In each of his anatomy classes, Andrew “Andy” Crofton tailors his teaching method to the students as individuals—a style they say creates an environment in which they feel respected and motivated to achieve at their highest level. It’s among the many reasons Crofton, assistant professor of anatomy at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, will receive the John S. Diekhoff Award for Graduate Teaching during the commencement convocation Sunday, May 30.

“It’s an immense honor to be chosen by a panel of students for this award,” Crofton said. “Making an impression on students and helping mold their careers is such a privilege.”

Crofton centers his method on the student learning experience. “Thirty percent of my lesson planning concerns what I teach, and 70 percent is about how I will teach it,” he said. This is an approach he picked up from Gail Rice, Emeritus Professor of Allied Health at Loma Linda University, one of his most influential teaching mentors.

His approach transformed after he heard a talk by Georgetown University’s Carrie Chen, an expert in health profession education. Describing the concept of competency-based, time variable education (CB-TVE), Chen compared how cookies bake at different rates depending on where they’re placed on the sheet with how students learn at different rates depending on their past experiences.

“Since attending that talk, I have radically changed the way I assess students,” Crofton said. “With CB-TVE, I use a variety of assessments, creating assignment choices that appeal to different people and providing options for them to tailor tasks or create their own assignments—linking their new knowledge with past experience.” Assessments developed using CB-TVE aim to holistically measure all domains of competence as an ongoing process. This framework acknowledges that learning is a lifelong process that must be assessed in multiple settings by multiple stakeholders, including peers. 

A cadaver lab provides many opportunities for interaction, and often his classes involve students from different programs, creating a rich experience, he said. Crofton’s love for anatomy naturally overflows to his students, nominators noted, making them feel like they are working in the field.  

As one of his students commented: “Dr. Crofton has a way of seamlessly shifting from educator to peer during conversation. I found it incredibly encouraging that I would constantly seek further knowledge to contribute more to these discussions.”

Crofton said the COVID-19 pandemic created the biggest challenge in his teaching career to date, as he wanted to ensure he was providing an outstanding experience not only for those in his labs but for students online as well. 

“During COVID-19, you’d expect a less personal connection with your professors and classmates. With Dr. Crofton, I felt more connected to the class and the material,” said another student.

About the award

The Diekhoff Award honors John S. Diekhoff, a distinguished scholar, teacher, mentor and administrator who served Case Western Reserve in several capacities during his tenure, from 1956 to 1970. He was professor of English, chair of the Department of English, dean of Cleveland College, acting dean of the School of Graduate Studies and vice provost of the university.

The Diekhoff Award, established in 1978, recognizes outstanding contributions to the education of graduate students through advising and classroom teaching. The annual award is presented to two faculty members who epitomize what it means to teach graduate students: to connect them with experts in their discipline, engage them academically in a forthright and collegial manner, and actively promote their professional development. In 2009, the Diekhoff Award was expanded to recognize two additional full-time faculty members who excel in the mentoring of graduate students. A committee of graduate students with the guidance of the School of Graduate Studies reviews the nominations and recommends winners.