Take-Aways from Lilly Conference on Evidence-Based Teaching and Learning

By Melissa Wehler, PhD, Dean of Humanities and Sciences

On June 5, 2017, I had the pleasure of representing Central Penn College at the Lilly Conference on Evidence-Based Teaching and Learning in Bethesda, Maryland. My presentation, co-written and co-presented with Judith Dutill, Instructional Designer at Millersville University, was entitled “Pause Procedure and Reflecting Learning in the Online Classroom” and was presented to a crowd of more than thirty educators from institutions of higher education around the country.

The session reviewed methods and techniques that online teaching faculty can use to engage their online students. First, we discussed the challenges faced by online teaching faculty in designing effective instruction for the online modality and promoted the use of microlectures and pause procedure techniques. Next, we defined the elements of a microlecture and discussed the relevant research on the considerations faculty should make before endeavoring to develop their own microlecture. Finally, we discussed methods for incorporating pause procedure into video lectures and introduced some technical tools to assist with this implementation. Specifically, we reviewed some of the software techniques being used at Central Penn, including Play Posit, Voice Thread, and Office Mix.

In addition to my own session, I attended sessions on:

  • What Lies Beneath: Rethinking Major Issues in Teaching and Learning
  • Radically Inclusive Classrooms: Promoting and Protesting a Diverse Learning Environment
  • #InteractiveLearning: Technology Tools to Engage and Support All Learners
  • Advising Online: An Orientation Module to Support Faculty Student Interactions
  • Improving Academic Integrity: Evidenced-Based Strategies

 

While there were many take-aways from the conference, here are a few that resonated with me:

Teaching-oriented versus learning-oriented. During the opening session, Todd Zakrajsek made an excellent point about this issue by asking: “does your lesson change if there are no students in the room?”  The question addresses the fundamental difference between teaching and learning.  If you can deliver the same presentation, run through the same information, and provide the same talking points to a room of thirty as you can to an empty room, you are probably teaching-oriented.  If your lesson plan so thoroughly addresses, integrates, and engages students that you could not possibly proceed, then you are probably learning oriented.

Understand and respect cognitive load.  There comes a point where students (and frankly, us as well) reach a point where we cannot take in any more information.  Rather than continue past this point-of-no-return, find ways to break up the material.  Incorporate reflective breaks to give students a chance to work with the information.  Think about the ways to manage the class so that there is some thinking and some doing.  Understand that no matter how brilliant the lesson, students can only retain so much.

Ends over means.  The role of lecture in the classroom was a hot topic this year, but overall, the sessions I attended seemed to reiterate the same point: engaged students are better than disengaged students no matter the method.  Sometimes, lecturing is necessary; sometimes, it’s not.  The key is that you know your own strengths and weaknesses as an educator, play to those strengths, and engage your students.

About the Author

13240559_10101056173646389_348591978591550789_nDr. Melissa Wehler serves as the Dean of Humanities and Sciences and Professor of English at Central Penn College.  Her academic writing has been published in several essay collections where she discusses topics including the gothic, feminism, performance, and culture.  She enjoys teaching classes about writing, literature, culture, and film and has won two teaching awards for her student-centered approach.

Talking about Academic Rigor with Students

 

By Melissa Wehler, PhD, Dean of Humanities and Sciences

When faculty members discuss academic rigor with their students, these conversations usually revolve around quantities of work that the student will perform: page requirements, number of exams, homework sets, and the like.  Taking the faculty’s lead, students often place their emphasis on their output rather than on their input.  The result is an ineffective essay that meets the seven-page requirement is better than an effective one that doesn’t.  This “because I said so” nature of quantity-driven projects belies the reality of academic rigor.  Academic rigor is not interested the quantity produced but rather is propelled by the quality of materials resulting from a thoughtful process.

To help students to understand the nature of academic rigor in our courses means demystifying the processes that go into creating the learning environment.  Here are some best practices to help you talk to students about the role of academic rigor in your classroom:

Establish standards on the first day.  In addition to relating policies on attendance or late work, the syllabus should also function as a guidebook for the course, including your standards and expectations for work.  Give students a general sense of the quantity and quality of the work you expect during the term.  Discuss the specific nature of the course (skills, content, level, type) and what it means for their work.  Provide them with the information on support services and resources that will help them throughout the term.   

Discuss the workload. Faculty members often quote the 2:1 ratio (two hours outside of class preparing, working, and studying for every hour in the class) when it comes to their expectations.  While this general rule acts as a helpful yardstick, it does not necessarily capture the realities of academic work.  Instead, discuss the course schedule and assignments with your students, noting specific times throughout the academic term where workloads will be light, moderate, and heavy.  Explain what they can do to prepare for the workload differences throughout the term, how they can plan their other commitments around these times, and what they can do during them.

