The 2015 Teaching & Learning Conference in Elon, N.C., started with a captivating keynote speech about pink hippos and infinity dreams. Dr. Michael Palmer from the University of Virginia spoke on deep learning, and how to encourage a high level of engagement in students. One of the key take-aways was the relationship between engagement and motivation: they are two sides of the same coin, in that motivation happens when a student is engaged, and engagement happens when a student is motivated. An important element in engaging students is to create ‘beautiful’ questions; the types of questions that are thought-provoking, intriguing, and beg us to answer them: the hooks that capture students’ imagination and encourage them to get entangled. Keeping these beautiful questions in mind as instructors prepare courses, it is vital to relate the question to what is being taught. The keynote ended with a few examples of beautiful questions, which are as follows. Why are hippos pink? How can lobsters escape aging? What would it feel like to fall from infinity? If you fired a gun on the moon, would the bullet circle around and kill you? Classrooms can be high impact, but instructors simply need to begin thinking differently; incorporating beautiful questions could be the first step on that journey.
Another interesting session I attended was led by Antonio Izzo from Elon University. This session, “Engaging Students Beyond the Classroom Using Flipboard Magazines,” showcased the web tool, Flipboard. Flipboard displays personal or public content in an attractive magazine-style format. Specifically, Flipboard aggregates and curates articles, photos, blog posts, and videos into an easy to use interface all based around the user’s interests. Check out this example. Flipboard is flexible across many operating systems and devices (designed primarily for a tablet, but can be used in other formats) and it allows social interactions (i.e. Twitter, etc.). Flipboard would be a great addition to a course in order to organize articles and/or compile resources for a topic/project or an entire class.
A wonderful session, “Fun and Games—The Basics of Gamification” was last on the day’s agenda, and it was the perfect ending! Michael Vaughn and Shannon Duvall from Elon University began this session by letting the participants play board games for the first 10 minutes! That was one of the best introductions to a session I’ve seen in a while. As the session progressed, we discussed what a game is, what gamification is, and why we should utilize games in courses. There were also ideas on how to incorporate games, and lessons learned when including gamification in courses. There is a running document in Evernote that the presenters created to discuss gamification strategies and ideas.
Overall, this was a full day of learning and exploring how to design engaged learning experiences. While this was my first experience at this specific conference, it was well worth my time, and I’m already looking forward to next year!