Focus On Student Learning (FOSL) Series
Each semester, the Center for Teaching & Learning hosts monthly discussions highlighting different aspects of student learning. This fall, FOSL discussions explored the following topics—thanks to all participants and attendees for making these sessions successful and always helpful:
August: Ways To Incorporate The Common Reading
Instructors Adam Booth, Michelle Baker and Rachel Ritterbusch shared insightful ways in which they planned to incorporate the 2009/2010 Common Reading (Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle) into their syllabi, classroom discussion, and courses in general. The Common Reading selection is given each year free of charge to all incoming freshmen and encouraged for use in classes across the curriculum. Ritterbusch urged freshmen in her First-Year Experience Cooking 101 class to read the book and think about the themes of healthy eating and buying foods locally and in season when possible. These are concepts not inherently associated with college students, who often earn the reputation of living on ramen noodles and pizza, but Ritterbusch said her students were enthusiastic about taste-testing healthy foods, shopping at local farmers markets, and learning more about where their food came from. Booth and Baker were using the book with students in the PHIL 100 course, a course designed to help provisionally admitted students be successful in college by improving their reading, writing, and discussion skills. According to Baker, Kingsolver’s book particularly lends itself to use by a variety of departments because it explores economic, biological, environmental, health and communal costs and benefits of a local-foods based diet. Booth’s approach was to structure his entire syllabus around the text, using themes in the book as weekly themes for the course, and encouraging students to draw parallels between the Kingsolver’s subject matter and the overarching concepts of the PHIL 100 course. For example, when the family in the book relocates from Arizona to Virginia, Booth pointed out the similarities of college students transitioning into a new, unfamiliar situation and the resources available to help one adjust during such a change. Other themes addressed in the book and in class included politics, fiscal management, giving thanks, reproduction, personal responsibility and working together as a community.
September: The Scholarship Of Teaching & Learning
In September, faculty gathered to discuss scholarship and how one can integrate the work of effective teaching and scholarly publishing into one effort. JB Tuttle led the discussion and explained that while classroom teaching is a priority, it can also lend itself to research and opportunities to pair with other scholars. Looking at best practices, assessing capstone courses, using innovative instructional technologies, and examining learning across curriculum and school divisions can offer scholarship-worthy material. Students and faculty both benefit from such approaches and exploring such concepts over time can lead to radical improvements in pedagogy and student learning. Laura Renninger also shared her experience in uniting teaching and scholarship by describing a learning community course she and two other Shepherd faculty created which resulted in a published article and two conference presentations. She encouraged faculty to consider ways in which they too could use classroom teaching and learning toward scholarship, as Shepherd values scholarship based on teaching and uniting the two is a way to “kill two birds with one stone”.
Faculty also expressed the desire to have more opportunity to discuss current scholarly pursuits and share expertise and ideas; forming a scholarship support group was suggested, a concept that may be further developed in conjunction with the Faculty Research Forum. Renninger also provided attendees with a printout of online journals in every discipline and additional resources on scholarship.
October: Engaging Millennials in the Classroom: Part One
Students of the Millennial Generation make up the majority of the student body population in higher education today. Millennials were born between 1982-2002, and tend to be more technologically advanced, team-oriented, confident and conventional than their Generation X predecessors. October’s FOSL dealt with the best ways to engage and prepare students of this generation. Leading the discussion were Victoria Bookbower, Jonathan Calabretta and Mike Rokicki, three graduate students currently enrolled in Shepherd’s CSDA program and all Millennials themselves. Thus, they were well-prepared to discuss generational traits and learning styles common to students of this era.
Certain tragic events, such as 9/11, Columbine, and the 2007 Virginia Tech campus shootings, as well as positive strides, such as the election of Barack Obama, have had significant impact on Millennials, and undoubtedly shaped all of our lives and influenced societal outlook on patriotism, school safety concerns, diversity and multiculturalism. From grade school through high school, Millennials learn from a young age that they are “special”, and that “everyone wins, no one loses” – a mentality which can lead to the inability to handle failure. They also tend to be extremely connected and in constant communication with their parents, who often advocate and attempt to negotiate with instructors or school administrators on their child’s behalf. Millennials tend to thrive in the classroom when challenged and supported; they appreciate constant feedback, prefer working as a group or team, and respect authority.
Bookbower, Calabretta and Rokicki encouraged attendees to ask much of Millennials, but to also be prepared to offer them the support and flexibility they also crave to succeed. Utilizing new media and encouraging students to do the same on assignments appeals to their love of technology. Detailing all expectations in the syllabus and also providing a rubric for how assignments are graded alleviates anxiety about achieving an “A”, and serves as a clear contract between you and the student. Expanding office hours or making yourself available online or by email frequently makes students feel comfortable coming to you with questions. Millennials prefer to not stand out in a crowd of their peers, instead opting to come to you privately to ask for more details or further clarification. Those professors who are clear, concise and flexible are likely to have the most success with Millennials in the classroom.
November: Engaging Millennials: Part Two- Creating A Positive Classroom Learning Environment
The focus on Millennials continued in November with a FOSL Session examining ways to avoid disruptive behaviors and make the classroom a positive learning environment. Education professor, Dot Hively, campus judicial officer, Dave Cole, and assistant VP of Student Affairs, John Adams led this conversation.
Hively reminded professors to be consistent, confidant, and respectful of students, returning papers promptly and posting notes and other materials on Sakai or some readily accessible online forum. Cole and Adams explained that Millennial students have changed the way we manage classrooms, and encouraged faculty to reference the student handbook to understand expectations and boundaries established by the university which students must adhere to. Establishing a culture of mutual respect will ensure Millennial students are cooperative and strive to succeed in your classroom. Rating one another anonymously, creating group work and giving them clear guidelines, agenda, and strategies for success will help them feel better prepared to take on assignments and deliver according to your specifications.
Behavior that is repeatedly disruptive or excessively uncontrolled can be referred to the campus judicial officer and handled according to the degree of severity as either a class one (major) or class two (minor) offense. This action can result in expulsion from your course or the school, and sometimes further legal action, and should only be taken as a last resort.
The Code of Conduct (pg. 110) and Campus Judicial Board and Processes (pg. 130) can be viewed online in the 2009/2010 Shepherd University Student Handbook: http://www.shepherd.edu/students/studenthandbook.pdf
Upcoming Topics For Spring 2010
We are currently planning our spring semester Focus on Student Learning Sessions. Topics to be covered include: Library Resources (including RefWorks, EndNote, etc.) in February; the 4th Annual Celebration of Student Learning in March, highlighting projects funded in full or in part by CTL mini-grants; and a Best Practices Share in April, helping you get new teaching ideas and a jump on the fall semester! Stay tuned for specific days and times.
All FOSL Sessions are recorded on DVD and made available for checkout from the Scarborough Library (at the Reference Desk under “FOSL RESERVES”) or from the CTL Library (located in LIB 154). Missed a session that looks interesting? Check out the DVD for up to four days to see what you missed!
Ideas For Future Fosls?