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Reflecting on the 2014 Teaching and Learning Conference

I always leave conferences feeling inspired by new ideas and enthusiastic about applying them to my work. However, like many other conference-goers, I don’t always take time to articulate the most important concepts that I’m taking away and how I plan to act on them. After attending this year’s Annual DePaul Faculty Teaching and Learning Conference, I’m taking some time out to identify key ideas and what I plan to change in my teaching.

As the event logistics coordinator, I spent most of the day hurrying from room to room to ensure that everything ran smoothly. Although I did not participate in as many sessions as I would have liked, I did attend the keynote presentation, given this year by José Bowen, author of the book Teaching Naked.

Photograph of José Bowen

Watch a video of Bowen’s keynote presentation and download his slides and handouts on the Teaching Commons website.

Two key ideas from Bowen’s keynote

In his keynote presentation, José Bowen made two arguments that I found particularly provocative. First, he suggested that our relationship to knowledge has changed. He explained that previous generations of college students grew up in a “knowledge-scarce” environment where information was contained in libraries and in people–experts like teachers, professors, and researchers. In contrast, students today inhabit a “knowledge-rich” world where there is more information available to them on their smartphones than in any university library. Now that information is readily available online, the role of educators is no longer simply to expose students to content knowledge, but to teach them how to find, evaluate, analyze, and synthesize source material.

The second  key idea for me in Bowen’s keynote was that the value of college education is faculty interaction. In Bowen’s succinct words, “people, not programs, are what matters.” I would expand Bowen’s argument here to say that the value of college education is the interactions that students have with faculty and with each other.

Having already read Teaching Naked, neither of these ideas were new to me. But Bowen’s keynote–with its emotional appeals, interactive demos, and contagious enthusiasm–convinced me that I should do more to measure these insights against my current teaching practice.

Two classroom takeaways

Thankfully, Bowen’s keynote was as practical as it was inspirational. He even built in time for participants to create their own e-communication policies. Here are two of Bowen’s suggestions for change that I plan on implementing in my teaching next quarter:

1. Create an online space for students to share course-related materials. This takeaway follows both from the idea that our relationship to knowledge has changed and from the notion that the value of a college education lies in person-to-person interaction. Asking students to find and share materials encourages them to see information as something that is created and contested rather than static and unequivocal. This type of sharing invites evaluation, analysis, and synthesis in ways that textbooks do not. And of course, this space would create an opportunity for students to connect with the instructor and with each other outside of class.

2. Offer online office hours. If the value of education is faculty interaction, it makes sense to expand and diversify the avenues of communication between ourselves and students. I know a few instructors who use Facebook chat to connect with students during office hours, but I have been hesitant to try it out for myself until now. While I will always keep in-person office hours, I will also commit to being available to chat online during those times. Hopefully after a few online chats some doubtful students will warm up to the idea of an in-person office visit.

I haven’t yet decided what tools I will use to accomplish these goals, but Google+ and Facebook are two contenders. With Google+ I can create a Circle for students to join and share resources, and I can offer virtual office hours through Google Hangout. Facebook’s page and chat features are comparable to Circles and Hangout.

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One Response to Reflecting on the 2014 Teaching and Learning Conference

  1. Ruben Parra June 9, 2014 at 10:02 am #

    Hi Jen,
    thanks for summarizing so accurately Jose Bowen’s keynote presentation. I agree that Jose’s enthusiasm was very inspirational, and that the two take-away messages you indicated are worth implementing in any given course.

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