This summer – Focus, Reflect, Learn!

Students sitting outside on campus

Students settle into campus, enjoying the last warm Fall days, September 2017.

It’s the start of a new semester and I realize that I’ve been a bit lax in keeping up a blog on new ideas in teaching and learning. Like the resolutions we make at the start of a new calendar year, I’m vowing to be a bit more active with my entries here. So, as is appropriate, I thought this first round would involve some reflections on how I spent my summer in and out of the Center for Teaching & Learning since May

By way of disclaimer, I am fulltime faculty who is beginning my fourth year being reassigned to the CTL as the Faculty Director. And I’ve come to enjoy some of the previously unknown gems of this experience. First and foremost, it has given me an opportunity to meet more of my colleagues – both faculty and staff – outside of my department or division. This may seem like a ho-hum concept. But in reality, we’re all on the same team, helping our students at this community college reach their educational goals. It’s all about student success. We do this (mostly) selflessly, with the main reward being the knowledge that you “might” have made a positive difference in someone’s life. So when I say that that this has allowed me to meet more of my co-workers around campus, I’m really saying that I’m getting to know more of my teammates on this big educational mission we’ve all signed on for.

These encounters with my colleagues occur in a variety of ways. Their attendance in our wide range of CTL sessions, serving on committees in and outside of the CTL, emails inquiring about or recommending new session ideas, or just dropping in to visit. When I’m wandering around campus I’m always thrilled to realize that – hey! I know you! And I’m getting better at names, too!

Summer Learning Moments

wood floor installation

Part of my summer apprenticeship building a house.

As the summer began in earnest for me in May, I scheduled myself to split time between CTL and apprenticing to my husband on our major building project – finishing our new home. In the spirit of being a lifelong learner, I took on fulfilling a personal goal to learn more hands-on skills in carpentry and finish work. On the days and many evenings when I wasn’t in the CTL, I was learning how to use a chop saw, impact driver, drill, installing cabinetry, creating a jig to install the many door/drawer handles, getting an introduction to installing light fixtures, electrical plates, and finally, installing flooring. Did I make mistakes? Of course! And, like we hope happens with our students, I learned from them. Most recently, after spending two days installing flooring in a couple of bedrooms, I stood there puzzled by my (very precision-driven) husband’s distress. Apparently, in a tired state of mind, I had not trimmed a starting piece in a row of the wood floor, throwing off the pattern for the next three rows that followed. Learning moment here: I learned how to carefully remove pieces of a wood floor so that they could still be reused once I corrected the errant board. The entire summer experience gave me much food for thought when applying it to my own classroom.

Learning is Teaching at Mott

During one of the college-wide conversation days, a group of faculty and staff came up with the idea of meeting and greeting students during the first week of classes. This idea was inspired by the stories shared by students about their own “first week” experiences not knowing their way around, feeling lost and abandoned. We were a bit stunned by the realization that this most basic of experiences – the experience of feeling welcome on campus – had somehow fallen through the cracks for many of our students, especially those who were the first in their families to go to college.

Mara in front of Mott Library

Meetin’ and greetin’ new students on campus this Fall 2017.

So at the start of this semester, after a dry (chilly) run last winter, we launched a college-wide initiative to sign up faculty and staff to wander the campus – inside and out – to meet and greet students, asking if they needed anything, if they needed help finding a building, or an office, or whatever. I think we all had a blast. It was wonderful to be able to bring a smile to the face of a nervous student, to brighten their day with the message “Welcome!” And it wasn’t something that took a lot of time out of our day. Everyone has a few minutes here and there. For me, it was an excellent way to get off my chair and step away from the computer, get some fresh air, and actually meet our students!

Another event we held last May, and one that will be repeated again this October, is a “free college day” on campus. Held on a Saturday, faculty volunteers provide an introduction to a topic of interest, usually something related to their area of teaching, while many staff are running around guiding groups of students, or manning tables stacked with information. For me, as professor in Graphic Design and Art, I love the blending of the creative and structural that happens when creating simple handmade books. The open-studio workshop that I ran last May had a steady stream of people of all ages from the community who sat down with me and learned to make, write, and illustrate a simple book with covers, a project that captured the applications of a variety of skill-sets across disciplines. My colleagues in other areas across campus enjoyed sharing their subject areas in fun ways with a new (and sometimes familiar) audience. Yes, even current students would drop in to see what it was all about, gaining insights into the passion of their current or potentially future instructors.

Design Thinking Applied

The path that led to these two events – free college day, and first week meet and greet – came from these college conversation days. But the process to discovery and idea generation was in many ways similar to the design thinking process that has been adopted from the design fields and is finding new applications in business and higher education. We began by asking the students about their stories, their experiences! And then we brainstormed! And then… over the months that followed, we implemented the ideas! You can read more about how Stanford’s d.school has taken the lead in helping educators apply design thinking in new ways.

Make it Happen!

In the meantime, I hope your semester is off to a great start! And I hope you’ll consider making a more concerted effort to meet and greet more of your colleagues and students across campus. You never know what a real difference it makes until you try!

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