Innovation, commitment earn Vannatta Distinguished Teaching Professor title

Rachel VannattaDr. Rachel Vannatta, a professor in the School of Educational Foundations, Leadership and Policy (EFLP), is acknowledged by her Bowling Green State University colleagues and students as a natural leader in teaching and the use of educational technology to enhance learning. In recognition of her innovative approach to teaching and extraordinary dedication to her students, she was granted the title of Distinguished Teaching Professor by the BGSU Board of Trustees Feb. 22. She will be honored again at the 2019 Faculty Excellence Awards in April.

Vannatta joined the School of Educational Foundations and Inquiry (EDFI) in 1998, with a passion for the integration of technology in teaching at all levels of education. Now in EFLP, she teaches graduate courses in statistics, research and assessment — courses that can prove daunting to students, especially those who have not worked with those topics in some time. She teaches face-to-face, blended and online courses, bringing the same commitment to all, said her supporters.

"What is clear when you engage with her about teaching is that her top priority is for her students to engage with her content in a meaningful way, not an easy task when teaching research methods and statistics that easily intimidate some students," wrote nominator Dr. Chris Willis, program coordinator for the Leadership Studies doctoral program. But, he said, "she knows there is a doorway that each student can enter to access and engage with her content, and she is willing to try every way imaginable to help students find the door that works for them."

She has been a member and leader of the College of Education and Human Development's Faculty Innovation Committee, and also serves as program coordinator for EDFI as well as and co-director of the Center of Assessment and Evaluation Service.

Vannatta is "professional, efficient, caring, sincere and ultimately successful," wrote Dr. Patrick Pauken, professor and director of EFLP, in his letter of support. "Expert methodologists and dissertation advisors are, literally, interested in everything. Dr. Vannatta takes the students' ideas and helps to put research frames around them without ever restraining the passion and joy the students have."

In addition to her teaching excellence, Vannatta has published 18 peer-reviewed articles, five peer-reviewed book chapters and 38 peer-reviewed proceedings, primarily on the topic of teacher integration and use of technology. She has been a participant in over $4 million in externally funded grants during her time at BGSU.

An early proponent of the "flipped classroom," in which students view the lecture independently and then spend class time discussing and reinforcing their understanding, Vannatta's instructional videos for online and face-to-face teaching are "nearly legendary" in the development of flipped classroom settings, her supporters said.

Most recently, Vannatta has created a statistics refresher graduate course for students who have not taken a graduate-level statistics course for a long period of time. The one-credit course is designed to relieve anxiety in students who feel challenged and discouraged by statistics. Working with her higher education and student affairs students, in 2018 she published an innovative multimedia resource called "Baby Stats! An Introduction to Statistics in Social Sciences," that incorporates text, illustrations, a learning guide and videos in one package that promotes inclusivity in statistics.

She has mentored graduate students who have gone on to professional educational careers, and within the past five years has trained more than 1,000 K-12 teachers on assessment development.

Dr. Rachelle Hippler, a Leadership Studies alumna who is an associate professor at Baldwin Wallace University wrote, "I now find myself advising several undergraduate student research projects and often wonder in tricky situations, 'What would Rachel do?' She not only taught me how to be a good researcher, but taught me how to teach others to be good researchers."

Her compassion for students goes beyond the classroom, said Dr. Maureen Wilson, a professor and chair of the Department of Higher Education and Student Affairs (HESA).

Wilson said that when Vannatta notices a student in the HESA department struggling in her course, she alerts her to see if there might be other factors affecting their performance.

"She has high expectations of students, but also shows compassion. She dedicates additional time to help struggling students and has given students opportunities to recover from poor performance," Wilson wrote.

To sum up Vannatta's career thus far, "Dr. Vannatta's body of work is a model for what quality teaching should embody," Willis wrote. "The real power is how Dr. Vannatta shepherds students into becoming independent scholarly researchers."