Each year, one ACU faculty member is honored as Teacher of the Year. This year’s honoree is COBA’s own Dr. Ryan Jessup, assistant professor of marketing. Jessup is a highly respected faculty member who inspired the following comments from his students:
- “He is a great teacher who cares so much about his students and wants them to succeed in all things.”
- “He’s the literal best #datamining.”
- “He truly wants to find ways to engage students in personal relationships and in class. It is not only about teaching content, but finding ways to apply the content in current ways to be able to understand and apply it in the future.”
Dr. Robert Rhodes, ACU Provost, said, “Ryan is one of the most dedicated faculty I have seen not only to his work but to his students as well. He’s very passionate about what he does and who he engages with.”
We asked Dr. Jessup a few questions about who and what inspires his teaching.
Who was your inspiration for teaching?
My mother was a wonderful, hardworking educator as a first grade teacher at a public school that served low income students. I think that I learned from her how hard it is teach and how hard it is to care about students. She did both and she did both extremely well. One thing I learned from observing and conversing with her was that when someone is poor and struggling to eke out an existence, education often takes a backseat to survival. I know that my mother labored long hours and she did it, not to receive recognition, but because it was the right thing to do. I thank God for my mom who set such a wonderful example in all facets of life, including her efforts to be an effective teacher even when it would be so much easier to take a shortcut.
What do you love most about teaching?
Undergraduates are special. They are bursting with potential, sort of like those little toy cars that you pull back to wind up – when you let go you never know where they’ll end up. Just like those toy cars, undergrads need to be carefully “aimed” so that they fulfill their potential while still maintaining integrity. It is our job to help aim the students, a responsibility I do not take lightly. It can be challenging and humbling because I make my share of mistakes, often causing me to ask “who am I to ‘aim’ these students when I am so filled with error?”
What is your teaching philosophy and what do you hope students learn from your classes?
It pleases me when an individual begins to understand and grasp concepts, and I dedicate myself to producing such attainment in my teaching. Similarly, I desire that attentive and hardworking students complete my courses with well-founded confidence in their course-related abilities as they apply them to the real world.
Substance not hype
I recently had a conversation with a faculty member in my department in which we were discussing a corporation, and I stated “they are all hype, and I don’t like it.” The faculty member replied “well, it is a good thing you do not teach marketing classes, then”, using sarcasm to humorously imply that marketing is mostly hype. Initially befuddled by his comment, I replied “But I do not teach marketing from that perspective – I want students to learn to sell and market their products with substance and honesty, not hype.” Since coming to ACU to teach marketing this has been one of my touchstone principles: marketing can be based on substance and is not merely an academic synonym for hype. So, I have striven to teach students that they should not rely on hype as their preferred tool of persuasion.
Natural consequences of behavior meets meta-learning
I love sports. However, my first semester as an undergraduate at ACU, I (and my teammates) forfeited every intramural sport in which we competed: flag football, soccer, and ping pong. I never did it again, but why did I do it the first semester? In retrospect, I suspect that it was because my parents always insured that I was at games, thus I had not yet learned personal responsibility for showing up on time. However, the natural consequences of my behavior – not planning sufficiently well and thereby forfeiting each competition – soon taught me to adapt. Similarly for today’s college students in the classroom: many of them need to learn how to learn, whether by learning to not be distracted by devices or learning to show up to class. This meta-learning is essential for growing up. I want them to learn to learn. If someone always correctly decides for them during college then they will be forced to learn to decide correctly in the real-world where the safety net is far less secure. So, I often allow students to experience the natural consequences of their decisions in order to encourage this meta-learning. I tell them on the first day of class that (1) college is an opportunity to learn that they must seize and (2) it is a safe place to fail — but they should always try! If they fail or do poorly in my class, I don’t “fire” them; I’ll even give them another chance to learn, even though it may take two or more semesters!
Emphasize connections with what they already know
Learning can be intimidating. When a student encounters a challenging course, led by a teacher with high expectations, it can even feel overwhelming. One component of my philosophy of teaching is to first remind students what they already know in order to induce connections with the new things they are learning. The reasoning underlying this is the associative network model of memory (Wickelgren, 1981). According to this theory, our memories are stored using a distributed network of neurons and when one element is activated (e.g., McDonald’s), closely connected nodes are activated as well (Big Mac, Hamburglar, fries, kids, fast food, etc.). I try to first connect into their existing associative network and then build onto it the new information and ways of thinking which I am trying to convey.
Allow research experience to enhance my teaching
Lastly, I have striven to allow my research experience to improve my teaching. I think that conducting research is a true asset to teaching because it provides real experiences in interpreting and critiquing information that are hard to obtain if one has never been out on the research frontier. For example, I try to convey a healthy skepticism of data and research findings in every class I teach. I often encourage students to contemplate the potential flaws in the studies we examine. I try to rarely teach things as fact, but, rather that these are research findings or this is a theory about human behavior. I think I am benefited in that I teach research classes, yet even the field of education (i.e., teaching) strives to train teachers to use research-based strategies, indicating a shared recognition of the value that research lends to teaching.
Congratulations to Dr. Ryan Jessup on being named ACU’s 2017 Teacher of the Year!