Innovative teaching to engage and challenge twenty-first century entrepreneurship students: an interdisciplinary approach.
Today's college freshmen were born after 1990, raised in the digital age, and experience technology as an integral part of their everyday world. To illustrate this point with a quantified example, one of the authors asked students how many text messages they received in a day. By checking their cell phones, which most possessed, these students produced answers varying from zero up to 53. Assuming the 53-message student rested for six hours, that individual processed an average of three incoming messages every hour, and doubtless sent dozens of replies. How many text messages arrive on your students' devices while you are trying to get them to grasp a major point in your class? How many replies are sent during class sessions? According to Chris Gaylord (2008), the average cell phone user sends 286 text messages a month. If students average 10 text messages a day, imagine how many fingers are dancing on electronic devices in a typical lecture hall! This attention-grabbing competition did not exist when professors were students, and illustrates the point of this article: professors and students differ in fundamental ways that affect how each functions- and understanding these differences should influence how professors teach so that students become engaged and enabled to learn.
Blackberries, I-phones, and other mobile communications devices are a source of constant interruptions. Even if set on "vibrate," who can resist the temptation to check who is calling? For students this distraction surely competes with whatever is going on in the classroom, and if class seems uninteresting, the device's signal gives a break from the monotony of sitting in a hard chair. Make no mistake; such distractions are a detriment to all types of cognitive tasks. For example, driving while multitasking, such as while speaking on a cell phone, causes driving performance to decline in a manner parallel to driving while drunk (Hamilton, 2008). While attempts to learn under the influence of a cell phone probably won't lead to fatalities, they likely will harm student learning, because inattentiveness impedes all styles of learning.
Cell phones are not the only electronic distractions competing for our students' attentions. Eighty-three percent of students possess at least three different electronic devices (Caruso and Salaway 2007), and those that feature ear buds have changed the environment of students significantly. Today, most students can create their own world through electronic devices that pipe music and commentary into their ears. According to Caruso and Salaway (2007), about 77% of students are equipped with ear bud-containing devices. How many of your students are using one ear to listen to what is going on in class and the other to listen to music, movies, radio broadcasts or other incoming information? Recently a student in one of the author's classes gave an oral presentation while wearing an ear bud! What does it mean when students attempt to control the input they are receiving all the time? Does the constant input increase- or limit- the information that they take in? We don't have answers to these questions, but certainly our students' experiences are changed by this ubiquitous feature of their environment.
Many professors prohibit use of cell phones and electronic "toys" during their classes, but allow or even encourage use of laptop computers. Caruso and Salaway (2007) found that almost 74% of college students own laptops. While they do not all bring them to class, and both ownership and use will vary among college campuses, laptop computers are a growing presence in college classrooms. What are students doing on these laptops during class? Would high levels of class-unrelated activity suggest implementing a policy of banning laptops from lecture halls? Certainly not, but such a pattern does suggest revamping the classroom experience to better engage today's students.
Beyond their momentary distractions, technological toys affect our students in more fundamental ways, in part by replacing activities like reading, writing, and lengthy conversation once used as entertainment but which simultaneously enriched learning. What happened to these intellectual opportunities for sustained engagement? They were replaced by interaction with electronic media. Marc Prensky's (2003) work reveals that students invest an incredible amount of time interacting with digital media and technology. For example, the average 21-year-old has, in total, spent more than 20% of his or her lifetime playing video games (approximately 10,000 hours), communicating on mobile communication devices (approximately 10,000 hours) or watching television (20,000 hours). In contrast, these same individuals, on average, have invested less than 3% of their lifetime in reading. Activities that are fast-paced, attention-grabbing and comparatively passive (e.g., television and video media provide visual and auditory representations of characters, settings and action) have replaced those that require sustained, focused attention and an active imagination, as old-fashioned books and radio dramas do.
Taken as a whole, the ubiquitous nature of electronic devices has changed the environment of students dramatically and seemingly permanently from the quieter, less-distracted environment of years past. These environmental changes aren't trivial. They affect the way our students approach and experience their education. While in many ways similar to scholars of decades past, today's students are different in some fundamental ways. Student performance in tasks requiring focused attention (e.g., reading) has declined while their ability to simultaneously pursue multiple tasks (e.g., instant messaging while watching television) has strengthened (Levine et al. 2007). Advances in technological devices parallel these changes in students' cognitive abilities. For example, a student recently suggested one of the authors update his mobile communications device because older cell phones only handle one or two contacts at once while the most recent models have the capability of managing four! Contemporary laptop and desktop computers routinely manipulate multiple programs simultaneously, whereas the original PC models of the early 1980's did well to run one or two without crashing.
