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Conference helps build better educators

Conference helps build better educators

The next Focus on Teaching & Learning conference is August 18. Please RSVP here by August 15 if you would like to attend.  

By Drew Sottardi  |  Senior Writer

College professors must constantly learn new ways to teach their students. And in today’s fast-paced world, that constant change can be a little overwhelming.

Enter Carol Scheidenhelm, PhD.


Loyola’s Plan 2020 is a five-year roadmap to guide the University and promote social justice. This story falls into one of the strategic priorities outlined in the plan. Learn more here.

As the director of the Faculty Center for Ignatian Pedagogy, Scheidenhelm helps Loyola’s professors and instructors become better educators. Twice a year she works with others to organize the Focus on Teaching & Learning (FOTL) conference, which gathers faculty members from across the University to share insights on leading a classroom in the 21st century.

“It’s really a way for faculty to teach other faculty,” Scheidenhelm said.

The one-day conference is open to all instructors, from new faculty members who may not be familiar with Jesuit education to tenured professors looking to better connect with today’s students. Topics at the fall 2016 event include sustainability, technology, and Ignatian pedagogy. (You can see a complete list of discussions on the conference website.)

But the conference does more than bring faculty members together, Scheidenhelm said. It reinforces the University’s mission and helps instructors clear up some misconceptions about Jesuit education.

“The perception was for so long—and still is among some people—that Ignatian pedagogy is about teaching students to be Catholic,” she said. “That’s not it at all. It’s about helping students develop mind, body, and spirit: cura personalis. It’s an effective approach to good teaching.”

There are five components in Ignatian pedagogy: context, experience, reflection, action, and evaluation. A lot of other universities use the same principles, Scheidenhelm said, because they are the foundation of strong teaching.

“But the difference with a Jesuit education is that it’s really intentional,” she said. “It calls our attention to each of the pieces and forces us to look at them seriously and to think and write and plan around them.”

And what really separates a Jesuit education is the emphasis on reflection and action—having students go beyond just learning facts and figures. That might mean students study poverty and then volunteer at a soup kitchen. Or they take a business ethics class and do an internship for a non-profit organization.

“We want our students to take the information they learn in class and make a difference with it,” Scheidenhelm said.

Revamping the classroom

To help make that happen, Scheidenhelm created the Ignatian pedagogy certificate program in 2015. It shows professors how to do more than stand in front of a classroom and talk; it shows them how to engage their students so they can get the most out of their education.

Anthropology lecturer Catherine Nichols, PhD, recently completed the one-year program, which features six workshops, a lecture by visiting professor José Mesa, S.J., a service project, and a final presentation. It was hard work, Nichols said, but well worth the time and effort.

“It made me a lot more reflective about how I teach and made me a much stronger teacher for my students,” she said.

Before coming to Loyola two years ago, Nichols had never received any formal training on how to teach a college course. So she taught her students the same way she had been taught: with long lectures, written exams, and research papers.

But after taking a group of Loyola students to an Indian reservation in South Dakota for her service project—and seeing how the students responded to the experience—Nichols changed the way she teaches. Now she has her students venture into the local community to do more hands-on learning.

“I try to design assignments for my students that emphasize experiences,” she said. “It really helps them reflect on what they’re learning and then, hopefully, take action.”

Teaching with technology

At the upcoming conference, professors will learn another key lesson: how to teach with technology.

In the past few years, online learning has become a bigger part of higher education. At Loyola alone, more than 3,900 students took at least one class completely online last year. It’s a trend that started years ago—and it will almost certainly continue.

“Across the country, more and more students are seeking out the flexibility of online courses,” said Sarah Dysart, director of online learning at Loyola. “A lot of times they are in a situation where they can’t do the traditional four years on a college campus, and online courses give them the chance to get their degree while still living their lives.”

When online learning first came out—especially at for-profit colleges—it didn’t have the best reputation for quality, Dysart said. But it’s gotten much better since non-profit institutions have started offering online programs, and many more people have embraced the idea. Plus, Dysart said, it works.

“Studies show that online learning can be just as effective—if not more effective—than face-to-face environments,” she said.

One example of its benefits, she said, is it can draw out students who might be reluctant to speak up in a large lecture hall. In an online discussion board, those same students can take the time they need to collect their thoughts and then craft their message.

And while this increased participation is great for students, it can lead to more work for professors. So the conference will have sessions on how to use technology effectively and efficiently—without reinventing the educational wheel.

“All professors have a philosophy about how they want to teach,” Dysart said, “and we don’t want to completely upend what they’re doing in the classroom. So when we talk about blended and online learning, I always say that technology is a tool—just like a textbook or a chalkboard.”