Faculty Highlights – Professor Christina Vogel


This month’s faculty highlight is Christina Vogel, Assistant Professor of Art, Painting and Drawing. Professor Vogel received a grant for the Spring 2014 semester to support an experiential learning project for her upper division Drawing VI class (ART4060). Drawing VI is the most advanced level class for drawing, and is a requirement for students who are in the BFA painting and drawing program. Juniors and Seniors in the BFA program are much more focused on self-directed work as opposed to their previous years. Spring 2014 marked Professor Vogel’s first time teaching ART4060, and her focus was to maintain students’ self-directed work while also challenging them to critically collaborate and develop a group exhibition of their work at the Association for Visual Arts (AVA) gallery in Chattanooga. While the exhibition of student work was one of the focal points of the course, Professor Vogel aimed to give her students a real world experience of the multiple steps that go into putting together an exhibit. To support the costs of such a large undertaking, she requested a grant from ThinkAchieve.

Professor Vogel began thinking about the idea of raising the bar for her class and giving them a professional experience in the fall.  She met with Lauren Goforth, the education and exhibitions director at AVA to discuss the project. Lauren was surprised to find out that most students had not previously had an opportunity to display their work at an off campus gallery before, and was excited about the idea. The opportunity would be an invaluable real world experience, and would also require students to utilize critical thinking skills.

One of the great things about this project was the challenge presented when you take a group of nine artists whose work is very different and ask them to come up with a single theme for a group show. Students collaborated and came up with the theme of memory. With such a broad theme, students were able to keep their individual projects unique, and yet still develop a cohesive group exhibition.


After coming up with a theme, the students were responsible for the whole project. Professor Vogel was available as a guide, but ultimately the students had to make decisions together as a group. This collaboration was a major piece of the class. Students had to meet as a group regularly to decide among other things how to promote the show through exhibition cards and social media, determine the order and best layout of the exhibition space provided by AVA, decide on the details regarding the sale of their work , and develop individual artist and group statements . All of these tasks were activities that they had not previously had to do, and probably had not thought about. These responsibilities were in addition to creating the artwork, and 3 other major projects due in the class.AVA_TracesShow.indd

Another major feature of the class was critical reflection that students completed before, during, and after the exhibition process.   Students came to hang and ready their design space for the exhibition in August, long after the spring semester. The exhibition had a wonderful turn out, community feedback was excellent, and it culminated with a favorable review in The Pulse.

Though Professor Vogel is not teaching Drawing VI this year, she strongly believes that it is not a stretch for other art classes to be compatible with the ThinkAchieve Initiative. She says “So much of what we do as artists involves critical thinking. We constantly have to give feedback, self-assess, and collaborate. Which are all part of the ThinkAchieve Initiative.”


Faculty Highlights – Dr. Jennifer Boyd

Dr. Boyd is currently working in her 12th semester at UTC. She teaches ecology and climate change biology. We selected Dr. Boyd for this month’s faculty highlight because of the grant she was awarded in Fall of 2013. Dr. Boyd’s ecology class is coupled with a lab that traditionally required students to conduct experiments on the local flora and fauna. Unfortunately, the experiments were so local they were primarily limited to areas within walking distance of campus. Some of the students studied squirrels in the cemetery while others studied the foliage around campus. In the meantime, Dr. Boyd was conducting her own research on a rare species of orchid that grows a few hours away from Chattanooga.

The species Dr. Boyd is interested in only grows in the area she is studying. She has been concerned for some time that it may be endangered, but currently it is not listed as an endangered species. The rarity of a species does not automatically qualify it for endangered status. In order to register a species as endangered, there must be evidence to support that the population is in decline and the researcher must propose methods for managing the species.

Last year Dr. Boyd decided to incorporate her interest in this specific species into her ecology lab. She did this by asking the students to develop a research plan regarding the rare orchids. The purpose of the research was to determine if the species was endangered or not, based upon national guidelines. It was up to the students to figure out what needed to be measured and how the plan would be executed.

The students decided to map an area where the species is found with a grid system and then count the number of orchids found in each section of the grid. After counting the number of orchids they planned to measure light factors, soil factors and other possible variables in each section of the grid. Unfortunately, upon their arrival at the site they found hundreds of snakes had inhabited the area since the last time Dr. Boyd had visited. She couldn’t safely ask the students to conduct their measurements in the area with the threat of poisonous snakebites.

Above is a photo of beautiful orchids and a copperhead.

In order to conduct the research, Dr. Boyd asked for a grant from the Think Achieve program to provide snake-proofing garb for the students. Once the students had the appropriate gear they were able to go in an conduct their experiments in the area.

Above is a picture of the students working in the field.

