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Wish You Were Here? A Biology Professor’s Notes on Course Hero’s Education Summit

Microbiologist Dr. Kimberly Lyle-Ippolito, an attendee and presenter, shares some surprising takeaways from this year’s sessions—including her own!

Educator

Kimberly Lyle-Ippolito, PhD

Professor of Biology, Anderson University, Anderson, IN

PhD in Molecular Genetics, MS in Molecular Genetics, BS in Biology

How much would you enjoy a conference at which you were the honored guest? As both a presenter and a participant, I felt appreciated—even celebrated—at this year’s Course Hero Education Summit. From the incredible hospitality of the Course Hero team to the opportunities for engagement with other educators who care deeply about teaching, this year’s summit was outstanding. I’ve tried to capture the experience here, for those who were not able to attend.

 

 

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Learning from my own session

I come from a small, liberal arts, Christian university, and my session embodies my way of teaching there. It was titled There, There: Making Space for Empathy in the Classroom. I opened with a video clip from The Big Bang Theory in which Sheldon is trying to show empathy to Penny with his now-famous “there-there” line. Then, I encouraged the group to consider some questions: Have you tried to educate for empathy in your classrooms? What has worked? What has not worked? And what values or virtues are more important than others?

A brisk discussion of today’s students followed. In it, I discovered that my experiences in the classroom are very different from those of people who teach at very large, public universities. I learned that an unacceptably large percentage of students in these huge classes fail, and the professor might not even know who they are. I am grateful that because of the size of my classes (5 to 25 students), I can know each student and help each individually. Other professors do not have that same luxury. I suggested that, perhaps in the future, Course Hero could offer different sessions for educators with large and small class sizes.

This was just one of 55 sessions throughout the two-day summit. On the first day, five different hourlong sessions were available. Each session offered six tracks to choose from—one about the Course Hero product, one on Course Design, one on Classroom Tech, one on Student Engagement, one on Faculty Development, and finally, an Extra Credit track (with fun topics like meditation and speed networking). How do you choose just one activity to go to? So many of them sounded fascinating. Because I was leading a group discussion during one of the sessions, I could choose only five others!

Taking home a new educational tool

I think my favorite session was on Friday, when I attended the biology teaching workshop titled “Deeper Active Learning with the Contrasting Case Study Method,” led by Dr. Benjamin Wiggins from the University of Washington. Since I teach microbiology, genetics, and biochemistry, I use quite a few case studies with my students. However, I was intrigued by the words “deeper” and “contrasting” in the title of the session. The experience was a little “meta” in that Ben taught us how to perform a contrasting case study of several active-learning methods. (It took my group a little while to get started because we were not familiar with the methods, but after we went through the contrasting case study, it was much clearer.)

However, the most valuable lesson for me was not really related to the topic at all. Ben walked around the room as we worked in small groups to go through each of the active-learning methods. A few times as he walked by my group, I stopped him and asked a question. My questions were not questions I would have asked in front of the “whole class”—not because I’m shy (absolutely not!) or worried about what others think of me, but because I didn’t think my questions were “worthy” of taking up class time. But when he was walking by, I felt free to ask whatever I wanted, “worthy” or not. Talk about an ah-ha! moment—if this works for me, it will work for my students, who are shy and worried about what their peers think of them. Allowing students to participate in peer discussions while I walk around and listen in could lead to deeper learning and less fear in my own classroom! This insight was worth the entire trip!

Building connections and community

Plenty of time was provided to engage with other educators outside of the sessions, too. Food and drink at the cocktail breaks were both plentiful and elegant, encouraging all of us to stay around and interact. (Food is a very important part of hospitality!) I discovered that we are all doing “more with less,” and financial issues plague all of our institutions. There was a sort of solidarity in realizing that our shared love for teaching is often tempered with frustration.

When I met a new person, the first two questions were always “Where are you from?” and “What do you teach?” And with the networking app provided by Course Hero, no one was a stranger! I got my own QR code on my nametag. We were all scanning each other’s codes so we could stay connected after we went home. How cool is that? It was not that long ago that I had never even heard of a QR code. My grown children were impressed when I showed them.

Getting pampered (and photographed!)

Along with the workshops, sessions, and speakers, other “extra” opportunities provided at the summit were exceptional and a complete surprise. I had a professional portrait taken by a photographer—after being prepped by a makeup artist—all free of charge! The last time I had a professional photograph taken was five years ago, and I had to pay for that one myself. This was a useful gift I was not expecting!

Kimberly Lyle-Ippolito

Off-site opportunities were provided to tour the nearby Computer History Museum or to hike and participate in an all-levels yoga class in a beautiful redwood forest (hosted by a Course Hero employee who also happens to be a certified yoga instructor). I was also given a chance to be a part of a valuable Course Hero community service project by stuffing backpacks with supplies (notebooks, scissors, markers, and more) for later distribution to local schools.

Feeling welcome and appreciated

Throughout the Summit, I was impressed with the enthusiasm of the Course Hero team, in their matching blue T-shirts sporting the Course Hero logo. They were easy to spot, and any one of them that I stopped expressed how pleased he or she was that I was there, making me feel incredibly welcome. The team helped us find what we were looking for, answered our questions, and—perhaps most enjoyably—shared their “snack wall” with us. (Yes, they really have a kitchen facility full of drinks and snacks available to employees and visitors at any time—just help yourself!)

I was most excited to finally meet Richard Mattox, one of the company’s Educator Partnerships Managers who invites educators from around the country to join the Course Hero community and share their best practices. I have been working with Richard for several months on my Classroom Tips article for Course Hero’s Faculty Club website, and I was so excited to meet him face-to-face. My husband Dan and I even had our picture taken with him. I think the smiles illustrate how much fun we were having!

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Overall, my experience with Course Hero has been really excellent. If you have teaching tips that would benefit others, I strongly suggest you reach out to the Educator Partnerships Managers and share them. Teaching can be difficult as well as exciting, and our combined wisdom is better than going it alone. Course Hero is here to help us do that!

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