Higher Education Pedagogy Conference Focuses on Seven Strategies for Innovative Teaching | VTX


At this year’s Higher Education Pedagogy Conference, held Feb. 10-12 at the Virginia Tech Inn, an associate dean approached Kim Filer, the conference organizer, and explained to her why she came back year after year. “I can be around anyone who cares about teaching like I care about teaching,” she said.

This year’s conference welcomed 410 participants, from as far away as the UK and the Philippines. For many, it was the first conference they had attended in person in two grueling years.

“There’s this kind of sense of shared passion,” said Filer, associate vice president for teaching and learning and director of the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning at Virginia Tech. “Teachers don’t understand what they’d get out of a lecture like this until they come, and then they realize, ‘Oh, other people are thinking about [teaching]also.'”

That Virginia Tech has hosted the Conference on Higher Education Pedagogy for 14 consecutive years “reflects this university’s true commitment to doing its best for undergraduate and higher education,” said Rachel Holloway, vice-president for undergraduate academic affairs. “It’s a learning community coming together, and all of our participants benefit from all the expertise here.”

Eighty-four hands-on conference sessions around topics such as diversity and inclusion, educational technology, and innovative teaching allowed attendees to come away with strategies and ideas for their own classrooms. Virginia Tech faculty members and administrators shared these seven takeaways from the conference that will stick with them.

  1. Experimental learning. While passive learning is like reading a play, experiential learning is more like performing in a play. “With experiential learning, students become more engaged with work and more immersed in their learning in a way that creates lasting impact,” said Shara Lee, president of the Academy of Experiential Education at the National Society for Experiential Education. Because improving access to experiential learning opportunities is the goal of the university’s current quality improvement plan, Holloway wants all Virginia Tech instructors to understand the continuum between learning passive and experiential. “We are constantly educating our teachers on what we mean by experiential learning,” she said. “Hearing that same language helps us all move forward together.”
  2. Debates in slow motion. Some approaches to teaching online can deepen learning, as Margarita McGrath, associate professor and chair of the undergraduate architecture program at the College of Architecture and Urban Studies, reminded in a session on the debates in slow motion. The debate takes place in an online, asynchronous format; students research an assigned post and create a slide deck to support it. Other students watch the game evolve online, creating rich engagement. McGrath plans to use the approach in a module she teaches on ethical dilemmas in architecture. “Being able to take a position that you don’t necessarily agree with and build an argument is a very important skill in empathy,” she said.
  3. Indigenous education. “Nature is the master; I am nature’s teaching assistant,” said Mae Hey, assistant professor of practice in the Department of History, during a session she taught on pedagogy that supports equity, sustainability and community transformation. Its new approach – less hierarchical and more relational than traditional Western models – inspired Victoria Leal, Director of Undergraduate Studies and teacher in the Department of Human Development and Family Sciences, “to continue striving to be the kind of person and teacher, that I want to be.
  4. Benevolent Teaching. Some students rarely engage in group discussions. A session on compassionate teaching helped Ralph Hall, associate professor in the School of Public and International Affairs, find ways to encourage participation. “One approach was to provide specific students with the answer to a question that would be posed to them during class,” Hall said, “not to test knowledge, but to approach teaching from a place of compassion. , a place that builds confidence, reduces anxiety, and lets students know you want them to succeed.Even a simple technical tool like the name wheel can help.
  5. Non-traditional assessments. While traditional exams are easy to administer and score, there may be more effective measures of student learning. “I have personally experienced, and heard repeatedly from instructors, that even when the instructors themselves are willing to put in the extra time and effort to administer an unorthodox assessment, the pushback from colleagues and administration will be immense,” said Will Fox, a senior learning data analyst with TLOS. “So I was really happy that there were quite a few sessions there to talk about this topic.”
  6. Growth-oriented comments. Kira Gulko Morse, a teacher in the Department of English, learned from the keynote about the high-impact practice of giving students feedback with growth in mind. “Too often we stop at ‘Good job!’ or other standard reactions,” she noted. Praising the effort behind the learning, or adding a “not yet” to “you don’t know how to do this well yet,” can reframe the feedback by focusing on the process. Curiosity is key. Asking “I wonder why” when students are not doing well “helps us think about how to meet the needs of a particular student, focusing on progress and not on evaluation,” Morse said.
  7. Online wallets. Alicia Johnson, a visiting assistant professor of instructional design and technology in the School of Education, had an emotional moment during a lecture session on online portfolios. “It occurred to me that I was presenting ePortfolios to students at their most stressful times – the first semester and the first class of the program.” Now, Johnson is considering ways to help students develop the habit of filling their portfolio with projects and reflections each semester, so they don’t scramble to do so when they enter the workforce. “It’s good to remember tactics that can help our students succeed after graduation,” Johnson added. “Conferences help me do that.”

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