Veterinary professor goes back to school to learn how to make school better for students
“I’m a college professor who hates school,” said Nappier, clinical associate professor in small animal clinical sciences at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine.
His solution: going back to school.
Nappier recently completed a master’s degree in educational psychology at Virginia Tech. The 3 1/2 years of coursework brought him in contact with educators on a variety of tracks very different from his own, ranging from kindergarten teachers to high school administrators to university professors in other disciplines. The master’s degree enabled him to complete an early career faculty certificate from the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning.
It also brought him to a new realization.
“It turns out, I’ve learned that I don’t hate school. I hate bad school. And unfortunately, there’s too much bad school out there.”
Nappier said the master’s program has given him “the language and the background” to be more organized and intentional with how he approaches instruction of veterinary students.
“We have this sort of weird conundrum in universities, with all of these people who are immensely, immensely smart and deep in their field but have no training on how to teach," Nappier said. “This is the quandary of higher education, immensely educated people, almost universally who have no education in education.”
Nappier, whose combination of classroom teaching and clinical work in the Veterinary Teaching Hospital brings him into contact with students “from day one of their vet school career all the way through the day before graduation,” said he now has better science behind his teaching methods on top of years of study and practice in veterinary medicine and experience in its instruction.
“So I already had some ideas,” Nappier said. “I think most people who teach do have ideas that ‘I feel like this is good, or I feel like this thing that I did worked, or didn't work.’ And I have some feelings about those sorts of things. But that's all they are, feelings. And I didn’t know how to talk about the reasons why this did work, or this didn't work, or this should work, or this shouldn't have worked.
“So now, I’m going to have the sort of language of education that I can talk about how something worked because it aligns with these known theories of how we learn.”
Nappier said he has already applied his new insights to the classroom, particularly his veterinary dentistry course.
Moving beyond what Nappier sees as over-dependence on multiple choice tests in much of modern education, 25 percent of a student’s grade is based on class participation, mostly presenting and discussing case studies, while 50 percent is based on progressive mastery of dentistry skills. The remaining 25 percent is from the final exam.
“By the time they get to the final exam, they've already passed the class,” Nappier said. “I say, look, the final exam is your final learning on this. I want you to review the material, just go over it once, set it down, leave it, don't sit there and do the cramming thing and do an all-nighter.
“I want you to spend that time after the exam that you didn't spend cramming for this, because the idea of the exam was to tell you, what did you understand about this subject that I wanted you to? Or, more importantly, what did you not understand? So want you to take that time afterward, and actually go back and learn what the final exam told you that you needed to learn.”
Nappier also applies what he has learned serving on the Peer Review of Teaching Committee in the veterinary college and also the curriculum review working group for third-year and fourth-year students as well as in various education and veterinary conferences.
Time is often the biggest challenge for veterinary faculty learning to be better educators, Nappier said, as they may spend several hours a day in clinical care then barely have time to stay current on journals in their field of expertise, let alone take on material focused on improving instruction capability.
He said there has been some discussion about developing a veterinary educators track for students within the college to go alongside the clinical and research tracks already available.
“We’re sort of working on that recognition that there is a space for education, in veterinary education, which is kind of like what you think it should be, but it's not always that way,” Nappier said. “The climate here is actually very favorable toward education and educators and people who want to do that.”