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Last modified: Friday, February 25, 2005

Douglas H. Knapp

The President's Award for Teaching Excellence -- 2005

Associate Professor
Department of Recreation and Park Administration
School of Health, Physical Education, and Recreation
University Graduate School
Indiana University Bloomington
Appointed to IU faculty, 1993
B.S., Miami University of Ohio, 1979
M.S., Northern Illinois University, 1983
Ph.D., Southern Illinois University, 1994

Before 1993, many classes in outdoor recreation and resource management taught at the Department of Recreation and Park Administration were conducted almost entirely indoors.

Then-brand-new faculty member Doug Knapp took it upon himself to revitalize the curriculum and make sure that outdoor recreation students spent plenty of time in the field -- that is, in the great outdoors. Learning, he believed, happened best through hands-on experience.

In developing his teaching philosophy, Knapp took his cue from John Dewey, who wrote in Experience and Education (1938), "I assume that amid all uncertainties there is one permanent frame of reference: namely, the organic connection between education and personal experience."

Knapp says, "I strive to teach in a manner that will facilitate experiences that challenge the mind and, more importantly, stimulate the heart. If nothing else, I hope that from my teaching a student will learn the importance of passion and the richness of experience."

To that end, Knapp might require his students to lead their own labs to outdoor sites where they offer a resource site analysis to the rest of the class, to develop an ecosystem management plan for a new park site, or to offer local elementary school students environmental lessons and activities.

Knapp's innovative and thoughtful teaching has been rewarded with two Trustees Teaching Awards, two Teaching Excellence Recognition Awards, a listing in Who's Who Among America's Teachers, and selection as "best professor at IU" by the Bloomington Voice newspaper in 1997. He was elected to IU's Faculty Colloquium on Excellence in Teaching in 2001.

He has also earned the admiration of his students, who have described him variously as "one of the most amazing teachers I've ever had," "an incredible instructor with a brilliant teaching method," and "a great inspiration."

"Doug's passion is contagious!" says one student. "He sets the bar that I think we all would like to reach one day."

His students aren't the only enthusiasts. Professor Lynn M. Jamieson, chair of the Department of Recreation and Park Administration at IU Bloomington, describes Knapp as "one of the most excellent teachers I have come in contact with."

His methods are "driven by a sound philosophical approach, pedagogical effectiveness, and a strong research program," says Jamieson. "He uses creative and innovative teaching approaches that engage the student."

As Jamieson notes, Knapp's teaching excellence is thoroughly grounded in his extensive research in pedagogy. The focus of his research has been on the impact that informal education programs have on their constituents, and the results of his studies have been consistently integrated into his own classrooms.

He has also promoted pedagogy nationally and internationally, through conference presentations and publications. He has published a textbook through UNESCO and in 1997 delivered the keynote address at the United Nations Conference on Environmental Education in Thessaloniki, Greece.

"His research, such as empirically deriving goals for learning in non-formal settings, has opened up improved ways of thinking about research in this area," says Gary W. Mullins, director of The Ohio State University School of Natural Resources.

Especially effective, according to Knapp's research, are active experiences that closely tie in to pertinent subject matter, lectures whose content can be related to the students' own lives, and promoting a two-way dialogue with students during lectures to increase knowledge retention and to enhance connections.

Judging from both the enthusiasm and the success of his students and former students, there is no doubt that his efforts in --and out of -- the classroom have paid off.

"Some teachers teach history or math or recreation; Doug teaches people," says former graduate student and Cannon Scholar Elizabeth Barrie. "And in the end that is what makes Doug a truly great teacher. With all of his knowledge and interest in interpretation and environmental education, he never loses sight of the individuals he teaches."