There’s something about plentiful food and mountain air, interesting company and no cell-phone signal that make for a great retreat. Throw in practical and meaningful discussions about learning and teaching at BYU-Idaho and the retreat becomes the Spori Summit. The Spori Summit, named after Jacob Spori and patterned on the Great Teacher’s Seminar model, has been a fixture of professional development at Ricks/BYU-Idaho for many years.
Last weekend, a dozen or so faculty from departments across campus spent a day and a half at Quick Water Ranch in Victor for this semester’s iteration of this biennial faculty development retreat. While the Spori Summit is supported financially by the university administration, it has since its inception, been a faculty organized and faculty driven forum for collaborating with colleagues around improving instructional skills. This time, Van Christman, chair of the Department of Teacher Education facilitated the discussions with help from several faculty members who had attended the summit before. Participants included instructors from engineering, home and family, computer information systems, sociology, religious education, math, history, education and Foundations.
During the course of the summit, faculty members got the chance to share ideas and techniques that have worked for them in their own classrooms. They shared books that have had a significant impact on their development as professional educators. The core of the summit, however, was given over to discussing difficulties faced by instructors and brainstorming ways to meet those difficulties.
Participants explored ways to help students, especially younger students, manage the workload required by higher education. They addressed ways to improve student participation in large classes and to help students prepare for classroom experiences. Other discussion groups focused on how to avoid social loafing during group work, how to deal with students that register for a class without the pre-requisite knowledge or understanding and how to deal with student complaints that become toxic to the classroom environment. Discussion during Friday afternoon turned to finding time for grading student work, managing student excuses, working with dysfunctional group dynamics and helping students to reach higher levels of comfort with the rigor and ambiguity that characterize learning at the tertiary level.
Forums like the Spori Summit rarely provide absolute answers to the manifold challenges we face as educators, put they do provide a much-needed venue for gaining insight, exploring options, and seeing what has worked for others. Here are some comments by four of this year’s participants:
(Summaries and comments about past summits may be found here.)
The next Spori Summit is scheduled for October 8th and 9th, 2009. If you block out the dates now, it should be easy enough to plan your Fall syllabi to permit attendance. Imagine – crisp autumn air, a warm cabin, an unending supply of snacks (both the healthy and not-so-healthy variety), and a day and a half of practical discussion with thoughtful and experienced colleagues . . .
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