These kinds of technological changes alter our daily experiences, thus individuals born in recent decades may possess the ability to deal more effectively with multiple simultaneous demands compared to those who grew up in earlier times. These same individuals tend to exhibit less ability for sustained focus- a skill necessary for traditional means of study, and one surely mastered by graduate-degree holding faculty. Simply put, faculty members are not the same as their students. Let's consider these similarities and differences from the perspective of our respective expectations.
How do faculty and student expectations of the collegiate educational experience compare? The companion surveys National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) and Faculty Survey of Student Engagement (FSSE) quantify faculty and student perceptions of student engagement. A total of 3,628 students at the authors' university completed NSSE in 2005 and 2007; 393 faculty completed FSSE in 2005 (Faculty Survey of Student Engagement 2005; National Survey of Student Engagement 2005; National Survey of Student Engagement 2007). Patterns emerging from these rigorous surveys are eye-opening, both in terms of the similarities and differences between faculty and students.
We can be confident that student experiences at the authors' university are generally positive; an overwhelming majority of open-ended student comments offered in 2007 characterize faculty as helpful, dedicated and "great," the academic curriculum as challenging, and the University as endearing (e.g., many students offered comments along the lines of "I love Grand Valley!" (National Survey of Student Engagement, 2005). Similarly, while not quantified in the FSSE survey, faculty members at the authors' university also generally view their experiences favorably, collectively projecting an enthusiastic dedication to the institution and its students. A generally positive attitude is one trait faculty and students appear to share, and if students are not engaged while in the classroom, it's not because most of them aren't genuinely pleased to be there.
Further, faculty and student perceptions about some facets of the teaching and learning environment coincide, particularly those about course content or focus (Table 1). Opinions about the degree to which courses require students to evaluate the value of ideas or theories, apply theory or concepts to practical problems, encourage the use of computers in academic work, or exert a student's best efforts are remarkably similar, particularly for freshman and faculty. In sharp contrast, and supporting the premise of this paper, faculty and students have distinctly differing perceptions about the use of technology in and out of the classroom- and not necessarily biased in the direction faculty might expect. For example, professors at the author's university significantly underestimated student use of email to communicate with professors, as well as their use of electronic media, computers and other forms of information technology to complete academic work (Table 2). Ironically, even though professors deliberately created technology-based course assignments and were the frequent recipients of student email missives, both freshman and senior students perceived these technology-based events as being a more dominant component of their collegiate experience than did their professors! Thus, as outlined above, students and faculty differ in their past experiences with, current employment of, and expectations of use of technology in and out of the classroom.
It is not only our experiences and expectations that differ, however. In all likelihood, the brains of students and their professors differ as well. While scientists have long known that brain configuration changes during development, it is becoming increasingly clear that an individual's experiences (or environment) continue to alter the brain throughout adulthood, even into old age (Draganski et al., 2004; Kempermann et al., 2002; Cameron and McKay 1999). For example, elderly laboratory mice living in enriched environments experienced fivefold higher rates of formation of new brain cells in the hippocampus, an area of the brain associated with learning and memory, compared to control mice living in "boring" laboratory environments (Kempermann et al., 2002). Such changes in brain structure and function, collectively termed neuroplasticity, are an important component of learning at the neurological level. Neurogenesis (formation of new brain cells) and other structural changes in the brain are induced by environmental challenges, i.e., by the specific activities an individual undertakes, as well as an individual's social environment. Young rats reared in groups exhibited significantly greater neurogenesis and superior performance in a swim-maze test compared to young rats raised in isolation (Lu et al. 2003), illustrating the importance of a stimulating social environment on brain development and learning.
Human brains are also affected by their environments and experiences. Neurobiologists compared brain scans of novice young adults who practiced juggling to those of a control group who did not; though their brains did not initially differ significantly, after three months of practice, the jugglers' brains showed expanded grey matter compared to the control group, an expansion that declined three months after the jugglers ceased practicing (Draganski et al. 2004). In other words, simply by attempting to learn a new motor skill, the novice jugglers changed their brains- at least while they continued to practice. The bottom line is that what we do and what we experience, from infancy through old age, affects our brains.
