November 1, 2004
Professor inspires colleagues, students with love of teaching
Great teaching is a passion for Rosemary Papa, and that passion extends beyond her classroom role as a professor in the educational leadership and policy studies department. It drives her efforts to help fellow faculty members become better teachers through the Center for Teaching and Learning.
It’s also part of the reason she was given this year’s
Outstanding Teacher Award from the College of Education.
“I love to teach and I love helping faculty come up with new ways of approaching students,” Papa says.
Always conscious of the special challenges of teaching adult learners, Papa looks for ways faculty members can inspire. “We want to encourage the very best of artful, creative teaching that has the outcome of inspiring others,” she says. To Papa, a good teacher is one who is more than an expert in the subject matter. And that means having more than one approach.
“I use the example of a toolkit. You need a variety of tools because if you only have a hammer, you’re not able to tackle anything beyond a nail,” she says. “In the same way, you need to have a number of options to reach students and optimize their learning experience. Individuals need to identify a toolkit that fits their talents.”
“There are different types of learners—visual, aural, kinesthetic and tactile. Most professors are comfortable teaching to two of these. Every group in front of us is different and contains learners from the four categories.”
Students in lower-division classes are different than those in upper-division classes, day students are different than evening students and student who are non-majors are different than students majoring in the discipline, she says. But reaching students requires more than just awareness, Papa says. Certain learners are not as likely to work well with certain approaches and the professor needs to understand that. Papa uses a mix of approaches that at some point will connect with each of them.
The challenge is how to best use these multiple strategies because the more strategies teachers use, the more likely they are to become inspiring teachers, she says.
“It is often said that we teach as we were taught. More accurately,” Papa says, “is that we teach the way we learn best. Reflecting on our learning style will help us to identify strategies that encompass other learning styles.”
At the Center for Teaching and Learning, Papa and her colleagues use a number of ways to help faculty members pump up their teaching, including faculty-to-faculty mentoring, technology training and new faculty orientation workshops.
Papa says that every year is different because of the influx of new faculty. The mentoring process benefits both sides—the mentors encourage the faculty members to be more playful and creative in the classroom and the mentors gain exposure to different types of classrooms.
In fact, Papa encourages faculty members to drop by her classes, such as the graduate course in ethical decision-making she is teaching this fall. Any faculty member who has an interest can observe. Faculty may then come back and talk to her about techniques.
One of the things she shares is how hard it is to hold interesting discussions in a rectangular room. “Certain students are always in front. Others are always in back. So you can guess who will answer the most questions.” She recommends rearranging the classroom periodically. When a class runs an hour and 15 minutes, after 20 minutes it’s time to do some sort of group, she says. Walk around. Raise questions. Ask students to come to the board.
She got perspective of a truly challenging classroom environment over the summer on a visit to West Africa. A quirky design for the classrooms resulted in classes that ranged anywhere from 25 to 750 students in a class. “Clearly different strategies are needed for dealing with this kind of large vs. small. With 750 in a class, breaking into small groups is a must.”
She is also working with seven universities in Cote D’Ivoire on faculty development related to teaching strategies and technology. So far she’s been able to advise on technology improvements they could make to help student follow lectures.
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