Synch your stopwatches: Idea Exchange set to foster sharing of teaching strategies

Two minutes could change your world – or, at least, your teaching.

Participants in the NIU College of Education’s first Idea Exchange, scheduled from 1 to 3 p.m. Friday, March 29, will have the unique opportunity to share their best practices for teaching while learning what others are doing.

Modeled on speed-dating – or speed-networking for professionals – the fast-paced event will put College of Education faculty, instructors and graduate teaching assistants face-to-face for ultra-quick conversations.

“In the College of Education, we really value excellent teaching, and we have so many fantastic teachers. Teaching is the critical, focal thing that we do,” Dean Laurie Elish-Piper says.

“But oftentimes, we tend to teach in our own classrooms, and we don’t get to see each other at work,” she adds. “We want people to share what they’re doing, learn from each other and network around excellent and effective teaching strategies.”

Elish-Piper, a Distinguished Teaching Professor at NIU, has dreamed for years about hosting an activity like this one to “celebrate and gather around excellent teaching approaches.”

Laurie Elish-Piper
Laurie Elish-Piper

Discussions with Presidential Teaching Professors Toni Van Laarhoven and Tom Smith provided her with the encouragement to make it a reality.

“We have so many amazing teachers in our college, and they’re all doing so many wonderful things that not everyone is aware of,” says Van Laarhoven, a professor in the Department of Special and Early Education. “I love the format, and I think it’s going to be fun.”

Smith, a professor in the Department of Educational Technology, Research and Assessment, also is optimistic about “giving people a chance to cross-pollinate with their ideas.”

“In my own experience, the way I’ve learned about things that work in terms of pedagogy and instruction is through just sort of talking to people,” Smith says. “That’s sort of the idea we’re trying to tap into. This is not about ‘come up and give a lecture’ but to informally share the one thing you use in your classroom that you really, really like.”

During the exchange, which will take place in the Learning Center-North, individuals will pair up, share their ideas with each other and then rotate every four to five minutes to foster as many interactions as possible.

Faculty, instructors and TAs are being provided with networking cards to take notes on ideas they would like to implement or research further.

They also have been given prompts for their chats.

Toni Van Laarhoven and Tom Smith
Toni Van Laarhoven and Tom Smith

How do you get students to read the text? How do you facilitate large group discussions – or small group online discussions? How do you encourage reluctant or shy students – or limit contributions from an overzealous student?

What strategies do you have to address a controversial topic in class? How do you create a classroom space that honors diversity or one where all students feel comfortable? How do you use humor and fun to promote learning? How do you help students bridge the gap between theory and practice?

“I’m excited,” Elish-Piper says. “We’re bringing people together to learn from and with one another to enhance the quality of teaching and learning for our students. I hope people walk out with good ideas and with new connections to other faculty in our college.”

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