The Greatest Show on Earth is Education


CSM’s Ronda Jacobs Recognized for Excellence

Learning is no longer about rote memorization of facts and figures. Today’s students are tuning in to what others have tuned out thanks to professors and instructors such as Ronda Jacobs, the most recent recipient of the College of Southern Maryland’s Faculty Excellence Award which honors part-time faculty. Such instructors are utilizing their creativity and technology to engage students’ different modes of learning.

An adjunct instructor since 2002, Jacobs also works as a curriculum development coordinator/instructional designer and has helped the college develop its robotics and Kid’s College offerings. She holds a master’s in online instruction for adult learners from the University of Phoenix and a bachelor’s from the University of Maryland.

Learning is a life-long pursuit for Jacobs and she is constantly attending seminars and courses to increase her technology skills so she can help her students stay on the cutting edge of their fields.

“We utilize a broad range of technology. While smart podiums have built -in cameras and projectors you still need to teach the students how to use microscopes and slides—the basics—so they understand that what they are seeing on the projector screen or computer monitor (at home online or via the classroom) is the same as what they would see using a real microscope,” said Jacobs, who is constantly looking for creative ways to engage her classes. “When you make learning entertaining you keep the students’ attention and encourage them to take ownership of their learning, which is important because they are only going to get out of any class, lecture etc. what they put into it,” she said.

Creativity takes lots of forms in Jacobs’ classes, whether it is a Sherlock Holmes scavenger hunt midterm or earning rewards for a daily quiz—even mundane biology topics such as classification can become more interesting if it’s classifying Pokémon.

“We not only talk about the history of classification but also the historical problems with the system of classifying objects and entities. What does living mean and how do you classify it? Is a virus alive? It has characteristics of both living organisms and non-living objects. Is a donkey a species even though it can’t reproduce, is sterile? Classifying real animals isn’t much of a challenge since students can look up a frog, etc. but you can’t look up a Pokémon. So I send students to an online Pokédex to pick a Pokémon. Does it have lungs, what is its shape, how are you going to classify it? You have to post your classification and rationale for the class to respond to, so you have to really think and be willing to back up your answer,” said Jacobs, who encourages her students to think critically and to challenge the status quo.

“Don’t just accept facts. If you disagree with me or another student’s Pokémon classification, etc. tell me why and back it up. Science changes because our understanding of it changes. It is not always black and white. As you know more, you can ask more critical questions. Learn to challenge an answer or question, but challenge it in a respectful way. There are no points rewarded in life for saying you agree or disagree, you have to provide the proof. It’s hard for new students to do this; they are afraid of questioning an instructor or what they have always thought as accurate. Once they get used to it though, students learn from each other and they are not just counting on the teacher to tell them what is true. They are building off of each other’s experience and knowledge,” she said.

Jacobs sees the same creative and interactive learning approaches working even in her Kid’s College students. “The robotics courses fill up quickly and one of the things I see each semester is how willing these kids are to think outside the box. Adults would look at the same tasks and try to come up with ways to go around the obstacle on the course but the kids don’t limit themselves. They talk to one another and will come up with ways to push the object out of the way or go over it with their vehicles. It is really a joy to see,” she said.

Jacobs is currently excited about an American Sign Language course she is teaching for homeschoolers. “I’ve been signing for the last 15 years because I have a slight hearing loss and I wanted to see if there was an interest. The course is context-based just like any other foreign language, but the order really matters when you are eliminating all the little filler words. We have a class of four, two boys and two girls, and it has been nice because the kids can relate and accept a new language easier than adults who have a hard time accepting anything that doesn’t follow a strict order. The kids are actively playing off of each other and what they are learning, even converting slang into sign, which we have had to put some limits on since one of the parent’s knows some ‘colorful’ sign language,” Jacobs said with a laugh.

More than 20 CSM faculty members have been recognized by their peers since 1989 for making outstanding contributions to teaching, curriculum and professional development with the college and the community at-large. “This award is wonderful. You put so much into these courses every semester and people don’t really see the work involved, so it is nice to be recognized for doing this work and showing other teachers how you apply the information that is important to you. When you make education entertaining you keep the student’s attention and make them want to be a part of learning,” said Jacobs.

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