It is not a stretch to conclude that, because technological gadgets alter the way we use our brains, technology can drive changes in brain structure and, therefore, cause differences between the brains of faculty and students. Susan Greenfield (2008) says the technology of the 21st century is changing our brains:
Our brains are under the influence of an ever- expanding world of new technology: multichannel television, video games, MP3players, the internet, wireless networks, Bluetooth links--the list goes on and on (Greenfield 2008).
She goes on to explore the critical effects of prescription and non-prescription drugs on neurological structure and function. It is this dual influence, technology and pharmacology, which so profoundly alters human brains in our current industrialized society (Greenfield 2008). She considers these neurological influences to be an unprecedented crisis that's receiving far too little attention, a crisis that literally could reshape what makes us human. What can we do, as educators, to address this crisis?
This article discusses ways in which professors can deal with the influence of technologies on contemporary students, embracing the idea that students are different today than in years past, and thus old approaches to teaching may not work in today's entrepreneurial classroom. The ideas and processes presented herein comprised a workshop the authors developed for interdisciplinary colleagues who participated in a Teaching and Learning Conference at the authors' university during August, 2008. Its conceptual framework linked to James Zull's work (Zull, 2003; Zull, 2004; Zull, 2008), as he was the keynote speaker at the 2008 Teaching and Learning Conference which was the genesis of this paper. Zull (Fernandez, 2006) presents a neurobiological interpretation of learning, one rooted in the framework of David Kolb's learning cycle (Kolb, 1983):
* We have a Concrete Experience,
* We develop Reflective Observation and Connections,
* We generate Abstract Hypothesis,
* We then do Active Testing of those hypotheses, and therefore have a new Concrete Experience, and a new Learning Cycle ensues.
Zull restates this learning cycle more colloquially as first gathering information, then analyzing the information so it has meaning to the individual, followed by creating new ideas from this foundation of meaning, and subsequently taking action (Fernandez 2006). This learning cycle forms a continuous loop, as actions pursued as a consequence of completing the cycle once typically leads to more information gathering, analysis, creativity, and action. The question becomes: how does this concept apply to what professors do in the classroom?
Given the competition of electronics changing the brain, the capacity for it to change physically, and the need to enhance learning, what is the pedagogy for the first part of the 21st century? Perhaps the hardest thing for faculty members to grasp is that the scientist are letting faculty know that there is the real possibility that the brains of the people in the seats may be different then the faculty members brains were when they sat in those seats.
Students do process differently. They have shorter attention spans, they want things to happen now, they seem to function on a need-to-know basis, and they face tremendous competition for their time and energy. Faculty members need to recognize that the competition of attention-grabbing technology is always present. Students do not necessarily want to learn the way their faculty learned- and some may not be able to learn in the same way. The challenge of teaching such students becomes especially exciting in a dynamic field like entrepreneurship. So let's explore how faculty can embrace this challenge.
A FACULTY WORK SHOP ADDRESSING INNOVATIVE TEACHING IN ENTREPRENEURSHIP...OR ANY APPLIED DISCIPLINE!
Our ideas for engaging and teaching 21st Century students will be presented sequentially, just as faculty participants experienced them in the workshop the authors developed and offered at the request of their university's Faculty Teaching and Learning Center. This center opened in 2002 and, like similar institutions at other universities, facilitates faculty development through conferences, workshops, and individuals consultations. Faculty members readily take advantage of these offerings: in 2005-06, 58% of the faculty participated in at least one of the center's events, and a substantial number of individuals (90 in 2006-07) seek individual consultations (2006 and 2007 Annual reports of the center). Given the collegial environment of professional development that pervades our university, we were eager to step up and share our ideas with colleagues from across diverse disciplines
The challenge given to us at the end of summer 2008 was to deliver a workshop to faculty from across a wide range of disciplines to help them reach students whose brains are wired differently from our own. Our workshop followed the keynote speaker James Zull, who addressed the biological basis of learning, including the idea that brains are altered by our environment. Rather than present a power point outlining the techniques we had used successfully with our entrepreneurship students, we instead treated the participating faculty like enrollees in one of our entrepreneurship classes, to experience for themselves, for better or worse, the differences of our approach. Structuring the workshop in this way was a risky strategy, but a very effective one.
