Lang and Yearwood on Teaching Excellence

Jeff Rients, Senior Teaching and Learning Specialist, CAT

The 17th Annual Faculty Conference on Teaching Excellence was held January 9th and 10th at Temple University’s Howard Gittis Student Center.  In previous years, the Conference was a one-day affair, with a second event, the Teaching with Technology Symposium, occurring late in the semester.  This year, the two events were combined to better reflect our evolving understanding of the inseparability of our teaching and the tools we use to make learning happen.

The first day of the conference  featured a keynote by Dr. James Lang, Director of the D’Amour Center for Teaching Excellence at Assumption College in Worcester, MA, and a leader in the field of teaching and learning.  Dr. Lang’s address, Small Changes, Big Impact, was based in part on his latest book, Small Teaching: Everyday Lessons from the Science of Learning. He shared several easy-to-implement teaching strategies that better reflect what cognitive science tells us about how learning works.  Some key takeaways included:

  • Don't underestimate the power of small changes to a class -- there are many things that could make a difference in how students learn and engage with courses that require minimal changes to the overall course structure and workload for the instructor.

  • With so many ideas on how to enhance classrooms, deciding what to do next can be overwhelming. Instead of doing an complete overhaul of your course, try to do one small thing at a time.  When changes are manageable, instructors can focus on doing them well.

  • Practice is powerful.  Before asking your students to tackle a big project, break it down into the individual skills necessary to succeed at the task.  Incorporate opportunities to practice all of these skills into your lesson plans before assessing the students.

For the second day of the conference, our plenary speaker was Dr. David Yearwood, Professor in the School of Entrepreneurship and past chair of the Technology Department at the University of North Dakota.  His highly interactive plenary address, Using Technology to Promote Connection, Engagement, and Empowerment, challenged us to reconsider the role of technology in our classrooms.  Crucially, Dr. Yearwood warns us not to add new technologies to our classes unless they serve a specific need in the course design.

Dr. Yearwood’s CEE (Connection/Engagement/Empowerment) model gives us a framework for interrogating whether a new technology is right for our students.  Does the technology allow the student to connect the new material in the course with past learning?  Does it help the student engage with the instructor, the course content, and/or the other students?  Does the technology empower the students, allowing them to feel confident in their new abilities and take charge of their learning?  These questions can help us assess the value of new tools before we deploy them in their courses.

Thank you to both Dr. Lang and Dr. Yearwood for sharing their wisdom with us as we begin another semester!  

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