Individual Growth and Development

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The Faculty as Change Agents program sought to support faculty Change Agents' growth as instructors and leaders so that they could have a greater impact on their students and in their programs, departments, institutions, and regional networks.

Sean Tvelia, Suffolk County Community College

Prior to this project, my classroom pedagogy consisted primarily of traditional lecture-based, teacher-centered activities. Although I was consistently trying to improve the lecture portion of my classes, the majority of my time was spent adding detail to lectures to help students better understand basic principles and concepts. Over time my lectures became too detailed. Although students complimented the presentations, it was clear they struggled to grasp the major concepts. My focus on detail didn't require students to apply their own knowledge or experience and the amount of detail left little time for actual discussion.

One of the greatest changes this project has produced was a shift in my perspective. Prior to starting the project, all of my efforts to change my courses were based on the idea that the students were somehow at fault for their lack of success—they weren't studying, they weren't reading, they weren't taking notes. If the students weren't successful they needed to change. Through this project I realized that was unrealistic, at least in the classes I had created. All along I was well aware of our students' educational backgrounds and the ways in which students were struggling. If I wanted the students to change their behavior, I had to provide them the experiences to learn how to change.

In order to create this change in my courses, I redesigned the classroom experience. Instead of the traditional lecture model I created a new pedagogy that began each new unit with a student reflection that required students to use previous knowledge—both experiential and that gained from previous units—to develop hypotheses about the processes or phenomena we will be studying in the unit. Through this activity students learned how to use previous knowledge to inform their analysis and gained practice in providing written explanations. This activity not only helped develop students' working model of the world it also better aligned class activities with the modes of assessment I used on major exams.

In addition to developing the student reflections, I also redesigned my classroom presentations. I eliminated much of the detail that I had added over the years and replaced it with active learning exercises that provide students the opportunity to experience phenomena first hand. After each short activity I guide the class through a brief reflection/note taking activity where students are first asked to provide an overview of the activity and then are led through the analysis of their observations. Through these activities the students learn to focus on the discussion/activity and write notes based on their own thoughts and understanding rather than the simple copying of presentations that most did prior to these changes. Not only has this change helped improve student understanding and their written notes it has also freed up an enormous amount of class time which has allowed me to increase discussions relating course topics to issues of local and regional concern or importance.

Finally, to help students improve their classroom and home study habits, I added one class to serve as an exam wrapper and discussion of metacognition. During this class students learn the psychology behind learning and explore how their own study habits influence their understanding of course materials and performance on the first exam. Throughout the class students learn how to better use course resources to prepare for each class and how to augment their notes to better evaluate and improve their knowledge of course content. Students also learn effective study strategies and how to make better use of department tutors and faculty office hours. The addition of the exam wrapper and metacognition discussion has led to dramatic improvement for most students between the first and second exams. The positive reinforcement students receive from increased exam grades has led to long-term changes in student performance and increased participation in class activities.