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An Engaging Faculty Development Day

Corinne Crawford, Accounting

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 BMCC faculty and staff gathered at Faculty Development Day to discuss and reflect upon ways to help our students become active and engaged learners. The theme of the event, held on November 20, 2013, was “Student Engagement across the Curriculum.”

 Faculty Development Day was organized by the Faculty Development Committee, composed of the following members:  Silvia Alvarez-Olarra, Modern Languages; Corinne Crawford, Accounting; Ozgur Ecevit, Science; Christine Jacknick, Developmental Skills (Chair); Revital Kaiser, Media Arts and Technology; Adolfina Koroch, Science; Jacqueline Nichols, Nursing; Alessandra Peralta-Avila, Modern Languages; Erica Seidel, Student Life (Secretary); Abdramane Serme, Mathematics; Zhanna Yablokova, English.

 In his opening remarks, Dr. Robert Messina, Acting Provost and Senior Vice President, highlighted the importance of faculty using their research to inform their teaching.

Dean Michael Gillespie noted that student engagement is a topic that dates back to Aristotle.  He quoted Aristotle’s stance on active learning, “. . .  what we learn to do we learn by doing.” Dean Gillespie lamented that, in his teaching days, students were not always actively involved in the learning process. He was pleased with the day’s topic of student engagement.

Next up were the faculty panelists, Prof. Michael George (Mathematics), Prof. Mahatapa Palit (Business Management), and Prof. Jason Schneiderman (English). Christine Jacknick, Chair of the Faculty Development Committee, served as panel moderator.   

Defining Student Engagement

“What is student engagement?” asked Prof. Michael George (Mathematics). Prof. George’s interest in student engagement dates back to his time as Adjunct Coordinator in the Math Department when he began running workshops on student engagement. Prof. George has researched the topic of student engagement, and discovered no universal definition of the term.

Prof. George stated that the best definition of student engagement that he found is the one that Vicki and Paul Trowler developed during their extensive review of student engagement studies. According to the Trowlers, student engagement is “concerned with the interaction between the time, effort and other relevant resources invested by both students and their institutions intended to optimize the student experience and enhance the learning outcomes and development of students and the performance, and reputation of the institution.”   

Self Expression and the Millennial Generation

Prof. Mahatapa Palit (Business Management) asked participants to draw a crayon sketch representing a time when they were totally engaged. She discussed the concept of complete engagement as being “in the flow.” According to Prof. Palit, instructors can become so engaged in teaching that they forget about what is going on in the world outside their classroom. 

Prof. Palit continued by describing the characteristics of the “Millennial Generation.” She noted that millennial students are self-expressive and use technology for personal branding. To engage the current generation of students, Prof. Palit believes that teachers must connect with their students’ self-expressive use of technology. She said that today’s students value a creative campus that enriches their lives by providing multiple methods of learning.

In her classroom, Professor Palit asks her students to create a “self-marketing plan” to answer the question “Who am I?” Students use Prezi software to create their presentations. Prof. Palit showed the audience a self-marketing presentation that was created by one of her students.  In closing, Professor Palit encouraged faculty to develop a creative campus that is “interdisciplinary, integrates arts and creativity and allows us to share our interests and aspirations.”

A Multi- Disciplinary Tool Box of Skills

Many students view college as primarily a job-training vehicle consisting of a “mix of useful and useless classes,” according to Prof. Jason Schneiderman (English). Prof. Schneiderman said that students tend to only value classes that provide skills directly relating to their career aspirations.   Prof. Schneiderman counters this myopic view by explaining to his students how the university is organized and why they are required to take certain courses.

Prof. Schneiderman explains to his students that different disciplines can approach the same problem from different angles. He emphasizes that different subjects are based on different problem solving techniques and that exposure to different problem solving techniques is a valuable form of job training. Prof. Schneiderman believes that students learn unique analytical skills in each discipline that can be applied to their chosen field of expertise to help them solve real world problems. He concluded his remarks by stating that our institution should be “celebrated for its differences rather than derided for its incoherencies.”

The panel presentations were followed by a lively and spirited break out session on effective methods of engaging students. In the end, all the participants agreed that passion, flexibility, technology and incorporating real life situations in the classroom lead to a more engaged student body.