Sunday, February 22, 2009

On February 20 and 21, 2009 I attended the 2009 Lilly Conference on College & University Teaching with Amy Harris and Mike Crumpton. They may submit their own summaries, but as we went to different sessions, I’ll hit just a few highlights. Lilly is a series of conferences and institutes held all over the country to promote excellence in college teaching. The Lilly South conference is hosted by a consortium of local universities, colleges and community colleges. The UNCG Teaching and Learning Center coordinates most of the UNCG efforts. I had never been before but I’ve always heard good things about it. UNCG faculty qualify for a mini-grant to cover the cost of registration (about $400), so you shouldn’t let the opportunity pass you by. Most of the materials will be available from the conference site.

The theme of the conference was Millennial learning, but many of the sessions were focused on technology or active learning techniques (not specific to millennials). While little of the tech was innovative or new, the sessions were good about exploring possibilities a bit more in-depth. For instance, I attended a session on using clickers in the classroom to encourage deep and critical thinking. Most of my exposure to clickers had been at a superficial assessment level. This session explored ways to encourage deep engagement with the material by combining the use of clickers with small and large group discussion. For instance, before doing a demonstration, the instructor could have students predict what would happen using the clickers to vote. Then they could ask students to pair up and discuss their predictions, vote again, and finally do the demonstration. I love this approach because it transfers intellectual authority to the students before being claimed by the professor.

I also attended two sessions on theories of teaching. Barbara Millis from the University of Texas, San Antonio discussed cooperative teaching techniques, such as think-pair-share and other forms of group work. Todd Zakrajsek from UNC discussed various theories of social psychology and their relation to teaching. Both were wonderful speakers. My favorite factoid from Zakrajsek’s talk was a chart in Bligh’s What’s the Use of Lectures demonstrating that as the time of a lecture increases student heart rates decrease significantly. The reinforces the reality that people can only take about 15 minutes of lecture at a time. Zakrajsek gave suggestions for classroom activities that can engage students with the material and promote student learning, such as various forms of pair-shares.

Finally, I attended a session on classroom communication and immediacy in teaching given by Kim Cuny and Erika Lytle of UNCG’s Speaking Center. Immediacy is the perception of closeness both physical and psychological. Teachers with higher immediacy tend to have increased student learning. Although environmental factors in a room can interfere with your immediacy (too hot, too uncomfortable), there are nonverbal techniques a teacher can adopt (good eye contact, pleasing facial expressions) that can increase your immediacy. I hope Amy will invite Kim to come over to our library and give a workshop. All teaching librarians could benefit from these techniques and reminders!

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