Open SUNY Online Teaching Ambassador 2016 – UBuffalo: Maria Runfola
Maria Runfola, professor of music education at the University at Buffalo, the State University of New York, began her teaching career as a junior high school choral and classroom music educator in several Western New York schools. Although she is well known as a scholar and administrator, her career has focused on teaching and learning. In her role as professor she sees herself as a model, a mentor, and sometimes even a coach. For example, every course she designs has student learning outcomes in hierarchical order based on the most appropriate psychology of learning allowing her to model for students what she expects them to do when they are designing learning experiences for their students. Every course has a major term project, with scaffolded sections due at various times during the semester, enabling the students to achieve more in-depth content understanding and to remind them how they should scaffold learning experiences for their students. Further, each course has a tutorial component where she meets students online, to discuss their individual questions and concerns thus helping them get the most out of her courses.
Dr. Runfola is also known as a deft administrator having served as chair of the Department of Learning and Instruction, chair of the Department of Music, and Acting Dean of the Graduate School. As a Gordon Music Learning Theory scholar, her creative application of his work has logged more than seven industry-changing inventions, twenty-one copyrighted song titles, and ten international awards. She was first to apply Gordon’s learning theory to the development of a mass production international toy market and her patented items as well as her guitar and keyboard interfaces have been credited with transforming and setting industry standards in the music toy industry. Dr. Runfola was the first to establish through scientific research methodology, a link between early music learning and emergent literacy; her current research interest is the impact of music and creative movement learning on theoretical predictors of school readiness.
Runfola has been at the forefront of integrating technology into her teaching since the 1970’s. Her interests in technology have also benefited the community at large. She collaborated with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra to bring the first phonic ears to Buffalo so that persons with hearing disabilities could become engaged in the music at BPO concerts. Phonic ears, or variations thereof, have become standard assistive devices for the hearing impaired in all entertainment venues.
It was a natural continuation of her interests in these uses of technology that led her to spearhead online teaching in her department. Not only has she developed courses and programs for online delivery, but has encouraged many of her colleagues to become involved. Professor Runfola believes that the result of the high level of organization required for excellent online teaching offers students greater breadth and depth of content covered and if they avail themselves to save the various resources offered in a course, they have excellent notes to continue their learning long after the course has been completed.