Nearly 700 educators convene at UMSL for annual Focus on Teaching and Technology Conference

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Stephen Brookfield, the John Ireland Endowed Chair at the University of St. Thomas in Saint Paul, Minnesota, gave the keynote address and workshop at the 17th annual Focus on Teaching and Technology Conference on Sept. 27 on the UMSL campus. (Photos by David Morrison)

Stephen Brookfield uses technology to guide his students away from groupthink.

Brookfield, the John Ireland Endowed Chair at the University of St. Thomas in Saint Paul, Minnesota, served as the keynote speaker for the 17th annual Focus on Teaching and Technology Conference at the University of Missouri–St. Louis.

During his talk, titled “Teaching for Critical Thinking: What Students Say Helps Them ‘Get’ Critical Thinking,” Brookfield told a packed crowd in the J.C. Penney Center Auditorium about how he uses an anonymous, instantaneous message board program called Backchannel Chat to help his students engage and expand their thinking on substantive topics.

“This brings out those multiple responses into a public forum,” Brookfield said. “I’ve found that, particularly around difficult areas, where students are hungry for me to give them the correct way to respond, I have managed to bring them into responding with the safety of anonymity. I’ll say, ‘See these different responses? There are clearly multiple worlds in this classroom.’

“One of the meta purposes of higher education is to stop you universalizing your own thinking. That’s my task with this tool: to very quickly show students that, just in this room – without consulting literature – there are already multiple ways of thinking about a particular issue.”

UMSL Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Kristin Sobolik thanked conference attendees for their commitment to furthering education through technology.

This year’s edition of the Focus on Teaching and Technology Conference brought 680 educators to UMSL, the most in the history of the conference. On Sept. 27-28, they took part in 59 learning sessions facilitated by 106 invited speakers from the 12 regional institutions that sponsored the event as well as many more. The UMSL Center for Teaching and Learning puts on the conference annually, and assistant director Emily Goldstein and instructional designer Jennifer McKanry served as this year’s co-chairs.

The learning sessions covered a variety of topics, including open educational resources, universal design methods to reach the largest number of students, augmented/virtual reality in education, gamification and the SAMR (Substitution, Augmentation, Modification, Redefinition) Model of incorporating technology into teaching.

Nicolas Libre, assistant teaching professor of structural engineering at the Missouri University of Science and Technology, took home the fifth annual Focus on Technology Teaching Award.

“Our region is rich with higher education institutions and creative faculty. Together, we make this metropolitan region as strong as it is,” UMSL Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Kristin Sobolik said while introducing Brookfield’s address. “Conferences like this one are how we learn from each other and exchange ideas. Thanks to all of you for coming out today and devoting your time to thinking about how to use technology to improve student learning, teaching and research.”

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