On October 19, 2017, Northwestern held its fifth annual Learning, Teaching, and Assessment Forum “Sharing Insights into Student Learning.” This is a collaboration of the Searle Center for Advancing Learning and Teaching, the Office of the Provost, and the University’s Assessment/Accreditation Council. Approximately 140 faculty, graduate students, post-docs, administrators, and staff from nearly every school and college convened at Norris University Center to participate in eight faculty-led roundtables around a range of key issues in learning and teaching. Topics included curriculum mapping, assessing critical thinking and creative work, using formative assessments to gauge student learning, assessing graduate work, and exploring cultural relevance and immersion.
In his opening remarks, Provost Jonathan Holloway shared some key moments in his own development as an educator, discussing how he learned to reflect on his teaching over time. For Susan Dun, Assistant Professor in Residence, Qatar, his presentation, combined with other sessions during the day, made her 7,000-mile trip from Doha very worthwhile. As she explains, “The smart teaching strategies learned from colleagues first hand, Provost Holloway’s insightful presentation and the thought-provoking, candid comments provided by the student panelists combined to make the Forum a meaningful and rich experience.”
For many, the revised roundtable structure was an important way of engaging the audience and panelists around key ideas. In a post-program survey, one survey respondent explained, “The sessions were not just about what the panelists had to say, but actively engaged those in the room to hear their experiences, questions, and concerns.”
Other faculty members echoed this sentiment as well. For Jeff Merrell, Associate Director of the Master’s Program in Learning and Organizational Change, serving as a moderator was a meaningful experience as well: “I had the good fortune of moderating an outstanding panel of faculty who shared their work in digital learning projects. In the open discussion after the panel presentations we asked the audience to share their ‘aha’ moments. What we heard built on a theme that I also experienced in participating in this forum–we all share a commitment to continually discovering new, creative ways to facilitate deep and meaningful learning.”
For Jill Wilson, Clinical Associate Professor and Assistant Department Chair for Undergraduate Studies Department of Industrial Engineering and Management Sciences, participating as a discussant in the curriculum mapping roundtable was a learning experience in itself. She says being an active participant “forced me to articulate where we are—our successes, our challenges—in developing a curriculum map, which in turn has helped me to think about how we move forward.”
The student panel, moderated by Candy Lee (Professor, Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications, Medill), consisted of nine undergraduate and graduate students from a range of disciplines and experiences. Their advice to faculty was alternatingly reflective, practical, and poignant:
- “Assume the best in your students. Trust them.” Adina Goldman (Senior, Religious Studies, Weinberg)
- “Be a human. Remember what it was like to be a student.” Phil Meyers (Master’s Student, Computer Science, McCormick)
- “Group work should be valuable. Remember that allowing students to work independently is valuable, too.” Allyson Snyder (Sophomore, Communication Studies and IMC certificate, SoC and Medill).
- “Remember we have to find balance, too. We are trying to figure things out, too.” Matthew Dulas (Senior, Biological Sciences and Philosophy, Weinberg)
- “Take feedback that students have provided you from previous courses. Learn from it.” Benjamen Lim Han Yang (Jr, Mechanical Engineering, McCormick)
- “Try to flip your classroom. Don’t be boring.” Lisa Beckman (2nd year PhD student, Biomedical Engineering, McCormick)
- “Don’t dumb down your course. Students like it when you challenge them.” Tommy Denby (5th year PhD student; Linguistics, Weinberg)
- “If you’re going to address issues of inclusion, don’t do it halfway.” Deonte Gibson (Master’s student, Integrated Marketing Communications, Medill)
Evelyn Hudson, a senior Human Communication Sciences major in the School of Communication, values the experience of serving on the student panel: “I appreciated the opportunity to both discuss student experiences in the classroom and to engage in a dialogue with faculty and staff on the many forms education and learning take place within the Northwestern community.”
The idea of building a community around student learning resonated with faculty as well. As Leah Christina Neubauer, Assistant Professor, Preventive Medicine, commented: “I look forward to this conference every year. I appreciated the in-depth views and time for discussion among presenters and participants.”