This past week, I had the opportunity to both attend and present at Johnson County Community College’s second annual Cavalier Conference on Writing and Literature. (Try to say that, like, even one time fast!) Although I saw this as a chance to do a lot of shopping and eating on the Kansas City plaza, I also met a lot of great people at the conference and heard a lot of interesting discussion about the current state of education—specifically as it pertains to composition and the teaching of literature.
The theme of this year’s conference was “Responding to Issues in English: Students, Peers, and the Profession.” Although the attendees and the associated presentations were usually filtered through the lens of English education, the topics discussed were wholly applicable to all educators.
The first workshop I attended was entitled “Student Crisis: A Workshop on Experiences and Approaches.” This was an enlightening interactive session moderated by two of JCCC’s resident counselors. Attendees provided topics based on personal experiences from their past or current courses. These topics ranged from providing support for transgender students without making them feel singled out to best practices for encouraging students that might be falling behind. The crux of this discussion asked instructors to be thorough, patient, and compassionate with all students. A student who is experiencing difficulty at home may be trying to cling to normalcy in their academic environment despite the fact that these issues may be creeping into all aspects of their life.
The second session that I attended was entitled “Responding to Technology in Education.” This presentation focused more closely on the use of technology in the K-12 environment, yet much of it was applicable to the methods that instructors use in higher education to try and engage their students. This presentation promoted the idea that all instructors—both face-to-face and online—could benefit from embracing technology to streamline the way that content is delivered to students and the way that educators lesson plan and grade.
The third session I attended also looked at the rapidly evolving field of technology in the classroom. This session, combined from two presentations entitled “Responding to Struggling Learners” and “Special Needs Students Benefit from Technology,” examined how digital educational tools can be used to successfully augment a learning plan for nontraditional learners. In this session we demoed several tools, such as Kahoot!, a platform that promotes the gamification of learning. Both presenters, each a long-time K-12 educator, felt that bringing varied elements for course delivery into their lesson plans helped them truly reach a greater number of students. Some of these tools raise potential accessibility concerns in the online college classroom, so it’s always best to contact your WSU IDT team before using a tool if you have any concerns about its use.
During lunch, Nancy Sommers, a published author who regularly contributes to The Huffington Post, treated us to a keynote speech. Sommers also led the Writing Program for Harvard University for twenty years. The focus of Sommers’ speech was how to best reach student writers through assignment feedback. She argued that, as educators, it was up to us to best determine how we can promote development in our students without alienating them or crushing their desire to improve.
Finally, with the sweatiest of palms, I led my own roundtable discussion about building community in online courses through demystifying the process of online learning. It was a great opportunity for me to visit with instructors, some of whom were new to online teaching and did not have the level of success that they had hoped for, or instructors who had never taught online before and were anxious about the process. What I found most interesting from talking to these participants was that most of them did not feel as though they knew how to sufficiently structure a class to promote interaction and achieve parity between their online space and their f-2-f classroom.
My advice for these instructors was to reach out to their local IDT department or specialist before a potential crisis could arise. I encouraged them to forge a relationship based on developing best practices so that they could be as prepared to build and run an online class as possible. This proactive approach could offer the instructor the opportunity to head off potential problems before they occur and allow an instructional design specialist the chance to do what they do best: be of optimum use to the students taking the class, the instructor teaching the class, and the university overseeing it all.
Having said that, I absolutely encourage you to reach out to your local WSU IDT team if you have any questions or concerns that could be addressed ahead of time. The best thing about attending conferences like these is that it affords us the opportunity to learn about new techniques and see what our colleagues are doing well so that we can best assist other educators in this field.