This is another in a series of interviews with staff, faculty, administrators, and students across campus promoting the goals of EKU’s Quality Enhancement Plan. The current QEP, Read with Purpose, calls for Eastern to develop critical readers through the use of metacognitive strategies. Building on the past QEP, which focused on developing critical and creative thinkers, this effort represents the University’s commitment to institutional improvement and provides a long-term focus for faculty and staff professional development and student learning.
This installment in the QEP Spotlight series features EKU professor, Dr. Vigs Chandra.
1. In what ways have you been involved with the current EKU QEP?
My primary involvement in the current EKU QEP is as an enthusiastic supporter of the initiative, attending various workshops on infusing purposeful reading across the curriculum. Doing so has included adjusting my primarily whiteboard-and-marker classroom-style teaching to include frequent use of in-class online readings with follow-up discussions and more directed readings of the textual or multimedia resources. In 2019, a QEP Leadership Grant led to developing a Pedacogicon 2020 poster on techniques for inviting students to create visuals with verbal annotations based on our in-class discussions and online readings. Having served as a QEP Coach for a previous QEP, guiding fellow College of Business & Technology (CBT) faculty for developing students who are "informed, critical and creative thinkers who communicate effectively," I feel my function as a bridge between that and the current one to "develop critical readers through the use of metacognitive strategies."
2. What ways have you implemented QEP in your courses?
In information-dense disciplines, such as Cyber Systems Technology, where specialized jargon, abbreviations, specifications, and applications pepper the readings, tracking down connections and synthesizing actionable information is challenging. As part of the in-class, laboratory, and online readings, I require students to summarize, both verbally and visually, content I direct their attention to, often before instruction on a given topic. As part of in-class activities, this online reading time communicates to students that they will need to refer to both print and online resources while resolving issues, improving existing situations given existing constraints and available resources. They may be asked to rank or prioritize their findings, then report out in a large-group setting with my ongoing commentary allowing them to see how their ideas fit into a larger picture. It also enables and encourages them to learn new content independently. I share techniques such as previewing, initially skipping ahead and later circling back while reading challenging content, referring to multiple sources, deepening and broadening connections with the topic.
I have been actively experimenting with teaching students graphical techniques for organizing new content, fitting it into their current understanding of the topic. Developing personally meaningful annotated diagrams while first learning the content helps students internalize the concepts they are reading about in their texts or online sources. Personal, roughly drawn visuals with suitable annotations can aid the memorization and application of textual information. As part of this, students learn to preview content from an article or the text by looking at figures, tables, photographs, formulae, or generating questions or predictions from a preliminary scan of the information. It allows students to interact with the text or with the in-class/assigned readings, actively decoding, possibly illustrating and annotating, coauthoring meaning, identifying personal metaphors for clarifying the content. Doing so offers a unique way of synthesizing readings, discussions, or analyses. When shared by faculty with students and by students themselves, it creates an evolving understanding of the topic in front of one's eyes. Hand-drawn illustrations with annotations are a powerful way of encoding and expressing shared meaning. It develops comprehension, critical thinking, and life skills applicable to learning in all subject areas.
In my courses, I ask students to consider the Key Facts, Concepts, steps or sequences, the K.F.C.s of the topic or reading under consideration. They explain what the term means in their own words and note why it is vital in computer electronics or networking. Students are encouraged to may use hand-drawn illustrations or other visuals or tables as part of the explanation.
Over this past year, to develop a broader understanding of the content we are discussing in class, I have created a "Learn M.O.R.E." strategy. It requires students to MODIFY specific portions of an assignment while first learning about the principle or procedure underlying it. The discussion typically uses a sample scenario or example for practice. They need to base their changes on what they OBSERVE, which requires a closer read of the situation. It asks them to REFLECT on the changes they need to make, setting up personalized EXAMPLES to share with peers in the class. For example, while working through an electronic circuit analysis scenario we are going over as an in-class activity, they may need to specify the voltage source's value rather than use the one, or to change other circuit elements. In essence, each student can work through a unique self-designed activity, that is similar yet different, challenging them to read with purpose and adapt to the given situation. Photos of their in-class activities are discussed in class and shared online through Discussion Board posts. It enables the entire class to have access to many more examples of practice than can be covered during a lecture, a way of learning with adaptation. Discussing ways of visualizing and verbalizing important content while first learning and later reviewing it helps connect new content with prior learning tangibly.
3. In what ways has QEP professional development impacted your work with students?
I feel inspired to be in the company of peers dedicated to learning and teaching, freely offering their insights on developing reading skills through workshops, Zoom sessions that highlight specific strategies and tweaks they are using in their classes. We all appreciate the thought put into the Teaching and Learning sessions by the presenters and the organizers, making the sessions available online amidst the pandemic. Ongoing professional development also helps maintain the significance of reading skills fresh in my mind, so I can be purposeful in communicating its importance to the students, asking them to extract and apply actionable information. The learning sessions have familiarized me with an increased set of metacognitive tools for reading, which I then communicate to the students. Students, in turn, are becoming more familiar with the need to: read with a purpose, scan assigned readings to identify its organization, use illustrations and tables to build their understanding, look for formatting or other visual clues in the text to understand its importance, make verbal or visual notes when feasible, summarize or paraphrase their responses, adjust reading speeds based on difficulty, share and discuss their findings with others, use multiple sources, question their assumptions and test prior knowledge while reading, predict outcomes based on given information about the situation or scenario. It takes regular practice, spread across multiple courses, to build a better understanding of specialized topics and grasp how these fit into the discipline itself.
4. In what ways do you see the QEP supporting student learning at EKU?
Regular practice using metacognitive reading strategies tools across the curriculum can shape students' behavior, sharpens observation skills, form effective habits, and make students discerning consumers and creators of information. Academic preparation grounded in strong reading skills allows students to understand multiple viewpoints involved while engaging with complex issues, think critically and creatively about situations, and communicate clearly. It opens up the space to collaborate, take thoughtful actions, adapt to conditions, reach sound conclusions, make better decisions, articulate positions, consider mutually advantageous courses of action. It takes courage to go where the evidence leads, question one's assumptions and beliefs, empathize with others who may have a different perspective, and recognize that this may ask for changes in attitudes. Reading with a focused openness can help us become better informed, develop dispositions conducive to working effectively with others in an information-rich world. Including students in this ongoing university-wide conversation about reading with purposeful awareness, equipping them with multiple techniques for doing so will increase their confidence and competencies, elements transferable within their disciplines to the workforce, contributing to our serving as a school of opportunity.