October 06, 2011
For years, faculty have approached teaching college on a set path: faculty earn an advanced degree in a subject area, thus gaining the knowledge they need to teach that area. Then, they teach.
But it's not always that simple. Over the years, faculty have come to recognize that the lecture-test formula isn't always best. Through what's known as the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SOTL), faculty are increasingly turning their scholarly focus to their own classrooms to see how they can improve student learning.
At Stonehill, an increasing number of faculty members are doing just this through the College's Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL).
"Nationally, SOTL is a fairly recent development. At Stonehill, it began in earnest four years ago when the center opened. We're now seeing faculty who are getting papers published on the topic. This is our way of getting involved in a national conversation," explains Stacy Grooters, director of the College's Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL).
Teaching the Teacher
Take Fine Arts Professor Carole Calo, for example. Several years ago, she found herself facing a conundrum. "Art and Psychology," a course the faculty member had taught for a number of years, was suddenly falling flat.
"This one semester, student response wasn't what I expected," recalls Calo. "I felt like something was missing."
Meanwhile, brand-new faculty member Angela Paradise was struggling with "Mediated Communication Theory." As the capstone communications theory course, "the content was completely dry. The students were bored; I was bored," the assistant professor laments.
For these two faculty on opposite sides of the experience spectrum, the solution was the same: they went to the Center for Teaching and Learning where they took part in a Teaching and Learning Strategies Seminar. There, over the semester, they met regularly with a small group of other faculty interested in reimagining their own courses.
"It helped enormously to talk with other faculty members," says Calo. "It was wonderful to be honest about what I was struggling with, and then find out that others had the same issues. We then strategized together on how to change those dynamics."
Both Calo and Paradise credit the seminar with breathing new life into their courses, requiring students to become more active learners. Paradise refined her course's community-based learning component, while Calo required students to prepare and present one class and keep reading response journals.
"It was so much better, it was like night and day," Calo says.
"I'm grateful Stonehill has this resource for teaching," Paradise says. "It's so valuable - and so rare - to be able to sit with other faculty members and talk about teaching. I'm lucky to have this experience so early on in my career."
And as digital natives, there's no doubt that today's students learn differently than they did 20 or 30 years ago.
"This generation of students have experiences so different from mine," observes Calo. "In my day, you learned the information they gave to you. You didn't question, challenge or think critically. With things like Facebook, students now are used to responding and participating. Students expect to have a voice, to be able to participate in their learning."
Based on their experiences, Calo and Paradise are among the growing number of Stonehill faculty turning their research attention SOTL. Calo received a Stonehill SOTL Research Grant for her project, "Creative Engagement: College, Art, and Community."
Paradise just had an article accepted in the journal Communication Teacher, "Bridging Service-Learning with Media Literacy: Creating Contexts for Communication Students to Educate Youth on Media Content, Consumption, and Effects."
Asking Big Questions
Biology Professor Sue Mooney, for example, has refocused her research on examining lasting change in student behavior. "In my environmental sciences and ethics class, I'm interested in finding out if what students learn today will impact their actions 10 years from now," says Mooney. She's now in the process of developing longitudinal studies to gather data on that research question.
"SOTL helps my teaching by helping me discover what's working and what isn't," she adds. "It's great that Stonehill encourages and supports good teaching, allowing faculty time and space to grapple with big questions, " explains Mooney.
"Stonehill does have a reputation of having good teachers," agrees John Lanci, who serves as faculty fellow at CTL. "SOTL is a way for us to come together as faculty to reflect on what makes good teaching."
Over the past two years, Lanci has worked to broaden faculty understanding of SOTL, hosting brown bag luncheons, talking to individual departments, and organizing a SOTL writer's retreat, where interested faculty had the opportunity to gather to talk and write about their own SOTL work.
Grooters sees this growing interest in SOTL as positive - for faculty, students and the College. All too often teaching can be a very isolating experience.
"Activities like the SOTL writing retreat and the Teaching and Learning Strategies Seminar help faculty work together to develop effective teaching strategies. The end result is that faculty members, individually, engage students in more productive ways; and that we, as a group, build a stronger teaching community," says Grooters.
For more information, contact Communications and Media Relations at 508-565-1321.