In addition to celebrating his one-year anniversary of teaching at the Neag School of Education, Dr. Ron Beghetto, associate professor of educational psychology, has yet another milestone to celebrate. This year, Beghetto received the 2015 Alpha Lambda Delta (ALD) Faculty of the Year Award after spending just one year teaching in the Neag School, an incredible achievement for any faculty member who works at an institution as large as UConn.
Beghetto is an internationally recognized expert on creativity in educational settings. Prior to joining the faculty at UConn, Beghetto served as the College of Education’s associate dean for academic affairs and associate professor of education studies at the University of Oregon. Although he only recently began his teaching career at UConn, he says that joining the UConn community was an easy transition.
“I’ve quickly adjusted to becoming a Husky. I attribute this quick adjustment to all the wonderful people and possibilities here at UConn,” Beghetto says. “UConn’s scholarly community is vibrant, and the students are outstanding, and all the opportunites to collaborate with colleagues in the Neag School and across campus are ever-present.”
“UConn’s scholarly community is vibrant, the students are outstanding, and all the opportunities to collaborate with colleagues in the Neag School and across campus are ever-present.”
—Assistant Professor Ronald Beghetto
A Role Model to His Students
Perhaps the most meaningful part of the award is that the entire process, from nomination to selection, is completely run by UConn students.
Alpha Lambda Delta is a national honor society that enlists freshman college students who have shown academic excellence throughout their first semester. The chapter encourages members to nominate a faculty member that has inspired them and impacted their experience at UConn. The executive board, made up of 11 members, reviews each submission. This year, there were 10 nominations for UConn professors with a wide range of teaching specialties, from accounting to thermodynamics.
“Our new members are all freshmen at UConn, so we believe this inspires and encourages them for the future at the school and shows them that there are faculty members available to lead and advise them in their career here at UConn,” says Nicole Davoren, vice president of UConn’s ALD chapter.
“As a future teacher, I could not have asked for a better role model.” Holly Cunningham, a sixth-semester elementary major in the Neag School, who nominated Beghetto for the award.
“I actually learned rather than memorized material, and he taught in such a creative way that come time to take the exam … the material was ingrained in my brain,” Cunningham says. “He made each class entertaining and has a way of keeping students alert and engaged.”
Beghetto says he designs his courses to help students take charge of their own learning and develop their capacity to take on complex and ill-defined educational problems. Students are expected to put their learning to work in developing new ways of thinking when educational challenges arise.
“As a future teacher, I could not have asked for a better role model.”
—Holly Cunningham, sixth-semester elementary
major and Beghetto’s nominator
“Learning about teaching is a special form of learning. You can only learn so much from reading about instructional theories, hearing professors lecture about principles of learning, or observing skilled teachers,” Beghetto says. “Learning about teaching is, in large part, ‘embodied learning.’”
Beghetto translates that embodied learning into a series of classroom simulations called “mini-teaches,” which provide students with a realistic “stress test” for testing out the principles, concepts, and techniques they have learned and developed in the class. In Cunningham’s nomination letter, she mentions that the mini-teaches “pushed the class to step outside of our comfort zones and think on our feet.”
Through Beghetto’s teachings and lectures, students come to understand that working in the field of education is not something that can be taught simply through PowerPoint slides, textbooks, and exams; no two days are the same, and even the most well-behaved child can become difficult. Beghetto says he strives to prepare his students to learn how to deal with the unexpected and how to better navigate the gap between the “lesson-as-planned” and the “lesson-as-lived.”
“These surprising moments represent defining moments in the development of one’s teaching identity. They are the moments when you have no idea of what to do next or when you made an instructional decision that you wish you could take back,” he says.
Beghetto’s dedication to ensuring that each student understands the concepts at hand is made evident in his lectures. Beghetto even went so far as to show home movies of his own daughter to teach his class about certain developmental concepts.
“Dr. Beghetto’s classes are the closest thing there is to a ‘how-to guide’ to teaching,” Cunningham says.
As a professor who spends a majority of his time doing research on creativity in educational settings, he also integrates a lot of his own findings and insights from current research projects.
“When the students’ insights and experiences combine with insights and principles drawn from formal research and professional practice, my teaching becomes an opportunity for my students and me to learn from – and with – each other,” Beghetto says.
Dr. Del Siegle, head of the Neag School’s Department of Educational Psychology, notes that Beghetto’s success as a teacher emanates from his passion for excellence and his deep understanding of how individuals learn.
“Ron actively and purposefully infuses his research into his teaching and capitalizes on students’ past experiences to help them reflect on what they believe and how that relates to the content he is covering,” Siegle says. “He is able to make learning fun by making the content relevant and allowing his students to actively engage in the learning process.”
While Beghetto has clearly made an incredible impact on his students in the short amount of time he has been at Neag, the feeling is mutual.
“I share this award with all my students, as I know I have learned as much from them as they have learned from me,” he says.