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March 3, 2003
Seven professors, seven diverse pathways to higher learning
By Susan Green

Spotlight on Learning, this Thursday and Friday, is an annual university wide "show and tell" about best learning-centered practices.

Computer Scribes

Last year Lonnie Welch, professor of computer science, successfully incorporated writing-to-learn methods into his software engineering classes to the dismay and delight of his students.

Lonnie Welch This year, armed with that success, Welch has taken writing further.

Working with the University's Center for Teaching Excellence and Center for Writing Excellence, Welch fully grounded one of his graduate research courses, "Real Time Systems," in writing.

"I wanted students to learn how to draft well-written research articles," Welch says.

To get things rolling and to raise the comfort level of the students, Welch used himself as an example. He shared a research paper he'd written, complete with criticism from an editor, with his students to show that he goes through the same process they were about to go through when submitting research writing.

Welch organized the students into three groups that functioned as writing workshops. The students each selected and defined a problem that related to their field of interest, reviewed current articles on the problem and then presented drafts of their work to the group. The group in turn provided feedback on style and content.

Welch, along with Rachel Brooks-Rather and Sherrie Gradin from the Center for Writing Excellence, moved between the groups offering advice and guidance. It looked chaotic at first, but a closer look revealed a high level of engagement and interaction between students.

According to Welch, the writing workshops helped students face criticism and conflict and increased their ability to explain their ideas and concepts to others. It prepared students for a smooth transition to the workplace.

Chemical Reactions

During a workshop on managing class time offered by the Center for Teaching Excellence, Martha Kline, associate professor of chemistry at the Lancaster campus, experienced a "lightbulb" moment.

"I began teaching chemistry the way I was taught, which was very teacher-centered," Kline says. "This approach didn't seem very effective, though, and I thought about ways to improve both the physical space and the class format."

Armed with ideas from the workshop and inspired by last year's Spotlight on Learning, Kline moved toward a more student-centered format that shifted responsibility for "first exposure" to course material to the students. She created take-home packets for her students containing reading assignments and exercises that cover the basic concepts. Kline said this allowed her to spend more class time helping students process the material, the most difficult part of learning chemistry.

After re-focusing her teaching format, Kline turned her attention to the physical needs of the classroom. Fortunately, the building housing the chemistry laboratories was under renovation, giving her the opportunity to design a new science classroom. "I wanted a hybrid of a classroom and lab," she says. "A room that allowed for demonstrations, hands-on activities, discussion and access to the Internet for Web-based activities."

The new classroom features an instructor's table for demonstrations, eight lab tables that accommodate four students each, and soon, a computer, projector, DVD/VCR and an ELMO visual presenter.

Kline's students were already working in groups, but this new set-up facilitates a wider range of active learning activities. Students have freedom to move around and participate in other groups. Kline also walks around the classroom observing and offering assistance. She encourages her students to ask questions and to work together to learn concepts and their applications.

A project under development links general chemistry and society. Working in groups, students will identify a topic, gather information regarding the fundamental principles of chemistry involved and describe issues relevant to making responsible decisions regarding the topic. The students will prepare posters summarizing their findings and present their work in a mock poster session. The class will vote on the best presentation.

Kline said her students feel frustrated when they struggle to figure something out on their own, but they feel challenged to learn.

"I'm cultivating an environment where students are engaged and feel comfortable taking risks. I want them to gain confidence in presenting their ideas and to become more involved with their own learning," she says.

Voice of the People

Travel opportunities for undergraduates abound and many provide cultural and educational experiences. But few give undergraduates the chance to do qualitative field research

David Lucas David Lucas, assistant professor of communication at Ohio University - Southern campus, gives undergraduates their first exposure to the world of research and an opportunity to apply what they learn in class through a research method he developed called "folknography."

"Folknography is the outgrowth of something that I've been doing for many years," Lucas says. "It's a method used to gather information and to describe and understand the social realities of a community, from the perspective of its citizens."

Not only are students exploring another culture with a practical purpose in mind, they are also encouraged to pursue their own interests when documenting what they see and hear. Many write narratives or poetry, make digital recordings or take photographs that reflect the perceptions and ideas of the people in the community.

