Students Respond to the Teaching Style of Religion Prof. Katherine Schmidt
By Hannah Werthan
Dr. Katherine Schmidt is still new to Molloy - she recently completed her first year of teaching in the Theology and Religious Studies department - but she has already established a reputation as a professor who is willing to go above and beyond to make her classes both entertaining and informative. She understands that, in order to teach effectively, she has to connect with her students and understand the way they think. For Katherine, creativity, openness, and a working knowledge of social media are the keys to teaching success.
A Different Kind of Religion Class
Students, regardless of their major, are required to take a theology and religious studies course at Molloy. Religion can be a difficult topic to teach. Those who grew up in a religious household might think that the class they take will be an easy A. Those who don't have any religious background might feel out of their league or even wary that the professor might try to convert them. Katherine stresses that neither preconception is accurate. "My classroom does not feel like Sunday school or a high school religion class, and the students who do well are the ones who have the best attitude regardless of their religion or lack thereof," she says. Former student Carmen Lemus agrees. "Dr. Schmidt is an open-minded person who looks at all sides of the spectrum. She understands that many of us do not actively practice religion and haven't read the Bible," says the rising senior Social Work major from Hempstead.
For the most part, Katherine's classroom is a no-lecture zone. She wants her students to feel comfortable enough to actively participate during class. Humor is important, she says, as well as determining which questions she should ask to start peeling away layers and building trust. "Dr. Schmidt sets herself apart from other professors because she isn't afraid to talk about risky topics or to get her students thinking in a new way," says Carmen. Students appreciate the open environment that she brings to the classroom. "Professor Schmidt tries to support all students making a contribution to the discussion," says former student Chrissy Margevicius, a rising junior Molloy/CAP21 BFA major from Cleveland, Ohio.
Teaching the Millennial Student
Many educators think of social media as a tool they can use to help them in the classroom. Katherine believes it is more than a tool; it is a culture. Incorporating platforms like Twitter in class material makes it more accessible because students understand and correspond through social media. For example, Katherine gave an assignment on understanding just war theory. Instead of assigning an essay on the topic, she created a Twitter debate between St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Augustine over a fake war between the United States and Canada. Students had to fill in the relevant hashtags.
Katherine also uses social media outside of the classroom as a way to extend her reach. She has a Twitter account specifically for educational purposes and makes hashtags for different classes. On her professional Twitter account, she tweets links to relevant articles and encourages her students to do the same for extra credit. She also solicits tweets from students that are relevant to the course material. She embeds her Twitter feed on Canvas - our learning management system - because she is cognizant of the fact that not everyone has a Twitter account or a smartphone.
Lights, Camera, YouTube
This summer, Katherine started a web series on religious topics called "Holy Schmidt!" She films it in her own home, using nothing but iMovie, Garage Band, and a microphone to bring her videos to life. The dialogue feels natural, probably because Katherine doesn't write a script, instead opting to edit as she goes. She plans to add to the series when she has time throughout the summer and fall and welcomes new topic ideas. Katherine's students appreciate all the hard work she puts in to go above and beyond a standard Powerpoint-based class. "I have not had any other professors utilize social media like Professor Schmidt," says Chrissy. "She's one of the coolest people and most interesting teachers I've ever had, and I know that many of my classmates feel the same way."