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Education professor adds surprises to lectures

One University of Cincinnati professor sometimes appears able to be in two places at once. Lanthan Camblin Jr. teaches lifespan human development -- "from womb to tomb" -- to more than 230 students at a time.

While supposedly running late for class one day, the education professor was introduced as a seemingly frail and cranky elderly man who agreed to allow the students to interview him about aging and dying. Make-up artists from the university's College-Conservatory of Music had perfected his disguise. The quivering voice and trembling gait were all his own.

Lanthan Camblin

"I can't do something 'special' every day," says professor Lanthan Camblin, above in a disguise he once wore to class, "but I can do something important every day."

At the end of the class, Camblin jumped up from his chair, pulled aside his long beard and yelled "Gotcha!" to surprised students. They never know what to expect.

In a typical lecture, they see the professor in motion around the large lecture hall, smacking a desk top for emphasis, patting a student on the back or the head, yelling instead of using a microphone. It's all part of his style.

"When choosing a career, I considered being an actor, an evangelist or a teacher," he confides. "Now, I do all three as a professor."

For a lesson simulating parenting responsibilities, Camblin required students to carry pumpkin "babies" everywhere they went and cited them for abuse if they dropped or forgot about their child. To relate to dying and death issues, students assembled a full-size wooden coffin one year and tossed in unsigned slips of paper recording "past regrets," which were dispatched at a mock funeral.

Camblin says he tries to make learning enjoyable when possible, but that dark topics such as child abuse also are part of the curriculum. In one such class, the professor illustrated the horror by telling students to imagine a child on the floor, then he repeatedly struck the floor with a heavy electric cord, asking: "Is it OK to hit a child once? Twice? Three times?" The students' shock as they imagined such brutality left them speechless.

Camblin rewrites and updates his improvisational-style lectures each year, or each time he teaches the subject, to introduce new perspectives. The inspiration for his method was a former teacher.

"An old professor I knew used the same notes for his classes, word for word, year after year," he recalls, "until the paper itself was not just yellowed, but crumbling into pieces. When I saw that, I resolved not to be that inflexible."

He also decided not to be impersonal. "I memorize as many names and faces as I can," he says, often startling students by his ability to call them by name in class or recognize them as they walk across campus. Some are surprised when they receive e-mail or phone messages from him.

"Making students feel like individuals in such a large class is another part of my style," says the professor who has taught at UC since 1980. He received the Cohen Award seven years later.

"Emotions are very important," Camblin insists, "and I am fortunate to be teaching human development. I try to make this information as real as I can for my students. Regardless of their culture, ethnicity or program -- they represent up to 50 majors -- I want them to be able to apply what they learn in my class to their lives."


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