Excellence in Learning and Teaching Conference #3

The third annual Conference on Excellence in Learning and Teaching was held on September 19 and drew 380 participants, including some from Butte and Yuba Community Colleges. The one-day conference started with a luncheon, which 250 attended, on the lawn of Kendall Hall. The picnic luncheon was followed by Madeline Keaveney’s Outstanding Teacher lecture, and then an afternoon of choices from among seventeen presentations by CSU, Chico faculty members.

The shift to a one-day conference was made to "double the impact," according to Provost Scott McNall by offering a second conference in the spring on March 6, 1998. The one-day conference allows people to focus intently on the sessions without getting overly saturated or tired. Participant feedback indicated that people were enthusiastic about the workshops. McNall said that, "In one of the sessions I attended, it was clear that people were passionate about the topic of teaching and learning and that they had thought deeply about the issues confronting all of us in the classroom."

Proposals for the spring conference are due in the CELT office on October 24. For more information, call x6101.

"Fight or Flight" in the Classroom: Affect and the Learning Process

Joyce Norman, Psychology

What is your view of the relationship between emotion and reason? (Use the space below to diagram your ideas or write some thoughts about emotion and reason.)

This was the first task Joyce Norman, Psychology, gave us in her session on the role of emotion in the learning process. Rather than the traditional notion held by many, especially in academia, that reason is primary and emotion secondary, current research suggests that emotion and reason are not independent processes and not opposite ends of a continuum of desirable behavior; they constantly interact in our decision-making strategies.

Research also suggests that the classroom is not an affectively neutral arena. Students come to our classrooms neither empty "headed" nor empty "hearted." So, as we engineer our classrooms for cognitive involvement, we need to be mindful of affective influences on learning and the affective consequences of our engineering.

Norman cited Carroll E. Izard's theoretical framework on emotion as influential in guiding her thinking:

After asking us to recall a time when we, as students, felt stress, anxiety, apprehension, or fear in a classroom setting, Norman described the consequences of appraisal of a stressful event. If we view the stressful event as a challenge rather than a threat, then we're more likely to respond with greater focus on relevant details, increased interest and reflection, and enhanced schema connections. According to Norman, twenty years of research by cognitive psychologist Alice Isen has demonstrated that positive affect can have a powerful influence over cognitive organization and thinking/problem solving skills.

Isen has shown that positive affect creates a "loosening" of the cognitive processes, resulting in diverse associations, richly interconnected schema, and creative problem solving. When stress is seen as threatening, however, our cognitive processes tend to tighten, resulting in insular memories, extreme focus on survival priorities, and fixation on irrelevant cues.

Suggestions for minimizing the perception of threat in the classroom include the following:

Norman stressed that this theory is not a "Be happy, don't worry" philosophy. "There is a time for stress, a time for pressure," she said. But when our students see this pressure as a challenge, their thinking becomes more flexible and innovative, encouraging greater learning.

Casey Huff, Publications

"A Way to Get Off the Stage and Let Students Learn"

Lee Altier and Annette Levi, Agriculture

"A Way To Get Off The Stage And Let Students Learn," presented by Lee Altier and Annette Levi, Agriculture, focused on teachers as facilitators, interactive guides or directors who use "decision cases" in the classroom as a way to involve students actively in problem-solving. A decision case is a case study that focuses on real dilemmas viewed from the perceptive of a person or organization that makes decisions related to those dilemmas. The case study, useful in almost any class, is a technique that is especially effective at giving students the opportunity to evaluate value-based and ethical issues as well as the logical and factual aspects of a problem.

Altier and Levi presented the group with a reality-based case: a student challenging a teacher's grading policies as being racially biased. Participants were given the background of the two students, their comparative grades, information on the students' class participation and the teacher's decision making. The ensuing discussion elicited emotional as well as practical responses.

Several participants voiced a common concern: "Faculty know enough to deal with the case you presented, but do students know enough to deal with a case study?

Altier described his use of case studies as a part of a larger strategy that uses lectures, readings, written assignments, and discussions, all of which serve to prepare students for the work of a case study. He acknowledged that it requires careful planning, including clear objectives, an appropriate case that is both authentic and complex, and anticipation of the class discussion. The teacher has to get ahead of what might happen, which requires a good sense of the students, their experiences, and what they know. Evaluation includes the students' preparation, participation, and post case-study written work.

Despite the extra planning and work involved, both Altier and Levi find case studies--authentic and complex case studies--to be an invaluable technique as they move students to the center of the stage.


Teaching Strategies for Learning Styles

Laura McLachlin and Brett Eldredge


Laura McLachlin and Brett Eldredge, teaching colleagues in Recreation, are also life colleagues who are married to each other and are the parents of a daughter. Brett Eldredge began the workshop by showing the participants a picture of his daughter and telling about taking her, as a two-year-old, to visit friends and then spending all of their time following her around and telling her "no." Eldredge and McLachlin decided that taking their daughter to environments where she could not experience success was really not fair to her. They began looking at the learning environment they were creating at home. Both dedicated teachers, they found themselves talking about and becoming interested in how children learn--how they differ from each other and how the ways in which they differ may call for a different kind of teaching and teaching environment.

Their research into learning styles and what they discovered became part of their own teaching strategies. The organizing question of their workshop was, "How can we, as teachers, help our students succeed by using methods that compliment their different learning styles? The key seems to be, not that you must choose one particular typology, but that it is important to understand the idea of learning style, choose a typology that works for you, and use it to inform your teaching.

Eldredge and McLachlin presented four of the most well-known learning styles: Myers-Briggs Type Indicator; Kolb Learning Style Inventory; Visual/Auditory/Kinesthetic (VAK); Hemispherology. Participants were asked to think of teaching activities they commonly use and then to analyze them in terms of learning styles engaged by the activity, learning styles not engaged, and complimentary teaching activities that would engage a wider range of learning styles.

Eldridge and McLachlin used the movie Dead Poet's Society to provide a vivid example of the VAK typology. As Robin Williams hummed, walked, gesticulated, whispered, moved his students out of the classroom, asked them to look at photocopies, he was using a wide variety of teaching strategies. The chances for presenting some activity for each kind of learner greatly increase as the variety of teaching strategies increase. The point was made with the film , that it is as important to understand one's own learning style, as teacher's tend to naturally use their own dominant style in their teaching.

Often, a teacher can expand his/her teaching strategies in simple ways without completely overhauling either curriculum or style. For example, a teacher who routinely uses small group discussions which work for extroverted types under the Myers-Briggs typology, might add individual, reflective and journaling time for introverted types. Using the VAK typology, a teacher who routinely lectures, a primarily auditory,techniques, might look at adding some hands-on team work for those who are more kinesthetic.

The challenge, for any teacher, of course is to address multiple learning styles in the same classroom. Getting to know your students helps. Adding teaching strategies for different learning styles, even if you don't know your students, will almost always improve the ease with which all of your students learn at least some of what you believe you intend to teach.


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