4/25/16 ASHLAND, Ohio – Ashland University Professor of History Dr. John Moser is the recipient of AU’s 2016 Taylor Excellence in Teaching Award. AU Provost Dr. Eun-Woo Chang presented the award at AU’s Academic Honors Convocation on Sunday, April 24, in the Jack and Deb Miller Chapel.
The award, first presented in 1997, was endowed by former Jeromesville residents the late Edward and Louaine Taylor as a way of supporting high quality teaching at Ashland University.
Dr. Chang praised the selection of Moser as the 2016 Taylor Teaching Award recipient, noting that he is highly deserving of this recognition.
“I am pleased to see Dr. Moser earn this well-deserved recognition for his teaching excellence. He clearly exhibits passion and love for teaching. His students praise his enthusiasm in the classroom, especially as it relates to the ‘Reacting to the Past’ role-playing game in which students are assigned roles and recreate debates in particular historical events. His innovative teaching style contributes a great deal to our students.” Chang said.
Following the award presentation, Moser spoke about higher education and his philosophy surrounding the teaching of students in an address titled “The Power of Play.”
Moser began by expressing how honored he felt to be receiving this award. He thanked both the Taylor Teaching Award committee for selecting him and the Taylor family for supporting teaching.
“It has become fashionable these days to speak of a ‘crisis’ in higher education. College is becoming increasingly expensive, while books with titles such as Academically Adrift purport to show that graduating seniors possess few skills in reading, writing and math that they did not have coming into the academy,” he said. “Naturally, this has led to questions of whether a college degree is truly worth the cost. It has led some students to pursue degrees of questionable value from shady institutions. It has led others to ignore higher education altogether.”
Moser said faculty have long had a ready-made response to suggestions like this—if college does not make students better, if it fails to give them anything more than a credential, then it is their own fault.
“We are providing them with all the materials they need to become educated and useful citizens; why should we be held responsible if they fail to take advantage of what we have to offer? The problem is, in short, that students are lazy,” he said.
Moser said he has known faculty members who, laboring under this belief, have made a conscious decision only to teach to the best students—the sort of students who are being honored today.
“But the obvious problem with teaching only to the best is that an institution like Ashland desperately needs the tuition dollars of many students who are not the best,” he said. “The result is a sort of tacit agreement between faculty and this sort of student—as long as they show up and put even a modicum of effort they’ll be allowed to skate by with a C, or even a B. Trying to pull more out of them is sometimes regarded as a waste of time because, it is said, they are lazy.
“But I want to tell you today that I have encountered very few students who are truly lazy,” he noted. “Consider, for example, the time and effort that the average student invests in extracurricular activities—sports, clubs, their fraternities and sororities, even video games.”
Moser said many wonder why students don’t devote the same kind of energy to their courses as they do to these other things, which some people tend to regard as far less important? “I’m pretty sure that if you asked them, they’d answer something like this: ‘Because these things are fun’,” he said.
Moser then took a closer look at the term, fun.
“It seems to me that all of these extracurriculars—these ‘fun’ activities—tend to have something in common. They all allow students to enter what the American historian Mark Carnes calls ‘subversive play areas’,” he said. “They allow them to take on alternative personae, to follow a set of rules that run counter to those of the ordinary world. They offer a combination of teamwork and competition.”
Moser then asked why these same elements can’t be offered in the classroom.
“Why can’t we make our courses less like work and more like play? Why can’t we, instead of leading a discussion of Plato’s Republic, ask the students to imagine that they are Athenians in the 5th century BC, putting Socrates on trial? Why can’t we skip the lecture on natural selection, and instead have students play the roles of members of the British Royal Society, deciding whether Charles Darwin deserves the society’s highest honor, the Copley Medal? Why can’t we, instead of discussing Rousseau’s Social Contract, ask students to take on the part of members of the National Assembly in 1791, charged with writing a constitution for revolutionary France? Why not, instead of lecturing them on a particular battle, push back the tables and have students recreate it on the classroom floor, using miniatures or cardboard counters?”
Moser said he has tried all of those things and they work – meaning they engage virtually everyone.
“With a group of very good students, the result is magic. If you’d like to see what that looks like, I invite you to attend a session of my Modern East Asia course. But the mere fact a particular method works with high-achieving students is not good enough; these students will likely perform well using any method an instructor may choose. In my opinion, the most impressive results of ‘gamifying’ the classroom come from those middling students—the ones who are often allowed to coast along with Cs,” he said. “I have seen students who are entirely passive in traditional lectures or discussions come alive when games are introduced. They put in a level of effort that one might never have dreamed possible from these so-called ‘lazy’ students. They do it because they want to win, and because they are having fun.”
Moser said on a couple of occasions he has heard that games have no place in teaching. After all, the classroom is a place of work, where young people are prepared for a career of working.
“Games are fun, so they are, by definition, not serious. I reject this categorically,” he said. “The late Peter Schramm always reminded us that the word school is derived from the Greek “scholae,” which means leisure. It’s not rest, but neither is it the drudgery of work.”
Moser ended the address with a comment that summarizes his teaching philosophy.
“One of the things I love about using games in the classroom is how much fun it is for me. As higher education becomes more corporatized, it is easy to be sucked into a depressing morass of paperwork, student learning outcomes, committee meetings and boring textbooks. We can lose sight of what it was that drew us faculty to academia in the first place—the joy that comes from playing with ideas,” he said. “Invigorating debates, the excitement of seeing the world in a different way, the thrill of challenging accepted beliefs and practices. If we cannot give our students a glimpse into this world—a world that is exciting, alluring, subversive and sometimes even a little silly—in other words, a world that is fun, then we really will have a crisis in higher education. And we will have no one to blame for that but ourselves.”
Dr. Moser, who also serves as co-chair of AU’s Master of Arts in American History and Government program, did his undergraduate work at Ohio University, and has an MA and Ph.D. in history from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He teaches courses on modern European, American and East Asian history.
Moser has published numerous works on subjects ranging from comic books to Japanese foreign policy. He is the author of four books, the most recent of which is “The Global Great Depression and the Coming of World War II,” which was published by Routledge in 2014. Moser lives in Ashland with his wife, Monica, and their daughter Stanzi. As a member of the Ohio Garrison of the 501st Legion, he dresses in the uniform of an imperial officer from Star Wars for charity events and other appearances.
The Taylor Teaching Award Committee, whose purpose is to select the award recipient, reviews submitted materials of faculty members who are nominated by students, faculty or department chairs. The committee, comprised of former Taylor Award winners, also observed classroom sessions of those who were nominated.
All full-time faculty with a minimum of three years of teaching experience at AU are eligible for the award. Recipients of the award cannot repeat for three years and no faculty member may win the award more than twice. The recipients receive a medal to be worn with academic regalia and a stipend.
Ashland University is a mid-sized, private university conveniently located a short distance from Akron, Cleveland and Columbus, Ohio. Ashland University (www.ashland.edu) values the individual student and offers a unique educational experience that combines the challenge of strong, applied academic programs with a faculty and staff who build nurturing relationships with their students. ###