The experiments didn’t turn up any evidence to support the endangerment of this rare species, but it did provide the students with a unique hands-on experience related to their field. Students are graded on the process rather than the outcome. When the next class takes on the task they will assess the job the previous class did before moving forward. The next experiment will be based upon the strengths of the previous research and will attempt to address alternative hypothesis that were not studied in the previous class.

This assignment is unique for students and professors. The most interesting part about it is that the professor does not have an answer key. Dr. Boyd had no idea how the results would come out when the assignment was over and that made it even more interesting for everyone involved. After all, that is how science works.

Faculty Highlights – Dr. Amye Warren

Profile photo of Dr. Amye Warren

In the time Dr. Amye Warren has been with UTC she’s developed some unique approaches to foster critical thinking in her classes. This August will mark her 30th year at the university. This faculty highlight article will outline a few of the innovative methods Dr. Warren has developed to get her students deeply involved in her course material.

One theme that is pervasive throughout all of her classes is the integration of multiple sources. These sources can be from the course textbook, peer-reviewed articles, news articles, videos online or other class readings. Ideally, assignments should include two or three sources that reach across different disciplines. Combining sources provides a unique challenge for students because it forces them to integrate information from multiple authors and multiple topics to a single issue.

For example, Dr. Warren has her class focus on the trial of the Central Park Five, who falsely confessed to violent crimes in central park, New York City. Before studying the case, the students are given research regarding the effects of sleep deprivation on the decision making process. People who are sleep deprived often have a difficult time assessing the consequences of decisions they are making. The students are also given research regarding adolescent brain development and it’s effect on sleep cycles. Once the class integrates these three sources they can develop new insights into the case and follow up by applying what they have learned to their own lives and situations they may have encountered.

The Central Park Five example also applies to another technique that Dr. Warren finds effective for fostering critical thinking in the classroom. This case study is a real life example that the students may be able to relate to. Much of the peer-reviewed literature available makes little effort to apply itself to real life scenarios. Asking students to apply empirical research to real life scenarios can be an effective way to foster critical thinking in the classroom. An additional exercise that can enhance academic research is to ask the students what the research may have missed or how it may could be improved if it were repeated.

Dr. Warren also holds open book or open-note tests in her courses to take the focus away from memorization and direct it towards understanding of the material. Open book tests generally require more integrated answers and less fill in the blank or multiple choice questions.
Using these techniques, the class becomes more valuable for the students and the grading process becomes more interesting for the teacher. Critical thinking can definitely be a win-win situation if it’s approached correctly.

Team-Based Learning

Over the past year and a half, we’ve hosted two campus workshops on team-based learning, also called TBL.  Bill Roberson of the University at Albany does a great job on getting your buy-in on the method, and many folks, including one entire department, have implemented it extensively at UTC.  TBL is much more than “group work”; it is a strategy on which you plan your entire course.  There are four essential components of TBL:  formation of permanent student groups, student accountability, instructor feedback, and assignment design.  To be able to use this approach, your course content needs to be chunked, that is, formed into 5 to 6 modules that take a few class sessions to work through. 

For each module in a course, the instructor takes the students through the three TBL phases.  The first phase involves giving individual study assignments such as a readings or online lectures that students do before class (sound familiar – flipped classroom?).  The second phase starts with students coming to class and taking an individual quiz, which is called an Individual Readiness Assurance Test or I-RAT, and turning it into the instructor.  Without knowing how they did on the quiz, they then take a group quiz (Group Readiness Assurance Test or G-RAT) which is the same quiz they took as an individual. During the G-RAT, students hold each other accountability for having completed the pre-work (this may not happen immediately, but will in time).  Once the correct answers are made known, teams can appeal quiz questions if they feel they were worded poorly or have more than one correct answer, for example.  Appeals must be submitted in writing and are signed off by the entire team.  Next, the G-RATs are turned in and the instructor quickly reviews them to see what students need to know more about.  What are the groups missing – what are the gaps in their knowledge or understanding?  This process leads to a mini-lecture only on that material that is needed by students.  Whew, that’s the end of phase 2.

Now phase 3 is the application of the course material through team-based application exercises.  This involves exercises that take 30 minutes or up to a couple of class sessions.  Much like the flipped classroom approach, students become engaged in the content by applying their knowledge.   Ideally, these exercises involve student groups all working on the same problem and reporting simultaneously in class – this gets their competitive juices flowing.  Once the applications are completed, then it’s back to phase one with the next module!

Want to know more about team-based learning?  Contact us for a individual session or check out our spring seminar schedule.

Additional Resources

Team-Based Learning Collaborative.  (2013).  Getting started.  Retrieved from http://www.teambasedlearning.org/starting.

Florida State University.  (n.d.).  Team-based learning.  Retrieved from http://distance.fsu.edu/instructors/team-based-learning.


Where do we start?

