engineering Associate Professor Laura Albert McLay has earned the Harvey Spangler Award for Technology Enhanced Instruction. The Harvey Spangler award was created to recognize members of faculty and instructional staff who have used innovative technology-based teaching and learning practices.

The award also honors those that demonstrate innovative uses of technology in teaching that have had a positive impact on student learning—all of which Albert McLay has certainly shown through her comprehensive approach and innovative integration of technological tools and social networking inside and outside the classroom.

Albert McLay’s most visible innovation is her use of tablet teaching. Before every class, she uploads her presentation slides to the course website. Then, during class, rather than read the PowerPoint slides, Albert McLay engages with and edits her slides on the spot using her iPad. She draws on, adds notes to, and gives students a glimpse into her thought process as the lesson proceeds. After each class, Albert McLay uploads the edited slides to the course website.

In addition to her tablet teaching, Albert McLay is a keen user of social media platforms such as YouTube, Twitter, and blogging (including her own blog Punk Rock Operations Research). Use of social media enables Albert McLay to interact with students outside the classroom and provide real world problems and real world solutions.

“I engage students both in and outside the classroom using social media (my blog, Twitter, YouTube, etc.),” says Albert McLay. “The goal of these activities is to help students develop critical thinking skills. Social media provides an opportunity to introduce real applications to students that are not as straightforward as textbook examples, which helps them to understand how and when methods can be used.”

Albert McLay began a blog for a PhD seminar course on public sector operations research ( Her students wrote the blog posts, and the goal was that by writing to others, the students would more deeply learn about the topics in class. The blog reached a large audience outside the walls of the university and showcased the quality of UW ISYE students to a broad audience.

For Albert McLay, using social media and other technologies enables her to be a teacher not only to enrolled students or even engineering students, but to everyone—thus, truly exemplifying the Wisconsin Idea.

“I do not view teaching to be something I only do in the classroom,” says Albert McLay. “This is central to my philosophy and where some of the novelty in my teaching style resides. I am an educator, and I use my classroom teaching tools more broadly to educate the public via social media tools and vice versa. I do not wear my ‘teaching’ hat in the classroom and then put on an ‘outreach’ hat when social networking. I am wearing the same hat all the time. … This philosophy is consistent with the Wisconsin Idea.”