Thursday, October 23, 2014
October 23, 2014: De Lange Follows Ups: Pedagogy Sessions
[Last Monday and Tuesday I had the honor of being invited to attend Rice University’s De Lange Conference IX as a Social Media Fellow, helping to create conversations about and around the conference theme (“Teaching in the University of Tomorrow”) and talks. It was a wonderful experience, and I wanted to follow it up this week with posts on a number of the issues and ideas I encountered there. Whether you attended as well, followed on Twitter, or just have thoughts on any of these topics, I’d love to hear from you!]
On my specific and broader takeaways from the conference’s wonderful breakout sessions.
While the conference’s keynote addresses, on which my last two posts have focused, generally engaged with sweeping issues related to the future of higher education, the complementary breakout sessions did something very distinct and much more immediately applicable: highlighted pedagogical ideas and strategies, and presented in-depth examinations of why and how educators can make them part of their own teaching and courses. I had the chance to hear and learn from Music Professor Karim Al-Zand on an individualized critique model of feedback-giving, from English Professor J. Dennis Huston on how he works to engage each and every student in his course discussions, and from Communications Professors Tracy Volz and Jennifer Wilson on strategies for teaching speech and communication. I took valuable lessons away from each presentation, but by far the most eye-opening of those I attended was offered by Rice CTE Director and conference organizer Joshua Eyler.
Eyler’s session focused on the subject of his current book project: “The Science of Learning and Why It Matters.” We humanities types (Eyler was a medievalist before he moved into his current gig) love to throw around the term “science” far too loosely, but that’s not the case with Eyler’s work; he means it, and discussed what such disciplines as neuroscience, cognitive psychology, human development, and evolutionary biology/biological anthropology can help us understand about how we learn and what that might mean for our teaching practices and strategies. Among many other topics about which I learned a great deal from Eyler’s talk, he got me thinking about neuroplasticity (the way the brain changes when we learn things); the role of curiosity and play in human development, and how our teaching practices can tap into them; and the connection of gestures to language and learning, and how we can work to maximize those relationships. He highlighted and engaged with relevant research, noted controversies and limitations, and even featured cute pictures of his daughter—all while guiding us through a number of broad and complex topics.
In the question and answer period, I asked Eyler to expand a bit on one of his final points: that fuller engagement with these ideas could help produce higher ed reforms. His main answer was simple but vital: that we could, and need to, do a much better job putting this kind of research and information in front of teachers. And indeed, I would say the same about all these pedagogical breakout sessions, both specifically and generally: that the more we teachers share such ideas and issues, the stronger and more successful our work will be, collectively as well as individually. Partly that’s about preparing future teachers for their careers in the field, as is the overt goal of the Cross-Sector Partnership initiative here in Massachusetts. But honestly, we current teachers need those conversations just as much, and the more we make such engagement a shared, supported, and incentivized part of our work (rather than, as often happens with Centers for Teaching, an opportunity offered to those self-selected faculty who choose to pursue it), the stronger our collective efforts will be.
Last follow up tomorrow,
PS. What do you think?