For the last month, I’ve been analyzing survey data collected as feedback to our student orientation on critical thinking. The qualitative answers vary greatly, but one theme emerges through a majority of the responses. These students are excited about active learning. They frequently say that they are looking forward to college because it’s so different from their high school classes.

Every time I read comments like these I feel satisfied to be a part of this program. Yet, I find myself wondering what the high school experience is like for these freshman before they start at UTC. If this orientation session is the first time they have encountered an instructor that facilitated critical thinking in class, what were they doing before?

Our department was created to account for a deficiency in our students critical thinking skills upon graduation. It’s our job to help integrate critical thinking into the college curriculum to turn this around. The faculty and the students are on board with the initiative, but unfortunately, it’s still an uphill battle.

Critical thinking doesn’t become valuable upon graduation from high school, or middle school, or elementary school. Critical thinking is a fundamental skill that should be cultivated in children from the moment they can talk.

It seems to me that people are hardwired for critical thinking. If you’ve ever spent time with a three year old you’re bound to hear this question. “Why?” In fact, you’ll hear this question until your head feels like it’s about to explode. This is when we angrily shout “Just because!”.

We’re frustrated with unending curiosity because it was taken away from us at the same age these children are now. We’re frustrated because we don’t have an answer and we don’t have time to consider one. Childhood offers endless hours of time to ponder life’s big questions. How do noses work? What’s creates the pictures inside my computer screen? Why don’t we have feathers like birds do?

College is a perfect place to promote critical thinking, but if we are really going to make an impact on the issue we need to start much earlier than the age of 18.


Faculty embrace experiential learning and critical reflection in a general education science course

Brad Reynolds and Tom Wilson received a Beyond the Classroom ThinkAchieve grant to fund an experiential learning activity in a general education non-laboratory science course.  During fall 2012, students in Bio/ESC 1100 (Conservation of Biodiversity) were given the option to participate in a hands-on field experience and reflection activity in lieu of taking the final exam in the course.  Instead of just listening to a professor talk about conservation, these student volunteers actually practiced conservation and contributed to a real-life conservation-based research project.  The conservation project, still ongoing, seeks to monitor the impact of upland deforestation on local amphibian populations.

data recordingThe instructors, Brad Reynolds and Tom Wilson, took the student volunteers to a local wetland where the students helped sample and process frogs and salamanders.  Once in the field, students checked pitfall traps for animals and learned how to properly identify, sex, and measure the frogs and salamanders they discovered.  They were likewise taught how to properly record scientific data, before releasing the animals into the wild.

Critical thinking was fostered in the student volunteers through active, experiential learning and critical reflection.  Students were expected to keep reflective journals before, during, and after the experience as a means of documenting the transformation that had taken place within them.  These journals also served as a vehicle through which critical thinking and the challenging of preconceived assumptions was encouraged.  According to Brad Reynolds, “We challenged the students to actively combat the biodiversity crisis by participating in a real-world conservation-based amphibian monitoring project. The end result was that the students developed a greater respect for reptiles and amphibians, and at the same time, had their overall conservation ethics impacted in a positive way through experiential learning and reflection.”


Brad Reynolds is a faculty member in the Biological and Environmental Sciences.  In addition to the Conservation of Biodiversity course, he teaches Introduction to Environmental Science I and II.

Thomas Wilson is also a faculty member in the Biological and Environmental Sciences. He teaches Herpetology, Ecology and Amphibian Conservation.



The Seven Principles of Good Practice in Undergraduate Education

The Seven Principles

By: Dawn M. Ford

It was in 1987 when Chickering and Gamson wrote about the seven principles for good practice in undergraduate education.  Years later, those principles still hold up, so it’s good to review them every now and again to keep us fresh.

seven principles

Principle one is that contact between students and faculty should be encouraged.  It’s important that students know that faculty care about them.  How can that be encouraged?  We can provide multiple ways in which students can reach us – email, phone, office hours – and of course, we should be responsive.  We can arrive to class early and stay late to encourage interaction with our students.  Principle two is that reciprocity and cooperation among students should be cultivated.  Deep and meaningful learning happens when students work as teams.  Otherwise, what’s the point of all of them being in the same room at the same time?  See my blog about team-based learning to learn more about using the team approach for student learning.  Principle three – encourage active learning.  I always remember the saying that learning is not a spectator sport.  From day one, engage students in course content through writing, discussion, application, etc.  They learn more by doing.  Principle four is to give prompt feedback.  I’m reminded of faculty who talk about students who do poorly on an end-of-semester research paper.  When I ask them what writing assignments came before the research paper, usually there were none.  We need to give students the opportunity to practice skills that we want them to develop and give them prompt feedback so they can improve over the course the semester.  Okay, principle five is time on task, which is related to principle four.  Time management for students can be challenging, and we can help them by giving and adhering to deadlines and modeling good time management skills ourselves.  Principle six is to communicate high expectations.   Expect more, and we will get it, expect less, and we will get that too!  Set expectations on the first day of class, it’s a good way to create a community of learning.  Principle seven…respect diverse talents and ways of learning.  I think we realize that students are different.  We can teach two sections of the same course back-to-back and the class sessions will go completely different.  We need to be flexible and adjust our teaching to accommodate students so that we accomplish what we set out to do.

