UCF professors use innovative, unusual teaching methods
There are those individuals who push the limits and find novel ways of doing things, such as teaching a college course. Some UCF professors routinely challenge the status quo in their classrooms and take teaching to a whole new level via talk-show style lectures, hypnosis and even dancing as a way of starting a class.
One such individual, Linda Howe, a professor in the UCF College of Nursing since January 2012, was recently inducted into the National League for Nursing due to a creative teaching method she developed to teach pharmacology. The method, called “the village,” utilizes a series of case studies that students delve into and has been adopted by more than 70 schools across the nation.
Howe also structures one of her courses in what she calls “the flipped classroom.” This format involves putting the content online and applying the content in class via group discussions, case studies, team-building exercises and mini in-class projects. Her teaching style is primarily driven by allowing students to learn through self-discovery and application because she believes students retain knowledge more effectively when they discover it themselves rather than when they are fed the knowledge verbally, or from PowerPoints.
“When I was a student, I hated just hearing [teachers] droning on and on and on, so I wanted to make it more interesting for the students. Whenever I go to a conference and someone stands up there and reads the slides to me, it’s like, ‘Oh my God, death by PowerPoint.’ I just don’t want my students to feel that way,” Howe said.
Sybil St. Claire, a UCF theatre professor for 12 years, shares the same aversion to traditional lectures, and believes that dancing is the best way to start class. St. Claire approaches instruction in a manner that heavily emphasizes communal bonding, social interaction, community building and kinesthetic learning.
“I believe we’re all kinesthetic learners, and I try to teach in that. I mean, that’s basic learning theory. We remember about 10 to 20 percent of what we hear, and we remember like 80 to 90 percent of what we do,” St. Claire said.
One of the classes St. Claire teaches is Theatre for Social Change, which teaches students to use theatre to heal communities that have experienced genocide, civil war or similar traumatic experiences.
“She doesn’t utilize traditional methods of assessment whatsoever. The only normal assignments we do are writing papers about our growth in the class. Otherwise, it is entirely unique,” said Stephanie Elfont, a senior majoring in theatre studies who took the class last year.
St. Claire said the nature of her classes is inherently different from other academic subjects, but believes her own teaching style deviates from the norm from other acting classes as well. She is convinced that it is best to incorporate kinesthetic learning and drama into teaching.
“I think most of us get through the school system in spite of it, not because of it,” St. Claire said. “We really do learn better by doing, not by sitting down, shutting up, absorbing facts and then regurgitating them back onto a piece of paper. And I’m not slamming them — you know, a lot of people do it that way because they have to.
“When I’m teaching a large theatre history class, I have to do that. I have to be a talking head; I have to give tests; I have to have papers and, you know, more conventional stuff.”
Kenneth Vehec, a professional sport psychologist and a psychology professor who has been teaching at UCF for almost 17 years, also tends to ignore the more conventional methods of teaching, even shunning the omnipresent PowerPoints.
Angelina Leary, a freshman psychology major enrolled in his Developmental Psychology class this semester, said Vehec once set up a mini social experiment wherein he had everyone bring their test results from the Myers-Briggs personality test and then divided the class into extroverts and introverts. He then assigned each group a project and compared how much work each group achieved in a set amount of time.
One of Vehec’s former teaching assistants, William Butler, a UCF alumnus who majored in psychology, said that Vehec even hypnotized a class a few times to demonstrate altered states of consciousness.
Vehec teaches by provoking heated discussions among the students and urging them to think about why they believe what they believe. Vehec said he often defends the contrarian point during discussions, despite his own beliefs on any particular issue, to get students engaged in critical thinking.
He added that psychological studies suggest our most vivid, lasting memories are those that are imbued with emotion.
Vehec said in his past 17 years of instruction, his teaching tactics have only garnered one official complaint. When asked if he admitted his teaching style was a bit unorthodox, Vehec disagreed.
“I don’t see it as unorthodox; I see it as extremely effective, but it’s definitely not the norm of what you would find on a college campus,” Vehec said. “There are a number of us on this campus that teach the way we do, which is educationally based.
“We want to make sure that, above all else, the subject matter of what we’re teaching gets absorbed, and gets absorbed and remembered, not just for the test, or for the semester ... especially what I teach; I want to make sure it gets used for the rest of their life.”
Gabby Baquero is a Contributing Writer for the Central Florida Future.