University of Southern Indiana

Cooper award winner Dr. Charles Petranek on teaching the Core

Cooper award winner Dr. Charles Petranek on teaching the Core

9/4/2006 | University Communications
USI’s 2006 H. Lee Cooper Core Curriculum Teaching Award recipient, Dr. Charles Petranek, believes that students learn through different senses and in a variety of ways. That’s why he brings as many teaching methods into the classroom as he can.

“You bring in other things and have a dynamic classroom, and the more senses you involve, the better,” Petranek, professor emeritus of sociology, said. “I think as a professor you should examine these things. Some students are verbal, some visual, and some use a hands-on approach to learning.”

Focusing exclusively on teaching, the Cooper award honors a USI faculty member whose work in University Core courses has been especially creative and successful in furthering UCC goals. In the Core course, Principles of Sociology, Petranek’s students learn world geography; participate in social simulations and discussions; write papers about their experiences in the simulations; and read an optional book on which they write a report. In fall 2006, 114 students are enrolled in the course.

“The Core is so much more than teaching your subject matter. The Cooper award reflects people who can bring it together and present in many different ways,” he said. “A lot of professors present straight lectures with PowerPoint or overheads, and there’s not a lot of great discussion. If you only present information in one mode, you should examine the way you do it. Why are you in the classroom? Students are a resource, they have ideas.”

Petranek has visited 51 countries and plans to go to 50 more. Students in his class must be able to identify 60 countries. Each chapter in their text includes a map with statistics on factors such as infant mortality and poverty all over the world.

“Students need to realize how poor other countries are,” he said. “First world countries consume 75 percent of the world’s resources. We’re part of the global community and we’re responsible for it. My job is to make these students aware of our global position – where we are in the world.”

Petranek is nationally regarded for his scholarship in the field of experiential learning and social simulations. He has created 16 social simulations to enhance his classes, and they have been published and used in high schools, colleges, and businesses. In 1996, the North American Simulation and Gaming Association presented him with a Lifetime Achievement Award.

The Drinking Game he created encourages students to examine their drinking habits. “If they self-report, they say they are always responsible,” he said. But after half an hour of playing the game, a party-like atmosphere in which most students “binge drink” using cards and chips and can wind up in a simulated jail, hospital, or cemetery, the students’ actual behavior comes to light.

“They learn by playing, an oral debriefing, and writing about the experience,” Petranek said. “The pressure to drink is overwhelming, and it comes from the students themselves. After playing the game, they can see it. Social simulations get across very strong points.”

Petranek received the Cooper Award to sustained applause from his colleagues at the Fall Faculty and Administrative Staff meeting in August.

“That was one of the greatest days of my life, getting that award,” he said. “I feel extremely lucky. It was a great honor to receive this award, because many people at USI are doing many great things.”

As this year’s winner, Petranek will deliver a presentation to the University community during the fall 2006 semester. Details will be released at a later date.

The Cooper award is named in honor of H. Lee Cooper, long-time friend and supporter of USI.
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