Additional Resources

UF Center for Instructional Technology and Training.  (2012).  Chickering and Gamson 4 rules for undergraduate education.  Retrieved from http://citt.ufl.edu/tools/chickering-and-gamson-7-rules-for-undergraduate-education/.

UNC Charlotte Center for Teaching and Learning.  (2013).  Seven principles for good practice in undergraduate education.  Retrieved from http://teaching.uncc.edu/articles-books/best-practice-articles/instructional-methods/7-principles.



What is critical reflection?

If you attended the Instructional Excellence Retreat in May, you heard about – and hopefully learned something about – the concept of critical reflection.  Patti Clayton, a Senior Scholar with the Center for Service and Learning at IUPUI, ushered us through the process of critical reflection before, during, and after an experiential learning opportunity to generate, deepen, and document our learning about the experience.   Critical reflection was the focus of the Retreat because providing experiential learning to students is part of our SACS Quality Enhancement Plan.  Why?  Because the literature tells us that experiential learning promotes the development of critical thinking skills.  These skills are in demand by employers, so we want our students to have them.

I wanted to write about critical reflection to communicate what it is, when to implement it, and how to implement it.  Critical reflection is a reasoning process that is guided, descriptive, analytical, and critical, and can be articulated in a number of ways such as in written form, orally, or as an artistic expression.  Often, a reflection activity is guided by a set of written prompts, such as the ones shown below in the diagram.  A best practice for critical reflection is that students to respond to prompts before, during, and after their experience, so the prompts are adjusted to match the timing of the reflection.  Critical reflection can be integrated into any type of active learning experience, inside the classroom or outside the classroom.

critical reflection image

Image from University of Guelph, http://www.coles.uoguelph.ca/pdf/Critical%20Reflection.pdf.


If you are considering using critical reflection, first you need to identify the student learning outcomes for reflection. What do you expect students to gain as a result of this activity?  Understand multiple points of view?  Be able to propose solutions to a problem?  Once you identify the outcomes, then you can design the reflection activities to best achieve the outcomes.  You also need to think about how you will assess the reflections.  A rubric that outlines the criteria for evaluation and levels of performance for each criterion can be useful for grading and to provide detailed feedback to students.

Additional Resources

Bart, M.  (2011, May 11).  Critical reflection adds depth and breadth to student learning.  Faculty Focus.  Retrieved from http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/instructional-design/critical-reflection-adds-depth-and-breadth-to-student-learning/.

Colorado Mountain College.  (2007).  Critical reflection. Retrieved from  http://faculty.coloradomtn.edu/orl/critical_reflection.htm.

Kenny, N.  (2010).  What is critical reflection?  Centre for Open Learning and Educational Support.  Retrieved from http://www.coles.uoguelph.ca/pdf/Critical%20Reflection.pdf.

Create a Community of Learning on the First Day of Class

It’s almost that time again – the first day of class.   I have sometimes struggled with what to do the first day; do I dive right in or just cover the syllabus and let the students go?  The literature tells us that the first day of class is important, if not critical, to the success of a course and the students.  The first day sets the tone because students form their opinion about the instructor and the course in the first few minutes. So what are the best practices for the first day?

first day of class

To create a community of learning from the start, make the students feel welcome, set clear expectations for the students, discuss the goals and student learning outcomes of the course, and engage the students in content.  Okay, let’s talk about tips for each of these.  To welcome students, get to the classroom early and greet students as they arrive. Start class on time (this conveys that punctuality and class time are important) and introduce yourself.  Next, talk to the students about your expectations and details about the course.  Students need to understand the goals of the course, what they will learn,  how they will learn it, and how they will be assessed. They also need to know about your attendance policy, late work policy, and behavior expectations (cell phones off?).  Sometime during that first class meeting, engage the students in an activity or two. Engaging students right away delivers the message that they will be involved in the course, not just spectators.

What are your first day of class best practices?  Feel free to share them!


Additional Resources

University of Nebraska-Lincoln.  (2013).  The first day of class.  Retrieved from http://www.unl.edu/gtahandbook/first-day-class.

Weimer, M.  (2013).  First day of class activities that create a climate for learning.  Retrieved from http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/teaching-professor-blog/first-day-of-class-activities-that-create-a-climate-for-learning/.