Teaching conference focuses on student success

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Over 150 instructors from Dixie State University learned how to be more effective teachers at a nearly full-day conference Friday.

The first Teaching and Learning Conference featured numerous workshops designed to help instructors at DSU become better at their craft. Eighteen different panels taught by 31 different DSU faculty members were coupled with a keynote address by M. David Merrill, an instructional effectiveness consultant. The conference was organized by the newly formed Center for Teaching and Learning.

The conference occurred not long after of a new bill was passed by state legislatures that will make funding for institutions based more on performance and student success rather than admissions.

Making DSU the premier teaching university in Utah is the end goal of workshops like these, said Sandy Petersen, an assistant professor of education.

“[The conference] is a synergy of the strength of all the outstanding instructors we have here,” Petersen said. “It’s a chance for the entire faculty to learn from each other.”

Workshops on various topics included faculty’s role in student retention, mentoring students effectively, the role of undergraduate research in the classroom and developing independent learners in students.   

Bruce Harris, director of the Center for Teaching and Learning, said there is a wealth of experience and expertise among DSU instructors, and the conference provided a place for all of them to teach each other.

Faculty members were encouraged to mingle with others outside of their department to get wider perspectives. Even married couples were split up for the randomized assigned seating during the luncheon.

“We wanted to break down the barriers between departments for people who would normally not talk with each other,” Harris said.

The keynote speaker spoke on how instructors can make the classroom a more engaging learning environment for students.

“If I could sum up my presentation in one sentence, it would be this: Instructors need to tell, show and do instead of simply telling and asking,” Merrill said. “To make lessons engaging, instructors need to be engaged in their teaching.”

DSU President Biff Williams said the conference was the best attended first-time conference he has seen at a university. Williams attributed the success of the event to the faculty being interested in learning how improve their teaching skills.  

“Our faculty’s No. 1 focus is student success,” Williams said. “My hope is that instructors will learn how to better teach, serve and promote learning.”

Williams said student input for the recent strategic planning for DSU indicated the one thing that students appreciated most about DSU was engaged and effective instructors.  

Both Williams and Harris said they hope to continue to have teaching and learning conferences in years to come.

“This is the first year, but we expect hold this conference every year,” Harris said. “It’s important for faculty to continue their learning and always look for ways to improve if we are to improve as an institution. The goal is to increase student engagement by educating our educators.”