Friday, August 1, 2008

Boot Camp for Profs. July 19-26, 2008. Leadville, CO

Boot Camp for Profs proved to be a refreshing retreat that inspired me to think about new approaches to teaching and learning. This boot camp began on July 20th and concluded on the 25th in Leadville, CO (elevation 10,200 feet). For a more expansive description of the boot camp visit the following website: Registration fees paid for weeklong access to a dormitory bedroom, meals at the cafeteria, access to classrooms and computer labs on the Colorado Mountain College’s Timberline Campus, a t-shirt, a dozen books on education and learning, and access to 11 sets of workshops.

A large part of Boot Camp centered on developing a personal teaching philosophy. This activity allowed us to synthesize much of the information from workshops and provided opportunities for introspection on key elements of teaching such as collaborative learning, lecturing, learning, active learning, ethics, assessment, students, language, affective environments, methodology, etc. Anyone interested in reading my teaching philosophy pre- and post-Boot Camp can look at my blog: Teachers need to empower students by providing them with information and activities/challenges that will actually bring about real learning.

Other participants in the Boot Camp promoted learning with the help of the instructors. 25 individuals came from 11 different institutions to learn from 10 instructors. Generally, the day began with a 9:00 workshop that lasted until noon and other workshops resumed at 2:30 and lasted until 5:00. Evening and lunch breaks allowed for participants to develop teaching philosophies, create lesson plans, relax, socialize, and read from the resources given to us. On Wednesday afternoon all participants could do whatever they chose. Among the possibilities I opted to go mountain biking at 8,000 feet, so I learned how to climb up and over mountain trails without crashing and injuring myself. An instructor of mechanical engineering from Boise State gave me pointers. After climbing the steeper part of the trail we rode on an older gentler railroad bed that allowed us to talk about teaching, libraries, learning, and life. I stabilized a few synapses involving my motor skills and talked about the dilemmas academic libraries in Idaho face with the one-time funds for serials from the state legislature.

Instructors frequently divided participants into groups, so we could participate in collaborative-learning activities. These activities can punctuate lectures. Instead of having lectures gobble up all the class time, an instructor can use a variety of activities and assessments to cement learning or understand the comprehension of the students. For example, a visual quiz might be a valuable activity for an instruction librarian. After showing students where to find important resources via the library homepage, the instructor can quiz the students to verify that they listened and understood. Groups of three or four students can work together and raise a large colored letter that corresponds with the answer their group chose to a multiple-choice question. This allows the instructor to provide further explanations or feedback if a particular concept was not understood.

A scientific approach to learning supports the use of active- and collaborative-learning techniques. Studies have found that learning sticks when more parts of the brain are used. Possibly, some of you may be thinking this is a “no-brainer,” but this means that students should not only listen to lectures, they need to talk about the material, ask questions, and write down what they have learned. Language acquisition lies at the heart of real learning, which means students should learn by listening, reading, writing, and speaking. Group work, if done effectively, can propel students to engage with the material and enhance their learning significantly.

I look forward to studying the materials given me as part of this boot camp. They boxed up my books and have sent them in the mail at book/media rates, so we would not have to pay extra when we returned on our flights home. [Incidentally, the box of books was shipped from Leadville, CO, on a Saturday, and it arrived in Pocatello, ID, office on a Wednesday. Could be a record.] Ideas and techniques from the boot camp will be useful in the library’s instruction program. I had an opportunity to create a syllabus for an eight-week, information-literacy course, which would be fun to teach in the future. To see an English 101 lesson plan that I created, go to the Instruction Folder on the J Drive and click on the “English 101.doc.”

On a lighter note, other participants enjoyed having a librarian in the group. At one point one of the instructors talked about students needing information and going to Google for answers. I blurted out “Or ask a librarian!” This ignited loud laughter from everyone, and several approached me later and said they appreciated how I had put in a plug for library resources. One even commented that I had offered the most memorable “quip” of the entire boot camp. That same day I talked about the CRAAP Test, and this garnered even more attention for libraries and the need for library instruction. Many kept asking me for the meaning of the acronym; they want to use it in their own classes now. One asked for the website with the fuller explanation, which I willingly sent her:

Personally, the mountain scenery and the cooler temperatures proved to be very refreshing. Each morning and most evenings I went running, walking, or biking among the trails in the forest and enjoyed gazing at the tallest mountains in Colorado—Mt. Elbert (14,433 = #1), Mt. Massive (14,421 = #2), Mt. Sheridan, Mt. Galena, and Mt. Sherman (14,036 = #46) []. One evening I had the opportunity to watch the film Freedom Writers, which focuses on the success of one teacher in southern California who helps her students change their lives and broaden their horizons in her English class. It proved to be inspiring and underscored many of the points shared in the workshops.

I give the instructors, colleagues, and guests of Boot Camp for Profs an A.

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