UTSA Faculty Get Hands-On Techniques to Enhance Teaching

May 24, 2012

By Stephanie Sanchez, Communications Specialist

Incorporating active learning techniques in class to motivate critical thinking was the primary message at this year’s Provost’s Academy for UTSA Faculty: Creating Critical Thinkers.

The fourth annual Provost’s Academy, which was organized by UTSA’s Teaching and Learning Services (TLS), also emphasized the value of pre-class assignments to encourage students to prepare and to allow them to deepen their knowledge during class time. More than 45 faculty members attended the three-day retreat May 16-18.

“We wanted to focus on critical thinking, but you can’t just launch in to it without preparation,” said Dr. Barbara J. Millis, director of the TLC. “First, you have to think about how you’re going to restructure or redesign your courses to build in critical thinking.”

The retreat was progressive: it began with information on how people think, moved into redesigning courses using active learning and group work, and ended with teaching and learning to foster critical thinking.

The speakers were Dr. Craig Nelson, professor emeritus of biology at Indiana University and a Carnegie Foundation Professor of the Year award winner; Dr. David M. Dees, associate professor of cultural foundations at Kent State University; Dr. Jose Vazquez-Cognet, clinical professor of economics and e-Learning coordinator at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign; Dr. Patricia Verdines, instructional design specialist and learning technology coordinator for the TLC; and Millis.

Nelson, the featured speaker, said his main message was that faculty should change the way they teach in order to improve the achievement and retention of UTSA’s students, many of whom are attending school while working.

“In general, faculty are not taught anything about teaching in graduate school,” Nelson said. “We have not taken the time to become acquainted with where the research on teaching and learning has gone.  Participating in extended workshops like this provides an effective way to stay current and keep up with best practices.”

Dr. Richard Lee Utecht, associate professor in the Department of Marketing at UTSA and a UT System Regents’ Outstanding Teaching Award recipient, has attended almost every Provost’s Academy. He said the Provost’s Academy and the TLC have changed his teaching style.

“I had always been lecture dominate in my style. Lecturing is a like data dump, resulting in passive learning.” he said. “There are more ways to teach than lecturing. That’s why workshops like this are really good. They give you more tools to work with. Because of similar workshops, I changed the way I approach classes a long time ago, which made teaching easier and the students more receptive.”

This was the first Provost’s Academy for Ellen Walroth, a lecturer in the Department of English at UTSA. She said she received a lot of useful information.

“It provides questions, questions and questions about different methods, so that you spend three days intrinsically studying something,” she said. “I am just fascinated. In three days, I have transformed my course. This was perfect.”