Our May Teaching Excellence Spotlight awardee is Dr. Becky Knight, adjunct professor in the Rehabilitation and Health Services Department with the College of Health and Public Services. Dr. Knight specializes in teaching courses in gerontology for majors and non-majors alike; including such courses as AGER 2250: Images of Aging in Film and Literature and AGER 4750: Sexuality and Aging. In order to make such topics accessible to college students, Dr. Knight has students look to their own lives to illustrate theory, concepts, and research and uses a team-based learning approach to build an interactive learning environment.
“My teaching skills continue to improve when I am being a better listener to what individual students need to succeed in the classroom.”
How long have you been teaching?
Before transitioning back to academia, I was in the Healthcare Administration field for over 30 years with many opportunities to teach and present in public forums, but I began my academic teaching career here as a Teaching Fellow in Fall of 2011. I also taught at two other universities, while receiving my Ph.D. degree, to receive more exposure to different types of teaching processes.
What classes have you taught/do you teach at UNT?
I teach in our Masters of Health Services Administration degree and have taught Housing for the Elderly: Planning, Public Policy and Research, Assisted Living Care, and Marketing Health Services so far.
I have also taught and still currently teach many of the undergrad Applied Gerontology courses for the AGER Minor and AGER Certification. These courses include; Family in Later Life, Images of Aging in Film and Literature, Sociology of Aging, Global Aging, Minority Aging, Social Context of Aging and Sociology of Aging.
How have you worked on developing your teaching skills?
Well, SPOT evaluations don’t lie, so taking to heart what the students say is a big first step. The students are our audience so we must be relatable and engaging or the subject matter becomes inconsequential. Another step is making sure I do my best to understand where my students are coming from so I know how to reach each of them.
I have found that my teaching skills improve if I am careful to study my students and ask them how I can help them learn as individuals. Do they need more auditory explanation? Do they need more kinetic sessions? Do they need more student-to-student time because it is explained better that way? My teaching skills continue to improve when I am being a better listener to what individual students need to succeed in the classroom.
Did you ever take formal classes or trainings on teaching in graduate school? What about later on in your teaching?
In graduate school, I didn’t have a mentor to help me learn to teach, so the CLEAR office became my guide. Lauri Morrow has been the most patient person on earth over the years as she walked me through every question I have had since 2011. Jenna Ledford and her team have also taught me so much through many trainings like the Course Design Institute (CDI) and the Teaching Resources for Engaged Educators (TREE). Dr. Jeanne Tunks has instructed and shaped my teaching style through the Signature Assignment Institute (SAI) and the Committee for Core Communal Scoring. Finally, Dr. Ron Carriveau has drilled into me all about assessing student learning through course design and outcomes over many sack lunch seminars. These wonderful instructors, along with other faculty webinars and journal articles, continue to help me sharpen my pedagogical expertise.
What are some of the biggest challenges you have faced teaching, and how did you overcome them?
When I first began teaching as an adjunct, it was quite the challenge to never know what courses I would be teaching until sometimes days before the class started. It made for quite the exciting semesters as I learned to speed read, be very creative in the assignments that needed to be updated quickly, and stay one or two weeks ahead of the students. Being thrown in was the best way to learn!
My current challenge is to continue to increase individual student engagement in my Core courses. Like other professors, it is quite the endeavor to teach subject matter to students that are only taking the class to meet a degree requirement. Therefore, keeping those large student populations engaged through “human statistics” challenges, teamwork projects, personal and social responsibility role play, and other interactive events during class time has been well accepted by the students and has increased their scoring outcome averages.
How would you describe your approach to teaching?
With three children of my own and my last graduating from college this month, I am still in the center of daily college life as a mom and can understand first-hand what most students need from me – which is respect, support, and understanding. While it is also important that they leave my classroom with subject matter education, it is equally important to me that I have increased their life skills of self-confidence, time management, critical thinking, teamwork, social and personal responsibility, and other tools needed to succeed out in the world.
What resources do you find most helpful to your teaching practice?
Most definitely, the CLEAR Department and the Office of Faculty Success. Both provide seminars, workshops, webinars, individualized trainings, and emotional support that we all need. We couldn’t do it without them both.