Rachel Holloway stood in front of more than 400 academics and poured out her heart. During her opening remarks at the 12th Annual Conference on Higher Education Pedagogy, the vice provost for undergraduate academic affairs at Virginia Tech shared her experiences during her early years as a faculty member.

For those present at this proceeding in early February at the Inn at Virginia Tech, Holloway set the tone for the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning’s event. From her teaching days as an associate professor in the Virginia Tech Department of Communication, she recounted her struggles with motivating students and her drive to be a good teacher. Audience members nodded as her words resonated.

Holloway then shared advice from Theodore Roosevelt that a colleague had given her during an arduous time.

“Nobody cares how much you know,” she said, “until they know how much you care.”

By creating networks of caring faculty who share their knowledge and expertise with one another, such as at conferences, Holloway added, educators can have a greater impact on today’s students.

The conference included a keynote address by Mary-Ann Winkelmes, executive director of the Center for Teaching and Learning at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts. Winkelmes’ talk, “The Unwritten Rules of College: Creating Transparent Assignments that Increase Students’ Success Equitably,” referenced the education model she created, called Transparency in Learning and Teaching (TILT). This strategy — which allows students to know the purpose of each project or educational aspect in a class — increases both engagement and retention, according to two studies on the model. 

Nathan Klingbeil, a professor in the Department of Mechanical and Materials Engineering at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, gave a plenary session. In “Uncorking Curricular Bottlenecks to Diversity, Inclusion and Student Success in STEM,” Klingbeil cited the need for higher education institutions to reevaluate prerequisites to help with retention.

Virginia Tech faculty members led a range of conference sessions as well. In a pre-conference workshop, for example, Aaron Brantly, an assistant professor in the Department of Political Science, explored the development and implementation of immersive classroom simulations.

A trio of faculty members from the Department of History presented their qualitative digital history projects. Edward Gitre, an assistant professor, shared his crowdsourced transcription project, “The American Soldier in World War II.” Jessica Taylor, also an assistant professor, talked about her project in archiving oral histories, “Voices of Virginia.” And Bradley Nichols, a visiting assistant professor, provided resources for using mapping activities to enhance class projects.

To help others make instruction interesting and useful for students, Brett Jones, a professor in the School of Education, shared MUSIC, an acronym for eMpowerment, usefulness, success, interest, and caring. 

“These factors lead to more student engagement and effort,” Jones said about his strategies for motivating students. “If you follow this model, you’ll see both your instructor and course rating increase.”

During his session, participants discussed their own approaches and how they could use the MUSIC model.

In another session, Kim Daniloski, an associate collegiate professor in the Pamplin College of Business, and Matthew Komelski, an advanced instructor in the Department of Human Development and Family Science, asked participants to close their eyes and breathe as Komelski led a mindfulness meditation practice. Small groups then shared ideas on how to incorporate mindfulness into the classroom.

Several other sessions featured faculty presentations from departments across Virginia Tech, including several colleges, centers, the University Libraries, and Virginia Cooperative Extension. 

Conference attendees were diverse in their disciplines and institutions, which included 95 community colleges, small colleges, and universities throughout the United States. 

“This conference never fails to reinforce many current practices, introduce novel ideas and innovative approaches, and, perhaps most important, step on my toes for using or neglecting certain methods,” said William Moore, an assistant professor of biology at Averett University in Danville, Virginia. “This year’s meeting was no exception. I am walking away with my ‘teacher heart’ filled and excited to get back in the classroom and help my students succeed.”

Written by Leslie King