QEP Stars, a new regular feature in EKUpdate, will take a look at those faculty members who are incorporating critical/creative thinking and communication strategies with their students. The feature hopes to show how those strategies have impacted the classroom experience, both from a learning and teaching standpoint. This issue's "QEP Star" is Steffen Wilson, associate professor of psychology.
How are you helping to implement the EKU Quality Enhancement Plan?
I have identified the fundamental concepts in all of my classes. On each test, students are asked to apply recent course material to each of the fundamental concepts. This semester, I have asked students in my Physiological Psychology and Child Development courses to find an opinion article and a research article on the same topic. I am asking them to apply the elements of reasoning and the intellectual standards to the articles. Then, I have asked students to indicate which article is superior in its presentation and coverage of the topic based upon their understanding of both articles.
How can this transform and enrich the educational experience of our students?
By applying course material to the fundamental concepts, my goal is to help students develop a more enriched and integrated understanding of the course material. The fundamental concepts are also the “big picture” items from each of my courses that I hope students will remember years from now. From the article critiques, I hope to teach students how to understand and critically evaluate information. Through the comparison of an opinion piece and a research piece, I hope to help students understand the limitations of the opinion pieces so readily available in our culture. And, that all of the information presented (hopefully) comes from peer-reviewed sources where the strengths and limitations of the research presented are clearly outlined.
How have you changed the way you teach?
Knowledge base changes constantly. Fundamental concepts do not. So, I focus on the big picture more myself now, instead of getting bogged down in details. I am also less concerned about the “memorization” and “timed” components of education. I let students know my essay question prior to the test. They can use any specific information that they choose, so a lot of memorization is not needed to answer this question. That they complete the question quickly is not my main objective. I want them to be able to complete the thinking process in whatever time frame works for each student.
What changes are you seeing in student performance because of an emphasis on critical thinking and/or communication skills in your classroom?
The article critique is a new assignment, so I am not sure about the outcomes yet. From the fundamental concepts assignment, I find that students are more engaged with the material as they see how the individual pieces fit underneath the fundamental concepts.
How has the approach benefited you?
When students are experiencing a more detailed and in-depth understanding of course material and thinking at a more critical level, we can have more engaging discussions in class or online.
If you could offer one suggestion to your colleagues related to integrating our QEP theme, what would that be?
Any workshop presented by Jerry Nosich is worth every minute your time. I have attended several and walked away with philosophical changes in my teaching approach, as well as with teaching techniques that I can use to easily integrate critical thinking into my courses.