By Steven Krolak
(NEW ALBANY, Ind.)—Just prior to the beginning of term, over 90 IU Southeast instructors gathered for the 9th annual Teaching Mini-Conference with a focus on practical teaching.
By now, the impacts of the workshops and discussions at this event are being felt in classrooms across campus.
Launched by the Institute for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (ILTE) as a fun half-day kick-off to the fall semester for returning faculty, the event has doubled in size and duration over the years, expanding to a full day of presentations and breakout sessions with the common purpose of providing useful insights for improving the classroom experience.
The focus of this year’s event was “practical teaching,” with presentations and breakout sessions aiming to provide real-world best practices to instructors in a relaxed environment.
Breakouts were arranged around themes such as purpose, task and criteria. IU Southeast scholars shared theoretical frameworks and experiences from their particular perspectives, with discussion following. Margot Morgan, assistant professor of political science, spoke on the need for students to understand the purpose of assignments. Jennifer Ortiz, assistant professor of criminology and criminal justice, stressed the importance of detailed grading rubrics to improve transparency and clarity in class assignments. Quinn Dauer, assistant professor of history and international studies, zeroed in on how to design and share criteria to decrease student confusion and make grading more efficient.
These and other presentations illuminated the ways in which a few simple tweaks can turn a classroom routine into a high-impact teaching practice.
Keynote speaker was Dr. DeDe Wohlfarth, professor of clinical psychology at Spalding University in Louisville, Ky.
Wohlfarth spoke on the need for educators to recognize who their students really are, and connect with them where they live in order to create a more motivating classroom environment.
Wolfarth, who recently co-authored a problem-based learning case study book on child and adolescent psychopathology with ILTE Director Dr. Robin Morgan, urged educators to transcend generational stereotypes about “entitled” or “lazy” students, and grasp the classroom as a laboratory of learning in which they can create the conditions that truly inspire.
“We need to use all the resources available to us to become great teachers,” Wohlfarth said.
Among the most essential of those resources, in Wohlfarth’s view, is cultural sensitivity.
“We need to embrace students of different colors, sexual orientations, ethnicities and religions, and honor the lived experiences of those students in our classroom in order make sure that everybody feels comfortable,” Wohlfarth said.
That embrace of diversity is not just a theory for Wohlfarth, who has role-played teenagers with conduct problems in order to help her clinical students learn to interact with difficult clients.
Evidence shows that students are more connected to their academic material and more likely to persist in school when they have a connection to their instructors, and when they believe their instructors can relate to them. By making that effort to empathize, teachers can make their lessons more impactful.
“The mini-conference provides faculty with the opportunity to learn the most effective strategies to engage students and facilitate their learning,” Morgan said.
Homepage photo: Dr. DeDe Wohlfahrt role-plays a 15 year-old boy with conduct problems to assess students’ skills in conducting an intake interview with a difficult client. Her keynote speech addressed getting to know and relate to students, in order to motivate them and build trust.