There were fewer than two dozen participants in the workshop, ideal for the unusual, hands-on activities we had planned. While the techniques are readily implemented in larger classes, given the brief duration of the workshop, we wanted to work with faculty in a more intimate setting with ample opportunity for meaningful exchanges. The workshop started much like an initial class session taught by the authors in entrepreneurship, with a brief welcome, an explanation that the syllabus was available on line, and, for consultation purposes once innovation projects were under way, the cell phone number of one of the faculty for 24/7 access. The very idea that professors would avail themselves for learning when the student was ready seemed new and different to some of the faculty.
Faculty were grouped into teams and challenged to come up with a team name. This exercise engages students and workshop participants alike, drawing them away from other distractions, and helping them to focus on the subject at hand. Immediately afterwards, a second engagement exercise was employed where the students (or, here, workshop participants) do something of meaning to themselves. In this case the faculty "students" created, as a group, a list of ways in which faculty and student life- and learning styles differ- a topic certainly of great interest to faculty (Table 3). As a follow-up to the summer workshop, the authors had students complete the same exercise during the fall 2008 semester, thereby generating student perceptions of differences between faculty and student life- and learning styles (Table 4). The contrast between faculty and student perceptions is eye-opening. Emerging immediately is the pattern that students tend to be focused on short-term problems, function on a need-to-know basis, and seek skills and information linked to solving problems and gaining employment, or useful in other concrete, applied ways; in contrast, faculty members have a long-term, discipline-specific perspective, with a want-to-know world view where knowledge is valued for its own sake and abstract thinking prized Tables 3 and 4). Given these differences, how should faculty structure their classes to best reach their students?
This second group activity not only highlighted differences in student and faculty perspectives, it also encapsulates a core concept that guides the authors' teaching, the belief that students and other learners become more engaged in learning when they can see some relationship between the course and themselves. Learning then becomes a personal investment. For workshop participants, the self-generated list of perceived differences between faculty and student learning styles (Table 3) provided an opportunity to brainstorm about products and services that could be developed to make life better for a contemporary cohort of traditional students (i.e., 18-22 years old, born between 1986 and 1991). The product and service ideas generated by this group of middle-aged faculty are shown in Table 5 below.
Armed by their own experiences with these initial two exercises, the workshop participants' discussion turned to how faculty could use similar processes to engage students in their own disciplines. That is the real challenge: applying the ideas in day-to-day classroom situations in a diversity of settings and disciplines. Hopefully, as the authors have experienced in their entrepreneurship classes, faculty who employ these techniques will find it a much more involving educational process for their students.
The dividends to this style of teaching really emerge in the learning that goes on in today's classroom. Despite all the electronic distractions present, if classroom activities are fun and interesting, students quickly become engaged. In teaching entrepreneurship, students really enjoy their work when it involves challenging each other or working as a team. Once engaged, students readily progress to learning and applying theoretical concepts. For example, when examining the importance of costing in an Entrepreneurship course, a lecture might be boring and ineffective, whereas a hands-on activity with inexpensive items both engages and challenges students even as they gain a deeper understanding of the concept. The authors have employed simple ballpoint pens for exactly this purpose. The students first disassemble the pens, account for each component, then estimate the cost of each piece as well as the labor necessary to assemble the components. The fact that many individuals struggle to reassemble the components correctly adds levity to the exercise while also driving home the importance of having trained personnel. All the while, students internalize the idea that mastering methods of costing is critical.
Following engagement, students need to master skills and concepts, and build connections among them. To illustrate these steps, the authors had workshop participants delve more deeply into idea development by completing a second brainstorming exercise drawn from the interdisciplinary field of sustainability, thereby giving faculty participants an opportunity to apply the processes explored above to a question far afield from their own disciplines. The question posed was, "what could the university do to be more sustainable?" This question was selected intentionally. Because thoughtful answers to this question required genesis of ideas for solutions and their implementation, it provided participants an opportunity to develop ideas more fully and in more detail than they had in previous exercises.
A simple but effective feature of this brainstorming exercise was the use of colorful Post-It notes for noting each individual idea. By the end of the exercise, each group generated large, colorful heaps of ideas, each written on a single note and placed in piles on the (preferably round) table. This simple technique works brilliantly in entrepreneurship classes. Because the colorful, idea-bearing Post-It notes can physically be moved back and forth, the process really gets students (and workshop participants) involved. An added benefit is that, even though the activity is fast and furious, no one feels like concrete work is being disrupted.
