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Minnesota State University, Mankato

Minnesota State University, Mankato
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Innovative Faculty Features

Page address: http://www.mnsu.edu/cetl/innovativefaculty.html

 

CETL looks to identify faculty members using new or innovative techniques in their courses.  This page features profiles and videos designed to both recognize innovative teaching and provide ideas for faculty members around campus.  To nominate a faculty member, please contact patricia.hoffman@mnsu.edu.  

 

Featured Faculty

Emily Stark, Psychology, Honors Program Interim Director 

See Professor Stark's Five-Minute Workshop on Integrating Individual and Group Work at: www.mnsu.edu/cetl/fiveminuteworkshops.html.

 

Emily Stark is in her sixth year at Minnesota State University, Mankato as an associate professor in the Psychology Department. She taught courses face-to-face but decided she wanted to learn more about online learning. She wanted courses that contained more than lectures and multiple choice tests, even if she did have 150 students in the course.

She decided to take a CETL-offered Faculty Learning Community dealing with online teaching two years ago. She felt that teaching Introduction to Psychology students at 8 a.m. face-to-face was not working and that perhaps teaching online would improve the situation. She was also interested in the idea of taking on a new challenge

For her online course, she got students talking with each other by using small groups (12-15 in a group). Each group participates in online discussions dealing with the question of “what would you do” in response to different psychological scenarios. Students are required to comment on at least two posts by other students related to this question. She found that over time these discussion groups became small communities that actually bonded. She found that athletes and new parents at MSU especially enjoyed the course since online learning accommodated their busy schedules. She grades discussions using a check plus (excellent), check (acceptable), or check minus (poor) rubric. Even though the online course can be large (over 150 students), students are still able to connect with others in the class and share their opinions and ideas.

In her face-to-face courses, Emily uses IF-AT quiz sheets (available from the CETL office) in order to get students working together. The forms allow students to take quizzes individually and then in small groups by using scratch off material to cover the correct answers. Professor Stark has been using this form for review since she was first introduced to them in the CETL Faculty Teaching Certificate Program.

In her face-to-face courses, Emily is now thinking about moving away from textbooks entirely and will be doing so in a course this spring. She is aware of the huge cost of textbooks for students and has a suspicion that many students are not reading assignments. She has found that, over time, students better engage with reading materials not related to a textbook. Professor Stark feels there is less laziness on the part of both students and the instructor when no textbook is available. Another planned innovation is ‘flipping’ her classroom by getting students to listen to lectures online, and then spending class time completely in discussions and problem solving.

To get feedback on her courses, she uses 2-3 assessments each semester using the anonymous D2L survey function. The surveys ask questions like, “what do you like?” and “what could be better about this course?” At time, she finds this more useful than the institutional evaluation forms used at the end of the semester. The institutional forms leave no time to improve the course for the current semester’s students. For example, she has used feedback during the course to change test reviews for students, to put more emphasis on important concepts during the lectures, and to remind students of these concepts before exams. This helped to calm down test-anxious students and to deflect the requests for study guides, which she rarely provides.

When asked what she would change about teaching at MSU if she had a magic wand, Emily quickly stated it would be smaller class sizes. She finds 25 to be a good size for the courses she teaches. “Innovation is good to a point, but only to a point.” Once class sizes begin to drift toward 100 and more she feels teaching becomes more and more difficult.

One of the most exciting things to come out of the short interview with Emily is that over her six years at MSU she has never felt alone in her teaching. She has sought out advice from others and been involved with CETL’s programs. In this way she not only improves her teaching with new ideas but is supported by a wide variety of colleagues.

 

Kristin Scott, Assistant Professor of Marketing and International Business

Kristin Scott, an MSU-Mankato faculty member for four years, teaches in the Marketing Department. She has been experimenting with her course, “Promotional Strategy,” which is offered in two sections. The course consists of students who are both majors and minors in Marketing.

During her second year, the department was contacted by the Blue Earth Historical Society and asked to help with promotional work and research. She realized this was a great opportunity to move away from a lecture-based teaching model and instead give students the chance to participate in experiential learning. She also reached out to Nicollet Bike Shop in order to secure a second client.

What happened next is a wonderful example of how a course at a university can become meaningful and exciting for both students and the instructor with the right mix of reflection and experimentation.

Kristin still lectures now and then, but each section of the course is built around the principal of team-based learning. The class is divided into six groups of six students. Each group stays together for the entire semester. They work to develop a promotional plan for the client (in this case it was either the Historical Society or the Bike Company). The clients come to the class early in the semester and explain the business and what they need from the class. Throughout the semester, the instructor coordinates communication between the student groups and the client, sending emails and passing along questions. At the end of the semester, the clients return to the classroom. Each group then presents their promotional plan, attempting to “sell” it to the client.

Kristin is now in her fourth semester of this new course structure. She states that the first semester was difficult since she was unsure of how to make this all work. She had only been in Mankato for two years and had to learn about the course, the students, and the community through trial and error. She continues to make changes based on student feedback, most of which is collected through reflection papers at the end of the semester.

She developed confidence and skills in using team-based learning by attending several workshops and learning communities offered by CETL. She was also exposed to team-based learning at Oklahoma University, where she was a student of Larry Michaelson, a major researcher in the area.

Team-based learning has been an effective teaching method for Professor Scott. She sees using the reading material during class as groups work on their plans. She uses the IF-AT quiz sheets offered by CETL (special test sheets where material is scratched off to show the correct answer, used by groups/teams to trigger discussion) five times during the semester. These quizzes and discussions help students practice the fundamentals they need to develop quality promotional materials for their final projects.

In short, Kristin feels she helps students take the theory they are learn through the textbook and turn it into practice, increasing student engagement. Some rather amazing things have occurred since she changed the course structure. She has actually had some groups complain that they don’t want to come to the classroom when they are working on their projects since they are concerned other groups are “stealing” their ideas! She now allows groups to meet anywhere on campus during designated class work days. She has added a new wrinkle to the course by having groups work on one assignment, which she ranks in order of quality. Groups become very competitive even though this assignment is not graded and used only for practice.

One of the problems of moving to the new team-based strategy is that some students complain “you are not teaching us.” This has forced Kristin to become proactive early in the course. She now spends time explaining why this strategy is more useful than traditional lectures and tests. She also explains how much work she does behind the scenes rather than during class itself, during which she takes on the role of facilitator. Some students, however, have found this structure beneficial since they are not “spoon-fed” the information and have the chance to learn it on their own.

The end of the course is exciting for all involved. Each of the six groups presents their plans for the client over two days. The clients come to class and listen and take notes. After the presentations are concluded, the clients write up what they think of the advice and then selects the group plan they like the best. The group selected receives extra credit. Groups/students are graded on their presentation and the write-up they submit. Groups are allowed and encouraged to make changes to the plans based on the client’s evaluation and teacher feedback. Kristin remarked that CrossRoads, a local massage therapist, actually used some of the advice from a group in their actual promotional plan recently. What could be more connected to the “real world”? Kristin’s biggest problem now is finding new clients for the class to help in the future!