Cultivating ideas in the classroom.
"I think the secret to my technique is variety," says anthropology Professor Pam Moro. "If a student can predict how a class is going to unfold, because the instructor always follows the same formula, then that's not good. You need a certain amount of variety and unpredictability to keep them looking forward to class."
Moro combats predictability in her classes by making discussion the central vehicle of learning. Everyone shares their opinion in Moro's classes - including Moro herself. "I'll share my personal ideas so they know that I'm someone who has values. I may have more knowledge and can contextualize some intellectual debates better than they can, but I'm not always the authority with the right answer. The important thing is not our particular views on an issue, but rather, the fact that we have them."
All of that close, personal contact with students greatly appeals to Moro because she gets to play a unique role in their cognitive and critical development. "Every year I see a student and I think, 'Oh wow, that's someone that I knew as a freshman and look at them now. They know how to work. They're insightful. They're critical. They're creative. Their writing has improved and I can see that.' I know that wouldn't happen, or would rarely happen, at a larger institution."
Those critical qualities become particularly apparent in students who participate in study abroad experiences. "It's such an incredible growing up experience," says Moro, recalling how her own travels to Southeast Asia to study Thai music traditions have shaped her world perspective. "I can't look at a day of life here without also remembering how it's different in some other places. When I see our students embarking on that journey, it's important to me and it makes me feel closer to them."
Another special advantage Willamette offers students is the chance to really get to know and interact with all of the peers in their field. "By the time they're in the more advanced anthropology classes, they know each other and they've had other classes together. They're constantly taking ideas and inspiration from one class to the other. They're a peer group who goes through the learning process together, and that's just great from the instructor's side."
But probably the biggest reason why Willamette students get along so well with their classmates, notes Moro, is they see professors engaging in productive, collegial relationships with their colleagues. "I think the faculty here work really well together, and we model that professionalism constantly for our students."
That is a pattern Moro does not mind following.