Faculty participants were next asked to group their ideas into concept categories. The authors have found in their classes that having the ideas written on physical pieces of paper allows for great discussion and constant movement as teams think critically about how to organize fifty or hundred ideas into logical piles. Maybe in the first attempt they create twenty piles, in the second 14, then nine, and finally 11 concept piles are created. It is amazing to watch the arguing, shuffling and reshuffling that ensues as participants struggle to sort the rough ideas into some semblance of a logical framework. After much discussion of the ideas, and movement of the colorful notes, a reasonable set of concepts emerge from what initially appeared to be chaos. In the workshop setting, faculty participants were informed that, given more time, students enrolled in semester-long courses would be asked to develop the concepts further, supported by sketches and a written statement. In the time constraints of the workshop, however, faculty participants simply had to sort their ideas and give each concept-pile a name, and this they were able to do quickly.
In an entrepreneurship course taught by two of the authors students are instructed to develop models of their ideas. Many envision some kind of brick-and-mortar retail space, while others conceptualize a virtual retail enterprise. Regardless of their vision, each student must produce a model for examination and discussion. Once presented with a model, classmates pepper their peers with a multitude of questions that really make the budding entrepreneurs think as they build connections. How many square feet are required? Where are the rest rooms located? Where will the space be located, and how expensive are leases in that area per square foot? What does "triple net" mean in a lease? How high are taxes? Such conversations provide a lot of fodder for student learning- but it is the faculty member's responsibility to maintain student engagement throughout these processes, and to link concepts introduced early on to those explored later in the ideation process.
Faculty workshop participants were next introduced to the concept of screening, explained as a process that generates and applies criteria to ideas and which provides additional opportunity for critical thinking by students via the delivery and application of the screen. Because of time constraints, faculty participants were provided with a sustainability screen previously developed by students in a summer course on Socially Conscious Innovation (Lane, Farris and Fauvel, 2008). This screen included five criteria, or components:
These five criteria in hand, workshop participants examined their sustainability ideas and evaluated whether each accomplished anything positive for the earth's ecosystems (planet), social equity (people), or current or future bottom line (profit). These criteria comprise the traditional three-legged stool of the Triple-bottom Line approach to sustainability, but students in the summer Socially Conscious Innovation class had developed the additional criteria of process and perpetuity. They were not satisfied with a building being LEED Certified (U.S. Green Building Council) if its residents did not process their day-to-day waste stream in a sustainable way, thus they added the idea of an ongoing process. The Socially Conscious Innovation students had also added the criterion of perpetuity to be sure that, once implemented, their plan would go on and on. While applying this simple criteria screen to their ideas, the faculty participants quickly realized that they had to interpret the five criteria and subsequently apply them. This phase of the innovation process always leads to a lot of discussion and concomitant critical thinking in entrepreneurship classes.
An important point here is that exercises can be fun and engaging for students while simultaneously developing critical thinking skills in the classroom. This fundamental truism is easy to overlook, and, sadly, sometimes difficult to employ because of physical limitations of classrooms. Many faculty members teach in classrooms featuring physically affixed tables or desk/arm chairs, both associated with educational environments of the 20th century. The teaching techniques relayed here, and perhaps, because of their learning styles, many of our 21st century students, benefit from an education environment that is structurally flexible. Such flexibility is particularly important when students (including workshop participants) are asked to stretch their abilities and take risks-something the faculty participants were next challenged to do.
For the last portion of the workshop, faculty participants were guided through decidedly unfamiliar territory. They were given some background on Little Corn Island, a tiny Caribbean Island off the eastern coast of Nicaragua. This island population represents a microcosm of contemporary human societies, including a rapidly growing population depending on a declining food base. The residents of Little Corn Island exist without access to much fossil fuel-derived power, fresh water, or resources other than the sea surrounding the island. Workshop participants were challenged to generate ideas for sustainable products that the island residents could develop and market locally. This challenge represented a risky venture into the unknown for the faculty participants, as it would for students. Of course they asked many questions. Eventually they realized that students (and they) could look up information on line, or call or text-message a friend who had visited there- in a word, that they were empowered to glean information very quickly from sources all over the world. Students, unlike the faculty participants, seem to get this point immediately and quickly look up information such as the island's topography and geothermal potential. Students function on a need-to-know basis, and under circumstances like those presented to the workshop participants, this was one of those situations! This insight was a major take-home message for the participants.
