For Rowan profs, summer means a change in roles

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Beaches, bathing suits and barbecues?

Beaches, bathing suits and barbecues?

Maybe.

But for professors at Rowan University, this summer is as much about books, studying and research — their own — as it is about summer vacations and typical fun in the sun.

Sociology professor Dr. DeMond Miller has devoted some of his “break” to a course of study to benefit the community at large. Miller has been attending an English as a Second Language program offered via the Rowan University College of Graduate and Continuing Education. He volunteered at the Boat People SOS Delaware Valley Pennsauken office (a Vietnamese immigrant community development agency) to help others master a new language.

For the community and Rowan University
“The teaching component of my studies is a three-month volunteer experience in the local Vietnamese community, where I teach beginning English to students of all levels seeking to apply and take the test for U.S. citizenship or seeking to improve their English skills,” Miller said.

The commitment helps others, Rowan students and Miller, who also is conducting research and working on a book this summer. “This coursework and community volunteer experience enhance and strengthen my teaching skills and help me reach diverse student populations. However, my ultimate goal is to use my knowledge and training to welcome students from all over the world to our campus as part of Rowan’s global outreach and teach first- and second-semester international and international exchange students sociology in a language-friendly environment.”

In the Biological Sciences Department, Drs. Alison Krufka, Luke Holbrook and Courtney Richmond have been CREATE-ive this summer. Besides taking advantage of the summer for research, the trio have been taking on the role of student to learn new ways to enhance what their own students get out of their courses. Krufka facilitated a workshop on campus for the Biological Sciences Department on the National Science Foundation-sponsored CREATE program (Consider, Read, Elucidate the hypotheses, Analyze and interpret the data, and Think of the next Experiment). CREATE, among other things, focuses on teaching students to read technical papers by breaking them down into their component parts and gathering the appropriate information from them. CREATE also teaches students about the process of science, since students read one paper, think about the next step and then read a subsequent paper from the same research group that advances the research on a particular question.

Krufka also was invited to present at the CREATE workshop at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, where faculty from colleges around the country had come to learn this method. Last summer, Krufka, Richmond, Holbrook and two other department colleagues attended the National Academies Summer Institute for Undergraduate Education, a five-day workshop at West Virginia University on teaching science using research-tested methods for improving student learning of science. The institute is sponsored by both the National Academies and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI). Krufka and Holbrook returned to West Virginia this summer to follow up and report on their own experiences using these methods.
 
Improving learning
“I think we all can improve our students’ learning by using scientific teaching,” Krufka said. “These workshops have had a profound influence on how professors teach their classes, as well as how they interact with their colleagues. I participated in a CREATE workshop that transformed the way I teach senior seminar and influenced all of my teaching.  So, I have been spreading the word.” Besides running the CREATE workshop, Krufka and the other Summer Institute participants have been mentoring department colleagues on scientific teaching.

Holbrook asked Krufka for help because he was unhappy with how things had gone with his senior seminar courses, where students engage the technical literature and need to write like professional scientists. “I felt that I wasn't doing enough to prepare students for these endeavors in class, and I had heard a lot from Alison about CREATE and how much she liked it.”

Additionally, Richmond helped run a workshop at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in Edgewater, Md., as part of FIRST IV (Faculty Institutes for Reforming Science Teaching). FIRST IV is a National Science Foundation-funded project that focuses on teaching science.

Richmond believes the time was well spent and helped her “to share with new instructors what is known about how people learn, and then how to apply that knowledge to their teaching practices.  A good deal of research has been done in recent years that can inform the way we instruct, and this information is slowly spreading and encouraging instructors to reform their teaching. When applied, the results are deeper learning and greater retention of information. Being part of the FIRST program has dramatically changed the way I think about teaching and run my classrooms. I think our students benefit greatly by being asked to think critically and work collaboratively in the classroom, making them engage with the material in a way that traditional lecturing does not. Besides helping them to learn the material in a class, I'm helping them to practice critical-thinking skills, which will transfer to whatever career track they choose.”
 
Enhancing programs
Elsewhere in the sciences, Dr. Taryl Kirk in Physics & Astronomy attended the residential workshop Building a Thriving Undergraduate Physics Program conducted by the American Physical Society in College Park, Md.

“I want to enhance our physics program,” said Kirk, who also is conducting research this summer. “In particular, I would like to modernize classroom interactions. I have made a few lecture/demonstration podcasts, which the students greatly appreciated. I would like to integrate more technology into my courses.”

Dr. Tom Merrill, an associate professor of mechanical engineering, attended an NSF-sponsored workshop titled “How to Engineer Engineering Education” at Bucknell University, designed to offer engineering and science faculty and graduate students hands-on experience to enhance their teaching, according to the workshop director.

Dr. Shifei Chung, an accounting professor in the William G. Rohrer College of Business, spent part of her summer attending and or presenting at multiple conferences, including the American Accounting Association Annual Meeting; Performance Scorecard Conference at Temple University; Business Professor Teaching Summit at Drexel University; New Jersey Accounting, Business & Technology Show & Continuing Professional Education Conference and Blackboard Education Technology Conference. Chung said, “I enjoy the opportunities to learn new things in our profession; to exchange ideas on teaching, research and service; and to network with colleagues around the country and internationally. The conferences present wonderful opportunities for me to recharge myself and bring back something new to the college and classroom.”

Transformational
Dr. Kelly Duke Bryant, an assistant professor in the Department of History, became a student this summer at the Best Teachers Summer Institute, a pedagogy workshop held in North Jersey and based on the concepts in Ken Bain's book What the Best College Teachers Do. She also has been working on a book manuscript, which addresses the intersecting histories of politics and education in Senegal, West Africa, at the turn of the 20th century.

Bryant summed up what many of the professors felt about dedicating part of their summer to studies and professional development, “Good teachers can be transformational in the lives of their students.  I would like to do everything I can to have positive impact on my students and to encourage their excitement for learning.”

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