Challenging students with new methods of learning is part of Shenandoah University’s commitment to preparing each student not only with academic knowledge, but with the emotional intelligence and thought processes necessary to successfully adapt and evolve throughout their professional careers. This holistic approach reaches across Shenandoah’s seven schools and is at the heart of the university’s approach to education.
Dean of the Harry F. Byrd, Jr. School of Business Miles Davis, Ph.D., states that business faculty “meet students where they are, giving average or ‘at risk’ students a second chance, an opportunity to transform their lives.”
Under Dr. Davis’ leadership, several new initiatives help business students develop the life skills and critical thinking so important to their future success. Programs include an advisory committee that meets with students on a weekly basis to teach life skills and an honors class for seniors team-taught by business leaders. Far more than just teaching economics, management and marketing, these initiatives focus on connecting with students in a very personal way — nurturing the development of their emotional intelligence as well as their business and management skills.
Academic innovations are found across campus, encompassing curriculum offerings, programs, delivery methods and styles of learning. In Shenandoah’s nursing and health professions programs, accessibility is a key innovation. Offering specific programs for veterans and hybrid courses that combine online coursework with onsite field experiences, the nursing and health professions programs provide a flexibility that fits individual student needs.
“Academic innovations are about access to learning, programs and teaching methods,” said Vice President of Academic Affairs Adrienne Bloss, Ph.D. “Innovations stretch traditional thinking and connect people and ideas in new and unexpected ways.”
Stepping Outside Conventional Learning
Known affectionately in the business school as the “Innovation Lab,” the former computer lab- turned-classroom is now a place where students can write their ideas on the walls, collaborate in groups and work outside the limits of conventional learning styles. Three of the four walls are painted floor-to-ceiling with whiteboard paint, creating a renewable canvas where faculty and students can share their creativity, develop and discuss new ideas and engage in problem-solving activities. With chairs and tables all on wheels, faculty and students can move the furniture into nontraditional configurations to facilitate collaboration and interactive learning experiences.
According to Associate Dean and Professor of Management RT Good, Ph.D., the Innovation Lab was designed to stimulate new creative thinking. “With no boundaries on the creative process, students can doodle an idea on the wall and follow their thought process wherever it may lead,” said Dr. Good. “Faculty members serve as facilitators rather than the traditional ‘sage on the stage,’ moving through the room to help students develop new ways of thinking or to help them get unstuck in their creative thinking.”
In the business school’s innovation and design thinking class, students learn to incorporate divergent thinking and to observe people with an anthropological perspective. Held in the Innovation Lab, students draw their ideas for new inventions on the walls and then explore and discuss the ideas as a group. Faculty and students from across Shenandoah also take advantage of the innovative space to bring new teaching and learning methods to their classes. In Spanish class, Professor of Foreign Languages Anne Lesman, Ph.D., asks her students to write their homework on the walls and then check each other’s work, making corrections where necessary. The flexibility of the space creates an environment where students can actively participate in their learning and pursue new thought processes.
The flexible space also allows for the introduction of nontraditional courses, such as Dr. Good’s First-Year Seminar (FYS) class on mindfulness. Last fall, students in the mindfulness class gathered in the Innovation Lab to learn how contemplative activities, such as meditation and Tai Chi, can reduce stress levels and help them be more present in their lives. With tables and chairs pushed against the walls, students sat on cushions around the room and learned how “unplugging” through daily meditation can help them reduce stress, cultivate compassion and become more open to new styles of learning.
“Once students are here, and they trust us with their learning, that’s when we need to start pressing their learning a little bit,” said Good. “We ask them to let go of their conventional ways of thinking and open themselves to new of learning.”
Engaging with Technology and Community
In the College of Arts & Sciences, Assistant Professor of Psychology Scott King, Ph.D.,
brings innovation to his teaching methods, engaging students and developing their thought processes through interactive projects that provide hands-on experience. His history and systems of psychology students edit Wikipedia pages as part of an initiative from the Association for Psychological Science to improve the quality of psychology knowledge to the general public. In his general psychology course, Dr. King is conducting a yearlong research experiment with Assistant Professor of Psychology Mark Sai Leong Chan, M.A., a Ph.D. candidate, about the effects of using Twitter as part of the class curriculum to increase student engagement. In Dr. King’s adult years and aging process course, students engage in service learning in conjunction with the Winchester Active Living Center of the Shenandoah Area Agency on Aging.
