September 29, 2015
Profs Compare Notes on Teaching
Transformational Tuesdays give faculty a space to talk shop -- and learn
Dan Sullivan, a mechanical engineering lecturer in the Francis College of Engineering, has a Ph.D. in aerospace engineering from Penn State. In other words, he knows his stuff.
But Sullivan also knows that being an expert in his field does not automatically qualify him as an expert in the most current educational practices that will best help his students succeed in the classroom.
Which is why Sullivan — and many of his colleagues — appreciates Transformational Tuesdays, a series of talks hosted by the 2020 Transformational Education Committee designed to give faculty members from across the campus an informal forum to share thoughts and ask questions about the latest teaching methodologies and principles.
“I enjoy them because you get to meet people from different disciplines and learn new perspectives,” said Sullivan, who was among the 20 faculty and staff members to attend the first Transformational Tuesday of the semester, “Universal Design and Access for All Students,” moderated by Disability Services Director Jody Goldstein at University Crossing.
As co-chair of the Transformational Education Committee, Charlotte Mandell helped launch the monthly, hour long talks last year to advance the university’s 2020 Strategic Plan and support the core mission of Transformational Education, a primary Pillar of Excellence.
“Teaching is kind of a private activity. You don’t really get to talk to anyone in your classroom except your students,” said Mandell, vice provost for undergraduate education. “So we wanted to create a forum for people to share their ideas and their thoughts about teaching, a place to ask questions.”
This semester’s first talk drew faculty from a variety of departments including English, criminal justice, education and engineering, along with several staff members from Facilities Management and Information Technology. Goldstein and colleagues from Disability Services discussed the latest resources and technology to support every student’s learning — including the more than 800 with disabilities.
“The technology is always changing,” Sullivan said after learning about inclusive technology programs like SensusAccess, which allows students to convert PDFs or Word files into alternate media like MP3s, e-books and digital Braille. “If you don’t come and see what’s new, you won’t know what will work and what won’t work.”
Judy Davidson, an associate professor in the Graduate School of Education, agrees that professional development opportunities like Transformational Tuesdays are critical.
“It’s extremely important for faculty to get updated,” said Davidson, who’s been at the university since 1999. “So much is changing so rapidly, and we can’t expect that what we were told 15 years ago is still working. So I think it’s crucial that we have this kind of experience.”
Mandell was “delighted” by both the turnout and discussions generated by the first talk of the year.
“The piece that I really liked,” she said, “wasn’t so much the formal presentation, which was excellent, but the fact that the faculty feel like this is a safe space to ask certain kinds of questions like ‘Can I say this to a student? or “What do I do if this happens?’ Those kind of things.”
The second Transformational Tuesday of the semester, “Managing Behavior for Productive Learning,” was held Sept. 29. There are two remaining before winter break: “GRIT: Getting Students Over the Mid-Semester Hump” on Oct. 27 and “Mentoring Undergraduate and Graduate Students as They Complete Theses” on Nov. 17. Faculty and staff members can RSVP by emailing email@example.com.