Written by Laura Smith, Instructor, Health Careers with Stephanie Whalen, Chair, Academy for Teaching Excellence & Associate Professor, English and Interdisciplinary Studies

What happens when you are a new faculty member in a new program in which enrollment is just starting to pick-up? Well, you might need to get creative in order to build a sense of comfort among the students and some enthusiasm around the curriculum. Laura Smith, new faculty in Health Careers, came to the Academy at the start of the fall semester looking for ideas for how to go beyond presenting information in a typical PowerPoint format. We followed-up with her during finals week to hear about how things were going and it turns out she came up with a variety of ways to make things more interactive and lively and go way beyond a routine lecture. Here’s what she had to say about the trials and triumphs of her first semester:

“First, I developed some strategies that worked well to get students up and moving and developing relationships with each other. A creative ice-breaker that gets students to challenge their perceptions about one another is to give them a list of their classmates’ names and have students talk to one another to find out who knows how to do specific tasks. It helps students realize that how their classmates appear does not exactly match what they expect them to be like. I also used an activity to build awareness of others’ emotions via facial expressions and body language; students were given index cards with emotions listed on them and had to guess the feeling another student was demonstrating based on reading their faces and movements.”

Teaching Dual-Credit courses offers its own set of challenges as high school students don’t always bring the high level of motivational interest that college students generally have. When faced with high school juniors and seniors in her Dual-Credit Intro to Health Care class, Professor Smith had to find a way to generate students’ interest in content related to healthy eating. She came up with some ideas for making connections to popular culture and students’ daily lives.

“I created a PowerPoint in the style of ‘Eat This, Not That,’ so that students could compare calories and nutrition in fast food that they would get from places like Panera Bread versus Taco Bell. Rather than just presenting the information, I had them evaluate information that was relevant to their daily lives. I also get them to think about their choices at the movie theater and Starbucks.”

“In my Sterile Processing class, I created some review games in the style of Jeopardy and utilized Kahoot for interactive quizzing, but also utilized scenes from the popular dramas Grey’s Anatomy and The Walking Dead for students to explore issues related to sterilization and contagions. I tried a review game in which students would have to to identify what was missing from a tray of surgical instruments, but that didn’t work so well. Instead, I took 90 surgical tools and created four lists and had teams search through the trays to find each tool on their list before rotating to the next section. It worked much better.”

At the beginning of the semester, Professor Smith was worried about the humdrum of presenting information to unenthusiastic students in an uninspiring way. With some creative ways of getting students to interact, connections to students’ everyday lives, and some examples from popular culture, she has made her classroom a place of stimulating experiences and engaged learning.