Fostering problem-based learning

This professor doesn't mind taking cheap shots by students for some "pie in the eye" fund-raiser in the College of Business Zutes Atrium.

And yet, he begins each class with a quote, challenging students to think where it came from and who said it. Two of his favorites are mindbenders:

There are no educators. As a thinker, one should speak only of self-education.

More things exist without our knowledge than with it and the order in creation which you see is that which you have put there, like a string in a maze, so that you will not lose your way.

The first quote, by 19th century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzche, explains Victor Perotti's modus operandi at RIT, to create an environment where students become self-directed.

The second comes from an excerpt in Cormac McCarthy's chilling book, Blood Meridian, because Perotti recently "has been thinking about the importance of individuals in an organization like RIT."

The associate professor of management information systems knows how to straddle the worlds of academic rigor and personal expectations—using equal doses of instruction balanced with common sense.

Even his office in the College of Business offers a few clues to his relaxed teaching style: a purple lava lamp, a serene picture of a pristine beach in the Adirondack mountains, pictures of his parents, siblings, wife Jennifer and 2-year-old son Evan, desktop sand art with a rake and pebbles, and books that range from the philosophical Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance to texts on business programming and Web systems development.

"I have a diverse educational background and it sometimes comes as a surprise to people," says Perotti, who earned B.S. and M.S. degrees in computer science as well as M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in cognitive psychology from Ohio State University.

"I'm a proponent of problem-based learning, which means creating a space in the classroom where students become active and actually direct the way they learn," he explains.

Encouraging students to interact and think for themselves is why Perotti is being honored this year as a recipient of the Eisenhart Award for Outstanding Teaching.

"I don't believe in memorization and I lecture as little as possible," Perotti says about teaching MIS and e-Business courses at RIT since 1997. "I give the students realistic problems they would encounter in industry and businesses in the global marketplace. Technology comes and goes, so the ability to assimilate new information and run with it is essential for future business leaders."

Perotti also admits it's a "family affair" at RIT because his parents moved from their faculty positions in Ohio two years ago to teach here as emeritus professors.

"My mother teaches global business and my father is an MIS professor for the executive MBA program," he says. "Sometimes it's like a Perotti 'who's who' in the College of Business."

Since 1965, RIT's Eisenhart Awards for Outstanding Teaching have honored and celebrated faculty excellence. Up to four awards are given each year to recipients in various RIT programs. Winners are chosen through rigorous peer review of student nominations. This year, four professors will receive the awards during the academic convocation on Friday, May 21.

The Eisenhart family, for whom the awards are named, has a long history with RIT. The late M. Herbert Eisenhart, president and board chairman of Bausch & Lomb, was an RIT trustee for more than 50 years. Richard Eisenhart continues the RIT connection, serving on the board since 1972, as chairman for six years and now as trustee emeritus.

RIT News & Events, May 13, 2004