Book Club Helps Faculty “Switch” Their Perspective

Lillian Goudas, Appalachian State University

Lillian Goudas, Director - AppSTAR

A virtual book club at Appalachian State served as a great jumping off point for faculty members interested in redesigning their classes to make them more accessible to students, particularly those with learning differences.

The book club was organized by Lillian Goudas, director of AppSTAR, a faculty-based initiative which is part of UNC’s College STAR (Supporting Transition, Access and Retention) program.

Goudas and 11 other faculty members read the book “Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard” by Chip and Dan Health.   Goudas said the book had clear tie-ins to the Universal Design for Learning goals of enhancing student motivation and learning.

The book deals with a person’s logical brain, the emotions that also guide him or her and barriers to change--using a rider on an elephant as a metaphor. Faculty members checked in with each other through a virtual discussion group as they were reading the book. “The book has a lot of vignettes and was easy to read and easy to do in small chunks,” Goudas said.

“The overall metaphor was great,” said one participant. “It was very helpful to think about in terms of one’s self, other people or a department. If you look at the world through that metaphor you see how some people’s drivers are strong or their elephant (emotion) is strong or maybe they just need someone or something to shape the path a bit for them.”

Goudas said she has accepted that one of the learning goals of all of her courses is to teach students how to manage their time. “I started ‘shaping the path’ by giving them little email reminders just before every class about the discussion or what was due. It shows I care, and they don’t have to go back and check their syllabus. It makes it easy for them to do the right thing and it has worked incredibly well.”

Another participant described a serial assignment that breaks up a project into four parts with the first three parts having low stakes points.   “At each part, I am able to quickly grade and give feedback to students. It also lets me know where the student is with the course content and if off course, I can make a correction in a later class,” she reported. The fourth part of the serial assignment is a reflection of all the parts and worth 40%. What I have found is that final assignment is a better product since they have been working on it all semester. So the elephant is not demoralized.

The book and its metaphor are now part of a common language among the participants in the group. They are delighted to talk about directing riders, motivating elephants and shaping paths—all with the goal of providing a better learning experience for their students.