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Lilly Conferences on College and University Teaching have been in existence for 28 years, but you may not be familiar with them as they are teachers’ conferences. This year, Lilly South was held in nearby Greensboro, so Lynn and I submitted a proposal for a presentation on our South trip, to discuss the value of including embedded librarians in an experiential experience. Lauren and Kaeley also did a presentation, on their LIB100 class and their use of blended learning techniques.

The theme of this conference was “Learning by Design.” Concurrent sessions, poster presentations and plenary speakers focused on topics that addressed teaching strategies, and designing and creating conditions that enable students to learn. It is a small conference with an attendance cap at 320, which allowed small group interaction and discussion. At one session Lynn and I made up 2/3 of the audience!

One of the sessions I most enjoyed was “Using Pictures to Take the Pulse of Student Understanding”, led by Kevin Lowe, a professor at UNCG’s Bryan School of Business and Economics. He uses pictures to stimulate discussion in his leadership and organizational behavior classes. He will project an image and pose a question that will help students grasp concepts that are being introduced in the class. For instance, he will show this picture:

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Then he will pose the question: “Who’s the leader in this picture?” The responses from the students help him gauge their mental models of leadership. Being a photo enthusiast, I found a great deal of value in this approach to engaging participation and enabling better understanding of concepts.

Since we deal often with first year students, I attended Bill Roberson’s workshop “Turning Beginners into Thinkers.” He maintained that, as instructors, we often think our job is to prevent students from making mistakes. But, this is an approach that will prevent students from developing critical thinking skills. Instead, we should create “productive frustration.” By presenting students with incomplete information up front, it forces them to think. When you provide the answers or too much structure, they stop thinking! We worked in groups to predict an outcome of a problem proposed by Roberson (it involved predicted success rate for 60 children balancing blocks on a rail). It was quickly evident that he had not provided enough information to formulate a correct answer, so we were forced to declare assumptions about the problem, pose alternatives and consider “what ifs.” Then he had us offer up our prediction of the results through flowcharting the process. By removing the pertinent data, he forced us to crystallize our ideas, analyze them, capture our thought process and then reflect on what we had done. It was a very interesting method to force us to recognize that we aren’t doing any favors to our students when we provide too many answers, in fact, we may be a source of demotivation.