December 2011 Issue
The Learning Experience
These outstanding Ohio teachers are committed to engaging their students in the education process.
Many Ohio professors are going beyond traditional lecture methods by engaging students in their education. They believe that students learn best through firsthand experiences that directly apply to their own lives. And, when students are able to learn on their own, they evolve into lifelong learners. We talked with four Ohio educators who embrace this philosophy. Here’s how they are making their mark on higher education.
Passion for the Arts
When finals week arrives at Southern State Community College (SSCC), the theater students take an exam that does not require paper and pencil. Instead, they are tested on their ability to memorize lines and act in front of a live audience. A noon performance known as Lunchbox Theatre makes this possible. The students perform for members of the faculty and administration, as well as family and friends who attend the popular event. “It’s the culmination of what they’ve learned,” says Rainee Angles, M.A., assistant professor of speech and theater at SSCC.
Some of the students who participate in the acting classes are interested in a career on the stage or behind the scenes in lighting and makeup; others are simply fulfilling a requirement for their associate of arts degree. Either way, Angles hopes to instill a little passion for the arts in every student.
Angles is enthusiastic about her job. In addition to her work in the classroom, she has created a full season of plays consisting of four to five productions at SSCC. Auditions are open to both students and members of the community.
While it’s not hard to imagine an acting class that engages students, the classes that Angles teach go beyond the norm. Students participate in vocal exercises on Tuesdays and yoga on Thursdays. “I think young actors need vocal and movement training,” she explains. “That’s why I teach a little of it in my acting classes.” Angles, who educates students of all ages, also believes that these skills can be taught.
“I think there is an inherent spark within people that we can mold and add to,” she says. “There are things you can learn that will make you better.”
Personal Learning Experiences
David Fankhauser, Ph.D., professor of biology and chemistry at the University of Cincinnati–Clermont College in Batavia, believes that subjects are more meaningful when they directly impact students. His teaching style is hands-on, which makes his lessons memorable. When he teaches about carbohydrates, students are given five different purified sugars that they taste and evaluate for sweetness. (Fructose is six times as sweet as table sugar — sucrose — and has a more complex flavor. On the other hand, lactose is barely sweet and has a sandy texture because it does not dissolve easily.)
“It’s an exercise they don’t forget because they have a personal experience,” he says. “That personal experience causes them to remember.”
Fankhauser says his approach to teaching stems from his own experience as a college student during the 1960s, a time when many students were dismayed that much of what was being taught seemed so disconnected from the real world. Today, he makes every effort to teach so that subject matter has a direct bearing on students’ lives.
For 36 years, Fankhauser and his students have been tapping sugar maple trees and boiling their own syrup. Then they host a free waffle breakfast for the entire college. Students sign up to collect the sap, which often requires hauling as much as 20 gallons to the boiler on any given day. It may be hard work, but they remember it.
Fankhauser insists that the best part of his job is interacting with the students. “I love to see the light in their eyes when they understand, and the smiles you get when they get it,” he says. “It’s not just teaching them facts, but giving them tools they can apply beyond the immediate classroom experience.”
Mutual Discovery Process
Knowledge can’t be poured into a college student’s head; it has to be acquired. That’s the belief of Paul Govekar, D.B.A., associate professor of management at the James F. Dicke College of Business Administration at Ohio Northern University in Ada. “At least at the college level, teaching is a mutual exploration that leads to the acquisition of knowledge,” Govekar says. “I am no longer teaching skills. I am trying to get students to understand and embrace knowledge. We explore topics together, and they learn something.”
Consider Govekar’s class on nonprofit management. Students sit in a circle and discuss various topics that relate to the class. This usually takes place as a follow-up to articles they’ve read.
Govekar also believes that students must have open access to their professors. “This goes back to how we learn together and that process of mutual discovery,” he says. “If I am not there to talk to them when they have questions, we don’t learn together.” That’s why Govekar is available to his students beyond the required six weekly office hours. “What I’m looking for here is lifelong learning,” he says. “Part of what I’m trying to do is teach my students how to learn.”
Govekar admits that the best part of his job is interacting with the students. “I really like students,” he says. “I like young people.”
Firsthand experience is yet another way to learn. For many students, this takes place in the form of internships. At Kent State University, Richard Robyn, Ph.D., assistant professor of political science, directs the Washington Program in National Issues (WPNI), a spring semester academic internship program in Washington, D.C. Every year, he accompanies a group of students who spend the semester living and working in our nation’s capital. “Some work in Congressional offices on Capitol Hill, while others work in nongovernmental organizations, like Amnesty International or The Washington Post,” he says.
The juniors and seniors who participate in the program earn 15 credit hours, which includes Robyn’s class, Contemporary Politics in Washington, D.C. The class is closely connected to a series of briefings that takes place anywhere from Capitol Hill to the Supreme Court.
Early on, Robyn did not plan to teach. But three years with the Peace Corps changed his mind. From the early to mid-70s, he taught English as a Second Language in Thailand, where his passion for education began.
Today, Robyn engages with students by asking questions and trying to get them involved. “I try to make it as relevant as I can to what’s going on,” he says. It doesn’t hurt that he also loves the subject matter and can bring years of WPNI experiences to the classroom. Some of his students are now working professionals in Washington and they talk to Robyn’s current students.
“I can sit back and smile as I watch individuals who were once timid students and now see them as strong, confident professionals,” he says.