ACERT Connections | December 13, 2018

ACERT “Lightning Talks” Recap

This post was written by Philip Johnson (Political Science)

For the final Lunchtime Seminar of the semester, ACERT invited a roster of familiar faces to share lightning talks – no more than 4 minutes, no more than 3 slides – with other seminar regulars and visitors. The event was a hit; before the talks were over, there were calls for more events of a similar kind.

Paul McPherron, the director of ACERT, kicked off the lightning talks with a reminder that the semester had been loosely themed around the concept of small teaching. This term was explored by James Lang in a series of blog posts for the Chronicle of Higher Education, which had generated a lot of interest among ACERT fellows. In the series, Lang emphasizes the small moves and tweaks which can transform a classroom.

Nancy Hightower (English) spoke about connecting students to mental health resources. She emphasized that instructors are themselves a resource, and that while faculty probably do not have all of the answers that students need, they can be a valuable means of finding those answers and accessing further resources.

Stefania Porcelli (Romance Languages) explained how she uses taking attendance to build community. Early in the semester, Stefania arranges classroom activities that get students speaking Italian to get to know each other. By the second class, she starts taking attendance by asking the class, “who is missing from class?” This elicited surprise from the seminar. She explained that by making attendance a collaborative matter, not only did the students start sharing and speaking, but they began following up when a peer was absent from class.

Elizabeth Klein (School of Education) titled her lightning talk, “It’s all about writing.” She had found that her students were “shoulding” themselves; stressing about what they should have been doing, instead of getting it done. To free up their voices and get her students writing, she introduced fiction writing into a course that would otherwise have been dedicated to nonfiction. She found that this approach not only worked for her students – it also worked for her.

Jessica Warner (Social Work) collaborates with students to create a set of class rights. Instead of focusing on class rules, she finds that a participatory approach to developing a common set of rights can be empowering for students. Among others, her students articulated a desire for the classroom to be a safe space for sharing and learning.

Jeff Allred’s (English) lightning talk, entitled “Fast, Cheap, and (Barely) in Control,” looked at decentering the classroom through group projects. Rather than just another assignment to submit, however, Jeff emphasizes the process over the product of group work, and the experience of building and creating in collaboration.

Julie Van Peteghem (Romance Language) spoke about using “speed-dating” in the classroom. As with Stefania’s lightning talk, Julie’s presentation looked at the benefits of structured student interaction within the language-learning classroom, to get student speaking, and to build community that is not completed centered on the teacher.

Kirsten Grant (Chemistry) talked about increasing curiosity in class. She gave the example of a lecture in which the speaker posed a question, allowed the room to discuss it, and then abruptly moved on with the lecture. Kirsten described the way this piqued the curiosity of the entire room, as people listened throughout the lecture, expecting the answer to come (it did, at the very end). Simple techniques like these, Kirsten suggested, can completely change the dynamic within a classroom.

Finally, David Petrain (Classics) acted out a “virtual slide show,” themed around giving students a say. He spoke about having students work together to generate midterm exam prompts. The activity was so successful that all of the exam prompts could be created by students, with every student to find at least some of their ideas appear on the exam. This improved both their exam preparation, and their responses.

The lightning talks provoked plenty of discussion, and a great deal of enthusiasm. Stay tuned for more lightning talks in future semesters.

You can download our “Lightning Talks” speakers’ PowerPoints below:

Connecting Students to Mental Health Resources – Nancy Hightower

Taking Attendance to Build Community – Stefania Porcelli

It’s All About the Writing: Low-stakes Writing for High-End Results – Elizabeth Klein

Class Rights (not class rules) – Jessica Warner

Fast, Cheap, and (Barely) in Control – Jeff Allred

Creating Community Through Speed Dating – Julie Van Peteghem


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