How Learning Worked at Temple

Overview

More than 250 interdisciplinary faculty members from the Philadelphia region attended the 12th Annual Faculty Conference on Teaching Excellence, making it Temple University’s largest and most robust teaching and learning conference to date.

At the Teaching and Learning Center, we advocate for learning-centered educational experiences that require active participation. We held ourselves to that standard when developing the conference. Educators were given the opportunity to reflect on their effectiveness in the classroom, and dialogue with colleagues from across the disciplines about how to provide high­-quality education.

One of the new ways the TLC created an active learning environment for its participants was via social media. Attendees were invited to share their experiences and connect with one another using the hashtag #TLCFC14. In addition to hosting a live WebEx session of the plenary speakers’ presentations, we live-tweeted the keynote addresses and posted pictures and videos to Instagram throughout the day.

To relive the conference as it happened online, check out our recap on Storify.

Keynote Addresses

It was our honor to host Drs. Michele DiPietro and Marsha Lovett, co-authors of the book How Learning Works: Seven Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching. Their keynotes synthesized 50 years of research on teaching and learning from cognitive, motivational, and developmental psychology, as well as diversity and inclusion studies.

Dr. Marsha C. Lovett presenting the morning keynote at the 2014 Faculty Conference on Teaching Excellence (#TLCFC14).

Between their talks, Drs. DiPietro and Lovett covered all seven learning principles and offered key results from the research as well as ways in which to implicate them in one’s teaching. The principles, Dr. Lovett assured, are “broadly applicable across domains, students, and contexts”; they can also “[help] faculty devise effective strategies for their [own classroom] situations.”

Dr. Lovett began the conference day with a discussion of the importance of helping students build and connect rich knowledge structures and supporting them in their development of mastery. Her presentation was based upon the findings — which can be found in the book — that:

  • “Students’ prior knowledge can help or hinder learning.” (How Learning Works chapter 1)

  • “How students organize knowledge influences how they learn and apply what they know.” (HLW chapter 2)

  • “To develop mastery, students must acquire component skills, practice integrating them, and know when to apply what they have learned.” (HLW chapter 4)

  • “Goal-directed practice coupled with targeted feedback enhances the quality of students’ learning.” (HLW chapter 5; see also the EDvice Exchange blog post on the subject)

Dr. Lovett recommended teachers administer “prior knowledge” assessments, which evaluate a student’s familiarity of and experiences with subject material. In designing a course, it is important to remember, Dr. Lovett pointed out, that “content experts have rich, meaningful knowledge structures that support learning and performance,” whereas “novices tend to build sparse, superficial knowledge structures.” One strategy she offered was the creation of a “concept map,” so that instructors could base course material around a “big picture.”

In the afternoon general session, Dr. DiPietro highlighted the importance of student motivation, intellectual maturity, and strategic self-awareness, as they play out in the socio-emotional climate of the course. His presentation was based upon the findings that:

  • “Students’ motivation determines, directs, and sustains what they do to learn.” (HLW chapter 3)

  • “Students’ current level of development interacts with the social, emotional, and intellectual climate of the course to impact learning.” (HLW chapter 6)

  • “To become self-directed learners, students must learn to monitor and adjust their approaches to learning.” (HLW chapter 7)

Dr. Michele DiPietro presenting the afternoon keynote at the 2014 Faculty Conference on Teaching Excellence (#TLCFC14).

At the end of each section, Dr. DiPietro noted what teachers “owe [their] students.” With regards to motivation, it is “learning environments that stay up-to-date with what students value, engage multiple goals, build self-efficacy, and are responsive and helpful.” When considering course climate, students need “learning environments that use the tools of the disciplines to engage and embrace complexity” and that “are explicitly inclusive in methods and content.” And finally, self-directed learners thrive in “learning environments that foster metacognitive awareness and a lifelong learning disposition.”

You can access the PowerPoints and WebEx recordings of both keynotes on the conference website, under “Resources.”

Breakout and Poster Sessions

Rob Pred, TLC Senior Faculty Fellow and associate professor of statistics, leading a breakout session at #TLCFC14.

Rob Pred, TLC Senior Faculty Fellow and associate professor of statistics, leading a breakout session at #TLCFC14.

Morning and afternoon breakout sessions focused on strategies for applying the seven principles from How Learning Works and were led by members of the Temple University Provost’s Teaching Academy. Click here to read summaries of each session.

