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Embracing a Growth Mindset in Teaching

Mon Apr 22, 2024 at 07:30 AM

One thing that I have learned in my 30+ years of teaching is that change is always right around the corner. This means that new ways are always emerging for me to improve my course design, delivery, and interactions with students. Navigating the landscape of higher ed has, perhaps, never been more difficult than it is now with so many external forces affecting how we teach our courses and interact with our students. However, in Our Higher Calling: Rebuilding the Partnership Between America and its Colleges and Universities, Thorp and Goldstein (2018) emphasized that “Nothing is closer to the heartbeat of a college or university than teaching….” Seeking to improve our practice can help us create a growth mindset that embraces change and the possibilities that come along with it.    

Approaching the possibility of change with a positive attitude can lead to new strategies that engage students. Carving out time to update your course design, embed high impact practices, or take on a new role does take time; however, opening up your teaching to change can let you view your course in new ways and rejuvenate your love for teaching.

Seeking Course Design Updates to Meet Students Needs

Unlike other years, it seems as though the quality of the student-faculty relationship is more important than ever in motivating students to do well and move towards becoming independent learners. Even though studies show that student motivation revolves around how well a student’s basic psychological needs are met (Ryan & Deci, 2017), Leenknecht et al. (2023) indicated that the quality of their relationships with their professors can also motivate them to do well. Strengthening our relationships with our students proves difficult, especially in our online courses, but understanding their needs, challenges, and concerns can definitely help us improve our approaches. With emerging studies, tools, and practices about changing how we teach, I recently read three books that showed me the importance of adopting a growth mindset and striving to improve the instructor-student relationship.In Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Dweck (2016) explores how we can fulfill our potential. She stresses that adopting a growth mindset that encourages personal growth, a positive attitude, and the ability to change and improve revolves around these factors: nurture and thoughts and efforts we develop when faced with new challenges.  

In Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us, Pink (2009) builds on Dweck’s idea about adopting a growth mindset and suggests that what we believe about ourselves will influence what we become. Emphasizing elements of motivation, autonomy, mastery, and purpose, he encourages readers, who might be parents, educators, or CEOs, to focus on motivation as a way to create and shape a culture where people can flourish. 

In Mind over Monsters: Supporting Your Mental Health with Compassionate Challenge, Cavanagh (2023) credits the isolation and disruption we experienced during COVID as a driver in the uptick in people seeking access to mental health professionals, especially our young adults. Cavanah suggested committing to a compassion challenge to cultivate learning and living environments that guide students in addressing life experiences. Offering tips to create a course environment that generates “excitement, joy, and pride in learning,” Cavanagh also suggested we look for ways to create more social interaction in our classes and a better sense of purpose and belonging for our students. 

Embedding High Impact Practices Using New Modalities/Technology

Since modalities and tech tools emerge and change at a fast and furious pace, keeping up can be challenging indeed. However, researching and incorporating new delivery approaches into your course can pay off for both you and your students. Embedding new teaching tools, such as the two listed below, can give you the opportunity to view your course design with new eyes and students the chance to learn in new ways.

Using Perusall to Create Student Collaboration 
Perusall is a social annotation platform that enables students to collaborate by analyzing text together. The free program embedded as an external tool in Moodle offers instructors various upload options (pdfs, videos, audio) and custom design options (grading, groups, annotation guidelines). I have used Perusall for a few years in my general education courses and have found it to be a valuable tool for facilitating knowledge co-construction through a collaborative process. Students not only learn from other students by accessing the annotations, but their ability to add links, images, and hashtags enables them to perform a deep dive to explore cultural, social, and historical connections. 

Using a Podcast as a Course Resource
Oslawski-Lopez and Kordsmeier (2021) suggested that students exert more time and effort in a course that uses multimedia over printed text and that these resources can engage them in ways print or lecture-based resources often fail to do. Adding a podcast as a course resource may give students, through the act of listening, better access to voice, tone and content and enhanced opportunities to focus and absorb information (Anderson & Dau, 2020). 

Looking for a new way to engage students in my Advanced Critical Writing course, I decided to use a podcast to create a shared learning experience that gave students mutual access to content. Each week, students listened to an episode of the popular series Serial and engaged in various activities related to each episode. You can read more about my students’ experiences in Serial-iously?” Using a Narrative Podcast as a Shared Learning Experience to Facilitate Engagement and Critical Thinking. 

Finding a New Role Offers a New Perspective

Taking on the role of a CETL faculty fellow, whether it be one that is focused on AI, mentoring, or mental health, can be transformative for you and your practice. Moving into a new role can provide the opportunity to reconnect with your scholarship, research, and teaching and open your eyes to new and unique ways to engage with your students. 

This tip serves as my last as the 2024 CETL faculty fellow for the teaching tip blog. It has been my pleasure to be a CETL insider to see all the good work that these folks do. When the call for new CETL faculty fellows opens, jump in and open yourself up to the possibilities of change.

References and Resources 

Andersen, R. H., & Dau, S. (2020, October). The potential of podcasts as a learning medium in higher education. In European Conference on e-Learning (Vol. 2020, pp. 16-22). Academic Conferences and Publishing International.

Leenknecht, M. J. M., Snijders, I., Wijnia, L., Rikers, R. M. J. P., & Loyens, S. M. M. (2023). Building relationships in higher education to support students’ motivation. Teaching in Higher Education, 28(3), 632–653.

Oslawski-Lopez, J., & Kordsmeier, G. (2021). “Being Able to Listen Makes Me Feel More Engaged”: Best Practices for Using Podcasts as Readings. Teaching Sociology, 49(4), 335-347.

Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2017). Self-determination theory: Basic psychological needs in motivation, development, and wellness. Guilford publications.

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About the Author

Written by Rachel Smydra, Associate Professor in the Department of English at Oakland University and Faculty Fellow in the the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning at Oakland University. Others may share and adapt under Creative Commons License CC BY-NCView all CETL Weekly Teaching Tips. Follow these and more on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.