Michelle French

Associate Professor, Teaching Stream
Department of Physiology
Faculty of Medicine

President's Teaching Award 2017


Dr. Michelle French is an award-winning educator in the Department of Physiology in the Faculty of Medicine and an expert and scholar in the student-centered approach to learning. Dr. French is particularly noted as a practitioner and leader in three key thematic areas: Large-Class Teaching, Science Communication & Learner Engagement, and Mentoring and Supporting Learners.

Dr. French began her teaching career as a Laboratory Demonstrator and Teaching Assistant at both U of T and Western University while she was taking her Master’s and Doctorate degrees in Physiology. Upon completion of her PhD, she was a Post-Doctoral Fellow in Melbourne, Australia and Toronto. In 1999, she became a Lecturer at U of T and at Ryerson University (1999-2001, 2002-2008). She taught for many years in the Department of Cell and Systems Biology and in the Human Biology Program at U of T before joining the Department of Physiology as a Lecturer in 2009. Since 2014, she has held the rank of Associate Professor, Teaching Stream. In addition to her teaching, she acts as a science writing and editorial consultant to principal investigators and research funding organizations.

Dr. French is the creator of two outstanding innovative courses in the Department of Physiology: PSL190 (Biomedical Research at the Cutting Edge) and PSL 404 (Regenerative Medicine) and introduced significant pedagogical improvements in large classes, PSL300 and PSL301 (Human Physiology I and II). She is an advocate of developing the communication, problem solving and critical thinking skills of her students. To this end, she uses a variety of teaching techniques, incorporating oral presentations, problem sets, writing assignments, case studies and technology into her courses.

Her scholarly area of focus is on improving active learning through the appropriate use of assessment tools, technology and learning materials. In the classroom, Dr. French concentrates significant time and attention to engaging the learner and has introduced new technology in order to grasp the learners’ attention. She is a constant innovator, not afraid to test new forms of pedagogy in her classrooms on both the small and large scales. Student feedback indicates they are challenged and engaged by her innovative and ever evolving teaching techniques. What is most impressive is Dr. French’s fearlessness – she is never afraid to test new technologies or new ideas in the classroom.

Coupled with this drive, Dr. French is also a mentor and a supporter to many of her students and faculty colleagues. She is an active participant in the community of scholars, delivering seminars and lectures on large class teaching and multiple choice question writing at conferences and other gatherings. She encourages and enables her students and colleagues to push for more in their own careers – whether they are looking to a career in the science industry, or a career in teaching and research. Students remark on the impact she has had on their own careers and academic journeys and many attribute their current success to the mentorship of Dr. French.

Recently, Dr. French extended this mentorship outside of traditional settings. Recognizing the benefits of exercise in enhancing learning, the ability to cope with stress and general well-being, Dr. French formed a partnership with MoveU to promote physical activity for students enrolled in PSL301. Spurred by the success of the initiative, Dr. French is now working with MoveU to encourage other Faculty members to introduce physical activity into their courses.

Dr. French has won ten teaching and education awards, recognizing her excellence in teaching and innovation at the University of Toronto.