Dr. Jacobs Wins Creative Teaching Award

April 30th, 2020
Photo of Dr. Joela Jacobs (Credit: Christine Weir)

With widespread praise for her innovative, thought-provoking and collaborative teaching, Joela Jacobs has been awarded the 2020 Leicester and Kathryn Sherrill Creative Teaching Award.


Jacobs, Assistant Professor of German Studies, is recognized by the University of Arizona Foundation, which places particular emphasis on teaching at the undergraduate level. Jacobs will receive a $2,500 award and the placement of a plaque in the Donna Swaim Honors Lounge in the Student Union Memorial Center. Announced by the Office of the Provost, the award is given in recognition of “unusually outstanding teaching methodologies; a demonstrated effort to ensure the quality of students' learning experiences; and consistently high scholarly standard in both rigor and currency of course content.”


In nominating Jacobs, German Studies Department Head Barbara Kosta noted that in an article about the ten “coolest” courses on campus, the Arizona Daily Wildcat selected two courses that Jacobs has designed and taught: “From Animation to Zombies: The Ethics, (Bio)Politics and Aesthetics of Defining Life,” and “Wicked Tales and Strange Encounters: German Romanticism and Beyond.”


“Besides the content of her courses, their success rests largely on Jacobs’s keen attention to learning styles and her use of multiple modalities to reach her students,” Kosta said. “In the relatively short time that she has been at the U of A, Jacobs has become a significant figure in the exploration of interactive teaching initiatives and has contributed to the overall mission of the university to foreground and cultivate a student-centered learning environment.”


Jacobs said her teaching philosophy focuses on three areas: getting students invested and engaged; making a large class feel small and creating a safe learning environment; and amplifying diverse voices and practicing a critical skill set through technology.


“My courses are very interdisciplinary and aim to make the subject relevant to the students' lives in as many ways as possible. The core questions of my courses are of timeless relevance and ethical complexity, such as ‘What is life?’ and the answers come from across disciplines to foster the kind of critical thinking that is crucial for all college students,” she said. “I think interdisciplinary critical thinking is one of the strengths of General Education, and it gains depth and specificity when students decide to major in a Humanities discipline, like German Studies.”


“Joela Jacobs embodies the multi-faceted strengths of our world-class Humanities faculty,” said College of Humanities Dean Alain-Philippe Durand. “Her tireless dedication to her students’ success is just the first step. She creates innovative, interdisciplinary courses and teaches in dynamic and inspiring ways to keep students engaged. She goes far beyond the typical expectations to give students a truly memorable experience in her classes.”


Since joining the faculty in 2015, Jacobs has scaled up her interactive and discussion-based teaching to large, writing-intensive courses in a way that has become popular with students, who consistently fill the classes to maximum enrollment.


“She is passionate about what and how she teaches and shows great empathy for the range of students’ needs in her classes, while imparting a vast and sophisticated body of knowledge based on her many areas of expertise,” Kosta said. “She invites students to invest themselves in the texts that they encounter in her classes and skillfully engages them so that the class becomes their own personal exploration. She also creates an inclusive, open classroom and strives to bring out the best in her students.”