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The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

Culture of conversation

Classrooms open for professors to learn from colleagues

The Office of Teaching and Learning (OTL) held an open classroom program the week of Feb. 27 for professors of Saint Joseph’s University to learn new teaching methods from their colleagues and apply those methods to their own teaching.

OTL was established in the fall of 2016 to help centralize the teaching and learning resources that are used at St. Joe’s.

“It [OTL] was created to be a way to promote effective pedagogy across the university and to foster communication among faculty on what makes the best practices in teaching,” said Director of Office of Teaching and Learning Usha Rao, Ph.D. “We want to really look at current research on student learning and see how we can apply that to what we already do here.”

Along with the open classrooms, the office also has workshops and lectures that are given by teachers for teachers, teaching and learning forums, and a book discussion group.

“As part of some of the new programming we, for the very first time, offered this open classroom initiative where we had 24 faculty who opened up 28 courses and 56 sections of courses that were open to any faculty and staff,” Rao said. “It was a way for us to explore different styles of teaching across different disciplines.”

Director of Office of Teaching
and Learning Usha Rao, Ph.D. (Photo by Madison Auer ’20)

The program is meant to create more conversations throughout different departments in both the Ervian K. Haub School of Business and in the College of Arts of Sciences (CAS).

“The idea of going across disciplines and getting ideas about good teaching from something outside of your area of expertise, it just seemed like something that would jumpstart a broader conversation and foster a culture of thinking and talking about teaching and learning,” said Jeffery Hyson, Ph.D., assistant professor of the department of history.

Hyson was inspired by other colleges opening their classrooms and mentioned the idea to Rao after the Office of Teaching and Learning was established.

“We are supposed to be a very teaching oriented institution and I think there’s lots of really good teachers but I think there is also not enough time spent in sharing our experiences and our insights on teaching outside of our departments,” Hyson said.

Paul Aspan, Ph.D., associate provost for academic and faculty support said that faculty have been doing this informally for a while and thinks Hyson has been a big part of making it reality.

“For many years, I think at any university you’ll find professors who sort of informally say if you ever want to walk into my classroom, please do,” Aspan said. “Dr. Hyson has long been both an advocate and a practitioner of open classrooms. I have observed his class and I know many other faculty members have.”

Classrooms were open for four days and were diverse in curriculum and types of classes, ranging from GEP courses to graduate courses.

“Teaching tends to be a behind closed doors activity from the perspective of other faculty; we engage with students, but we don’t engage with other faculty in other classes,” Rao said.

Hyson opened his classrooms and went to many other classrooms to see how other classes from other disciplines were teaching.

“I had a great time visiting,” Hyson said. “I went to five different classes including sociology, Classics, LEO [Leadership, Ethics, and Organizational Sustainability], econ [Economics], and environmental science. I really wanted to take advantage of the opportunity and I wanted to see as broad a range of teaching, including stuff I know nothing about or things I am sort of curious about.”

Hyson liked how professors, like Brian Forster, Ph.D, lab coordinator of the General Education Program Natural Sciences, were able to make students who are non-majors invested in the courses.

Professors who participated in the open classrooms program gathered for discussion at the end of the week
(Photo by Madison Auer ’20).

“I teach environmental history but I am not a scientist so I was really curious to see how Dr. Forster teaches, especially for his non-major GEP science,” Hyson said. “How does he teach environmental science to those students, how does he get them thinking like scientists.”

Rao wanted teachers to be continual learners and to try and find new ways of teaching that will help students learn. She believes that professors should be “lifelong learners of teaching,” so they can improve their pedagogical skills.

Aspan thinks observation is a good idea to see how everyone interacts with each other within the classroom.

“[The week] gives us an opportunity to learn from our colleagues how to engage students in a variety of ways and it is another way for us to observe how students engage which helps us to appreciate our students more,” Aspan said.

Moreover, Hyson thinks that it all comes back to this idea of conversation and talking to other professors about how to better engage students.

“The quality of the education and the quality of the teaching as a whole is going to rise as we get this more consistent culture and conversation of teaching,” Hyson said.

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