Educator shares Terms of Engagement tips at Victoria College

Getting students motivated to learn and become active participants in their own education was part of Dr. Elizabeth Barkley's presentation during Victoria College's 2013 Spring Semester Convocation.

Barkley, an internationally known scholar, author, educator and consultant, teaches music history at Foothill College in Los Altos, Calif. She told VC faculty and staff that students are active participants in building their own brains. But before they get to that point, they must first be motivated to learn.

"Students should care about what they think, and think about what they care about," Barkley said.

Barkley's presentation coincides with the College's work to develop and implement a Quality Enhancement Plan, or QEP - a required component of the college's reaffirmation of accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges. Active learning is the QEP topic, summarized with the slogan "Students Engaged in Active Learning."

Illustrating her talk with a humorous slide presentation, Barkley discussed terms of engagement on how to get students to participate in their own education. The California instructor said she wanted to teach her students about Beethoven but found "their musical heroes were Tupac and Nine Inch Nails."

Barkley admitted that there is no magic bullet or quick fix to get students engaged. She said educators cannot motivate students, but they can create the context in which more students find motivating.

She said all educators are facing the same basic challenges. Many of us grew up in an era when information was important, and education was often the answer for gaining new information, she said. Today, students are overloaded with information, often in entertaining forms. Different approaches are required to get students to apply knowledge they've already gained and combine it with new information being learned in the classroom, she added.

On her first night in Victoria, she had supper at a restaurant near her hotel. TVs were mounted on the walls of the eatery and she watched a commercial promoting a new movie as "riveting," and "thrilling." She noted the contrast to classrooms where education doesn't feature those buzzwords.

In her classes, Barkley developed what she called a Good Student Bonus, which "helps me promote the behavior I like," and the Junk Effort Penalty, to "discourage things I don't like."

She cited an extreme example of one instructor who used the latter technique when a student turned in a paper full of errors. The teacher took out a match and burned the offending paper, then put the ashes in an envelope and returned it to the student. Barkley said she didn't think VC faculty would want to do that but stressed that students need to understand the importance of putting effort into their work.

In an afternoon workshop for faculty, Barkley presented her theoretical model for student engagement. After leading faculty and staff through a series of exercises to identify challenges that today's educators face, Barkley had everyone break up into small groups to brainstorm solutions.

The many ideas, solutions, and techniques for engaging students in the classroom that were discussed at the workshop will be added to a knowledge repository that all VC faculty will be able to access as they begin trying new teaching techniques in their classes.

David White, a VC physics/mathematics professor, said he and his fellow faculty realized that Barkley was "one of us."

"Her methods had been tried and modified over the years," said White, who has been teaching at VC for 29 years. "This is how we want to construct the QEP by bringing in people like her to share techniques to engage students in critical thinking."

Jonathan Anderson, associate professor & men's basketball coach, echoed White, saying that Barkley is a classroom teacher sharing teaching techniques.

"She talked WITH us, not to us," Anderson said. "I appreciated her enthusiasm and her inflection. She wasn't afraid to be herself."

Tempi McLeod, QEP director, said "that's the kind of experience I want the QEP to be. Something meaningful, relevant and that a faculty member can take and implement in their classroom."

McLeod said Barkley was invited to motivate the faculty and get them excited about the little things they can do "engage a student in learning."

"Sometimes it's just a little thing. Understanding where the student is coming from or tweaking your presentation a little bit." McLeod said of Barkley's workshop. ""She showed us where we are doing it right, now let's take it and do it better.

"We want the QEP experience to be a positive reinforcement and growth experience as our faculty take best practices and own them," McLeod said.

Barkley quoted author William Butler Yeats, who said "education is not the filling of a pail but the lighting of a fire."

"I'm amazed at the great ideas that come from the faculty," said Barkley, who gives her Terms of Engagement workshops to colleges nationwide.

Published: Thursday, 10 January 2013

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