Props keep students interested, lecturer tells SITT

The Summer Institute on Teaching and Technology met for its second day Tuesday with an agenda faithful to its name--morning sessions that largely focused on teaching, followed by afternoon sessions on tech.

Specifically, the morning sessions centered on different approaches and tips on teaching large classes effectively, while the afternoon presented information on researching with SmartSite and teaching through Almagest--a tool that stores and presents images.

Faculty had the opportunity to see how their colleagues teach. A series of instructors shared their teaching philosophies and practical techniques to get jaded students to learn.

Jon Wagner, professor of education and SITT director, presented a creative approach to final exams. Instead of assigning term papers, Wagner had his students collaboratively design and draw a "map of the course." (To see their work, please visit Wagner's presentation website.) Wagner joked that the students probably learned more during that exercise than from anything else during the year.

Susan Keen, a lecturer of evolution and ecology, won the campus Academic Federation Excellence in Teaching Award this year. She described the difficulties of teaching a large class and offered solutions from her own teaching experience. She emphasized the importance of interacting with students, even for a little while, to break up the lecture. This may come in the forms of in-class demonstrations or a quick class quiz using "clickers"--small audience-response devices.

Keen showed the audience several props and models she uses. The physical items, she said, are better than screen images for keeping students interested.

"Attendance improves if the class has something the students don't expect," Keen said. "If you can keep them curious, they will be more willing to ask questions."

She surveyed her students to ask if interactive teaching methods helped them learn. Of the 285 students in the survey, 93 percent said class interaction and student participation--such as the use of clickers--improve learning.

Attendee Fuqiang Zhuo, director of the Language Learning Center, liked Keen's presentation. "It's good to see how students respond to teaching with technology through the survey," he said.

The week-long institute continues Wednesday with talks on blogging and podcasting, plus afternoon workshops on teaching with SmartSite and the Breeze Presenter software.