[dropcap]A[/dropcap]fter 20 years of teaching French at Ball State, Sue Ellen Guillaud has brought something new to her beginning class this fall: bingo and role-playing.
“I want to inject a sense of play into what I’m teaching,” said Guillaud, whose additions should help students learn vocabulary and pronunciation. “This experience helped me realize how much I’d gotten away from having fun in class.”
The experience she refers to is the eight weeks she spent this summer in the university’s inaugural Entrepreneurial Learning Academy (ELA), which is designed to help faculty innovate their teaching and more clearly connect what students learn in the classroom to their post-college lives.
For most of her career at Ball State, the assistant professor in the Department of Modern Languages and Classics hewed to traditional methods of teaching. Wanting to try something new, she embraced the creative risk of revising her syllabus. The academy program consisted of a series of Monday workshops that helped Guillaud and nine other faculty participants explore the entrepreneurial mindset as a way to make their course materials more relevant for students.
“If someone had given me this amount of time to come up with these ideas by myself, I wouldn’t have accomplished nearly as much,” she said. “Learning about new teaching philosophies in a social setting like the academy — where we construct our knowledge through others’ strengths and viewpoints — made all the difference.”
Beyond lectures and memorization
Guillaud’s self-reflection and revised course syllabus are the exact result administrators hoped for when they provided a three-year Academic Excellence Grant to fund the ELA. The program is a partnership between the Office of Entrepreneurial Learning, iLearn, Office of Community Engagement and Office of Educational Excellence. Additional support was provided from Chief Entrepreneurship Officer Mike Goldsby, along with entrepreneurship instructor Rob Mathews.
Jen Blackmer, associate provost for entrepreneurial learning, said ELA’s objective is to empower faculty who teach core-level classes — courses often ill-suited for immersive learning experiences that pair student teams with community partners — to inject ingenuity and project-based learning into their classrooms.
“Our students hope that college will be more than just lectures and memorization, but that’s the only system we’ve had available to us as faculty for the last century,” Blackmer said. “If we want our faculty to engage in new methods of teaching and learning, we have to support them in their experiments and give them the tools they need to succeed.”
‘Thinking big picture’
ELA participants applied for the program and represented an array of departments, including dance, education, English and religious studies. Each week, the group dove into creativity and problem-solving exercises.
Jeff Brackett, an associate professor of religious studies, said the ELA has helped him re-evaluate how to present discussion topics in his class as situations his students should resolve.
“If I take a fictitious situation — a community partner presenting a proposal to administrators to build a prayer room on campus, for example — and break students into small groups to study the scenario and come up with possible outcomes, that gets them thinking big picture.
“It also gets them working in teams, which gives them a sense of how important collaboration is in the real world. And that’s what their employers will be looking for someday … team players.”
Time to reflect on how they teach
As risky as it is to break from tried-and-true teaching methods, most academy participants said they were ready for a change.
For Mary Moore, “different” will come in the form of abandoning a textbook for her 200-level communication studies class in favor of in-class assignments and group discussions, plus introducing more dynamic content such as podcasts, videos and TED talks. At semester’s end, students will create “exit tickets,” or reflective essays, about what they’ve learned.
“The academy gave me the tools and opportunity to really think about the kinds of changes I’d been wanting to make to this class. The problem for so many of us is we get so busy grading and teaching, few of us have the time to sit down and reflect on our teaching practices this way.”
Support for ELA participants will continue throughout the 2016-17 academic year with touch-base meetings coordinated by the Office of Entrepreneurial Learning. Assessments will be conducted in May 2017 to determine the effectiveness of participants’ course changes and to assess potential changes to the academy for faculty participating in 2017 and 2018.
Blackmer said she’s proud of the faculty members for their hard work and devotion to the academy during the summer and admits she learned a number of lessons alongside the participants.
“I learned the faculty at Ball State is committed to the best teaching possible, and this first group was a great representation of that commitment, as well as the diversity we have on our campus.”