Last week, several members of the Reinert Center staff attended the annual conference of POD – the Professional and Organizational Development Network in Higher Education, the premier professional society for people who do what we do. Much of the conference focused on the field of educational development – the research, practices, and habits of mind that guide teaching center professionals – and we found ourselves stretched and challenged and nurtured as we learned new ways to think about our own practice. However, a number of sessions also were targeted specifically for a teaching audience; these sparked numerous ideas we wanted to share with the faculty and graduate instructors we serve. Here, we offer a few highlights.
Creating Low-Tech, High-Impact Connections
One of my favorite takeaways while attending POD came from a session titled, “Low-Tech, High-Impact Asynchronous Development for Busy Faculty.” Led by staff from Western Kentucky University and the New York Institute of Technology, the session presented a few low-tech ways to facilitate substantive dialogue among faculty. By utilizing “push technology” tools like Google Groups and listservs, faculty can facilitate a discussion via email with a small group of people for a set period of time. Unlike a meeting or webinar, the email-based format is familiar for faculty and can provide an opportunity to participate in a way that is conducive to busy schedules. I really like how this low-tech, asynchronous approach creates a new forum for discussion, but I also think it would be useful for faculty to learn for themselves. Consider this: It could be a useful strategy to better engage with students, create graduate reading groups, or even facilitate discussion within different departments and interests.
Fostering Student Learning through Inquiry
One of the workshops that really caught my attention was one called, “Freedom to Explore: Helping Faculty to Support Student Learning Through Inquiry,” presented by Susan Shadle and Andy Goodman of Boise State University. A question or issue stimulates inquiry-based learning. It involves students in the construction of new knowledge and understanding. In inquiry-based learning, the teacher’s role is one of a facilitator and there is a move towards students’ self-directed learning. The facilitators of the workshop had us work through two different examples, one from poetry and the other from anatomy, to demonstrate that inquiry-based learning is not discipline-dependent. Shadle and Goodman outlined four basic types of inquiry, each with its own range of difficulty:
- Information-responsive asks, “What is the existing answer to this question?”
- Information-active asks, “What is the existing answer to my question?”
- Discovery-responsive asks, “How can I answer this new question?”
- And discovery-active asks, “How can I answer my question?”
The workshop facilitators also offered a framework to begin thinking about how to get started creating inquiry-based learning projects. This seems like a great approach to help students learn to build their own knowledge base and encourage lifelong learning. Consider this: If you are thinking about flipping your classroom, an inquiry-based framework could help answer the question, “So, what do the students do during class?”
Addressing Diversity in the Classroom
“How do we manage our discomfort when confronted with cultural issues we may not know how to discuss?” This was a key question posed in this special-interest group session. The dozen or so college-level educators and faculty developers who attended this meeting had many thoughtful ideas, two of which really struck me:
- The role of “localizing content” in learning, and
- Why crafting a collection of community-based personal identity narratives may help the larger college or university begin an important conversation of who the learning community is and what it often takes for students, faculty, and staff to get here
“Localizing content” is the process of contextualizing and customizing topics, concepts, and questions by having faculty and students translate what these ideas may look like within disciplines, learning communities, and various identities. For instance, Penn State Harrisburg’s Faculty Center storytelling project, World Wide Narratives, asks students, faculty, and staff to share personal stories to discover what others’ journeys in higher education look like and sound like to begin a larger, more inclusive conversation about diversity. SLU offers two similar opportunities for students, Share Your Story: First-Generation College Student and Una’s “Tell Your Story” initiative. Consider this: Teach and model to students how and why “localizing” a discipline’s values, contexts, and key concepts is vital to both their understanding of a discipline’s concepts and materials and for better understanding and discussion of how cultural issues affect teaching, learning, and our communities: be it on- or off-campus or online.
Moving from “Failure” to “Learning”
One really noteworthy session was the last workshop of the conference, “Flipping the Mindset: Reframing Fear and Failure as Development Catalysts,” facilitated by Diane Boyd (Furman) and Traci Stromie and Josie Baudier (Kennesaw State). This session took Carol Dweck’s notion of fixed and growth mindsets as a springboard for inviting us to shift from thinking about “failure” to thinking about “learning”. People with fixed mindsets often have trouble with failure – and failure, the workshop facilitators reminded us, is simply a mismatch between expected outcome and actual outcome – whereas those with growth mindsets experience such occasions as opportunities to stretch themselves, to evolve, to learn. In the session, participants were challenged to think of a recent experience that didn’t go as planned and to apply an IDeAS framework: Identify what didn’t go as planned; Debrief about the expectations we had for the initial experience and what we did to get back on track; Analyze how it felt, how we reflected, and whether the experience was part of a larger pattern; and finally to Strategize what we might do differently in the future. This very Ignatian approach to reflecting on experience seems well-suited to SLU faculty and to reflection on teaching. Consider this: Think of a recent experience with your students where you thought they would do one thing, but instead, they did something else. Apply the IDeAS framework to reflect on the experience and to identify things you could do differently in the future to achieve a different result.
If you want to brainstorm some ways these insights might inform your own teaching practice, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or share your thoughts in the comments section.
*Image courtesy of http://podnetwork.org