By Steven Krolak
(NEW ALBANY, Ind.)–Bernadette Jessie, associate professor of criminal justice and criminology, is the recipient of the inaugural Faculty Innovation Award given by the IU Southeast Institute for Learning and Teaching Excellence (ILTE).
The ILTE Advisory Board selected Jessie from among a total of eight nominated colleagues, each working to shake up the way courses are taught.
A certificate and prize were presented to Jessie by Chancellor Dr. Ray Wallace.
To acquaint the campus community and the public with the nominees and their innovations, a series of web profiles explored the pedagogical and personal inspirations that led to these new and dynamic approaches to instruction.
“I truly am honored that my peers and people I admire selected me for this award, especially given all the outstanding work done by others here on campus,” Jessie said. “An award like this lets the faculty know that our efforts matter.”
Jessie’s contribution to classroom innovation involves the elaborate and meticulous staging of crime scenes using real locations such as residences and live actors—often students—as victims. Like the other nominees, Jessie replaces the traditional definition of “classroom” with a learning environment that is interactive, demanding and open-ended.
The criteria for the award included consistency with best practices in teaching, the potential for cross-disciplinary adaptation, evidence of student impact, originality and the appropriate or novel adaptation of a pedagogical approach.
According to Carrie Jo Coaplen, ILTE instructional designer and technology specialist, Jessie’s innovation stood out for its cross-disciplinary adaptation, evidence of student impact and originality.
For the staff of ILTE, including Director Dr. Robin Morgan, Coaplen and David Rainbolt, technology coordinator, innovation is not valued for its own sake, but for its role in enhancing student learning. The so-called “active learning” approaches employed by the nominees, which provide more room for individual responsibility and initiative, have been shown to help students form a deeper connection with subject matter across the disciplines, and this connection translates into a higher likelihood of degree attainment.
“When students are learning, they are more likely to complete their courses, stay in school, and graduate,” Coaplen said.
According to Coaplen, by creating the annual award, ILTE has launched a tradition that goes beyond the recognition of one instructor’s achievement to celebrate and promote a broader academic culture of innovation across campus.
Through the monthly web profiles, the award publicly shares the innovation of each faculty candidate—itself an innovation over other teaching awards that only honor the “winner.” In this paradigm, the award recognizes the time and energy that all instructors invest in revising teaching methods and creating engaging and challenging approaches. In essence, all of the instructors who have found unconventional means to inspiring their students to learn are winners.
For Jessie, this recognition is important for both faculty and students.
“It lets faculty know that creativity and originality are valued, and it recognizes that the individual needs and learning styles of our student population are changing, and as such, our methods of teaching need to be equally dynamic,” Jessie said. “To be inclusive and to reach the broadest range of students, we must be willing to adapt and innovate.”
The innovation pays off in obvious ways. For Jessie, the crime scene is an activity that allows students to synthesize in practice all that they have learned on a theoretical level about crime scene investigation, evidence collection, victimology, criminal motivation and other aspects of criminology into an “aha!” moment of understanding, in which they come to appreciate how and why each step in the process is important and necessary. They learn by doing.
As to the award itself, Jessie received a teacher’s red apple, but one with a difference. The apple is actually a Rubik’s cube puzzle suspended inside a glass dome. Like the competition itself, the prize reflects the uniqueness of innovative teaching approaches, and the spirit of playfulness that always seems to animate the search for new methods.
In presenting this year’s award to Jessie, Chancellor Wallace paid tribute to the spirit of innovation at the heart of all academic endeavor, and the role it plays in the life of IU Southeast.
“Innovation is the lifeblood of an aware and questioning educator,” Wallace said. “Effective teachers do not ‘settle’ on one methodology or technique, but explore new possibilities to reach their students. Innovation reinvigorates our community of proactive teacher-scholars.”
Homepage photo courtesy of Carrie Jo Coaplen.