Jan Tillman and Ann Pearson have different backgrounds when it comes to their expertise in college instruction. But they agree on one important idea: Learning never ends. The two educators presented on separate topics at last month’s Lilly Conference, but they shared their different insights in a combined interview for the ‘Q’ Blog. Pearson, an English professor, is also Assistant Director for the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning at San Jacinto College in Texas. Tillman is a Clinical Assistant Professor in East Carolina University’s Doctor of Nursing Practice program.
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For those who weren’t at the conference, what are some of the main ideas from your respective presentations?
AP: I think one of my ideas is that we are never done preparing a course. You’re never done knowing exactly what you’re going to do. We tweak constantly and reevaluate our teaching in the ways we’re asking our students to self-check. Stopping to reflect is not wasted time—it’s crucial to you growing as an instructor. Taking time for reflection is one of the biggest things that we push in our Center. When you stop doing that, it’s going to show up with your students.
JT: In my session, I talked about a cycle that looks at the process of taking new knowledge and applying it to our profession. What you just said, Ann, fits into the cycle because once we’re through all the stages of gathering knowledge, we apply it to our professions. Then we do a rapid-cycle change. We might do it differently each time, and that’s how we perfect our craft.
I’m very interested in active learning and universal design for learning because I want to include all learning capabilities [such as students who might need an accommodation], and I don’t see those as [learning] styles. I think styles change based on different topics, on different days, and on different moments in our lives.
I hope that faculty members can be nimble in the way they approach their courses, such as being open to a student. Let’s say I’m teaching a leadership class and a student comes to me with an idea regarding how they might like to execute learning about nursing leadership. I rarely say no to that because it may not be an avenue I’ve explored. It’s very important to have collaborative learning.
What can faculty developers and faculty do to build a faculty learning community or help one another to connect with peers at their institution and around the country?
AP: Something really successful for us has been a faculty collaboration program where we matched a full-time faculty member with a part-timer who maybe only teaches evening or weekend classes. At first, we had a bit of griping, but most people stayed in the program. Department chairs love it. They want part-time faculty to have a point of contact who helps communicate updates and deadlines.
If you don’t have a program like that, my recommendation would be to make your own. You may get a couple of polite refusals, but somebody’s going to talk to you, even if you are a part-timer. Find your own mentors to check in with three or four times each semester to find out what’s going on.
JT: For me the challenge is how to model. I may be an excellent nurse practitioner, but I’m learning about education. And that is true for most folks on our faculty: We are phenomenal nurse practitioners, but we may not know how to communicate as educators.
So then my goal is to address that gap in my knowledge and, in so doing, make others comfortable enough to say “I don’t know how to do this” and then work to become better at our craft. We don’t necessarily have the pedagogy, and that’s okay, but we need to know what we don’t know and go get it. And if we don’t start exploring that, therein lies the detour in this whole situation. It is my role to learn and to challenge my fellow faculty.
What is one thing you took away from the conference and plan to apply to your own practice?
AP: It was a diagram [from Claire Howell Major’s plenary] about the big box of things we don’t even know we don’t know. I think that changes so constantly that we can’t rest and have to keep at it.
It’s knowing that I don’t know what my students are going to be into next year, two years from now, five years from now. They’re certainly not going to be the students I had twenty years ago, and I’m certainly not the same teacher. I don’t ever want to remain the same. So that’s what I would take away: I have to continue to engage. I have to keep discussions going.
JT: It really echoes Ann’s thoughts that if we don’t continue to reach out, network, and be willing to evolve, we cannot grow. And if we don’t grow, we are not preparing the way for students as they grow in their professions—and that’s really the future of what the United States and the world rest on. We are educating the people who will lead our world and the people who will run our nursing homes in twenty years. If I do not engage to do that in ways that follow the best evidence, then I have dropped the ball.