Art History professor receives College’s top teaching award

President Roger Casey with Gretchen McKay
May 23, 2015

Gretchen Kreahling McKay, professor of Art History and known as an innovator in teaching, was honored with The Ira G. Zepp Distinguished Teaching Award during the May 22 Honors Convocation and Senior Investiture.

McKay is well known nationally for her early enthusiasm for Reacting to the Past role-playing, and later for “flipping” her classrooms. Now she’s busy figuring out all the ways digital humanities scholarship, methods and tools can provide opportunities to involve her students in her research as a scholar. Faculty and students alike applaud her innovation, her dedication and her contagious enthusiasm.  

Colleagues have said they “hear the creative hum of engaged students” in her classrooms and seeing McKay “in action in the classroom is a living example of the College’s commitment to exemplary classroom teaching,”   

An early adopter of the use of Reacting to the Past games in the classroom, McKay has replaced the “sage on the stage” approach to teaching with methods that lead to active learning and passionate student engagement. In her flipped art history classes, students view lectures and read outside of class while spending class time using what they’ve learned to solve problems, analyze studies — literally and figuratively engaging with the art they are studying.

One of her students remembered McKay challenging students with predicting the history of a mysterious unnamed civilization.

“My group spent the entire class invested in the material and we deeply debated our different thoughts on this civilization,” he said. “For the first time I discovered I had a deep love of a subject that I had never given any thought about.”

McKay has been active in the Reacting to the Past consortium, serving as a board member and most recently as national outreach coordinator, teaching professors internationally. The game she wrote, “Modernism vs. Traditionalism: Art in Paris, 1888-89,” has been used in more than 45 courses by more than 20 different faculty across the country. She is currently working on “Theology of the Icon: Byzantine Iconoclasm.”

Her most recent project centers on incorporating the digital humanities into her classroom. Among the 20 art historians selected from a national pool to attend a two-week Digital Humanities workshop at the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media last summer at George Mason University, McKay embraces the digital humanities as providing a lab she can share with her students for collaborative research as well as a forum for publication and presentation.

On campus as director of McDaniel’s Center for Faculty Excellence, McKay explored the scholarship of teaching and learning — and relayed that information to her colleagues through a blog. She has served on dozens of committees, presented at countless professional conferences and published widely. Chair of the Art and Art History department since 2012, she also co-chaired the steering committee for the College’s Middle State Reaccreditation Self-Study from 2010-2013. McKay has also served as Assistant to the President for Special Projects, Associate Dean of Academic Affairs and Director of the Honors Program.

A faculty member at McDaniel since 2001, McKay earned her B.A. in Art at Colby College and her M.A. and Ph.D. in Art History at the University of Virginia. Students and faculty alike know her as a dedicated, resourceful, innovative and beloved teacher — a living testament to Ira Zepp’s pedagogical legacy. 

Main image: President Roger Casey and Gretchen McKay, professor of Art History