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Past Winners of the Teacher of the Week

Rachel Diana

   

The Center for Instructional Development and Educational Research (CIDER) recognizes Rachel Diana, assistant professor of Psychology, for teaching both course content and learning skills with an emphasis on active student engagement, variable learning contexts, and scientific thinking.

Dr. Diana teaches both undergraduate classes (60 students, PSYC 2064 Nervous Systems & Behavior) and graduate classes (15 students, PSYC 5344 Cognitive Psychology). Nervous Systems & Behavior provides an introduction to the concepts of cognitive neuroscience and makes connections between chemistry, biology, and psychology. It is often taken by freshman or sophomores who are learning for the first time that human behavior is driven by biological forces. It is also popular with seniors as an elective and Dr. Diana goal is to help those students crystallize their knowledge into big-picture concepts that will stick with them for years. Cognitive Psychology is a very interactive class in which the students read many empirical articles as well as review papers and then discuss them as a group. Dr. Diana helps the graduate students become conversant with cognitive psychology as a discipline but also find ways that the research is relevant to their own areas of study.

Dr. Diana’s own research program investigates long-term memory and is a strong influence on her teaching style and goals. As she is planning a class session, she thinks about students’ cognitive reserve and pre-plan points at which they might need a reminder to keep actively engaging or a change of pace or a question to ponder. Dr. Diana teaches students the metacognitive skills that will enable them to get the most out of their classes. She presents key concepts from different perspectives in order to help the students build flexible knowledge that can be applied to new contexts.

Dr. Diana asks students to complete an end-of-semester “synthesis” assignment in which they demonstrate whether they have learned to think like a scientist. She gives them two lectures of material on memory function, including patient case studies and neurobiological findings, and ask them to integrate that information in order to form new hypotheses about memory function. They are graded based on their ability to clearly describe the existing findings and to creatively synthesize those findings into a specific, novel, and testable hypothesis. In her opinion, this is a sophisticated scientific skill that will serve them well in their other courses, future career, and many areas of life. As one student stated, “You have taught me not the subject of Nervous System biology, but I also feel you have taught How to be a good student 101. I have learned how to listen in class, how to take notes, how to study in classes.”

Dr. Diana received a College of Science Certificate of Teaching Excellence in 2015, having taught her first class in Fall 2011. She also received a Design and Develop Award from TLOS (technology-enhanced Learning and Online Strategies) and LED (Learning Experience Design) to create an online version of my Nervous Systems & Behavior in Spring 2017.

Homepage: http://www.psyc.vt.edu/users/rdiana





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