Explain the reasons for the requirements.  Talk to students about the thinking process that went into creating the requirements for the assignment.  Link the requirements to course learning outcomes and skills sets.  Discuss how these requirements further their skill and knowledge sets.  Demonstrate how they build on previous work and act as bridges to future work.  These conversations help the students to move beyond the work “requirement” to see the value in those standards.

Emphasize the process.  When faculty show interest in the learning process, students do, too.  Build regular check-in points throughout the term, especially for larger assignments.  Give an informal survey (such as the “start, stop, and stay”) to help gauge their progress.  Provide resources at critical points in the term or project that will help them with difficult steps.  Break up larger assignments with some formative assessments of their progress.  Ask them to reflect on their process and progress thus far.

Support student work.  Having rigorous standards in your classroom is important, but those standards can quickly become impossible expectations without your support.  On the first day, review the support systems that students can use throughout the course to help them meet your standards.  Provide additional resources that are specific to the unit, skill, or content being discussed.  Introduce or invite support staff to the classroom to help with content or skills.  Provide student models or other examples if appropriate.

Such conversations obviously benefit your students, but they also benefit your growth and development as a faculty member.  Obviously, you will see the positive results in your classroom when students not only understand what they are do but also why they are being asked to do it in this way.  Perhaps less obvious, however, is that by elucidating the definition and role of academic rigor for your students, you are also able to do so for yourself.  These conversations ask you to reflect deeply and critically on the standards for academic work in your classroom.  They help you to move beyond “because I said so” and into “and here’s why.”

 

About the Author

13240559_10101056173646389_348591978591550789_nDr. Melissa Wehler serves as the Dean of Humanities and Sciences and Professor of English at Central Penn College.  Her academic writing has been published in several essay collections where she discusses topics including the gothic, feminism, performance, and culture.  She enjoys teaching classes about writing, literature, culture, and film and has won two teaching awards for her student-centered approach.

Building an Inclusive Classroom: Reflecting on Privileges

By Dr. Melissa Wehler, Dean of Humanities and Sciences

This is the second installment of the six-part series on inclusivity in the classroom.  The first installment, Building an Inclusive Classroom: A Starting Place, provides an introduction to the topics covered in the series.

Building an inclusive classroom begins well before the first student registers for the class or a textbook is selected for the reading list.  In the classroom, a faculty’s identity—privileges and disadvantages—is represented in explicit and implicit ways.  Explicitly, our identities are represented by our bodies, our language, and our appearance (yes, even if we teach online).  For instance, whether or not I choose to confront my gender or race in the classroom, my body still signifies them.  Implicitly, the knowledge, belief, values, and skills that inform our actions, behaviors, and attitudes have come from our lived experiences.  The course materials I select, test questions I write, and syllabus policies I create are the culmination of my experience—positive and negative.

To create an inclusive classroom, therefore, we should recognize and acknowledge our socially conferred privileges (and disadvantages) and how they influence our pedagogy. When we talk about socially conferred privilege, we are referring to the social systems that provide certain persons or groups special advantages or rights on the basis of an unearned status.  Commonly, we talk about privilege through the lens of race, gender, ability, religion, age, and class, though it’s important to recognize that these are far from the only privileges that faculty confront personally and pedagogically.

In the classroom, inclusivity begins with the faculty member who establishes the basic parameters of the class, which are based on their own unique circumstances: their training, experiences, and philosophies.  Because courses begin in the personal, we must acknowledge our own socially conferred privileges as part of our pedagogy.

By no means an exhaustive list, here are some ways to help start this process:

Take a personal inventory.  A personal inventory will help you recognize (perhaps for the first time) your socially conferred privileges. A personal inventory can focus around a specific set of privileges such as race, gender, or ability or it can be a mixture of different types of privilege.  You can use a pre-created inventory (such as this one from Routledge or the lists provided by Barnett).  You can also generate a personal inventory by listing out privileges you experienced in the span of a week or a month.

Seek out resources.  Start locally.  Campus resources such as the Center for Teaching Excellence and the Diversity Office provide training and materials specific to your campus life and culture.  Then, think globally.  Professional organizations, such as the American Association of University Professors, also have resources for faculty about diversity, inclusion, and privilege.

Invite conversations.  Conversations about privilege are happening informally on college campuses all of the time, but faculty can also find ways to ‘invite’ these conversations: create a brown bag series, invite guest speakers, or organize a book reading.  Faculty might also organize a viewing of a documentary or webinar followed by a moderated discussion. Remember, if you invite conversation, it’s important you listen to learn and not listen to respond.