After a short time grappling with the problem, armed with laptops and perhaps newly found information about the island's level of poverty, its beautiful reef formations, or the twice-daily runabout that transports supplies, tourists and island residents, faculty participants really began to think about things. This type of exercise represents much more of a stretch as, unlike student needs or campus sustainability, none of the workshop participants knew anything about Little Corn Island in Nicaragua! The idea of employing such an exercise in the classroom is to get students to recognize the power of a brain stretch, thereby involving students by challenging them to put down the distractions in their lives and come up with truly novel ideas.
Each faculty participant was next instructed to select one solution idea and produce a sketch. Like students, they initially resisted, but then jumped in with abandon, adding more and more detail. They began to take a chance with their thinking. For students to innovate they must allow themselves to experiment with and develop new ideas. The first job is getting them involved-exactly what the faculty participants were learning. During the workshop, participants huddled over their tables, conversing intensively. In a quick conclusion to the exercise, faculty shared their sketches and others evaluated with comments.
During this portion of the workshop, the instructors emphasized the pedagogical advantages of sketches compared to written descriptions of products. Producing and evaluating sketches forces students to consider scale (in this situation, would the designed object fit onto the small runabout pangas that service the Corn Islands?), resources needs (what materials are needed to produce the object?), design (how would such an object be built?), societal factors (would residents actually use such a product?), and other aspects of product development. The significance of the sketches in a class is the discussion that takes place during its generation and presentation. Sharing of the sketches does not take long, and is a powerful means of getting students serious when built into the rhythm of a class. This process engages students entirely, stimulates intense conversation and critical thinking, and is a great deal of fun!
APPLYING THE IDEAS IN OTHER DISCIPLINES AND FACULTY ASSESSMENT
To bring their experiences full circle, faculty participants were challenged to think of ways that the processes they'd just experienced could be used in their own courses, thus incorporating a reflecting thinking exercise into the workshop just as professors might do in class. One professor mentioned he could use it to build class unity in the beginning of his course. Someone from another discipline volunteered that this kind of thinking might help students to challenge and test perceived facts. Before long almost every participant had thought of at least one way in which they improve their syllabus or their course by implementing what they'd learned in the workshop. Bridging the chasm between undeveloped "aha!" moments and implementation of the ideas in particular courses requires additional time and thought, however. Fortunately, resources are available to help with building such a bridge. Books like Cracking Creativity (Michalko, 2001) suggest ways to get people thinking about novel combinations of ideas. While the constraints of the workshop prevented participants from developing their ideas fully, even the brief time available was sufficient for faculty to generate good ideas they could later develop and implement in their classes.
The Teaching and Learning Center assessed each workshop in the day's conference, later providing the authors with the evaluations of the innovation and entrepreneurship workshop. The assessment instrument included three open-response questions: 1) What was the best feature of this workshop? 2) What would have helped make the workshop better? 3) How do you plan to use what you learned in your own teaching? Unedited responses to each question are summarized in Tables 6-8 below.
What do students really need- and want? How can we BEST teach them?
Many faculty members want to learn new ways to teach today's students. Although the authors understand how to apply these methods in a number of settings, more work is required to develop the ideas and techniques for application in a greater diversity of disciplines and to solve a greater range of problems. One of the ways this might happen is in interdisciplinary team-teaching in broad areas like sustainability or social justice. We envision that a faculty member who learned these methods in the authors' context of entrepreneurship and innovation could develop them for application in entirely different fields by working with a colleague from another discipline, for example, teaming faculty members in tourism and ecology. Such partnerships could work if the partners seek to get students more involved, or to expand learning in the changing academic environment. Zull (2003) and Greenfield (2008) make the point that student minds are changing, and that is not a discipline-specific problem. The opportunity is out there to attempt to take new methods across the disciplines.