The poster session asked faculty to contribute their best teaching practices and educational models. Forty submissions came from educators affiliated with regional institutions such as Villanova, Philadelphia University, and University of the Sciences. Twenty-six posters were selected for presentation.

Conference attendees voted and selected “The Experimental Classroom: Integrating ecological literacy and teacher education,” by Rowan University’s Andrea Kornbluh, as this year’s best poster. Her prize was an iPad mini. Kornbluh’s poster offered that teaching ecological literacy to science education students would create a snowball effect and lead to widespread and lasting understanding of “the relationship between ecology and today’s environmental challenges.”

Temple University's 12th Annual Faculty Conference on Teaching Excellence

Temple University’s 12th Annual Faculty Conference on Teaching Excellence (#TLCFC14).

Looking Forward

We’re already gearing up for our 2015 event, taking place January 8! If there is anything you would like to see at our next conference, leave a comment below, email us at tlc@temple.edu, or tweet us @TempleTLC.

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The Value of a College Education

Next month Temple University’s Teaching and Learning Center and General Education Program will co-sponsor a book group for faculty on Dr. Mark Edmundson’s Why Teach? In Defense of a Real Education. In this series of essays, Edmundson wrestles with the problem of teaching in a consumer-driven climate and criticizes universities for becoming “corporate cities.” He upholds an unapologetic view that “real teachers are an endangered species in the academic ecosystem“ and most faculty are in a rush to escape from the classroom into esoteric research.

TLC’s Assistant Director Johanna Inman weighs in on one topic raised by Edmundson: the value of a college education.

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Last month President Obama caused a minor uproar in the arts community by stating that “folks can make a lot more, potentially, with skilled manufacturing or the trades than they might with an art history degree.” Realizing the negative attention his remarks would likely receive, he followed the statement with, “I’m just saying you can make a really good living and have a great career without getting a four-year college education as long as you get the skills and the training that you need.”

These comments are not particularly shocking to anyone following higher education’s reputation in the political or public sphere. In fact, art history could have been replaced with any number of other college majors that now compete for notoriety on lists such as Forbes’ Least Valuable College Majors or Kiplinger’s Worst College Majors for Your Career. The current national discourse on higher education equates the value of college in terms of dollars spent, and the effects are evident. Students enter college with a consumer mentality, viewing education “as a passport to a desired job rather than a learning experience.”

In this context, Dr. Mark Edmundson, University of Virginia professor and author of the book Why Teach?, is right to be concerned. Where is the value in a degree that is bought rather than earned? When we talk about the value of a college education, we should be talking about the value of an experience where students learn to ask hard questions, accommodate diverse perspectives, take intellectual and creative risks, and embrace learning through failure. A college education used to be valued, Edmundson writes, as an experience for “seeking knowledge so as to make the lives of other human beings better” – something he hopes to reestablish.

Furthermore, Edmundson argues that a college teacher’s “job is not to help our students acquire skills, marketable skills, bankables“ but to make ”moments of transformation possible.” I too believe the real value of a college education lies in its potential to be a transformative experience, because it transformed me. Like other teachers, I followed my passions regardless of financial payout and became a teacher because I wanted to make the world a better place.

But, let’s take off the rose-colored glasses for a moment. Many students do not have the luxury of spending tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of dollars on the vague notion that a four-year degree will provide the transformative experience that Edmundson describes. Many need a college education to get a job to then pay off the loans that financed college. It’s unfair to criticize them for it, and unless we appreciate the validity of these motivations, we miss the opportunity to change them.

As teachers, we have little control over changing the cost of higher education, so let’s focus on what we can change: what our students learn when they get here. Let’s commit to creating a learning experience that is valuable — in our eyes and in theirs. A college education has the potential to be a transformational experience, but transformation rarely occurs without student buy-in. In order to reach more students, we must make it completely explicit to them what they are learning in our classrooms, labs, studios, and offices, as well as how it will help them meet personal goals in career and life.

A college education has the potential to transform students through improving their ability to think critically and creatively; to communicate verbally, in writing, and through images; to make and support arguments with evidence and to challenge unsubstantiated claims; to care for and contribute meaningfully to civil and global society; and most importantly, to continue learning long after they receive their degree. This is real transformation, but these are also marketable skills that any smart employer would find attractive. I am optimistic that when educators focus on student learning, we can unpack both what we want for our students and what the students want for themselves. With this learning-centered approach to teaching, we will find common ground for the real value of a college education.

Let’s Exchange EDvice…

How do you help students value the learning process as more than a credential or letter grade?

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