Acknowledging and understanding more about our personal privileges helps us to recognize where these privileges manifest in our pedagogy.  Once we are able to see ourselves more clearly, we are also able to see where our personal privileges have created gaps in our teaching approach.

Here are just a few areas to consider:

Challenge privilege.  For instance, avoid normalizing certain behaviors in the classroom that privilege one student or student group over another, especially with ‘good’ and ‘bad’ labels.  For more, see Goodman’s lists about ways to challenge privilege identity in the classroom.

Representation matters.  Course materials should be representative not only of the subject being taught but of the subjects being taught.  Course materials (textbooks, articles, studies, tests, examples) should incorporate a range of experiences and identities that reflect the students in the class.

Vary approaches.  Part of ‘unpacking the invisible knapsack’ means that just because it worked for you as a student or that it worked/works for some students, doesn’t mean that it worked/works for others.  By varying your approach to teaching (lecture, small group, discussion, flipped), you build opportunities for different students and different strengths.

Appeal to the experts. When a difficult situation, conversation, or topic comes up in class, give the students the scholarship and allow them to do the deep digging.  Not only is it a great exercise in critical thinking and problem-solving, but it demonstrates that this conversation is historical, robust, and on-going.

Listen actively.  Listening doesn’t just refer to answering questions or responding to a point during discussion.  It includes reading body language, word choice, and tone.  It can also mean ‘listening’ to the silences: the emails not returned or the questions left blank.  Responding to these moments validate students’ experiences whether through positive feedback or an acknowledgment of their concerns.

Conversations about privilege inside and outside of the classroom can be cloaked in feelings of shame, guilt, and blame; however, personal discomfort with confronting privilege is no excuse to shy away from the topic—just as students, peers, and even ourselves cannot ‘opt-out’ of systems of privilege.  Instead, by recognizing, understanding, and challenging privilege personally and pedagogically, we, as educators, make the first concrete step in creating an inclusive classroom.

References

Adams, M., L. A. Bell, and P. Griffin, eds. (2007).Teaching for diversity and social justice: A sourcebook. 2nd ed. New York: Routledge.

Barnett, P. E. (2013). Unpacking teachers’ invisible knapsacks: Social identity and privilege in higher education. Liberal Education. vol. 99, no. 3. https://www.aacu.org/publications-research/periodicals/unpacking-teachers-invisible-knapsacks-social-identity-and

Goodman, D. J. (2010). Helping Students Explore Their Privileged Identities. Diversity and Democracy.  American Association of Colleges and Universities. Spring 2010. vol. 13. no. 2. https://www.aacu.org/publications-research/periodicals/helping-students-explore-their-privileged-identities

Flaherty, C. (2016). Racial literacy as a professor’s responsibility. Inside Higher Ed. https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2016/06/20/aaup-sessions-center-professors-role-and-responsibilities-regarding-classroom

Maher, F. A. & M. K. Tetreault. Diversity and privilege: We need to understand how privilege works before we can make diversity work. Academe. AAUP. January-February 2009. https://www.aaup.org/article/diversity-and-privilege#.WLcMB2_yuUk

McIntosh, P. (1989) White privilege: Unpacking the invisible knapsack. The National SEED Project. https://nationalseedproject.org/white-privilege-unpacking-the-invisible-knapsack

 

Melissa Wehler, Ph.D. serves as the Dean of Humanities and Sciences and Professor of English at Central Penn College.  Her academic writing has been published in several essay collections including Demons of the Body and Mind,  Transnational Gothic,  and A Quest of Her Own: Essays on the Female Hero in Modern Fantasy where she discusses topics including the gothic, feminism, performance, and culture.  She enjoys teaching classes about writing, literature, culture, and film and has won two teaching awards for her student-centered approach.

 

 

Midterm Inspiration

By Judith Dutill, Instructional Design Technologist

Midterm is a stressful time for students and professors alike; sometimes we need a little extra inspiration to get us over that midterm hump. Kevin Gannon, professor and chair of the History Department at Grand View University, provides us with a healthy dose of motivation in his recent article, Radical Hope: A Teaching Manifesto. Through the lens of critical pedagogy, Gannon reminds us that reflective teaching can be used to refresh and re-energize our teaching, especially when we feel drained or defeated.

If you enjoyed Gannon’s article, check out his interview with Bonni Stachowiak on the Teaching In Higher Ed podcast. 

What do you do to refresh and re-energize your teaching? Tell us about it in the comments section!