February 2011

Newest CETL Fellow Inspired to Pursue Program Ideas
By: Ellen Zamarripa

After participating in a CETL Community of Practice, Associate Professor of Political Science, StephenStephen Hill Hill, found the knowledge he gained from this experience had a transformative effect on how he thought about teaching, and in turn, motivated him to become CETL's newest Fellow.

"I became aware of things I had never been exposed to," Hill said. "I started to think more deeply about these issues for my own department and also for the teaching community on campus as a whole."

Hill began teaching World Politics and International Relations classes at UW- Eau Claire in 2002, but said he never considered becoming a CETL Fellow until he participated in a CETL Community of Practice focused on assessment. From there, he was inspired to head his own Community of Practice with the intent to focus on small group teaching and its effect on critical thinking.

Hill said he intends to tackle questions such as "What is critical thinking?" and "How can we assess it?" in his Community of Practice, starting with a review of literature related to small group teaching and critical thinking. The ultimate goal is to design and implement small group teaching practices in courses and then assess their impact on students' critical thinking skills.

"The first step is to learn more about small group teaching practices and critical thinking," Hill said. "We are all using some sort of small group teaching in our classes, but we don't always get the chance to share our experiences with other faculty, to learn from each other and to be confident that what we are doing is actually improving the skills we think we are improving."

The importance of this project lies in the realm of confidence and accountability, Hill said. Critical thinking is one of the UW-Eau Claire Liberal Education Learning Goals, and Hill said educators can gain a better appreciation of what can be achieved in the classroom if they improve their understanding of what critical thinking is and how to assess it.

 "To attract students to the institution, we inform them of the goals we have for them, so we need to be confident they can achieve those goals," Hill said.  "A culture of improvement is thus also a means of achieving greater accountability for what we do."

Hill said he hopes the subject of his Community of Practice will attract educators from a variety of departments so participants can learn about other approaches to small group teaching and thus be inspired, as he has been, to share their experiences and improve the way they teach.

"I think the most effective way is to start at the ground level with the faculty themselves," Hill said, "introducing them to this notion of a culture of improvement and have it organically spread out across the departments and hopefully gradually effect more and more faculty."


If you would like to participate in Stephen Hill's Community of Practice, there are still some spots open! E-mail cetl@uwec.edu or stop by OL 1142 for more information.

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