Area educators learn to 'Cultivate Curiosity' at 16th annual Teaching & Learning Conference

The 16th annual Teaching & Learning Conference, sponsored by Elon's Center for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning (CATL) and Teaching and Learning Technologies (TLT), hosted hundreds of area educators Thursday.

University and college educators from across the state learned to foster student curiosity in the classroom at the 16th annual Teaching & Learning Conference Thursday. 

One way to spark that curiosity, as Assistant Professor of Sociology Raj Ghoshal learned, is to deepen relationships – even if that means taking unconventional measures. 

"We did a set of exercises that involved creating a context where everyone had to do mildly embarrassing things all at once as a way to break down stress and get to know each other," he said. 

Ghoshal was one of about a dozen educators to attend the "Fostering Curiosity through Experiential and Adventure-Based Learning" workshop taught by Evan Small, assistant director of campus recreation and wellness for experiential learning and outdoor adventures, and Carol Smith, associate professor of wellness. The 90-minute workshop taught educators to find new ways to foster creativity, reflection, innovation and meaning-making in the classroom. 

The workshop was one of more than 30 sessions for the roughly 300 educators who attended this year's Teaching & Learning Conference, which is sponsored by Elon's Center for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning (CATL) and Teaching and Learning Technologies (TLT). Each year, the conference offers area educators the opportunity to learn and share techniques to motivate student learning, foster student resiliency and empower students by connecting their learning to evidence-based practices in inclusive teaching, non-conventional pedagogies and work-integrated learning. The costs of the conference are underwritten by CATL and TLT.

​In the workshop led by Small and Smith, the group participated in exercises that helped its members think outside the box while connecting with and finding comfort in each other. In one case, educators were required to perform secret tasks written on the back of a card, including mooing like a cow or asking other participants to take off their shoes. The goal was to break down barriers and build relationships to open the door for new learning opportunities. 

"There's a whole lot to be said for the value of play in learning," Small said. "We think of it as so serious, but sometimes, we need to be able to take a break and laugh and be able to interact with each other as humans and have fun, and that then enables us to go into deeper conversations and have a more rich learning experience." 

The course used other ice-breaking games and discussions to teach educators the value of experiential learning, especially as it relates to opening students' minds to new ideas. The key, Smith said, is to think beyond homework, tests and grades.  

"You have to able to think," Smith said. "You have to be able to figure out the best way to do something, and just regurgitating something on a test because you've memorized it doesn't do anything for you."

​This year's conference theme, "Cultivating Curiosity," was the focus of the conference's opening plenary by Peter Felten, assistant provost for teaching and learning and executive director of the Center for Engaged Learning. Felten urged educators to consider the importance of curiosity in the learning process and ways to foster it in their courses. 

“The key in this isn’t what we do, it’s what students do," Felten told the hundreds of educators gathered inside Turner Theatre at Schar Hall. "Some of that is that students bring in curiosity with them, and our job is to help them capture, guide and cultivate that. If we can do that, we’ll have an awesome semester and an awesome year.

The curiosity theme was prevalent throughout the workshops in Schar and McEwen halls on Thursday. Topics ranged from teaching courses without assigning grades to using and studying escape rooms to cultivate engaged learning in the classroom. One educator called the effort to constantly develop teaching techniques "critically important."

"I've been teaching for a while now, and I never really thought about my own teaching," said Cecile Yancu, associate professor of sociology at Winston-Salem State University. "And, I'm just as guilty as a lot of other people of saying, 'the students aren't doing this, the students aren't doing that,' and about four years ago, I was faced with 'maybe it's not the students, maybe I need to rethink the way I do things.'"

Ghoshal said, "There are so many people at Elon and so many people in the world who teach and do all kinds of interesting and creative things, but given the day-to-day demands of the job, it's so easy to forget about everything everybody else knows. So, it's important to go to workshops like this to be able to stay on top of all the cool things other people are doing."