Faculty College Experiences

By Emily Sparrow

The 2011-12 UW-System WI Teaching FacultyCollegeScholar, Gary Don, and WI Teaching Fellow, Ruth Cronje, share how their experience at the 2011 Faculty College has further inspired their passion for teaching and learning.

Faculty College is a yearly 3-day event where UW System faculty and staff come together to share their ideas on how to improve undergraduate teaching and learning. Gary Don and Ruth Cronje both attended this year's workshop from May 31st to June 3rd in Richland Center, WI.

It was Ruth Cronje's first time at Faculty College, however Gary expressed how his previous experience at the 2003 Faculty College inspired him to develop a project there and do some analysis of his classes. "I wanted to keep going with this project in a way that would extend what I had already done." Gary recounts, "That is why I applied for the scholar position this year, so that I could go back and continue at the summer institute as well."

Ruth was inspired to become a WI Teaching Fellow when she thought it was time to step back and concentrate on improving her teaching. "I wanted to have some time to think about my teaching in a much more deliberate kind of way."

As WI Teaching Scholar and Fellow, Gary Don and Ruth Cronje are working on projects which will examine approaches to teaching that help students learn the most. Though their projects are separate, both focus on a key point addressed in an article that they were required to read at the Faculty College. Gary recalls that the article focused "on a shift from instruction to learning. The shift to learning is a different objective; it's trying to measure what students are actually learning, less of a focus on the mode of delivery."

As well as examining more of the learning that is being retained in the classroom, UW System's goals are also concentrating on the integrative learning that is going on across disciplines within universities.

Ruth Cronje relates that "Integrative Learning is one of those high impact teaching practices that the AACU, American Associations of Colleges and Universities, want us to start deliberately integrating. Research shows that students who have integrative learning experiences graduate in a more timely fashion, get better jobs, are more satisfied with their careers, and are more involved in the community."

Gary Don has been an Associate Professor for 10 years in the Department of Music at UWEC and his project will focus on integrating the learning that is done in and outside of classrooms within his discipline. Gary will also survey his classrooms to see which combination and integration of classroom assignments and activities result in student's better retaining the knowledge that is given to them.

"The learning goal of [my] project ties into general University Goals of integrating ways of learning across different disciplines, more than subject matter. My project is oriented toward integrating activities within the discipline of music itself. If the activities are combining to help students to learn, it doesn't matter which activity helped them the most, as long as I can verify that learning is occurring."

As an Associate Professor of English, focused on Scientific and Technical Writing for 11 years, Ruth Cronje's project is examining Writing to Learn and ways in which students can integrate their learning into the community by becoming active civic agents. She is collaborating with Ray Block, a Professor from the Political Science department at UW-LaCrosse.

 "We'll look to see to what extent writing in the undergraduate classroom is really being focused on getting students ready to be empowered civic agents [and to have] the discourse skills they need to be empowered civic agents. We need to help faculty re-conceptualize what [they] have to do to set up [their] classrooms and assignments to maximize the chances of students focusing on the skills we want them to focus on."

"The reason I'm so excited about [this project] is because I think this is going to have application beyond just political science classrooms, I think this will apply to any classroom where there is a civic agency component, and there will be more and more classrooms as we go on. [We are] specifically focusing on writing instruction that will help students learn both political science but also learn how to be effective agents when they get into community settings."

Faculty College did not just help this WI Teaching Scholar and Fellow develop ways to approach their projects; it also helped to give them ideas on how to improve their teaching and gave them a chance to communicate with other UW Faculty and Staff on what they are doing in their classrooms.

Gary Don relays that "instead of just being frustrated with the lack of results in the classroom, I can look at methods to try to go about changing that. We had some time/sessions talking about frustrations and we immediately moved to solutions."

Both agreed that all of the seminars at Faculty College were great, but the seminar on Signature Pedagogies was most useful. Ruth Cronje recollects that "it got us to sit down and think about what we actually do in the classroom and then talk about it with other faculty. For me, it really heightened my thinking about being intentional and being deliberate."

 "The focus on positive approaches was very helpful," recalls Gary, "just from a psychological point of view, just to get out of a negative cycle of, 'this is bad and I can't do anything about it;' there are a lot of good things that I can do something about, so in that sense I thought it was very helpful."

"It was an opportunity to meet other colleagues from other UW Systems," says Ruth, "and it was fun to get a chance to sit around and talk about our teaching. We don't usually have time to do that during the academic year."

 "What I think," says Gary Don, "and a lot of people said this, what we took away from this was that there are a lot of people who are very passionate about teaching and learning and when you are surrounded by people like that, it is contagious."

"I think a lot of us teach the way we were taught. I think it's natural." Ruth Cronje reports, "This is a movement to really ask faculty to question their own practice and ask themselves, 'What do you want? What are you asking for? What are you doing to get that? And are you getting what you want? And if not, let's begin to intervene.'"

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