As we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, higher education continues to face new challenges. At the top of the list: Finding ways to reignite the spark of learning that’s integral to student success both in and outside of the classroom.
Professor Sarah Rose
One of the keys to doing that is prioritizing community.
That’s according to Sarah Rose Cavanagh, a psychologist, professor, and Senior Associate Director for Teaching and Learning at Simmons University where she teaches classes on affective science and mental health, researches the intersections of emotion, motivation, and learning and provides educational development for faculty.
Cavanagh was the keynote speaker at the Reimagining the Classroom Symposium, held Sept. 15-16 at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.
Established in 2013, the symposium is sponsored by the Office of the Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and organized by the Center for Innovation in Teaching and Learning (CITL. It supports the university’s Strategic 150 goal of “promoting transformative learning experiences for students by exploring the complex relationships between physical classrooms, teaching pedagogies, and emerging technologies.”
Staff from 11 different campus units make up the Steering Committee that plans and organizes the events.
Professor Sarah Rose Cavanaugh (center), keynote speaker of the Reimagining the Classroom Symposium, with event co-chairs Ava Wolf (CITL) and Brian Bundren (Office of the Provost).
More than 100 people attended the Reimagining the Classroom Symposium
at the University of Illinois, Sept. 15-16.
Each year, “I’m always amazed by what I learn about spaces,” CITL Director Michel Bellini said, addressing the audience of 100-plus campus and community stakeholders. “It’s not just four walls and furniture … It is absolutely essential for us to come together and think of solutions that will enable us to meet the expectations of our learners by creating rich and creative experiences in spaces that are safe, inclusive … and flexible enough to accommodate all learning styles and needs.”
“It’s a challenge and an opportunity,” added Bill Bernhard, Interim Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and Provost Designate.
“It’s cool to imagine what our spaces could be as we design new classes and put together capital plans,” Bernhard continued, encouraging audience members to be part of that dialog.
“We have limited resources, and we need to feel confident that our investments are going to pay off.”
During her interactive presentation, “Reviving Our Sparks: Lessons for Building Community”—held in one of the active-learning classrooms at the new Campus Instructional Facility—Cavanagh offered empirical evidence from psychology, neuroscience, and education and anecdotal information from surveys to show how emotions can both enhance and disrupt learning and why building a strong sense of community is crucial to learning.
She also engaged audience members in learning activities, including trying to communicate an emotion through touch, writing attributes of a successful community on sticky notes, and sharing practical suggestions that instructors can implement in their classrooms immediately.
(From top left clockwise) Symposium audience members participate in an activity, in which they try to convey an emotion through touch; Audience members wrote attributes of a healthy community on sticky notes; Cavanagh checks in with small groups as she collects the sticky notes; Audience members discuss the best way to handle sticky situations involving team dynamics, such as when one team member dominates discussions and makes all of the decisions.
Cavanagh also shared some of her suggestions for building community, including being transparent, building in early wins and stopping to celebrate them, infusing the classroom with intellectual play, and interrupting the routine, among others.
“When we’re developing community, we need to be sure we’re … welcoming to everybody and accessible to everybody,” she said. “We need to think intentionally about how to reach students … develop psychologically safe places where students are willing to take risks. And we have to be willing to take risks, too.”
Listen to a conversation with Sarah Rose Cavanagh held after the presentation. You can also learn more about her at sarahrosecav. com and find a resource guide from her presentation on the Reimagining the Classroom Symposium website.