During spring break Lucas and his students will travel to the Dominican Republic to assess the medical needs of a small community. The student researchers will talk with community members about their need for a medical clinic and the type of services a clinic should offer. Once the research project is completed they will present their findings and recommendations to the mayor.

To see folknography at work visit the Equine World research project in the United Kingdom at,

Reading, writing and ... rhetoric

Rhetoric is all about how meaning is produced through the interaction of texts, writers and readers.

Rouzie and Holt Mara Holt and Albert Rouzie, associate professors of English, are collaboratively teaching first-year writing and rhetoric classes. Although their course schedules and syllabi are identical and they teach in adjacent rooms, it is their collaboration, which provides opportunities for their students to critique the essay drafts of students who are not their immediate classmates, that makes them unique.

"We thought it would be more fun to teach together," Rouzie says. "Rhetoric and writing is a required course that is difficult to teach and often not well received by students." Holt agrees and says another reason for their collaboration was to disrupt the students' role as passive listeners.

Their first writing assignment focused on analysis of a popular song. Holt and Rouzie begin the discussion using "Worlds Apart" by Bruce Springsteen. After playing the song and distributing lyrics and a list of literary and musical terms, they discussed what the lyrics said and how they said it. Students then wrote interpretations of songs they chose, traded the completed papers with each other and critiqued the anonymous work.

"Anonymity is key to the success of this process," Rouzie says. "Students have to deal with the critique as a critique and nothing else."

Students were positive about the process once they understood what was going on, but were not always enthusiastic about the quality of peer critiques.

Holt says writing a peer critique is more important than receiving a peer critique because it sharpens students' critical thinking skills. "Authors must decide whether to implement the changes made by the reviewer since both the critique and the paper are graded."

Holt and Rouzie worked together on assignments, peer critique training and grading. They moved between the two classes to consult with one another and to get to know the students.

They say students benefited from the creative interplay between the two professors, a sense of community and a playful learning environment. More often than not, a healthy competition emerged between the two classes along with class loyalty.

In short, teaching together was more stimulating, creative and fun.

Make something

Design is the tangible result of creative problem solving. Good design makes our lives better. It makes opening a door easier, it makes being in a room pleasurable and it makes your house comfortable and more efficient.

Ziff and MatthewsAs taught by Matthew Ziff and David Matthews, assistant professors of interior architecture, design is a demanding process that engages a range of human experiences. It begins with identifying needs and desires, thinking about and exploring the making of something, making it, using it, revising and replacing it and identifying new or changed needs and desires.

"In the making of things students are forced to engage the consequences of their thoughts," Ziff says. "They learn there are multiple answers to a problem rather than one answer, and that discovery leads to a complex process of reflection, transformation and evaluation."

Design education moves students toward independent thought, action and capability. To guide students in interior architecture toward original thought, Ziff and Matthews created a studio lab experience that they refer to as "pathfinding." It's based on the premise that a pathfinder is someone who marches forth into the unknown and carefully notes the small conditions that reveal which way to go.

"The design studio is an educational environment and a place for inquiry, learning, discovery and experimentation. It's a way of learning," Matthews says. "The studio is central to what students do. It leads them to learn how to figure things out."

Their teaching method is rooted in two things: student work is original thought, which challenges preconceptions and results in creating something that didn't exist, and professionalism, which brings to the creative process issues of ethics, law and manufacturing/construction processes.

Within the studios, students working individually or in teams are presented with "wicked problems," described by Horst Rittel, a design educator at UC-Berkeley, as ill-defined problems without clearly defined outcomes. Initially they're distressed, because for many students this is the first time they've been asked to apply critical and independent thinking to physically making something.

Ziff and Matthews said they don't tell students what they want their design proposal to be like, but their work has to respond to a set of requirements given to them. Student designers participate in critiques of their work along with faculty, "making things requires you to be self-critical in ways that other disciplines do not." The professors want students to recognize design as a valid process of pedagogy.

Although it's often not recognized, creativity and design are part of every discipline and in everything that surrounds us.

Think about that the next time you open a door and walk into a room.

Susan Green is a writer with University Communications and Marketing


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