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Conference focuses on student-centered learning

Students (from left) Meredith Woitach, Saugata Chose, Connie Valenzuela, Sarah Shah and Ashley Brisco speak to faculty and administrators about their experiences in classes at Binghamton University and answer questions during the eighth Institute for Stud
About 30 faculty members focused on ways to engage students in a variety of settings during the eighth-annual Institute for Student-Centered Learning.

The two-day conference, offered by the Center for Learning and Teaching, took place May 22 and 23 on campus. Sessions focused on topics such as team projects, service learning, brainstorming and simulations.

President Lois B. DeFleur and Provost Mary Ann Swain both addressed participants.

Binghamton “walks the talk” when it comes to caring about teaching, said DeFleur, who noted faculty members are the key to the University’s success. “We are reflective about what we are trying to do,” she said.

Workshop participants broke into groups to road test possible classroom activities during the conference’s second day. Ideas ranged from a lesson for a large lecture that would incorporate Revolutionary War-era poems to a kinesthetic exercise designed to teach chemistry students about acids.

In one group, faculty from the School of Education and Human Development and the Decker School of Nursing discussed simulations, testing approaches and small group work. Maureen Daws, a clinical instructor in the Decker School, said it can be a challenge to get students to attend lecture classes. She proposed saving 10 minutes for “not-so-grand rounds,” in which instructors would role play actual problems students had faced in their clinical practice.

Debra Bohunicky, also a clinical instructor in the Decker School, proposed a new format for exams. Group work involving evaluations of different scenarios would account for 20 percent of the grade while traditional multiple-choice questions would make up the other 80 percent.

“What I want to do is make the exam a learning experience, not just a regurgitation of knowledge or data,” Bohunicky said. Dina Maramba, an assistant professor in the Division of Human Development, said she’d like to use an exercise about what students like and dislike about group work. Students would put together skits to act out the issues; the whole class would then try to develop solutions.

“I would like students to know that working in groups can be interesting and fun,” said Maramba, who would also provide handouts on group dynamics.

Thomas O’Brien, associate professor in the Division of Education, gave the institute’s concluding talk.

“Think of yourself as a catalyst,” he told the faculty members. Learning happens all the time without professors, O’Brien noted, but value-added teaching can help students refine, translate and defend their thoughts.

“Learning is fundamentally about constructing meaning and that can’t be given to you,” O’Brien said. “It can be scaffolded, but it can’t be given to you.”

Discussing the “CIA” teaching model, a 1960s concept that relies on curriculum objectives, instructional plans and assessment strategies, O’Brien also spoke briefly about Bloom’s Taxonomy of Cognitive Skills.

O’Brien peppered his talk with cartoons displayed on transparencies and wrapped up with this quote from Galileo Galilei: “You cannot teach a person anything. You can only help him to find it for himself.”
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Last Updated: 10/14/08