Classroom image hot topic at faculty retreat

By Melissa Prentice

Arizona Daily Wildcat

When faculty members were asked to be students again temporarily and think about how they learn best, they learned something else how to help students learn.

A presentation on "learners and learning" was among the topics discussed at a faculty retreat last weekend aimed at exploring ways to improve undergraduate teaching.

"We focused on learning theory, what are the best ways to learn and what are the needs of the learner," said Terry Riffe, interim director of the University Teaching Center, who led the discussion on learning theory.

Creative new ways to teach large classes, the use of technology and creating effective mentoring relationships with students were also focuses of the retreat, which was held at a Rio Rico resort about 60 miles south of Tucson, said Karen Smith, the acting head of the Spanish and Portuguese Department and organizer of the retreat.

"There is a negative rumor that we deal with as faculty members, that all we want to do is research, that we are not really in the classroom," Smith said. "We are sick of that rumor and wanted to get together and focus on change."

About 45 faculty members from social and behavioral sciences, humanities and fine arts and staff members from the UA Main Library and the Center for Computing and Information Technology attended the retreat, which was organized by a subcommittee of the Faculty Development Committee, one of the 11 core curriculum committees organized by Provost Paul Sypherd.

The best atmosphere for the sessions was determined to be a weekend retreat rather than an on-campus session, so that faculty could concentrate on the issues at hand, Smith said.

"We wanted to get the faculty away from campus so they can interact on the subject of teaching, to look at it from a variety of angles," she said.

Rio Rico was chosen for its proximity and

relaxing atmosphere, Riffe said.

At the end of the retreat, participants brainstormed their personal goals and created a 30-page document of ways to improve teaching, Smith said. She said there will be more similar workshops, perhaps involving more faculty.

"In May, after graduation, we plan to get together again and each of us will bring more faculty, so we can discuss what we learned at the retreat and we can all see how far we have gotten with our projects," Smith said.

The retreat facilitated a "partnership" between faculty members who wanted to change their approach to teaching and others who share their goal, Riffe and Smith said.

"It was an opportunity for a group of faculty members to get together to brainstorm instructional improvement issues," Riffe said. "A by-product was the formation of group that can continue working together in a team, rather than as individuals."

Smith said, "The faculty members formed partnerships and realized they have common teaching interests."

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