Faculty Innovators: Steffany Maher and Rebekah Dement

1st February 2023

Replacing “Remote” with a Rekindling of Interpersonal Skills Through Reading, Writing and Peopling

After a steady course of social distancing and remote instruction, incoming and returning IU Southeast students arrived back to school trying to relearn skills and behaviors that they had little opportunity to practice during the pandemic. Recognizing this dilemma, IU Southeast Honors Program director and English lecturer, Rebekah Dement, Ph.D., and assistant professor of English education and director of the IU Southeast Writing Project, Steffany Maher, Ph.D., collaborated to create the program – Reading, Writing, and Peopling: Essential Skills for College Success.

“Students weary with remote learning rekindled interpersonal skills by participating in theater games, and the communication strategies they encourage, and practicing foundational skills of college-level reading and writing,” said Dement.

Designed for both student participants and student leaders, the program encourages students to confront new situations, address challenges, and connect with others. Speakers shared campus resources, reading and writing strategies, and encouragement. Student leaders led roundtable discussions and activities, practicing strategies, and engaging personally in small groups.

Dr. Steffany Maher
Dr. Steffany Maher

“When dreaming for this program, we asked: What do students need?,” said Maher. “We determined that we needed a program that addressed the following questions: How do we get past the nerves of meeting new people? Once we’ve met, how do we interact in a meaningful way? How do we retrain our brains to read and reflect, rather than mindlessly doom-scrolling? To engage in sustained, effective academic writing?”

There are four main components to the Reading, Writing, and Peopling (RWP) program:

  1. Boot Camp – a collaborative effort between the School of Arts and Letters, the School of Education, and the Honors Program that utilized theater games and interactive reading and writing workshops.
  2. Follow-up Tutoring Sessions
  3. The Closing Session – reflective, interactive workshops and small group sessions.
  4. Paths to College Success – a panel of IUS alumni sharing their college struggles and successes.
Dr. Rebekah Dement
Dr. Rebekah Dement

“The results were overwhelmingly positive,” said Dement. “We observed a pronounced improvement in student confidence and engagement throughout the program. At the beginning of Boot Camp, participants were quiet and reserved. At the end, several stayed to say how much they enjoyed the experience, and students were much more open than at the start.”

The most noticeable result was a big boost to the students’ confidence in their ability to interact with new people in social settings – jumping from 20% to 54%.

“This skill set was the most impacted by remote learning,” said Maher.

One student remarked, “I found this program both beneficial and enjoyable, and I am grateful to have been able to participate.”

Both Dement and Maher plan to continue to grow the RWP program rooted in student engagement and interpersonal skills.

“In short, I hope to never become a complacent distributor of content,” said Dement. “To have worked with Dr. Maher to implement a program aligning so well with both our teaching philosophies was a blessing indeed–and to have empowered students to rekindle skills that suffered during the challenges of COVID-19 was tremendously rewarding.”

Maher concurs.

“I have found that students are successful when they are engaged in the coursework and in their own learning,” said Maher. “In our RWP program, students have the opportunity to engage in academic and social activities that help them to learn with and from other students and student leaders while getting to know one another and Dr. Dement and me.”   

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