SHU reaches for classroom of the future through Fall Workshop

The classroom of the future consists of more than just iPads and MacBooks–a fact that Seton Hill University (SHU) has recognized and begun focusing on. Fall Workshop 2012, attended by staff, faculty and student leaders, explored several ways that SHU can start to revolutionize higher education classes in the future.

“We are looking to integrate technology to expand knowledge,” said Mary Ann Gawelek, Dean of Students, in her opening remarks.

Though SHU is well known for its Griffin’s Technology Program, administration is looking into how to further the development of curriculum that mixes these technological advances and the classic tenets of Catholic Social Teaching. The mixture is exhibited in SHU’s strategic planning for calendar years 2013-2018.

“These lectures just help us to realize that we will have to change our approach. There are lots of new ways to think about curriculums,” said JoAnne Boyle, president of SHU.

One of the attempts towards reaching a classroom of the future is the exploration of the “flipped classroom” model of instruction. This particular model, where students watch a video lecture out of class and then followed up in a class discussion, was attempted for the workshop itself.

Faculty and staff were asked to watch videos about strategic planning closure, enrollment management, finance and institutional advancement.

The strategic plan for 2013-2018 included the exploration of expanding campus both on the hill and in downtown Greensburg, new programs and majors, and continued technology expansion. A new and more focused push towards internships was also discussed as a method of bringing SHU to the classroom of the future.

More than just tangible changes to SHU, theoretical changes to higher education as a whole were discussed in the morning portion of the workshop. Main speaker at the workshop, John Medina, said one this is for sure, the current universal classroom model reflects the very worst environment for learning, from a brain science perspective.

“I’m a little skeptical about applying the neurosciences to anything in education. The main reason is that we don’t know very much about how the brain works,” said Medina, developmental molecular biologist and research consultant.

Medina suggested in his three hour lecture that to create a learning environment that stimulates higher brain function, the environment must model what the brain was created for evolutionarily which is problem solving rather than learning.

His suggestions came in the form of research questions rather than solutions. As for technology, Medina admitted that the research hasn’t been clear as to how it affects our brain function.

“We have no idea what the digital world does to you. We do know that the brain can’t multitask,” said Medina, affiliate professor of bioengineering at the University of Washington School of Medicine and director of the Brain Center for Applied Learning Research at Seattle Pacific University.

Some of Medina’s ideas are difficult to impose in a college classroom. Example include introducing more physical movement in class and matching “night owl” professors with like students and “morning lark” professors with like students at their prime working hours.

His comments on how to arrange a lecture around 10 minute attention spans, use repetition for increased memory retention and recognize student bewilderment were all used effectively throughout his lecture.

“I loved seeing such a great teacher at work. He never lost me once and modeled his theories perfectly,” said Boyle.

The 2012 Fall Workshop was held on August 13 and 14 at a wide variety of locations including the Performing Arts Center, McKenna Center and Reeves Theater.


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