Mercer faculty learns techniques to increase engagement

Godsey Science Center on the Macon campus.

This summer, a group of Mercer University professors came together to learn about inclusive and evidence-based teaching practices. Now they are putting this knowledge into practice in their classrooms and sharing it with their colleagues.

Thirty-two faculty members of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, College of Health Professions, College of Professional Advancement and Engineering school attended Mercer’s first mobile science education institute in May.

The National Institute of Scientific Education used to host a large conference each year attended by faculty from across the country, but the nonprofit moved to summer workshops at individual institutions about five years ago to disseminate more quickly these effective teaching practices.

Dr Troy Nash
Dr Troy Nash

Lecturer in Biology Dr. Troy Nash spent most of the 2020-21 academic year organizing the Four-Day Mobile Institute on Science Education at Mercer. He and experts in higher education from institutions across the country – including the University of Georgia, Georgia Institute of Technology, Spelman College, University of Louisville, Harvard and State University of New York to Geneseo – conducted training at the Godsey Science Center in Macon. A few attendees attended via Zoom.

“There is a lot of research that has been done and literature that has been published on teaching practices that have been shown to increase student learning and persistence,” said Dr. Nash. “Helping train teachers in these evidence-based practices is good practice at all levels. Our main job is to help students succeed.

The program focused on inclusive teaching methods, active learning strategies and the development of effective assessments, and participants worked in small groups and put into practice what they learned in interactive sessions.

“Having the opportunity on campus to go and learn and engage in this type of work was really valuable,” said Dr. Laura Simon, assistant professor of sociology. “I applied (for the seminar) right away, so that I could engage in this material. The interdisciplinary component was very motivating.

The lecture style is not always what students need, and the workshop demonstrated strategies where students do more than just sit and listen. It was a real benefit to see what teachers in other fields were doing and how their methods could apply to her own classroom, she said.

Dr Laura Simon
Dr Laura Simon

“It’s about taking a science-based approach to learning. What I really enjoyed about the workshop was using the research conducted on student learning outcomes and student engagement to inform our strategies in the classroom, ”said Dr. Simon.

Dr. Simon found the reverse design sessions, where teachers start with their learning goals and then build lessons to meet those goals, to be particularly beneficial. They helped her think critically about aligning what she does in the classroom with student engagement and results.

She realized that she was asking her sociology theory students to tackle an assignment before they had a good basic understanding of the context, and she used reverse design to assess. and improve its program over the summer.

Dr Shehnaz Haqqani, Assistant Professor of Religion, appreciated that the workshop focused on centering students in the learning process and keeping them active.

“I am still new to teaching,” she said. “I love my students and am always excited to seek more opportunities to become a better teacher. Teaching and learning is a journey. The things I teach can be very difficult.

The institute also looked at best practices for giving feedback to students, colleagues and administrators. Mercer administrators joined one of the sessions to hear faculty feedback, a unique aspect of this workshop, said Dr Haqqani. Many requests from professors require administrative support, so a session dedicated to a conversation between the two groups was very useful and appreciated.

“What I liked about this workshop was that he did what he wanted us to do,” said Dr Haqqani. “You have to see if that would be something you would like to try in your classroom. We worked as a group. We worked together on Google Docs and PowerPoints, editing them as a team. We created course objectives and learning outcomes and then educated each other to make them clearer or more accessible.

Dr Shehnaz Haqqani

She plans to implement a new feedback approach that she learned, so that her feedback on student assignments is more constructive and useful. She also found the sessions on creating learning outcomes and goals very useful.

“I got so much out of it,” said Dr Haqqani. “There were strategies to make sure your teaching was inclusive and that students felt fairly represented in your classroom. These are things that I am already thinking about, and I loved that it was very present in this workshop.

Professors who attended the summer institute are now considered science education fellows for the 2021-2022 academic year, joining a community of over 2,000 faculty members from 56 institutions, said Dr Nash. They will continue to implement evidence-based practices in their classrooms and share what they have learned with their peers informally when possible.

The fellows will meet next spring to share the changes they have made to their teaching, and some of them will help plan the next Mobile Institute on Science Education in May 2022.

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Norma A. Roth