by Geoff Larcom, Published May 12, 2010
YPSILANTI - How can we best help students learn? What are creative, innovative ways to reach and inspire students? Scholars from around the country will gather at Eastern Michigan University May 17-18 to examine how students learn as well as the effects of various teaching methods in the second annual meeting of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SOTL) academy.
The conference, organized by a pair of EMU professors, seeks to bring together scholars engaging in or wanting to learn about the scholarship of teaching. Participants will present their work, discuss teaching and learning and network.
Between 120 and 130 people are expected for the conference, which draws professors from Eastern Michigan, around the Midwest and this year from as far away as Wyoming and Arkansas.
The conference will spotlight a variety of teaching methods and disciplines and how students learn amid different settings. “Good teaching in political science looks different from good teaching in biology,” says Jeffrey Bernstein, a professor of political science at EMU and co-director of the conference.
For instance, one chemistry professor has students prepare electronic portfolios that he studies. Others audiotape classroom discussions, have students keep journals or maintain blogs. “There are lots of ways to assess what students are doing with assignments,” Bernstein says.
Bernstein’s own work is based on student surveys and close examination of students’ written work. He is teaming with co-director Sarah Ginsberg, a professor in the Department of Special Education and program coordinator for the Speech Language Pathology Program at EMU.
Ginsberg said the conference also highlights the “incredible and valuable” scholarship on teaching and learning going on at Eastern. “It gives (professors) the opportunity to share and disseminate to the greater public,” Ginsberg says.
Keynote speakers include Randy Bass, assistant provost for teaching and learning initiatives at Georgetown University, and Robert Bain, an associate professor of education and history at the University of Michigan. Bass will speak on “The Problem of Learning in the Post-Course Era,” and Bain’s talk is entitled, “Waste Not, Want Not!: Repurposing Disciplinary and Scholarly Practices to Study and Improve Teaching and Learning.”
Bernstein, a Carnegie Scholar, and Ginsberg had been engaged in the scholarship of teaching and learning for some years before staging the initial SOTL conference at Eastern last year. Before that, they had gotten to talking and agreed that such an event aligned with Eastern’s mission and that the University could be a national leader in such an event. Now they see Eastern shining as a regional focal point for the scholarship of teaching.
Both Ginsberg cited what they called exceptional support by Eastern’s administration in helping them stage and grow the event, in particular associate provost Robert Neely. “The administration has been incredible,” Ginsberg says.