Some may view this kind of learning as risk taking. Suddenly, professors feel out of control. Preparing for a new semester no longer consists of updating notes first generated a decade ago for presentation in 50-minute or three hour lectures. If the goal is learning, perhaps it is better to think of flexibility in learning styles. Would we go to another culture and expect students there to act in the same ways as our students? Why then, if our culture is changing so rapidly, would we expect students to remain the same? Maybe approaching teaching in creative ways is not risk-taking at all, but instead realizing that learning can be fun. Is there anything wrong with making learning fun? Isn't helping students think in new ways a good thing? Students continue to be amazing. How do you make your classroom fun?
One of the challenges, and the joys, of teaching in the future may be to break the bonds of content and focus more on learning. We teach in a world where students have ready access to information via mobile communication devices and laptop computers bolstered by satellite internet connections to anywhere in the world. What do they really need from their professors? Do they need only content, or do they need to learn how to think, to challenge, to innovate using the vast amount of information so readily available to them. Perhaps our greatest challenge, and our students' greatest imperative, is to help them learn to want to learn, to challenge, to innovate. Guiding them to these priceless discoveries, helping them to become self-motivated lifetime learners, will help the next generation, and those to follow, to meet the challenges left by those who have gone before. Surely this is our greatest quest, and one where we must not fail.
Catherine Frerichs (GVSU FTLC) encouraged us to develop and present our ideas in a faculty workshop. Julie Kelley kindly provided the concept of the pen example.
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Lu, Lin, Buobin Bao, Hai Chen, Peng Xia, Xueliang Fan, Jisheng Zhang, Gang Pei & Lan Ma (2003). Modification of hippocampal neurogenesis and neuroplasticity by social environments. Experimental Neurology. 183 (2003): 600-609.
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Paul Lane, Grand Valley State University
Jodee Hunt, Grand Valley State University
John Farris, Grand Valley State University
Table 1 Faculty and student perceptions about college courses and educational experience. Values for faculty are the percent that responded that "50% or more" of students in their classes did the following survey item. Values for students are the percent that responded that they did the survey item "very often" or "often" during the 2005 academic year. Responses are categorized by lower/division courses/freshman or upper/division courses/ seniors. Data are drawn from reports summarizing 2005 FSSE (Faculty) and NSSE (Students) survey results for the authors' university. Survey Item Faculty Lower-division Upper-division Judge value of ideas 65% 75% Apply theory or concepts to practical 77% 88% problems or new situations Course exams and assignments encourage 85% 91% students to do their best work Survey Item Students Freshman Seniors Judge value of ideas 59% 66% Apply theory or concepts to practical 72% 76% problems or new situations Course exams and assignments encourage 84% 78% students to do their best work Table 2 Faculty and student perceptions about the use of computers and information technology in the academic setting. Values for faculty are the percent that responded that "50% or more" of students in their classes did the following survey item. Values for students are the percent that responded that they did the survey item "very often" or "often" during the 2005 academic year. Responses are categorized by lower/division courses/ freshman or upper/division courses/senior. Data are drawn from reports summarizing 2005 FSSE (Faculty) and NSSE (Students) survey results. Survey Item Faculty Lower-division Upper-division Use email to communicate with 29% 42% professors Use electronic media to discuss or 41% 42% complete assignments Encourage/use computers for academic 89% 95% work Courses or college experiences using 38% 35% computing and information technology Survey Item Students Freshman Seniors Use email to communicate with 98% 92% professors Use electronic media to discuss or 89% 86% complete assignments Encourage/use computers for academic 47% 59% work Courses or college experiences using 69% 80% computing and information technology Table 3 Faculty-perceived differences between student and faculty life- and learning styles. Items were generated during a brief faculty workshop held during summer, 2008. Faculty Students Print Material Electronic Information Want-to-know/Curious Need-to-know Longer Attention Span Shorter Attention Span Discipline Focused Problem Focused Theory/Generate Questions Job Placement Coffee Energy Drinks Risk-takers Peer Learning Knowledge for Knowledge's Sake Knowledge to Attain a Goal Reading/Content-based Resources Sound Bites/Visual Multi-media Resources Abstract to Concrete Concrete to Abstract Table 4 Student-perceived differences between faculty and students Faculty Students Their jobs/Professional/Get Self-centered/short term paid/Permanancy/Established satisfaction/live for the moment/ Insecure Think as a whole Think as one Weekend Homework Weekend Fun Think about family/housing/cars/ Here to get a job lifestyle family Retirement funds Time