Professor of Psychology Laura Zimmerman, Ph.D., redesigned her child development classes
to incorporate the use of a virtual simulation program — My Virtual Child — in order to increase student engagement. Using the simulation program, students make parental decisions that shape their virtual child’s development from birth through age 18. Providing feedback to the students on the impact of their parenting decisions, the virtualvirtual simulation program strengthens students’ critical-thinking and decision-making abilities in a way that isn’t possible through standard lectures and textbooks.
“My students say the My Virtual Child simulation program has helped them learn
and relate to class material, as well as connect course information to the real world,” said Dr. Zimmerman. “Its use has led to a significant increase in student engagement and performance in my child development classes.”
Assistant Professor of English in World Literatures Michelle Brown, Ph.D., uses Google docs and course blogs to present much of the materials in her classes. Through these online tools, Dr. Brown’s students develop their skills in online writing and publishing, better positioning them for employment in an increasingly tech- driven communications environment.
Head of the Professional Studies Certificate in English as a Second Language (ESL) Teacher Licensure and Associate Professor Brenda Murphy, Ph.D., brings innovation to her online Master of Science in Education in Teaching English as a Second Language (TESOL) classes through video lectures she posts to YouTube. Students access the lectures through Blackboard. Dr. Murphy uses iMovie and QuickTime Pro to deliver 12 lecture videos for each class, with each lecture consisting of between six and 13 individual parts.
The video lectures enable Murphy’s students, who may be on the West Coast or in Morocco or Japan, to connect more fully with her as a professor and to engage more deeply in the program beyond the online experience.
“I felt that my responsibility as a professor, hired for expertise in a particular field, was to present the course content, to interpret the readings and to bring in sources beyond the required texts,” said Murphy. “To that end, I created sets of lecture videos.
Preparing Students as Practitioners
Perhaps one of the most successful examples of academic innovation at Shenandoah can be found in the Division of Physician Assistant Studies. Traditionally, the physician assistant program
was divided into two components: the didactic classroom portion and the clinical experience. Classroom instruction included textbook readings, lectures and assessment of medical knowledge through written tests. Students gained practical experience and developed their problem- solving and decision-making skills during their clinical rotations.
“The problem with this format was that graduates weren’t getting as much on-the-job training as they’d expected in the program,” said Division Chair and Associate Professor Rachel Carlson, Ed.D., PA-C. “Now the delivery of the didactic portion has been modified to incorporate more experiential learning. Through this innovation, we prepare students earlier for their roles as practicing clinicians. They have a chance to develop and hone their clinical thinking, decision-making and problem-solving skills.”
Director of Didactic Education and Assistant Professor Anne Schempf, M.P.A.S., spearheaded a new delivery method that more fully integrates experiential clinical learning with the didactic classroom portion of the physician assistant program. Now, lectures are more condensed and may be delivered as videos or podcasts. Students work in groups and engage in teaching cases and recitation. Teaching cases may be faculty- or physician-led, and are problem-based learning sessions that encourage students to take what they’ve learned in lecture, reading, recitation and clinicals and apply that knowledge to scenarios that involve critical thinking and advanced decision-making skills. Assessment methods include evaluations of students, thought processes, treatment plans and problem-solving abilities as they relate to the treatment and care of a patient.
According to Schempf, the concept of clinical integration incorporates everything the students learn across the curriculum into one clinical experience each week. Through role-play exercises conducted with students from Shenandoah Conservatory’s acting program, students experience scenarios they may encounter as practitioners. Creating these scenarios in a safe environment helps students develop their skills in analysis of information, synthesis, clinical decision making and critical thinking — skills they’ll need to become competent and confident health care providers.
“We guide them at the beginning, and then they get to a point where they’re in charge, where they innovate on their own and share with each other,” said Schempf. “They figure out what they need to learn. It’s been amazing to watch students develop those skills. They’re ready for it. We just need to give them the space to make mistakes and the tools and knowledge to work through the challenge.”
Innovating for Life
Shenandoah’s commitment to academic innovation enables the university to meet students where they are in life and provide valuable educational options that help them experience their own individual success. From videotaped lectures to online simulations, flip-model classrooms to whiteboard classrooms, and mindfulness classes to professional mentors, Shenandoah’s true innovations lie in the dedication of faculty, staff and administration to creating a culture that cares for each student and nurtures their personal, academic and professional success.