Elon conference explores 'teaching choices, learning consequences'
The annual Teaching & Learning Conference hosted by the Center for the Advancement of Teaching & Learning and Teaching and Learning Technologies at Elon drew hundreds of professors from around the state.
Hundreds of professors from around the state gathered at Elon on Thursday to explore how the choices they make in the classroom translate into real-world consequences for the way their students are able to learn and develop.
“Teaching Choices, Learning Consequences” was the central theme for Elon's annual Teaching and Learning Conference, a gathering that’s now in its 14th year. Jointly organized by the Center for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning and Teaching and Learning Technologies at Elon, the conference offers an opportunity to offer new scholarship, share best practices and introduce new teaching technologies to faculty across multiple disciplines and institutions.
Amy Overman, associate professor of psychology and associate director of the Center for the Advancement of Teaching & Learning, said this year’s topic helps shed some light on the lessons that teachers can draw from those times when things don’t necessarily go as expected.
“Failure has been a bit of a hot topic this year, and we realized that we talk a lot about wanting to do things to improve teaching, but we don’t talk a lot about those times when it doesn’t work out, and when there are side effects, like in the health care world,” Overman said. “We wanted to focus on what does it really mean to work to improve teaching, and what are the broader impacts of the pedagogical choices we make.”
About 275 attendees representing 40 higher education institutions absorbed insight from morning and afternoon plenary sessions at Koury Business Center along with two sessions of workshops and presentations by Elon faculty as well as faculty from other North Carolina schools. During a lunch break, participants were invited to learn more about resources at Elon including the university's Maker Hub, Information Security Services and Media Services, with demonstrations of virtual reality and augmented reality also available.
The annual conference began as an opportunity to share new scholarship about teaching and learning with Elon’s own faculty, but has expanded through the years to include attendees from other colleges and universities. More than a dozen Elon professors led sessions this year, and the number of faculty from other institutions or organizations leading workshops has grown, with nearly two-thirds of the presenters from other schools. Offerings from outside faculty members this year included "Fostering Group Work with Collaborative Online Tools," led by Bethany Smith and Christopher Beeson from N.C. State University, and "Recovering the Victims' Voices: Navigating Learning Experiences in Teaching Traumatic Histories," by Leah Wolfson and Emil Kerenji from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. The entire program is available here.
Elon faculty members Jeff Carpenter, Scott Morrison, Amy Allocco and Evan Gatti offered their insights into how to use the social media platform Twitter to help expand the classroom and the discussions generated during coursework, as well as some of the unanticipated consequences.
Carpenter and Morrison, who are on the faculty in the School of Education, explained that the use of a common hashtag — #ElonEd — has provided the opportunity for students to connect online across courses while also bringing in external audiences. They opted for a more universal hashtag when they realized that class- or topic-specific hashtags limited the audience too much or caused the discussion to end once the class had concluded for the semester.
"If I'm teaching a class to juniors, because I'm using a hashtag all are aware of, maybe some sophomores, maybe some seniors chime in," said Carpenter, associate professor of education and director of the Teaching Fellows program. "They may hear from more students, and not just their face-to-face peers. ... This offers the opportunity to extend the discussion to a much larger audience."
Morrison, an assistant professor of education, has collaborated with Carpenter on extensive research into the use of Twitter as a learning tool, and said the social media platform offers students the opportunity to develop a professional learning network that can offer advice or feedback as they grow as teachers. "This mentoring piece is really important,” Morrison said.
During the afternoon plenary session, Elon faculty members Haya Ajjan, Melissa Murfin, Kevin Otos and Scott Windham talked about failures that they’ve experienced as teachers, and the lessons they drew from those experiences.
“We want to share not just the research we’ve found, but also share what has happened and what teachers have experienced as they have tried out that research in their own teaching,” Overman said. “In teaching, we typically only talk about the great things that happen in our classes. How about the other times when we’ve learned from something that didn’t work? Hopefully this conference helped advance those discussions.”
David Daniel, professor of psychology at James Madison University, offered the opening plenary the begin the conference, and continued his discussion with faculty members during a workshop he presented jointly with Overman titled “Should Science and Neuroscience Inform Your Pedagogy?”
Daniel challenged the increasing reliance on laptop computers in college classrooms based upon studies that show that in many instances, their presence can be more disruptive than productive, both to the student using a computer and to those around them. “Even if someone is using a computer correctly, as they switch from one screen to the next, that flash can be disruptive,” Daniel said.
Daniels fielded a question from a professor who teaches genetics about how to best gauge the impact that pedagogical choices are having on students, and whether different teaching tools might be counteracting one another. “Apply the same nuance and complexity to how you think about your teaching that you do to your research in genetics,” Daniels advised. “Use the tools in your scientific discipline to become more comfortable with understanding the complexity of teaching.”