Because of her unique style and incorporation of applied courses, theater professor April Daras was awarded the Innovative Teacher Prize by the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival.
Daras has brought a new learning technique to her students that was developed to create a simulation experience that will help practice real-life situations.
“This style of teaching provides students with authentic experiences that cannot be predicted,” Daras said via email on Wednesday. “They have to solve problems on their feet, with their own words, spontaneously.”
After a conversation with a palliative care doctor about her training with physicians, Daras was inspired and intrigued to learn more about the practice of employed actors playing simulated patients.
She was then directed to a professional simulation company based in Pittsburgh which led to more exposure, observations and training sessions that helped her familiarize with simulation learning.
After the experience, she became a professional member and conductor of Pittsburgh Playback Theatre, an improvisational group that conveys community members’ stories.
“It was not until 2013,” Daras said. when I officially relocated to Pittsburgh and joined the theatre faculty of Indiana University of Pennsylvania that I was given an opportunity to fully incorporate the simulation and applied theatre work I was exploring independently into the university learning environment.”
One of her courses is “The Performance of Caring” for nursing majors, in which student actors represent simulated patients in the nursing simulation lab.
Some of the scenarios in the class deal with a variety of topics, such as dealing with distressed and/or aggressive patients and colleagues, giving and receiving feedback, educating patients and interacting across cultures.
She has also developed similar simulations for IUP’s educational psychology programs, according to IUP’s website.
Daras is very familiar with acting and theater, as she started off her professional career as an actor and later discovered a passion for teaching.
This is now her third semester teaching at IUP.
“I was surprised and honored,” she said of the award. “I feel very lucky to be at an institution where this kind of cross-disciplinary work is valued and supported. My work would not be possible without the enthusiastic support of IUP theater students, my department chair and the faculty, as well as faculty from nursing and educational psychology.”
Not only did she receive the Innovative Teacher Award, but she also received a Carbonell Honorable Mention for her performance as Eleanor in “The Middle Ages” and an award for Outstanding Actress for her supporting role in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolfe.”