New faculty profile: Focus on the student experience will help improve instruction

In any classroom, the ultimate goal is to transmit new knowledge or skills to students. But with technology, circumstances, and society changing rapidly, so proven methodologies must change with them. Dr. Rhia Moreno, who joins the College of Education as an Assistant Professor of Education in the Department of Advanced Studies and Innovation, has spent her career studying best practices from a student perspective and working on innovations to structural design. 

“I focus in general on the learner experience. I’m interested in how students are perceiving their experiences. It’s qualitative in nature and in-depth across educational contexts,” Moreno said. “I want to hear how students experience learning and how they think about learning in this class or this activity and how they perceive their experience in that, so we can start to work on making it better for everybody.” 

Moreno’s current research explores intercultural education through language instruction and study abroad. As a teacher of the Italian language, and a former study abroad coordinator for an international company, she has focused on constructing student learning experiences across cultures from a critical culture perspective. And culture is a concept we need to explore more in the student experience.  

“A lot of students have preconceived notions of what culture is and we need to instead disrupt these static conceptualizations to reconsider culture as a messy and complex concept. As soon as we start to categorize groups by cultural labels, the individual can be removed from their own experiences and contributions with these notions,” Moreno said. 

Even among students in their home country, Moreno said that the notion of culture can cause students to both delegitimize their own individuality and to simultaneously categorize others. 

“I’ve had students say, ‘I’m just a typical Southerner,’ but what does that mean? And who is included, or importantly excluded, in that cultural label?” she said. “As an educator, what do we need to think about when we’re teaching students in the classroom or taking students abroad, and how do we challenge these notions and stereotypes and start thinking about self-reflection in terms of what culture is.” 

Originally from California, Moreno completed her undergraduate degree from the University of California Santa Cruz. Then she left Southern California to complete a master’s degree at Harvard University. Afterwards, she returned to Southern California and pursued firefighting as the culmination of a childhood dream, becoming the first female battalion chief at Allen Hancock College Fire Academy, as well as the first female valedictorian. Finally, she relocated to the University of Georgia, where she returned to the field of education and completed her doctorate in language and literacy education and then sought to implement all that she had learned and experienced. 

Moreno will teach Qualitative Research in Education and Conducting Educational Research at Augusta this Fall and is excited to join the Augusta team. “Augusta University really stood out to me in terms of innovation and being a practical institution with a focus on application. Bringing together theory and practice really fits who I am as a scholar-practitioner,” Moreno said. There is also a strong emphasis on collaboration and I’m excited to collaborate with colleagues and students,” Moreno added.  

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