Faculty members, student panel discuss classroom connections, technology
June 3, 2011Tweet
The 13th annual Institute for Student-Centered Learning, held May 23-24 on campus, focused on what is changing in terms of technology – and in terms of students – and how faculty can make connections with students to keep them at the center of learning.
Dozens of faculty attended “A Changing World: Impacts on Learning and Your Student-Centered Classroom” to help them better understand how to meet students’ needs into the future.
“We’re all learning together and to do that, we have to try to make connections for ourselves.” said Wayne Jones, professor and chair of chemistry, and chair of the ISCL Steering Committee.
“So, what is student-centered learning?” he asked. “It’s transitioning from the lecture mode to the interactive mode where the instructor asks questions and students respond to the student-centered mode. In the student-centered mode, you really need to put the students at the center of their learning. If we put them in the middle, they’ll get a lot more out of it.”
In student-centered classes, Jones said, students are literally in the middle of it all, engaged with the material and each other, and the instructor is the “guide on the side.”
But who are our students? They’re a lot different than those of just a decade ago, when cell phones and social media didn’t exist. “Students actually called each other on the phone and distractions had more to do with student activities and clubs,” Jones said. “A vision of students today shows they communicate constantly.”
After watching “A Vision of Students Today,” a brief video created by an anthropology class at Kansas State University that highlights characteristics of today’s students, participants discussed their observations, then interacted with a panel of five Binghamton students to learn more.
Three themes surfaced throughout the discussions:
• content must be relevant to students
• faculty must be passionate about the content
• use of technology in the classroom must be appropriate and balanced with other methods of presenting content
Distractions in the classroom (cell phones, laptops) and how to mitigate their use for non-class activities, while also incorporating technology into the classroom to engage students in their own learning was a concern.
“One of things that is the same [as in the past] is textbooks and relevant reading,” said Nadia Rubaii-Barrett, associate professor of public administration.“So if we start eliminating technology from the classroom, we’re also not giving them the relevance they need. We have to learn how to use it constructively and appropriately. We use it in the business world.”
Assistant Professor of Bioengineering Leann Lesperance allows students to use laptops in class. “I feel I have to be where they are, so I use my laptop, too, and if we need to search something, we do it together. That’s the give and take of my life, and theirs, at this time.” As far as cell phones, Lesperance said to be professional about it. “Teach them to put their phone on silent and if it rings, they have to do [a chore of some kind] after the class.”
Student panelists also emphasized the need for relevant content and for creating a connection between faculty and students. One way to connect: learn students’ names. Though it can be a function of the class size, consensus was that it’s important to build a relationship for optimum learning, and knowing students’ names goes a long way.
But students have a responsibility as well. “It’s important that I get to know my professors,” said Allison Whelan, who graduated May 22 with a double major in philosophy, politics and law and human development. “The student also has to make the effort, but I think it’s important for professors to be open to that and have office hours or times students can come and talk to them. If students feel they have a relationship and it’s also somebody looking out for them, it’s not just teaching, but they’re involved in students’ lives and do care about them.”
Elizabeth Magowan, a junior pursuing pre-med with a biology and French double major, said the video was on point with the life she and her friends lead. “I wish I got 7 hours of sleep a night,” she said. “There are so many things students are expected to do and we do need an outlet to go to besides schoolwork, and that’s why we do Facebook − but we should use outside the classroom time for that.”
“It’s almost like faculty are in competition for everything else going on in students’ lives and you need to find an edge some way,” said Aaron Cohn, who graduated May 22 with a degree in accounting. “The true impact of the guy who learns their names is that the students work for him. You want students to work on their own for you.”
“Accountability is very important for everyone,” said Tim O’Brien, a senior chemistry major. “Don’t be too hard on yourselves. You should put forth the effort, but it’s not all on you. If students are bringing laptops and stuff to class, that’s their choice, but give them incentives to come to class and actually learn something new. Teach in a way that it’s not just this paragraph that you need to memorize. Show where it’s going to manifest itself in a job and where students are going to use it.”
All students were in agreement about the value of passion for the subject matter. “If teachers show a true passion for the subject and a keen interest in students, that shows respect,” said Michael Meade, a senior accounting major.
When the student panelists were asked how they best learn, the majority said through class discussion and debate, prefaced by some assignment so there’s an incentive to be prepared for class. “If people can learn to argue their point and back it up with facts, perhaps that’s the most transferable skill to take with you,” Cohn said. “And my absolute favorite way to get new content? A good story. It’s very human and stories stick with you.”
However, a balanced use, not misuse, of technology can reinforce discussion. “You can switch things up with relevant info through power points, lecture, video,” Meade said. “There’s value in mixing it up.”
“In every discipline there are pieces of information, nuggets, concepts, but all of these need to get wrapped into a bigger framework,” Jones said. “We want to bring more to learning than is in the textbook or that you can Google. Can we do that all the time? No, but we need to recognize that by it being a key piece.”
The student panel concluded with students sharing what they wish Binghamton faculty knew.
• Cohn said it is having a clear-cut e-mail policy for faculty, and “just being excited about what you’re teaching and care and respect for students.”
• Magowan looks for excitement and passion, and for faculty to be approachable from day one.
• Whelan said “reach out to your students and be available in several ways, the Internet is a great way to have students answer a question and it has to be used. It can’t be shut out of the classroom because it will be in their professions, so if they don’t learn to use it effectively now, they’ll be shut out in the future.”
• O’Brien said to use technology “not as a crutch, but as a way of assisting yourself to get back to an intellectual conversation.”
• Meade said “it comes down to passion. If you come to class passionate about what you teach, students will be more excited to learn and come prepared.”
The ISCL afternoon session, another panel discussion, but this one about “Students on the Edge,” featured Dean of Harpur College Donald Nieman, University Counsel Barbara Scarlett, Dean of Students Liz Droz, Director of Health and Counseling Services Johann Fiore Conte, and Interim Chief of Police Matthew Rossie.
Participants presented a variety of scenarios they have or might be confronted with to the panel, from students wearing inappropriate dress and exhibiting inappropriate behavior to others involving concern for the health and safety of the student and/or others. Panelists responded with comments on how faculty might react or manage the situations.
For guidance in dealing with difficult situations involving disruptive students, a brochure with information, including a list of resources available to faculty, can be found on the Dean of Students website.
On May 24, the ISCL focus turned to technology and how it can be used to facilitate learning, with several breakout sessions from which participants could choose. Associate Professor Kimberly Jaussi and Lecturer Ann Merriweather led one of the sessions that resulted in a great exchange of ideas, according to Merriweather. “We went over i>clickers and demonstrated and then discussed the ‘voice’ they can give to students,” she said. “Folks really seemed to enjoy that and I think several will adopt i>clicker for use in their classes.
“We then showed how one can use Facebook to set up a group for a class and discussed the pros and cons of using such a social network for a class,” Merriweather added. “Kim also showed how to use Google forms to survey a class and how you can get immediate data. Folks were very intrigued with that.”