Management/sometimes on time Short/term thinking/Think long Friends! Friends! Friends! term Testing Knowledge Acceptance Proven Methods Long/Term Thinking/Goals/Look towards the future/short term Active in chosen fields/focus Meeting People/Personal on one subject/Expert/Confident Relationships/social/party Lifestyle/on our own/friends Fund Themselves Technology/on line Self-improvement/Motivation Video Games/Music Not as materialistic Impatient/Task oriented Socialize face to face, talk Socialize through technology like old folks Traditional/old fashioned/By Everywhere/unfocused/ADD/Have to the book adapt Not selfish Pay Come from everywhere Live close to campus/housing issues Go to bed early Stay up late Get to set the goals Visually inclined/prefer visual teaching Focus on Teaching/Lecturing College has many purposes Oral teaching style Listening/New age Don't care about individual Talk like our generation/casual/ students vocabulary On time/organized/ Focus on grades/less organized/ schedule-driven/time management/ scattered/short-term/temporary Higher income Low income/cars Readings/Books/Paper based Asking questions/Making more mistakes Table 5 Ideas about products and services intended to make students' lives better generated by participants during an August, 2008, workshop. Dial-a-professor 24/7 Critical skills session Nap cubes Nutrition advising Relaxing yoga breaks Accommodations to individual lifestyle Question pads Attention to diverse learning styles Outdoor classes 24 hour university Posting lecture notes Time management class Spare time at end of Integrated learning/living center lecture for private help Midterm evaluations Better facilities/ larger classrooms Tutoring Less commuter campus focus Small classes 2-semester classes Continuity class group (cohort) Alum visitors Texts vs. ipods/podcasts Intuitive/ integrated classroom technology Drug 4 reading Breakfast/energy drinks for 8am classes Exercise/lifestyle changes "to do" social career related E-tutoring Mentoring external to GVSU More integration between fields More integration between classroom and social activities Laptops for all students Think and act more cosmopolitan Study abroad Internships Table 6 Participant responses to the assessment question: what was the best part of this workshop? Verbatim responses are grouped into three categories: comments linked to the structure of the workshop, those linked to teaching and student learning, and those addressing a diversity of miscellaneous topics Structure Students Other The facilitators-good Learning how to engage All teamwork; well students in a exercises/activities organized presentation pro-active manner. were very useful for me Pushing participants It offered practical Witnessing dynamic through a learning/ advice to improve the team teaching problem method & way students interact instruction. with one another & class concepts Working on a concrete Learning about Used several area we problem step by step different ways of would be dealing with learning after the Keynote (models of learning) Applied hands on Discussing what might get some students more involved The way the activities set up the concepts so that the concepts registered quickly Format Collaboration aspect-- brainstorming-- sketching Table 7 Participant responses to the assessment question: what would have made the workshop even better? Verbatim responses are grouped into three categories: comments linked to the structure of or lack of specific examples in the workshop, those linked to applicability of the workshop's contents to a particular participant's teaching, and miscellaneous comments. Specificity Application Other Outlining first what Greater applicability A problem I knew more the workshop would to humanities--focused about (I have very cover courses--I teach little knowledge of medieval literature, how to change one so integrating hands- energy to another) on drawing (for example) is tricky. Less complicated Spend a little more This session went well. examples for a bit time on how to apply less time on these to our classes activities then they get the point More specific examples Maybe tie in to I came in late, so n/a from your classes keynote address More specific examples More time of various methods + how they help include more students Table 8 Participant responses to the assessment question: how do you plan to use what you learned in today's workshop' Verbatim responses are grouped into two categories: comments linked to how participants will apply the workshop' ideas to their teaching, those linked to uncertainty about applying the ideas to their teaching Will use Unsure In several class sessions that Not sure--but will think about it! deal with concepts of research Thanks for your time + expertise methods Encourage collaboration + group I'm thinking still activities. Seek problems for students to apply to coursework I will absolutely use it in my GIS Use this as an example of how to & NRM capstone courses! team teach well. Have students brainstorm and then Not sure evaluate/screen their own ideas. Incorporate more brainstorming sessions/group activities In evaluating portfolio papers Parts of it can be used for a class/lecture on infectious diseases/outbreak investigation. I want students to evaluate their initial paper ideas for potential advantage before they start. Will apply to class I'm teaching this fall. I will use absolutely all of it in my fall courses (GPY412 global environment change, GPY410 Landscape Analysis)